Personal lighting solutions are an important part of preparedness, as you’ll have a definite and acute need for light no matter what kind of emergency you are facing. At home, on the road or abroad, you’ll hardly find a prepper that does not keep a flashlight of headlamp handy.
But one piece of personal lighting gear that does not get much love these days is the classic lantern. Often derided as bulky, fragile and inefficient, lanterns are commonly passed over for more modern and compact light sources. The people that do may be surprised to discover that they are actually passing up one of the most versatile and efficient light sources around.
Chosen with care, a good lantern can take care of 90 percent of your utility lighting needs, and take of tasks like signaling with greater ease than a flashlight or headlamp. In this article, we’ll be taking a look at the best modern lanterns you can stash in your BOB to light your way and your campsite.
Why a lantern in the first place?
Lanterns provide light in a way that nearly no flashlight or headlamp does: effectively in 360° around the lantern itself, while easily resting upright or hanging from any convenient protrusion, cord or other fixture.
A lantern is the closest thing you can get to “flipping a switch” and lighting up the entirety of your immediate area while afield or at home with no power.
Sure, candles work much the same, but with far more drawbacks. Drawbacks like wimpy light output, extreme fire hazard and general susceptibility to being put out inadvertently. When you need to the light to come on and stay on with no undue babysitting, choose a lantern.
Most lanterns also put out a ton of light! As you will see on models that don’t have a smoked or otherwise opaqued globe it can be positively harsh. Thankfully modern models are adjustable or feature screens or shades or some other method to reduce the output to comfortable and usable levels.
Compared to working with headlamps or flashlights, there is rarely a need to adjust a lantern around your worksite or shelter unless you need to take it with you. Even compact lanterns put out plenty of light to work over a small area without the need to aim or reposition it.
Most types of lantern also have the advantage of being highly fuel efficient, easing your burden if you have need of more light more of the time. Even battery powered lanterns sport pretty impressive up times thanks to even more efficient (and bright!) LEDs.
What about the downsides
It isn’t all good news with lanterns, as they have their shortcomings like any other tool. None of them are deal-breakers so long as you choose your lantern with a little forethought, though.
Lanterns, no matter how small, are always going to be bulkier and heavier than a comparable flashlight unless we are talking about a tiny, novelty size lantern or a huge flashlight. Since space is always at a premium in your BOB you will be incurring more of a weight penalty when you decide to bring a lantern along.
Liquid-fueled lanterns also get hot. Some can get very hot. It does not take much imagination to see how this can become a hazard all its own if you have the lantern set on or hung near flammable, meltable or otherwise combustible material.
While nowhere near as risky as a candle with its open flame, you will have to take care with fuel-burning lanterns. Battery powered models avoid this risk entirely.
Lanterns also lack the throw of a directed beam, and even models that feature a sort of aim-able reflector or shroud will often not work as well as a flashlight for the same purpose. This makes lanterns a poor choice for directing attention to a specific place or focusing only on what you need to see.
By the same attribute, lanterns create enormous pools of light that are easily visible from long distances and are hard to “throttle” down. This is fine when you want to be seen, but compared to flashlights they are poor choices for times when you need light available but also need to be able to employ it more discreetly.
Types of Lanterns
There are all kinds of lanterns that run on all kinds of fuels. There are even lanterns designed to use a burning candle to provide light, but in my opinion that makes them more of a candle holder but never mind me.
As you have no doubt already assumed, all of the fuel types have their own pros and cons which I will detail below.
Uses candles either singly or multiple to provide light. Makes heavy use of internal reflectors to provide light. These lanterns are silent, but furnish very little light compared to other types. This is another lantern that is a potential fire hazard, and often gets hot to the touch.
Liquid fuel lanterns come in many flavors, from white gas and propane to kerosene, butane and even gasoline. Almost all the lanterns in this category enjoy terrific output, but they generate substantial heat and combustion byproducts in the form of harmful gasses. You must be very cautious when using these in any confined space, both for reasons of fire-hazard and air-quality.
