Let There Be Light!–Camping Lanterns

lit tent at night
Keep the darkness at bay with a camping lantern

The first time I went camping I didn’t have a lantern. I did have a flashlight–a crappy little thing that kept cutting out on me. I had to keep shaking it whenever it dimmed. Was I worried? Nah. I was with my brother, the World’s Greatest Camper (my words) .

The first thing he did was create an amazing camp site and build a beautiful fire and set up a world-class tent. (Mine was a one-person bright orange pup tent that only had room for a single blow-up mattress and nothing else. I loved it.) After doing all that, he brought out a series of lanterns that lit up the entire site. It not only held the darkness at bay, it sent the darkness yelping into the underbrush.

The following year, I too vanquished the night. Because by then I knew what I was doing.

The selection of lanterns can be daunting if you’re new to camping. Bigger? Smaller? Cheaper? LED? Fuel?

If you are just starting out, ignore all the hype. There really are just two types of lantern you should be looking at for your first camping trips–battery powered and fuel powered.

Battery Powered

Battery powered lanterns are safe. They are easy to use and do not pose a fire hazard so they can be brought into the tent. You don’t have to worry about their use around children because they don’t have hot globes like fuel lanterns, which can burn. However, they do require batteries, which can drain quickly if the weather is very cold, and the light is not as bright as a fuel lantern’s is.


Fuel lanterns, and for the purposes of this article I mean propane, cast a wonderful light at a camp site. They use small propane canisters and are versatile. In winter camping they can be placed in the tent to preheat the tent prior to retiring for the night, and they can’t be beat for the light they give off. (BIG CAUTIONARY NOTE HERE: propane lanterns consume oxygen and emit carbon monoxide gas. Never, ever sleep with a propane lantern in your tent, and make sure it is stable and away from anything if you are going to heat your tent with it, to avoid the possibility of your tent going up in flames. Once you’re ready to sleep in your tent, make absolutely certain the lantern is extinguished. Place it outside your tent.)  

If you want to cover all bases, buy a good propane lantern (Coleman is my first choice–if you need to replace something it’s easy to find parts), then throw in a couple of cheap battery lanterns for the kids or to keep in the tents, and then for emergencies invest in a solar-powered lantern–if you run out of fuel or batteries you’ll still have light.

And throw away that crappy flashlight.

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