Coleman Pack-Away Lantern Spotlite Review

A compact LED lantern, lighter than canister lanterns and fairly bright, but not yet perfect.

Overall Rating: Average

Quite effective but a bit heavy and the light is a little harsh.

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by Roger Caffin |

Overview

Coleman Pack-Away Lantern Spotlite Review - 1
The Coleman Pack-Away lantern, open and shut. (Picture courtesy Coleman)

The Coleman Pack-Away is a compact little triangular white-LED lantern, lighter than canister lanterns while still fairly bright. It uses three 3-volt CR123 lithium batteries, which are included in the package. Folded up, it is a compact and robust little unit - far more sturdier than the rather fragile glass chimney and very fragile mantle of a gas lantern. To use it, you pull on the ends so it telescopes out. There is a single button on the base with a rubber cover: pressing this several times cycles through Bright, Low, Strobe, and Off. To turn it off from High, you have to cycle through Low and Strobe.

There is a wire loop handle at the top which pops up, and Coleman includes a mini-carabiner with the lantern to assist in hanging it. There are also three little lugs at the bottom corners through which one could thread some loops of string.

Coleman Pack-Away Lantern Spotlite Review - 2
The lantern open and hanging up.

If you hang the lantern from the handle, the single white LED points upwards at a shiny round cone, which reflects the light out sideways. The lighting pattern is certainly not uniform around the lantern: there are quite a few vertical strips of shadow due to wires inside the case and ridges in the clear plastic surround.

Coleman Pack-Away Lantern Spotlite Review - 3
The variable light pattern on the wall of my office.

To change the batteries, you have to remove the carabiner and push the handle out of the way before you can undo the large screw holding the battery cover. The whole bottom cover comes off to reveal three holes for CR123 batteries. It seems that these three batteries are wired in series, to make a total of 9 volts. Why the unit should need 9 volts to drive it when a typical white LED only needs 3 volts is not clear, but I believe there are some electronics at the base to control the LED in its three modes. Before putting the battery cover back, check the instructions which come with the lantern. There is a small 'key' for correctly orienting the cover so the batteries are correctly wired up, but it is not obvious.

Disassembly will probably void any warranty. There seem to be three screws holding the top shell to the bottom, two more holding the upper interior to the base, and three holding the base together. If you want to disassemble the lantern, make sure you free the thin battery connection wire under one of the top three screws. When removing the top shell, treat the two thin O-rings around the lower part with care: they help keep water out.

Field Testing

Opening the Coleman Pack-Away lantern requires an act of faith the first time: a firm tug is needed. Closing the lantern also requires a firm press. Once you have done this once or twice, there is no problem. Opening the battery compartment is very simple. Coleman suggests using a coin, but you can do it with your fingers.

We all know that looking straight at the white-hot mantle on a gas lantern leaves you completely blind for a while. Looking straight at the white LED on this lantern tends to have a similar effect. In fact, I found the glare from the very small LED was a bit much at times. If you hang it up above your head so you can't see the LED directly, it is a fair bit better. I do wonder whether a design with a ring of smaller 5 mm white LEDS, all pointed outwards, might not produce a softer and more uniform light.

As for brightness - I found the High rather bright, unless you want to read by it some distance away. The Low was still brighter than I need in a tent, but I am usually happy with quite dim lighting in the evening. The Strobe is painful, with very bright flashes. Frankly, I wish it did not have this feature as it often caught me by surprise when I was turning the lantern on or off. I guess it is a "marketing feature." However, the non-uniform pattern around the lantern was at times a bit annoying, especially if the lantern was swinging or twisting around a bit. This was a disappointment.

Another disappointment for me was the use of the CR123 batteries. Here in Australia, where I live, the brand names are very expensive in the shops, making replacement of the set something to be avoided as long as possible. However, I am aware that you can buy these in bulk on the web at much lower prices - but the quality may not be as good. You could use rechargeable CR123 batteries as well, if you don't mind recharging them.

