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If there's anything in your gear pack you can always depend on, it's solar lights and lanterns.
Thanks to solar energy, outdoor enthusiasts can use light sources that don't require any electricity or plugs. Solar lanterns have panels on them that receive a full charge from the sun and can last for hours at night without turning off. Just like emergency candles, they're a vital tool for camping trips. In addition, a lot of solar-powered lights are waterproof, and you can take advantage of hanging solar lanterns and put them around your off-the-grid campsite for some efficient outdoor lighting. Solar-powered lanterns will come in handy in the event of a power outage or natural disaster as well — so they'll be useful well beyond trips and outdoor adventures. After experiencing the Texas winter storm of 2021, I'll never go without an emergency light source.
So, why solar lanterns over flashlights and batteries? We always recommend having both, but solar lanterns are safer than candles and will save your precious battery life for emergencies. They're also handy for those looking to keep their outdoor area lit up without raising your electricity bill. There are so many styles of solar lanterns: bring a compact or inflatable option to the campsite or lake, hang a few in the backyard, or place some stylish ones on your outdoor furniture. We've got you covered with great solar-powered picks for keeping your next hiking trip, your porch, or your outdoor campsite lit up.
1. Our Top Pick
You might have seen this light from LuminAID on Shark Tank. But it's not our top pick because of that — it's because this lightweight lantern is inflatable and collapsible, making it a solid portable option for all sorts of outdoor activities or for keeping on hand at home for emergencies. The packable lantern is also waterproof and shatter-proof (great for kids or clumsy people like me), so it'll survive the elements. There are multiple brightness settings with 75 lumens of LED light, and you'll get up to 24 hours of light when the battery is fully charged — just charge it for about 10 hours in direct sunlight or a USB charger for a few hours to get the full affect. We love that this is made in the USA — and it's our favorite pick because it can last up to 24 hours on one charge, and it has over 5,000 five-star reviews on Amazon.
Goal Zero Lighthouse Camping Lantern - Amazon, $69.95 and Goal Zero Nomad 10 Solar Panel - Amazon, $99.95
This is a camping lantern that is absolutely worth the higher price point — and when you take into consideration all of its features, it's well worth the cost. First, you need to snag the Goal Zero Nomad Solar 10 panel. This is what easily charges the lantern — but, it will also charge your tablets, phone, power banks, headlamps, flashlights, and other USB devices. It only weighs one pound, is foldable and about the size of an iPad, and has a kickstand for easy set-up anywhere. Then, you need this unique and powerful solar lantern. There are three ways to charge this 600-lumen lantern: with a USB, with the solar panel, or with a hand crank for emergencies (for every one minute of cranking, you get 10 minutes of light). The lantern is also one pound, the legs fold in for easy storage, and it has a battery indicator light to let you know when it's running low. We love that there are a few different light options depending on your needs: the brightest 360-degree option will give you 2.5 hours of light, while the lowest 180-degree option will give you 32o hours of light without needing a recharge. There's also an emergency red light at the top.
This rechargeable solar flashlight has six modes and can last up to 15 hours on one solar charge. It also comes with a USB charger and is water-, shatter-, and even explosion-proof. It charges in just five hours, and has 6,000 lumens of brightness. It can be used as a floodlight as well.
This solar lantern serves as a decorative outdoor option. It comes in a pack of two and is a great pick if you're looking for a combination of outdoor decor and added lighting. These lanterns are soft white lights (six lumens), which add a calming glow. We love that it's easy to hang them off branches or porches — but you can also use them as tabletop lights. These also work with batteries, and when fully charged, the lantern will be turned on automatically and can last for eight hours or more at night.
Mason jar decor will never go out of style. This six-pack of mason jars will look fantastic on tabletops or hung around the backyard. If you're not a fan of the black metal lantern style and want something more farmhouse to match the rest of your home decor, you'll love these for your outdoor space. Expect them to illuminate for eight to 10 hours each night. The lights are weather-resistant and will work well in all types of conditions — and the fairy string lights inside each one make this a unique choice.
Hybridlight Solar HeadLamp - Amazon, $24.95
This solar headlamp is a must-have for hiking or biking. It's water-resistant and lasts for 25 hours on one charge, and also has the ability to be charged via USB. Strap it to your belt buckle or hiking backpack, or use it as a traditional headlamp. This one holds a charge for years and reviewers love you can store it in your glovebox and give it a charge by leaving it on your dashboard while you're running errands.
This piece was previously updated on April 7, 2021. It has been added to by Alida Nugent.