Wilderness camping offers a wonderful reprieve from our tech-filled lives. Computer screens and connected commutes give way to mountain-peak sunrises and hikes to secluded lakes. The distance from the rat race is rejuvenating. Then night comes, and technology creeps back in. Propane-powered lanterns barely shed enough light for you to see what you’re eating for dinner, so you pull out your phone to waste its battery making sure you don’t trip over something. Flashlights, headlamps and electric lanterns are all great, but only if you remembered to charge them before leaving the house.
BioLite BaseLantern XL
Convenient lighting system that doubles as a battery to charge your phone. 500 lumens of edge-lit LED light. Easy-to-use app controls the brightness, color, and lighting mode. Psychedelic ‘Chill’ setting is a built-in late-night dance party.
Default brightness is too jarring, so you really need the app. Add-on lights work better with the smaller PowerLight Mini than the larger BaseLantern XL.
BioLite wants to improve the way you light up the night while in the woods. The startup, mostly known for its portable wood-burning stove that charges your phone while you cook your breakfast, has recently expanded its product line to include a few other gadgets that provide power and lighting for campsites.
The center of BioLite’s new lighting system is the $130 BaseLantern XL. It’s a 1.4-pound brick that’s about five inches tall and wide, and just under two inches thick. The LEDs within put out a maximum of 500 lumens. The 12,000 mAh li-ion battery provides 78 hours of dim light or seven and a half hours of very bright light. Stainless steel legs fold into a variety of positions. Of course, it’s more than just a lantern—it’s also a battery pack. On the sides of the BaseLantern XL are two USB ports for charging your devices, and two additional ports for powering two sets of external lights you can hang up around your campsite.
You can turn the lantern on and off with buttons on the unit, but the party starts when you pair it to your device using Bluetooth and open up BioLite’s mobile app. There, you can control the brightness and the color, dialing in any hue you like. There are four lighting modes too: strobe, pulse, single side LED, and my favorite, chill. Chill mode slowly rotates through all the colors like a psychedelic beacon. Occasionally it spazzes out and suddenly flashes a random color in the middle of a smooth transition, but generally it flows slowly through the color spectrum. When using one of the other modes—either shining a straight color or plain white—you’ll want to dim the light. The highest setting is airport-bathroom-level bright, and dimming it will earn you more run time anyway.
The app includes other features like alarms and timers, a power usage bar, and the ability to control whether or not you want the BaseLantern itself to be lit up, or just the external lights attached to it. It also has a proximity activation feature, which (via Bluetooth) senses when you leave the campsite or come back, turning the light off as you walk away and back on as you approach. Impressive, if a bit ridiculous.
The XL is a 12-inch collapsible fabric dome of a lantern that sits at the end of a 15-foot cord. It’s light and compact, but I had a hard time finding a good place for it. I tested this lighting system in the Humboldt Redwoods, where there were plenty of branches to hang it from. I couldn’t find a spot that worked—the cord isn’t long enough and the LED is not bright enough to be effective. The Mini, which contains four little lantern-style lights strung on a 10-foot cord, didn’t fare much better. The Mini lights work best laid across the middle of a table, but if BioLite wants you to fill the corners of your campsite with light, the cords are going to have be lengthened. You can daisy-chain multiple SiteLights together, but running one solo doesn’t give great results.
Both of these plug-in lights make more sense with the PowerLight Mini. This tiny, super-bright $45 lantern is just thick enough to hold the USB port you use to charge the 52-hour battery. The PowerLight Mini makes a convenient light source for the two Sitelight products, which can plug into it. The PowerLight Mini also works better to spread the light around your campsite—you can have the BaseLantern XL in the middle of camp, and the Sitelight Mini and XL on the perimeter, plugged into the PowerLight Mini. Plus, the little lantern can be used as a flashlight or a headlamp, and it comes with a bike mount. It’s a versatile product that could even be used outside of wilderness retreats.
While these lights from BioLite won’t help you fully disconnect from the workday barrage of gadgets, they are perfect for those who want take a break from technology while holding on to some of its comforts.