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Reviews > Lighting > Lanterns > Coleman 4AA Pack Away Lantern > Test Report by Larry Kirschner

Coleman 4AA Pack-Away Lantern
TEST SERIES BY LARRY KIRSCHNER
INITIAL REPORT
June 27, 2007


INITIAL REPORT - June 27, 2007
FIELD REPORT - September 14, 2007
LONG-TERM REPORT - November 12, 2007


TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Larry Kirschner
EMAIL: asklarry98@hotmail.com
AGE: 43
LOCATION: Columbus, OH
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 9" (1.75 m)
WEIGHT: 200 lb (90.70 kg)

I've been an intermittent camper/paddler since my teens, but now that my kids are avid Boy Scouts, I've caught the backpacking bug. I typically do a few weekend hikes per year, and have recently spent 2 weeks backpacking at the Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimmarron, New Mexico. I like to travel "in comfort", so I often pack a little heavier than needed, but I'm trying to cut down. With all of my investment into this trip, I expect my wife and I will continue to trek long after the kids are gone…


INITIAL REPORT
June 27, 2007

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer: Coleman
Year of Manufacture: 2007
Manufacturer's Website: www.coleman.com
MSRP: USD $34.99
Listed Weight: 8 oz (including 4AA batteries)
Measured Weight: 8.3 oz (236 g) (including 4AA batteries and small carabineer, all provided with lantern. 8.2 oz/233 g without the carabineer)
Dimensions:
Closed: 3.2 x 2.7 x 1.9 in (81 x 69 x 48 mm)
Open: 4.875 x 2.7 x 1.9 in (124 x 69 x 48 mm)


INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

lantern closed lantern extended

I received the lantern from Coleman, and was quite intrigued by the appearance of the lantern. It is quite petite, even in the open form in which it is packaged. Coleman has apparently made significant efforts in making their lanterns smaller and better-suited for the packing/hiking community, as is shown in the photo below. still life with lanterns The package comes with a small lightweight carabineer (1 oz, 28 g), which is suitable for hanging the lantern. It also comes with a set of 4 alkaline AA batteries.


The lantern is made of a lightweight "metalized" plastic, which appears to be a type of hard-shell coated plastic. When collapsed, most of the size of the lantern is taken up by the battery case, with an area in the central part of the lantern for the light and its associated apparatus. The bottom of the lantern screws off for placement of the batteries, and the instructions recommend the use of a coin or tool to open/close the compartment. Despite the fact that I have almost no fingernails, I was able easily to unscrew/rescrew the bottom of the battery compartment with my unaided fingers, but I'm sure it would be a little easier with something else.

When the lantern is closed, it has the appearance of a small grayish-black box with a large 'X' on either side. On opening it, the light bulb is located in the top of the compartment, with a circular reflector below it that disperses the light laterally. The bulb is called a "Super Bright K2 Luxeon LED", which is supposed to have the brightness of a 3-Watt LED with the battery draw of a 1-Watt LED. Because of the lower battery draw, the lantern is reported to have a battery life of 12 hours when kept on the low setting, and 5 hours on the high setting. Because of the geometry of the lantern (a rectangle, not a circle), it provides fairly uniform light from each of the 'long' sides, but much less light from the 'short' sides.

directional lighting

In addition to the 'high' and 'low' settings, there is a third setting called 'emergency', which is the full-power light flashing. The setting switch is located on the top of the lantern, and is comprised of a single large button (approx 5/8 x 1 in, or 16 x 25 mm), which is big enough to be easily usable even with cold fingers or when wearing gloves. The lantern cycles among the 4 settings, in the order of off, high, low, emergency, off. There is a note indicating that the light may not function below 20 F (-7 C), presumably because of the nature of the LED bulb.

The lantern is made to be carried in the collapsed state, but slides open easily enough for use. The lid has a wire hangar which presumably can be used to hang the lantern from a cord or inside a tent. As noted, a carabineer is also provided, which can be hooked onto the wire hanger. However, when the carabineer is attached, carabineer the top handle is unable to fold flush, meaning it loses its structure as a cube. Thus, I doubt the carabineer is really worth anything, other than for looks. I suppose it could be used to hook the lantern to a pack if one were so inclined. The lantern is warranteed for 5 years, which seems like a mighty long time for a piece of battery-driven equipment like this. If it really lasts that long, it would be an excellent investment. However, the warranty does not cover normal wear and tear, so it is unclear exactly how this would apply in practice if there is a problem in 2-3 years.


TRYING IT OUT

I haven't taken the lantern out on the trail yet, but it certainly seems to be bright, particularly on the high setting. The light is very white, and I suspect that even the low setting would provide enough light to perform most nocturnal activities. I'm not sure yet if it is bright enough to read/write by, but I will address this during the field test. It is also worth mentioning that because of the simple design of the lantern, it is easy to open and turn on in the complete darkness, always a useful feature of a light source.


TEST PLAN

For the next stage of the test, I will be taking the Coleman 4AA PackAway lantern with me on a 10 day canoe trip in Manitoba, which will let me get a good feel for its function on the trail. I will specifically be looking to assess the lantern's durability, and see how if it provides enough light for reading/writing. I'll be taking extra batteries with me, but I'm hoping to make it through the whole trek on 1 set if I can be careful with the time of use. Although unlikely, I may even have a chance to see if I can get it to work in the cold weather. After that trip, it will accompany me on any hikes for the next few months, and I will see how it holds up in under those conditions.


Please check back in 2 months for my Field Report on this item.

Thanks to Coleman for providing this lantern for testing, and to BackpackGearTest.org for giving me the chance to light my way in the dark.

