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Reviews > Lighting > Lanterns > Coleman 4AA Pack Away Lantern > Test Report by John Waters

COLEMAN 4AA PACK-AWAY LANTERN
TEST SERIES BY JOHN R. WATERS
LONG-TERM REPORT
November 13, 2007

CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE FIELD REPORT
CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE LONG-TERM REPORT

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: John R. Waters
EMAIL: exec@bysky.com
AGE: 58
LOCATION: White Lake, Michigan USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 9" (1.75 m)
WEIGHT: 178 lb (80.70 kg)

My backpacking began in 1999. I have hiked rainforests in Hawaii, Costa Rica, and Puerto Rico, on glaciers in New Zealand and Iceland, 14ers in Colorado and Death Valley's deserts. I hike or snowshoe 6-8 miles (10 km-13 km) 2-3 times weekly in Pontiac Lake Recreation Area, with other day-long hikes on various SE Michigan trails. I also hike in Colorado and am relocating there, which will increase my hiking time and trail variety tremendously. My daypack is 18 lb (8 kg); overnights' weigh over 25 lb (11 kg). I'm aiming to reduce my weight load by 40% or more.


INITIAL REPORT

Product Information & Specifications

Manufacturer: The Coleman Company, Inc.
Year of Manufacture: 2007
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.coleman.com
MSRP: US$ 34.99
Listed Weight: N/A
Measured Weight: 8.3 oz (235 g)
Other details:

  • Super Bright K2 Luxeon® LED

  • Packs away to a super small size

  • Durable metalized lower case

  • Push-button control

  • Space-saving handle nests against top cap

  • Operates on four Alkaline AA cell batteries, included

  • Initial Impressions - July 8, 2007

    Well let's see. It's small. 2.6 inches (6.6 cm) wide, 1.8 inches (4.6 cm) deep and 3.3 inches (8.4 cm) high when closed, 5 inches (13 cm) high when opened. I weighed it in at 8.3 ounces (235 g) with the 4 AA batteries installed.

    It's colored a flat black. with a gun metal band at the top of the base. This band has the Coleman logo on the front and back. The sides sport the eXponent logo.

    The Pack-Away has a hanging hook on top that looks pretty substantial for this light-weight lantern and nests flush with the top into a cut-out made just for it. Coleman even included a 1.5 inch (4 cm) black carabineer to clip the lantern to things for hands-free use. Nice touch.

    I get a kick out of the way the lantern opens and closes. Reminds me of all those canisters the bad guys always carry the deadly germs around in on those science fiction movies. It makes this vacuum sealing sound because when it closes all the air in the bottom section gets pushed out. It's definitely something to play with, but I'm not sure how much stress the thing can take so I'm showing restraint.

    From the closed mode, all I have to do is grasp the rubber top section, which is about 0.6 inches (1.5 cm), or pull the hanging loop. I don't want to pull that loop too much, so I am just grasping the rim of the top and pulling up. I do not have a way to measure torque unfortunately because I'd be curious to know how much force is needed to pull the lantern out of the base. It's got a nice suction and it just smoothly opens to its full height and clicks into place. The mechanism is very well done.
    Coleman Lantern Size Comparison


    In the very top, in the center, is a rubber covered push button that is flush with the top surface and has an embossed international symbol for "power on" right in the center. Push once for full brightness, push again for subdued lighting (have not measured yet what this means but it looks like it may be about 50%), push again for flashing; push again to turn it off.

    I have to admit, I had the refrigerator syndrome. I managed to actually see that even if the switch is on, when you close the lantern, the light goes out and you can not inadvertently push the button to turn it on while it is nested closed.

    The 4 AA batteries go into the bottom. A coin can open the base easily, as can a screwdriver, etc. The slot is 0.8 inches (1.8 cm) long and it can be grasped with a pair of pliers or strong fingers. I don't see me getting stuck and not being able to open the battery compartment.

    It DOES seal very well, so there is a lot of force needed to turn the coin or key ring, etc. An interesting thing here is that the 4 batteries go in like this: button down at upper left and lower right positions and then button up at upper right and lower left when holding the lantern with the top curved indent to my right.

