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Reviews > Lighting > Lanterns > BioLite Sunlite Solar lamp > Test Report by Robb Pratt

September 30, 2018



NAME: Robb Pratt
EMAIL: unicornv007 AT
AGE: 47
LOCATION: Canton, Michigan, USA
HEIGHT: 5' 10" (1.80 m)
WEIGHT: 165 lb (74.80 kg)

I backpacked sporadically growing up and rediscovered it back in 2011. Since then, I've taken several weekend long trips a year. I also car camp with my family roughly a dozen nights a year when we use tents unless I can convince them I might snore and it would be better for all for me to use my hammock rig. I prefer a light pack (weight without food or water under 20 pounds / 9 kg). My backpacking stomping ground is northern Michigan that has small hills and I typically camp late spring, summer and early fall months.



Manufacturer: Biolite Energy., Inc
Year of manufacture: 2018
* Listed : 3.4 oz (95 g)
* As Delivered: 3.5 oz (100 g)
* Empirical - 3 35 x 3.39 x 0.91 inches
* Metric - 8.5 x 8.6 x 2.3 cm
MSRP: US $24.95
Product description: The Biolite Sunlight is a portable solar-powered hand-light roughly the size of a Klondike Bar (their comparison, not mine - I'm more of a 100 KitKat kind of guy). Using its travel hook, it can be attached to hang inside a tent or hammock and used as a reading lamp, or it can be clipped directly to a backpack for charging or visibility. The white light starts at 100 lumens and is dimmable to extend battery life. Using the colored LED's, it also has the ability to change to different colors for mood setting or even to a party mode where it cycles through various colors. It is water resistant to IPX4 standards (splash and rain resistant). Documentation states that it takes 7 hours to fully charge from sunlight or 2 hours via a Micro-USB connection to a battery bank or wall charger. The solar panel is rated at 0.45 W and the battery is a 2.8 Wh (750 mAh) lithium ion. Battery life is listed as:
* White Light - High Setting - 3 hours
* White Light - Low Setting - 40 hours
* Red Light - 50 hours
* Party Mode - 6 hours

Biolite Sunlight - Front Package
BIolite Sunlight - Back Packaging


I received the Biolite Sunlight on May 10th, 2018 which was pretty exciting as it was hours before I was supposed to head to a Boy Scout camp for the weekend. Strangely enough, the scouts canceled - citing the forecast for massive thunderstorms and rain all weekend. That was disappointing because I was actually looking forward to testing the gear in inclement weather.

Either way, in my excitement at looking at the package, I pressed the friendly button that said "Press to Try". Yup. It works. BRIGHT! Those were my first, second and third thoughts as I waited for the white spots to dim from my vision before trying again. Pressing the button again, but this time not looking directly into lamp, I observed that the white was very strong and then it cycled through the various colors over several seconds and shut off. This is standard in the demonstration mode.

Opening up the package, I noted the metal clip moves stiffly and a small plastic clip on it also resists moving easily. That's actually a good thing as the metal clip acts as a kickstand. The plastic clip can connect into a thin rope and between the clip and kickstand, the light can be adjusted to the desired tilt. When positioned over the power button, it also acts as a rough prevention against accidentally turning it on.


The solar panel is on the back and is roughly 2.75 x 2.75 inches (7 cm x 7 cm) in size. There is also a small hole with a sun symbol on it and another hole below. Biolite refers to this as an analog sundial. The sun had already gone down, but using a small flashlight, I was able to confirm that the concept worked. When light was at the perfect angle, I could see light below the second hole.

Setup for Solar Charging


Looking through the instructions, I found that they were a mix of English and other languages. This made it a bit confusing, but the pictures were easy for me to interpret. Later, I pulled down the full English language instructions from their website and that clarified a few questions but wasn't really necessary for working the light.
Sample of Instructions


The demo mode was easy to turn off - I just had to hold down the power button for roughly 10 seconds. After that, I checked the main (white) light. Holding the button down dims the light significantly. Side note here, if I turn it off and then turn it back on, it automatically remembers this dimmed setting instead of defaulting to maximum light. Pressing the power button a second time changes the light to color mode. The initial color is red, but once in this setting, the button can be held down to cycle to the desired color. I happen to like bright green. Once I've selected this color and turn the light off and back on into color mode, this is the color that comes up. Pressing the button a third time turns the Biolite Sunlight into party mode which slowly shuffles the colors at a relaxing pace. A fourth press of the button turns it off. Interestingly enough, 3-4 seconds after turning it off, the light will flicker with a color that indicates battery charge (red is nearly empty, green is fully charged and yellow is in-between).

