When the sun goes down, a little bit of magic creeps into a camping trip.
Rather than just flicking a switch to turn on the light bulbs like you do at home, you’re faced with a whole heap of camp lighting options, from the practical and reliable LED head torch to the vintage vibes of a flickering candle lantern.
Whether you’re backpacking in the mountains or full-on glamping on a luxury campground, we’ve put together a mammoth list of the best camping lighting ideas.
- Traditional flame lights like candles and propane lamps can lend your camp an old-school sense of romance and adventure, but you need to be careful about safety.
- Most campers use energy-efficient electric lighting, including powerful LED lamps, battery powered string lights, and collapsible solar lanterns.
- Outside the tent, you can get creative with your campsite lighting ideas — using fire bowls, tiki torches, rope lights, or solar-powered stake lights.
- Backpackers can improvise simple lamps using their LED head torch.
- However you choose to light your camp, don’t forget to enjoy the darkness too.
Tea candles are a cozy camping staple. Cheap, portable, clean, and difficult to knock over. Each one should give you 3–4 hours of soft light.
It’s worth noting that those little metal cups they come in are to catch the melting wax, rather than to protect the surfaces underneath from heat. Visit any old mountain cabin and you’ll see plenty of dark circles where tea lights have scorched the table tops.
For this reason, tea lights are best placed on saucers or in holders of some sort — and remember that even though they’re small, this form of tent lighting still represents a fire hazard.
Mason Jar Lamps
A camping hack that’s as old as the stars is to stick tea lights in mason jars. This improvised camping lamp protects your surfaces from heat damage and also makes the candles considerably safer. Obviously don’t put the lids on.
You can buy specially made candle lanterns for camping. This type of camping lantern is designed to be safe for use under canvas — though of course you should always read the instructions carefully and abide by any recommendations.
Most of these lanterns can be placed on a flat surface like a picnic table, and you can also often hang lights from trees or poles. Some are designed to take multiple candles, while others have built-in reflectors to throw that flickering candlelight a little further.
For many of us, the low roar of a propane lantern comes with a great big dose of nostalgia. It’s the sound of Scout camps, boats, and off-grid cabins. We never understood the mysterious art of mantling, only that it was a job for COMPETENT ADULTS.
Hurricane lanterns can give off a lot of bright light, making them perfect for larger tents or outdoor settings. They can also be adjusted down for a more soothing glow that immediately conjures up memories of childhood night-fishing trips.
Fuel consumption varies hugely depending on how high you have the camping light turned up. Brighter models that can illuminate your entire campsite might genie a 16 oz propane canister in four hours — while a more economical camping lantern turned down low might eke out the same amount of propane for 14 hours.
Obviously, gas powered lanterns come with some serious safety considerations — especially the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning — and correct ventilation is hugely important.
Liquid Fuel Hurricane Lanterns
While propane lanterns are among the most common fuel lamps, you can also get models that run off kerosene, paraffin, unleaded petrol, or other liquid fuels.
Often popular with sea anglers putting in long nights by the ocean in search of that monster cod, these lanterns tend to be more expensive up-front, but the fuel is cheaper than propane and you can get long burn times off a single fill.
Vintage Candle Holders
There’s something timeless about the classic ‘Wee Willie Winkie’ candle holder, complete with drip tray and finger loop.
A staple of every nightstand until electric lighting came in, they throw out a decent amount of light, are fairly stable, and will lend your camp some serious vintage charm. For the real Golden-Age-of-Exploration vibe, you’ll want to go for an enamel one.
The obvious downside is that these lights present a fire hazard that needs to be handled with extreme care — especially in modern synthetic tents. For this reason, they’re better suited to adult-only camping trips in traditional canvas tents or cabins.
If you’ve read our article on how to keep warm in a tent, you’ll know that we’re huge fans of winter camping with wood-burning stoves. Not only does a stove provide warmth and cooking facilities, it’ll also cast a warm glow over the inside of your tent.
LED Camping Lanterns
Take a stroll round any decent-sized campground, and you’ll find that the vast majority of campers are using battery-powered LED lanterns.
And it’s easy to see why. LEDs can give off a huge amount of light for minimal energy input, and many models will take conventional or rechargeable batteries. Just plug your battery operated lantern into your power bank when you go to bed and it’ll be all juiced up ready for the next night.
