Disclaimer: The folks at Luminaid kindly provided a Packlite 16 and Spectra for this review. As always, the opinions and conclusions are my own.
Fall is just around the corner, and that means camping season is almost upon us (for the record, I don’t understand you people that camp in the summer. What are you trying to prove?). Lighting is one of my most common gear purchases for camping season, so I’ve been excited to try out the Packlite 16 and Spectra solar lanterns that the folks at Luminaid recently sent our way. Are they a camping essential or high-tech gimmick? Read on to find out!
What do they claim to do?
The Luminaid Packlite 16 and Spectra are lightweight, inflatable LED lanterns that charge simply through the sun and provide up to 10 hours of light. The Packlite offers 3 levels of brightness (including an emergency flash), and the Spectra offers an assortment of colors as well.
Let’s kick things off by discussing their unique design.
The Packlite 16 and Spectra are different shapes, but both feature the same brilliant design concept.
Uninflated, the 16 is about the size of a lightweight deck of playing cards. When inflated, it resembles a small translucent pillow with a handle on one side that’s useful for hanging it with a rope, hook, or whatever MacGuyver-esque solution you can cook up.
Similarly, the Spectra is about the size of a thick CD jewel case when stored, but inflates into a translucent cube with its storage straps converting into an adjustable handle.
Each turns on and cycles through modes with a few simple presses of the only button, and charge just by being exposed to sun. They’re extremely simple to use, and their friendly and fun design makes them popular with our kids as well.
Performance and User Experience
There are a lot of uses for handy lanterns like these, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how versatile they are.
The 16 claims to put off up to 65 lumens of light, and that sounds about right from my testing on its highest mode; it’s very diffused, but it’s the perfect amount of light for use as a tent lantern or to hang up around camp to help your family find their way in the night. The low mode is a great nightlight, and the slow blinking strobe would definitely make you easy-to-spot on a dark night in the woods or out on the lake.
The Spectra lantern is considerably dimmer, but it’s less of an emergency light and more like the light your kids will swipe from your kit and refuse to ever put away. Sure, it’s useful as a dim lantern (I’m guessing it sits closer to 30-40 lumens on white), but its colors are what makes it stand out. In addition to white, the Spectra is capable of seven other colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, light blue, and pink) that are surprisingly vivid for a product in this price range. Set it to its automatic color shifting mode, and you instantly have a campsite party and the hit of your child’s next sleepover.
Functionally, these lanterns are great, but they’re even more appealing due to their super-reliable solar charging. I’ve used several solar chargers in the past, but I’ve been shocked by how well these seem to latch on to the sun’s rays. I have one sitting beside me while I type this review at my kitchen table, and somehow it’s managing to top off its charge by the minimal ambient light coming through the window. The battery life on both seems excellent too; I haven’t put them through rigorous testing, but my kids have left them on around the house playing and outside for hours on end, and I’ve yet to see one go out completely (for the record, they’re each rated for 7-10 hours on a charge).
All in all, these are some impressive little lights.
I can think of dozens of reasons why a family would want to have a few Packlites handy around the house. They’re perfect for camping (light, solar, and rainproof), awesome for boating (they’re waterproof and float!), great for emergencies, and honestly, just a lot of fun.
Probably my favorite feature of the 16 is its ability to pack down small and connect to a clip on a backpack; you’ll forget its there during the day, and you’ll have a fully charged and extremely flexible lantern ready to go when the night rolls in.
Build Quality and Reliability
These lanterns are inexpensive, but that doesn’t mean they’re cheaply made. As an inflatible product, I’m impressed by the tight seams and the thick TPU material they’re made out of; it’s just thick enough that I don’t feel like I have to worry about a rogue thorn or stick taking it out.
Both seem to charge reliably, and since they use high quality LEDs as their light source, they should serve you faithfully for many years to come.
Camping and survival gear can be expensive, but that’s not the case for the Packlite 16 and Spectra. At $19.99 and $24.99, these are great impulse purchases (and gifts!) that I think your whole family will get a lot of use out of.
As an aside here, when you pick one up, you should consider doing it as part of their “Give Light, Get Light” package. For only $10 more than purchasing the Packlite 16 on its own, they’ll send you the Packlite 16 and provide one for free to someone in need. It’s a very cool program.
These lanterns are some seriously fun little products. If your family is into the outdoors, or you have some kids with big imaginations (as we do), you should go pick up a few Lumenaid packlites to have handy around your house.