Although I was disappointed about the Boy Scout camping trip being cancelled, I did head north to my parents' cottage to help turn the water on for the summer. This is important for two reasons - the first is I had to work in a concrete well / pit and had to crawl inside some cabinets to do basic plumbing. The second is that I enjoy camping on their property. So, although it wasn't true backpacking or backcountry camping, I was able to expand my initial observations with some indirect field work.

Before I left though, I did put the Biolite Sunlight on a USB charger. While I really wanted to check out the solar charger, I was headed out at 6:30am and it was slated to be a dreary, rainy day. The charging port is covered by a nice-fitting rubber grommet to protect it from water. The only thing that I found somewhat strange is that the device flashes every 10-15 seconds to let me know its charging and the power level in the battery. I'm not sure I'm crazy about that option. Something about a light flashing every so often inspires a low grade level of panic that I'm supposed to be taking some action. Maybe it's too many days as a test engineer many years ago. On the bright side even though it was still plugged in, the light did stop flashing once it was fully charged.
Charging Port

For the plumbing work, the Biolite Sunlight worked fantastically. Its small size permitted me to put it in the cabinet I was working in and the kickstand allowed it to be aimed in just the right area. This was a big improvement over depending on a second person to aim a light or using a headlamp that would require me to hold my head in just the right position to see.
Plumbing Work in Cabinet

For the camping, I verified that the Biolite Sunlight's plastic clip connected into the ridgeline of my hammock snugly. I was able to slide and position the light over my head where it would make a great reading lamp. That evening, I found the diffuse light to be more enjoyable and easier on my eyes for reading than the harsh directed beam of a flashlight. I used it for about 30 minutes of reading before turning it off for the night to sleep.
Hanging Tight in the Hammock


Overall, I found the Biolite Sunlight a pretty cool little lamp. I especially liked the color features and the kickstand setup. I also really enjoyed how it hung from the hammock. I'm looking forward to testing it further. On a side note, after showing the Biolite Sunlight to my father, he's interested in getting one too.

This concludes my initial report. The field report will be appended to this report in approximately two months from the date of this report. The long term report will be due an additional two months after that. Please check back then for further information.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank both Biolite Energy and for allowing me to be part of this test series.



* Trip #1: A bust but interesting events and outcome.
* Trip #2: 7 nights' base camping at Cole Canoe Base (Alger, Michigan USA) from June 23-30, 2018. This is a large scout base camp filled with significant trees. The ground is mostly dirt and the camp is very flat with few hills. I used my hammock to camp. Early it the week, it was cool enough that I needed a sweatshirt, mid-week we had some rain and the end of the week turned into a scorcher. Temperatures ranged from a nighttime low of 41F (5C) to a daytime high of 95F (35C). We had one day of rain that started in the middle of the night and came down until mid-afternoon. I estimate the total precipitation around 0.25 inches (6 mm)
* Trip #3: 5 nights' base camping at Blackwoods Campground at Acadia National Park (Bar Harbor, Maine USA) from July 9-15, 2018. This is a large campground within a five minute walk to the Atlantic Ocean. It has heavy tree coverage. The ground in camp was mostly dirt with leaves and twigs while the hiking trails and seashore were covered with both large and small granite rocks. The weather during this time ranged between 48-81F (9-27C) but felt much warmer due to the higher humidity. There was however, no precipitation.


