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The 5 Best Solar Lanterns for the Modern Camper (Featuring the Luci Light from Shark Tank)

For today‘s tech-savvy campers, reliable lighting is a must-have, whether you‘re pitching your tent deep in the backcountry or enjoying a family campground. While flashlights and propane lanterns still have their place, an increasing number of campers are turning to solar-powered lanterns for their lighting needs. Solar lanterns harness the power of the sun to provide bright, long-lasting illumination without relying on an electrical hookup or disposable batteries. They‘re an eco-friendly, convenient choice for modern campers.

To help you choose the best solar lantern for your camping setup, we‘ve rounded up five of the top models on the market. And we‘re putting a special spotlight on one of the most popular options: the Luci light that got its big break on Shark Tank.

I‘ve personally tested all of these lanterns on multiple camping trips, evaluating factors like brightness, battery life, durability, portability, and ease of use. I‘ve also dug into the technology behind these devices to help explain what sets the best apart from the rest. Here‘s everything you need to know to pick the perfect solar-powered lighting for your next outdoor adventure.

Solar Lantern Technology 101

Before we jump into the product recommendations, let‘s take a quick look at the key technological components that make solar lanterns work:

Solar cells: These are the devices that convert sunlight into electrical energy. Most solar lanterns use monocrystalline silicon cells, which are made from a single crystal of silicon and are known for their high efficiency and performance in low-light conditions. The size and quality of the solar panel determines how quickly the lantern can recharge in the sun.

LED bulbs: Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) have largely replaced incandescent bulbs in portable lighting applications thanks to their superior energy efficiency, durability, and longevity. High-quality LEDs can last up to 50,000 hours and convert the vast majority of their energy input into light rather than waste heat.

Rechargeable batteries: Solar lanterns typically use lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries to store the electrical energy harvested by the solar panel. Li-ion batteries have a high energy density, meaning they can pack a lot of power into a small package. They also have low self-discharge rates, so they retain a charge for a long time when not in use.

The interplay between these three components largely determines a solar lantern‘s performance. The solar panel needs to be efficient enough to charge the battery in a reasonable amount of time, the battery needs sufficient capacity to power the LED bulbs for an extended period, and the LEDs need to convert that battery power into bright, clear illumination.

Our Top 5 Solar Lantern Picks

Without further ado, here are our top picks for the best solar camping lanterns currently on the market. I‘ve highlighted the key specs and features for each, as well as any potential drawbacks to be aware of.

1. MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0

Key Specs:

  • Lumens: 150 (high), 25 (low)
  • Battery: 1000 mAh Li-ion
  • Max Run Time: 24 hours (low), 6 hours (high)
  • Solar Charging Time: 8 hours
  • Weight: 4.4 oz
  • IP Rating: IP67 (dustproof and waterproof up to 1m)
  • Price: $24.95

The Luci Outdoor 2.0 takes the top spot on our list for its winning combination of performance, durability, and value. This compact, inflatable lantern collapses down to just 1 inch thick for easy packing, but provides an impressive 150 lumens of glare-free light on its highest setting. The frosted plastic cover diffuses the LEDs for even, ambient illumination that‘s perfect for the campsite.

One of the Luci‘s standout features is its adjustable strap, which allows you to hang it from the ceiling of your tent, lash it to your pack, or carry it as a handle. It‘s also fully waterproof (it floats!) and resistant to shocks and impacts. In my testing, the Luci charged reliably in full sun and held its charge extremely well when not in use. The only real downside is the lack of an integrated USB port for charging devices.

2. LuminAID PackLite Max 2-in-1

Key Specs:

  • Lumens: 150 (high), 50 (low)
  • Battery: 2000 mAh Li-ion
  • Max Run Time: 50 hours (low), 12 hours (high)
  • Solar Charging Time: 12-14 hours
  • Weight: 8.5 oz
  • IP Rating: IP67
  • Price: $49.99

The PackLite Max shares a similar design to the Luci, with a flat-pack build and inflatable housing. But it ups the ante with a larger 2000 mAh battery that provides longer run times, as well as a built-in USB port for charging small devices. The 150-lumen max output is plenty bright for most campsite needs, and the frosted TPU cover casts a nice even glow.

