Camping Lights: Best Way To Illuminate a Tent

a man sitting inside of a tent under a night sky filled with stars and a milky filled sky above him, with a person sitting in the doorway of the tent, with a flashlight. .

Key Points

  • There are numerous ways to light a camping site.

  • The best option for a camping light is an LED-based light.

  • A LED camping light is cooler and brighter than its generational counterparts.

It's great to escape the city lights and recharge in nature now and then, but going powerless and completely off the grid isn’t always an option — especially with wild creatures roaming about. You still need a camping light to illuminate that fiction novel you brought along, or get the coffee started before the sun comes up.

What’s the best choice for a camping light? Options range from simple battery-operated light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to hauling a generator to power all your electronics in the wilderness.

Before you get ready to pull the trigger on a lighting solution for your tent or campsite, take stock of everything you bring on an average outing to determine what needs a power source. Even just a small battery is enough to power a strand of lights, recharge phones and tablets, and add ambiance with a small speaker.

However, in the case of campsite lighting and power, it’s always better to err on the side of having too much. As any experienced camper knows, it's better to have and not need than to need and not have!

An illuminated yellow tent sits among the milky way galaxy

Tent Lighting Ideas

The lights in your tent and around camp are the biggest power draw after sunset. Outside the tent, you’ve likely got a fire and some moonlight to get by. Inside is where you’ll need to strike a balance in light output so you’re neither squinting nor blinded.

The best way to make sure you don't have any dark or overly lit spots is to either use a greater number of smaller lights or a central one that shines indirectly. Practically speaking, rope lighting or a lantern-style light that doesn’t have a direct beam is going to provide a great ambiance, while still being practical. Propping up a flashlight works in a pinch, but it’s hardly ideal or conducive to creating a relaxing environment inside your tent. You’ll be knocking it over and casting huge shadows to the outside.

The best type of tent lighting is an LED option. You'll get the most bang for your buck and the best ambiance, while still remaining practical.

The LED Revolution

LEDs are worth mentioning because of their overall impact on how we light up our world today. Decades of research went into what we now know as LEDs. LEDs are truly fantastic inventions that offer more versatility, efficiency, and power output than traditional incandescent bulbs.

LED lights have come a long way since their production as a viable light source in the 1960s. Like all technology, LEDs are subject to Moore's Law which states in very broad terms that technology becomes cheaper over time. Think about how crude cell phones from 10 years ago seem when compared to today’s iPhones and Androids.

Camping lantern illuminates tent interior

LEDs are now commonplace in flashlights, cars, homes, offices, and commercial and industrial uses where lighting is needed. LEDs are more efficient than older incandescent bulbs using up to 75% less energy while operating at significantly cooler temperatures. Most old-tech light bulbs are too hot to touch once they’ve been on for a minute or so while most consumer-grade LEDs are indefinitely cool to the touch. These are among the reasons the government gives tax breaks to those who spend money to improve the efficiency of their homes and businesses.

Additionally, LEDs are made in different colors whereas most incandescent lighting gives off that stale yellowish hue. Just think of headlights from not-so-new cars. 

Color Changing Rope Lights
$25.99 ($0.79 / Foot)

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11/29/2023 11:26 am GMT

Rope Lights

Rope lights require a little more effort to use than a flashlight or lantern, but they deliver the most uniform light spill inside a tent and reduce shadows a great deal. Most rope lights are LEDs within a plastic tube or housing which makes them more inherently water resistant. Of course, the degree of just how waterproof they are depends ultimately on their overall design and quality.

When used inside a tent, it’s a good idea to suspend rope lights as high as possible. This creates a more natural, less-harshly-lit environment and reduces shadows and dead spots. Most tents have loops built into the interior near the top for hanging things, so all you’ll need are some carabiners or zip ties to suspend the strand.

Rope lights are more casual and decorative than lanterns, and many that aren’t designed for camping require an additional battery pack or power source as opposed to coming with one. Camping rope lights are generally smaller and lighter and don’t boast the lumens of those connected to a power outlet, but you don’t need much to illuminate your tent. Again, determine what your end-use case is before shopping too much.

For RV camping and when you have power easily accessible, there are tons of options. Amazon is full of LED rope lights some of which are OK and others that you’ll be happier with. It’s really hard to beat this color-changing strand that gives you 33 feet of light for $26. The same strand is also available in lengths up to 100’. The rope comes with a remote and is great for outdoor use because the strand and plug are both waterproof rated. This is also a great option if you are camping with children — what kid doesn't love color-changing lights? Camper uses lantern to illuminate tent interior

A hundred feet lets you crisscross or ring a small campground several times and give off oodles of light. Just be sure that you’ve got enough juice to power it. Even though the rope is full of highly efficient LEDs, 100 feet of them drains even the heartiest of small battery packs.

Luminoodle with Battery | 5 feet

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11/29/2023 11:16 am GMT

A great option for lighting up a tent or small campsite is the Power Practical Luminoodle Portable LED Rope Lantern. This lighting solution is a five or 10-foot strip of LEDs that comes in a bag. The bag doubles as a hanging lantern. It also has clips to suspend the light strip for the maximum spill. It is dimmable, waterproof, and emits 180 lumens which is plenty of light for a large tent.