At Home Battery Testing

Initially, I was curious of the battery duration as the packaging stated it would last 40 hours on the low light setting. My doubts were unfounded. I turned it on at 7am on a Wednesday morning and went to work and promptly forgot about it until Thursday evening when I wandered through my basement looking for some knick-knack. It was still on. As a matter of fact, it went hours longer and I ended up going to bed. By my math, it racked up at least 41 hours with light still shining. In the morning, the battery was (nearly) fully drained. While the light would not come on, if I pressed the power button, it would flash briefly with red lights. I thought this was a nice option to tell me that:
a) Indicate that the battery was drained but the light was still functional.
b) Provide a little bit of emergency light for a brief moment. I kept thinking of the Five Nights at Freddy's game my kids played for a while.

For my second (and it turns out third) experiment, I set the Biolite Sunlight out in the back yard on top of the deck to try the solar charger. The manual sundial was easy to use and I was able to aim the Sunlight to receive the optimum amount of charging potential.

Sundial Set

Unfortunately, clouds were coming in. Actually, they were moving quite quickly which lead me to the third test after several hours when I suddenly heard the pelting sound of rain. I quickly ducked outside and rescued the damp device and set it inside to dry. I should probably note that while the analog sundial was setup correctly, I never did see the lights flash for recharging.

While it had only been charging for a minimal time that was mostly cloudy, I was curious if it took any charge. The lights would still not come on (other than the red flash indicating low battery). Having some experience with photovoltaic panels, I was not surprised as clouds can eliminate most of the sun's energy.

I ended up putting the device back on a wall charger for a few hours to fully charge it as I was preparing for my first backpacking trip of the year and wanted to use the Biolite Sunlight.

Fully charged, I verified the light came on full strength. I put the lock-out bar across the top to shield the power button from accidental activation and popped it in my backpack for the trip at the end of the following week.

This is where things took a strange turn, with events I can only describe with scary music in the background.

Trip #1:

Arriving at Deadman's Hill (yes, that is the name), I pulled out my pack and went to clip the light to the outside. I tapped the power button to confirm it was fully charged. No light. Not even the flicker of a drained battery. Strange. I plugged it into the car charger for 10 minutes and it never did the recharging flicker. I speculated my car charger was not working properly and hung the Biolight Sunlight from my pack as it was going to be a sunny day and off we went for an 8 mile trek to camp.

We arrived roughly 5 hours later, but still no light or flicker of a drained battery. I plugged it into my battery bank and let it sit for 3 hours. Still no signs of life or indications it was taking a charge. It was for all effective purposes, a small paperweight that clipped to my pack.

Frustrated, I tossed it into the bowels of my pack. I vowed to check it out again in a few days.

Upon arriving at home, the light was still dead. Again, I speculated that perhaps it needed a harder power-kick from a wall socket so I plugged it in to a USB that was directly connected to the house. Again, no flicker of battery recharging and no lights after several hours.

At this point, I was convinced it was dead so I placed it my desk as a reminder to contact Biolite. It sat there, untouched for hours until I had time that evening to compose an email explaining that the light was no longer working. Upon hitting send, not more than two minutes later (yes, seriously, I had really just hit send!), there was a white flicker from the light. I looked in puzzlement at my wife and asked if she had seen the flash. She had not, but watched as I picked up the device and pressed the power button.

Full stark-white light came on this time.

Queue the sudden, climatic music.

I cycled it through the various colors and party mode. They all worked. Turning it off, the lights flickered green at me, indicating full battery strength.

Anthropomorphism is defined as humanizing objects by giving them human traits or emotions. If I did not know better, I would swear my Sunlight was afraid I just sent a message it was misbehaving to mom and dad.

I turned the Biolite Sunlight on in party mode and left it on the desk while I wrote a few more emails. Ten minutes later, it flickered and died.

Ah ha! I thought. Flaky connection I assumed, incorrectly.

This time, I gave it a dirty look and a stern talking too about misbehaving. My kids would have probably hid in their room from some of the words. Then I tapped the power button again and it came on just fine. This time, I shook it in the air, tapped the sides and jostled it around. The lights stayed on with no hint of a loose connection.

I started a timer to see if there was any relevance to function vs. time. It went hours and worked just fine. I finally turned it off and went to bed.

The next day, I topped off the charge from the wall socket, and ran it in full-power, white-light mode to time the battery. It went almost three hours and then the light suddenly dimmed to the lower setting. At this point, the light only operated at the low light setting, but it worked. I ran it another hour with the dim light without any further degradation. When turned off, the light flickered briefly with several red flashes, indicating the battery is nearly depleted.

