There’s a popular camping hack for creating a lantern using a headlamp and a gallon jug of water. The jug of water diffuses the headlamp’s bright, concentrated beam, and your tent or campsite is flooded with soft light. However, on a backpacking trip this hack becomes suddenly impractical thanks to the heavy jug of water. One of the best ideas in camp lighting I’ve seen in quite awhile, called the LuminAID, uses the idea behind diffused LED light and packs it into a small, lightweight package perfect for backpacking.
The LuminAID was invented in response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake by Anna Stork and Andrea Sreshta, then students at Columbia. The inventors recognized the product’s potential in the outdoor recreation industry and began marketing it there, initially through an Indiegogo campaign. In 2015, they appeared on an episode of the TV show Shark Tank, where they accepted a deal with Mark Cuban worth $200,000 for 15% of their company.
The light I tested, the PackLite 16, is solar-rechargeable and consists of a solar panel, rechargeable battery, and an LED light in a 2 1/4” x 4 3/4” x 1/2” housing, attached to a heavy duty inflatable plastic pouch by a waterproof membrane. When inflated, the light measures 8” x 9 1/2” x 4 1/2”. It has 3 brightness settings, the brightest of which puts out about 65 lumens of light, according to the LuminAID website, which is roughly equivalent to a 10 watt incandescent lightbulb. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s plenty of light inside most tents. On this brightest setting, the light lasted about 5 1/2 hours for me. The website says the light will last about 30 hours on its lowest setting. There is also a flash setting for emergency situations, which was a thoughtful addition on the manufacturer’s part. Weighing just 2.9 ounces, ultralight backpackers will find this to be one of their lightest light options (pun intended). The PackLite 16, and its little brother the PackLite 12, both retail for $19.99. If you purchase through the website, you also have the option to purchase and donate additional lights to outdoor charities, such as organizations helping to rebuild Nepal after its recent devastating earthquakes.
I’m a big fan of this product. The inventors seemed to have thought of everything. It’s solar powered so you never need to worry about packing replacement batteries. It’s waterproof so you can strap it on your pack during the day to recharge even in a rainstorm, and can stow it in your canoe or raft without worry. It’s lightweight. On one charge it will last at least an entire evening, and maybe much more depending on the brightness setting you use. The inflatable pouch includes a handle so it’s easy to carry around camp, and there’s a small loop to hang it from your pack during charging or from the inside of your tent at night. The only criticism I have is the slow recharge rate—7 to 10 hours on a bright sunny day for a full charge. Out on the trail, an overcast day could have a dramatic impact on how long the light lasts for you that evening. Overall, I recommend this product.
The Luminoodle is a ropelight approximately five feet long. Launched in September 2015 on Kickstarter, almost $400,000 was raised in about a month. Luminoodle is produced by another Shark Tank/Mark Cuban collaboration, Salt Lake City based Power Practical, which has been producing outdoor products since 2012. It retails for $19.
A rope light is an interesting concept for camping. Instead of a light concentrated in one space like that provided from a lantern, which can produce sharp shadows in a cramped tent, a rope light can better distribute light throughout a space. Its versatility is also a strong point. One night I had it draped around my neck at the campfire reading a book, which was more handy than having to find a spot to put a lantern, and it saved the battery on my headlamp. It’s waterproof, so on rainy nights it can be used outside if needed. It cranks out about 160 lumens of light, so it’s plenty bright.
The major drawback to the Luminoodle is that it requires an external battery. I have used a solar rechargeable external battery to power the Luminoodle, but this only increases the demands I place on the battery due to other electronic gadgets I use on trips. I would rather the Luminoodle have its own dedicated power source (a battery pack can be purchased with the Luminoodle for an additional $20). While I like how it distributes light, I find the concept more peculiar than truly practical. Luminoodle is lightweight, at just 2.5 ounces, but I remain unconvinced it demands a place in your pack.