The weight of the lantern is perhaps the biggest obstacle. At 4.8 oz (136 g) with batteries, it is just too heavy for lightweight summer overnight walks. But then, given how long into the evening the light lasts, who would need such a powerful light in the evening? In winter, it is another matter. I can well imagine this lantern being useful for a group cooking dinner in the evening in the snow. And it would be even more useful in an igloo or snow cave at night compared to a gas lantern or a candle. Both of those can melt the snow wall above the light, burn up oxygen and even risk making carbon monoxide, but this lantern has none of those hazards.

Of course, if you want to use the lantern in the winter, you will be concerned about the effect of the cold on it. Coleman says "This lantern may not light at temperatures below 20 °F (-7 °C)". Energizer gives graphs for performance of their EL123 battery at -4 °F (-20 °C), although it must be noted that the performance there is rather poor and the output voltage rather low. Duracell give a similar graph at the same temperature. I suspect what all this means is that, at 20 °F (-7 °C), the battery output voltage will have fallen so much that the electronics in the lantern will no longer start up. The message might be to hang the lantern a little distance above your stove?

Specifications

Manufacturer Coleman
Year/Model 2008 - Pack-Away Lantern
Material Various plastics
LED Cree XR-E
Batteries Three CR123 3v cells
Operating Temperature Down to 20° F (-7° C)
Brightness (claimed) "100 lumen on High"
Life (claimed) "Up to 5 hours on High & up to 12 hours on Low"
Modes High, Low, Strobe
Size (folded) 2.5 in high x 2.25 in per side (65 x 55 mm)
Weight (claimed) 4.8 oz (136 g) with batteries
Weight (measured) 5.3 oz (151 g) with batteries
Accessories Mini carabiner for hanging
MSRP US $59.99

What’s Good

  • Very robust
  • Bright
  • Fairly compact

What’s Not So Good

  • Not very light (but very bright)
  • Expensive batteries
  • Brightness can't be turned down very far

Recommendations for Improvement

  • A lighter version using AAA cells
  • Better intensity control
  • Get rid of that strobe

Citation

"Coleman Pack-Away Lantern Spotlite Review," by Roger Caffin. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/coleman_pack_away_lantern_spotlite_review.html, 2008-05-27 00:00:00-06.

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Coleman Pack-Away Lantern Spotlite Review
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Coleman Pack-Away Lantern Spotlite Review on 05/27/2008 21:07:56 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Coleman Pack-Away Lantern Spotlite Review

Ryan Krause
(rmkrause)

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Batteries on 05/28/2008 20:12:37 MDT Print View

I would definitely suggest obtaining the CR123 batteries online - going to the store they are sold at an outrageous price. Rechargeable versions are also available.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
inexpensive CR123A cells for the Lantern being reviewed. on 05/29/2008 04:01:30 MDT Print View

generally, online, high quality brand name CR123A cells (like Energizer and Duracell) go for between $1.17 and $1.25 each with occasional $1.00 each for cells with only a couple of (to a few) years until expiration (this makes them attractive for immediate or near immediate use). these cells have 1500mAh capacity.

one can find, online, "no-name" brand CR123A cells for $0.79 each. even though these cells usually claim 1300mAh capacity or even 1400mAh capacity, they often do NOT perform up to what one might expect. why?...

i've read the Mfr. Spec Sheets on some of these "no-name" cells and the discharge rates are very, very low (lower even than some older single 5mm white LEDs lights would draw). this allows the cell to continue to deliver current for a longer period of time. i won't go into the mechanism/reason involved here, suffice it to say that the capacity of a battery will vary somewhat with the rate of discharge of that battery with higher discharge rates resulting in lower capacity (we'll the theory about this for another post, maybe).

as long as one knows this going in, the "no-name" cells can still be a good value, just don't expect them to last thirteen, or fourteen fifteenths (1300 or 1400 mAh vs. 1500 mAh) as long as a good brand name cell - more like 50% to 75% as long, depending upon the rate at which current is drawn from the cell.

also, remember that these are Li primary cells, and as such partake of the benefits of Li chemistry, e.g., supposed/claimed better resistance to cold temps than alkaline and NiMH cells, less voltage sag than alkalines (due to lower internal resistance), and also a more linear characteristic (i.e. "flatter") discharge curve under loads than alkaline cells.

given the much higher cost per cell of Li AA and Li AAA cells, CR123A cells are a better value. even alkaline AA cells are typically $0.50 each. so, "no-name" CR123A cells are only ~%60 more expensive (though in some applications, this may increase due to the poorer performance of these "no-name" cells esp. in devices placing a greater load on the cell).