Some LED lights will also have different light modes, where you can select whiter or warmer light depending on the time of night. You might also get a remote control so you can turn off your night light from the comfort of your sleeping bag.
LED lights are the workhorses of the camping world, and while it might not conjure up the warm thrill of old-timey adventure like some of the other items on this list, a rechargeable lantern is practical and extremely safe.
Just don’t forget a power pack to keep your favorite camping lights fuelled up.
Some lamps don’t even need batteries — all you need to do is leave them in a bright spot during the day, and the solar power will charge them up for you.
Among the most popular models is the collapsible solar lantern. These pack down flat when not in use, and you either expand them like a squeeze-box or inflate them like a balloon.
The charging capability of solar powered lamps has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, and most can charge up effectively with solar power even on relatively dull days. They also usually have a USB input so you can top your solar lantern up from a power bank if needs be.
You’ll find some solar powered lanterns with an output port for charging your phone. While these can be useful in a pinch, using them as a charger will deplete the battery very quickly and probably won’t give your phone a huge amount of juice. You’re usually better off using a dedicated solar power charger or a power bank.
For more about different charging options, check out our blog on how to charge your phone while camping.
Magnetic Inspection Lamps
Yes, we’re talking about those bright LED lamps that you use for car maintenance.
Unromantic but undeniably useful, seasoned campers usually keep a couple of these in the camp duffel. With their wide-beam light, hanging hook and magnetic attachment point, they’re as useful stuck on your tent poles as they are under the hood of your truck.
Fairy Lights (String Lights)
Nothing says you’re getting your glamp on like strings of cute fairy lights. These tiny LEDs look magical and need very little power to run — and fancier battery powered string lights usually have various different light modes from twinkle to shimmer.
They don’t give off all that much light, so you’ll usually want to combine camping string lights with bright lights like a rechargeable lantern or propane lamp so you can actually see what you’re doing.
String lights normally run off little battery-powered packs rather than outlet power, but it’s always worth double-checking before you buy — especially if they’re rope lights or the larger light bulb kind rather than tiny LEDs.
String lights that look like they’re going to give off a decent amount of light are probably going to require a wall outlet. You can also get solar string lights for outdoor use.
String Lights in a Bottle
If you do want to get a bit more light from your camping string lights, you can put them in a plastic or glass bottle. This concentrates the light, and also looks kinda cool.
Battery Powered Tea Candles
The tea light vibe, complete with (sort of) realistic flickering but without the naked flame and associated fire risk. Sound good?
Perennially popular as child-friendly Christmas lights, battery powered tea lights are cheap, safe, and extremely long-lasting. They usually run off button cell batteries, which can give them a lifespan of 150–200 hours. Considerably better than the 3–4 hours you might get from a traditional tea light.
In terms of downsides, battery powered tea lights still aren’t that convincing — and while they work nicely indoors, they’re not always built to stand up to the rigors of camping. Environmentally they’re not great, and the batteries might not work so well in cold or wet conditions.
Stick Anywhere Lights
Often found on boats or in trailers, these compact, battery-powered lights have an adhesive pad on the back.
While some campers find them useful, the single-use adhesive means that you can’t move them around very easily. Perfect for RV camping, but probably less useful for tent camping.
Sometimes, less is more when it comes to campsite lighting ideas. It’s often about lighting the things you need to light and leaving the rest in darkness. And there’s nothing quite so cozy as lying in your sleeping bag reading a book by the light of a tiny clip-on reading lamp.
The primeval appeal of sitting round a fire never gets old. And while there’s a place for the traditional campfire, it comes with an elevated fire risk and also damages the ground. As more people use our parks and nature areas, it becomes increasingly important to minimize the traces we leave behind.
For this reason, raised fire bowls have become increasingly popular. Portable and quick to set up, they provide plenty of light and heat — but keep the hot embers well clear of the ground. Once you’re packed up the next day, no-one will ever know you were there.
Who doesn’t love a tiki torch? No longer the preserve of 70s pool parties, these flaming bamboo torches will add a bit of faux-Polynesian glamor around your campsite.
Not only that, but there’s a chance they might keep the bugs away too. Tiki torches run on a variety of different fuels, but many use citronella oil — which smells good and allegedly acts as a natural insect repellent.
