We Tested the 6 Best Solar Camping Lanterns of 2019
|Solar Camping Lantern||Score||MSRP||Weight||Max Lumens||USB Port|
|Top Pick: MPOWERD Luci Pro Outdoor 2.0||
|Runner-up: MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0||
|Best Lightweight Solar Lantern: Goal Zero Crush Light||
|LuminAID PackLite Nova USB||
|Suaoki LED Camping Lantern||
We put six of the best solar-powered camping lanterns to the test. After over three months of experiments and real-world testing, the MPOWERD Luci Pro Outdoor 2.0 led the pack as our top pick. It was bright, long-lasting, quick to charge, and its mobile charging ability was respectable.
The Goal Zero Crush Light and the MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0 were tied for runner-up. Both charged quickly, were extremely light-weight and compact, and produced pleasant light that we loved hanging out under.
Read on for our full reviews, and information about how to choose the right solar-powered lantern for your needs.
Top Pick: MPOWERD Luci Pro Outdoor 2.0
The Luci was the original collapsible solar lantern, and in our opinion, it’s still the best. The MPOWERD Luci Pro Outdoor 2.0 was our top all-around pick.
This light has it all: great features, excellent ambiance and light quality, a quick-charging and efficient solar panel, and surprisingly decent mobile charging capabilities.
At 150 lumens, the Luci Pro was the brightest lantern that we tested. However, we found ourselves using its lower settings more often, especially in the tent. Its warm white LEDs put out a comfortable, diffused light with great ambiance.
We were also impressed with how quickly its solar panel charged. It would charge itself up enough to run for a few minutes just from ambient light and indirect sunlight indoors.
We also loved that its handle can unsnap, allowing for easier hanging.
While the mobile charging capabilities can’t really compare to a dedicated solar charger or portable battery pack, it still impressed us. When fully charged, the Luci Pro gave a 34% boost to a phone in 1 hour and 32 min before being completely drained.
That may not sound super impressive, but it’s twice what the other mobile charging lantern (the Suaoki) could handle. Even when completely drained, the Luci Pro could charge a phone from sunlight alone.
Its mobile charging could be a little finicky, and there were a couple of times, charging under the sun, where we couldn’t get it to register on our phone. We suspect that it was because it wasn’t drawing enough power from the weak early-winter sun at the time.
If you want to have the capability to occasionally top up your electronics throughout a trip, the Luci Pro’s charger does the trick.
The cons? It’s heaviest lantern we tested. It’s also the priciest at $34.95 retail as of this writing. But considering that you get a solar lantern and a solar charger in one, it’s not a bad deal.
Overall, we were impressed with this light, stoked on its mobile charging, and would recommend it to anyone looking for an awesome, durable, high-quality solar lantern.
Runner-up: MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0
What the MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0 lacked in features, it more than made up for in quality, performance, and simplicity.
Some might see the lack of any USB port as a negative, but we actually liked the simplicity of this light. A true solar lantern, it runs 100% off of the sun, and it does it well.
Its 75 lumens were more than bright enough for cooking or setting up camp, while its low setting was perfect for reading or hanging out in the tent.
Fully charged, the Luci Outdoor 2.0 lasted just over 6 hours on high in our tests, and has a claimed runtime of up to 24 hours on low.
Its three-light battery indicator tells you roughly how much charge it has. Plus its solar panel charged extremely efficiently.
In our testing, we placed each light under sunlight and artificial lights for the same amount of time, then measured how long they stayed on in high power. In both tests, the Luci Outdoor 2.0 lasted the longest out of all the solar camping lanterns while still putting out usable, bright light.
Like the Luci Pro Outdoor, our top pick, it has an adjustable strap to make it easier to hang up without a hook or carabiner, a feature which we loved.
The only cons we can come up with are that it’s a little on the heavy side, at 4.4 oz. And the snaps on its adjustable strap can be difficult to open and close.
Its light was also a slightly harsher, cooler white color than the Luci Pro. We didn’t mind the cool white LED light, but preferred the warmer tones of the Luci Pro and the Goal Zero Crush Light (reviewed below).
Those complaints are minor, though. At just under $20, the MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0 is a bargain. No frills — just a durable, high-quality, solar-powered camp lantern. We can definitely get behind that.
Best Lightweight Solar Lantern: Goal Zero Crush Light
Weighing only 3.2 oz, the Goal Zero Crush Light was not only the lightest solar lantern that we tested, but also one of our overall favorites.
This lantern had a lot of positives. For us, the biggest selling point, other than its light weight and compactness, was the light quality.
Its warm, yellow-orange color blended right in with the campfire and never felt jarring or out of place around the campsite like the bright white LED lights often did.
This was the light we most often found ourselves reaching for to cook dinner or hang out in the tent, purely because of the warm, cozy light.
The candle-light mode, which flickers and dims the light randomly to mimic a candle, was a nifty idea. It’s pretty unconvincing, though.
After playing around with the setting for a couple of minutes, we found that we had zero reason to actually use it. Still, it does nothing to diminish the rest of the light’s awesome properties, so we’re indifferent to it.