Another handy feature of the PackLite Max is its multi-function strap, which allows you to hang it as a lantern, wear it as a waist light, or carry it as a handle. It‘s also fully waterproof and dustproof. The main tradeoff for the bigger battery is slightly longer solar charging times and a bit more bulk. But for weekend warriors who want maximum off-grid power, it‘s a worthy upgrade over the Luci.

3. Goal Zero Crush Light

Key Specs:

  • Lumens: 175 (high), 50 (low)
  • Battery: 3000 mAh Li-ion
  • Max Run Time: 35 hours (low), 3 hours (high)
  • Solar Charging Time: 20-22 hours
  • Weight: 8.8 oz
  • IP Rating: IPX4 (splash resistant)
  • Price: $24.95

Goal Zero is a leader in off-grid solar solutions, and their Crush Light is a reliable, well-built addition to any camp kit. Its elegant, collapsible design incorporates a pop-up silicone lampshade that casts a soft, pleasant glow. And with a max output of 175 lumens, it‘s the brightest lantern on our list.

The Crush Light‘s killer feature, though, is its beefy 3000 mAh battery, which can fully recharge a smartphone or keep the lantern burning for days on its lowest setting. That large battery does necessitate longer solar charging times, so it‘s best to top it off before you hit the trail. The lantern also lacks a full waterproof rating, though its rugged construction should stand up to some rain.

4. Suaoki Led Camping Lantern

Key Specs:

  • Lumens: 300 (high), 5 (low)
  • Battery: 1000 mAh Li-ion
  • Max Run Time: 10 hours (low), 3 hours (high)
  • Solar Charging Time: 6-8 hours
  • Weight: 10.2 oz
  • IP Rating: IP65 (dust tight and water resistant)
  • Price: $19.99

If you‘re willing to sacrifice some portability for raw lumen output, the Suaoki is an intriguing pick. Its 300-lumen max setting is by far the brightest of any lantern on this list—enough to illuminate a picnic table or cooking area. You can also remove the plastic lampshade for a more focused beam to use as a flashlight.

The Suaoki‘s solar charging system is very efficient for its size, allowing a full battery top-up in 6-8 hours of sun. It‘s also built like a tank, with a shockproof ABS plastic body and IP65 water and dust resistance. The trade-offs are a relatively short battery life on high power and a bulky build that makes it less than ideal for backpacking. But for car campers who crave serious illumination, it‘s a worthy contender.

5. Kizen Solar Powered LED Camping Lantern

Key Specs:

  • Lumens: 60 (high), 25 (low)
  • Battery: 800 mAh Ni-MH
  • Max Run Time: 16 hours (low), 8 hours (high)
  • Solar Charging Time: 8-12 hours
  • Weight: 9.8 oz
  • IP Rating: None specified
  • Price: $14.97

Rounding out our list is the budget-friendly Kizen lantern. While it can‘t match the performance of the premium models above, it delivers reliable off-grid lighting at an attractive price point. The old-school lantern design incorporates three individual LED bulbs and a reflective interior for even light dispersion.

With a maximum output of 60 lumens, the Kizen is best suited for small spaces like a 2-person tent. The nickel-metal hydride battery technology is a bit outdated compared to Li-ion, resulting in shorter run times and slower solar charging. Weather resistance is also not a strong suit. But for casual campers looking for a low-cost solar option, the Kizen covers the basics.

