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BioLite's Latest: A Flatpack Lantern That Doubles As A Mini Smartgrid

BioLite's BaseLantern uses clever design to avoid the pitfalls of many LED lanterns. And you can use it to set mood lighting too.

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Most camping lanterns seem plenty bright indoors, but outside, at your campground, they get swallowed up by the darkness of the wilderness. This is doubly true with LED lanterns. Although they're lighter and more convenient to pack than propane lanterns, the light they give off tends to be much weaker, which is especially acute when you're stumbling to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

But now BioLite, maker of off-grid energy solutions, thinks they've come up with a better LED lantern. The BaseLantern is a svelte 500-lumen lantern that has cool Phillips Hue-style mood lighting abilities, and can be used as a battery pack to recharge your gadgets, thanks to a built-in 7,800mAH battery. But the coolest feature is that it can be used as a generator for a series of supplementary string lights, letting hikers expand the periphery of their campsite.

First, let's talk about what BaseLantern isn't. At 500 lumens, this LED lamp isn't actually more powerful than many others on the market. Some of the better propane lanterns out there run 1600-1700 lumens, and entry-level models usually rate around 800 lumens, about the equivalent of a 60 watt bulb. So the BaseLantern is probably not going to be as bright by default as a propane lantern.

Truthfully, this is an issue with all LED lights. Basically, on their own, LEDs have very low light-emission efficiency, because the light can only escape at very specific angles from the diode. Light that doesn't escape just turns into waste heat. The way around that is by using total internal reflection to bounce any light that doesn't escape the diode the first time around so it can escape at other angles. Not only does it give LED lights a bigger cone of illumination, but it significantly maximizes their light efficiency.

The point is, with any LED lantern, you're making a trade-off between raw illuminating power (an important consideration in the dark) and bulk (which is an even more important consideration during the day when you're hauling all your gear on your back). What makes the BaseLantern's design so clever is that BioLite has figured out a way to balance the slim form-factor of an LED lantern while expanding the sphere of illumination through the use of string lights, which plug into the BaseLantern's built-in battery pack. BioLite calls these small overhead lamps SiteLights, and they can be easily strung from overhead branches as little overhead lamps and accent lights.

The rest of the BaseLantern seems thoughtfully designed, too. It's Bluetooth-enabled, so you can use an accompanying app to adjust the mood of the light the BaseLantern is emitting, or even just shut off automatically when a tethered smartphone is out of range, saving the battery. The built-in 7,800mAH battery is enough to recharge a smartphone five or six times (although keep in mind that comes off the top of how long you can keep the light on).

Serious campers will still probably want to invest in a good propane lantern for anything other than a weekend car camping trip. But compared to other LED lanterns on the market, the BaseLantern easily looks like the best one we've ever seen. You can pre-order one on Kickstarter starting at $99.

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