The latest tents from Big Agnes and Sierra Designs are standouts. Literally, they light up at night so you can find them in the dark, read a book, or just hang out in the cold glow of a light-emitting diode.
Why Integrate Lighting?
Why not? Dedicated ultralight backpackers might scoff at an “unnecessary” addition, but car campers, festival goers, short distance backpackers, and outdoor generalists will welcome a little added luxury in their tent experience.
Over just clipping your headlight to a ceiling loop or throwing a flashlight in a wall pocket, an integrated solution stays out of the way, provides more even light distribution, and is generally just a slicker, nicer, easier solution.
On a group camping trip in Big Sur over Thanksgiving, the light strips in our Big Agnes Gilpin Falls 4 helped us easily located the tent at night, in a crowded field, and also made it a little easier than usual to untie boots, strip layers, wrangle dogs, and tuck into bed. You can do all that with a flashlight, of course, but a lighted shelter just makes it all a little more seamless.
Big Agnes mtnGLO
The first tent with integrated lighting was released by Big Agnes in 2014. (We gave one of the mtnGLO models our Gear of the Year award in last summer's Buyer's Guide.) A select range of their car camping and backpacking tents feature LED strips stitched into the roofs of tent bodies, terminating in a male USB plug that you can either plug into an included 3xAAA battery pack or your portable power pack.
You can also buy the mtnGLO light strip separately and hang it in virtually any tent, Big Agnes or not.
- Three brightness settings are simple to use; low is 50 percent as bright as high.
- Run times from a single set of batteries are more than enough to last through a long weekend of use.
- Sewn into the tent body, the LED light strips don’t get in the way.
- Makes your tent look awesome.
- The 4 oz weight penalty will matter to some backpackers.
- Requires buying, charging, and keeping up with another set of batteries, in addition to the flashlight and/or headlamp you already carry. Now you have to remember to pull your tent out and check it has fresh batteries before every camping trip.
- Lights have a tendency to turn on during storage and transport; unless you remove the batteries, you’ll never know if they’ve been run down.
- If you're buying a kit to add to your existing tent, ENO sells something roughly equivalent for just $20.
Sierra Designs Night Glow
Sierra Designs has started shipping some tents this with a little white nylon sack hung from the ceiling. Thanks to a drawcord closure at the bottom, it allows you to shove your flashlight or headlamp inside, creating an instant diffused light lantern.
As with most recent innovations from the company, a lot of clever thought has gone into achieving a simple, effective solution. The little nylon sack is suspended from a cord running lengthwise along the roof of the new Nightwatch series of convertible backpacking tents (surprisingly spacious, a good all-round tent option), allowing you to slide the Night Glow into whatever position is optimal. More than the sum of its little nylon sack parts, I really like this thing.
- Only a 20 gram weight penalty.
- Fits into systemic approach to outdoors gear. The same headlamp you already carry, and the same battery, now gives you a luxurious in-tent lantern.
- Easily reposition-able.
- Simple, but it works well, providing a nice, diffused light.
- Want one? They're just $15.
- Gotta grab your headlamp or flashlight out of it if you need to leave the tent at night, and the draw cord can be fussy.
Which Light’s for You?
With a little bit of a weight penalty and a need for dedicated batteries (or some of your power pack juice), mtnGLO is primarily applicable to casual campers going out for the weekend and only covering short distances. You won’t feel those four ounces carrying a 12-pound luxury tent from the parking lot to your camping sight at a music festival. And, it makes a nice addition to your existing tent that you can buy separately.
Integrated into Sierra Designs’ latest tents, Night Glow will be a nice added feature for buyers. It may seem a little silly, but since it’s already in there, with virtually no weight penalty and no forethought required for use, it’ll end up being a feature that you just end up appreciating during long nights spent outdoors.
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