Probably the most familiar type of lighting, the flashlight is particularly valuable when you need to shine a strong, direct beam, such as when you're walking in the dark, searching for your tent. Flashlights are also a handy means of signaling. Flashlights come in a variety of sizes, styles and brightness levels. For backpacking or emergency back-up lighting, consider a small flashlight that operates on manual power, such as cranking or shaking. This way you won't have to worry about your batteries dying. LED flashlights provide a number of advantages including more efficiency (less battery drain), enhanced durability and much longer bulb life.
Headlamps are an excellent, lightweight option that are particularly well-suited for backpackers. These lights are very compact, light and easy to store. They may not provide the beam strength of a flashlight, but will allow you to perform a variety of tasks such as rummage through your bag, pitch your tent and walk to a nearby tree for a late night nature call. Some headlamps do cast a powerful beam as well. The hands-free nature of headlamps make them excellent for tasks that require use of both hands. Headlamps usually feature LEDs and disposable batteries or rechargeable battery packs.
Lanterns are a versatile lighting solution that can hang on a tree branch at the campsite and be used as lighting for a variety of tasks. Lanterns come in a wide variety of styles. Some are electric and use LED, flourescent or incandescent light bulbs, whereas others are powered by propane, white gas and other fuels. Fuel-powered lanterns will be brighter and more powerful, but likely larger and heavier. Fuel-powered lanterns are also designed to be used outside, so they won't be useful in your tent or cabin. There's also heat and noise associated with fuel lanterns that isn't an issue with electric lighting. Candle lanterns are another option, but these are a bit of a fire hazard when used inside a tent and won't be as bright as other types. Lanterns come in many sizes and shapes, meaning that they can be tailored to both car camping, backpacking and other activities.
Some companies offer lighting designed specifically to mount onto the roof of the tent and provide light. Alternately, some tents have a hook built into the ceiling for hanging a lantern. These light solutions make it easy to switch on a light when you need some nighttime visibility in your tent without having to fumble around in the dark searching for a separate flashlight or headlamp.
When deciding on the best lighting option(s) for camping, consider first the type of camping you'll be doing. Car camping really opens you up to any type of lighting system and you could even carry several lights for different uses. For backpacking and other types of activity-based camping where space is limited, you'll want to cut weight and size. Small flashlights and headlamps will work best, though there are some compact lanterns designed specifically for backpackers. Consider the tasks that you'll need lighting for and whether ambient light or a direct beam will meet your needs better. Consider the brightness and battery life. Features like strobe or flash settings can make the light a valuable tool in an emergency.