Feeling a bit like Gladys from Portal 2, I continued with my testing. Next up was outdoor charging. I set the Biolite Sunlight outside in the bright noon sun. This time I watched the sky and the weather report carefully. After roughly three hours, I removed the Biolite Sunlight and brought it indoors as it had started to cloud up. The flashing light indicator had moved to yellow now, indicating to me that the battery strength was enough to fully power the device. Tapping the power button, I was now able to cycle through bright white, color and party modes.

The following day, I set up the light again outside in another beautiful sunlight afternoon. During this time, I noted it would flash a yellow light every ten seconds or so. I checked on it after four hours and the flashing light indicator had now moved to green, indicating a full charge.

As a last note on this trip, Biolite did get back to me a week later after I contacted them. They provided a few suggestions for me to try using an alternate charging cable and power source and also asked for my shipping address. I indicated, however, that the device had started working again and requested that they close the ticket for now.

Trip #2: Alger, Michigan - Cole Canoe Base
I stored it in my bag with the arm flipped over the power button for transportation as I prepped for a week long trip to northern Michigan. The weather was listed as moderately decent (for Michigan weather). At camp, I set up my hammock gear and clipped the light into the ridgeline.
Clipped into Hammock

I used the Biolite Sunlight for 7 straight nights as my only reading light - it worked exceedingly well. Connected to the ridgeline, I could firmly aim it on my book and the diffuse light made reading less of a chore and more relaxed. I found using the highest setting to read actually more enjoyable and usually read for 30-45 minutes every night. We also used the light a few times in party mode as a running gag. All of us adults felt worn out after a long day of chasing kids, shooting rifles, canoeing, tubing, swimming and just flat out didn't feel like making or tending to a fire but we still felt like setting up chairs in a circle. Must be some kind of ritualistic habit when camping. We dropped the Biolite Sunlight into the center of the ring and let it run through the various colors. It worked well but a few of the adults noted it was a bit bright and wished we had an option to dim the light intensity (kind of like we do with the white light). I also liked to set the party-mood in the hammock and visit friends in other campsites. Consider it style points, obnoxiousness, or something else, I found it made the hammock look pretty cool from a distance if I was wandering away. It also made finding my hammock that much easier when I returned late at night.
Biolite Sunlight acting as surrogate Campfire

Beacon-Mode in Hammock

After several days of use, the light would blink twice with yellow after I turned it off (indicating the battery strength was no longer full). As we had a lot of sunlight, I decided to use the solar panels to charge up the batteries. The light even would charge when connected into my hammock. That base camp solar charging kept it fully charged such that I never had to plug it into my battery bank or had to fall back on my clip-on light as a reading lamp.

The only complaint, is it is a bit bright for bathroom runs late at night. I prefer to use a very dim light that only has a couple of lumens on it. It also doesn't clip on to the person and has to be carried. It sets down well but I'd rather not set it down in an outhouse so I used a clip-on light for night bathroom runs.

Throughout the week though, it worked very well - no issues like I had earlier and in camp it was a great addition.

Trip #3:

I've gotten quite comfortable with the Biolite Sunlight now. For this trip, I charged it to full, flipped the support arm over the power button and packed it in my duffel bag for a week of base camp.

Throughout the duration of the trip, I used the light in two distinct manners.

The first was my primary reading light. It did a great job. I used it on a setting inbetween low and high where I felt comfortable. I set the Biolite Sunlight on my sleeping pad next to my head and aimed it at my book. I typically read from 30 to 90 minutes every night. After 4 days of reading, the light indicator (when turned off) changed to a pair of yellow flashes, indicating I should charge the battery soon but it still worked just fine for the remainder of the trip.

The other method was what I now call as a beacon. My camp was set up in the Blackwoods campground of Acadia National Park. There are many sites here and all of them are heavily wooded. After the sun set, it got incredibly dark. After taking a walk - either a quick jaunt to the bathroom or a longer walk to the ocean, my "home" was sometimes difficult to find. With the Biolite Sunlight set in Party Mode though, my campsite stood out as unique and was easy to find while not being obnoxious to other campers.

