Solar air lanterns – are they a worthy inclusion in a survival kit?
There are lots of ways to optimize your survival kit and backpack nowadays. And with newer technologies being developed all the time, it’s smart to always be on the lookout for new additions. Enter solar air lanterns.
What are solar air lanterns? Most of us have heard about solar lamps or at least solar panels by now. What does air have to do with it, however, and how are these small things good for survival kits?
It’s easy to think of solar air lanterns as one of those unnecessary products with overhyped qualities. And they do have their drawbacks so they won’t suddenly replace gas lanterns and flashlights. However, they also bring their own value to the table, so they are worth exploring.
What is a solar air lantern?
These are simple yet ingenious devices that utilize the already existing solar panel and LED technologies in a new way. Basically, these lanterns are small retractable & inflatable plastic cylinders with lights in them. Most models have 5-10 LED lights at the bottom of the cylinder and some light-reflecting panels on the inside. These panels are the whole point of the “air cylinder” – it’s not the air that matters but the shape and the light reflectors inside. Without the light-reflecting panels, 5-10 small LED lights usually won’t offer enough light.
The other interesting component of these lanterns are the solar panels on their bottom side. These panels are what makes the lanterns not just effective but energy-efficient as well. They are fairly small but with enough sun exposure they are usually enough to supply the LED lights with enough energy.
Most manufacturers claim that their solar air lanterns need 5-7 hours of charging for 10-12 hours of light. Most consumer testing results in more of a 1:1 ratio, however, that’s not too bad either. When you’re hiking or camping you’ll usually have ~12 hours to recharge the lantern. Plus, you’ll usually need it for just 5-6 hours or less in the evening.
How effective are solar air lanterns really?
But probably the most important question is how much lighting do these lanterns really offer? The honest answer is – not that much but it’s still enough for certain situations.
Most manufacturers advertise their solar air lanterns as something that’d revolutionize camp lighting. In truth, flashlights and larger electric or gas lanterns will still have their place. Flashlights offer a much brighter and more focused light, while traditional lanterns offer an even wider and stronger light.
That being said, solar air lanterns are a good choice for emergency survival situations, as well as for minimizing your energy consumption. They may not offer enough lighting for big tents or for social gatherings but they are good for solo campers.
How to use solar air lanterns?
The way these devices are used is quite straight-forward. All you need to do is leave their miniature solar panels on the sun during the day. After that, you can just open the lantern and use it for lighting in the evening.
If the lantern’s rechargeable battery doesn’t have overcharge protection you might want to be careful how much you charge it, however. Overcharging a battery too often and for too long can reduce its lifespan. That’s easily avoidable by just getting a lantern with overcharge protection. Alternatively, you can simply keep an eye on the time and recharge the lantern mindfully.
The charging itself is very easy to do. You can lay the retracted lantern on top of your tent when you’re camping, for example. For hikers, you can just hang it on your backpack with the solar panels facing up.
Solar air lanterns vs solar lamps
You’ve probably heard about solar lamps before so you might be wondering how solar air lanterns are different from them. Simply put – they are only different in terms of their size, brightness, and portability. Solar lamps and other lighting units are usually stationary and made out of glass and metal. Their solar panels are usually separate and aren’t attached to the lighting unit itself.
These lamps are mostly meant to light up streets and other open spaces. They can also be used for lighting people’s homes when the panels are set on the roof. Solar lamps are commonly used for efficient lighting in developing countries.
Solar air lanterns, on the other hand, are too small for such tasks. That is a major difference as it drastically changes how these devices are used. Solar lanterns are almost exclusively meant for hiking and survival situations.
Pros and cons of solar air lanterns
So, what exactly are the pros and cons of these devices? They do have a bit of both so it’s important to know all of them.
- Energy-efficient. As with most solar-powered products, the main advantage of these lanterns is that they need no electricity or gas. This isn’t just great for nature, it’s awesome for the user too. The last thing any survivalist wants is running out of their precious battery storage in an emergency.
- Lightweight and compact. Another crucial factor that’s often underestimated by survival novices is the weight of your equipment. Whether you’re going hiking, hunting or you’re just packing your survival kit – weight matters. That’s because having a lightweight emergency light source doesn’t just mean you’ll have to carry less. It also means you’ll have more space in your backpack for other essentials.
- One of the first things most people think when they see a solar air lantern is that it’s not reliable. And that’s an understandable reaction. At first glance, these items look like an ineffective plastic gimmick – something sold at the dollar store with no actual purpose. However, good solar air lanterns are quite good at what they do and are a reliable emergency backup.
