Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Shedding Light: Lanterns vs Flashlights

Working in the dark is tough. The desire and even need for light is hard coded into the human psyche. We've talked some about flashlights, and even a little bit about lanterns, but we haven't touched on when each is appropriate. With lighting, as with everything else, there is definitely a "right tool for the job."

Flashlights throw intense light in a single spot. They range in cost from "disposable" to more than one of my truck payments. They all accomplish roughly the same thing, though the expensive ones are usually more durable, and often brighter. They also use a wide range of batteries to get their power. While some of the less-common batteries provide more light output, they are much more expensive and harder to obtain.

Lights are rated in lumens. More lumens means a brighter, more intense light. At the same time, a higher lumen rating generally means higher power consumption and shorter battery life. Unless you have need of an exceptionally bright light, 100-150 lumens gives a good balance between enough brightness to cut the dark and battery life that will keep you from constantly buying and changing batteries. I've reviewed some of my favorite flashlights here.

Lanterns cast light in a generalized area. While they're usually less intense than a flashlight, they're great for lighting a work area. They're designed to be set in place while work is being done, instead of being held in the hand. Traditional lanterns burn candles, oil, or other fuels. These still have a purpose, as their fuel is usually more shelf-stable than batteries, and can be easier to find or fabricate in an emergency. We've done a few articles on these kind of lanterns.

More modern lantern designs are battery operated, with some of the better ones incorporating LED technology. They offer respectable battery life, while providing a bright working glow. They're also extremely simple to operate, and don't involve flammable fuels or hazardous fumes.

One of my favorites is this model. It is compact and fairly light, taking up roughly as much space as my 800 ml backpacking pot set when collapsed, and weighing only 3/4 pound.

Related to lanterns, work lights combine the intensity and directed light of a flashlight with the area illumination and freestanding nature of a lantern. Some are powered by a wall plug, but more and more work lights are battery operated and very portable. Be careful when using work lights, as many of them get very hot and can cause severe burns or even start fires.

There's no need to thrash about in the darkness. Pick the right light for the job and shed a bit of light on the situation.


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