Let There Be Light! Camping Illumination Options

Key Points

  • Before any camping trip, equip yourself with adequate camping light.

  • Be aware of what can go wrong without proper camping light.

  • There are several different lighting options and appropriate uses for each.

  • Lumens vary because certain levels of lumens are appropriate for specific situations. 

Spending the night under the stars is one of the many appeals of camping. The pseudo-darkness that people are familiar with — with electric lights in every room and street corner — certainly doesn't compare to the utter darkness only found in nature. People may overlook the importance of taking adequate camping light on their trip.

As many campers know, many instances require light while camping. You need light to see the smiling faces of those you’re camping with. Other times it’s a more urgent requirement, such as when Mother Nature calls in the middle of the night. Either way, a good camping light is really a must-have.

Use camping lights to illuminate tables and tents, light the way when walking, and even navigate through emergencies.

Camping lantern illuminates side of tent

Dangers in the Dark

Robert Frost wrote, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep,” and while the darkness allows people to see the stars, it also presents threats and difficulties. There are many times when you find yourself requiring more than the light of the moon to see. 

Many creatures come out at night and use the dark to mask themselves. This makes them extremely hard to see. Snakes, spiders, scorpions, and raccoons are just a few creatures crawling around once it’s dark. These creatures are more accustomed to the dark and are comfortable being out when people tend to sleep. In most cases, animals stay clear of humans, but an animal encounter at night is not an unlikely occurrence when in their territory.

Camping always involves being at the mercy of nature, which means that the unexpected is always possible. This can come in the form of bad weather, unsafe campgrounds, or injuries. These unexpected moments require immediate action, which can be problematic at night without proper lights.

Avoid making a dangerous situation worse by having proper camping lights. Good light allows you to spot animals, usher them away with a flashlight, and quickly get away with the sure-footing that a lantern supplies. Proper camp lights are also an excellent way to make your presence known to others so that other campers don’t encroach on your camp spot or allow emergency responders to locate you more efficiently if needed.

Lighting Up Your World

Lighting is essential when you're camping in a new or unfamiliar area. This point is even more true when camping with features that add to the darkness, like a cave or deep woods. 

Always have reliable light sources, no matter where you're camping — even if you don’t plan to use them. There are instances when camping without light is the goal, like for stargazing, but even during these times, have a light readily available.

By the Light of the Fire

Campfires are the apparent means of lighting a camp spot for experienced campers and beginners alike. Fire is a natural light source that adds to the atmosphere and experience of camping. They require a certain amount of skill but allow you to cook and stay warm.

The sound and smell of a crackling fire add to the joy of the outdoors and protect you from wild animals. However, fires are dangerous when unsupervised or improperly extinguished. They also inevitably go out after a while, so they’re not the most reliable means of light. Another concern is fire conditions, as some places issue red flag warnings, prohibiting you from starting a fire to prevent it from turning into a wildfire.

Camper with headlamp sits by fire in mountains

Light Power Source Options

Fires and moonlight aren’t always reliable light sources, so thankfully, many other lighting options exist. Many of these options offer different choices for where they draw their energy. These options allow you to select the light power source that best fits your camping style and area.

One option is battery-operated lights, the most common and easiest to use. They have many benefits, such as being long-lasting and low maintenance. That said, the strength of their light beams fades over time as the battery runs out. In such instances, you're left without light when you forget to change the batteries. Avoid this by bringing additional batteries.

Solar-powered lights are a great option because they're more economical and better for the environment by not relying on disposable batteries. Solar lights — as the name indicates — rely on the sun’s charge to function correctly, which poses a problem on cloudy days.

Rechargeable lights are another economical option and help save energy, as you only charge them only when needed. Recharging them in your car if they run out of juice while camping is an easy fix. They are, however, useless if they die and you have no access to electricity.

Wind-up lights are a great source for camping because they don’t rely on any power source other than you. They, too, are an economically and environmentally wise choice. On the other hand, they require much effort and are often noisy, which some people don't have the energy for after a day of outdoor activity.

Propane lights are another option and are usually quite affordable. They're more dangerous than other options because they involve gas and an actual flame. Propane refill stations aren't typically near campsites, so you’re out of luck if you run out while camping.

Three different types of LED flashlights

Lumen Requirements for Camping

Lumens are another factor to consider when selecting the right camping light. The lumen is the visible amount of light through beams from a particular source. Lumens vary because certain levels of lumens are appropriate to specific situations. 

