September 25, 2018
Illuminate camp with these portable options and let there be light!
Walking the streets of Brockton, Alabama, in 1899, after a day of selling typewriters, salesman William Coffin Coleman was drawn to the bright, white light coming from a drugstore window. The light came from an Irby-Gilliland Efficient Lamp, fueled by pressurized gasoline and featuring a mantle rather than a wick. Coleman had weak eyesight, but found he could read even fine print under the bright light, unlike the dim, yellow flame from kerosene or oil lamps in use at the time.
Impressed, Coleman ditched typewriters and switched to selling Efficient Lamps. In 1903, he bought the patent, improved the design, and introduced the Coleman Arc Lamp, followed in 1914 by the more portable and hardy Coleman Lantern.
Coleman lamps and lanterns lit the countryside, especially in rural areas not reached by electricity. Coleman boomed well into the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when rural electrification pulled the plug on the market for Coleman’s gasoline stoves, lamps, and lanterns. Always able to quickly diversify, Coleman produced products for the times, including World War II materiel, such as a military lantern and, at the urgent request of the Army, the G.I. Pocket Stove.
By the late ’50s, with sales of oil heaters and gas furnaces cooling and the military phasing out contracts, Coleman turned to its popular portable stoves and lanterns and launched a line of camping equipment.
And thousands of campsites have glowed with brilliant white light ever since.
Camp lights have evolved with time and technology, but the requirements of a good camp light remain the same. They must invoke a sense of well-being and safety; provide a welcoming glow of camaraderie; and project a protective globe of light against the darkness, pushing back told and untold fears and the proverbial things going bump in that great big universe of night.
A good camp light augments but does not compete with nor try to outshine a campfire; nor do their purposes cross, though in areas where a campfire is not advised or permitted, a camp light can indeed step up to provide that glowing sense of comfort in a fire’s stead.
Technology has changed since W.C. Coleman’s lantern ruled the night. Oh, his lanterns remain popular, the new ones and the decades-old models still in service. Two sit on my garage shelf, ready for the next excursion or power outage. Coleman purists embrace the magical process of creating light: the thumb pump pressurizing white gas, the telltale rush as it is released, and the pop of ignition as the mantle, itself a mystery of glowing structured ash, brightens to brilliance (or softens) as you adjust it, a gentle hiss assuring us all is well.
White gas and propane remain popular fuels for the ubiquitous Coleman lanterns, but the world of camp illumination has evolved to a variety of battery-, solar-, and crank-powered sources.
Here’s a look at some of the best options to light your world when the sun goes down.
Luminoodle Light Rope
String it, hang it, stick it, or wrap it around pretty much anything, including yourself, and this waterproof, flexible, bright LED rope will light up a tent, camper, or campsite. It will even provide festive party lighting (color options available). Stuff it into the ripstop nylon bag and it’s a decent omnidirectional lantern. It plugs into a lithium battery pack (included), wall adapter, or any USB power source. Comes in 5- and 10-foot lengths, which will light about anywhere, even under the hood or undercarriage or other hard-to-get-to places. Sliding magnets, ties and end loop provide nearly endless options.
MSRP: $20 (5 foot), $30 (10 foot)
Gear Aid ARC Rechargeable Light & Power Station
A power-packed compact unit with 60 LEDs lights up the night with a powerful campsite-flooding beam. Fitted with a diffuser bag, it becomes a hanging lantern. It has been tested to run at 20 lumens for 96 hours and 320 lumens for eight, and the USB-rechargeable lithium-ion battery also charges phones, tablets, and other devices. The light is fully adjustable with 10 brightness settings and three color temperatures: cool, neutral and warm. It’s threaded for mounting on a tripod or other accessories, and a metal kickstand adjusts to shine light where you want it. It makes a great main or auxiliary light and is nearly perfect in emergency situations. There is also an automatic SOS setting.
Cabela’s Bug-Proof Lantern
Leave it to Cabela’s to address a common nuisance bugging campers: insects. You can switch this lantern from the area-illuminating white twin-bulb LED lighting to subtle twin-bulb amber lighting when insects start to swarm. Powered by four D-cell batteries, it will run up to 100 hours on the high setting and 175 hours on the bug-invisible amber light. (An amber nightlight has a 1,000-hour runtime.) A retractable hook makes it easy to hang in tent or camper or from a tree. Plus, it’s waterproof, and it floats.
UCO Rhody+Hang-Out Lantern
This versatile compact unit will produce up to 13 hours of light on high to 150 hours on low from its rechargeable lithium-ion battery. The Infinity Dial lets you adjust the LED bulb’s brightness from low to bright. Moonlight mode casts a soft, blue light. A unique magnetic lanyard lets you devise hanging options inside your tent or camper or outside from an awning or accommodating branch. A USB output allows charging of phones and other devices.
BioLite SolarHome 620
This is a complete, portable solar-powered lighting, entertainment and energy center for on- and off-road travels and living. It includes three hanging lights, control unit (with its own light) with USB charge-out for charging other devices, and MP3/FM radio system, all of which run from energy captured by an easy-to-install solar panel. Individual switches control the lights; and one with a motion sensor saves power and alerts you to passersby of human or animal origin. Three levels of brightness, so you set the mood, and 18 feet of daisy-chainable cable allows lighting multiple rooms. Illuminates campers, RVs, tents, cabins – anywhere the sun shines.
This compact LED lantern, powered by three D-cell batteries, is built to be rugged, even waterproof – and if you drop it overboard or kick it into a stream while night fishing, it floats. It’ll run for 30 hours on high, 70 hours on medium, and 295 hours on low. It also has a red LED, which won’t affect night vision. A glare-reducing cover provides soft 360-degree illumination, but it can be removed to light large areas. Built-in D rings on top and bottom allow hanging upright or inverted. Emergency mode will flash red SOS signals for 430 hours.
Black Diamond Apollo Lantern
Runs on either its internal rechargeable lithium-ion battery or, when that runs out, it automatically switches to three AA backup batteries in case you’re in a snow cave or somewhere else without charging capability. The bright LED glare-free light is fully adjustable. A USB port allows charging of cell phones and other electronics. Collapsible double-hook loop and folding legs offer a variety of hanging and sitting options. Strobe and dimming options allow you to customize campsite lighting. And a power meter keeps track of both the rechargeable and alkaline batteries so you’re not caught with low power.
Goal Zero Lighthouse 400 Lantern
You can crank up the light with the built-in handle to instantly charge the lithium-ion battery or recharge from any USB port or Goal Zero solar panel. The light adjusts from dim to turbo-bright and can run from 2.5 to 48 hours, depending on the brightness level. You can also switch from 360-degree lighting to 180-degree directional lighting to extend runtime and put light where you want it. Collapsible legs provide a steady stand. The USB output recharges cell phones and other devices. Add a Goal Zero solar panel and tap unlimited sun energy.