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FIELD REPORT

September 14, 2007


FIELD CONDITIONS

I took the lantern with me on a 10-day canoeing trip in Canada, where it spent most of the days stuffed into a dry bag, and got used at night. The temperature on the trip was warm, around 65 F (18C) at night when I was using the lantern, up to 90 F (32 C) during the day. The weather was dry, so I did not have any chance to use it in the rain. I have also taken the lantern with me on 2 weekend trips, one in central Ohio and the other in Southwestern Pennsylvania (Ohiopyle State Park). On both of these trips, the weather was hot (same temperature range as above) but much more humid. It rained quite a bit on one of the trips, but the lantern itself stayed dry in my pack.


FIELD EXPERIENCE

I now have the answers to a number of questions posed in my Initial Report. First, I have the most experience using the light inside my tent, which for the trips above has predominantly been a good sized 4-man tent. On the low setting, the lantern provides plenty of light for most tent activities, including reading, writing, and playing cards. Although the amount of light is plentiful, the difficulty I noted with the uneven distribution of the light has been more of an issue. When the lantern is placed on the ground of the tent, it gives good light in specific directions (see pictures above), but has many dark areas. It also does not project light upwards very well, so that it is not great for card playing. When the lantern was hung from the tent ceiling, it provided good illumination throughout (although I note this has only been possible in 1 of my tents). For reading in my sleeping bag, I have found that the best strategy is to lie the lantern on its side, either next to me or on my chest, as this allows the light to be projected onto the pages. On the high setting, the lantern is an adequate light source for setting up camp in the dark. Fortunately, I have not had any need to use the emergency flashing setting.

Regarding ease of use, I will point out that the lantern's cubical shape makes it very easy to find by touch in my pack. It is also very easy to turn it on in the pitch dark, although I have not tried it with gloves on.

I have used the lantern as my primary night time light source for 13 nights on the trail now (plus some initial testing at home), and I have yet to run out the battery. As noted, almost all of this use has been on the low setting, which has been adequate for my light needs. I have not made any effort to watch exactly how much time I am using the lantern, but I believe the 13+ nights so far reflects my unbiased "normal" usage.


WEAR AND TEAR

One feature I like about the lantern is the fact that it packs up into a cube (actually a rectangular prism, for you sticklers), so that there are no exposed pieces to get caught or broken when it is not in use. As a result, the lantern looks and functions pretty much exactly the way it did when I got it, except for maybe some slight rub marks on the plastic casing. So far, I would call the durability of this unit excellent.


FIELD IMPRESSIONS

To date, I think the Coleman PackAway Lantern has functioned about as I expected it would. It is a good source of light to illuminate an area for setting up in the dark, although understandably it is not as bright as a propane lantern. It also works well to light up a tent, if you can hang it from the tent roof. Because of the fact that it provides very uneven light, it can be a little bit of trouble depending on the needs. On the trail, the PackAway Lantern has excellent portability (i.e., small size) and the fact that it runs a long time on a set of 4 AA batteries makes it very useful for longer trips.

I am uncertain as of yet if I would exchange my headlamp for this lantern as the sole light source on the trail, but I will keep testing and trying to figure this out.

This concludes my Field Report on the Coleman PackAway lantern. Please check in back in about 2 months for my final report on this item.

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LONG-TERM REPORT

November 12, 2007


I have continued to take my Coleman 4AA Packaway lantern with me on all my trips, which has been 2 more weekend treks in central Ohio, where the weather has continued to be rather unseasonably warm. I don't think it ever got below about 45 F (6 C) at night on any of the trips.

Regarding the battery life in the lantern, I will note that the batteries ran out right after I had submitted my Field Report, or after about 13 nights on the trail. As I prepared my gear for my next trip, I tried to turn on the lantern. The light went on when I pushed the button, but turned off as soon as I released it. I thought I had broken the mechanism and spent some time trying to identify a problem, but none was to be found. As soon as I replaced the batteries, the lantern was good to go. Based on my experience, the lifespan of a set of batteries is about 13 days of moderate use.

My impressions of the lantern really haven't changed much. I still think it is a useful piece of equipment, but has the limitations which I noted in my Initial Report. As I prepared to write this LTR, I have been thinking about the underlying question posed at the end of the Field Report: would I replace my headlamp with this lantern as my single light source on a trek? The answer to that question is definitely 'no', as I think the uniform and directed field of illumination from a headlamp is better for most things on the trail. However, I think a better question to ponder is this: would I bring the lantern with me on a trek? The answer to that question is definitely: 'it depends'. If I was going on an extended trip to the backcountry where weight was a major consideration, I don't think the extra 8+ oz (230 g) are worthwhile. However, if it were only for a modest weekend trek where weight wasn't such an issue, I would definitely like to have this along, particularly if the days weren't going to be too long and I anticipated some time after dinner where my cohorts and I wanted to sit around and chat or play cards. It would also be nice to have it along if I were planning to have a couple of days setting up/taking down in the dark, as it provides reasonably good area lighting.

SUMMARY

I have found the Coleman 4AA Packaway lantern to be a useful piece of equipment, and I expect that I will continue to bring it on various trips, although likely not on any high intensity backpacking outings where weight in a premium.

Things I liked about the Coleman 4AA Packaway lantern:

  • Small size and easy packability
  • Long battery life
  • Uses regular AA batteries
  • Very bright light
  • Easy to find in pack (due to shape) and turn on in complete dark
Things I disliked about the lantern:
  • Very uneven field of illumination makes it difficult for certain uses (see my comments in the Field Experience part of the Field Report)


This concludes my report on the Coleman 4AA PackAway Lantern. My thanks once again to Coleman for providing this new piece of equipment for testing, and to BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to participate in the evaluation process.

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-larry kirschner

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