While many of us will opt for a headlamp when stumbling around our campsites, there is something to be said for the convenience and widely cast light of a lantern. However, no modern camper in their right mind is going to bring along an old-school, gas lantern that brings with it a lot of weight and bulk (unless your going for that retro experience, which is cool also). Today’s lanterns are smaller and more versatile than ever and the one we’re looking at today – the Princeton Tec Helix Backcountry rechargeable – is a badass little light that doesn’t just sit on a rock and cast its light.
The first thing that impressed me was the overall size of the Helix Backcountry. With its legs and globe fully extended and it stands at just 5.5 inches tall. The body of the lantern is made primarily from high-grade polymer and steel hinge screws at the leg pivots.
The globe feels as though it’s made from an opaque silicone with a central, open chamber and a helix pattern (go figure!) of fins radiating outward. Atop the globe is a metal ring for hanging the lantern when it is called for. The globe attaches to the base by way of three clips which hold things in place very well in normal use but also stay locked down when packed.
The base of the Princeton Tec Helix Backcountry rechargeable lantern sports four, foldable legs. The end of each of these legs has a small hook cut into it which allows the lamp to be hung by any of the legs from a nail, rope of the like without you having to become Macgyver. Underneath the base of the lantern we find the weather-sealed port for recharging – via micro usb – the Helix Backcountry. Also on the bottom – and something that I find hugely helpful – are a list of operational instructions for the lantern. Few things are more frustrating than forgetting how to use a specific function for a piece of gear right at the second you need it.
The light portion of the Helix Backcountry sits within the base of the lantern and is covered by a clear, hard plastic to protect its high-tech guts. Within those guts are two LED’s, one white and one red (we’ll get into this more below). But how do you turn this thing on? Well, rather than having a more tradition switch or dial, Princeton Tec opted for a touch-based swipe switch for the Helix Backcountry rechargeable. By using this switch in different ways, you can control on and off but also dimming, flashing and color of the light.
I have to say that the quality of the Princeton Tec Helix Backcountry rechargeable is very obvious with it just sitting in the hand. Yes, it’s plastic for the most part but they haven’t skimped on something that seems like it would wear out quickly. This is a well-designed, quality piece of gear that is meant to do it’s job well and to do it for a long time.
As I mentioned above, the diminutive size of the Princeton Tec Helix Backcountry rechargeable is a huge selling point. At 5.5 inches tall when at its tallest height, this lantern packs down to just 2.5 inches tall when the globe is compressed and locked down. On top of that the weight is pretty impressive at 6.6 ounces (185 grams). Now, while there are certainly some ultralight weight weenies (I use that term with the utmost of respect) out there, even they will have a tough time denying that this is a small price to pay for light around the campsite, especially when it’s not just a solo trip.
Before I touch on the brightness of the light itself, here are a list of the functions (which again, are posted on the underside of the lantern base):
- swipe left to right – white light
- swipe right to left – red light
- center press (when lit) – dim
- swipe x 2 (in either direction) – medium
- swipe x 3 (in either direction) – flash
But what’s the light like? Well, the globe serves to diffuse the light making for the widest cast. At it’s brightest, the Helix Backcountry puts out 150 lumens which can be summed as low as 30 lumens. By my estimates (and by estimates, I mean me trying to measure the useable light with a tape measure in the dark) the light reaches roughly 26 feet away before it becomes too dim to be practical. To be honest, if you’re sitting right beside the lantern and using it for something like a reading light, it’s almost too bright at times and the dimmer function comes in very handy.
At full power/brightness, the white light of the lantern will burn for 6 hours with about 18 hours of light on low. When the red light is being used, those number jump up a bit to 7 hours of light on high and 22 hours of light on low. I’m not sure about the battery life in flashing mode, but I’d assume that there would be an additional uptick in time.
I should add here that there isn’t a battery level indicator that I can find. Princeton Tech does say there’s one on the web page for the Princeton Tec Helix Backcountry rechargeable but I can’t find it. That would certainly be a welcome addition. Also, and this is something I’ve seen in some other lanterns out there, I’d love for there to be an output on the lantern for charging things like phones and GPS. YEs, I know this would diminish battery life, but for me it would be a welcome trade off – especially when combined with a solar panel to recharge the Helix Backcountry.
SETUP and USE
As you can probably guess there isn’t a whole lot in the way of “setup” with this lantern. You pretty much just take it out of the box and turn it on – maybe after an initial charge. So when I say “setup” I’m more referring to setting it up while using it.
In it’s most traditional and obvious form, you simply unfold the legs of the lantern and set it wherever you need. While a flat surface is probably most ideal, the legs allow the lantern to sit level even on surfaces that are less than ideal. Also, in this same setup, but with the legs folded up so they’re out of the way, the ring on top of the globe is a great way to hang the lantern wherever you may need it.
Then there’s the use of this lantern that comes with removing the globe. In this format, the Princeton Tec Helix Backcountry rechargeable acts as a great down-facing dome light for a tent (although I will admit that I prefer the more diffuse light with the globe on in my tent). Also with the globe off, the lantern can be stood up on two of its legs as an aim-able spotlight – for those rousing bouts of shadow-puppetry with the kiddos.
One final thing that I LOVE about using the Princeton Tec Helix Backcountry rechargeable lantern is that the globe actually glows in the dark. This means that when it’s lit, the phosphorescent globe is being “charged” and then, once the light is off you can still see where the light is. So, when you’ve had a couple too many fireside adult beverages and need to stumble to the bathroom tree, finding the light is easy.
The Princeton Tec Helix Backcountry rechargeable lantern is a seriously impressive piece of gear for me. It’s versatility and small size have made it an included piece of my gear list for camping, even when I’m trying to shave weight. Adding to the appeal of this light is its price tag which comes in at just $50 (though the non-rechargeable version is cheaper at about $23). The bang-for-your-buck factor is very high in this piece and for that price, if you’re looking for a lantern, it’s almost difficult not to buy it! If you are interested, definitely check out our partner links below since we may have found it for even less than it’s MSRP.