Camping has always been popular among Aussies, and more so during the pandemic. Though borders have now opened, there isn’t the usual rush for international travel. Instead, the number of people camping and caravanning is rising. And they’re going for longer stays, and better equipped. This means decking out the 4WD until it’s full, or renting a caravan for a bit more comfort. Of course, there’s no shortage of places to go. Planning your trip might be obvious if you don’t like (unpleasant) surprises and part of that is getting the right gear. Sleeping, cooking and everyday items like tents, camping furniture, mats and ovens, and those that might see less use (but are still necessary) like first-aid kits and extra clothing are good, but there are some things most campers overlook or completely forget – lights.
Depending on the time of year you set out and your location, pitch darkness will set in sooner than later. Sitting by the fire and roasting marshmallows is fun, but there’s no substitute for a dedicated set of lights. These will provide needed visibility and safety, and also enhance the ambience in and around the campsite. Torches, light bars, LED strips and a versatile LED battery lantern can be used on their own, or better still, in combination.
Torches come in handy in a variety of situations when camping. They’ll illuminate your way through the campsite when darkness sets, and help you find things you’ve forgotten to unpack. Lightweight, fitting snugly in the hand, and shining a bright beam of directional light, a torch is a must-have camping accessory. Look for torches with a decent build, i.e. those that will last if dropped or accidentally end up in water, and ones with long-lasting and rechargeable batteries.
A head torch is useful when your hands are tied. This could be anything from chopping the firewood or setting the tent. Look for models with comfortable headbands, and some degree of adjustability in terms of beam types and brightness levels. Both ordinary and head torches are sourced in different lighting tech, but bulbs are on their way out, and most torches now have efficient and bright LEDs.
Light Bars and Strips
These are good for illuminating larger areas inside and out. Light bars come in a variety of sizes, can be optioned to shine both in white and orange light, and are simple to setup up with most kits including additional mounts and connections for deep-cycle batteries. They’re ideally placed along awnings or under gazebos. Orange lights are preferred in cooking, dining and sitting areas as they don’t attract insects, whereas white lights offer higher brightness. LED lights bars can be sold separately, or as is most often the case, bundled together in light bar kits.
LED strips and tapes are good for lighting inside tents or caravans, don’t let off heat like traditional bulbs and are perfectly safe. A bonus is they’re easy to install and move around, and some variants can be cut down to size. Brightness levels aren’t as high as in light bars or lanterns, but their versatility and low energy use, coupled with their low price make these lights a good option for smaller campsites.
While torches are good for finding your way, and LED bars and strips for general lighting, a lantern will provide a pleasant, all-around spread of light. One, or a few lanterns placed around the campsite will definitely up the ambience, giving off a soft and warm light, that is also easy on the eyes. Smaller lanterns are just as portable as torches, but without the glare factor, the 360-degree spread of light can prove more practical.
And unlike torches, they’re a suitable hands-free option. Just hang them where you need to. Newer variants use the same LED tech in light bars and strips, so feature dimming and switching between bright and soft white lighting when brightness is key, or dialled to a warm, soothing and unobtrusive orange light when upping the ambience.
LED battery-powered camping lanterns have taken the sparkle off traditional choices, propane or liquid fuel lanterns. This is the same fuel used in many camping stoves and ovens, so it’s always good to check what your stove runs on if you’re set on a gas lantern. The advantages are that liquid fuel lanterns shine the brightest, and propane lanterns are not far behind. The cons though, like the need for mantles, the weight and that they’re unsafe inside a tent will put many campers off.
Lanterns with built-in rechargeable batteries may not shine as bright as gas lanterns, but they’re more available as well as more affordable. Lanterns can light up the campsite for the better part of the night when set at full brightness, or last the entirety of the trip when dialled down. A combination of several of these, in carefully chosen spots, will set the scene for a pleasant camping experience.
An LED battery lantern can have adjustable lighting settings, meaning you can choose between white or orange lighting. They’re also much lighter and smaller than gas lanterns but don’t skimp on build quality. Look for LED lanterns with waterproofing and impact resistance to ensure they’ll last in all conditions. Additional extras like inbuilt magnets and hooks or clips allow them to be attached to any surface.
When shopping for lanterns and camping lights, look for rated lumens, or how bright the light can get. Anywhere between 150-200 lumens will be enough, without being hard on the eyes. Lanterns and lights with less than this are more suitable for smaller areas, like inside tents.
For battery-powered lanterns go for Li-ion batteries as they’re more efficient and charge faster (via USB and a power bank or deep-cycle battery). And where possible source lighting with LEDs for overall efficiency and low power use. Lastly, get camping lanterns, torches and lights that have the right balance between overall brightness, size and weight, portability and ease of use, and of course, price.