Not quite as flamboyant as an avenue of tiki torches leading to your tent, but a few citronella candles can also be a good idea if you’re spending the evening out in the open air.
Citronella is a natural oil that comes from a cousin of the lemongrass plant, and people have been using it for many years to keep the mosquitos away.
Whether it works, of course, is a different matter. The general consensus is that citronella candles aren’t nearly as effective as eucalyptus oil or DEET (if they even work at all), but after a lifetime of citronella-scented patio cook-outs, we’ve gotten to kinda like the smell.
Homemade Tin Can Lights
For classic folksy campsite lighting ideas, look no further than the tin can lantern. You just take an empty tin can, wash the label off, and use a hammer and nail to put holes in it. Stars, trees, animals… whatever design takes your fancy.
Drop a tea candle in it and where once you had trash, now you have an attractive magic lantern for use around your campsite.
If you’ve ever actually tried to make tin can lanterns, you’ll know it’s not quite that easy. As you work with your hammer and nail, you usually end up denting and crushing the can along the way. Which is why we were delighted to read a hack on one of the outdoor forums where someone suggested filling the cans with water and freezing them first. The ice keeps the can rigid while you work — though you’ll need to protect your hands from the cold metal with a towel.
Solar Stake Lights
A practical modern alternative to the tiki torch, many folk will have similar stake lights brightening up their backyards. The light charges itself up during the daytime, then comes on when light levels drop.
Though they don’t usually give off a huge amount of light, solar stake lights can be a really handy way to illuminate your campsite. You can lay out a path to the bathroom or car so people can find their way easily in the dark, and some people use them to mark out hazards like pegs or guy lines.
Beloved of 90s club culture and action movies, glow sticks have a little place in all our hearts. These simple snap-lights can give your campsite a luminous festival vibe, while also distracting the kids for hours on end.
Cheap and easy to order online, glow lights are waterproof and incredibly robust — and decent ones will last for eight hours or more.
What glow sticks aren’t particularly good for is actually casting light, and even with proper industrial grade ones you’ll need a few glow sticks to match battery operated or gas lanterns. They’re really more for marking objects, people, or areas in the dark.
Improvised Lighting for Backpackers
Hanging a Head Torch From the Top of Your Tent
Most of the tent lighting ideas on this list are more suited to car camping. But fear not — we’ve got some lighting solutions for backpackers too.
Most backpackers will have improvised tent lighting from an LED head torch at some stage. By using the elastic strap on your head torch and winding it round your tent poles, you can create a static light in your hike tent.
How exactly you achieve this will depend on what model of tent you have, and in at least one of our tents, we’ve found it easier to run a short length of elastic shock cord across the roof of the tent to hold our torch.
Make a Water Bottle Lantern
The more inventive alternative is to improvise a water bottle lantern. All you need to do is take your standard Nalgene bottle, then turn your head torch inside out and loop it round the bottle — so the torch is pointing upwards through the base of the bottle and the elastic headband is round the top of the bottle, holding it in place.
Turn your head torch on and voila! You have a DIY lantern that MacGyver would be proud of.
Don’t Overdo It
If you’ll permit us a final thought, it’s best not to overdo the lighting on a camping trip.
Sure, you could festoon your entire campsite with 600-lumen battery-powered floodlights, but you might just as well be at home or in the office.
Part of the enjoyment of camping is not letting artificial bright light intrude into our lives as much as it normally does. Sure, sometimes we need enough light to cook or read by, but there’s something to be said for enjoying the darkness too.
So dial down the brightness, turn off the intrusive blue light, and get an eyeful of the stars instead.
What is the best lighting solution for camping?
For campsite lighting, most people use battery-powered LED lamps — which are bright and long-lasting. String lights hanging around your campsite are great for adding a glamping vibe.
What is the best light for use in a tent?
Naked flames like candles aren’t usually a good idea in modern tents, and most people use battery-powered LED lanterns, collapsible solar lamps, and string lights for atmosphere.
What are the best outdoor lights for campers?
If you’re looking for outdoor campsite lighting ideas, you might want to try battery-powered LED lanterns, solar stakes, string lights (including rope lights), or propane/liquid fuel lamps.
What camping lights don’t attract bugs?
Unfortunately, most light sources will attract bugs. If you want to sit outside near a light source, you’ll probably need to use some sort of repellent like DEET or eucalyptus oil.