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The star of my recent camping trip? This $25 solar lantern

The Mpowerd Luci Outdoor 2.0 is cheap, lightweight, inflatable and, best of all, powered entirely by the sun.

mpowerdsolarlantern1

The Luci Outdoor 2.0 by Mpowerd costs $25.

Megan Wollerton/CNET

No one wants to mess around with clunky gear on a camping trip, especially if you're carrying everything on your back. Mpowerd took on the challenge of shrinking down the standard too-heavy camping lantern with its Luci Outdoor 2.0. This $25 inflatable solar light collapses when it's not in use and has a tiny built-in solar panel that charges during the day to keep your campsite well-lit at night. 

My husband and I brought a Luci Outdoor 2.0 on a recent trip to Utah's La Sal mountain range. It was a versatile and welcome camping companion, whether we were prepping dinner as dusk set in, reading in the evening or trying to find our way out of the tent in the middle of the night to, ahem, "use the facilities."

I wish it didn't take 6-plus hours to fully charge, which also means it won't be a reliable single light source if you don't have several hours of sunlight during the day to charge it. But when it comes to a lightweight (4.4 ounces!), easy-to-pack, off-grid solar light, this affordable LED lantern is pretty near perfect. 

7.8

Mpowerd Luci Outdoor 2.0 Inflatable Solar Light

Like

  • Solar-powered for off-grid use
  • Inflatable design packs flat

Don't Like

  • Takes 6-7 hours to charge fully in direct light

Camping with the Luci Outdoor 2.0

In a typical product review, I'd launch into describing the setup process here. But the Luci Outdoor 2.0 only has one step: Stick it in the sun. Out of the box, the lantern isn't inflated, so it can easily sit on any flat surface to charge, as long as it's in the sun.

It took roughly 6 to 7 hours to charge ours fully in bright direct sunlight. Fortunately, we had extremely sunny weather throughout most of the trip and, therefore, consistent light from this solar lantern. You can expect longer charge times if you're somewhere that's cloudy or intermittently sunny. 

It has four settings -- low, medium, high and flashing -- and a max output of 75 lumens distributed across 10 integrated LED lights. For reference, an 800-lumen LED bulb is equivalent to a standard 60W incandescent. That 75 lumens may not sound bright, but the high setting was plenty bright enough for me to comfortably read in total darkness at night.

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The light packs down pretty flat. 

Megan Wollerton/CNET

According to Mpowerd, the low setting lasts for 24 hours on a single charge, the medium and flashing settings for up to 12 hours and the high setting for 6 hours. I didn't use the flashing option at all, but the other times seem about right for what I experienced. 

Press the power button once for the low setting, again for medium, then high and then flashing. A fifth time turns the lantern off. You can also press and hold the power button down to turn the light off, without having to cycle through each option. Press the lightning bolt button for a status indicator that lets you know how much of a charge you have -- one light means you have 10% or less of your charge remaining. Two lights on the battery indicator ranges from 11% to 55% charged; three lights can be anywhere from 56% to 100% charged. 

There's a valve for inflating the light on the top, along with a small strap, and the other side of the lantern has an adjustable strap. I didn't find these particularly handy, but they didn't get in the way either. 

Mpowerd claims its Luci Outdoor 2.0 is waterproof, but I didn't get to test that on this trip. It did snow one night and the lantern continued to work (its operating temperature range is 32 to 113 degrees), although it was a little warmer in our tent than it was outside. 

A great off-grid light for $25

The Luci Outdoor 2.0 is a solid option when you're camping, but it could be useful in a lot of other scenarios too. If there's a power outage and you don't have the batteries you need for a traditional flashlight, this adjustable, easy-to-store solar light can help you see where you're going. Mpowerd says this light can hold a full charge for three years, so you should be able to charge it and set it aside for whenever you need it. 

Combine its ease of use with its $25 price and Mpowerd's Luci Outdoor 2.0 is a versatile LED lantern you can use at home or on your next camping trip. 

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