    Oh yes, Coleman included my first set of 4 AA batteries. Very nice

    Testing Strategy

    At first I'm thinking that changing the batteries would be a major challenge in the dark, but actually, thanks to that finger width indent in the top lid, I can easily orient the lantern to replace batteries in pitch blackness. Of course the trick will be to find the batteries. Hopefully I would have them out and ready before the light goes out.

    Specifications say that the 4 AA batteries should get 12 hours on low and 5 hours on high and time in between, of course, for a mixture of use. I'll test this with cheap dollar store batteries, good alkaline and my favorite lithium ion rechargeables. I carry several of the LI batteries at all times for various devices, like GPS and camera, and use a car adapter for the charger. If I were to pack my case of 4 AA along with the 4 in the unit, that supposedly would give full bright light for up to 10 hours and reduced light for up to 24 hours.

    There are no specifications or implications about weatherproofness. The Coleman Web site just says it has a "Durable metalized lower case". I'll have to see what the field test results are from rain and, later in the year, snow. The instruction sheet does mention that it may not work below 20 F (-7 C).

    The K2 Luxeon LED is rather new technology, putting out the brightness of 3 watts, with the power draw of a 1 watt LED. The LED is at the top of an open cylinder inside the center of the lantern and at the bottom of the cylinder is a shiny reflective cone pointed up. The LED shines down on the cone and the mirror surface of the cone reflects the light up and around.

    I'll have to measure the pattern and see how this works and I'll have more details in my field report. The Luxeion Web site says that the lowest power consumption K2 white (which is what is in the lantern), puts out 75 lumens @ 700mA current draw. The K2 LED is also rated at 100,000 hours. So if I use it 5 hours per day, that's 20,000 days, or 54 years. I'll be dead but my kids can use it.

    Now for a quick overview of lumens and watts. I think a lot of folks get confused seeing a 3 watt LED thinking that it's only as bright as a 3 watt bulb. That's why I mention that the K2 is rated at 75 lumens. Lumens measure the flux of a light being produced by a light source or received by a surface. It's a measure of brightness. Watts measure the amount of power used and not the actual brightness hitting a surface. A typical 40 watt incandescent bulb has about 450 lumens of light output. A 9 watt compact fluorescent has the same 450 lumen light output. The K2 has 75 lumens of brightness, and although lumens are not really linear, I can extrapolate to say that it will be pretty close to the brightness of a 7 or 8 incandescent watt bulb in free space. It is also a much more intense white light and when combined with optical enhancement and reflectors, it can be pretty bright.


    FIELD REPORT

    FIELD LOCATIONS & CONDITIONS - Sept 2007

    During these past two months of testing, most of my testing has been in the Cooper Mountain area of Colorado (south of Pike's Peak). I have also used the Pack-Away on two or three occasions in southeast Michigan on Pontiac Lake trails.

    Michigan weather during the testing period was mostly hot and humid during the summer . Colorado weather was mostly dry, windy, with cool nights and warm to hot days. Temperatures ranged from 40 F (4 C) at night to 90 F (32 C) in the daytime.

    Terrain covered everything from flat sandy lakeshore (in Michigan) to the mountainous Sangre de Cristos and Cooper Mountain regions in Colorado. Elevation ranged from a low of 600 ft (183 m) in Michigan to a low of 5000 ft (1524 m) in Colorado, and up to 13000 ft (3962 m) in Colorado.

    PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

    I've had the opportunity to use the lantern quite a lot over the past several weeks in a variety of situations, including rain storms. I've used batteries from dollar stores and expensive Nickel Metal Hydroxide rechargeables (2200 mAhour). I don't know what the actual mAhour rating on the no name units from the dollar stores are though. They are just regular batteries, not high performance alkalines.

    Milli-amp hours rate a battery for the number of hours it can provide current at the rating figure. For example a 2200 mAhour battery will provide 2.2 amps of current for up to one hour (1,000 milliamps = 1 amp). At 700 mA at full power for the K2 LED (the LED assembly mounted inside the lantern), the math works out to a little over 3 hours. Really good alkaline batteries, like Energizer Max, are rated at 2850 mAhours, so they would last over 4 hours. Coleman says the light will last 5 hours on high and 12 hours on low. I did a few timed tests.