Even the lumen level most recommended for safe and enjoyable camping varies based on what you're using it for. To illuminate a tent, anything from 35 – 100 should be adequate. When walking around at night and lighting the outside area of your camp spot, use 500 – 1,000 or even 2,000.

The level of light you need depends on your preferences and the environment. The higher the number of lumens, the more the light allows you to see.

Best Types of Lights for a Tent

The range for lumen levels appropriate for a tent is lower because the space in a tent is confined, and you don’t usually need to see as much inside the tent. Another point to consider when picking a suitable light for your tent is the light style.

Hanging battery-operated, solar, or rechargeable lanterns are perhaps the most popular choice for tent lights. Hang them from the top of the tent, and they will illuminate the whole area beneath them. This allows you to play games, read, or chat with a comfortable level of light.

String lights are another viable option for lighting the whole tent. Fasten these lights along the top of the tent and illuminate the whole space. Some people prefer string lights to a lantern because of their aesthetic appeal.

Decorative lights, such as light-up figurines, are another great option if you're aiming to make your camping experience more aesthetically pleasing. They offer the perfect way to add a touch of your personal taste to your tent, making it feel homey. The downside to decorative lights is that they usually don’t illuminate as much area of the tent as lanterns and string lights do.

Kerosene camping lantern

Best Types of Lights for Navigating the Night

The lumen level for lights used to walk around or light an outdoor space is higher than tent lights because the space you want to illuminate is much more significant. Beyond that, other factors like natural features that block out the moonlight and the presence of animals require a light that better penetrates the dark. You use these lights to make your way around in the dark safely or to allow you a better watch over your campsite. 

Stake lights — generally solar-powered — are perfect for illuminating the area around your tent, chairs, or picnic table. While a campfire helps to brighten the area around your site, these additional lights brighten it even more and won't go out as quickly as the fire. Place stake lights along paths to direct you and your camping party to different areas, such as the parking area or bathrooms.

Headlamps are an excellent option for examining things closely and freeing up your hands. Whether you're watching the insects that come out at night or working on a project, a headlamp supplies a source of light near the face. This allows you to get a better close-up look at things. On the other hand, headlamps aren’t as reliable for navigating your way in the dark because their beams are usually small, and their lumen levels are usually lower.

Flashlights are a traditional source of light for camping and are generally what most people have on hand. Their handheld features make them an excellent device for moments that require quick, easy access. Like headlamps, their beams are more directed and point outward rather than expanding to light the area around them. This makes them an excellent option for looking around and examining things at a distance.

Lanterns are another commonly used source of light for camping. Lanterns are portable and easy to carry around. Unlike flashlights that have directed light beams, lanterns have light beams that surround them and illuminate whatever is around them. As a result, they make a suitable option for a light source for multiple people to use.

Groups of friends sit around fire on a starry night

Best Camping Light Products

Of course, it's always wise to go with the best quality option regarding camping essentials. When it comes to lighting, that extends beyond lumen level and handling features. With advancements in technology and the consistent popularity of camping, new products are constantly coming out to accommodate campers. Light sources are part of these advancements.

Certain products and brands are simply better options than the rest. Headlamps, flashlights, and lanterns are the essential types of camping lights, and all have superior brands and models.

These are the top camping lights of 2023:

  1. Headlamps: A good headlamp is secure and has an intense beam. The best headlamp is Petzl Actik Core, which features a max lumen of 600 and runs on batteries or is rechargeable. It's long-lasting and easy to use. While this is the optimal choice for a reliable headlamp, it costs $70. There are plenty of affordable options, like the Black Diamond Astro 300, which clocks in at $20. 

  2. Flashlights: The most popular option for flashlights is the ThruNite Archer 2A V3, which is available for you to purchase on Amazon. It's battery-operated, waterproof, and offers various brightness options. It costs $32 and has many standard settings found in more expensive products.  

  3. Lanterns: Lanterns are probably the most versatile and reliable camping light. They come in a large span of options for shape and abilities. The best camping lantern is the BioLite AlpenGlow 500 in terms of its capabilities. This lantern hosts a variety of lighting options, as well as the ability to charge electronic devices.

Note: The prices listed here are accurate at the time of writing in April 2023 but are subject to change.

Woman illuminates her surroundings with headlamp

Shine a Light on Your Adventure

With a good idea of lighting options and what they offer, you have all the information you need to decide what light is right for you.

From reading about the plant life in the area, to searching the woods at night for firewood, the right light makes a huge difference in your camping experience. Along with a campfire and the light of the moon and stars, a reliable light source lights up the night to ensure you're comfortable, safe, and — most of all — prepared for whatever your camping adventure has in store.

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