One of our favorite things about RV camping is sitting around the campfire at night watching the flames leap and dance while listening to the wood crackle and the sounds of crickets chirping nearby. At peak, campfires throw a decent amount of light, but that light is usually local to the fire – and it’s a good idea to keep the fire a reasonable distance away from your RV.
Unfortunately it’s impractical to have frequent campfires as a full-time RVer. As much as we like campfires, we average no more than a couple ‘real’ campfires a month. Wood costs $4 – $6 a bundle most places for starters. Wood also shouldn’t be transported over distance to prevent the spread of invasive species, so buying in bulk is impractical. Wood fires are also smoky, and smoke infiltrates an RV easily – especially when you use an exhaust fan like a fantastic fan to pull air through the RV (turn these off during night fire time!). Last but not least, smoky clothing needs to be placed in a plastic bag asap or left outside, or else your entire RV will stink.
It’s also worth noting that many private, regional and state campgrounds don’t allow wood campfires – either seasonally or at all. This is especially true out west and in dry and windy areas. Sure, we could sit inside and watch TV, but as I mentioned, we like sitting outside at night and sitting outside in the dark is creepy and unnecessary what with all the lighting solutions available for campers.
I took an inventory and found that we carry 7 different lights with us everywhere we go. Some of the lights I list serve different purposes (flashlights & lanterns), but collectively they make our campsite a more enjoyable and hospitable place to be at night, all without smoke and the cost of firewood. Even better, most of these lights are lightweight, durable and inexpensive. Without further ado, here are the 7 lights we bring with us:
There are literally thousands of lights designed to hang from RV awnings. We really like these ‘natural’ rattan lights, and we use two sets and string them together (picture at the top of this article) between the arms of our awning.
These are essentially just Christmas lights with rattan balls fitted over the bulbs, and the effect is warm and inviting.
Whichever lights you choose for your awning, make sure that they’re easy to take down. If the wind kicks up or if it starts to rain hard it’s a good idea to retract your awning, and this can’t be done with (most) awning lights in place.
Also, you’ll likely need an extension cord. We keep a brown extension cord with us for aesthetic reasons (we have lots of red ones too!) and use it to connect our awning lights to power – or to extend our rope light further from the RV.
Rope lights are very popular at most campgrounds we visit. They can be directly attached to your RV or laid on the ground as pathway lighting. We often wrap ours around our screen house or run it under our RV if we want softer light.
We love the warm glow of these lights as they’re not as bright and blinding as some lights, and they feel less obtrusive than a lantern while still providing lots of light.
Rope lighting is flexible and it can be rolled up in a ball or wrapped like an extension cord for easy transport.
I’ve looked into both 12V rope lighting and LED rope lights, but at this time we still prefer the brightness and warm color of 120V Incandescent rope lighting.
Rechargeable Camping Lantern
Once upon a time we used a Coleman Duel Fuel Lantern. Coleman lanterns burn extremely bright and work great, but they have several drawbacks. First, they burn fuel, so they require carrying fuel – like white gas – with you. Second, the mantles (part that lights up) are fragile and often need replacement. Third, the protective lens if made out of glass and it breaks easily (trust me). Fourth, these units get extremely hot during use (I have the burn marks to prove it). Fifth, these lanterns get SO bright that they can irritate other campers. Finally, Coleman lanterns do not store well, as they need to be stored upright and protected during travel.
After breaking yet another glass lens and spilling some white gas we finally donated our lantern and purchased an electric lantern instead. Enter the AYL Starlight Water Resistant Shock Proof Battery Powered Lantern.
The AYL lantern is not as bright (or as expensive) as the Coleman multi-fuel lantern which is why we use a collection of other lights to light up our campsite. That said, it’s bright enough to light up a table or light up our screen house, and for us that’s perfect.
That said, if you want a truly bright camping lantern, there’s no replacement for a gas Coleman lantern. I found this unit with a protective carrying case, and I may upgrade to this at some point in the future:
Cutter Citro Guard Candle
While we don’t notice a huge difference in mosquitoes while using the Cutter triple-wick candle we still recommend the candle for outdoor lighting. As Kathy says: “It’s like having a little campfire!”. These candles throw a surprising amount of light when new, and they last for up to 40 hours, so it can be used again and again. Cutter candles are available at most hardware stores and Wal-Mart and you can also purchase them online.
