KANSAS CITY – Whether you’re preparing for power outages caused by a natural disaster, or an avid outdoors enthusiast, when electricity is not available a light source is an important part of any plan. Choosing the best lantern comes with a few considerations.
There are a ton of options out there. Bell & Howell is heavily advertising its tactical TacLight Lantern on national television. Survival Expos are full of vendors selling any number of types and brands of portable lanterns.
So, what should a person shopping for this piece of their survival gear consider?
Obviously, check your budget.
The Bell & Howell light seems like a good price at $14. Seems sturdy and bright. Maybe that’s a good deal. Add the price and weight of batteries, and maybe it’s not a great deal.
On the surface, it appears that solar generally costs more. But what exactly are you getting for $14?
Tactical or Not
What actually defines a “tactical” lantern?
Are the Marines carrying these around in their rucksacks? Um, no.
Does a fitness model dressed in military fatigues make it tactical? Are you planning to beat someone to death with your “mil-spec” aluminum-encased lantern?
If it can be seen two nautical miles away (as Bell & Howell advertises) is that good for signaling troops or a passing jet? How’s my eyesight and night vision after looking into that kind of light source?
Here’s the final answer: there is no definition of a tactical lantern. There is no tactical use of a lantern. And frankly, if the light is encased in glass, it’s not very tactically strong either.
What you want is a good, sturdy, lantern that will last long enough to provide light, at night, when you need it. So, let’s move on to the reality-based criteria.
Hate to pick on Bell & Howell, but why not.
The tactical lantern advertised by Bell & Howell’s fitness model claims that it collapses to the size of a cell phone. OK. What do they mean?
In the TacLight Lantern advertisement, it is compared to what clearly appears to be an iPhone 6. So, the lantern will collapse to about 6 inches tall. Is the Bell & Howell lantern as thin as a cell phone? No. In its compact mode, it will measure between 4” and 6” wide too.
Check out this 90 second demonstration.
That is hardly compact.
The Luci and LuminAID both fold to about the size of a thick wallet, and unfold to about six inches.
When it comes to packing, that’s huge difference.
We are not claiming to be lighting experts. Yet, it doesn’t take a genius to understand why there are things called “lamp shades” on every lamp in every home.
The relative opaqueness of a lamp shade directly impacts the brightness and amount of illumination a light source provides. It is more than determining how “warm” you want the room to look.
One of the downsides of having no lampshade on a naked lightbulb is the light will be almost blinding. Granted, there are plenty of overhead lighting designs without shades on them, but these lights are not designed to be at eye-level. You’re not staring directly into a lightbulb.
Depending on the size of a room, a bright naked light at eye level could be uncomfortable, at best.
Positioning your light source in the most appropriate location is critical. Any avid camper will know that even a big camp site can have its uncomfortable moments with an extremely bright light just sitting on a picnic table.
Whether you’re in a room or at a campsite with friends and family, place lanterns with clear shades above the average sightline. It is the same concept in your family room at home when the electricity is out.
A tent requires a little extra forethought because the space and ceiling height is compact.
Where the manufacturer places the bulbs in a lantern impacts where you place the lantern when you use them.
The Luci Inflatable Solar Light’s “ultra bright LEDs” are in the bottom of the lanterns and thus face up. Whereas, the PSL lights face down. Imagine these products sitting on a picnic table at night as campers eat.
The “face-up” lights will also shine right into a user’s eyes. Luci’s own ads are confusing. In the marketing piece, the user rests the lantern on its inflatable pillow which makes it unstable. Other marketing images rests the lantern on hard surface where the solar panel is, which is more stable, but also has the lights facing up, which is blinding.
Lanterns with the face-down configuration work best as table lights or at eye level.
If a lantern is meant to be a part of your hiking or bug out bag, then weight is critical.
There is no reason to carry a lantern that weighs more than a pound these days. However, the choice of a lightweight lantern may be offset if it needs batteries.
Most lanterns require no larger than an AA battery. Anything using larger batteries is not ideal for hiking. The next question to consider is how and where to pack your batteries.
Lanterns that only use solar power always weigh less, and require one simple packing consideration – where. Other than that, users must remember to charge the lantern’s solar panels.
Finally, in the weight category, people must consider other light sources, like flashlights. How many lights do you need to carry with you? (The PSL is designed to act like a flashlight, but its not an entirely focused light source, so it can be blinding.)
The Bell & Howell product claims to weigh less than a pound. We’re not purchasing it, so we don’t know if that is with or without batteries.
The PSL and other folding solar lights pictured above, are definitely less than half a pound.
The weight of the Coleman lanterns isn’t even worth discussing. Those are for the family camping trips, or home use during a power outage.
At home, have as many light sources as you want. If you must carry your light with you, be mindful of weight and other issues.
How many times do homeowners dig around in a drawer to find the flashlight when the power fails, only to find corroded batteries?
If the lantern you plan to carry is for a Go Bag, be sure to check the batteries and viability of the light often.
Even when all is well, research the expected battery life of the lantern. Some last five hours, some last 12 hours on the high setting.
In general, Lithium batteries are considered the longest lasting, but others may have configurations that are more compact and last long enough for your needs.
Finally, How long will the battery hold a charge while in storage? Luci advertises that its solar lantern will hold 95 percent of its charge per month while in storage.
Additional Lantern Features
Here’s a brief list of features some lanterns offer:
- Coleman ThermaCell lanterns act as a mosquito repellent, but the lighting is poor;
- PSL includes a setting that flashes the S-O-S signal for 30 hours;
- PSL also is designed to operate as a flashlight;
- LuminAID and the Luci inflatable solar lights float;
- LuminAID also offers an inflatable light shaped like a pillow.
Don’t let a sales job con you into purchasing a light you’ll hate.
There are as many off-grid lantern makers as there are available features.
But before you buy, keep in mind the few key points discussed here – weight, size, shade, battery life, bulb placement, features, and price – and you’ll bath in the kind of light that works best for you.
[Editor’s Note: Paratus Business News currently has no affiliate relationships with the sources of this story or with any retailers selling the products mentioned.]