When I was a kid, we used to go camping every weekend. My dad had this huge Coleman fuel lantern; the old fashioned kind where you poured in the liquid fuel and pumped the heck out of it until it got enough pressure. Then you lit it, and it gave out pretty good light for several hours, at which point you had to repeat the process.
Then came advances in battery chemistry and incandescent lighting technology. You could buy a battery powered lantern for camping that didn’t give you quite the output as a liquid fuel (or propane) lantern, but you didn’t run the risk of burning down your campsite either.
More recently, advances in LED technology have made incandescent (and even fluorescent) lanterns completely obsolete. An LED lantern is so much more efficient and rugged, that there’s no reason to buy anything else for camping.
The only problem with that … I already have a whole bunch of high tech LED flashlights! And besides, what’s a lantern, anyway? It’s usually a light source with some sort of diffuser.
Basic Flashlight Diffusers
All I really need for a camping lantern is a decent LED flashlight with some kind of diffuser. The problem with that is, very few flashlight companies sell specific diffusers that you know will fit specific models. With some measuring and research, I have been able to pair up generic diffusers (from Manafont, Deal Extreme, etc.) with certain flashlights, like my Thrunite Neutron 1C, shown here.
Some companies such as Fenix are good about making diffusers available for most of their popular models. However, not many companies do that. I personally like the so-called moonlight mode flashlights, especially from Thrunite. They do not offer official diffusers, so I’ve had to experiment.
AAA Flashlight Diffuser, From …What?
The AAA form factor is by far my favorite for carrying around a small flashlight. It’s a nice balance between output and run time. These are the most carried lights in my collection because in my opinion they are the most versatile. But, good luck finding store-bought diffusers for my favorite lights like the Olight I3 , Thrunite Ti or Streamlight Microstream.
So, the solution is, wait for it … it’s a … Chapstick cap! I like the cool looking blue light of a Blistex cap myself, but the concept is the same. Lots of common household caps can act as diffusers. I have lots of flashlights. I have lots of things around the house with caps.
So far, this cap fits two of my favorites: The Thrunite Ti and the Olight I3. Sadly, it does not fit my Microstream, which is a bit too large for the cap.
AA Flashlight Diffuser
The Chapstick cap trick has been around for a while, and so has “hunting for diffusers”. Not many people care enough, but honestly, I’d rather lug around something that I don’t even notice in my pocket rather than a bulky lantern. Especially when it puts out the same amount of light.
So … I found this cap from a glue stick purchased from Staples. It was just sitting in a drawer, not gluing anything, until I found it and claimed it. The cap fits my Thrunite T10 almost perfectly. The T10 is one of my favorite lights because it’s compact and has 3 modes, including moonlight mode. The light takes the common AA battery chemistry, which makes the batteries always easy to find. It’s great for camping, because I can get up in the middle of the night with it on moonlight, and not wake up the whole campsite. And now it’s going to pull double duty as my lantern too. This light has a pretty decent high mode,and a well spaced middle mode, giving me two decent levels for lantern duty.
Now, three of my favorite lights can act as a camping lantern. The best thing about the Blistex Cap is that I already carried it. The Northwest can get pretty dry air, so Chapstick / Blistex is usually close at hand.
People have reported that Aquafina caps make good diffusers for some AA lights. Also, I saw a thread on CPF where someone was using just a bent piece of paper with a piece of scotch tape as a makeshift diffuser. Some digging around my own house has come up with some interesting diffusers. I’ve made a few in interesting colors, too. Sometimes the caps I find around the house need to be trimmed and/or modified in some way.
There is also diffuser film you can buy and make your own custom ones. But where is the fun in that, when I can torment my wife by stealing the caps from everything.