IMO, unless one's budget is VERY tight, or many, many cells need to be purchased and used in a short time frame, the added cost is pretty much of a non-issue (sorta' like "majoring in the minors", so to speak, - there are other things that cost much, much more in L/UL backpacking than 20 or so CR123A cells for six mos. or a year's supply - even CR2016 and CR2032 cells for "microlights" cost fifty to eighty cents each and we don't bat an eye at buying them for anemic microlights which supply BRIGHT light for only ~15 minutes and then are at ~25% of their initial starting brightness, and often after 2h use are at ~10% of their initial starting brightness). [Note: i've sworn off microlights; IF i now absolutely NEED a 5mm light; i've gone to a 9V Pak-Lite (personally, i use 9V NiMH batteries as they still last a very long time and they may eventually pay for themselves f i use them enough)].

of course, *AVAILABILITY* (and maybe that's the crux of the matter, otherwise this might be a "no-brainer" of a choice) and availability of good headlamp designs (though there are some good CR123A headlamps available now) is NOT as good as for CR123A cells as for ALKALINE AA or AAA cells (NOT Li AA/AAA cells - at least in stores where i've shopped recently - in fact, i've found, in brick-and-mortar stores, very expensive Duracell CR123A cells when there were no Li AA/AAA cells were even stocked by the store) .

lastly, when used in modern "regulated" headlamps and flashlights, one can consider in practical use that the stored energy is roughly equivalent b/t CR123A and both alk. and Li AA cells with CR123A cells coming out just a tad ahead of Li AA and even a bit more ahead of alk. AA cells. remember, the CR123A cell is delivering its energy at a higher voltage than AA cells (roughly 2x the voltage of both alk. and Li AA/AAA cells). this fact allows the boost converters and regulator electronics in some modern (properly designed) lighting devices to draw less current from the cell to supply the proper current to the load. nominal voltage on CR123A cells is usually ~+3.25VDC to ~+3.35VDC on "fresh" cells that i've measured on a DMM.

just some thoughts.

my two shekels, YMMV. ok. 'nuff said.

Edited by pj on 05/29/2008 04:05:15 MDT.

Michael Davis
(mad777) - F

Locale: South Florida
Re: Coleman Pack-Away Lantern Spotlite Review on 05/29/2008 18:12:35 MDT Print View

Here is something that is a little smaller, lighter lantern from Brunton. Does anyone have any experience with this?

http://www.brunton.com/product.php?id=247

.Brunton lantern/flashlight

Edited by mad777 on 05/29/2008 18:14:00 MDT.

Ryan Krause
(rmkrause)

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Brunton Flashlight/Lantern Reviews on 05/29/2008 19:15:32 MDT Print View

Amazon has a few reviews on the Brunton flashlight/lantern, some more informative than others:

http://www.amazon.com/Brunton-Lamplight-Extendible-Flashlight-Lantern/dp/B0007U9D2O


Personally I'd like to find a River Rock LED Lantern, a while back people on various flashlight forums were raving about them and the fact you could get them at Target of all places, but Target doesn't seem to carry them anymore and cannot find anyone online that carries them.

