Lighting Options for Camping

A good lighting setup will provide a mixture of general or ambient light for general illumination, task lighting for reading / cooking / playing games and directional lighting for spot lighting and pathways. A planned approach to your lighting is important to help you to achieve this and to establish the right setup at the outset. 

In our early camping days, we had no plan when we first started out camping and, except for an LP gas powered lantern, powered all of our lighting with disposable batteries. We subsequently included rechargeable batteries in an effort to reduce the amount of disposable batteries going to landfill by virtue of our camping getaways. The cost of the lighting items we no longer use would be well in excess of $300. Having been there and done that, we hope we can help you to get your lighting setup right the first time.

The market has come a long way over recent years with many new and more efficient products to choose from at reasonable prices. The products we discuss below will be considered in terms of:

  • Function
  • Size and weight
  • Ease of setting up and packing up
  • Running / powering costs
  • Effect on the environment
  • The extent to which they complement our overall power and fuel setup

Head torches

LED head mounted torches are extremely compact and light weight and conveniently leave your hands free for your various campsite tasks. They are also great for reading.

They come in various price ranges and, although traditionally they have been disposable battery powered, a number of new products coming onto the market are USB rechargeable.

They can also be used as hand held torches for general use around the campsite and for trips to the bathroom. Everyone in your campsite should have one of these!

Hand torches and flashlights

LED hand torches are very useful around the campsite and provide excellent directional light for specific tasks. They are also perfect for spotlighting and exploring around the campsite in the evening and for trips to the bathroom.

While most torches and flashlights are disposable battery powered, a number of new products are coming onto the market that are USB rechargeable, solar powered and even powered by a hand crank.

Whatever you choose, look for those that are lightweight, compact, energy efficient and suit your lighting requirements. Some disposable battery powered options might look great, but check the label for their battery requirements before you buy. A little torch powered by one AA battery would be suitable for general use, won't break the battery budget and will be kinder to the environment.

For exploring, each campsite should also have one good long reaching torch with an expandable beam that can pinpoint specific objects as well as provide a wide beam light source. These are great for spotlighting and exploring around the campsite at night, but again, the weight and size of the torch you choose needs to be considered.

Hanging and strip lights

Tent lighting

Lights needed to illuminate the inside of tents don't necessarily need to be particularly bright if everyone has a head torch for task lighting. Smaller tent lights and lanterns can be USB charged, solar powered or disposable battery powered, but if you are considering the latter, choose energy efficient options that don't require more than one or two AA or AAA batteries.

Awning and annex lighting

Strip and smaller round / dome style hanging lights are very efficient ways to provide general ambient and task lighting to the campsite and can be powered via:

1. An inbuilt USB chargeable battery – cables are not required to power the light
2. An inbuilt solar powered battery – solar panel either built into the light or connected via a cable
3. A cable to a power source such as battery or electricity
4. Disposable batteries

While lighting under option 3 (cable to power source) might generally provide better light, the positioning of the lights from the power source will be limited to the cable length, and the cabling will take up valuable packing space. Options 1 and 2 above are therefore preferred over those involving disposable batteries or cables to a separate power source.

Large lanterns

Probably the least desirable on a number of levels are these large lanterns. They can be quite bulky and heavy and can take up unnecessary space in the car. They can provide good lighting for activities such as dining, games and cooking, but they tend to be costly to run because of the larger size and number of batteries required to run them.

Some lanterns are sold with rechargeable battery packs but, regardless of the battery type, there are in our opinion (and we are happy to stand corrected by any battery powered lantern lovers out there) lighter and more compact alternatives for general ambient and task lighting as mentioned above.


Keep reading:

16 tips for securing gear to the roof racks

25 tips for packing your car for camping

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