Due to the heavy wooded environment and being out and about during the day though, I never did use the solar charger on this trip.


In spite of the (brief) problem I initially had with the Biolite Sunlight, I really like this light. The multi-color party mode is downright soothing and really sets a good mood. It also makes my campsite really standout. The white light is diffuse and makes it easy in camp for a group to chat, read or play cards. The long battery life also means I can do this for several evenings running without having to recharge it. I have several other larger group trips that I will be bringing this light along for just that purpose. As a personal light for backpacking though, it does have the weakness of not having a true hands-free mode. I would not object at all to it having some kind of clip that it would plug into that fastened to a ball cap, shirt pocket or even the edge of my pants such that it could be hands-free. It would make it useful for night-hikes and identifying walkers easier. If the clip was firm enough, it could even be used for capture the flag. I'd also love to have the ability to dim the party lights like the normal white lights dim, as at times it was a bit overly bright. Keep in mind though, I'm being picky. The Biolite Sunlight is a really great device. As a final note here in the summary section, my dad was fascinated with the device, especially how well it worked when I was working on the plumbing back in May. I happened to run across another Biolite Sunlight for sale at my local camping store and picked him up one to have for Father's Day. He's enjoying it as well now!


1. Party lights are very soothing and stand out compared to other campsites
2. White lights are diffused which is very comfortable to use for reading
3. Battery strength indicator lets me know when to start looking for charging
4. Long battery life in colored and dim white light modes. Actually, even the 3 hours of life in the full strength mode is fantastic.


1. Device stopped working for several days without any known explanation (but began working again mysteriously)
2. Biolite took a week to contact me back about my issue.
3. Can't dim the colored party lights down to a lower setting
4. No clip-on option to connect to my body for hands-free walking


This concludes my field report. The long term report will be appended to this report in approximately two months from the date of this report. Please check back then for further information.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank both Biolite Energy and for allowing me to be part of this test series.



Over the last two months, I have used the BioLite SunLight on an additional two backpacking trips and several base camping trips. I have used it in cool and hot temperatures along with high humidity. It has acted as my reading lamp at night as I generally read for 30 to 60 minutes when camping and also to assist with after-dark camp activities.

* 5 Days / 4 Nights Backpacking - 23 miles (37 km) at Pictures Rocks National Lakeshore (Munising, MICHIGAN - USA) from August 1-5, 2018. This is a scenic backpacking trail running next to Lake Superior. The trail is mostly under forest coverage and runs atop cliffs or along a beach. The terrain is sand with a heavy amount of sandstone and other rocks. We did a small section where we put in at Little Bear Lake Campground and hiked between multiple group sites (Lowney, Coves and Mosquito) and ended at Miner's Castle. Temperature for the week ranged between 49-64F (9-18C) at night to 57-80F (14-27C) during the day. It rained three times during the trip - the first while we were hiking on day one, then early in the morning while were sleeping on day two and lastly after breakfast while we were in base camp of Day four. As this was for supporting a Boy Scout troop trip, my pack weight came in at a hefty 41-45 lb. (19-20 kg) including food, water and camping gear. I slept in a hammock every night.
* 3 Days / 2 Nights Backpacking - 18 miles on Jordan River Pathway (Alba, MICHIGAN - USA) from August 11-13, 2018. This is a repeat hike that I did from back in May. In the past, I have done this as an overnight trip but we extended the trek by a day in camp to relax and play games. Temperature ranged from mildly chilly nights (55F / 13C) to hot days (85F / 29C). There was no rain during this time. My pack weighed near 25 lb. (11 kg) including all food, water, camping gear and games. I slept in a hammock both nights.
* 3 Days / 2 Nights Base Camping - at Private Grounds (Farmington Hills, MICHIGAN - USA) from August 31 to September 2, 2018. This area is moderately covered with trees. The ground is dirt with a heavy mix of tree roots. Daytime temperatures were near 90F (32C) while nighttime cooled off to 70F (21C). We had a nice thunderstorm during the daytime and gentle rain throughout the second night. I estimated the water accumulation at 0.2 inches (0.5 cm) and the wind gusts up to 30 mph (48 kmh). I slept in a hammock both nights.
* 3 Days / 2 Nights Base Camping - at Kensington Metro Park (Milford, MICHIGAN - USA) from September 28-30, 2018. This area has great tree coverage but also a large open field for tents. The ground is mostly dirt with some rocks mixed in. Daytime temperatures were near 60F (16C) with a lot of sun. The nighttime temperatures cooled off to 43F (6C). It rained throughout the second night and into the third day until we packed up and left camp. I slept in a hammock both nights.


