We bought five different types of LED lantern to test out which worked best in the van.
We found that we needed a couple of small lanterns for when we want to get up in the middle of the night rather than switching on the main lights inside the van. Because they are portable, we also use them outside the van when we’re hanging out after dark.
Here’s a list of what we tried, and which worked best for our needs…
- Snow Peak Mini Hozuki lantern (around $30) 3xAAA battery, several light modes, including variable dim and “candle” mode. Magnetic clip and loop.
- Black Diamond Moji lantern (around $20) 3xAAA battery, variable dimming light. Hanging loop.
- Tomons power bank and LED lantern (around $20) 5Ah rechargeable battery for LED light doubles as power bank to recharge phones, etc. High/Med/Low and flashing light modes. Plastic carabiner style hanging clip, magnet (not quite strong enough).
- No-name LED lantern (around $5) 3xAAA battery, High/Med/Low and flashing light modes. Plastic carabiner style hanging clip, magnet.
- GearLight LED lantern (around $12 for 2) 3xAA battery, light slides out of base – vary amount exposed to vary light level. Metal hanging loop/handle. Plastic hanging loop and strong magnets on base.
The first four lanterns in the list are small, fist sized units. The fifth is styled more like a traditional lantern and is slightly larger than a 12oz drink can.
The winner is…
Rather than making you read all the way to the end, let’s just get our choice out of the way first. Then you can read more about why below.
We ended up liking the Black Diamond Moji lantern most, because it best suited our needs. It has a simple on/off button and no flashing modes. Push the button once, it comes on. Push it again, it goes off. Hold the button and the light dims and brightens in smooth steps. It switches back on at the same brightness as when you last turned it off.
The light it produces is uniform and isn’t too blue. The unit is small and rubberized. The only thing we’d prefer is for the button to be more prominent so you can find it more easily in the dark.
We had a couple of requirements for a lantern.
- Able to hang up on loops in our L-track next to the bed for easy access at night.
- Able to stand on a table outside the van to cast light around an area, or to easily hang from an overhead point like our awning.
- Small enough to easily store and transport in the van.
- Warmer LED color (more yellow than blue) because it feels more welcoming and there’s some evidence that blue light is more likely to keep you awake if you use it just before bed time.
- Not too bright, or at least easily adjustable to a lower brightness level. We aren’t typically using this lantern as a sole source of illumination while we work on something or prepare food. It’s more for mood lighting and night time trips to the toilet.
- Relatively efficient so we don’t have to replace batteries/recharge too frequently.
Pros and cons of each lantern model
Here’s a run-down of what’s good and bad about each of the different lights.
Snow Peak Mini Hozuki
This lantern is the cutest of them all. It has a clever design where a silicone rubber tab with a magnet on the end clips to the unit to form a loop, or clips to any metal surface to hold the lantern in place. The soft silicone shade around the LED area diffuses the light well. The LED is a very warm yellow color rather than a harsh blue light.
The Hozuki also has a “candle” mode where the LED flickers like a tiny candle. It’s very romantic in principle, and it looks relatively realistic, but actually remembering how to get into that mode is hard.
There’s only one button on the unit (actually, the dome over the LED) so you have to use a combination of long presses, short presses, and holds to get the light to turn on, change brightness, or enter the flashing or candle modes.
In the end, this light proved to be too frustrating to use. The design is lovely but the button implementation meant that we were always switching on flashing mode when we just wanted to turn the light off. One time we thought we’d turned it off but it was actually on a really dim setting, so the batteries ran out without us realizing.
It’s also the most expensive. The extra features don’t justify the extra cost in our minds. It’s the lantern we’d most like to have on the table if we were trying to impress guests with our amazing design sense, but it’s not the most practical for daily use.
Black Diamond Moji
We already mentioned that this was our preferred light. The body of the light is well made and covered in a rubberized coating. The light it produces is warmer (yellower) than several of the others we tested. But the thing that really made us choose this model over the others was the on/off switch.
The on/off switch does what is should do. Pressing it once turns the light on. Pressing it again turns the light off. The only fancy feature that the light has is a dimmer. To use that, you just turn the light on and then long-press the switch until the light is at the level you want. Simple.
Our guess is that it takes more work (or more expensive components) to make a variable dimming light than it does to make one with different levels that you switch between manually. For us though, it’s worth it.
