Camp Lighting Ideas: Creative Campsite Lighting for Campers & Backpackers

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Article Categories: Hiking Tips | Travel
Article Tags: Camping

A crackling campfire might be great for heat, but it puts out less light than you might expect. And when you’re hiking or camping, the dark in the woods isn’t really the dark that you’re used to at home. When you’re at home, the quiet glow of various electronic indicators, the lights from the street outside, and the dim luminosity of light pollution combine to make a room that isn’t always pitch-black. And you’re familiar with home— you know generally where the furniture is, where your cat or dog is sleeping, and where the knob is on the bathroom door.

But in the woods? You aren’t so familiar with finding your way in the dark, and so having lighting at your campsite that’s more than just firelight and flashlights is great for avoiding sprained ankles and accidental falls. Here, we’ll talk about some of the types of lighting setups that you can use based on your camping style. While all campers need a headlamp and a good sturdy flashlight, these aren’t ideal for lighting up your whole campsite.

We’ll provide lighting ideas for the lightweight backpackers, who want to carry as little with them as possible; we’ll share ideas on how to light your base camp for campers who are planning multi-day adventures from the same spot; and we’ll help you figure out the best types of lighting for car camping and camping with kids. We’ll also share a few high quality lighting products so that you can shop right from our list. No matter what kind of camper you are, there’s some creative, fun lighting options out there that will suit your needs perfectly!

Quick Navigation:
Lighting for Backpackers | Lighting For Basecamp | Lighting For Family Camping | Understanding Power Sources | Lighting Ideas

 

Lighting for Light Backpackers

If you’re traveling light and want to reduce the amount of weight you’re carrying with you, smaller, brighter lights can be a good way to save space. You may not need or want illumination within your tent if you’re just using it as a space to sleep. You also might like smaller lamps that can easily tuck away and not take up valuable space in your backpack. They may also want to plan on having one main light source that’s easily portable from inside to outside the tent.

 

Low-Profile Lanterns

A low-profile lantern doesn’t take up much space but still packs the powerful lighting capabilities of a full-size lantern. These lanterns are easily portable and are just as bright as bigger lanterns.

 

CORE 100 Lumen LED Tent Light

Tent LanternLight Type: LED

Power Type: Battery

Key Features: Pocket-sized, water-resistant, bright, three light modes (high, low, nightlight)

Price: $24.99

Buy On Amazon

 

SUBOOS Gen 2 Pro LED Camping Lantern

SUBOOS Gen 2 Pro LED Camping LanternLight Type: LED

Power Type: Rechargeable battery

Key Features: Bright, five light modes, long-lasting, red and white light options, small, handle and carabiner for hanging

Price: $19.97

Buy On Amazon

 

Bottle Lantern

You can’t get much lighter than this, because you’re not buying anything new! Bottle lamps rely on two things you already have: a light source and a clear water bottle. All you do is shine a light through the bottle, and the water inside diffuses it to light up your tent’s interior. You can use your cell phone, headlamp, or a flashlight for this. If you want to add another water bottle, you can even get ones with built-in LED lamps that have a solar charger, made with the intent of functioning as a bottle lantern at night and a regular water bottle during the day.

 

Collapsible Lantern

LuminAID PackLite MaxCollapsible lanterns have a silicone diffusing shade that collapses down into their base. They are very compact and easily slip into one of your backpack’s pockets when you’re not using them. The downside is that they’re not very bright, but if you want low-level illumination that won’t keep you up, having one of these in your tent might be just what you need. There are also two in one lightweight devices like the example below.

Here is an awesome example.

 

Goal Zero Crush Light Solar Powered Lantern

Light Type: LED

Power Type: Solar

Key Features: Crushable design folds flat, handle for easy hanging, 35 hours of runtime on low, three white light settings, and a flickering candlelight setting

Price: $19.95

Buy On Amazon

 

Solar Helix SoLight

Solight - Solar Helix, Outdoor Light Self-Inflatable LED LanternLight Type: LED

Power Type: Solar

Key Features: origami-style design folds down to .25 inches thick, 12 hours of runtime, 2 light modes and emergency strobe mode, weighs 2.6 ounces, floats

Price: $24.99

Buy On Amazon

 

Lighting for Base Camp or Car Camping

Some campers like to take a decent amount of gear with them, set up a base camp, and then have excursions deeper into the backcountry. For this kind of camping, you likely want to prioritize runtime. Many of these products may also be a great fit for car camping, or tenting right next to your vehicle. You might want to have two sources of light, one for inside the tent and one that stays outside— especially if you’re camping with a group and you’re worried about people tripping over each other in the dark. It might also be helpful to have a small light illuminating your tent’s exit or exits, or a soft, low light on the inside of your tent while getting ready for bed.

