BY Christopher Gardner—LED technology offers so many advantages over incandescent bulbs, including the ability to shine for many long hours on a small(ish) rechargeable battery. No wonder camping, outdoor, RV, and sporting-goods companies have been making their lighting gear with LED for the last decade or so.
(We test everything we review and recommend to our readers. We participate in several affiliate marketing programs including that of BioLite Energy. As a BioLite Associate we earn from qualifying purchases so if you choose to purchase any of our reviewed products by clicking through our links, we may earn a commission, but at no cost to you.)
Early LEDs blasted forth a blue-white light that could be handy when setting up camp but headache inducing when wanting to read a book by the campfire. In the last few years, ever less expensive products allow the user to set the temperature of the LED to a warmer (more yellow) temperature that could also be dimmed to a desired level. BioLite Energy, a socially conscious company that strives to bring solar energy and environmentally friendly products to communities who do not enjoy regular or clean energy, has brought these features and more to a small package, the AlpenGlow 250 rechargeable lantern.
The size and weight of the AlpenGlow 250 are ideal for convenient use around the house, on the back deck, in an RV, or at the campsite. The lamp weighs a negligible 7.4 ounces (210g), and fits as comfortably in the hand as a baseball. It ships in the “locked” status that BioLite programs across its lighting products, which keeps it from turning on by an accidental press of the power/control button at the top (or bottom) of the unit during shipment. Don’t be a stubborn customer like me and spend a few minutes frustrated that the light would only flash a couple of times while pushing the button in various patterns—read the directions. Hold the power button down for 8 seconds and the lamp is unlocked. Though the unit will likely have some charge, it’s always a good idea to give it a first full charge before putting the lantern through its paces. If you want to tuck it away in a backpack or suitcase down the road, hold the button again for 8 seconds and the two bright flashes will let you know that the bulb is again protected from accidentally switching on.
The Packaging for the BioLite AlpenGlow
The lantern comes with a micro-USB charging cord, and the available power is indicated by four pin lights along the base, which serve as a handy gauge for the amount of power left in the unit. With that base on a table, the power button is easily accessible at the top and ready to help you get to the myriad lighting features of the lamp, but some of those features also require an up-and-down shake of the lamp to access, and we’ll get to those secondary features in a bit. If you want overhead lighting or to create a festive “Japanese lantern” effect for your space, the AlpenGlow’s base includes a pop-out hook that will allow easy hanging (thus putting the power button conveniently at the “bottom”). This feature is a real gem and allows for a number of practical and aesthetic uses. The lamp looks great sitting on a table, and it looks entirely designed to be hung up as well. Neither presentation appears as a compromise on the overall clean design.
Another gem is the traditional USB plug alongside the micro-USB port used for charging. That plug allows attachment of BioLite’s SiteLights String for more light and decorative creativity. Yes, you could connect your phone for a power boost, but it will suck the power from the lamp pretty quickly for what benefit you’ll give your smartphone. Besides, BioLite offers far more efficient ways to power up such rechargeables as both the AlpenGlow and your various phones and tablets.
Presentation and Lighting Options
Besides the beauties of the design, the BioLite AlpenGlow offers an amazing array of lighting options, including the ability to enjoy a warmer luminescence more in line with our experiences in natural sunlight. From the company’s website “ChromaReal is an LED technology that BioLite uses for applications where complete and accurate lighting is important. …When using at night, ChromaReal helps colors pop, textures stand out, and finishes have more depth and luster. This can really come in handy for things like nighttime cooking and photography.” So keep the BioLite AlpenGlow 250 handy when you want those Insta- snaps of your burgers grilling up along the Northern Rim!
The options for the AlpenGlow lantern don’t end there. Not only does the power/feature button offer a cycle of blue-white or yellow-white light, it can cast a number of hues to set any mood. Either the whole unit can be a colored light or you can set the two halves to a subset of different colors, including a gentle roll through all its colors. Moreover, with the light on, hold the button down to dim the light towards a minimum it indicates by emitting a quick double flash. If you want to brighten the lamp back up, hold the button down again, and lumens will increase. If you don’t stop at a desired brightness, it will again double flash to let you know you’ve hit the maximum output—and minimum burn time of about 5 hours on a full charge.
But wait, there’s more. At each point in the cycle of pushing the power button, you can give a firm twice up-and-down shake of the unit to trigger the internal accelerometer, which triggers a secondary mode at that point in the cycle. For example, click the button to the warm-light setting, hold the button down if you want it brighter or dimmer, then give it a double shake and the bulbs offer a lovely flickering-candle effect. Get to the dual-color setting with the button and shake the unit, and you’ll get a multi-colored cycle of two hemispheres of colors in the lamp. The kids will love this for a few minutes at the campsite, but I can imagine that it would be a beautiful effect with a number of lamps hung in the yard or along a railing. The gamut of settings is impressive and can take a while to get a grip on without returning a few times to the directions. That said, I can easily imagine that most users will really be sticking to one or two of the more common settings.
As the AlpenGlow 250 can sit on a surface and hang from a tentpole or tree, it can serve many needs, and I found myself considering those uses as distinguished between practical and decorative. For example, around the house it could a handy portable lamp for a dark corner of a closet or crawl space, and it could be a life-saver if the power were out. It also could be set to candle-flicker mode to make a dinner just a bit more romantic. It could be hung over a work bench to add a clarifying light for a project and hung from a tree or patio canopy for some shifting mood light at a party. Some of the more practical applications can certainly be handled with a lamp far less expensive than the BioLite, but probably not with the flexibility also to be a mood setter—and certainly not with a tasteful design that keeps the focus on the features and not on the contraption shedding the light.
First Use Summary
- Give the lantern a full charge upon arrival (USPS requires them to ship half charged) using the micro-USB charging port
- Unlock the HeadLamp by pressing and holding the power button for 8 seconds
- Switch light modes by pressing the power button in 1/2-second intervals
- Shake briskly up-and-down once to move into the secondary option of the light mode the lantern is set to
- Dim or brighten your lantern by pressing and holding the power button once it is turned on
Though lightweight, the AlpenGlow feels solid and secure. The hanging hood snaps out or back in place with a positive click, and the rubber power button feels firm and safe, even to fingers like mine that tend to bang on keyboards and snap pencil points. The USB ports also have robust rubber covers to keep them safe from rain water or spilled drinks.
BioLite has some great products to bring light to the world in terms of both physics and ethics. Their Emerging Markets project includes the effort to work “with key partners across 23 countries to provide last-mile distribution, training, and financing to remote customers. …BioLite creates affordable, durable products that harness surrounding energy to cook, charge, and light daily life for off-grid households.” If my recommendation of this great product isn’t quite enough to inspire you to buy the lantern, consider the support your purchase will bring to the company’s ambitions “to provide 20 million people with access to clean energy and to avoid 3 million tons of CO2e by the year 2025.” Such ambitions and the many uses available for the AlpenGlow will make the initial cost a value you’ll long enjoy.