I've done a fair bit of camping in my life, from car camping to backpacking to canoe trips to simple backyard adventures, and when I look back and compare the gear that I used for years to what's available now, I'm pretty amazed that we ever managed to survive in the woods back in the day without some of the stuff that's on the market today.
We now have the ability to bring more options for power with us, from solar chargers to external battery packs, which can considerably lighten our load, in terms of needing to carry fuel for lanterns and extra batteries for lights, while also being able to recharge the mobile gadgets we've come to rely so heavily on these days.
Granted, up until a few years ago, people didn't take their phones camping with them, and for the most part, except for perhaps a GPS or camera, mobile electronics weren't a big part of enjoying the outdoors. But now, our smartphones are our GPS, camera, and telephone, all rolled into one, and bringing one with you to the backcountry is almost standard practice. However, these mobile gadgets have one big weakness, which is the limited capacity of the battery, and when the battery is discharged, unless you have a way to recharge it in the woods, it might as well be dead weight in your pack.
To that end, Goal Zero has been making a big name for itself lately with its portable solar charging and power pack options, which have made it much simpler and easier to bring all your gadgets off the grid with you, and to recharge them on the fly. But they don't just make portable and powerful solar panels and battery systems, they also make gear that can meet another need: lighting.
With their latest offering, the Lighthouse 250 LED lantern, Goal Zero has managed to build an incredibly handy and lightweight lantern, which not only provides super bright LED lighting for illuminating meal prep, walks after dark, or storytime for the kids, but can also provide backup power for charging cell phones and other mobile electronics. Weighing in at just over one pound, and measuring 4.5" x 5" x 6.6", the Lighthouse 250 doesn't take up a lot of space, yet puts out a super bright LED light (250 lumens) and includes an onboard 4400 mAh battery.
The Lighthouse 250 can be charged via USB, using the integrated charging cord, either from a portable solar panel, such as the Nomad 7 or Nomad 20, from a power pack, such as the Sherpa 50 or 100, or from a wall outlet (using a USB port). Charging with the Nomad 7 panel takes about 7 hours (assuming optimal sun exposure), and about the same amount of time using a USB port.
The illumination comes from two 3W Cree LED bulbs, capable of delivering 250 lumens at the lantern's highest setting (both LEDs lit and on high), which is bright enough for just about any task, and perhaps too bright for most applications. The Lighthouse 250 offers multiple brightness settings, which allow users to adjust the light to come only from one bulb, directed out the front of the device, or to have both bulbs lit for a full circle of illumination (while also being able to dial down the brightness as desired). The lantern also includes the option of flashing red alert lights, which are located around the upper rim, for use in accidents or emergency (or just to amuse the kids after dark, as is the case at my house).
With a full charge, the Lighthouse can run for up to 48 hours (lowest setting), and can provide several charges for a smartphone or other mobile gadget, even while the light is being used. If the battery is fully discharged, a built-in hand crank allows users to still have light, with one minute of cranking (at 120 RPM) delivering about 10 minutes of light.
The Lighthouse 250 can be hung up from the handle, and can be used flat on its base, or can sit on its two foldable legs to position it higher. One neat feature is the integrated cord for charging the lantern itself, which wraps around the lantern out of the way, and fits snugly right under the lens, ensuring you'll always have the cord with you. The one drawback to that charging cord is that it's short (about 9" long), so the Lighthouse lantern will need to be right next to whatever you use to charge it with.
I recently received a Lighthouse 250 from Goal Zero to check it out in person, and after a few weeks of use, I'm suitably impressed by not only how bright the LEDs were, but also by the battery capacity and its compact and lightweight form.
Here's my video review of the Goal Zero Lighthouse 250 LED lantern and USB power hub:
[Disclosure: I received a Lighthouse 250 for review purposes, but all opinions here are mine.]