If you want to camp deep in the backcountry, hang out in a state park after sunset, or even relax by a campfire in your backyard, purchasing a bright and reliable lantern is essential for navigating safely in the dark. Lanterns may seem like one of the most basic pieces of gear on your camping list, but they don’t have to be.
Aside from the obvious use case of illuminating your surroundings, lanterns can provide some unexpected fun and entertainment—especially if you invest in one of our all-time favorite lanterns, the BioLite AlpenGlow 500.
A rechargeable lantern that lights up your campsite in every color of the rainbow
The BioLite AlpenGlow 500 is the perfect lantern for the outdoor enthusiast who wants to liven up their campsite (or backyard), a portable, rechargeable and customizable lantern that can be used by friends, family and rugged explorers alike They want the ambience and vibrancy to light up their campsite.
Off-grid-focused brand BioLite, known for its solar-powered, rechargeable, and even fire-powered devices, is one of the big names in outdoor lighting. Their long (and impressive) list of high-tech gear, like the battery-enhanced FirePit+ and the beautiful SiteLight String, is used by campers and outdoor enthusiasts in the wild and in their own backyards.
When I first lighted up the AlpenGlow 500 – a nearly Nalgene-sized USB lantern that fits in the palm of your hand – I didn’t expect this little ball of light to bring me so much joy. The rechargeable lantern glows in multiple light modes, including dimmable cool and warm light settings, candle flickering settings, and a multi-color “party” mode that cycles through a rainbow of colors. From the cozy hues of warm LED lights to the club-like vibe of vibrant multi-color settings, AlpenGlow illuminates your surroundings to match the exact brightness and mood you’re looking for.
The BioLite AlpenGlow 500 is an expensive lantern, but its ability to turn a campground into a party is unmatched. Its numerous light modes illuminate every color imaginable, from a warm ambient light for bedtime to a mixed multicolor light show for entertaining around a campfire.
The standout feature of the AlpenGlow 500 is that it has eight different light modes, including cool white and warm white (both dimmable); monochromatic and multicolor; candle flicker mode, which mimics a soothing candle flame; multicolor party mode , which cycles through a range of colors; and Fireworks Mode, which sends lanterns through rapidly flashing colors.
If you’re looking to add energy to your campsite, AlpenGlow’s multi-color party mode displays an ever-changing light show that transitions between all the colors of the rainbow. In this setup, lanterns can be set to transition through a seemingly endless palette.
I’m also a big fan of warm light, especially when camping outdoors. I found the bright white LEDs usually found in newer rechargeable lanterns very harsh when lighting up campsites at night. AlpenGlow has the best of both worlds. It has two standard light settings, a super bright cool white light, and a warm light that emits a pleasant yellow-orange hue.
Both settings are dimmable, which also reduces over-bright lights in ultra-dark nights. The dimmer feature is also perfect when you need to light up your campsite as brightly as possible, such as when you’re cooking at night or setting up your campsite after dusk. The cold light setting also allows you to light only one side of the lantern. This “single pane” mode is great for illuminating the ground or area in front of you while avoiding the reflection of strong light back onto your face. This mode is also a great way to help save battery when you’re out and about for extended periods of time.
Candlelight flickering mode
While nothing can quite replicate the warmth and awe of a campfire campfire, the BioLite AlpenGlow 500 is a great campfire replacement when needed – especially in wildfire-prone areas like California, where campfire restrictions and bans have changed across the country Common in Texas, Colorado and Arizona.
Last spring, when we lived in Lo Lo Mai Springs, Arizona, a private campground just 20 minutes southwest of Sedona, the area had a fire ban on the weekend we were camping. Thankfully, I happened to have my BioLite AlpenGlow 500 with me.
In what I thought was a pathetic attempt to create an artificial fire for the group, I decided to place the AlpenGlow in the center of a small pile of wood that we had arranged in the fire pit. Before I did that, though, I turned the lantern to the warm light setting and shook it to trigger the candle blinking mode. AlpenGlow glows and shimmers in the cracks of a pile of branches and logs, illuminating the fire pit and providing a less warm but still beautiful atmosphere for our campfire gathering.
For most weekend camping trips, the longevity of this light isn’t an issue. I’ve been hiding my AlpenGlow in a camping box in the basement for weeks before my next camping trip, but when I get to the campsite, usually the lantern has enough battery to last me another weekend of lights Bright night.
