From enjoying time by the campfire or taking a walk under the stars. From fixing a flat tire or setting up your tent in the dark. Having the right lighting tool is essential for any trip. From old school lanterns to modern headlamps, there are endless ways to brighten up the night, and each has their advantages and disadvantages.
Headlamps have become the go-to lighting source for many outdoor enthusiasts and professionals alike. Their main draw is their hands free design that allow the user to benefit from excellent lighting while performing complex two-handed tasks such as starting a fire, setting up a tent, cooking, looking at a map, brushing your teeth, going to the outhouse after dark, climbing or simply just walking around camp with your hands full. If you get caught fixing your motorcycle or setting up camp in the dark, having your hands free is invaluable. Headlamps are also versatile as they can be held in your hand, wrapped around a water bottle or hung in your tent with the headband as an improvised lantern. Although extremely convenient, headlamps tend not to be as powerful as handheld flashlights since their compact design reduces the size of the focus sense and battery.
While wearing a headlamp, you often have to turn your head to aim at what you want to see which can sometimes become annoying, especially when you inevitably blind a fellow campmate.
In very buggy areas, having the light source next to your face can attract a lot of unwanted attention from bloodthirsty insects. In this case holding the light in your hand might be preferable.
Flashlights are often the most powerful light source found at the campsite. Their linear construction allows for a larger battery size and reflector for an extremely bright beam. Flashlights feel natural in your hand when compared with headlamps and are easy to turn on and off, which is useful for times when a constant light source is not always necessary, such as a campground road. In addition to being convenient and simple to use, flashlights can also be quite versatile. Small flashlights can be mounted onto a headband such as the Fenix Flashlight Headband and used as a headlamp. Many flashlights such as the classic Maglite can be used as a lantern by removing the reflector and lens, and flashlight diffusers can also be fitted to flashlights to serve as a lantern.
Battery powered lanterns, although not as versatile as flashlights and headlamps are still the best at lighting up a large area. Unlike the more personal headlamps and flashlights, lanterns are excellent sources of light for areas such as picnic tables, tents or any place where a group of people are gathered. This also removes the need for multiple lights to be in use at once, which saves battery life. Some lanterns are very small and great for hanging in a tent, while larger lanterns are better for lighting group areas such as larger tents or tables. Because of their larger size, lanterns take up more precious storage space than other light sources and are best shared with a group or taken as a luxury.
Features and Considerations
When looking at the myriad of headlamps, flashlights and lanterns on the market, there are some features that are worth considering.
Brightness and Beam Adjustment
Most flashlights and headlamps have the ability to change between a short distance wide beam that is useful for things that are close such as reading or moving in a tent, and a narrower spotlight mode, useful for navigating trails in the dark.
Adjustable Brightness and Strobe
Many headlamps, flashlights and lanterns have adjustable brightnesses which is useful for conserving battery power and using the light in enclosed environments such as a tent. Some lights also feature a blinking strobe setting for emergency signalling or roadside safety.
Many lights have a red light mode to preserve your night vision. This is very useful for reading in the dark. The red light does not cause your pupils to dilate allowing your eyes to remain adjusted to the dark when the light is turned off.
Most lights have the ability to resist some moisture and light precipitation, while some can even handle being submerged in water for short periods of time. It is always wise to verify that the batteries inside the light are dry after it has been exposed to water, to prevent corrosion of the batteries.
Batteries and Power
Most lights still use traditional batteries, but more and more are available with rechargeable batteries that can be charged with a USB cable. It should be noted that alkaline batteries do not perform as well as lithium batteries in the cold. Many modern lights have some form of low battery warning systems, but even so, it is always a good idea to carry spare batteries.
Some flashlights and lanterns come with alternate power sources allowing you to shake or crank them to create power. Although convenient in emergencies, these lights could become tiresome if relied upon for your main light source.
Solar powered lanterns have become much more practical recently allowing for extended light output from minimal sun exposure. Some, like the PackLite Max USB by LuminAID double as a recharging station for your electronic devices.
Especially important for headlamps, choosing a lighter option will be more comfortable to wear for a long period of time.