A Light in the Darkness

I would probably describe myself as a 3-season backpacker. I much prefer the longer walking days of the months between April and September, the relatively better weather (pah!) and the fact that you’re not confined to your tent for anything up to 16 hours.

This year has been a bit of a mare though, if you’ve been following my travails you will know of the injury that laid me low for all the summer months; months in which I’d intended to do many long weekends in the hills, making the most of the meagre holidays in my new job. That all went to pot in late May though, as my knee basically exploded and walking has been impossible.

The result is I’m feeling stir-crazy like never before and I have loads of unused holiday days that need to be taken before the end of the year. So I’m off for a long weekend to make up for it, backpacking with Chris Pilgrim (@PilgrimChris) in an area neither of us have walked in before – the far south western Lake District.

Key ring torchWe have a rough plan in mind, with three nights in the wild and four short days between two train stations. This did lead to a couple of kit shortages for me though. One of which is what to do in terms of tent lighting. Even without rain, the time we can realistically spend out of the tents after nightfall is pretty limited, so I have a long, dark evening to plan for. In the summer I use a couple of tiny key ring torches, hung from my washing line to illuminate the tent. But they aren’t great and the battery life is poor to say the least, so I started looking for alternatives.

My headtorch was my first thought, working on the basis that I would be carrying it anyway, it would make sense; but it’s very directional, even with the diffuser slid down and it’s very, very bright! I eventually found three different options and as they were all under a fiver, I bought all three and I will be testing them to see which one offers the best all round experience.

Tent lighting

The lantern on the left provides a diffuse glow, thanks to the material that makes up the sides. It also has a directional LED bulb in the bottom and it will hang from a hook. The problem I can see is that it’s quite long when extended and it will not hang easily from the washing line in the tent. I will have to modify the hook, or carry something else to hang it from the line and it’s not the lightest option by any means.

The second option is light and small, but like my headtorch it’s also very directional, not really offering that diffuse glow to fill the tent with light. I will need to prise out the magnet it comes with and at least the hook on this will attach straight to the washing line.

The third and probably my favourite option is the fairly lights. These are very light and take one battery less than the other two options. I can also probably find a way to wrap them around the washing line to give a diffuse glow in the tent.

In the meantime I’d love to know what other people do to light their long nights in the tent, or perhaps you don’t bother?


Following a discussion on Twitter and the comment from Hillplodder below, I’ve now extended my trial to include the UCO Micro Lantern. I sourced this from Backpackinglight.co.uk and it should arrive in a few days.


It uses tiny tea lights that should provide 3 to 4 hours burn time, so not only does it provide light, it also radiates some heat, so that may provide a welcome psychological boost on a cold night, even if the heat output is minimal.

7 thoughts on “A Light in the Darkness”

  1. I definitely agree that you need something for long winter nights. Wondering if the fairy lights provide enough light – ie do the individual small pricks of light merge to give a decent overall light ? Will they attract the sheep ? Please take some pics so I can mock you properly. And don’t forget the tinsel.

    The UCO Micro I have isn’t as bulky as my pictures would suggest – it’s only a little wider than a tealight and squashes down like your first option. It’s small enough to sit inside something else, such as my mug. It’s not an option for the clumsy though: I’ve twice spilled molten wax and have fractured the “glass”. A handy thing is the tea lights it uses are dead cheap (pennies each) and I can use citronella candles in it for bug deterrence.

    1. So far not managed to test any of the lights in a dark tent, so I may pitch it in the conservatory one evening and test them.

      As experiments go I don’t mind spending a fiver, but I seem to recall the lantern was about £20 or so, so I may reserve that test until the others fail (or not).

  2. I can see one downside to the third option, if they’re that bright you might have plane trying to land on your tent – just an observation!

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