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360-Degree Illumination: Survival Lantern Buyer’s Guide


There’s nothing quite as relaxing as sitting in front of a crackling campfire, enjoying the warm radius of light it creates in an ocean of darkness. While this experience soothes the soul and offers tremendous value in a survival scenario, campfires aren’t always the most practical option. You can’t start one in the house when the power goes out — the shrill beeping of smoke alarms isn’t relaxing, although the slow onset of carbon monoxide poisoning might be. Even at an outdoor campsite, there are plenty of situations where an instant, portable area light is far preferable to relentlessly feeding the flames. Lanterns fill this need.

Fortunately, we’ve progressed beyond the fragile oil lamps of generations past. High-output LEDs and long-lasting batteries have allowed lanterns to become much more compact, efficient, and durable. They can produce a broad area of clear white light for days or even weeks at a time, helping you stay productive long after the sun has set.

Whether you’re looking for a powerful tool that can help you withstand natural disasters and other emergencies or a lightweight source of illumination for your next camping trip, a trustworthy lantern is a worthwhile investment. We collected and evaluated nine portable lanterns ranging from entry-level to high-end — read on for our thoughts on each of these products.

BioLite SunLight

Claimed Max Brightness
100 lumens

Claimed Max Runtime
50 hours

Weight with Batteries
3.5 ounces

Battery Type
Rechargeable 750mAh lithium-ion with solar panel

Output Modes
Dimmable white, variable color, “Party Mode”

MSRP
$25

URL
www.bioliteenergy.com

Notes
Aptly described by BioLite as “the size of an ice cream sandwich,” the SunLight is slim and easy to carry. In addition to a dimmable white light and selectable RGB color, it also has a “Party Mode” that slowly fades through the spectrum. We suspect we’re not rad enough to get much use out of that feature. The SunLight can be charged in two hours via micro USB or in seven via a built-in solar panel — a tiny sundial on the corner helps with aiming. The LEDs flash red, yellow, or green to indicate charge level, but you won’t want to leave the light charging in your bedroom, because all four LEDs flash brightly every 10 seconds while plugged in.

Pros:

  • Solar panel provides a sustainable source of light in off-grid settings
  • Compact and lightweight enough for pocket carry

Cons:

  • Flat LED array creates directional light rather than 360-degree light
  • Accessing color mode requires cycling through white light first, negatively impacting night vision
  • Solar panel only charges the light, not other devices

HausBell M500

 

Claimed Max Brightness
Unlisted

Claimed Max Runtime
Unlisted

Weight with Batteries
10.5 ounces

Battery Type
3x AA (included)

Output Modes
On-off only

MSRP
$19 for 2-pack / $9.50 each

URL
www.amazon.com

Notes
After searching Amazon.com for an inexpensive option, we found the HausBell M500, sold as a two-pack with 6 off-brand AA batteries. Each lantern is made of “military grade environmental (sic) friendly plastic” with a gray metallic finish. A trio of LED strips turn on automatically when the lens is expanded. Although actual brightness and run time are not quantified, the packaging proudly proclaims the LEDs are “super bright” and last “up to 100,000 hours.” Output isn’t adjustable, but can be limited somewhat by partially collapsing the lens. Simple fold-out handles allow the lantern to be carried or suspended, and three magnets in the base offer a means of attaching it to other surfaces.

Pros:

  • Bargain-basement price
  • Much brighter than we expected it to be, but…

Cons:

  • …instead of a frosted diffuser, this lantern has only a clear plastic lens. Standing in front of it feels like staring directly into a flashlight, and will leave you squinting in discomfort.
  • Shockingly, the “military grade” plastic construction feels thin and cheap.

Ledlenser ML6

Claimed Max Brightness
750 lumens

Claimed Max Runtime
70 hours

Weight with Batteries
10.6 ounces with base

Battery Type
Rechargeable 3,200mAh 18650 (included)

Output Modes
Dimmable white or red, each with strobe, blink, pulse, and SOS modes

MSRP
$110

URL
www.ledlenserusa.com

Notes
A new product for 2019, the ML6 is Ledlenser’s first foray into the lantern market. Instead of a frosted diffuser, it uses a Micro Prism Lens to disperse light evenly and reduce upward glare. Controls are simple, with a power/mode button in the center and + and – buttons on either side to adjust brightness or strobe type. The ends of the rubber carry handle conceal USB input and output ports; the latter enables this lantern to serve as a power bank. Thanks to its use of a single 18650 lithium battery, the ML6 can also run on a pair of ordinary CR123s. Strong magnets are recessed into the battery cap, and a removable base with hang hook is also included.