Although the Goal Zero Crush Light had overall shorter runtimes than most of the other lights in our tests, it actually kept a good bit of power in reserve after it shut off.
Once the other lights shut off, they were completely done, drained, and unable to turn back on until they were recharged. Once the Goal Zero shut off on high power, we could turn it back on and usually get another hour or more out of it on low power.
Especially since the Crush Light doesn’t have a battery indicator to tell you when it’s getting low, it’s nice to know that it won’t just abruptly shut off and leave you completely in the dark.
Its solar panel worked remarkably well, considering that it was the smallest panel of all the lanterns in our test. The Crush Light charged up fairly quickly in direct sunlight.
There really were only a few negatives with this light. First, it could be difficult to actually crush, requiring some coaxing for all of the folds to snap into place.
Second, it lacked any kind of battery indicator, leaving you guessing as to its state of charge. It does have a light next to the USB port that turns red when it is charging (either through USB or sunlight) and green when it is fully charged.
Finally, it was the only lantern without some sort of bottom or cover. If you happened to have it hanging in your tent directly above you, the LEDs could be a little binding when you looked up.
We’d recommend this light just for the ambiance alone, as it had such a cozy, natural quality to the light.
Combined with the fact that it was the lightest and most compact light we tested, and that it performed very well in out tests, we think this is a top choice not only for backpackers, but for anyone looking for a simple solar lantern to bring a little light to your nights in the backcountry.
Reviews of the 3 Other Solar Camping Lanterns We Tested
The LuminAID PackLite Nova USB had a lot of good qualities, but enough negative ones that it didn’t make it into our top picks.
Like the two MPOWERD Luci lanterns, it has a battery charge indicator and an adjustable strap to make for easier hanging.
It also lasted impressively long in our runtime test, getting beat out only by the BioLite SunLight (reviewed below).
It feels well-built and durable, and the snaps on the adjustable strap were much easier to use than the Luci’s straps.
Its solar panel didn’t impress us though. It regularly took over an hour in direct sunlight to get enough power to even turn on. To be fair, once it did build up enough power, it stayed on for a respectable amount of time.
We could excuse its slow charge time, considering that it outlasted many of the other solar lanterns when it came to runtime. Unfortunately, this lantern puts out a harsh white fluorescent light reminiscent of the flickery office lights we prefer to escape when we go backpacking. It was by far the least pleasant illumination for our tent and campsites.
If you don’t mind the harsh white of its LEDs, the LuminAID PackLite is a solid, well-constructed camping lantern. Our three award winners, though, give you a little more bang for your buck, and are overall much more enjoyable to light up your campsite with.
The BioLite SunLight was the only non-collapsible solar lantern that we tested, and it had some of our favorite features.
The color and ambiance of the light was awesome. We loved the dimmable white light, and the ability to choose from a variety of different lights.
Its “party mode”, where it slowly cycles through different colors of light, was a fun feature when we were hanging around camp after a good dinner.
It’s extremely compact, lightweight, and lasted an incredible 13 hours and 10 minutes in our runtime test. As a rechargeable USB camping lantern, we absolutely loved it.
Unfortunately, its solar panel was one of the weakest in our test, and since this is a review of solar camping lanterns, that weighs pretty heavily.
It took three hours under full sunlight for the BioLite to even have enough power to turn on in reserve mode, a low-power mode that limits its functionality to just a dim white light.
For reference, both Luci lights and the Goal Zero light turned on within a minute, and usually within seconds, of being in sunlight.
Even after more than five hours in full sunlight, it did not have enough power to get out of reserve mode. However, when we plugged it into a USB charger for a couple of seconds and then disconnected it, it immediately turned on in full power mode and worked for over an hour.
We find it hard to imagine that the solar panel, in five hours of full sun, couldn’t generate the amount of power produced by a couple of seconds on a wall charger.
We’re not sure if we got a lemon with some weird glitch that requires a boost of USB power to get out of reserve mode, or if the solar panel is just extremely inefficient. Whatever the reason, we were disappointed.
If you plan to primarily keep the light charged via USB and use the solar panel to give it a boost every now and then, this is still a good option, and an all-around fun light to have.
We liked it, and would recommend it with the caveat that, based on our tests and experience, it is super inefficient at charging with sunlight alone.
We wanted to add a budget pick into our test. The Suaoki LED Camping Lantern, with mostly good online reviews, seemed like a good bet.
Unfortunately, this was by far the poorest quality and worst performing lantern that we tested.
The cheap materials started to show wear almost immediately, with the plastic crinkling and starting to tear after the light was expanded just a few times.
The solar panel seemed to work sporadically. During our test, it charged the lantern up enough for around half an hour of runtime in 90 minutes of sunlight.
In another instance, though, the Suaoki sat in full sunlight for over three hours without building up enough power to turn on.
Although its overall runtimes look pretty good based on the numbers alone, it lost brightness very quickly. Most of its runtime was light that would barely be usable for close-up tasks like reading, let alone cooking or setting up camp.
