Jan 03, 2024

Biolite AlpenGlow 500 lantern review

If you want to camp deep in the backcountry, hang out at a state park after sunset or even relax around a backyard bonfire, buying a bright and reliable lantern is essential for safely navigating your way through the dark. A lantern may seem like one of the most basic items of the gear on for your camping checklist, but it doesn't have to be.

Beyond the obvious use case of illuminating what's around you, lanterns can also provide some unexpected fun and entertainment too — especially if you invest in one of our all-time favorite lanterns, the BioLite AlpenGlow 500.

Offgrid-focused brand BioLite, known for its solar, rechargeable and even fire-powered gear, is one of the biggest names in outdoor illumination. Their long (and impressive) list of highly technical gear, like the battery-enhanced FirePit+ and aesthetically pleasing SiteLight String, is used by campers and outdoor lovers both in the wilderness and in their very own backyards.

When I first lit up the AlpenGlow 500 — a close-to-Nalgene-sized USB lantern that fits in the palm of your hand — I wasn't expecting this little ball of light to bring me so much joy. The rechargeable lantern glows in an array of light modes, including dimmable cool and warm light settings, a candle flicker setting and a multicolor "party" mode that cycles through a rainbow of color. From the comforting tones of warm LED light to the club-like vibe of its vibrant multicolor setting, the AlpenGlow lights up the environment around you to fit the exact brightness and mood you’re looking for.

The BioLite AlpenGlow 500 is an expensive lantern, but its ability to turn the campsite into a party is unrivaled. Its numerous light modes illuminate across every type of coloration imaginable, from warm ambient light perfect for bedtime to a blended multicolor light show for entertainment around the campfire.

The stand-out feature of the AlpenGlow 500 is its eight different light modes, which include Cool White and Warm White (which are both dimmable); Single Color and Multicolor; a Candle Flicker mode that mimics a soothing candlelight flame; Multicolor Party mode, which cycles a spectrum of colors; and Fireworks mode, which sends the lantern through a quick burst of flashing colors.

If you’re looking to pump up the energy at your campsite, the AlpenGlow's Multicolor Party mode displays a continually changing light show that transitions across all colors of the rainbow. In this setting, the lantern can be set to transition across a seemingly endless palette of colors.

I’m also a huge fan of warm light, especially when camping outdoors. I find the bright white LEDs typically found in newer rechargeable lanterns to be super jarring when lighting up the campsite at night. The AlpenGlow has the best of both worlds. It comes with two standard light settings with both a super-bright cool white light and a warm light that glows a pleasant hue of yellowish orange.

Both of these settings are dimmable, which also cuts down on overly bright lights on super-dark nights. The dimmer functionality is also perfect when you need to light up the campsite as brightly as possible, like when you’re cooking at night or setting up camp after dusk. The cool light setting also lets you illuminate just one side of the lantern. This "single pane" mode is perfect for lighting up the ground or area in front of you while avoiding a bright light shining back in your face. This mode is also a great way to help conserve the battery on extended outings.

While nothing can quite replicate the warmth and awe of a bonfire at the campground, the BioLite AlpenGlow 500 is a surprisingly good substitute for a campfire when needed — especially as campfire restrictions and bans become commonplace around the country in wildfire-prone areas like California, Texas, Colorado and Arizona.

This past spring while staying in Arizona at Lo Lo Mai Springs, a private campground just 20 minutes southwest of Sedona, the region had a fire ban during the weekend we were camping. Thankfully, I happened to bring my BioLite AlpenGlow 500 along with me.

In what I thought was a sad attempt at creating a faux fire for the group, I decided to set the AlpenGlow in the center of a small wood pile we arranged in our firepit. Before I did, though, I turned the lantern to the warm light setting and shook it to trigger the Candle Flicker mode. Glowing and flickering through the cracks in the pile of twigs and logs, the AlpenGlow lit up the firepit to provide a less warm, but still beautiful ambiance for our campfire hangout.

The lifespan of this light is a non-issue for most weekend-long camping trips. I’ve been guilty of leaving my AlpenGlow stashed away in my camping bin in the basement for weeks before my next camping trip, but come time I make it to the campground, more often than not, the lantern has plenty of battery to last me through yet another weekend of illuminated nights.

When set to its "LO" (or dimmed) setting, the AlpenGlow will last up to 200 hours of runtime, according to BioLite. On the "HI" (or bright) setting, we found the light stays bright until the 5-hour mark and will start to dim to conserve battery power after that point. The light eventually shut off around the 11-hour mark. BioLite says this lantern takes approximately 3 hours to completely charge when fully depleted, and when we tested it ourselves, it took about 3.5 hours.

