Recently, BioLite sent us some solar-powered camping lanterns to review, but I quickly found out that they’re a lot more than lanterns. They also double as toys for kids, mood lamps, party lights, phone chargers, and possibly even emergency signal lamps. The company also sent us a solar panel that charges the lanterns, as well as phones and its own built-in battery.
The AlpenGlow 250 & 500 Lanterns
The obvious first question for any rechargeable lantern is: Does it work well as a lantern? And that’s a definite yes. It has adjustable light levels, plenty of brightness on the highest level for a campsite, and it’s diffused enough to not blind the crap out of you. Even better, you can put it in either a “daylight” setting (more white) or a setting with more yellow, like a typical lightbulb. So, you can get the warm glow you’d get from a traditional propane lantern if you want.
But it doesn’t stop there (even though stopping there would be good enough). With the right button presses, you can get a dimmer flickering setting, which simulates candlelight or a small fire. Whether you’re out in the woods or at home, that’s a very nice touch.
In the mood for some more color? The AlpenGlow lanterns have you covered there, too.
By pressing and holding the button different ways (this is all detailed in the manual), you can set these lights to put off color in any shade you want. Or, you can set them to rotate through different colors. Shake them, and they do even more things. So, they can go beyond just giving you light to work with and instead give you party and mood lighting.
Want to skip the manual? Just hand one to your kids. They’ll figure out how to get the lights to do all sorts of things in 5 minutes. And, that’s exactly what my kids did. And, then they didn’t want to give them back. So, be sure to get a few of them if you have kids. These little lights are like the coolest electric chemlight (glowstick) replacements ever.
As you probably know, militaries use chemlights for all sorts of things, including signaling, avoiding getting lost, and even games. With all of the options the AlpenGlow lights give you, there’s no reason they couldn’t serve in any of those roles. If you’re taking Boy Scouts or other youth groups into the woods, these would make great Capture The Flag targets, for example. If someone were to get lost, they could use one of these to signal their position and be easier to find.
In other words, the outdoor uses for these lights are endless. And, you don’t have to worry about having them outside. Rain or dust won’t ruin them, and even some mild drops wouldn’t shatter them. They’re really built to withstand outdoor use.
But, lighting isn’t the only thing they can do. They also allow you to use their built-in batteries to charge phones or other USB devices using a cable. The Alpenglow 500 has 6400 mAh of battery storage, and the 250 has half that (3200 mAh). This gives you yet another emergency use for these lights.
Recharging Them With The Sun
BioLite knows that we’re focused on renewable energy at CleanTechnica, so it sent something else that’s really cool: a small solar panel to charge them up off-grid. Like the lanterns, just giving us a small solar panel would have been cool enough, but the company didn’t stop there. They provide a product that can do a lot more than just collect sunlight.
Probably the coolest feature I noticed was the sight the panel has built in to get the most direct sunlight possible. I call it a sight because, like the sights on a gun, it helps you aim without needing any fancy measures.
To use the sight, you look at where the shadow of the center dot on the lens falls. Move the solar panel around until the shadow dot is dead center between the crosshairs. Then, your panel is getting the most direct sunlight possible. The built-in stand makes this easy because it can click into many different positions to adjust the angle of the panel. Throughout the day, you’ll need to re-aim it several times, but this makes the job easy.
Once you have the panel making good power, you’ll notice that it has a big hump on one side, and inside is its own battery pack. So, even if you don’t have any devices that need a charge right now, you can just put the panel out to save up some power to charge things later. Or, you can directly charge something like the AlpenGlow lanterns via USB cable. Anything else that takes 5 volt USB (including USB-C devices) will work with the panel with a normal USB charging cord. I used it with several different phones.
The whole unit seemed to be made from tough materials, and the panel is flexible enough to take a beating. It folds up into a small square to carry with you in a backpack or large purse.
I found one thing that might look like a downside that’s really an upside. Normally, cheap solar devices don’t come with sufficient protection for the battery cells in them, and disastrous results are possible should a battery pack catch fire. The SolarPanel 5+ and 10+ have battery management to shut down charging when they get too hot (which happened to me in 105 degree heat). If that happens, put it in the shade to cool off or put in on grass (which should help).
Speaking of safety, I also found that the panel can shade the AlpenGlow lanterns during charging if you’re concerned about putting them in the sun. The whole 250 light fit behind the panel, and the AlpenGlow 500 can fit behind it if you lay it over. That way, you can help the batteries in the lanterns last longer.
I’m actually very impressed with everything these little lanterns and solar panel can do. It would have been good enough if they had provided regular lanterns that could be charged with the sun on camping trips, but they went out of their way to get more functionality out of them at every step. Everything that could be used for more things could be used for more things.
I’d highly recommend these for anybody.
Products in this review:
Images by Jennifer Sensiba.
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