Different Kinds of Light Sources for Hikers

white camping tent near the hill

Hikers have several options available in order to see at night.

There are several different kinds of light sources available for hikers and backpackers who want to have illumination at night or in low-light conditions. These can range from heavy lanterns to lightweight headlamps.

Why Do Hikers Need Light?

person holding flashlight

Hikers and campers need light for several reasons. The main reason is to be able to perform chores or get around camp while at night. A second reason is to have some personal light to read or write in a journal while in the sleeping bag. A third reason is that sometimes backpackers need to get up early before sunrise to get ready for a long day of hiking, or find themselves hiking at night long after the sun has set.

Lanterns as Light Sources for Hikers

Hand-held lanterns provide a lot of light, but are also heavy and bulky. They can best be used when car camping. The weight won’t be an issue then since the lantern won’t be carried for long distances. There are lanterns that burn oil, and others that are electrical and run on batteries. An electrical lantern might be more appropriate for campers with young children, as it reduces the chance of being burned or starting a fire. Also, electrical lanterns can be brought into a tent, as opposed to an oil lantern which would pose a fire risk and also carbon monoxide poisoning.

Flashlights as Light Sources for Hikers

The old standby for hikers and campers is the flashlight. These hand-held lights come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. They use batteries to provide light with either standard bulbs or newer, LED light bulbs. A flashlight can be easily carried in the hand by a hiker, and is small enough to be brought on overnight backpacking trips. However, if a camper wants to do camp chores or otherwise use their hands, a flashlight might pose a disadvantage.

Headlamps as Light Sources for Hikers

Backpacking headlamps have the advantage of providing enough light for hikers and campers to see while also allowing for hands-free use. All that the user has to do is point their head in the direction that they want to see, and the light will point in that direction.

Alternative Light Sources for Hikers

Some alternatives for having light at night or low-light conditions include:

  • Campfires: A campfire can provide light to accomplish tasks near it, but it can’t be taken to other areas of the campsite, at least not safely.
  • Glow Sticks: Glow sticks can provide some light, and are useful in an emergency to mark a location, or to identify a person who is up ahead in low-light or reduced-visibility conditions, such as a snowstorm. They do not provide enough light for a hiker to see far ahead up the trail to identify obstacles.
  • Candle lanterns: A candle lantern uses a small candle, and can provide enough light to read a book. In snow-caves and similar shelters they can not only provide light but enough heat to keep the shelter warm, without risking carbon monoxide poisoning. Candle lanterns should not be brought into nylon or cotton tents because they could pose a fire hazard.
  • Water Bottles: An empty plastic water bottle can be a makeshift lantern by placing a small flashlight or headlamp inside, producing a warm glow that is the color of the bottle. There are also commercially available products that are made to convert a bottle into a lantern.

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