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The best solar lanterns: Price, lumens, and waterproofing compared

When you're sleeping in the wilderness, you need a powerful light source. Ditch heavy, toxic batteries for the best innovative solar lanterns. ZDNET's top choice for lighting up your night is Mpowerd's Luci Pro Outdoor 2.0.
Written by Rajiv Rao, Contributing Writer
Reviewed by Emery Wright
Mpowerd Luci Pro Outdoor 2.0 | Best solar lantern overall
A Luci pro outdoor 2.0 is clipped onto a hiker's pack for easy charging
Mpowerd Luci Pro Outdoor 2.0
Best solar lantern overall
View now View at Amazon
Goal Zero Crush Light | Best value solar lantern
The accordian-style Goal Zero Crush Light being held by two hands
Goal Zero Crush Light
Best value solar lantern
View now View at Amazon
Solight's SolarPuff | Best solar lantern design
Solight's brightly lit SolarPuff lantern floats on water and is brightly lit showing off its unique PET-based sailcloth material
Solight's SolarPuff
Best solar lantern design
View now View at Amazon
Luminaid PackLite Max 2-in-1 Power Lantern | Best solar lantern for backpacking
A person sitting and charging a phone using a brightly-lit Luminaid Packlite lantern's USB port
Luminaid PackLite Max 2-in-1 Power Lantern
Best solar lantern for backpacking
View now View at Amazon
Biolite Sunlite 100 | Best solar lantern for portability
A brightly lit Biolite Sunlight 100 nestling in the palms of a person
Biolite Sunlite 100
Best solar lantern for portability
View now View at Amazon

Camping trip preparation depends on where you're going and how you're getting there. When my kids were tots, our camping trips were more like "glamping"-- we'd arrive at campsites in a car filled with unnecessary items. But as my kids grew older, our family became more adventurous, and we set off into the wild in canoes. But first, we had to rethink our essential supplies.

Carrying equipment between bodies of water was difficult enough, so we needed to adequately prepare. We couldn't risk losing power in our night lights, and batteries become cumbersome and potentially useless if wet. Plus, when not recycled properly, batteries end up in landfills where they slowly ooze lead, mercury, and cadmium into the soil. What's worse, battery chemicals can end up in your lungs through toxic vapor, or in your digestive tract through ground and surface water.

Also: The best flashlights

That's why solar-powered lanterns are a lifesaver. They produce little to no heat thanks to LED bulbs and can charge even in cloudy weather. The best solar-powered lanterns are safe, silent, and made of eco-friendly material. Plus, they can be used inside tents without emitting toxic fumes. The best part? Solar energy is free. If you're out for more than just a weekend jaunt, solar-powered lanterns are a no-brainer.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • B Corp certified
  • Portable charger

  • Collapsible to one inch
  • Waterproof
  • Inflatable
Cons
  • Heavy
  • Vulnerable to punctures
More Details

Tech specs: Brightness: 150 lumens | Run time: 45 hours | Weight: 4.4 ounces | Dimensions: 5 x 5 x 4.25 inches | Features: Waterproof, withstands up to 150 lbs of pressure, mobile charging

It's hard to beat the Luci Pro Outdoor 2.0. It basically functions as a portable solar panel, which is handy when you're out in the wild. Its rechargeable 2,000 mAh lithium ion battery illuminates 10 LED bulbs to 150 Lumens and can last up to 45 hours on a low setting without charge. According to most users, the medium or low setting is more than adequate.

The Luci Pro Outdoor dually functions as a solar charger and can charge your phone up to 34% in 90 minutes. You can nestle into your inflated pillow and review the day's photos while coyotes howl nearby. 

The lamp collapses down to one inch, resists one meter of water for up to 30 minutes and features an adjustable handle so it can hang just about anywhere. Made by Mpowerd, a certified B Corp and a pioneer in solar lighting for the outdoors, this lantern is exactly what you need to venture into the wildnerness.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Collapsible, accordion-like structure
  • Retains power after shut off
  • Cozy glow
  • Pocket-size
Cons
  • No battery indicator
  • Ineffective candle flicker mode
More Details

Tech specs: Brightness: 60 lumens | Run time: 35 hours (28 hours according to testers) | Weight: 3.2 ounces | Dimensions:8 x 7 x 2 inches | Features: Adjustable panels, collapsible

The Goal Zero Crush Light emits 60 lumens of light and is highly rated amongst seasoned adventurers. The Crush Light's warm, cozy glow makes it a universally beloved product. Most campers say that the light is more than adequate to illuminate your campsite while you rustle up dinner.

