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Best Camping Lights for Tents [Electric Vs Propane]

Best Camping Lights for Tents

A camping light is very handy for general use. You can either sit it on the table or hang it from somewhere. A good place to hang it is the shelter where you set up your kitchen. Sometimes we’ll set up a kitchen underneath a permanent shelter, other times we use a ten-by-ten pop-up shelter. Either way, the shelter is used to provide protection from the sun and the rain.

For years, I have attached a piece of copper wire at the peak of our pop-up kitchen shelter where I hang our lantern. It brings the lantern low enough so you can turn it on and off, and adjust the light. I have a Coleman lantern that uses a one pound propane tank. We’ve hauled that lantern all around and it still works great. If you go camping a lot, you’ll probably end up with a propane one. But, let’s go over the pros and cons in case you’ve never purchased or used a lantern.

Solar, electric, and battery powered lanterns

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Solar powered has batteries plus a solar cell; otherwise you couldn’t store the power. There are some really cool designs where they put out a very diffuse light. Since they are solar, the battery charges during the day and it runs down at night. That is nice because you don’t have to carry batteries around, and you won’t get to your campsite and discover your batteries are dead. On the other hand, if you set up camp late in the day, or if it was cloudy, then the lantern didn’t charge so you may be without light. The benefit of a battery powered unit is you can turn it on and off.

If you’re going for a single night of camping with a battery powered lantern, check to make sure your batteries are fresh. You can also use rechargeable batteries in them, but they’re usually going to get slightly dimmer as the battery power decreases.

There are also true electric lanterns that you connect to an electrical outlet to charge just like your phone. Of course, this assumes you have access to electricity during your camping trip.

One big advantage these lanterns have over propane is that you can set them anywhere. A propane lantern can’t be bumped as it might tip over and start a fire which is why I hang ours from a copper wire.

Inside your tent you’ll want to use either electric or solar light. You can hang your flashlight, or get an inflatable solar lantern that you can squish down when you’re done. Or, if you’ve got plenty of room, they have some that don’t deflate. Camping solar lights put out a nice diffuse light, enough for you to change your clothes, get in your sleeping bag; then you charge it the next day. I think they are a great light for when you can’t have an open flame.

Chemical lanterns

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I’m not really hip on the chemical because they’re not very bright—in this case I’m referring to glow sticks. The nice thing with glow sticks, though, is they’re tiny. If you are out of space and you need something to give you some minimal light, you can go with the glow stick. They do glow for a long time. Note that when you are done with them, you throw away a bunch of plastic and a lot of chemicals.

Propane lanterns

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Fuel powered is nice because it emits a lot of light. You can run lanterns a long time off propane. One of those cylinders can last a number of camping trips. They make a soft hissing sound so you know propane’s coming out. You light them, they stay lit, and weather doesn’t bother them.

One downside is you need to bring extra mantles, because they get brittle, and sooner or later the mantle will fall into a thousand pieces. A mantle is the little cloth bag tied to the port where the gas comes out. Also, I wouldn’t suggest sitting a propane lantern on a table because it’s too easily bumped. You need to find somewhere safe to hang the propane lantern from. Don’t forget, you never want to have any kind of open flame inside a tent. If your tent catches on fire, you’re in a world of hurt.

The upside is they’re not expensive, they last for years, they put out a lot of light, and they are easy to light. Also, they work in a wide variety of temperatures. I wouldn’t leave it out in the pouring rain but underneath an awning where’s there’s incidental raindrops is fine. They have been proven over decades; in fact the one I own is at least twenty-five years old.

I recommend keeping the box or case your lantern comes in. In fact, if you are purchasing a gas lantern, spring for the extra few dollars and get one that comes in a case. When storing or transporting the lantern, make sure the propane tank is disconnected as you don’t want it accidentally turning on in transit. And make sure not to store propane inside your home.

Flashlights

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I think it’s a sound idea for everyone in your group to have their own flashlight. You can spend a lot or a little on a flashlight, that’s up to you.

One type of flashlight you can purchase uses the F-Cell lantern batteries, which last a long time and put out a lot of light. Generally, when you have to replace the battery, the batteries are more expensive than the flashlight. They’re easy for small hands to carry and keep up with. They’re inexpensive, less than ten dollars each. And when you’re done you can stick it in the house and use it for an emergency light.

Another option is a smaller flashlight. One advantage is it fits in your pocket easily. The downside of the smaller flashlight is that it’s easier to lose and has less run time because the battery capacity is smaller.

When you look at a flashlight, consider what battery you’re going to use. There are tactical flashlights out there that use CR 123 batteries. Novelty flashlights use little coin cells. The CR 123’s have the lifespan of a double A, they’re more expensive, and they’re not as common as a double A battery. So, if you run into a store somewhere you may not be able to replace them. They’re popular in a lot of military and tactical applications. But for a camping flashlight, I’d encourage you to have a flashlight with double A batteries since they are one of the most common batteries on the planet. You can replace them at any gas station.

Be cautious because you can spend a lot of money on a flashlight. The tactical flashlights are spectacular and are extremely bright, except most of the time you don’t need something so fancy. A five dollar flashlight from Home Depot is probably going to work just fine. The one thing to keep in mind is when you have a hundred dollar flashlight, generally it’s higher quality. A five dollar flashlight will be lower quality. All that means is once you get

outside and bang it around in your pocket, or in your car, or you drop it on rocks a few times—the lower quality one will fail a lot sooner than the more expensive one. Somewhere in there is a happy medium. Consider where you are going and the ages of your children and figure out what will work best for you.

From a functional standpoint, you want something to give you enough light, usually to go from one end of the campground to the other, or check on a flat tire, or something like that. It’s not a high-performance need. And keep a spare flashlight as well as spare batteries.

It’s always a good idea to have flashlights around the house. When the power goes off, you might be in a room that’s inconvenient to get to the flashlight from. I also think it’s really smart for kids to have a flashlight in front of their beds, so if the power goes off or they need to find you, they’re not walking through the house in the dark. If it’s your first camping trip, get something that’s high enough quality to last for your trip. After your excursion, consider re-purposing the flashlight to use in your home.

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