Word of advice – Kathy’s brother was badly burned when one of these candles was knocked over and threw very hot wax onto his leg. Due to the 3 wicks, the liquid wax gets very hot. Make sure to place the candle in a secure and stable location, and as always be careful of anything with open flame.
Captink T6 Outdoor waterproof tactical flashlights
The great thing about modern ‘tactical’ flashlights is that they’re brighter than traditional flashlights while also being small enough to put in your pocket. No, you can’t use it like a club like a D-Battery Maglight, but these modern flashlights are durable, inexpensive, powerful, and use long-lasting LED bulbs. They’re also easy to store anywhere which is important in an RV.
These are perfect for a quick run to the restroom, or for walking or hiking at night. They’re great for handing to kids to play outside in the evening, too. As they use LED bulbs the battery lasts a long time, and as they arre very durable.
I throw one in my pocket before we take our evening walk, and we keep a couple of these in the RV (one for guests) and another one in the car for emergencies.
Puzzle Light (aka Infinity Light or Jigsaw Light)
Our Puzzle Light (aka Infinity Light) has replaced our RV porch light as our go-to outdoor light. If we know we’ll be home after dark, we leave our puzzle light lit, and if we’re outside after dark it’s usually on.
I designed our puzzle light to match our RV (white/brown), but of course they come in a rainbow of colors and can be built in any combination. I’ve also seen many campers use the standard white light and then use a color-changing LED lightbulb inside. These bulbs can either be set to one color or they can color shift, and the colors are set via remote.
The only drawback to puzzle lights is that it’s a little tricky to store during travel, and in most cases you’ll have to put it together yourself. I place our puzzle light on a dinette bench during travel and Youtube has video instructions to help you assemble your puzzle light. I was able to put our light together in about 10 minutes and note that there are about 30 different shapes that you can build.
Candle Impressions Flameless Candles
Flameless candles? Oh heck yeah! We love our Candle Impressions Flameless Candles both inside and outside. The nice thing about these candles is that the entire candle glows when in use, so each candle is like a small beacon. In fact, they throw a lot more light than traditional candles – and they can’t be blown out by the wind.
We originally purchased these as some state parks – especially those in the west during drought conditions – don’t allow anything with an open flame. When grouped together these make a decent fire and when spaced out they’re good for pathway lighting.
These emulate candles so well that we’ve had park rangers stop to make sure they’re not real!
We also love our candles for soft lighting inside the RV, and on any given night we have one or two glowing and flickering in one room or the other. These are available as singles, but this 5 pack is an excellent price for these kinds of candles, and they really are better in a group.
One word of caution – as these are constructed of real wax they can melt. We managed to warp and melt a few of our candles by leaving them outside in the hot Tucson Sun (it was February!). That also means that they can melt when stored in exterior storage. It’s best to keep these stored inside in a cool place.
We Wish We Had a Propane Firebowl
We don’t currently have a propane firebowl, but if we had the room to carry one we definitely would! We regularly see people outside enjoying these units, especially in campgrounds that don’t allow conventional wood fires or campgrounds that don’t have fire pits.
Firebowls area easy to ignite and throw a good bit of light and heat – all without getting smoke in your eyes and needing to feed it a continuous string of firewood.
Outland makes a very nice 58,000 BTU, propane fire pit that’s relatively light weight at less than 25 pounds and that also has an available carry bag for transport and storage.
Propane Firebowls do require a propane canister to run, so keep that in mind. The Outland unit includes a 10′ hose so the tank can be placed a safe distance from the fire.
We’re glad we carry all of the above lights and really wish we had room for a Propane Firebowl. We’re both night bugs and we love to sit outside at night when it’s cool and listen to nighttime sounds. We rarely use all of our lights at the same time, but the rope light and cutter candles are on almost every night, and good flashlights are simply a must when camping.
If you’re night people like us, it’s important to remember that some campers go to bed early, and that tenters in particular can’t easily block out outside light the way most RVers can. Always be respectful of others for best results! 🙂
If you have a favorite light that you use when camping, please mention it in the comments below, and until next time, happy trekking!