Best lantern

Lanterns are useful when you want to light up a 360-degree area without constantly carrying the light source as a headlamp or normal flashlight, or worrying about those smaller devices overheating after hours of use. Here’s the top picks from experts after countless days of field testing.

Last Updated: April 15, 2021
Added the BLF LT1 as a main 'for home' pick, plus added a few other contenders from the high-end LED category.

Although candle or fueled lanterns are a decent backup and can put off a small amount of heat, many people have moved to modern LED electric lanterns that are energy efficient (and easy to recharge with portable solar or a battery pack), bright, and can act as a charging hub for other USB devices. Plus, you don’t have to worry about scarce fuel or candles.

The best times to use lanterns are when you need to fill an area with stable light. Maybe your house loses power during a winter storm and you want a few hours of soft light while trying to relax as your family gathers in one area to conserve heat.

When away from home, people will often hang lanterns inside of a tent, place them on an outside tabletop for working around camp, or as basic lighting in an improvised shelter or evacuation area. The soft glow makes it easy to find your way back when nature calls in the middle of the night, for example.

More: Best emergency candles and space heaters

Every home should have at least one lantern as a room-filling backup when the power is out. If there are multiple people in your home, it’s not a bad idea to get more so that every person in the house can have one — in longer-term emergencies, that will make it easier for people to hang out or sleep in different rooms, use the bathroom, and so on.

Some people pack a lantern in their go-bag but be mindful that many of these lanterns are bulky. That’s why more space-conscious packers prefer a headlamp since if you really need room-filling stationary light in a bug out, you can always hang the headlamp like a lantern or even wrap it in a diffuser that spreads the normally-targeted beam around the room. Some headlamps even have official diffuser clip-on accessories for this purpose.

Basics:

  • Fueled and candle lanterns will produce a little bit of heat. It won’t warm up a cold room, but it could be enough to keep you alive or warm water and food.
  • To fill an area with light, aim for 10-20 lumens (the measurement of light output) per square foot. LED lanterns generally put out more light than similar candle or fueled options.
  • Fueled lanterns typically burn for 8-9 hours. Electric lanterns vary, but some models last up to 30 hours on a charge.
  • Since lanterns are designed to shine for hours, they do a better job of not overheating the way other forms of light can.
  • Because of how common solar charging is, electric lanterns are likely going to last you longer in a major SHTF event than candle or fueled lanterns because you’ll eventually run out of candles or fuel.
Main Pick
Streamlight Siege X
For go-bag:

Streamlight Siege X

Compact, rechargeable, 325 lumen flashlight/lantern combo. 3.5 hour run time on high, 25 hour run time on low. 4.35 inches tall. IPX7 rated. Impervious to dust and water-resistant.
Streamlight is a trusted name for light sources. We’ve been using and abusing various models from the Siege line for a few years now and they’ve had some of the most consistent mix of features, durability, and cost, especially among mainstream brands. The Streamlight Siege X is the smallest of the series and a great choice for vehicle kits and go-bags. It’s well built and will handle jostling around inside a portable kit. Streamlights experience is shown in the thoughtful design touches that really help when you’re in the field, such as the fold-flat, spring-loaded carabiner clip and separate fold-flat ruggedized curly handle so you can hang the light in all sorts of improvised ways.

The X comes with a removable 18650 battery that has a built-in micro USB charging port, but it can also run on two CR123A batteries. There’s an integrated ‘flashlight’ on the top (pictured below) that you can point with. The main lantern has multiple levels of brightness and a red-light mode.

Streamlight Super Siege (left) vs. Siege X with standard 12 oz can for scale
Home Picks
BLF LT1
Huge runtime:

BLF LT1

Favorite among light nerds. Four 18650 batteries with USB-C charging. 600 max lumens. 23 oz. Adjustable color temp and other advanced features.
Streamlight Super Siege
Built like tank:

Streamlight Super Siege

Rechargeable 1,100 lumen lantern. Can run 36 hours on its lowest setting or 5.75 hours on its highest. Onboard USB charger for small electronics. IPX7 rated and waterproof.

Lanterns kept at home can go bigger and brighter, often with extra features such as built-in USB device charging. The Streamlight Super Siege is the largest of that series, while the BLF LT1 is a fan-favorite among ‘light nerds.’ Some key differences between the two: The BLF is often around 20% cheaper than the Streamlight, but built less ruggedly. The Streamlight needs a wall-wart “barrel” plug (included) while the BLF can charge via the more modern USB-C (our preferred choice for standardization). The BLF is also intended for more advanced users — it has basic functions, but there’s a ton of features you need a manual to work through since all of the deeper settings are done through a single button. One reason the Super is so large is that it has a watertight compartment in the bottom for things like cash or keys.

The Siege has a built-in battery while the LT1 uses four removable 18650 batteries. Both have a final capacity around 10,500-11,000 mAh. The Siege puts out 1,100 max lumens compared to the LT1’s 600, but many LT1 users love the huge runtime and find the 600 lumens to be enough for the need. An example of the LT1’s more advanced features are color temperature settings (2700-5000K), smooth ramping, battery and heat protection, and tripod mounts.