Another option is the Nite Ize Radiant Rechargeable ShineLine. This innovative rope puts off white, green, or blue light along the entirety of its 10-foot length. It has four attachment loops built into the strand that let you hang it from a deck, tree, or tent. It has a rechargeable battery that runs for six hours on a full charge and puts off a soft glow.

The biggest benefit of rope lights is the fact that they’re so easily tailored to any tent, campsite, or outdoor space. They’re flexible, work well in the elements, and are portable. The multitude of options means there’s a perfect option for your next outing.


Lanterns have come a long way since your dad’s old Coleman gas burner, but those are still viable options in some situations. You might opt for a propane-burning unit if electricity isn’t feasible or you’re going on an extended outing where batteries might not last. Or, maybe you need the propane to run a stove, heater, or another gadget. That said, most lanterns today are efficient, affordable, eco-friendly LED units.

In general, with the advantages LEDs offer, finding a lantern to fit your needs is relatively easy. They run from tiny to supersized. When selecting, be sure to err on the side of more than not enough. You can always turn the lumens down or partially cover a light, but when it’s maxed out, you can’t turn it up.

Lanterns are easy to pack and don't take up much space — especially collapsible ones like the Goal Zero Crush Light. This pyramid-shaped lantern has a host of advantages chiefly the fact that it squishes down to a mere ½-inch thick for storage. It also brings versatile light options to your tent in the form of three light brightness settings and a flickering candle-like mode when it’s time to hit the sack. 

Many of Goal Zero’s products feature solar charging, and the Crush Light is no exception. It features a solar panel on its top and runs for up to 35 hours on the lowest setting. The Crush also features a handle that doubles as a hanging point when you want overhead lighting.

Tent interior is illuminated with string lights

Verified buyer and camping extremist Rowing Fanatic reviewed the Crush and said, “This device combines modern technology, materials, and function in a wonderful way. Love the 35-hour low-light setting for my 3 am coffee in the tent. Perfect amount of light for that time of morning. Well done to the designers and engineers. Thank you.”

If you need a bigger spotlight in addition to a tent-friendly lantern, consider a 2-in-1 offering such as the Nebo Poppy. The Poppy is both a handheld spotlight and a lantern. It’s also quite versatile in that when in lantern mode, its top-end setting emits a blinding 300 lumens which light up even the biggest tents.

When used as a spotlight, it throws a 120-lumen beam that reaches up to 120 meters for 18 hours. The Poppy is USB rechargeable and praised by reviewers for its ease of use and dependability.

What if you’re just looking for some neat party lights for a more casual outing or an addition to a back deck or porch? Get the best of both lantern and rope light with Goal Zero’s Light-a-Life chain of mini lanterns. This four-light set delivers 100 lumens in a wide spill of indirect light that’s less harsh on the eyes. These even have multi-colored shades to adjust the mood and intensity.

Adventure extremist and camping expert, SammyD used this innovative string in a rain-soaked outing and reported, “Excellent Lights!! Survived a severe thunderstorm tucked up under a canopy! Four lights chained to a 20,000 mAh power bank lasted 4 nights at low setting (about 4 hours a night) and used only about 25% of the power bank. Low setting is plenty bright enough. With the moisture and possible water spray from the storm they held strong.”

Camper prepares fishing pole by lantern light in tent

Bonus Light

Regardless of how you choose to illuminate your tent or campsite, be sure to take a headlamp with you. Yes, the wear-on-your-head light is sure to get some giggles but it is an absolute lifesaver.

Your campsite might be perfectly illuminated, but what happens when you need to step into the darkened woods to gather more firewood? Or go back to a vehicle or visit another campsite? Flashlights are the first thing that comes to mind, but sometimes you need both hands. Ever tried to open a Ziploc of toilet paper in the dark? Yeah, not a one-handed operation. A headlamp is critical for instances such as this. Plus, they’re pretty cheap and have all the benefits of LED lanterns and rope lights.

A headlamp is always pointed precisely where you’re looking, and many, such as the Cabela's Alaskan Guide Headlamp, are affordable, water resistant, and plenty bright. The Alaskan Guide blasts 78 lumens for up to 105 hours, runs on common AAA batteries, and is super easy to pack.

Remember when you're wearing a headlamp, though, they’re always pointed where you’re looking. Beware of blinding someone when you're approaching them!

Final Thoughts

Lanterns and rope lights are the perfect solutions for lighting a tent and campsite. A myriad of options abound for both those who want the best of the best and those who are on a budget.

The modern camper and tent dweller has more lighting choices today than ever. With the proliferation of high-quality LEDs, lights today put out more lumens with greater efficiency. They are also much faster to recharge, with color options and water-resistant options readily available.

While there's nothing wrong with going old-fashioned and relying on fire and gas to keep things lit up at night, a more modern solution just might be your saving grace when Mother Nature calls and you have to unzip that tent at 3 in the morning.

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