For decades I used a candle lantern for evening camp light and to hang in the tent before quitting for the night. But doing the numbers, a candle lantern is only about 20 lumens, lasts a maximum of nine hours (a few more with more expensive beeswax candles), and weighs about three-fourths of a pound. Decades ago when I bought the candle lantern there were few choices for small camp lanterns. But now the new generation of battery-powered LED lanterns are much brighter, much lighter, run much longer, turn on and off instantly, cannot burn you no matter how careless you get, and have built-in focused flashlight capabilities.
LED Me Home
Headlamps and flashlights are not the only lighting solutions that were revolutionized through LED technology. So too has the humble lantern as it joined the paradigm shift in 21st century lighting. LEDs or light emitting diodes are absurdly efficient, extraordinarily bright “light bulbs.” Because LEDs do not contain any filaments, they are impervious to shock, run much cooler than tungsten or halogen bulbs, and for all practical purposes, never wear out. The two most notable advantages of LED lights are their power-sipping low brightness settings, and their blindingly bright outputs when needed. As much as I am comforted by the warm glow and heat of my candle lantern, the advantages of the LED lanterns are just too many to ignore any longer. I’ll keep my candle lantern, but won’t be carrying it as often as I used to. Instead, orange is my new Black Diamond Orbit lantern (sorry, I couldn’t resist).
One If By Sea…
Considered a latecomer to the LED scene, the small high quality camp lantern has become an explosive space with product sizes ranging from marbles to footballs. Although an LED lantern made an appearance in an earlier Survival Cache article, the River Rock Nightfire to be specific, compared to that one the latest generation of LED lanterns has upped the game a notch, or two. Or three.
While not as sexy as a weapons light or defensive flashlight, the latest roundup of small LED lanterns are game changers in survival social lighting. Flashlights are a fairly personal lighting solution, and headlamps definitely are individual. Lanterns, on the other hand, with their non-directional 360 degree lighting spread are considered a group lighting solution that is gaining popularity again. I’d been following their development from the sidelines for a couple years, but didn’t move on one for my kit for three reasons. First, the popular powerful options had a penchant for ‘D’ batteries which I haven’t used since I gave away my last caveman club-sized behemoth Maglite a decade ago. Second, the weight of the 3 or 4-D cell lanterns exceeds anything I am prepared to accept for a simple mobile social lighting solution that doesn’t involve liquid or compressed gas. And third, the size of the 4D lantern is, well, no matter how small, still huge.
But what if there was an excellent LED lantern that was not much larger than a single D battery? And what if the runtime was measured in days, not hours? And what if the lantern also contained a 50 lumen directional flashlight if needed? And what if the light output was variable from 10 or fewer lumens to its maximum of 60-75 lumens? Now I was interested! Now I see the light.
Caught My Eye
Turns out that the mountaineering equipment company Black Diamond, well known for headlamps and high-end high-altitude gear, has turned its sights on the LED lantern space and created four exceptional solutions, of which two have entered my kit. One of my Black Diamond lanterns runs on four AAA batteries and the other on four AAs. Both lights have a 50-lumen “flashlight” option that fires out the bottom of the lantern either in isolation or in addition to the broad spectrum lighting of the lantern.
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Why might you want both a directional flashlight and a non-directional lantern from the same point at the same time? Great question. When suspended whether in a tent or above a table, the lantern can provide both a full circle of ambient local perimeter lighting as well as a spotlight brightening a table or tent floor for dinner, poker, map reading, first aid, or servicing equipment.
Black Diamond uses clever names for their suite of lanterns, and the two on the smaller end are the four-AAA version called the Orbit, and the four-AA version called the Voyager. Two other Black Diamond lanterns are also available including another 4-AA model that has a higher output with a rechargeable option called the Apollo; of course with a corresponding increase in price. And there is also a traditional 4-D cell monster called the Titan.
The New Old School
There is a term that needs to see the light of day at this point and it is the word “Skeuomorph.” It’s not a prepper term for the end of the universe or how to use barbecue implements as weapons, but rather a word that denotes the presence of anachronistic (old school) characteristics that essentially serve no function except to be familiar to those who have fond memories of the way it used to be. So to apply the concept of skeuomorph to the lantern, the D-cell version has much more in common to the classic (and still highly functional I might add) Coleman white gas lantern. Most of us have fond memories of the classic green metal Coleman lantern shining like an artificial sun on our campsite.
