Solar lanterns used to be really big, bulky, and unreliable. So, they weren’t really suitable for camping and especially not for backpacking (too much extra weight!). However, there’s now a new generation of solar powered lanterns.
*Note about Relying on Solar Lanterns
These new solar lanterns have cool features like adjustable brightness, fast charging times, collapsible designs, and more. However, I should note that you probably won’t want to rely on a solar lantern alone. What if it is rainy and cloudy for multiple days — then how will you get light? Make sure that you have a good headlamp (hands-free use is great, especially when you need to pee at night!) and plenty of spare batteries.
The surest way to staying illuminated (without bringing a zillion spare batteries) is:
- Get a USB-chargeable lantern or headlamp
- Bring a lightweight power bank (like one of these)
- Use the power bank to charge your devices
- You can also bring a portable solar panel (like one of these) to keep your power bank or lanterns charged up
***Get 10% off all USB lanterns (and your entire order!) at Outdoorplay.com. Just use coupon code AV10 at checkout.***
The Goal Zero Nomad 7 Plus Guide 10 kit (above) consists of a 7 watt solar panel. It also includes a cool power bank which doubles as a battery charger. This means you can use the kit to charge your phone, USB devices, or batteries. Get it here. Remember to use the coupon code AV10 at checkout to get 10% off. Or get it at Amazon here.
Even though they aren’t 100% reliable (we can’t control the weather!), solar lanterns are still awesome to have. Here are my picks for the best solar lanterns. Keep reading for detailed reviews plus a buying guide for what features to look for when choosing a solar lantern.
Top Picks for Solar Lanterns
1. Suaoki Collapsible Solar Lantern
A good choice for people who want a lightweight-yet-reliable solar lantern for camping or backpacking without spending a fortune. Get it here
2. Bigfoot Collapsible Solar Lantern
Not nearly the best solar lantern. But, considering the low price, it is a great value and performs very well. Buy a few of these to light your campsite or for backyard barbecues. Get it here
3. AGPtek Solar Lantern
It’s super bright and has 5 different charging options. You won’t want to take this heavy lantern backpacking, but it is great to have for emergency preparedness and occasional camping trips.
4. Goal Zero Lighthouse 400
This technically isn’t a solar lantern. It is powered by hand-cranking. However, I had to include it here because it is so much better than most solar lanterns. You can even use it to charge devices. Plus it has cool features like adjustable brightness and is durable as heck. Get it here
5. MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0
An even better version of the popular Luci Original, this compact blow-up solar lantern is a good choice for camping trips. Just don’t rely on it as your sole source of lighting since there are no alternative charging methods for cloudy days! Get it here
- What to consider when buying a solar lantern.
- The Best Solar Lanterns Reviewed
What to Consider When Buying a Solar Lantern
Battery life is probably the first thing you’ll look at when choosing a solar lantern. Be warned: Almost no solar lantern actually lives up to its advertised battery life.
You also need to know that the battery life listed is going to be for the “low” setting. For example, one solar lantern might advertise that it can run for 100 hours. On a high setting though, the battery life might only be around 5-10 hours. That’s a big difference.
Brightness (measured in lumens) is directly related to the battery life of the solar lantern. I’d avoid any solar lantern that only has one brightness mode, especially if you find yourself in an emergency situation and need low light for longer periods of time.
Unfortunately, most cheap solar lanterns don’t list their brightness. You have to do some digging to find out this information.
How many lumens do you realistically need?
- Night hiking or trail running: Minimum 50-100 lumens, depending on the terrain (though you’ll probably want to use a headlamp and not a lantern)
- Lighting a tent: Up to 100 lumens
- Reading in a tent: Around 50 lumens
- Preparing dinner: 20-40 lumens
- Lighting a picnic table: Around 200 lumens
- Lighting up large campsite: Around 300 lumens (you’ll probably use multiple lanterns for this)
Other Power Source
You don’t want a lantern that can only be powered by the sun. Today’s best solar lanterns will also be USB chargeable and maybe also run on batteries too.
Tip: Pay attention to what type of batteries the solar lantern uses. Many use special batteries which are hard to find and won’t be compatible with your other camping gear.
Look for a solar lantern that can be fully charged within a max of 5 hours. Otherwise, you could find yourself without adequate lighting.
Tip: If the charge time is long and the battery life is short, make sure you have a backup lighting option. The last thing you want is to be without lighting if an emergency occurs!
You can expect your solar lantern to take a bit of a beating while camping – like when a squirrel knocks it out of the tree it was hooked up to, or an unexpected rain shower gets your lantern drenched.
Can It Charge Other Devices?
The best way to cut down on weight while backpacking is to bring multipurpose gear. A solar lantern that also acts as a battery bank can be great for this. Some of the best solar lanterns can hold enough of a charge to power a phone – a great feature to have in case of an emergency.
Best Solar Powered Camping Lanterns
1. Goal Zero Lighthouse 400
Goal Zero is one of the top names in solar-powered outdoor gear. They make a few different types of lanterns.
