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Different campers will give you different answers when you ask what essential items are needed for a night (or several) out in the woods. Some may want to go with nothing but the most basic supplies and truly "rough it," while others might bring every high-tech gadget they can get their hands on. This even applies to the types of artificial lighting outdoor enthusiasts prefer when out in the wilderness. Do you want to use nothing but a campfire to find your way around a campsite at night, or would you rather illuminate the entire space with gadgets like the Goal Zero Skylight to improve your safety and convenience?
At the very least, however, you should have a flashlight on hand when camping. A hand crank flashlight can be an even wiser choice because you don't need to rely on batteries or any other power source but the kinetic energy of your own wrist movements. This can be especially useful for extended stays in the wilderness, or a worst-case scenario where you find yourself lost. You'll never have to worry about a hand-crank flashlight running out of power as long as you're able to keep cranking it. Backed by first-hand experience and professional reviews from reputable sources like Bob Vila and Wirecutter, here are five of the top-rated hand crank flashlights for camping.
RunningSnail Emergency Hand Crank Radio with LED Flashlight
The RunningSnail Emergency Hand Crank Radio with LED Flashlight isn't so much a hand crank flashlight as it is a multi-purpose emergency tool that happens to have a hand crank flashlight as one of its features. Despite being very compact and lightweight, the LED flashlight is also an emergency AM/FM/NOAA radio and a 2,000 mAh phone charger. It has a telescoping radio antenna for clear reception and can be easily charged with a USB cable. A solar panel and attached hand crank will also let you continuously power the radio, flashlight, and charger.
I own two of these and consider the product to be an essential part of my emergency kit — I keep one on hand in a nearby drawer and one in my go-bag in case I need to leave my home quickly (I live near the San Andreas fault line.) I can personally confirm that the small size of the RunningSnail Emergency Hand Crank Radio makes for a great, comfortable flashlight that fits in the palm of your hand and feels natural to hold and point in the right direction.
However, while that small size is great for ergonomics and for stowing in an emergency kit, you may be unsatisfied with the size of its portable battery or the flashlight itself. If you're looking for something bigger, brighter, and able to recharge more smartphones, RunningSnail also makes a beefer version of the device. That product costs a little more than its baby brother, but has strong reviews from both Bob Vila and the New York Times Wirecutter, which names it its budget pick in its list of best emergency weather radios. The smaller, more affordable model that I own and recommend is available from Amazon for less than $20.
ThorFire LED Camping Lantern
If you're looking for a hand crank flashlight to passively illuminate your tent or campsite, the ThorFire LED Camping Lantern is a good option. Because it's a lantern, it creates more 360-degree light, and it can conveniently be hung from a tentpole or tree branch. The standing lantern has an accordion design, so it can easily be held and used as a directional flashlight, as well. It comes with a 125-lumen mode as well as a low-light setting that can extend the life of its battery, which can be charged by USB or with the hand crank.
Bob Vila, which named this device as its best hand-crank lantern, notes that it can also charge a smartphone with the hand crank. All in all, it's a solid choice, though you might want to go for another product if you're looking for a traditional, cylindrical flashlight that feels more comfortable to hold and point. You can find the ThorFire LED Camping Lantern on Amazon for $21.99.
The Kaito KA500GRN is a high-quality emergency radio that also serves as a flashlight and battery charger. The publication Marine Approved, which offers reviews of tactical gear and other equipment by marines and veterans, highlights both the durability and the additional useful functions of this particular product. Its rechargeable battery can be powered by AA batteries, AC/DC, USB, an included adjustable 180-degree solar panel, and a hand crank that will even power the device when no batteries are present. In addition to a red SOS beacon light, a five-LED reading lamp is attached that will provide more omnidirectional light for your campsite. The shortwave radio has AM/FM capability, as well as seven pre-programmed NOAA weather stations that are easy to access in a crisis. Plus, its antenna can extend more than two feet for better reception.
However, the radio is a little bulky and could be awkward to use as a handheld flashlight, though it has a strap handle that can let you hold it like an old camcorder and would be useful in a pinch. The Kaito KA500GRN comes in multiple colors — including black, red, green, blue, and yellow — and would make a great gift for a camping enthusiast. It has a list price of $79.95 and is currently available for $50 on Amazon.
Etón American Red Cross Clipray
The Red Cross is no stranger to emergency assistance and disaster preparedness, so it's no surprise that the Etón American Red Cross Clipray is a useful hand crank flashlight in a crisis. Its standout features also make it great to bring with you on a camping trip. Marine Approved specifically names it the best compact clip-on wind-up flashlight, noting its small size and lightweight, as well as how easy it is to clip onto your belt or tent so that it can be used hands-free. It's also slender enough to fit into a front pocket or backpack sleeve or be used handheld.
Like some other hand crank flashlights, the Clipray can also charge USB devices in an emergency. The flashlight contains three bright LEDs, with the crank ergonomically folded into the handle. One minute of cranking will generate enough power for 10 minutes of light. If you're looking for a stronger flashlight or a rounder one that feels more comfortable to grip, you may want to go with another option. But if you're looking for something that won't break the bank and can easily be used hands-free, the Etón American Red Cross Clipray is a solid choice. You can find it on Amazon for $10.
Luxon 7-in-1 Car Safety Tool
Clearly stated in its name, Luxon 7-in-1 Car Safety Tool is best suited for emergencies when you need to quickly get out of a vehicle — two of its seven main features are a window breaker and seatbelt cutter. However, that doesn't preclude it from being useful at a campsite. It has a smart design that makes it easy to grip as a handheld flashlight, and it has a built-in magnet that can allow you to illuminate your tent or campsite by sticking it to something metal.
The tool and home repair publication Bob Vila highlights Luxon's tool for its usefulness in emergencies and notes the device's included SOS light and loud siren. In the event you get lost in the woods, these features could be even more important than the LED flashlight itself. In addition to the attached hand crank, the tool can also be charged by USB and can likewise charge USB devices. Considering you may be driving over some rough, and possibly, dangerous terrain on your way to and from a campsite, it's not a bad idea to have an item like the Luxon 7-in-1 Car Safety Tool on hand. But if you'd rather spend money on a more camping-oriented flashlight, you may choose to go with a different product. The Luxon 7-in-1 Car Safety Tool is available for $36.99 on Amazon.