A bonus feature for both the AlpenGlow 500 and 250 is that it doubles as a power bank. Since the lanterns have a USB-out port, you can easily charge your phone (or connect to other devices like the BioLite SiteLight String) in a pinch.

For a lantern with so many light settings and so few buttons, it's not surprising that filtering through this lantern's seemingly endless light modes and features can get confusing.

On the surface, operating the AlpenGlow sounds simple. There are three ways to change the color, brightness and mode of the lantern: Press, press and hold, or shake.

Each time you press the top button of the AlpenGlow lantern, it will change the color mode. For example, the first press will turn on the white light, another press will switch the lantern to a warm light, a third and fourth press will filter through Single Color and Multicolor modes. Pressing through all the settings will finally shut off the AlpenGlow.

Pressing and holding the top button and shaking the AlpenGlow is where it starts to get confusing. By pressing and holding, you can dim the white and warm lights, change the hue in the color modes or even change the speed at which the colors change in the Single Color Cycling, Multicolor Party and Fireworks modes. If you shake the AlpenGlow when the lantern is illuminated, an internal accelerometer can detect that shake and, depending on what setting the lantern is in, engage the one-sided light, candlelight flicker, single and multicolor cycling or Fireworks mode for rapid-speed pops of color.

There are boundless ways to light up the AlpenGlow — which is why this lantern is so fun. However, remembering how to get to all those different settings can be challenging, especially if you only use it every once in a while. It will take some practice (or watching BioLite's AlpenGlow YouTube tutorial a few times) to get the hang of how all of this lantern's features work, but once you nail it, the results are well worth the struggle.

This lantern is not the most accessible light for most campers. With its steep price tag of $80, the AlpenGlow 500 is a much bigger investment than many other more economical lights you can find on the market.

BioLite does sell the smaller AlpenGlow 250 for $60, which has the same features (minus the Fireworks mode) as the 500 but isn't as bright. The brand also offers an AlpenGlow Multipack, which includes a set of two small (250 lumens) and two large (500 lumens) lanterns for $252, which is a discount of $28 if you were to buy them all separately ($280). The multipack option is perfect for large groups, families with kids or those who want to spread lights around the campground and various tents.

If all you’re looking for is a light source to illuminate your tent or a picnic table while you play cards, the BioLite AlpenGlow 500 probably isn't for you. However, if you have some extra money to spend and creating a vibrant ambiance while you hang around camp sounds like fun, this lantern is definitely worth the investment.

It's hard to compare this light to other rechargeable lanterns on the market because its functionality is so unique. What sets this lantern apart from other lights is its ability to turn on various automatic functions (like Party or Firework mode) for a dancing display of colors.

BioLite's smaller and dimmer version of the AlpenGlow 500 is the AlpenGlow 250. It's not as bright and doesn't have the fancy Fireworks mode setting, but besides that, it's a more compact and cheaper version of the lantern at $60.

Similar to the AlpenGlow, the Luci Color Essence by Mpowerd also has eight light functions, although each light displayed is only a single color. This inflatable light is much dimmer than the AlpenGlow 500 and 200, illuminating at just 50 lumens. The perk to this light is it packs down much smaller than the AlpenGlow and is better suited for backpackers or car campers wanting to save space on packing. The Luci Essence's other big differentiator is that it's a solar-powered light and can be recharged by either the sun or USB.

If you’re looking for a rechargeable USB light that's a fraction of the cost of the AlpenGlow, check out the Black Diamond Moji Lantern. At just $25, this lantern has way fewer frills — like no multicolor or warm light functionality — but still provides a dimming feature so you can adjust the brightness for any occasion. The Moji Lantern also has a double hook (the AlpenGlows have a single hook) on the base of the light for easy suspension in a tent or on a rope at the campsite.

This multicolored and multifunctional lantern is hands down one of the most amusing, yet utilitarian rechargeable lights on the market. Its variety of hues, colors and brilliance — not to mention its ability to customize the illumination to your desired vibe — make this more of a camp toy than a piece of gear. As much as it is practical, it's just as joyful to use. Whether you’re looking for a warm light to wind down for a night under the stars or a light show that mirrors the allure and awe of the aurora borealis, the BioLite AlpenGlow 500 is the best blend of fun and functional you’ll find in a camping lantern.