Lanterns in this category are often heavy and comparatively fragile with their fuel source attached and make a hissing noise during operation. Almost all of them rely on a fabric component called a mantle that is the “element” which emits the light as the lantern is burned. These mantles are prone to damage and must be considered a necessary spare part.
But the good news is that depending on the type of lantern you can share fuel with your grill, stove, car or other appliance, easing your logistical burden. Some models make use of disposable tanks, others use refillable ones.
Lanterns in this class are fueled by disposable batteries or built in rechargeable batteries. These are the most rugged of all lanterns while still providing good to excellent light output and have the additional perks of multi-mode or multi-color controls.
These lanterns are silent, produce next to no heat if LED, and also pose no atmospheric hazard if you bring them into a small space. The only drawback is their need for batteries, but all lanterns need some kind of fuel so make of that what you will. Modern examples have very impressive battery life, especially when set to mid or low output mode.
For heavy-duty use in a small footprint, battery powered lanterns are the way to go.
The Best Lanterns for Survival and for Your Bug Out Bag
As I said above, I really do believe in battery powered lanterns for BOBs. Their combined safety, output, ease of use and greater durability alongside a smaller form factor make them unbeatable. Trust me, used judiciously any modern LED lantern with just a few sets of spare batteries will take you on quite an expedition before your fuel runs low.
Kerosene and other liquid fueled lanterns have plenty of advantages if you are vehicle-borne or just keeping them handy around the house, but for dedicated BOB use, stick with good, reliable, clean, safe batteries.
All of the lanterns on this list are battery powered.
Streamlight The Siege Lantern
The Siege is my personal favorite lantern on this list. A respectable 540 lumens on high at 30 hours or a whopping 12 days on the 55 lumen low mode alongside a selectable red LED and SOS flasher.
The nearly unbreakable frosted polycarbonate globe makes for a seriously tough unit. It even floats!
The Siege also features a smartly designed handle for easy carry or hanging and a pair of gated D rings for secure attachment to just about anything. All this is rounded out an integrated fuel gauge and specialty battery door that facilitates battery swaps in total darkness. Fueled by 3 D-cell alkaline batteries.
An excellent unit at a great price. Get it on Amazon here.
Streamlight The Siege AA Lantern
All the features of the bigger, brighter Siege, now in a much smaller AA-fueled format. The little sprout of the Siege line gives up much when it comes to brightness and runtime- down to 200 lumens at 7 hours on high, and 37 hours on low- but it makes up for it in sheer compactness and use of common, inexpensive batteries for fuel. The Siege AA is scarcely larger than a soft drink can!
This small form factor lends itself much better to packing away inside a BOB versus being strapped to the outside of it, and is much lighter (when “loaded”) to boot. While it slips a little in the output category it gives up none of the larger Siege’s durability or water resistance.
A great compact lantern for even small BOBs. Check its pricing on Amazon.
Coleman Micro Packer Lantern
This budget offering from Coleman combines versatility and compactness with a great price. The Micro Packer weighs but 6 oz. with batteries installed, is water-resistant and only 8 ½” long. This is another small lantern that runs on common, easy to source and easy to replace AA batteries.
The Micro Packer furnishes only 100 lumens of light, but this is more than enough for close range work lighting and navigation. A hook for hanging facilitates this use, but of more interest to space-saving preppers, the Micro Packer can convert into a flashlight for use in the traditional manner. In this role it is a little bulky, but is another great perk with this model.
A good buy for those short on space and cash. Get it here.
Princeton Helix Basecamp Rechargeable Lantern
Princeton Tec is respected for their excellent and rugged headlamps, but you should not overlook them for their excellent multifunction lanterns. The Basecamp rechargeable is a great choice for your BIB thanks to its solid performance and excellent support options.
The Basecamp sports a 250 lumen dimmable output to allow you to dial in the precise amount of light required for any task. Red LED’s are selectable to preserve night vision and reduce signature.