The hanging hooks on the light are well thought out. Two semi-circular wire pieces fold out from the top and meet at the middle to form an arch. You can hook the light on to a loop and then close the two pieces of wire together to lock it there. Simple but very effective.
One minor gripe is that there’s no magnet built in to this light, so it’s not possible to “stick” it to the metal of the van body. If we cared enough, we could of course fix that with a rare earth magnet and some epoxy.
Our only real complaint with this light is that the on/off button is hard to find in the dark. It’s moulded and recessed into the edge of the unit and isn’t very prominent. That probably stops it from being turned on accidentally when it’s in a pack or drawer, but it makes for some fumbling when you want to use it.
Tomons Power Bank
This is the only rechargeable lantern in the set. There are many near-identical lanterns like this one for sale on Amazon. We chose this one because of the size of the rechargeable battery (5200mAh).
The single switch on this unit needs a long press to turn the light on. It turns on at the medium level and you must then use short presses to turn it to a lower level, a higher level, or one of two different flashing modes. A long press at any point will turn it back off.
This switch design proved to be the undoing of the lantern for our needs. When you’re half asleep, the long press to turn the thing on and off just doesn’t make sense. On. Off. Should be simple.
Having said that, the light this unit produces is bright, if somewhat more blue than we’d really like. The rechargeable battery lasts for a long time and fills up again in around three hours using a regular micro-USB cable.
The unit doubles as a phone charger too. We don’t really need that capacity when we’re in the van, considering we have the house and vehicle batteries to use for recharging devices, but it’s something we might want to use if we were doing an overnight hike or a long day on the bikes and were worried about running the phone’s battery down and/or needing a light source.
Generic LED lantern
This thing was so cheap that we felt we really ought to give it a try. We love bargains, and if it had worked out it would have been a great find.
However, as you can guess from that last sentence, it didn’t work as well as we’d like. The unit uses multiple LEDs that are an older and less efficient type. They are very blue, even after passing through the plastic diffuser.
You have to cycle through every light setting each time you turn the unit off. So, you turn it on, press the same button to get to the power level you want, then press that same button enough times to turn it off again. That means going through the flashing modes each time you want to turn it off.
The magnet in the unit works just about well enough on the metal areas of the van. The plastic clip looks flimsy but it didn’t give us any trouble during our tests. The whole unit looks like it was made in the same factory as the Tomons power pack, or was copied from the same original light.
As a cheap light it works fine. If you wanted something semi-disposable for kids to play with and use on an “adventure” it would be great – it’s sturdy enough and it gives out sufficient light. However, it’s not a pleasant hue of light to sit around.
Don’t be taken in by the packaging – the box says that this light is rechargeable but it actually takes 3xAAA batteries.
This lantern uses a different form factor to the others. Rather than being a squat puck-shaped device with a diffuser on the bottom, this one is more cylindrical.
It works in a really simple way. When you pull the top of the unit upwards, it turns the light on. When you push it back into its base, it turns the light off again. You control the amount of light you get by how much you pull it out of the base.
The LED is greenish-white; not too blue, but not particularly yellow either. The illumination isn’t completely uniform. There are darker and lighter areas and the light is yellower in some spots than in others too. When it is fully open, the lantern gives off plenty of light. It’s easy to dim it down by pushing it into the base, but the clear glass (plastic) of the shade means that the light is never really diffused.
The silver wire latching handles fold up to form a carrying handle or hanging loop, and there’s also a fold-out plastic hook on the base if you want to hang the lantern upside down. There are four magnets in the base that are plenty strong enough to clamp the lantern to the metal surfaces of the van.
We bought two of these lanterns in a set for around $12. We won’t be using them in the van because they are too large and too bright for the uses we want. When the lantern was hanging from a hook in the van next to the bed, it swung around and knocked against the wall as we drove along.
However, one has subsequently seen a lot of use in DIY jobs around our house and the other is tucked away with our other emergency supplies for the frequent power cuts we get at home during the winter. These are great lanterns at a really cheap price, but just not the right thing for our needs in the van.
Lots of blogs accept free products from vendors in return for pseudo-reviews. We’ve been asked to do that several times but have always refused. This is an honest review based on stuff we paid for.
We were able to buy all five lanterns to do this comparison because of the small commission we make (at no cost to you) when you buy products on Amazon after following a link from this site. If you want to see more product comparisons or reviews, let us know what we should be reviewing, and keep following our Amazon links!