Our field staff was given the task to find and test a camping lantern with a renewable source of energy. Green camping was on our minds and besides the environmental concerns of battery disposal and fuel combustion, carrying around batteries or extra fuel can be heavy and a burden to pack for a camping trip. This basically narrows down the available lantern options to solar or crank as the energy source.
After calling around a few local big box stores and smaller independent outdoors stores, it was evident that the North49 Crank Lantern was widely available (although the prices did vary from $19.99-$39.99 CAD for the same model!). The lantern is protected in the clear tough plastic packaging that is rather difficult to open safely without a good pair of scissors. Upon opening the package and reading the instructions on use, we were ready to start the test.
The North49 Crank Lantern has a black body with a tough black plastic base. The globe is made of hard plastic and is surrounded by a metal cage for added protection. The top carrying handle has a thin popup hook built in to the handle that is used to suspend the lantern, although the hook feels like it will snap if the lantern is bumped. A small compass is embedded in the center at the top.
The lantern uses 12 LEDs (light emitting diode) as the light source. LED’s are a great power-saving light source and should outlast the life of the lantern. They are positioned in the center at the bottom of the chamber and pointed up to a cone shaped reflective surface for maximum light distribution. There are three light settings (4 LEDs, 8 LEDs, 12 LEDs), changed by pressing the rubberized power button in succession. The power supply for the LEDs is a rechargeable battery inside the lantern housing. The battery is charged by cranking a small handle on the outside of the lantern housing. For those interested in how a crank works to charge the battery, the crank turns a coil of wires in a magnetic field to generate electricity. The direct current electrical generator that the crank operates is called a dynamo. The lantern’s instructions indicate that cranking the lantern for one minute at 120 RPM will operate the lantern’s 4 LEDs for 20 minutes. Cranking a lantern every 20 minutes isn’t a terrible sacrifice compared to the weight factor of multiple D cell batteries. Also, who hasn’t had the pleasure of changing the mantel of a fuel lantern in the pouring rain? Additionally, the lantern has an input for 6V DC (with a noticeably absent rubber cap which leaves it unprotected), but the lantern does not come with an AC to DC power inverter. In theory, the North49 Crank Lantern should be relatively easy to operate, without the hassles of the other lantern types.
After operating it in the comforts of home, it was time to take the North49 Crank Lantern on a weekend camping trip. Packing it was a breeze – it is light and doesn’t require the same level of protection that the glass globe of a fuel lantern requires. Upon arrival at the site, the lantern was unpacked and put on the picnic table, ready for use after dark. After the kids were in their sleeping bags, the adults were ready to eat dinner and play some cards. We turned on the lantern’s 4 LED’s and looked around. Couldn’t see much. The 8 LED’s were no better. We tried all 12 LED’s and we could barely make out the colour of food on our plate. We thought perhaps the battery was low and needed more charging, so we turned off the lantern and cranked it at 120 RPM for one minute as per the directions. The maximum setting was still no brighter. We tried cranking the lantern with the 12 LED’s on and found the LED’s went SUPER bright, and we could see everything well! This stopped after the cranking stopped and the light level disappointingly went back down. After dinner, we tried playing a game of cards, but got frustrated because it was difficult to read the numbers on the cards because the light was so dim.
Final thoughts: the look, weight and energy source of this lantern earn top marks; however, these positive features do not overcome the deficiencies in illuminating power as that is the ultimate purpose of the lantern.
Update July 9, 2010 – After several months of occasional use we tried cranking the lantern at 120rpm for 10 minutes. The result was a super bright light that we expected from this product in the first place. We used the light to drain the battery, and cranked it for 2 minutes at 120rpm and found the light was not as bright as it was at 10 minutes of cranking, but still much brighter than before. Perhaps the manufacturer’s directions need to be improved. We will post another update after more use.