- Easy to charge. Not only are solar air lanterns energy-efficient, but they also require virtually no effort to charge. Most models can be easily hanged on your backpack or on top of your tent. So, while their recharge time is quite significant, it’s also effortless.
- Easy to use. Thanks to their compact form and – usually – two hangers, these lanterns can be used in any situation. You can lay them on the ground, you can place them sideways, and you can hang them upright or upside down. You can also just hang them on your chest and carry them with you. Most models are also waterproof and can even float.
- They offer lighting in a pretty small area. Some solar air ads portray fully-lid tents or entire campsides enveopled in LED light. What these ads usually fail to mention is that such lighting will require multiple lanterns. Instead, a single solar air lantern is usually good enough for just a small tent or for a single person.
- As with any other product group, some sub-par products and brands should be avoided. Don’t mistake our recommendation of solar air lanterns as an endorsement for all such products. Always make sure you’re buying quality and ask for a warranty.
- The price for most solar air lanterns can be a little surprising. There are models out there that are sold for up to $50. And while that’s usually justified with their quality, it’s still a daunting price for a bit of plastic, several LED lights, and a small solar panel. There are much more affordable models as well which you can check on some of the bigger online retailers. The truth is usually in the middle, however. There, you can find high-quality solar air lanterns in the $12 to $24 price range.
When and why to use a solar air lantern?
With all that in mind, let’s go over how useful solar air lanterns are in different situations.
Camping and hiking
Ideal for both, solar air lanterns are great for single-person lighting in many situations. You’ll usually have other light sources with you as well but these lanterns are a great backup. You can use them to read a book, to look through your gear, to help with your hygiene maintenance, and more. Plus, because they’re not too bright, you can use them in the night without bothering your campmates.
One of the core rules of preparing any survival kit is to save your space and weight use. Solar air panels are great for both as they are incredibly lightweight and can be retracted into a flat circle. They are also very reliable in that they can supply you with lighting for days after you’ve run out of batteries.
Hunting is another area where you should be mindful of the weight of your backpack. Not only do you want your stuff to be lightweight and mobile, but you also want to have room for your haul.
Solar air lanterns are not good as strong as standard solar lights so they’re not that great for indoor situations. They can be a nice backup in case of an emergency, however. Essentially, you can look at them as candles – something you can grab first when the power goes out. With a solar air lantern in hand, you’ll have an easier time looking for a brighter alternative.
There are lots of different models and brands popping up on the market but quality is important for all survival gear. So, we do hope that there’ll be even more solar lanterns to talk about in the future. If you are looking for a great solar air lantern today, however, don’t worry – the Luci Survival solar air lantern is just that.
This solar air lantern has more or less everything we love about these devices:
- The lantern is made out of thick and durable plastic that ensures you’ll be able to use to for a long time. Essentially shatterproof, this lantern can even survive nasty falls.
- The plastic cylinder is very easy to inflate and retract.
- The 10 LED lights at the bottom of the cylinder offer excellent lighting. Each light offers up to 75 lumens of light.
- The cylinder has comfortable and practical handles on both its sides for easier hanging on your backpack or in your tent.
- There are 4 different lighting modes – low, medium, high, and 1-sec flashing.
- This solar air lantern can last for up to 24 hours without recharging. That’s thanks to the rechargeable 1000 mAh Lithium-Ion battery. The battery has its own level indicator.
- The battery can be fully charged with 7 hours of direct sunlight. Of course, the level and type of sunlight available can affect the recharging.
- The battery also has overcharge and over discharge protection.
- As most good survival gear items, the Luci solar air lantern is waterproof. This is crucial as it allows you to keep wearing it on your backpack and charging it even when it starts raining. It also floats so you can even use it in the water or at least not worry that it will sink. All this is why the Luci lantern has an IP67 rating for its waterproof design.
- This model is impressively lightweight and easy to carry.
- 1-year full warranty. If you’re worried that this solar air lantern may not be durable or effective enough, Luci Survival’s warranty should alleviate those concerns.
- The lantern can also operate at and below freezing temperatures. It’s been tested and works at 15°F – 122°F (-10°C – 50°C).
If there’s one thing we’d list as a con for this item it’d be the lack of dedicated light-reflective panels on the inside. This isn’t really a problem, however, as the cylinder’s plastic reflects the light well enough. And the end result? Excellent emergency lighting for any hiker, camper, or hunter.