Note that the Goal Zero lanterns are NOT solar powered by themselves. You have to use them with the Goal Zero charger. This is annoying, but some of the features of their lanterns make up for it. *Read my picks for the best portable solar chargers.
- Battery Life: 5 to 48 hours
- Charging Time: 7-14 hours
- Brightness: Adjustable up to 400 lumens
- Charging Methods: Solar charger (sold separately), USB, hand-crank
- Weight: 1lbs
- Serves as a power bank – can charge USB devices like your phone
- Battery life actually lives up to its promise
- The dim setting is usable
- Very durable
- Light direction can be adjusted
- Hand crank option for charging
- Red light emergency alert mode
- Solar panel sold separately
- Takes 7-14 hours to fully charge with the Nomad 7 solar panel
- Dimming switch is a bit fidgety
- Pricy option
*** Buy the Goal Zero 400 here ***
This solar lantern has a very different design than most that you will see. I love the design because it maximizes how much charging potential you get. For a cheap solar lantern, it performs very well and is compact enough to carry with you on short backpacking trips.
- Battery Life: 2 hours on high, 4 hours on low, 4 hours on flashing
- Charging Time: About 4 hours
- Brightness: 100 lumens (high), 50 lumens (low)
- Charging Methods: Built-in solar panels, micro USB
- Weight: 4oz
- Great price and value
- Durable design
- Good battery life
- Very bright
- Light works while charging
- Works as a flashlight or a lantern
- Not waterproof
- No red light setting
- The hanger hook is flimsy
Bigfoot is a super cheap solar lantern designed for outdoor use. Unlike a lot of the other cheap solar powered lanterns though, this one actually performs pretty well.
The first great thing about the lantern is that it is lightweight and compact. At 3oz, you could bring this backpacking without weighing yourself down.
Of course the size does mean it has limitations. The max brightness is only 65 lumens – not enough to safely trek through the woods at night. It holds its charge for a surprisingly long time though. Users report that the light lasted longer than 10 hours on high, though it did start to dim as the battery drained.
Note that the Bigfoot lantern can be used to charge USB devices. Its output is 0.6A. This is not enough for large devices like an iPad, but will take a phone from zero to 10% in about an hour. So, I wouldn’t rely on this as your sole method of charging your devices, but it is a good emergency charger to have.
- Battery Life: 10 hours on low, 5 hours on high
- Charging Time: About 1-4 hours
- Brightness: 65 lumens (high), 25 lumens (low)
- Charging Methods: Built-in solar panels, USB
- Weight: About 3 oz.
- Very lightweight and compact
- Charges quickly
- Good battery life
- Can be used as a powerbank
- Takes a long time to charge a phone
- Not very bright
- Accordion part eventually will collapse
The AGPtek solar lantern is most popular as an emergency light during power outages. However, it could work for car camping too. I would never take it backpacking though as the thing is a beastly 1.75lbs and very bulky.
Compared to other emergency lights, the AGPtek performs very well. It lives up to its battery life promises, though the light will start to dim as the power drains.
It is really cool that you can charge it in so many different ways. Just 10 minutes of cranking will give you light for 60 minutes. As a powerbank, the AGPtek is fairly reliable. It has an output of 1A, so can charge even some larger devices. Just make sure to check it with your device first. Some users report that their phones didn’t accept a charge from the lantern!
- Battery Life: 20 hours on low, 12 hours on high
- Charging Time: About 7 hours with solar
- Brightness: 240 lumens (high), 140 lumens (low)
- Charging Methods: Built-in solar panels, USB, crank, car adapter, AC adapter, or 3 AAA batteries
- Weight: About 1.75lbs
- Lots of charging options
- Long battery life
- Very bright
- Works as a powerbank
- Wish it had an even lower brightness setting
- Must remove AA batteries if you want it to run off of the internal battery
- Heavy and bulky
- Not waterproof
- Light is a harsh blue tone, not a warm yellow
Finally on the list of best solar lanterns, we have the MPOWERED Luci Outdoor 2.0. The original version of this solar lantern became incredibly popular because of its cool design. Just set the panel under the sun. Once it is charged, blow it up and turn it on.
The Outdoor 2.0 is the newer, updated version of the Luci. It has some extra features, like an additional brightness setting, better straps, and longer-lasting battery.
The blow-up design of the Luci lantern does make it a bit flimsy. You’ve got to be careful that it doesn’t blow away when outdoors, and it could pop if not treated carefully. However, it is completely waterproof to a rating of IP67 – which is better than other solar lanterns which cost more.
- Battery Life: 24 hours on low
- Charging Time: 7 hours
- Brightness: 75 lumens (high)
- Charging Methods: Solar panel
- Weight: 4oz
- Very lightweight and compact
- Waterproof and floats
- Easy to hang off the back of a backpack
- 4 modes – ultra high, medium, low, flashing
- No USB or alternative charging method
- Takes a long time to charge
- Bright setting is only 75 lumens
- Blow-up design makes it flimsy and prone to blowing away