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Guide to lighting your tent


Long gone are the days of candles and just as well since they are such a fire risk though I do like the light they cast on a camping table – in the open, of course. In and out of your tent, there are many lighting needs and quite a variety of ways and means of meeting them. Cooking, eating, reading, relaxing, night alarms and excursions - the list is hardly never-ending but there isn’t one simple solution to all the family’s lighting demands on site. It’s a case of sorting out what you want, what you actually need and what you can afford. As well as where you'll use them, there's how; a handheld torch isn't much use when you're chopping an onion. Unless you decide to turn in when it gets dark and only stir at sunrise, you’ll have to invest in some lighting options.

Lighting falls, more or less, into three main categories (though they’re not mutually exclusive):

Area – wide pools of light that illuminate popping in and out of the tent, cooking, eating, hanging out and helping to avoid tripping over guylines. Everybody benefits from being able to see what's going on so a couple of lanterns or area lights (one for soft ambient light for eating and socialising and a brighter one for cooking) are far more useful than continually moving just one around your pitch. Gas and liquid-fuelled lanterns take more time to set up than those that use batteries but they are more economical and much more powerful. Rechargeable electric lights are great but need to be kept charged to avoid frustration. If you're hooked up to the electricity supply then your pitch could be lit up like a fairground with cables snaking everywhere. Not recommended.

Personal - focussed beams of light are useful for individuals moving around in the dark, especially to the site utility block, and exploring. Playing with a torch is a key part of the fun for kids. A wind up rechargeable handheld torch makes sense for youngsters and avoids having to buy wholesale cases of batteries.

Task – as lanterns can throw pot contents into shadow when cooking, a head torch leaves hands free for food preparation and delivers light exactly where you need it. Similarly, they direct a focused beam for reading if others are asleep and leave your hands free to hold a book or pour a beer.

Powering up
Any light's power source determines how bright it is, how long it lasts, how easy it is use and how much it costs.

Batteries - are convenient, easy to find and to pack. Alkaline batteries are pretty cheap and dim slowly giving you warning that your light source is running out of power but it’s easy to get through a lot of them. Longer lasting than alkaline, lithium batteries are lighter but more expensive and pack in without much warning. Rechargeable nickel-cadmium (NiCad) batteries are more expensive initially but more cost-effective in the long run even though they lose the ability to hold a charge over time; compact solar chargers are an option. Rechargeable nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries are more environmentally friendly and cheaper than NiCads.

Liquid fuel - Coleman's lantern is a camping icon and can run on unleaded petrol. As with paraffin-fuelled ‘hurricane’ lamps, the light is soft but powerful. The hissing sound as pressurised liquid fuel lanterns burn adds an extra nostalgic dimension to camp life and they're easy to refuel.

Guide to lightingGas - clean, handy and efficient; keep a spare gas cartridge and mantle handy to avoid losing light at a critical point in, say, cooking. Easy ignition systems avoid fumbling and flare ups with lighters and matches.

According to a friend, they’re Welsh poems – think about it. Many lights these days use light emitting diodes (LEDs). A diode is a basic semi-conductor device and LEDs are little light bulbs that fit neatly into an electrical circuit. As they don't have a filament, they won't burn out and they hardly get hot. The illumination comes from the movement of electrons in the semiconductor material - honest. Compared with conventional incandescent bulbs, LEDs are:

  • very energy efficient
  • longer lasting
  • more compact
  • more durable
Picking a head torch

They're practical, versatile and a real camping essential as they deliver hands-free lighting. However, to understand some manufacturers' info you'd need a degree in physics. For such an apparently simple item, there are many elements that go into a design. If you're planning to go winter hill walking or climbing, then the detail really matters. If you just want to read in bed without disturbing your partner, the detail isn't really that significant and I bought a simple one in Poundland. With models mostly costing from just a few pounds to £70 plus, what do need to look out for?

Part life
  • Bulb - traditional incandescent vacuum bulbs have been used for many years for their brightness but turn much of their energy into heat and have a relatively short life. With no filament or glass to break, LEDs' energy isn't wasted in heat; they seem to last forever and thrive on abuse.
  • Lens - cover over the bulb; clear, diffused or tinted.
  • On/off switch - apparently obvious, often controls a variety of modes in use from brightness to flashing.
  • Filter - tinted covers over the lens
  • Reflector - the ‘mirror’ that concentrates the light beam.
  • Focus option - enables some models to adjust the focus of the beam from tight and powerful to wide and diffused to suit use.
  • Pivot - can angle the direction of the light source.
  • Headband - straps, usually elasticated, that can be adjusted easily and quickly to fit snugly.
  • Battery pack - the container that holds the batteries behind the bulb or at the back of the headband. Some have a long connection that allows the power source to be tucked away in a pocket or attached to a belt. Some head torches have a charge meter that gives you a pretty good idea of how much power is left in your batteries.

Camp lighting summary notes

Needs: decide what is you and your family have to buy.camping lantern

  • area
  • personal
  • task

Torches: personal items so try to let people make their own choice.

  • hand; battery or rechargeable – mains, solar or wind up/squeeze dynamo?
  • head

Lanterns: bear in mind who is likely to come into contact with them and how much ‘hassle’ you can be bothered with.

  • liquid
  • gas
  • electricity: mains; batteries; rechargeable – car, mains, wind up, solar?
  • remote control


Campingaz - campingaz.com
Coleman – coleman.eu
Maglite – burton-mccall.co.uk
Mammut – mammut.ch
MSR - msrgear.com/firstascent.co.uk

Outwell – outwell.co.uk
Primus – rosker.co.uk
Vango – vango.co.uk

Read more handy buying guides here.

Back to "Practical Advice" Category

06/12/2012 Share this story   Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

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