Related:  New: Ledlenser Outdoor Series Headlamps

Pros:

  • Ledlenser’s web site only claims 550 lumens, but the ML6 also has a temporary 750-lumen Boost mode.
  • Standard, removable 18650 battery is a big plus for longevity. It also allows hot-swapping to a fresh battery while the primary charges.

Cons:

  • Since both ends of the rubber handle are detachable, there’s a potential for it to be lost or misplaced.

Lander Cairn Lantern + Power Bank

Claimed Max Brightness
300 lumens

Claimed Max Runtime
150 hours

Weight with Batteries
5.7 ounces

Battery Type
Rechargeable 3,300mAh lithium-ion

Output Modes
Dimmable white, strobe

MSRP
$50

URL
www.lander.com

Notes
Half lantern and half portable power bank, the Cairn is based around a 3,300mAh battery pack. Twelve LEDs behind a hard polymer diffuser create a soft wash of warm light. Although it doesn’t have alternate color modes, holding the power button will gradually dim output down to 10 lumens, so it won’t obliterate your night vision. The battery can be charged using a micro USB port hidden behind a protective cover, or can be used to charge other USB devices. Five blue LEDs on the side indicate battery level. An elastic cord with a toggle on one end allows the Cairn to be strapped to various tether points.

Pros:

  • Light is a warm yellow hue, which has a more comfortable and less sterile feel than pure white
  • Excellent runtime

Cons:

  • Hard rubber USB port cover fit so tightly that we were only able to open it after prying with a flat screwdriver. Even after several uses, it’s still frustrating to open.
  • Another lantern with a flat LED array that emits most of its light in one direction

Midland ML500

Claimed Max Brightness
500 lumens

Claimed Max Runtime
65 hours

Weight with Batteries
28.7 ounces

Battery Type
3x D (not included)

Output Modes
High, low

MSRP
$20

URL
www.midlandusa.com

Notes
The ML500 is part of Midland’s E+Ready series targeted specifically at emergency preparedness. This lantern runs on three D batteries that, while bulky, are readily available at most grocery stores and gas stations. Clicking the power button repeatedly cycles between 500-lumen high output and 200-lumen low output. A pair of LEDs project white light through a semi-transparent diffuser that’s housed within a “shatter-resistant” clear protective lens. The hard plastic body is also said to be impact-resistant. However, unlike some of the other lanterns in this guide, these claims aren’t directly quantified according to standard ANSI FL1 impact testing. The ML500’s base has a series of raised feet, although these lack texture or a rubberized coating to prevent slipping.

Pros:

  • Strong output and respectable runtime
  • Affordable price means you’ll be able to store several throughout your home for emergencies

Cons:

  • Large and heavy due to use of D batteries, which aren’t included with the lantern
  • Diffuser isn’t very effective at reducing glare

Nitecore LA30

Claimed Max Brightness
250 lumens

Claimed Max Runtime
56 hours

Weight with Batteries
4.6 ounces without optional AAs

Battery Type
Rechargeable 1,800mAh lithium-ion (built-in) or 2x AA (not included)

Output Modes
White high, medium, or low; red high, low, SOS, or flashing

MSRP
$40

URL
www.nitecore.com

Notes
Described as a bi-fuel portable lantern, the LA30 fits easily into the palm of the hand. It features a built-in USB-rechargeable battery that’s capable of powering the light for up to 56 hours, but loosening the thumb screw and removing its base reveals a compartment for two optional AA batteries. Relying on this alternate power source will reduce run time slightly to 48 hours. Even though it doesn’t use a cylindrical lantern configuration, its diffuser effectively distributes light evenly across a wide area, albeit with slightly more glare at full brightness. A power indicator LED flashes to report battery level. The polycarbonate body is available in yellow or blue, and is IP66 water-resistant and impact-resistant.

