Who Packed the Torch?
I’ve experimented with several different ways of lighting our campsites over the years. It is so much more than just remembering to pack a torch - though forgetting your torch is a nightmare as anyone who has stumbled around in the dark trying to set up their campsite will tell you.
Obviously, torches are a must, especially for getting set up on arrival, and for venturing away from your basecamp for important things like trips to the bathroom. Better than a torch are headlights as they leave your hands free for the task at hand. These days most are LEDs so they are bright and reliable, as well as adjustable for comfort. Reliability is important, you’d hate for it to die while you are attending to the call of nature, so don’t be tempted by cheap options.
Lighting Your Campsite
When it comes to lighting your campsite during the night as you share a meal, stories, read and whatever else you do while away, there are so many options. The main difference is generally power source. This is hugely important as you can’t always be sure that your campsite will have an accessible source of electricity, so it’s best to bring solutions that are self-reliant in terms of power.
There are five main options for power sources, although new tech is emerging daily!
These are still popular as they are reliable, and offer the added benefit of warming your tent on chilly nights. They consist of a special candle (which you’ll need to buy at camping stores - these aren’t the same as the decorative candle lanterns you use in your home), a glass chimney and a metal case. The chimney stores inside the metal case for traveling, and slides up for easy use. The UCO Candlelier Candle Lantern is a highly rated example.
Propane and Gas Lanterns
Again, these are reliable as they don’t rely on any form of electricity, and are generally easy and safe to use. While reliability is a pro, there are quite a few cons to these as well. Gas lanterns can produce quite a lot of noise, which isn’t great for you, or your camping neighbors. Also, since they are burning fossil fuels, they do present the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, especially if you leave them on throughout the night. This danger can be mitigated by using a portable carbon monoxide detector, but for me, I haven’t used these in years since more reliable electricity based lights have become available. The pictured example is the Snow Peak Mini Flame Lantern.
12 Volt Compatible Lanterns
Campers with a vehicle with decent 12-volt power can use their vehicle to power their campsite lighting. Again, the kind of lights available for 12V are generally bright, floodlight-style lighting, which might be more than you want, and can cause light pollution problems for your neighbors. The Lighthawk Vision 600 (pictured) is a good example because it charges from 12 & 24 VDC as well at 120 VAC and can be mounted or used hand-held.
Solar Powered Lanterns
An environmentally friendly option, solar-powered lanterns generally last up to 12 hours on a single charge, so if you charge them during the day they will more than last you the night. The trick is always to remember to charge them, and not pack them away in the depths of your backpack where they can’t see the sun. A good example is the Suaoki LED Camping Lantern which can also be USB charged.
Battery Powered or Rechargeable Lanterns
Easy to use, the worry with these is always that their charge will run out or their batteries will die and you won’t be able to use them. Pre-planning with your charge and packing spare batteries can easily mitigate this risk, or you can invest in solutions that work on solar, rechargeable battery or battery so that if one fails, you have options to fall back on.
These days almost all camping lights are LEDs, making them bright (and often making light levels adjustable), reliable and energy efficient. It also means that lights are lightweight and compact, and you should be able to find something that suits whether you are traveling light or taking the RV.
Decorative Camping Lights
If you are looking for more decorative camping lights to create an ambient atmosphere on your campsite, maybe for a special occasion, there are some great options out there. Most generally work on the fairy light principle - lots of small lights spread across to offer an overall ambient lighting solution. Of course, it is not just a matter of repurposing your Christmas tree lights; you’ll want something more durable and environmentally friendly. There are lots of options, generally solar, battery or rechargeable battery powered.
From what I’ve seen I like Innoo Tech Solar Outdoor Globe String Lights which offer a rustic feel, or Easy Decor Waterdrop Outdoor Solar Powered String Lights, which give a beautiful ambient color to the site. Both provide sufficient light for your activities without producing excessive light pollution. LED Strip Lights and Light Ropes are also increasingly popular with campers, providing a similar ambient light, though slightly more concentrated and brighter.
Other Considerations When Choosing Your Camping Lights
As well as reliability, there are a few other things to consider when selecting your camping lights.
If you are thinking about a fossil fuel based option such as propane or gas, you need to be aware of the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning. This is especially important if you intend to leave the lights on throughout the night, for example for children. The risk can be mitigated with a portable carbon monoxide detector to warn you when levels get too high.
If you are considering a light source that will last throughout the night, you might want to consider something with a motion sensor in order to conserve light and only provide it when needed. This LED wireless, battery operated motion sensor light from ZEEFO is an example of a nice option.
While you are lighting your camping space, campers nearby may have other campsite lighting ideas for their camping experience, for example wanting to keep their light levels low in order to enjoy the stars. Be considerate of your fellow campers and look for solutions appropriate for the size of your campsite in order to avoid allowing your light pollution to encroach on your neighbors. If you are going for an LED option, you can often get a lantern with different light level options, so that you can adjust depending on the size and location of your site.