BioLite AlpenGlow 500 Lantern Review: A Lantern That Puts Fun Over Firepower
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BioLite AlpenGlow 500 Lantern Review: A Lantern That Puts Fun Over Firepower

Jun 11, 2023

Sure, some other lanterns might give the sun a run for its money in terms of brightness, but for most everything camping-related, we’re after a lantern that livens up a campsite.

From twinkling fairy string lights to tactic-cool 1,000-lumen blinders that’ll put the low beams on your car to shame — camping light sources today have covered the spread. And a lantern that’ll do it all? There are shelves of them that’ll claim it, but few can actually back it up. But with multiple white and color modes, an integrated battery bank, and a slick form factor, the BioLite AlpenGlow 500 seems to be just that: even-keeled and fun.

Over the past few months, I leaned on the AlpenGlow as one of my sole light sources for camping, and it came out shining on the other side.

In short: The BioLite AlpenGlow 500 Lantern knows that overall lumens aren’t the way into our hearts. Instead, it piles on the fun functionality to create a camping lantern that’ll supply a good dose of enjoyment to any outdoor overnight. With multiple different light modes and colors, a directional light function, and the ability to charge devices, this is an awesome little camp companion.

Over the course of a summer and more nights under the stars than I’ve got fingers and toes to tally on, the AlpenGlow 500 was my luminous companion — lighting up evenings everywhere from the dusky understory of Washington’s rainforests to the high country and ponderosas of Montana.

Unassuming to the unaware, this little camping lantern packs in the features under the hood, and I took full advantage: I often used the warm white light to read beneath, or turned up the bright white to diagnose a newly acquired thrumthrumthrum emitting from my truck, or matched the lantern with the color of the sunset on the coast. The party mode elicited an impromptu dance-off in Joshua Tree, and the backup battery saved my bacon a handful of times.

The AlpenGlow 500 is no one-trick pony, and it was eager to prove that in my testing. With four main modes, and multiple sub-modes extending from there, there was a learning curve (albeit shallow) to fully understanding this little light-maker.

Let’s start with the push of a button. One press takes you back to the previously used mode and begins the cycle with the cool white light. This 5,700K color light is provided by ChromaReal broad spectrum LEDs, which better portray the true color of the scene around it when illuminated.

Another press takes you to the warm white mode. That comfortable light is perfect for lounging around camp or illuminating your van. This quickly became my favorite mode, and it was an easy go-to.

From here, a third press initiates the color modes. The final mode is a multihue option split up into stratifications of color that meld into one another. This mode is really reminiscent of a sunset or sunrise given the mixture, and can even get pretty funky with the combinations.

Press and hold the button and you can access the secondary tier of modes. That provides different results for each primary mode. In both of the white light modes, a long press affects the dimmability of the lantern and the hue in the color modes.

With only one button, it’ll take a bit of personal memory bank space to get where you want. But it only took one evening before I got with the program and could cycle through the modes with ease.

At the full 500 lumens, I was able to eke out just about 5 hours of burn time (right on par with what BioLite states). At lesser rates, I was able to get multiple evenings of camping illuminated in a single charge.

BioLite reports that the lantern will burn for a full 200 hours in its 5-lumen low mode. Then it enters a Low Power Mode when it gets close to running on fumes. The mode only offers up the white light modes at the lowest brightness. But it keeps the party going for an additional hour.

In order the avoid button bloat, BioLite elected to go with something new for its third-press functionality and added an internal accelerometer. It responds to a quick shake, moving the camping lantern deeper into its different modes.

Shake it in the cool white mode and half of the lantern goes out, turning it into a directional light that can be used nearly anywhere (without blinding yourself in the process). Shake in the warm white mode, and the lantern will emulate the flicker of a candle. The single-color mode changes to a cycling color mode. The multicolor mode will spin the color wheel in a party mode with one shake, and enter the “fireworks” mode with a second.

While the shake function is novel (and honestly, fun), I did find that it wasn’t always a sure bet that the lantern would register the shake. Sometimes a repeat was needed to get into the next mode. Not quite a fatal party foul, but it’s an area where BioLite could make improvements.

Did I intentionally knock this lantern off the tailgate of my truck? At least not the first time. But even subsequent clatters yielded little damage, and the lantern kept on ticking well into the evening. The cylinder design is broad enough to avoid tipping over. It also has a rubberized base that helps it cling to whatever surface you place it on.

Looking to alternative mounting options, the base of the lantern stores a foldout hook for hanging the unit from a clothesline or tree limb. The hook isn’t a full closure, but it’s secure. All but a worst-case scenario swing should keep it in place.

The lantern is also rated to IPX4, meaning it’s protected from splashing water, no matter the direction. In our testing, a full Nalgene dumped over the top couldn’t extinguish the digital flame.

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To be sure, the AlpenGlow won’t be the first battery bank you’ll reach for when you need to revive a waning phone. It’s better thought of as a backup to the backup. At 6,400 mAh of battery power, the lantern has enough juice to recharge a modern phone once, but not much more than that.

Rubberized covers protect the rear USB in and out ports. But alas, no USB-C capabilities are built into the lantern. I’ll begrudgingly make do with micro-USB for now, but this would make an excellent subsequent update.

The lantern absolutely redeems itself, however, by the fact that it supports pass-through charging. That’s a feature typically only seen in higher-end battery banks. Should outlet space be at a premium, the lantern will recharge itself, while also recharging another device plugged into it. Very slick.

Recharging the lantern is relatively quick at 3 hours. The battery level is registered by four small LEDs on the base of the light.

How could I forget the little one? That’s right; with half the juice, the AlpenGlow 250 is the smaller sibling of the larger lantern. It retains almost all of the same functionality, stripped of just a few features.

For one, the multicolor mode on the 250 is a bit more muted than the 500. The colors only change from one side to the other, versus across the height of the lantern. You’ll also miss out on that party-ready fireworks mode. But in all honesty, the bigger lantern is best for this effect, anyway.

I found the smaller size made the AlpenGlow 250 the perfect lantern to bring into the tent with you. It doesn’t weigh much and won’t pull down on interior mesh ceilings. It also makes a killer middle-of-the-night beacon for lighting your way when nature calls.

The 3,200mAh battery bank is half of what the larger lantern is packing, and as such is only really good for reviving a phone from the dead, or plugging in BioLite’s SiteLight string lights.

Fun? Fun! It’s what camping should be about, and the BioLite AlpenGlow 500 Lantern brings it to the campsite in surplus. It’s tough to drum up a situation it wouldn’t enliven.

For some who yearn for the olden days, the deep feature set will be a bit of an embarrassment of riches. (For this, I would prescribe the comfy glow of the Coleman Deluxe Propane Lantern.)

While I’ve got mondo-bright lights for working on my car, candle lanterns for some old-school charm, and solar-powered lanterns that can spend days off the cord, it’s the AlpenGlow that now has a permanent slot in my camping bin.

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From twinkling fairy string lights to tactic-cool 1,000-lumen blinders that’ll put the low beams on your car to shameIn short: BioLite AlpenGlow 500 LanternLumensPower sourceBurn timeWater resistanceWeightilluminating your vanShake, Rattle, and Roll (to Activate)Built to TumbleEmergency PowerAlpenGlow 250BioLite’s SiteLight string lightsBioLite AlpenGlow 500 LanternColeman Deluxe Propane Lantern