For Pictured Rocks, I extensively used the BioLite SunLight as my reading lamp. It hung perfectly from my hammock's ridgeline and I made use of it every evening. Occasionally, I topped off the battery with the solar panel but as I was using it on the low light setting, I never used enough battery to send it into needing a recharge. At least one night we had the scouts at a campsite where no fires were permitted. All of us still sat in a circle though and I brought out the BioLite SunLight in party mode to give us a central "fake" fire. One of the scouts came up with an ingenious idea to disperse the light a bit - he put his full water bottle on top of it. At first, I was horrified he might damage or break it under the weight but it worked just fine. The effect was actually really cool and we adopted that for the rest of the evening as a neat "hack". For a bathroom run light, I found it to be too bright (even on the lowest setting) and it does not support a hands-free walking mode. For late night trips, I found myself falling back into using my mini clip-on light that was connected to my ball cap.

For my second trip of the season to Jordan River Pathway, the BioLite SunLight made a brief appearance in Party Mode but we ended up using it more as our main light when we were playing cards at night. The stand was used to shine the light sideways across the table but was only moderately effective; while it was easy to see the cards played in front of me, it was a bit difficult to see the cards in my own hand. In the future, I suspect if I had hung my clothesline overhead and clipped the light in, we would have been more successful but I did not think of that until the morning we were pulling out of camp. Either way, the BioLite SunLight was a vast improvement over trying to use normal flashlights to play cards. It provided a stable light and was diffuse enough not to blind us.

For the trip to the private grounds in Farmington Hills, the BioLite SunLight was used as my reading lamp but also came in handy for an emergency hammock move near midnight on the first night. My daughter had slung her rig to an undependable post and I had not double-checked her setup before we retired to bed. A sad, plea-filled cry for help sounded out to me as I was climbing into my own rig. Her butt was dragging on the ground and the only solution was to move to a different location with a new set of trees. I used the BioLite SunLight to help provide light at the new site while we set her lines properly.

For my last trip of this test, I left the BioLite SunLight fully charged, in my camping equipment bin until two days before we left. I checked the battery strength (which showed fully charged by blinking with two green lights). With daylight dropping, I arrived just after sundown at camp. The Sunlight was used extensively (white light mode only) to help setup multiple tents. I estimate I used it on the high setting for 1.5 to 2 hours. Later, when I went to bed, I checked the battery strength and observed it had reduced to a mid-level charge (two short flashes with yellow lights). The next day, we had a lot of sunlight. I placed the device on a table, facing the sunlight between 2-5pm to recharge with the solar panels. While it did not take a full charge during this time, it lasted several hours on Saturday night and Sunday morning without depleting the battery entirely.


While I had an initial issue with the BioLite SunLight, that problem never reappeared. It has been rock-solid with providing light, indicating to me how much light is left and having great battery life. The surface looks great: no signs of scratches or damage. The stand works fine and the small clip still slides smoothly back and forth on the stand and clips in to my paracord and hammock ridgeline without falling off. I've used it on several other base camping trips (noted above) and it has performed great. While I did not get it wet again, on several of those trips, the humidity spiked up to 100%.


I've enjoyed testing the Biolite SunLight. It is a fun little device and provides a lot of illumination. For base camping types of trips, I will definitely be including it in my packlist. For household repair projects where I am working in dark places, it also excels. From a backpacking standpoint, I will be bringing it on trips where we have a day in camp planned and I am not as concerned about my pack weight. For trips where I think pack weight is absolutely critical, I most likely will be leaving it at home and instead only bringing a smaller clip-on light.

This concludes my Field Report. Thank you to both and BioLite Energy for allowing me to test the SunLight.

This report was created with the Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.

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