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Pros:

  • Integrated rechargeable battery with backup AA compatibility
  • Power level indicator helps monitor remaining battery life

Cons:

  • When its magnetic base is stuck to a smooth vertical surface, it has a tendency to slide down. A stronger magnet or rubber feet would have prevented this.

Nite Ize Radiant 200 Lantern + Flashlight

Claimed Max Brightness
200 lumens

Claimed Max Runtime
16.5 hours

Weight with Batteries
9.8 ounces

Battery Type
4x AA (not included)

Output Modes
Lantern high or low, flashlight

MSRP
$30

URL
www.niteize.com

Notes
The Radiant 200 is built around two light sources. One 200-lumen LED faces upward to illuminate the collapsible lantern, while a second 180-lumen LED faces downward to serve as a “downlight” for the area directly beneath the lantern. Three clicks of the power button turn on both sources simultaneously. The downlight also acts as a flashlight — press and hold the power button to turn it on by itself. The hard plastic body has rubber overmolds around the circumference and base for a rugged feel, and is also water- and impact-resistant according to the ANSI FL1 standard. A carabiner clip at the top of the lantern allows it to be suspended easily.

Pros:

  • Collapses to occupy less space in your pack
  • Flashlight doubles as a downlight when the lantern is suspended

Cons:

  • When used as a tabletop lantern or collapsed flashlight, it’s easy to accidentally turn on both LEDs and waste battery power
  • Raised power button can be inadvertently pressed

Streamlight Super Siege

Claimed Max Brightness
1,100 lumens

Claimed Max Runtime
36.2 hours

Weight with Batteries
29.8 ounces

Battery Type
Rechargeable 10,400mAh lithium-ion

Output Modes
White high, medium, or low; red high, low, or SOS

MSRP
$200

URL
www.streamlight.com

Notes
Topping the range of Streamlight’s Siege lantern series, the Super Siege is designed for maximum output and longevity. It features a massive integrated battery that allows it to run for more than a day and a half in 125-lumen low mode, or provide red light continuously for two weeks (348 hours). Output can be directed using the removable Glare Guard, or the polycarbonate diffuser can be removed entirely for a brighter, conical beam pattern. There’s no shortage of mounting options thanks to a non-slip base, dual folding carabiners, and a rubberized, spring-loaded handle. The base unscrews to reveal a hidden, waterproof storage compartment.

For a web-exclusive review of the Super Siege’s compact sibling, check out our article on the Streamlight Siege X USB.

Pros:

  • Immensely bright
  • Acts as a USB power bank, and can fully recharge most smartphones 4+ times
  • IPX7 waterproof and capable of floating in water

Cons:

  • The largest and heaviest lantern in our guide — it’s better suited for base camp than mobile use.
  • Charges via a 12V DC adapter rather than a USB cable, so you’ll need to bring Streamlight’s wall charger wherever you take the light.

UCO Sprout

Claimed Max Brightness
100 lumens

Claimed Max Runtime
60 hours

Weight with Batteries
3.6 ounces

Battery Type
3x AAA (not included)

Output Modes
Dimmable white, blue

MSRP
$15

URL
www.ucogear.com

Notes
This minimalist lantern is new for 2019, and built into a compact 1.9-by-2.6-inch cylindrical diffuser that spreads light evenly. Pressing the power button repeatedly toggles between modes, and the white light can be gradually dimmed by holding down the button. While most lanterns opt for a red secondary LED, UCO chose blue — it’s not traditional, but dim blue light can be just as effective at maintaining your night vision (or potentially more effective in some cases). Another noteworthy feature is the bottom-mounted lanyard with a quick-detach magnetic mount. Unfortunately, the lanyard contains the magnet, so the Sprout can’t be attached to metal surfaces.

Pros:

  • Magnetic lanyard lets you easily detach the lantern without knots or clips — useful for moving from a tent to outside areas and vice versa.

Cons:

  • The blue light is only accessible after turning on the white light first. A press-and-hold mode selector would’ve been preferable.
  • Lanyard can easily be lost or misplaced



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