Thursday, September 3, 2020

Collapsible Camp Lantern

Summer is drawing to its end, which means that cooler weather is coming. Autumn is my favorite time to spend in the woods,; the cool mornings and bearable afternoons make hiking and hunting more enjoyable and sitting around evening campfires are actually comfortable.

I like to travel light, so I'm always looking for toys and tools that are smaller and perform more than one function. Wandering through Wal-Mart, I noticed an “expandable” solar powered LED light/charger. It was a brand I've never heard of (not unusual in Wal-Mart) and as I was looking at it I noticed an almost identical version further down the shelf with the store brand (Ozark Trail), so I grabbed one of each. Neither brand is on Amazon, but this is the same item with yet another brand on the packaging.

At about 3 inches square and 2 inches high, the lights are about the same size as two hockey pucks stacked up. Here are the specs I was able to find on the packaging, along with a few observations:
  • The solar panel on top is about 2” square, so minimal output; my estimate is maybe 10mA.
  • The folding carry handle on top is cheap and it will break off soon. Nice for hanging the lamp, though.
  • The switch on the side has three functions: low, high, and flashing.
    • Low power is about 30 Lumens and will run 5-6 hours on a full charge.
    • High power is about 125 Lumens and lasts 3 hours.
    • The flashing mode is standard these days. I find it annoying.
  • There is a rubber panel protecting the USB in and out ports. It's rated IPX4, so it's good for heavy rain but not for immersion in water. In other words, weather-proof but not water-proof.
  • There is a USB A port and a short cord supplied for use as a battery bank, as well as a micro-A USB port for charging with a phone/device charger.
  • The internal battery is non-replaceable with about an 800mAh capacity. Pretty small for use as a battery bank, but it will top off a cell phone.
  • The indicator lamp shows red when charging, green when fully charged.
  • Charge times varied wildly by source. Plugged into a 1A car charger, it took 3 hours to fully recharge; my home charger is rated for 2.1A and it took less than an hour. I haven't tested the solar panel yet, but I'm expecting it to take at least 10 hours of daylight to fully charge.

After playing with the lamps for a few days, I noticed a few things:
  • The lamps are a comfortable size in my hand. I have large hands and small lights are hard to grasp when I'm wearing gloves, so this is a good size for me. Small things also tend to get lost, so I look for the middle ground when choosing sizes.
  • The battery, LED, and other electronics are all in the “head” of the unit; the “base” has a cute little lens to focus the light when the lamp is collapsed. Collapsed, it does make a decent flashlight, with a concentrated center spot and a diffuse outer ring of light. The plastic lens is slightly recessed in the base but will be prone to scratches. I may disassemble one of the lamps to test the lens as a fire starter later.
  • Expanding the lamp is done by gently pulling the base away from the head, exposing a plastic bellows-shaped diffuser. Think about the bendy straws you played with as a kid, except 2” in diameter and about 4” long. You can bend it sideways to direct more of the light through the lens on the bottom to where you need it, but it isn't much light. Bending it did come in handy for blocking most of the light on one side, creating a darker area. This is good if you've got someone trying to sleep but you still want to read for a while.
  • The switch is a simple push-button, but you have to cycle through all three modes to turn it off.

The surprising thing about these lights is the price. The display at Wal-Mart didn't have the price for the “Alpha” brand, so I was a bit shocked at checkout. Amazon has them for $9.00, and the Ozark Trail version was $10.00, but the exact same light in almost the exact same packaging with the “Alpha” brand was $20.00! This is not a $20 light. Save your money and get the store brand if you're paying cash, or go to Amazon and use it as an add-on item to get free shipping. 

1 comment:

  1. Very nice! I'm always looking for extra lights. Did it recharge enough to allow about the same run time?


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