This lantern features mobile charging capabilities, but it only gave our phone an 11% boost before it was completely drained. It also was unable to charge the phone from solar power alone.
We did like that when it was collapsed, the light was channeled into a focused flashlight beam, which was a neat feature.
This lantern — and countless duplicates — litter Amazon and are available for cheap. Even at the Suaoki’s low price, we think anyone interested in solar lanterns would be better off spending a few extra dollars for the Goal Zero Crush Light or the MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0.
With its flimsy build and poor performance, and with so many better options out there in the same price range, we just don’t see any reason to recommend this light to anyone.
Here are the best solar camping lanterns:
- MPOWERD Luci Pro Outdoor 2.0
- MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0
- Goal Zero Crush Light
- LuminAID PackLite Nova USB
- BioLite SunLight
- Suaoki LED Camping Lantern
How to Choose the Best Solar Camping Lantern for Your Needs
Types of Solar Lantern
Compressible: Some inflate like a balloon, some squish like an accordion, but compressible lanterns are the most common type. They can collapse down to less than half an inch thick.
Fixed: There are various types of “fixed,” i.e. non-compressible, lanterns. They range from traditional lanterns to small blocks like the BioLite SunLight.
String lights: Relatively new on the scene, solar-powered string lights are like a string of Christmas lights. They let you spread the illumination out around your campsite.
USB rechargeable: When they first came on the scene, solar lanterns were 100% solar-powered. The trend has moved toward lanterns that can be charged up either through solar panels or a USB port. Many solar lanterns that you will find are USB-rechargeable in addition to solar-powered. These lanterns can be compressible, fixed, or string lights.
Solar Charging Time
Most lights charge within a couple of hours on a wall charger. Under the sun, though, it’s a different story. If you plan on using your solar lantern primarily off the grid, then you need to know how long it will take to replenish those photons.
Most manufacturers will state how long the light takes to reach full charge in sunlight. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story.
We have found that some lights may take a long time to reach their full capacity, but within less than an hour can pick up enough charge to run on low through an evening. Other lights take hours to even charge up enough to turn on.
The lights we tested ranged from warm and soft to cold and harsh. All other characteristics aside, this was one of the biggest factors in how much we actually liked using these lights.
We recommend taking into consideration the quality of light that you prefer (warm or cold, diffused or sharp) and making sure the light you get suits your preferences.
Lumens are a measure of how much light a lantern produces at its light source. The lights we tested ranged from 60 to 150 lumens.
We found that 60 lumens was more than adequate for cooking, hanging out, and doing various tasks around camp. The extra brightness is nice to have, but certainly not necessary.
Mobile Charging Capabilities
Some solar lanterns also have the ability to function as a solar charger for your mobile devices. While this is a neat feature to have, it’s important to realize that their charging capacity is very limited.
They’re great for occasionally topping up your mobile devices, but not sufficient for regular heavy use.
How We Tested
We gave each light a full charge and then used a timelapse camera to measure how long they lasted on their highest setting.
Solar Panel Testing
We wanted to know how efficiently the solar panels charged the lanterns. We made sure that each light was fully drained, placed them under direct sunlight for 90 minutes, then measured how long they lasted on their highest setting.
We also performed the same test under the controlled environment of artificial light (full spectrum fluorescent plant lights).
- Of its 95-minute runtime after charging under sunlight, the Goal Zero Crush Light lasted 5 minutes on high and 90 minutes on reserve low lighting
- The Suaoki LED Camping Lantern emitted an extremely dim light when charged under sunlight and artificial light. Most of its runtime was light that would barely be usable for close-up tasks like reading, let alone cooking or setting up camp.
- We left the LuminAID PackLite Nova USB under artificial light for an additional 8 hrs. It lasted around 45 min.
- We also left the BioLite SunLight under artificial light for an additional 8 hrs. It still did not turn on.
- All of our testing was performed in late autumn and early winter. We suspect that under much stronger summer sunlight the lanterns would have longer runtimes relative to their time in sunlight.
Mobile Charging Test
Two of the lights had two-way USB ports, allowing for mobile charging capabilities. We wanted to know how well they could charge a phone from their internal reserves alone.
We made sure both lanterns were fully charged, and measured how much of a boost they gave a phone before the lantern was fully discharged.
Mobile charging results from full charge:
- MPOWERD Luci Pro Outdoor 2.0: 34% boost in 1 hour 32 min
- Suaoki LED Camping Lantern: 11% boost in 47 min
We also wanted to know how well these two lanterns could charge a device off of sunlight alone. After the lanterns were fully drained, we brought them out to a sunny spot.
Mobile charging results from sunlight:
- MPOWERD Luci Pro Outdoor 2.0: Almost immediately began charging our phone, although at a slower rate and occasionally losing charging capacity
- Suaoki LED Camping Lantern: Did not charge our phone at all
We used these solar lanterns to light up our nights for over 3 months on various camping and backpacking trips throughout the Southwest, and occasionally around home for some extra light.
We put each one through multiple charge and discharge cycles, on both USB and solar power, over the course of our testing.