    Field test results

    Dollar store batteries: Heavy Duty Rayovacs - on low power. About 4 hours
    Rechargeable Digital Lithium Ion - 2200 mAhour - on low power. About 2 hours

    I'll get some various other brands and capacities and report on those results in the next report. I didn't think there would be that much of a difference from the manufacturer specifications or between batteries and now I am extremely curious.

    I know that good alkaline batteries can handle a little more current, but I like to use rechargeables because of the cost. Most manufacturers will rate their products based on alkaline battery use because their specifications will look better.

    I ran field tests in areas with and without trees. The lantern provided plenty of light to work under and enough that I could walk well between and around trees and rocks with the setting on low. And, yes, bugs are attracted to it. It's a light.

    My observation though is that the pattern it emits is somewhat distracting. I have 1 watt LED headlights that emit a smooth, borderless light that glows brightly. This lantern, apparently due to the way the bulb is reflected onto the cone shaped reflector, emits a pattern with less bright areas that caused me to frequently rotate the lantern to see things. The pattern is not a uniform glow 360 degrees around the lantern. It's bright, but not that nice glow I expected from LED lights. The photo (below left) shows that when the lantern is placed on the ground, there are "fingers" of light radiating outward. When held in the air, because the light between the "fingers' is less bright, the fingers become more pronounced as can be seen in the photograph (below right) where I am holding the lantern at about eye level. The light to the broadsides of the lantern is smooth and finger free. The fingers of light radiate 180 degrees from each short side of the lantern. The images with this report demonstrate that well.

    Fingers of Light Fingers of Light


    So far the unit has held up well to dozens of opening and closings without binding in any way. I also discovered that the battery compartment can be opened with the head of most small keys and most key rings, in addition to coins and screwdrivers and that the unit turns off automatically when closed.

    My son purchased a competing brand 1 watt lantern and we had a lantern contest in the middle of nowhere in pitch black. His emitted the glow that I expected from an LED. Its pattern didn't have fingers like the Coleman, but the Coleman was brighter and lighted up more of an area and went farther - maybe 50% more distance. I think the difference is the reflector in the Coleman. So the tradeoff is that the reflector causes fingers but also increases the distance and overall usability of the lantern. In windy weather though, when hung by the hook at top, the Coleman swinging in the breeze causes the fingers of light to move around and in heavy wind creates a very distracting psychedelic display on the surrounding landscape.

    I like this product. My opinion is still that this will be a unit that will be a staple item in my pack and by my side at night and around the campfire until I can find one as bright that has a more uniform glow without the fingering.

    In the next several weeks the weather here in Colorado will be getting colder. My extended testing will include winter hikes and winter use and to see how well the LED holds up in extremely cold and wet weather. Battery life should go down and I'll see how much during this period.

    The specifications for the LED indicate that HIGHER temperatures, up to 175 F (79 C); result in less current draw for the same lumen output. So accordingly, I may be seeing longer battery life when the temperatures here are 80 to 90 F (27 to 32 C). The performance curve for the LED flattens out at 32 F (0 C) but needs full power to get maximum brightness. It will get colder than that here. So I am interested in seeing what happens to this LED when the temps get to 14 F (-10 C) or less and what happens to battery life and brightness.

    SUMMARY

    This concludes the first two months of field testing of the Coleman 4AA Pack-Away Lantern.


    LONG-TERM REPORT

    LONG-TERM LOCATIONS/CONDITIONS-Nov 2007

    During these past two months of testing, most of my testing has been in the Cooper Mountain area of Colorado (south of Pike's Peak). I have also used the Pack-A-Way on two or three occasions in southeast Michigan.

    Michigan weather during the testing period was surprisingly hot and humid for fall. Colorado weather was mostly dry, windy, with cool nights and warm days. Temperatures ranged from 40 F (4 C) at night to 90 F (32 C) in the daytime.

    Terrain covered everything from flat sandy lakeshore (in Michigan) to the mountainous Sangre de Cristo range and Cooper Mountain regions in Colorado. Elevation ranged from a low of 600 ft (183 m) in Michigan to a low of 5000 ft (1524 m) in Colorado, and up to 13000 ft (3962 m) in Colorado.

    PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

    Well, I have to admit, this little lantern ended up getting used a lot more than I had expected. I guess it's because the thing lights up a wider area than a flashlight and it's so light and small.

    In my previous report I showed pictures of how there are "fingers" of light that radiate out from the lantern, creating dark rays where there is little light. I forgot to explain how FAR the light goes; about a 30 ft (9 m) radius or a 60 ft (18 m) circle. Since I've been using this lantern in pitch black areas, the distance would be a maximum. I can clearly see trees and ground out to 30 ft (or more) and could easily hike in pure darkness with this lantern, but I prefer a headlamp of course because my arm would get tired holding this thing in the air. Of course, it is meant to be for campsite use and is great for lighting up an entire campsite area.

    There was never any condensation on the inside of the lantern and throughout the entire course of use, the lens remained crystal clear.

    During the last few weeks of testing though, the lantern didn't turn on. When I pushed the on/off button on top, the lamp would flash for a fraction of a second then remain off. At first, I thought it was the batteries, although I've been keeping a fresh set in the lantern. I replaced the batteries two times with new batteries of different brands and it did the same thing. So I figured it was the contacts and tried pressing down on the battery compartment door more. Still the same response.

    I did notice some wear on the coating of one of the battery contacts, so I tried cleaning the contacts with a pencil eraser. There should have been no reason to do so, since I used all freshly charged or new batteries, but I did so anyway since some of the contact coating was worn off. Still the same thing. No light.

    Then, I figured maybe the compartment lid wasn't pressing down enough to make contact, so I pushed down hard. Still no light. Next, I tightened the compartment more by turning the screw down more and it worked. So I removed the battery compartment cover again and pushed it down as hard as I could, but it didn't work. Weird. So I put the batteries back in and screwed the compartment cover down again, and it clicked 3 times and then "crack"! The screw down center piece came right off from its stem. Oops. But still pushing the cover down as hard as possible didn't make it work.

    Coleman 4AA Pack Away Lantern
    Open Battery Compartment with broken stem


    By the way, even with the screw down broken off, the compartment cover stays in place fully inserted. The rubber gasket around the compartment cover creates a nice seal. It takes some doing to get it off again even in its broken condition. I had to either hook something in the hole and pull it up or use a knife tip under the lip to pry it up.

    I emailed Coleman and, after about a week, I still hadn't gotten a reply. So I called their 800 number. "Hey ... the screw down thing broke off" and explained what was going on. The Customer Service agent was understanding and said that there should be no reason to have to screw that battery compartment down that tight. (Remember I've been using this lantern for months now without any issue). So he said to send it back and they'll send me a new one. The lantern was on the market and shipping for less than the warranty period, so they do not even need a sales receipt. I just needed to send it back and I'll get a new one.

    I am waiting for the replacement unit now. What I don't know though, is if the replacement has a production modification that will correct this issue. I guess I'll just have to wait and see. I do know that the replacement will get as much use as the one I sent back, so I probably will find out soon enough.


    SUMMARY

    I like this little lantern. It's compact, lightweight and very rugged. The batteries last a long time and the hanging hook is neat. It's well designed except that it may have an issue with the battery compartment.

    Thank you to Backpackgeartest.org and The Coleman Company for the opportunity to test this excellent product.

    John R. Waters

    ADDENDUM - December, 5, 2007

    On November 20, I returned the lantern to Coleman after talking with Coleman’s customer support. The Coleman support person said the battery door should not have any issues with being pressed down to work properly, and I should not have had to turn the screw-down until the screw stem broke off.

    Since the unit was on the market for less than 1 year, I didn't even need a receipt or proof of purchase. The Pack Away Lantern was still under warranty.

    I packed it up and shipped it back via the US Post Office since the cost was low due to its light weight. In two weeks, I received a completely new lantern in brand new retail packaging, along with the 4 AA batteries that come with the retail package. I call that “good service.”

    I plan on continuing to give this lantern a great deal of use and I'll see what the status is in several months. Meanwhile, let there be light again.

    This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2007. All rights reserved.

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