Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Gear Closet: UCO Pika and Alki Lanterns

Lighting solutions for camping and backpacking excursions continue to become more sophisticated and useful. Gone are the days of fumbling around for a light, or dealing with finicky gas-powered lanterns. Today, we have a number of options available that use bright, efficient LED lights that are capable of illuminate a surprisingly large area, but are also small, compact, and easy to carry just about anywhere. Two such options are the Pika and Alki lights from UCO, a company that creates excellent products for use around the campsite.

Pika 3-in-1 Rechargeable Lantern
The Pika 3-in-1 Rechargeable Lantern is one of those items that you don't realize how useful it is until you start putting it to the test in the field. On the surface, it is a powerful little lantern that is capable of putting out as much as 150 lumens of light in a 50 meter (164 ft) radius. But that just the beginning. The Pika also has a collapsible hood that focuses the beam of light, converting the lantern into a flashlight instead. It also has a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that not only powers the lantern, but can be used to recharge small electronic devices – such as a smartphone – using a built-in standard USB port.

The inclusion of a rechargeable battery on the Pika means that you'll never have to worry about buying batteries for this light. You will have to charge it up from time to time, either before you set out on your camping trip, or along the way via an external battery pack, solar panel, or other method. The Pika's battery is rated to hold a charge of 1800 mAh, which is enough to power it for 80 hours on its lowest setting (8 lumens), or 4 hours on its highest output. The fact that it can transfer some of that charge to another device is a nice touch, but with a battery of this size a modern smartphone will pretty much eat up all of the power if it is near empty itself. Still, it is a nice option to have in a pinch.

I'm impressed with how small and lightweight, yet powerful, this light truly is. This is one of those pieces of gear that you can toss in your backpack without hesitation. Not only will it not add much weight to you bag, it is so useful you'll want to have it with you no matter where you go. And since it costs just $29.99, it is easy to justify picking up more than one to have around the house in case of an emergency.

Alki Lantern + Flashlight
UCO offers another lantern that shares similar functionality to the Pika, but has an identity all of its own. The Alki Lantern + Flashlight is also capable of generating 150 lumens of light on its highest setting, with a burn time of up to 5 hours. On its medium level the lamp produces 65 lumens for 15 hours, and on low it provides 5 lumens of light for an impressive 130 hours.

Like the Pika, the Alki can convert to a flashlight as needed, but it does lack its sibling's built-in USB port for charging other devices. It also lacks a rechargeable battery, but instead uses 3 AAA batteries to power the device instead. It does, however, come with an integrated shock cord for mounting on a tree branch, tent pole, guy line, or just about any other item you might have close at hand.

While I missed the rechargeable battery on the Pika, there are some who will probably prefer the Alki's ability to swap out batteries as needed. Carrying an extra set or two of batteries is sometimes a more viable option than finding ways to recharge a device in the field. And since the Alki can coax solid battery life out of those AAA's that it uses, chances are you'll be able to make it safely through a backpacking trip without fear of running out of juice.

The Alki comes with a smaller price tag too. It sells for $19.99, making it a very affordable choice for hikers, campers, and backpackers as well.

Both models are made from durable, lightweight plastics, and are water resistant, something that we can all appreciate when the weather takes a turn for the worse. If you're in need of a lighting solution for your travels, both the Pika and Alki are great choices to have in your pack.

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