Also Great
UCO Madrona
Uses D batteries:

UCO Madrona

Compact 300 lumen, rechargeable lantern. Can also run on 3 D batteries. USB port capable of charging small electronic devices. 6 hour run time on high. IPX4 rated.
UCO Candlelier Deluxe Candle Lantern
Light and heat:

UCO Candlelier Deluxe Candle Lantern

Holds three aluminum candles which can burn for 9 hours each, and produces 5000 BTU worth of heat. Flat-top surface for heating food or water.
UCO is another of the most popular brands in survival lighting. The UCO Madrona 300 Lumen Hang-Out Tabletop Lantern is a decent alternative to the Streamlights, while the UCO Candlelier Deluxe Candle Lantern is great if you want a candle-powered option. The Madrona comes in two styles: powered by 3 D batteries or a built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery that can power USB devices. UCO includes a magnetic lanyard for suspending the light overhead, but frankly, we’d rather have the built-in hooks on the Streamlight. The Candlelier claims it can produce 5,000 BTUs of heat, and it has a flat top where you can put small cups or canteens to warm up water for cooking. For a small, single candle lantern, consider the UCO Original Candle Lantern.

Budget Picks
Hybrighlight Puc 150
Puck style:

Hybrighlight Puc 150

Solar-powered collapsible accordion design. 150 lumen. 40 hours of light. USB port will charge small electronic devices. 3.25 inches in diameter, and weighs 8 ounces.
Goal Zero Crush
Pyramid style:

Goal Zero Crush

Folds flat, expands like a pyramid. Solar charging on top. Max: 60 lumens for 3 hours. 3.2 ounces.
We’re not big fans of collapsible models because they are too prone to breaking. This category is full of cheap white-label knockoffs that come from the same few Chinese factories (so you’ll notice a lot of clones from one ‘brand’ to another), but there are a few we’ve enjoyed using in the field. The obvious benefit is getting the room-filling light of a lantern in a smaller stored package — although you don’t really save much size over the Siege X.

survival frog lantern review pic

Notice the crinkled plastic in the lantern housing as you expand this now-discontinued collapsible model from Survival Frog. This expandable-hockey-puck product design is very common in this tier, likely coming from the same factories and then rebranded for various Amazon-style sellers.

The Hybridlight Puc 150 is the best collapsible lantern we’ve tried in the field. You pull to expand the plastic accordion-style sheath to create the ‘lantern’ — see picture above, where we intentionally left it bent so you can get a feel for how it moves. Many similar models use this accordion action, such as the Goal Zero Crush and the Survival Frog Pocket Light 2.0.

The Puc has the ability to charge USB devices, but the battery is so small that it doesn’t matter. However, we like the integrated solar panel which was thoughtfully placed on the side that would face the sun when using the integrated hanging clip. It seems like the Hybridlight is very similar to many of the crappy white-labeled versions of this puck style — but either the others are a knockoff of the Hybridlight, or Hybridlight ordered their version from the factory with better components and slightly different features. For example, the hanging hook on the Hybridlight is a higher-quality plastic with a more versatile design.

The Nite Ize Radiant 200CL is a basic but more durable model than the accordion styles because the lantern globe is a solid piece that slides down into the housing, collapsing the height by about half when stored. While it’s one of the collapsible styles we think is least likely to break, it’s otherwise pretty bare-bones, and the designers wasted a lot of storage space with the rigid pillars on top for the spring-loaded holding clip. We include it here in case you’re looking for this style, but frankly, we’d skip it.

Contenders

Although not currently top picks, these models are worth a look if you want more shopping options:

LED lanterns:

Fueled lanterns :

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Solid fuel lanterns

Lanterns powered by candles fall under the solid fuel category. These lanterns are great for ease of use and are shelf-stable, but give the least amount of light compared to other methods.

Candles can present a slight fire risk. Melted wax can be annoying to clean out of your lantern, and they are generally a bit on the heavier side because of the need to store multiple candles.

One of the benefits of candle lanterns is that they provide a small amount of heat. Candle lanterns like the UCO Candlelier Deluxe Candle Lantern can be used to boil water or transfer heat to a cooking surface.

Water cup warming on top

Liquid fuel lanterns

There are multiple lantern types within this category.

One advantage of liquid fuels is that they can be stored in bulk easier than an equivalent amount of candles. Liquid lanterns typically produce more light than candle versions, with just as much (or better) heat output.

If you already have a specific type of fuel around for other gear (eg. propane), then it makes sense to get a lantern using that same fuel. Any pros and cons between the fuel types are trivial compared to just storing more of what you already use.

Liquid fuel will create carbon monoxide. Your home should have a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector anyway, but if not, here’s yet another reason to add one.

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Most liquid fuel lanterns rely on a wick. A wick draws up fuel through capillary action and is vital for controlling the rate of combustion.