 

Soft Lights

These lights are designed to be used inside the tent at night when you’re getting ready for bed. They might not be bright enough to read by, but they’re great for helping you sort gear or light up the space so that you and your friends can hang out more comfortably. Look for lights that have a clip so that you can set them up above you and not have to worry about knocking anything over.

 

Big Agnes mtnGLO Tent Camp Lights

Big Agnes mtnGloLight Type: LED

Power Type: Battery (can also plug into USB power pack)

Key Features: Soft diffused light for the inside of the tent; long battery life; clip for easy hanging

Price: $29.95

Buy On REI

 

String Lights

String lights are great for camp illumination. They’re not too bright, but they can cover a lot of surface area and make it easier to move around. This kind of light doesn’t cast harsh shadows, so it won’t make the terrain more confusing. These lights are great in and outside of the tent and can be wrapped around trees, table legs, tentpoles… any surface you want! The only downside to these is that they can get tangled, so store them properly!

 

MPOWERD Luci String Lights

MPOWERD Luci String LightsLight Type: LED

Power Type: Solar/Rechargeable battery

Key Features: Solar powered with quick-charge mode via USB plug-in, can charge your phone or other devices, 20 LEDs on an 18-foot cord, lightweight, durable, hanging clips, and secondary cord for easy suspension

Price: $44.95

Buy On Amazon

 

Lanterns

The classic lighting option, lanterns have been around for a long time, and for good reason: they put out a lot of light. You might not want a super bright lantern in your tent, but it’s a great idea to have one or two outside within easy reach. For this type of camping, we recommend adding a little extra weight for the advantage of bright light. It’s worth it!

 

Coleman 1000 Lumens LED Lantern With BatteryGuard

Coleman 1000 Lumens LED Lantern with BatteryGuard, GreenLight Type: LED

Power Type: Battery

Key Features: Durable, very bright, extended battery life, four lighting modes, water-resistant, lifetime LEDs

Price: $39.99

Buy On Amazon

 

UST 30-Day Duro 1000 Lumen Lantern

UST 30-Day Duro LanternLight Type: LED

Power Type: Battery

Key Features: Glow in the dark power button, very bright, extended runtime (30 days on low), five lighting modes, recessed hook in the base for hanging, water-resistant, lifetime LEDs

Price: <$50

Buy On Amazon

 

Lighting for Car Camping and Camping With Kids

If you’re camping with the family or just at a campground site for a night or two, you’ll likely want good lighting. You will likely want to light more than just the tent— having some lights in the area outside makes everything safer and more fun. If you’re car camping, you’re likely close enough to the car that you can run back and grab things, so we factored in the ability to carry more batteries or USB power packs. For this type of camping, we recommend everything listed for lighting a base camp but have a couple of additional recommendations that will add a special touch to your weekend getaway.

 

Colored String “Fairy” Lights

In the US, these are usually called string lights, but if you’re camping with kids, calling them fairy lights makes them seem more magical. Camping is already a pretty magical experience for most kids— being away from home, sleeping outside, eating food cooked over the fire— and colored lights can add to that magic. There are dozens of great “fairy” light and string light products on the market at budget friendly prices. Simply make sure you get waterproof versions, and you shouldn’t be able to go wrong.

 

Coleman LED String Lights

Camping String LightsLight Type: LED

Power Type: Battery

Key Features: 20 hours of run time, 80 inches long, less than a pound, tons of great reviews.

Price: $29.99

Buy On Amazon

 

Bebrant LED Rope Lights Battery Operated String Lights

Light Type: LED

Power Type: Battery

Key Features: Waterproof, dimmable, 120 LEDs in 40 feet of lighting, durable, lights are in a tube rather than on a string so knotting/tangling is unlikely

Price: $14.99

Buy On Amazon

 

Shake/Crank Lights

These aren’t great for lighting your camp, but they are great for your kids! Being in charge of keeping the lantern powered is a great way to model cooperation and responsibility, and it gets the kids involved in campsite preparation and activities in a safe, age-appropriate way. You might not want your kindergartener’s help making the fire, but giving them an important job that they can do will boost their confidence and get them involved.

 

Thorfire LED Camping Lantern

Thorfire LED Camping LanternLight Type: LED

Power Type: Crank/Rechargeable battery

Key Features: Crank as a backup system for the rechargeable battery, two light modes, overcharging protection, lightweight

Price: $18.96

Buy On Amazon

 

Lighting Power Sources

All light sources need portable power. Some lamps can store a lot of power; others can only run for 8-12 hours on a single charge. All power sources have their advantages and disadvantages, so you need to pick lamps for camp not just based on how bright they are, but on how reliable the power source is. Your power source also impacts runtime— how long the light can be left on before it dims to 10% of its peak brightness. Usually lights below that threshold aren’t bright enough to be of much use, and you need to switch out the power source or recharge it. Before we get into our camp lighting ideas, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of these different power sources.