Weighing only 3.2 ounces, this lantern has an accordion-like structure that allows it to collapse and slip into your pocket. Users say the Crush Light can last at least 28 hours on its low setting, which is remarkable considering the diminutive size of its solar panel. 

Goal Zero is a juggernaut in the business of clean portable energy today and strives to make its products both innovative and functional. You can twist, turn and angle the Crush Light to adjust the solar panel adjusts towards the position of the sun, and it retains a decent amount of power after shut-off, unlike many of its competitors. At a price that is shockingly low for what it delivers, the Crush Light is a steal.

If it included a battery indicator and ability to charge devices, this lantern would give the Luci Outdoors Pro a run for its money.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Inflatable
  • Dustproof and waterproof
  • Stunning design
  • Durable PET sailcloth
Cons
  • Requires long charge time
  • Cannot charge devices
More Details

Tech specs: Brightness: 90 lumens | Run time: 12 hours | Weight: 2.6 ounces | Dimensions: 4.5 cubic inches, collapsible to 0.4 inches | Features: Dustproof, waterproof, self-inflating, three light modes

Based on design, you may gravitate toward Solight's stunning SolarPuff lantern. This self-inflating, completely collapsible light radiates a competent 90 Lumens (on the highest setting) and is impressively sturdy thanks to its PET sailcloth material.

Weighing only 2.6 ounces--the lightest on this list--and armed with 10 LEDs that can emit both bright and warm white light, the Solar Puff is a dream for campers looking for the best weight-to-output ratio in a lantern. Most seasoned users say that an eight to 10-hour charge via its high-efficiency monocrystalline solar panel will get you around 12 hours of light.

The Solight isn't just easy on the eyes. It's dustproof, waterproof up to two meters (six feet) for 30 minutes, and comes in an array of models and colors. The Solight SolarPuff lantern actually secured a spot in no less a global temple of design than New York's Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). 

Solight founder Alice Min Soo Chun initially tested protypes in Haiti to aid victims of a devastating earthquake. And today, ten percent of Solight's product sales are funneled to global poverty reduction programs.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Durable
  • Buoyant
  • Powerful light
  • 100% PVC-free material
Cons
  • Slightly bulky
  • Pricey
More Details

Tech specs: Brightness: 150 lumens | Run Time: 45-50 hours | Weight: 8.5 ounces | Dimensions: 6 cubic inches, collapsible to 1 inch | Features: Dustproof, waterproof, 100% PVC free

Even if you aren't an inflatable lantern fan, Luminaid's Packlite is hard to resist. While the six-inch cube weighs 8.5 ounces--bigger and heavier than the Luci-- its powerful 150 lumen LED lamps can deliver at least 42 hours of runtime on a low setting with four other luminosity modes. That's why it gets rave reviews from backpackers who perpetually worry about battery life.

Despite its size, the Packlite is surprisingly svelte when collapsed--about the size of a small book--so it can easily be stuffed in a backpack or stashed in an outside flap. However, the Packlite's most lauded attribute is its ability to charge other devices via USB ports, so your headlamp and watch won't run out of battery, either.

It's also dustproof and waterproof up to one meter, which makes it ideal for canoe trips and camping in rainy weather. Other winning features include a battery indicator, adjustable strap for convenient hanging, and tough material thanks to heavy-duty TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane).

That aside, this lantern has a compelling backstory. Designed by architecture students Andrea Sreshta and Anna Stork, this solar lantern--in an uncanny resemblance to the Solight Solarpuff's origins--was created in response to the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti years ago, and the company continues to work with humanitarian agencies.

The Packlite won all five offers on ABC's Star Tank around eight years ago and quickly garnered its first investment from billionaire Mark Cuban. However, at a sticker price of $50, it may have to do a little more work to poach fans of the Luci Pro Outdoor 2.0.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Portable
  • Unique kickstand and integrated sundial
  • Several color modes
Cons
  • Cannot charge devices
  • Issues with battery
More Details

Tech specs: Brightness: 100 lumens | Run time: 50 hours | Weight: 3.4 ounces | Dimensions: 5.71 x 1.02 x 8.78 inches | Features: Kickstand, 3 color modes, dimmable

The Biolite Sunlight is a charming, uniquely designed solar lantern that's about the size of an ice-cream sandwich. You can slip it in your pocket on-the-go or amuse your kids with the 'party mode,' where the lantern light slowly cycles through different colors.

The Biolite Sunlight really comes into its own on a camping trip with a neat, integrated analog sundial situated on one corner of the solar panel. You can use the kickstand to change the angle--or the flatness--of the unit depending on the position of the sun.