Once a wick is used in one type of fuel, use it only for that type of fuel. Buy a large roll of spare wick for your preps and for swapping out fuel types. You should be fine with any lantern wick from Amazon, eBay, or your local craft store — they are all just strips of cotton.

But you need to look out for the width and make sure that it will fit in your lantern. Another thing to consider with selecting spare wicks is fuel consumption and light output. A wider wick will produce more light, but will also use more fuel. A ½” wick uses ¼-½ ounce of oil per hour depending on the height and intensity of the flame and quality of the oil. ¾” wicks will burn about an ounce an hour.

Oil lamp output in candle power, lumens, and incandescent electric watts equivalent

Kerosene wick

Kerosene is used for everything from jet fuel to cooking. The world consumes about 50 million gallons (190 million liters) of kerosene a day — that’s more than 75 Olympic-sized swimming pools! So even though it isn’t a commonly used fuel in North America, it is a tried and true method of heat and light that’s often used in places like Africa and Asia.

Kerosene is cheap and common, found at most gas stations, hardware stores, and grocery stores.

Kerosene lanterns have various light output settings depending on how high or low the wick is. You turn the little knob on the side of the lantern to raise or lower the wick. Too low and you may snuff out the flame. Too high and it will not be able to burn the fuel fast enough, producing dark soot on the inside of your globe (the glass portion of the lantern) and a strong kerosene smell. To get the most amount of light, raise your wick until you start to see soot and black smoke coming from the wick, and then slightly lower it.

This isn’t a miracle fuel, though, as it produces carbon monoxide and other chemicals that can cause long-term health damage if not properly ventilated. Kerosene also stinks while you are refilling your lanterns, so do this outside. But when burning you don’t notice the smell as long as your wick is low. Kerosene lanterns can leak, regardless of price point or quality, so place a non-flammable dish under your lantern.

Pressurized kerosene

Pressurized kerosene lanterns vaporize the fuel over a mantle (ceramic mesh sack) instead of burnt through a wick. This produces more light than a wick version.

This type of lantern may not be the best for the average user or for emergency preparedness because they are more complex, delicate, expensive, and time-consuming to light.

Lamp oil

Most of your wick kerosene lanterns will also be able to burn lamp oil. Lamp oil can be a cleaner version of kerosene, paraffin, or a vegetable oil. However, lamp oil is more expensive and less common than kerosene.

Propane

Like LED lanterns, some propane lanterns can produce over 1,000 lumens of light. Propane is a common fuel source available at nearly every gas station, hardware store, and grocery store. You can use the same one-pound propane canisters found at stores like REI and Walmart for other camping gear. While you can refill the disposable one-pound canisters, there is a safer and legal option by the brand Flame King.

If you do end up going with a propane lantern, like the classic Coleman lantern, make sure you get extra mantles as they are delicate and can be easily broken. Without a good mantle, you won’t be able to use your propane lanterns.

Gasoline and diesel

While the above kerosene lanterns could burn diesel fuel in a pinch, this is not recommended. Diesel will produce lots of soot and toxic fumes. Unleaded gasoline can be used as fuel, and lanterns like the Coleman Premium Dual Fuel Lantern, can run on Coleman’s proprietary fuel blend or unleaded gasoline.

Coleman Premium Dual Fuel Lantern. Can run on unleaded gasoline.

Electric lanterns

Pros:

  • Energy efficient
  • Very bright
  • Don’t create heat or fumes

Cons:

  • Requires power
  • Doesn’t create heat
  • No real way to repair it yourself
  • Theoretically susceptible to an EMP attack

Electric lanterns can be compact LED lanterns, such as the UCO Sprout Hang-Out rechargeable Camping Lantern which puts out 100 lumens and weighs a paltry 64 grams, or large lanterns like the Streamlight Super Siege or Tough Light, which can put out over 1,000 lumens and last for over 40 hours on one charge (or a set of batteries.)

Some models have built-in rechargeable batteries while others run on D, AA, or AAA batteries. Models with built-in batteries are charged either via a USB cable — which is nice because you’ll already have those in your kit anyway — or an older style plug that requires you to carry that adapter with you, which is obviously less preferable.

Review: Best rechargeable and best disposable batteries

Some electric lanterns like the UCO Madrona also work as a power bank and allow you to charge small USB electronics like cell phones. That feature is great, but treat it as a nice-to-have backup, not your main power storage — carry a proper power bank for that.

UCO Madrona lantern charging a cell phone

Improvised or cheap lanterns

It’s possible to create the same lighting effect without a proper lantern using random materials around you. The result won’t be nearly as good, but it’s handy backup knowledge:

Lantern tips

  • Placing a mirror or reflective piece of metal behind your lantern will help reflect the light if you don’t want full 360-degree coverage.
  • If you have LED lanterns that run off rechargeable batteries, make that part of your annual prep review.
  • If your lantern uses disposable batteries, remove them when not in use so they don’t corrode.

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