 

Alkaline Batteries

These are the batteries you’ve been familiar with all your life. Alkaline batteries, whether they’re AA, AAA, D, or some other size, can be bought anywhere and can power many devices. They also can pack a lot of power, and you don’t have to worry about charging them up before you go.

Pros: Readily available, lots of sizes, good duration, greater resistance to lower temperatures.

Cons: Creates more waste to carry out, you may need several sets depending on how long you’re camping for. You always should be packing backup batteries. In addition, alkaline batteries are made from a water-based electrolyte which means there is reduced performance in very cold weather. Particularly below freezing temperatures.

 

Electrical Hookup

If you’re in the backwoods, this is not a power source you can rely on. But if you’re at a campground, you might have access to an electrical hookup at your site! This will allow you to plug your lights into a socket or power strip. You simply grab a cable, plug it into the main power source, and bring it back to your campsite. (Note: This is different from an RV electric hookup, which is more powerful and is meant to power sockets within an RV while the engine is off.)

Obviously, you can’t rely on an electrical hookup if you’re not at a campground. But if you’re planning a weekend car camping trip, knowing that you can hook up to electricity can help you make plans. You may be surprised as some tent sites and RV sites have hookups that you may not expect, so be sure to check with the area you are staying so you can plan ahead.

Pros: No worrying about charging or carrying power packs or batteries

Cons: Limited range, limited availability, not at all portable

 

Rechargeable Batteries

There are two types of rechargeable batteries: Alkaline and Li-ion batteries.

Some alkaline batteries are rechargeable, but they are becoming less common as Li-ion batteries are becoming more readily available. These batteries can be used hundreds of times, and have a high energy density. These are easier to dispose of than Li-ion batteries, as most alkaline batteries can be put in the household trash.

Pros: More environmentally friendly than other rechargeable batteries, can be reused frequently, lots of sizes, often less expensive.

Cons: Bulkier charger than other types of rechargeable batteries, heavier than lithium ion batteries, and they do not operate well in cold temperatures.

If you can plug your lamp into a USB port, it’s got rechargeable lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. These batteries are found in many newer electronics, including laptops, cell phones, cameras, and other personal electronic devices. These batteries charge quickly and can store a lot of power. However, you do need to carry a power pack and a cord with you if your light has Li-ion batteries, just in case.

Also, while many Li-ion batteries are rectangular and only fit in the item they were specifically designed for, you can get Li-ion batteries that can be swapped in for conventional alkaline batteries. These batteries are shaped like AA or AAA batteries and can be used in any device that takes standard batteries. If you don’t want to carry out spent conventional batteries, you might want to pop some of these in your lantern.

Pros: Long battery life, rechargeable, powers bright lights for a long time, works well in cold temperatures, can replace alkaline batteries if you buy the right kind.

Cons: Needs to plug into power to recharge (requires carrying a power pack), potentially more expensive than alkaline batteries, and disposal needs to be at a battery recycling station.

 

Shake/Crank/Faraday Lights

These lights don’t have batteries, but they still need power. Where do they get it? From you! If you think about it, power is just stored energy. Where most flashlights store up electrical energy, a Faraday light— also called a crank light or shake light depending on the mechanism used— stores mechanical energy and converts it to light. This makes these lights a vital part of an emergency kit because you don’t need to worry about having power or corroded batteries.

Pros: No need for batteries, lightweight, great for emergencies.

Cons: Short runtimes, not very bright, requires you to shake or crank something, usually small, short-range beams not ideal for camp lighting.

 

Solar

Carrying around a solar-powered lantern means that you don’t have to carry around batteries— which can save a lot of weight. The downside is that you can’t control the weather, and so grey days might mean dark nights if you’re relying on a solar lantern. But if you’re hiking somewhere sunny, a solar lantern might be a great option.

Pros: No additional battery weight, reduces waste, environmentally friendly.

Cons: Shorter runtime, less reliable, requires carrying a solar panel, requires time to setup and charge when needed.

What’s your favorite way to light your campsite? If you’ve been relying on the fire, it might be fun to give one or more of these lighting options a try!

 

Lighting Ideas & Inspiration

Below we have brought in some examples and imagery for you to have some ideas on your next trip.

Tent Lantern Camp Lights Campsite in the evening Camping String Lights On Tent

Max DesMarais
Max DesMarais

Max DesMarais is the founder of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about