While receiving rave reviews from its loyal fans, the Sunlite has frustrated others who consider its solar charging abilities inadequate. Some users complain the unit breaks after a few uses, and the device is not waterproof like others on this list.

Nevertheless, the Sunlite is an attractive, one-of-a-kind instrument that deserves its place in the sun and can serve you well in the wilderness.

What is the best solar lantern?

The Mpowerd Luci Pro Outdoor 2.0 is ZDNET's top choice for best solar lantern-- it does so many things right. At 150 lumens, it offers substantially bright lighting thanks to 10 LED bulbs. The reliable battery lasts for 45 hours and can recharge even on cloudy days. It acts as a mini solar panel that can also charge your headlamp and phone. It's also reliably waterproof and made by a company that is a certified B Corp, one of the toughest standards measuring environmental impact. Its low price is the cherry on top. 

Solar Lantern

Price

Charge your phone?

Lumens

Waterproof?

Mpowerd Luci Pro Outdoor 2.0

$25

Yes

150

Yes

Goal Zero Crush Light

$20

No

60

No, only splash proof

Solight's SolarPuff

$30

No

90

Yes

Luminaid PackLite Max 2-in-1 Power Lantern

$50

Yes

150

Yes

Biolite Sunlite 100

$15

No

100

No, only splash proof

Which is the right solar lantern for you?

It depends on how you'll use the solar lantern. If you're an avid kayaker and want to take your solar panel for a swim, look for a waterproof solar lantern made of sturdy material. Or maybe you want a powerhouse lantern that can reliably power your devices via its solar panel and USB port. Whether you're looking for an inflatable light source or foldable backup light, the lanterns below can meet your every need.

Choose this solar lantern….

If you need….

Mpowerd Luci Pro Outdoor 2.0

A reliable, sturdy and versatile lantern that can also charge your phone

Goal Zero Crush Light

An inexpensive lantern with a cozy glow

Solight's SolarPuff

A gorgeous, indestructible lantern you can show off at home or in the wild

Luminaid PackLite Max 2-in-1 Power Lantern

A sizable workhorse that pumps out lumens while charging your phone

Biolite Sunlite 100

A pocket-size lantern for your campsite or kid's room

How did we choose these solar lanterns?

We analyzed solar lanterns based on price, ratings and expert opinion. These solar lanterns offer customers a consistent, reliable experience in tough environments without breaking the bank. We looked beyond appearance to find evidence of high-quality performance, so you can test the limits of your solar lantern whether you're relaxing on a patio or hiking the Adirondacks. 

These solar lanterns can support you (and your other devices) while surviving rain storms and the general wear-and-tear of wilderness travel. These lanterns also feature innovative designs, material and functionality, while a commitment to social causes gives them an extra edge. 

What is a solar lantern and how do they work?

A solar lantern uses solar energy to power a light source. It typically consists of a solar panel that collects energy from the sun during the day, and a battery that stores that energy for later use. The stored energy is then used to power a light source, such as an LED bulb, at night. Some models come with additional features, such as a USB port for charging other devices, and a built-in radio or other functionality. These lanterns are designed for outdoor use, making them ideal for camping, hiking, and other outdoor activities, as well as for use in areas where electricity is not easily accessible. They are also environmentally friendly, as they do not require any fossil fuels to operate.

What is a lumen and how many do I need in a camping lantern?

A lumen is a measurement that refers to the intensity of visible light. 40-watt bulbs that you may use at home emit around 400 lumens. A flashlight is around 30 lumens. Camping aficionados recommend a lantern between 35 and 60 lumens for sufficient lighting. If you get a lantern with a higher lumen range, you can always power down and save some charge for the next day.

How many lanterns should I take on a trip?

Short answer: As many as you can! 

Relying on just one device is downright foolish. Your one and only lantern may decide to take a swim down the river, or get stomped on by your partner. Life happens.

It can also feel terrifying to go to the bathroom in the woods in the dark of night-- you may see a large, furry animal trying to bring down your food bag. Avoid any scary mishaps by taking advantage of these affordable solar lanterns. ZDNET recommends plenty of options at different price points, so invest in as many lanterns as you'd like.

What should I look for in a solar lantern?

Once you decide on a budget, focus on a lantern that suits your needs. This list highlights inexpensive but value-driven options that offer a variety of special features. Some charge your phone, while others can float for miles. Lumens, weight, and design should also be your other top considerations.

Are there alternative solar lanterns worth considering?

Many solar lanterns on e-commerce sites failed to satisfy our criteria. It's no surprise that the only alternative we've included is also made by Mpowerd, a B-certified corp that champions high-quality solar power.

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