Goal Zero’s Lighthouse 250 does what any lantern is expected to do, shine light, but it does more. The fusion of technology and functional design is increasingly coming together, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the number of seemingly unrelated products where a USB hub can be found, and this lantern is a prime example. In the old days, if you needed light on a camping trip you’d get a battery or kerosene powered lantern and that’s all you would expect. If the product comes from Goal Zero, the company whose mission is to provide portable power anywhere on earth, it’s not surprising that the features extend beyond light. Why just make light when you can do so much more?
First, a little about the lantern. It’s very bright—250 lumens of warm white LED light if you twist the dial all the way to the right, to maximum brightness, with 360 degrees of light, good for a tent or on a picnic table. If you crank the dial to the left you get 50% of the brightness of any equivalent setting on the right—a good way to save power since the run times double at half power and works well for lighting a walking trail since it lights only 180 degrees around. The lowest setting on the left (light on one side) provides 48 hours of light while the highest setting on the right (light on both sides) runs for just 2.5 hours. The dial has a handy stop point on either side to let you know when you’re heading into “turbo” territory, when the lumens and power drainage jump up.
The lantern can be charged prior to a trip using the attached USB cable. Seven hours charges it fully and it’ll last 3 or 4 months on the shelf. There is a row of four battery indicator lights that lets you know the status. Once on the trail or remote location there are two other options for charging. Goal Zero makes an array of solar chargers, such as the Nomad 7, that can power the lantern in 7-14 hours. The other option is to use the hand crank, which provides 10 minutes of light for each minute of cranking. That’s an excellent option in an emergency but not that practical for routine use (one reviewer said it took over 1,000 cranks to replenish the battery). The lantern can be charged from a wall socket but it doesn’t come with the plug—many people already have a USB wall charger for other devices.
Since electronic devices have crept into almost every aspect of our lives, even camping and backpacking, it has powered an explosion of products that charge all of our toys. Even if you’re taking a break from texting and tablets you probably want to power your camera and perhaps a GPS device. And since smartphones can do double duty and beyond as a camera, GPS device, music player and e-reader maybe that’s all you need but with all that power drain you’ll need to charge it frequently. The Lighthouse 250 has a USB port that can charge small devices like a phone up to 2 times with a full charge or give a boost to larger devices such as a tablet.
There are subtle features that let you know that the design team probably sat around a table brainstorming options, like the foldable spider legs that elevate the lantern five inches higher and the handle that allows you to hang the lantern inside a tent or from a tree. Pushing a red, triangular button set off flashing red lights around the top, creating a hazard flasher. The lantern weighs in at 1.1 lbs, which rules it out for the ultralight crowd but makes it appealing for a variety of other outdoor uses.
I was somewhat skeptical that I would need a device like this but after testing it for a few months I’ve found so many uses for it. Car camping is a no-brainer but its compact size and reasonable weight makes it a good choice for other outdoor (and indoor) activities. There are so many I made a list:
1) Car camping-for hanging in the tent, placing on the picnic table and nighttime walks to the privy.
2) Winter camping-when the days are short, even in spring and fall, and you have more hours of darkness you might even take this backpacking despite its size (which isn’t all that large). It’s also useful for hiking at night though when carrying it by the handle I found it to be a bit short so my knuckles grazed the lantern.
3) Canoeing or kayaking overnight trips-definitely a plus, because you can accommodate more items than when backpacking.
4) Boating-ideal for sailboats or powerboats with the ability to hang the light and the emergency flasher option.
5) Fishing trips-for overnight trips or winter ice fishing when it gets dark early.
5) Backyard entertaining-on warm summer nights this is a handy light source to pull out when it gets dark, no fumbling with matches or candles required.
6) Winter wood-fired cooking-we don’t grill or make pizza in our wood-fired oven as much in the winter due to the temperatures, but when we have a hankering for pizza we found peering in the oven challenging—the lantern worked great to be able to see the food.
7) Traveling-on a long road trip or in some international guesthouses room lighting can sometimes be dim—this lamp provides reading light as well as a charging source.
8) Disasters-no one wants one but when it happens it’s valuable to have not only a light source that doesn’t depend on batteries, but a way to charge devices for critical communications or news.
Pros: Provides bright light as well as the ability to charge small electronic devices, can be charged via USB, solar or hand crank and is relatively compact and lightweight.
Cons: The handle works well for hanging the lantern but is a little too compact to be comfortable for carrying very far.
The Lighthouse 250 lantern from Goal Zero is a well-designed product that sheds light and powers small devices. The ability to charge the device by USB, solar charger or hand crank makes it appropriate for many uses.
Disclosure of material connection: I received a test sample from Goal Zero but the opinions expressed are solely my own.