When shopping for a solar lantern, you first must decide what you are going to use it for. Many portable solar lanterns are designed for camping and are very portable. Other solar lanterns come in a variety of decorative designs for use on patios, poolside, gardens or outside walls.
A solar lantern involves three main components: the solar photovoltaic (PV) panel which converts sunlight into electricity; the storage battery to store electricity generated during the day; and, the lamp. The operation of solar lantern is pretty simple. The solar energy is converted to electrical energy by the PV panel and stored in the battery. At night, the battery powers the solar lights.
Solar lanterns are considered omni-directional because they give off light that illuminates a full 360-degree range. Solar lighting devices which provide only unidirectional lighting are not usually classified as a solar lantern, though some recreation solar lanterns are designed more like old railroad kerosene lanterns and direct the light in one direction.
Whether you are choosing a recreational solar lantern or decorative lighting for your home and garden, the unit should provide a minimum of 3 hours of light per single charge. Some high-end solar lanterns, both recreational and decorative, can operate for about 4 to 5 hours. For decorative solar lanterns, the lights should automatically switch on at dusk and switch off at dawn when the sun comes up.
You will want the designs of decorative solar lanterns to be using LED lamps, but recreational solar lanterns give you a choice of either LED’s or compact fluorescent (CFL) lamps.
While both types of solar lanterns (especially recreational units) use maintenance-free batteries, some small, low-end decorative solar lanterns may use AA or AAA batteries.
Solar lanterns are a good option for any garden or pathway. You can buy garden solar lanterns individually or as a set of 4, 6, or more. There are many different types of solar garden lanterns, including string lights, pathway lighting and poll lamps. The styles include multi-colored butterfly and flower shaped lights, seasonal, traditional and antique style lanterns. These various styles can be wrought iron, aluminum, plastic or copper.
The pathway lights all come self-contained connected to a stake that is driven into the ground. A set of four black “Malibu” solar lanterns for pathways sell for about $40. Some pathway solar lanterns hang off a Shepard’s Hook. Shepard’s Hook solar lanterns usually come in a set of 6 and sell for $70.
Pole-mounted solar lanterns also come in various styles, including a few models that feature a 19th-century gaslight design with beveled glass. Most high-end lamp post designs stand around 84 inches high, have multiple LED bulbs and use lithium batteries. They can sell for around $129 a piece.
There are numerous less expense solar lantern sets. Whatever style of garden solar lanterns you choose, they will be easy to set up because you do not have to worry about any wiring.
Solar lanterns for recreational uses such as camping are generally inexpensive, with prices ranging from $25 to $80. These lanterns can be hung anywhere, placed on a table or used when walking or hiking at night. When fully charged, most of the better recreational solar lanterns will provide very useful lighting for up to 8 hours.
The designs of these units vary greatly from decorative solar lanterns in that they rather resemble old-style kerosene lamps. Some may even include a hand crank to re-charge the internal batteries for continued use or to charge the battery when your camping trip suddenly encounters heavy clouds and rain. On some models, a mere one-minute of cranking will produce up to 20-minutes of power.
The lamp bulb in most recreational solar lanterns is usually a compact fluorescent (CFL) bulb, and the batteries are maintenance-free lead acid that are either 6 or 12 volts. These units normally contain 2 small LED indicators: a green light to indicate that solar charging of the battery is in progress, and a red light to indicate that the condition of the battery is low.
Another useful feature of most recreational solar lanterns is the presence of auxiliary power outputs for a radio, a mobile phone charger, a fan or other electrically powered devices. In the more expensive recreational solar lantern models, the solar PV module is actually separate from the lantern. This allows the PV panel to be mounted outdoors while the lantern remains in your tent so you can utilize the auxiliary power outputs for other devices.