Solar Lantern Comparison Table

Lantern Lumens (High/Low) Battery Capacity Max Run Time (Low/High) Charge Time Weight IP Rating Price
MPOWERD Luci 150/25 1000 mAh 24 hrs / 6 hrs 8 hrs 4.4 oz IP67 $24.95
LuminAID PackLite Max 150/50 2000 mAh 50 hrs / 12 hrs 12-14 hrs 8.5 oz IP67 $49.99
Goal Zero Crush Light 175/50 3000 mAh 35 hrs / 3 hrs 20-22 hrs 8.8 oz IPX4 $24.95
Suaoki LED Lantern 300/5 1000 mAh 10 hrs / 3 hrs 6-8 hrs 10.2 oz IP65 $19.99
Kizen LED Lantern 60/25 800 mAh 16 hrs / 8 hrs 8-12 hrs 9.8 oz N/A $14.97

Why Go Solar? Benefits and Market Growth

So why should you consider ditching the traditional fuel-burning or battery-powered lanterns in favor of a solar model? The benefits are manifold:

Eco-friendly and sustainable: Solar lanterns rely on clean, renewable energy from the sun, reducing reliance on disposable batteries or fossil fuels. Over the lifespan of the product, that can add up to a significantly lower environmental footprint.

Convenience and reliability: With a solar lantern, you‘ll never get caught without a light source, even on extended off-grid trips. As long as you have access to sunlight, you can keep your lantern charged and ready to go. No more scrambling to find replacement batteries or fuel canisters.

Durability: Most solar lanterns are built to withstand the rigors of outdoor use, with rugged housings, weatherproof designs, and shockproof construction. Many can survive drops, submersion, and extreme temperatures that would spell the end of a traditional lantern.

Cost savings: While solar lanterns tend to have a higher upfront cost than their non-solar counterparts, they can pay for themselves over time by eliminating the need to purchase consumable power sources. For frequent campers, that can add up to substantial savings.

The benefits listed above, coupled with falling costs and improved technology, have led to explosive growth in the solar lantern market. According to a report by Global Market Insights, the global solar lantern market size exceeded $590 million in 2019 and is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 16% from 2020 to 2026.

Aside from the camping and outdoor recreation market, solar lanterns are also gaining traction as emergency preparedness tools and off-grid lighting solutions in developing countries. As climate change increases the frequency and severity of natural disasters that can knock out power grids, many are turning to solar lanterns as a reliable backup lighting option. And in regions of the world where access to electricity is limited, solar lanterns provide a safe, affordable alternative to kerosene lamps.

The Future of Solar Lanterns

As the market for solar lanterns continues to grow, we can expect to see even more innovation and improvement in the years ahead. Here are a few key areas where I think solar lantern technology will evolve:

More efficient solar cells: The latest advancements in photovoltaic technology, such as perovskite and multi-junction solar cells, promise to dramatically increase the efficiency of solar panels in the coming years. For solar lanterns, that could translate to faster charging times and better low-light performance.

Higher-capacity batteries: Breakthroughs in battery tech, like solid-state Li-ion cells and graphene supercapacitors, could enable solar lanterns to store more energy in a smaller package. Expect to see models with far longer run times on a single charge.

Smart features: The Internet of Things (IoT) revolution is coming to camping gear, and solar lanterns are no exception. In the future, your lantern may be able to connect to your smartphone to control brightness and color temperature, monitor battery levels, or even alert you to incoming weather hazards.

Sustainable materials: As consumers become more eco-conscious, I anticipate more solar lantern manufacturers will shift to using recycled and biodegradable materials in their products. Think recycled plastic housings, plant-based fabrics, and fully recyclable electronics.

Of course, these are just predictions, and the future is always uncertain. But one thing I can say with confidence is that solar lantern technology will only get better and more accessible in the years to come.

Final Thoughts

Whether you‘re a hardcore backcountry enthusiast or a casual car camper, a solar lantern is an invaluable addition to your gear arsenal. With models ranging from ultra-portable inflatables to rugged powerhouses, there‘s a solar lantern out there to fit every camper‘s needs and budget.

If you‘re looking for the best balance of performance and value, you can‘t go wrong with our top pick, the MPOWERD Luci. It‘s a shining example of what a modern solar lantern can be: bright, durable, compact, and affordable. And its origin story on Shark Tank is a testament to the scrappy, innovative spirit driving the solar lantern industry forward.

But don‘t just take my word for it. The only way to truly appreciate the benefits of solar lighting is to try one for yourself on your next camping adventure. Harness the power of the sun, and never worry about your lantern running out of juice again. The future of camping illumination is here, and it‘s looking bright!