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.
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.
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.
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?
|Year/Model||2008 - Pack-Away Lantern|
|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|
- Very robust
- 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