According to BioLite, AlpenGlow will last up to 200 hours of runtime when set to the “LO” (or dimmed) setting. At the “HI” (or bright) setting, we found the light to stay on until the 5 hour mark, then start to dim to save battery power. The lights eventually turned off around 11 hours. BioLite says the lantern takes about 3 hours to fully charge when fully depleted, and about 3.5 hours when we tested it ourselves.
An added feature of the AlpenGlow 500 and 250 is that it doubles as a power bank. Since the lantern has a USB output port, you can easily charge your phone (or connect to other devices like the BioLite SiteLight String) in a pinch.
For a lantern with so many light settings and so few buttons, it’s no surprise that filtering through this lantern’s seemingly endless number of light modes and functions can be confusing.
On the surface, operating AlpenGlow sounds simple. There are three ways to change the color, brightness and mode of the light: long press, long press, shake.
Each time the top button of the AlpenGlow light is pressed, it changes the color mode. For example, the first press will turn on the white light, another press will switch the lantern to warm light, and the third and fourth presses will filter through monochrome and multicolor modes. Pressing all settings will eventually turn off AlpenGlow.
Holding the top button and shaking the AlpenGlow can be confusing. By pressing and holding, you can dim white and warm lights, change the hue in color mode, and even change the speed of color change in single color cycle, multicolor party, and fireworks mode. If you shake the AlpenGlow while the lantern is lit, the internal accelerometer can detect this shaking and, depending on the lantern’s settings, enable single-sided light, candle blinking, single and multi-color cycling, or firework mode for a quick pop of color.
There are so many ways to light up the AlpenGlow – that’s what makes this lantern so fun. However, remembering how to get into all these different settings can be challenging, especially if you only use it occasionally. It takes some practice (or multiple viewings of BioLite’s AlpenGlow YouTube tutorial) to get the hang of how all the features of this lantern work, but once you get the hang of it, the results are worth the effort.
This light isn’t the most accessible light for most campers. At a whopping $80, the AlpenGlow 500 is significantly larger than many other more economical lights you’ll find on the market.
BioLite does sell the smaller AlpenGlow 250 for $60, which has the same features as the 500 (minus the fireworks mode), but isn’t quite as bright. The brand also offers the AlpenGlow Multipack, which includes a set of two small (250 lumens) and two large (500 lumens) lanterns for $252, or $28 off if you buy them individually ($280) . The multi-pack option is perfect for large groups, families with kids, or those who want to spread lights around campgrounds and various tents.
If all you need is a light source to illuminate your tent or picnic table while you play, the BioLite AlpenGlow 500 probably isn’t for you. But if you have some extra money to spend and it sounds like fun to create a vibrant atmosphere while hanging out around camp, this lantern is definitely worth the investment.
It’s hard to compare this light with other charging lights on the market because of its unique capabilities. What sets this lantern apart from others is its ability to turn on various automatic functions (like party or firework modes) to show off a dance of color.
A smaller, darker version of BioLite’s AlpenGlow 500 is the AlpenGlow 250. It’s not quite as bright and doesn’t have the fancy fireworks mode setting, but otherwise, it’s a more compact, cheaper version of the Lantern for $60.
Similar to AlpenGlow, Mpowerd’s Luci Color Essence also has eight light functions, although each light displays only one color. This gas-filled light is much dimmer than the AlpenGlow 500 and 200, with only 50 lumens of illumination. The benefit of this light is that it comes in a much smaller package than the AlpenGlow, making it more suitable for backpackers or car campers who want to save space in their packing. Another big difference of Luci Essence is that it is a solar powered light that can be charged by the sun or USB.
If you’re looking for a rechargeable USB light at a fraction of AlpenGlow’s price, check out the Black Diamond Moji Lantern. For $25, this lantern has far fewer frills—like no multicolor or warm light—but still offers dimming so you can adjust the brightness for any occasion. The Moji Lantern also has a double hook on the bottom of the lamp (AlpenGlows have a single hook) for easy hanging in tents or on ropes at campsites.
This colorful and versatile lantern is undoubtedly one of the most fun yet functional rechargeable lights on the market. Its variety of shades, colors, and brightness—not to mention its ability to customize lighting to suit the mood you want—makes it more of a camping toy than a piece of gear. As functional as it is, it’s just as pleasant to use. Whether you’re looking for a warm light to spend an evening under the stars, or a light show that reflects the glamour and awe of the Northern Lights, the BioLite AlpenGlow 500 is the best combination of fun and function you’ll find in a camping lantern.