How To Choose The Best Camping Lights – Complete Guide

There’s a fair amount of camping gear you can do without. But no matter if you’re car camping, exploring the backcountry, or setting up a tent in your backyard, there’s one thing that should always be on your gear list: one of our picks for the best camping lights available. A lot of us have probably had the unfortunate experience of setting up camp after sunset or looking for missing items in a poorly lit tent. And in the past, camp lighting options were somewhat limited: kerosene lanterns or bulky flashlights.

But today there’s an incredible range of outdoor lighting: from long-running LED camp lanterns, to sleek, easy-to-use headlamps and beyond. The only challenge is knowing what lighting options to choose. Fortunately, we’ve done the hard work for you. Read on to learn how to choose the best camp lighting. (Plus we’re sharing our 12 favorite lighting solutions.)

The first thing you’ll need to figure out is your lighting needs. Do you need focused light for camp-related tasks? Ambient light so no one runs into the picnic table? Novelty lights to make a campsite feel more like home? The type of lights you buy also depend on how  you’re camping (tent, trailer, RV) and where you plan to camp (a standard campground or somewhere more remote).

Another consideration is your power source. If you’re at a campsite with electrical hook-ups, you won’t need lights that are exclusively battery-operated. That said, the lighting options we share below all rely on batteries. In general, this gives you more flexibility because you won’t have to depend on an electrical hook-up (or on having long enough extension cords).

Here’s our guide to buying lanterns, headlamps, interior lighting, and just-for-fun camp lighting.


Camping lanterns have come a long way in the past couple decades. Of course there are plenty of traditionalists who still crank up their kerosene lanterns, but it’s probably more nostalgia than efficiency. Today there are a lot of LED camping lanterns that offer bright, energy-efficient light that are cool to the touch—and won’t burn down your campsite.

Most of the lanterns on the market are battery-powered but there are some plug-in and solar-powered options too. (Just be sure you’re able to sufficiently charge the latter during the day.) When choosing a camping lantern, make sure to consider the power source (rechargeable batteries are an economical option), the lumens (more on that in our headlamp section), and average run time. It’s also a good idea to choose a lantern that’s waterproof or water-resistant. You don’t want to be caught without a light if the weather turns or it starts to rain. If you’re backpacking or short on space, you’ll want to consider the size and weight of the lantern too.


The first time I wore a headlamp at camp, I felt like a spelunker who had wandered out of a cave. (The very first headlamps were developed for miners after all.) Wearing a flashlight on my head seemed so strange at the time. But it didn’t take long to realize that the idea was a good one. Hands-free lighting that goes wherever I go and aims wherever I look?

I haven’t owned a traditional flashlight since.

From setting up camp in the dark to assembling s’mores to nighttime trail running, headlamps are an all-purpose light every camper should have in their gear kit. Nearly all of today’s headlamps are powered by LED bulbs, meaning they’re both energy efficient and will last a long time. They also come with adjustable straps so you’ll always be able to have the perfect fit. Here some things to consider when buying a headlamp:

  • Lumens. The output of a headlamp’s light bulb is measured in lumens. Most of the time, the higher the number of lumens, the brighter the light. (But not always. A headlamp’s brightness is also determined by factors such as the type of beam it creates and the color of the light: warm or cool.) Most campers will get along fine with 100-200 lumens.
  • Type of beam. There are two main types of headlamp beams: a flood beam and a spot beam. A flood beam is good for up-close tasks such as cooking or setting up camp, while a spot beam is helpful for seeing long distance (think trail running or spotting wildlife). Plenty of headlamps offer both flood and spot beam settings.
  • Modes. Many headlamps come with different settings such as a strobe setting or a red light. Both can be useful as safety features and the latter is a convenient way to use a headlamp without disturbing others.
  • Beam distance. Most headlamps will indicate how much “usable light” they create via a beam distance measurement.
  • Burn time/run time. This is the amount of time that the headlamp will produce usable light once the batteries are fully charged. This number varies from headlamp to headlamp.

best camping lights while tent camping in the woods

Interior Lighting

The lanterns and headlamps we’ve covered so far can do double-duty around the campsite or inside a tent. But sometimes it’s nice to have a more compact (and ambient) light inside a tent or trailer. For convenience’s sake, it’s often helpful to have a light that stays where you sleep. That way, it’s always there when you need it.

The following lights are all battery-powered LEDs that stay cool to the touch and are safe to use inside a tent. Provided you have a way to hang them, novelty lights (such as string lights) can also be a nice touch inside your sleeping space. (But for safety reasons, you may want to forgo the string lights if children or pets are involved.)

10. Souyos Portable Camping Lantern

best camping lights

Novelty Lighting

Not all camp lighting needs to be functional. Once you’ve taken care of task lighting, it’s time to think about atmosphere. There are a variety of just-for-fun lights you can buy to dress up your campsite and take it one step closer to glamping: twinkle lights, fairy lights, colored lanterns, flameless candles, and more. Of course, nothing beats the glow of a campfire, but these lights bring their own special touch to outdoor living.

11. MPOWERD Luci Color Light