The Basecamp Rechargeable’s signature feature is its rechargeable internal power cell that also allows you to recharge other USB compatible devices such as your phone or GPS, but also an increasing number of flashlights.
This lets it perform double duty as a power bank and a light source. The best part is you are not slaved to that internal battery; three AA’s can be used at any time to fuel the LEDs.
The design of the Basecamp Rechargeable is noteworthy also. It uses a collapsible accordion-style globe to save space which is removable when you need clearer light. The four flat-fold legs have integrated hooks to allow you to hang the Basecamp from any nearby cord or line.
A thoroughly modern and feature rich lantern. Check out today’s price on Amazon.
Coleman Quad Lantern
This entry from Coleman is just the opposite of the Micro Packer: a large, high output traditionally styled lantern, but on with a neat trick up its sleeve.
The Quad is actually four lanterns in one; each of the light banks detach into a personal-sized panel that can also be hung to provide light in different places. The base part of this system is powered by four D-cell alkaline batteries while each panel is powered and recharged from them by way of three NiMH AAA batteries (included).
The panels together on their base provide 190 lumens of soft light at a very respectable 75 hours of runtime. Singly, a panel will run for one and a half hours off its AAA rechargeables.
This is the largest and heaviest lantern on our list, but its unique capability makes it a good choice for those in groups or anyone who may need work lighting for multiple parties or tasks. Get the Quad lantern here.
Rayovac Sportsman Lantern
Rayovac’s Sportsman lantern is a sturdy, no-frills design that packs in very smart options. Output is a good 240 lumens peak which will run continuously for 40 hours.
Low mode output is not specified but will net you 90 hours of on time. An attention getting strobe mode is included. Power is supplied by three D-cell alkaline batteries.
This durable and water-resistant (not waterproof, like the Siege!) lantern features a small external green LED that pulses gently every five seconds or so to help you locate the unit in complete darkness if necessary. Note that this little “firefly” does not appreciably drain the batteries at all.
With a heavy-duty handle and rugged rubber armor, the Rayovac offers everything you need and nothing you don’t. Get this lantern on Amazon.
Black Diamond Moji Lantern
The Moji is a dream come true for preppers who demand maximum weight savings and a minimalist loadout. The Moji is a small globe-shaped lantern that produces a maximum output of 100 lumens, and can be dimmed by a 3-step switch all the way down to a low power-saver mode all powered by three AAA alkalines.
The design of the Moji allows it to be placed on its lid or hanged by a loop on the top. This is one lantern that is small enough to ride in your pants pockets at a tiny 2 ½ x 2 ½ inches and barely over 3 ounces in weight. If you need to deploy light quickly and put it away just as quickly without the worry of rummaging through your pack.
It is not the brightest, or the most feature packed, but for an endeavor where you have to justify every ounce of weight, the Moji’s combination of convenience and respectable output is a boon. Get this lantern here.
Black Diamond Apollo Lantern
Named for its whimsical resemblance to a rocket from the Golden Era of spaceflight, Black Diamond’s Apollo lantern expands on the concept established by the Moji: maximum output and convenience in the smallest and lightest package possible.
To accomplish that end, the Apollo pushes 225 lumens that are dimmable all the way down to appx. 10 lumens. The Apollo features dual hooks for hanging and a trio of fold out fire legs that elevate this compact lantern a good bit off of any surface (and look like landing legs or fins on a spacecraft, hence the name).
This lantern is dual-fuel capable: you can recharge it via its internal power cell and recharge other compatible devices or use three AA batteries. A power gauge lets you keep an eye on your fuel level.
Very compact at 5 ½” high and only 3 ½ in diameter. A terrific, lightweight all purpose lantern, especially if the idea of a built in power bank is appealing.
Lanterns are not just for recreational camping pursuits. An easy to use source of all around area lighting can be important in post-disaster and survival situations and for that there is nothing better than a lantern.
Take a look at the modern LED lanterns above and you are bound to find one that will work perfectly in your BOB.
And if you’re not ready to buy one yet, be sure to pin this for later on Pinterest.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.