Ryan Krause
(rmkrause)

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Brightness on 05/29/2008 19:52:24 MDT Print View

If it's too bright, I've heard of people using scotch tape. A more permanent solution is going over the outside of the lantern with fine grit sandpaper.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Another Coleman CREE LED lantern to consider on 05/30/2008 11:00:39 MDT Print View

Roger,

I bought a different Coleman Xponent LED lantern W/ a CREE bulb. It's rectangular and uses 4 AA batteries so it's necesssarily heavier and even more unsuited for backpacking. It operates exactly the same as way the triangular Xponent lantern you reviewed.

We use this lantern for car camping and mainly as an emergency home lantern. With lithium batteries, which I keep in the lantern for long term storage reasons, it would be OK for a winter camp situation where a pulk is used to haul equipment.

All things considered, especially the use of AA batteries, I feel this "other Exponent" LED lantern, with its high lumen, low drain CREE bulb, is a good choice for non backpacking use. NOW... if Coleman would incorporate a true regulated circuitry it would be a great lantern, not just merely very good. For that true regulated circuitry I'd pay another U.S. $15.

Eric

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Another Coleman CREE LED lantern to consider on 05/31/2008 16:03:41 MDT Print View

> We use this lantern for car camping and mainly as an emergency home lantern.
It makes an excellent emergency light for home! I couldn't agree more. An ideal application for it.

Cheers

Michael Gardner
(ekim765) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: Brunton Flashlight/Lantern Reviews on 05/31/2008 21:23:15 MDT Print View

I have a River Rock LED Lantern that I bought at Target about a month ago because my couriousity got the best of me. If I remember correctly it costs under $10.00. It weighs an even once on my scale with the included snap-swivel clip and its two 3V coin batteries. It has two modes: "ON" and "STROBE". I've found the light output is pretty ineffective beyond 6-8 ft. and has a large blind spot directly under it. It would be okay for use as a tent or shelter light, but as far as lighting a work area for tasks or nightly chores, I personally give it a thumbs down. IMHO, I think one might be better off with a LED head light or a Photon LED between your teeth. Its limitations as a "tent light" pretty much make it a uni-tasker.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Re: Brunton Flashlight/Lantern Reviews on 05/31/2008 22:03:18 MDT Print View

The river rock led lantern is fairly big and uses four AA batteries. What lantern are you speaking of?

Michael Gardner
(ekim765) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: Re: Re: Brunton Flashlight/Lantern Reviews on 05/31/2008 22:27:30 MDT Print View

Well, aparently not the same one :) The one I have is a wee little thing made by River Rock. It literally looks like a little lantern.

Nevermind then... carry on... as you were.

Edited by ekim765 on 05/31/2008 22:29:15 MDT.

Kyle Purcell
(dufus934) - F

Locale: North Texas
Re: Re: Coleman Pack-Away Lantern Spotlite Review on 06/02/2008 11:26:21 MDT Print View

I've got this light,and I'm not to ompressed. It (the brunton light) can function as both a flashlight and a lantern, but neither are very bright. A bit over priced for what you get.

Edited by dufus934 on 06/02/2008 11:27:20 MDT.

F. Thomas Matica
(ftm1776) - F

Locale: Vancouver, WA
My CMG "Lantern" on 06/09/2008 01:05:53 MDT Print View

I've been using a homemade "lantern". I use a small, 2 inch tall, translucent white pill bottle with the label removed. I heated the neck of the bottle and squeezed it narrower so that my CMG Infinity, single led, single AA battery light will just hold if inserted. It gives a very nice difuse light inside the tent and can still be easily removed from the neck of the bottle for outside Pee excursions. It can be hung or just laid on its side. If I feel a little claustrophobic, I just leave it on all night. The Infinity will burn for up to 40 hours with its single led. Too bad the little CMG Infinity is no longer made. Luckily, I saw the end coming and bought 3 of them. The led is suppose to last 10,000 hours! Let's hope that I do too ! ! ! !

John Kays
(johnk) - M

Locale: SoCal
DIY Lantern on 06/09/2008 10:59:29 MDT Print View

Thomas,

Thanks for the description of your homemade lantern. I am intrigued. Is it possible for you to post a photograph of your work. It might be something some of us (especially me) would like to duplicate if possible. Thanks,

John