The thumb-hole plunger pump and knurled gas cap are tactile memories etched in everyone who’s old enough to know better. However, the design and form factor of the Coleman lantern was to 1) keep the pressurized fuel away from the heat source, 2) provide some safety-through-size for an excruciatingly hot lighting system, and 3), use inexpensive materials (pot metal) for construction to cut costs while still addressing the previous two issues. In other words, if a new light source is available, then there should be an update in lantern design especially since the Coleman had skeuomorphic elements taken from the older kerosene or whale oil and wick lanterns that sailed across the ocean long before the United States were united. And for the record, the Coleman weighs three pounds empty, four pounds fueled for takeoff, and blasts 861 lumens in every direction but up an down. Oh, and it can burn just shy of eight hours on one tank of gas.
There is no disagreement that large gas lanterns are much brighter than any battery-powered LED lantern, but everyone should also agree that most lighting demands require much less light than the gas lantern puts out. Much less!
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Like a smart-sized campfire, it is also wise to admit when too much is too much. Having a hanging supernova in your camp area is cool in concept, but not in practice. Besides destroying any night vision possibilities, the massively bright ball of burning gas is so visually loud that anyone near it must divert their eyes lest they fall under the influence of a light source instead of being able to look wherever they need to with no more than a few moments of snow blindness. The tripping hazards around camp are just as dangerous with too much single-point light as with not enough.
A Light Bright Lite
But survival is subtile. If you need a diverse and functional area lighting solution the new generation of LED lanterns, especially those of the smaller battery type answer this call wonderfully. The Orbit and Voyager are two excellent LED lanterns that provide both circular and spot lighting. The difference between the AA and AAA version is not much more than a bit of size and change of battery type. For those whose kit includes many AA devices, the Voyager is an excellent choice. For those who want the smallest possible high-end lantern lighting solution, then the Orbit is the way to go. If battery diversity is an issue, then consider if you will need more than one cycle of batteries. With a runtime of 70 hours on its lowest lumen setting, the AAA Orbit will give you many nights of warm glow prior to bedtime which should be plenty for most non-TEOTWAWKI events. For those end of the world situations, I’d suggest a few cycles of batteries at a minimum. Another way to think about it is seventy hours of LED runtime is two hours per night for over a month, or nine pounds of lantern white gas, or nine wax candles.
In my case, I have allocated an entire section of my kit to embrace AA batteries. For spot lighting (Fenix LD12 and LD22), GPS receivers (Garmin 62stc), headlamps (Fenix HL30), and a few other electronic devices including EOTech holographic weapons targeting systems (512.x), weather/emergency radios (Eton FRX3), walkie-talkies (Motorola MR350R), and the welcome recipient battery of my solar-powered battery chargers (Goal Zero Nomad 7). Long sentence, I know, but the humble AA battery is a formidable force when The Darkness hits.
The Gory Details:
The Black Diamond Orbit runs on four AAA batteries, has a max lantern output of 60 lumens and a minimum of 4 lumens. The flashlight dumps a high-end of 50 lumens out the bottom of the base. The Black Diamond Voyager fires out 75 lumens in its circular lantern pattern at its maximum and 10 lumens minimum. It also has a built-in battery charge indicator. The same 50-10 lumens is available on the flashlight side of things. On both lights, the cycling between the highest and lowest lumen count is marked at its extremes by a quick flicker of the light noting the end of that direction as it loops between the brightest and dimmest choices. I wish the Black Diamond lanterns “remembered” their most recent setting, but a continuous push of the ‘on’ button will begin the cycle, and since the default start is the brightest setting, a non-stop hold will cycle to the lowest setting in just a couple seconds. I have gotten in the habit of closing my eyes or shielding the light when I fire it up in total darkness. By keeping the on button depressed, the light immediately begins to cycle down in brightness. When the flicker appears, I release the button with the light now holding at its lowest setting.
Both lanterns use a telescoping design where the translucent globe slides over the battery-containing base. When extended, the lights offer a spray of photons greater than what you might expect given the lantern’s size. This is more than a flashlight blasting into the corner of a room or pointed towards a white wall. The lanterns are more of a flashlight blasting upwards onto a carefully shaped reflective surface that evenly divides up the photons in all directions before they head out the door through the misted plastic. The lanterns are extensively engineered 21st century designs. These ain’t your father’s Oldsmobile lanterns.
The Light At The End Of The Tunnel
In addition to my headlamp lighting, my tactical flashlights, my weapons lights, LED lanterns too have entered my kit. The paramount change is that lanterns are a desirable social lighting solution designed for the device space not addressed by directional lighting. By moving into the lantern space, my personal preps have gone more social. Tactical preps mirror the military, but a bright lantern acknowledges that the extended family and the community are the rule of law.
All Photos By Doc Montana