Lanterns have always been an essential piece of gear for road trips and camping. Years ago we used bulky pressurized gas lanterns with delicate mantles that would get damaged in transit. And let’s not forgot the occasional burns from grabbing the lantern in the wrong spot! Conventional battery lanterns were less hassle, but I always disliked buying piles of C and D batteries and felt they were unreliable. We eventually left lanterns behind and went to headlamps. Headlamps are great for camp chores, but don’t light up an area for group use. Headlamps also have their social limitations with their focused beams. Nobody likes a blast of 120 lumens directly in the face!
With today’s LED technology, all sorts of new innovative products have appeared for outdoor enthusiasts. Wanting to get back to a camping lantern, the small solar lanterns from luminAID caught my eye. I purchased a luminAID PackLite Nova when gearing up for our recent Spring Break tour of Southwest National Parks and Monuments. I was excited to test this little light out.
The battery was already partially charged, but I topped it off at home using the included USB cable. The lantern inflated easily with a couple breaths via an air valve on the bottom. With today’s high output LED technology, I wasn’t really expecting a lot of light from 75 lumens, and especially from a $20 lantern. I was surprised at how much it lit up a dark room, though, the non-directional light emitting a pleasant glow.
Operation of the lantern is intuitive. The power button cycles through the various power settings, and a separate button is used to display the battery charge. The strap has a few snaps to set the length. It makes a nice handle, and holds securely when bounced around. The snaps make it easy to attach the lantern most anywhere. When not in use, the lantern is easily deflated and collapsible for compact storage. When collapsed, the lantern can be conveniently attached to the outside of a pack for recharging.
We found multiple uses for the Nova on our road trip. The adjustable strap and light weight made it versatile and adaptable. We attached it to a trekking pole planted in the ground to provide illumination for camp chores. Sometimes we’d attach it to the outside of the tent for a porch light. At the end of the night, it was hung inside the tent. What made me smile the most, though, was that when I woke up in the morning, the charging light was already on. While the lantern charges the fastest in direct sunlight, it only takes a little bit of indirect light to start the charging process. Rechargeable batteries are great, but batteries that start recharging without your intervention are even better!
Technical Information from luminAID:
- Push Red Button for TURBO, High, Medium, Low, and Flashing settings
- 3-5 Hours LED light on TURBO setting – 75 Lumens
- 6-8 Hours LED light on High setting
- 12-14 Hours LED light on Medium setting
- 18-24 Hours LED light on Low setting
- Multiple Days of light on Flashing setting
- Recharges in 10 hours of direct sunlight or 1-2 hours by USB
- Lithium-Polymer Ion battery with thousands of recharge cycles
- Weight: 5 oz
- Dimensions approximately: 4.6″ W x 4.6″ L X 1″ H (flat) / 4.6″ x 4.75″ x 4.6″ (inflated)
- Waterproof up to 1 meter deep and can float
- Product is 100% PVC-free and all components are lead-free and RoHs compliant
- Under $20!
Search and Rescue Use
As a member of our city’s Search and Rescue team, I immediately recognized a couple of other good uses for the Nova. Having a flashing light that will flash for days without a recharge can be used as a helpful attractant. This goes for a person looking to be rescued, but also for a searcher hoping to catch the attention of a lost person. We’ve rescued people that ended up wearing down their vehicle battery using their headlights as an attractant, making their predicament even worse.
On a more obscure SAR note, I also plan to use the Nova for tracking lost persons at night. With their intense light at eye level, headlamps washout tracks left in the dirt, making them almost impossible to see. The trick to successfully following tracks at night is a low intensity, non-directional light source held low to the ground. A light source like the Nova really makes the tracks jump out, and will be a great tool for nighttime searches.
On our 9 day road trip, we used the Nova frequently. It was always ready to go, and the battery lasted as long as we needed it to. Occasionally I would put the Nova on the dash to get direct sunlight, but often it was just placed on top of the gear in the back for more indirect light. Like I mentioned before, this passive charging mode is what really got me excited about the lantern. I didn’t have to think about it, other than making sure I didn’t bury the lantern in a bin somewhere. There was no competing with phones and other devices for limited cable chargers. Being waterproof and lightweight, the Nova is a perfect off-the-grid tool, and I’m looking forward to using it for upcoming bikepacking and backpacking trips where we’ll be away from power for several days. The multiple light settings are great for conserving battery power or dialing in the best amount of light for the situation. It’s a great value for just $20!
Disclaimer: If you buy the Nova from either of two links above, a small percentage of the sale will go to help supporting this website.
Check out the luminAid website for more products.