The Best Lighting Setups for Your Campsite

Oct 10, 2022 | Gear & Tech

The Best Lighting Setups for Your Campsite

Easy ways to brighten your mood and transform your campsite into a safe, cozy, and inviting oasis.

By Karuna Eberl & Steve Alberts

Photo: Karuna & Steve Alberts

Most campers use lighting for utility, whether that means using a humble headlamp or a full-out flood light. But it can also be used for ambiance.

Camping is all about simplifying and getting back to basics, but a couple of well-placed lights can do a lot to positively influence your mood. So whether your preferred vibe is bright lights or the warmth of candlelit spaces, here’s a little illumination on how to upgrade your campsite lighting—and uplift your spirits.

Related How to Create Your Own Budget-Friendly Glamping Experience

A Lesson on Light Temperature and Hardness

The color spectrum (temperature) of your light and how much it’s diffused make a big difference with ambiance. Warm, diffused lighting creates less harsh angles and feels more comforting, evoking feelings of ease and joy. Unfortunately, most stock RV lighting is on the cooler side.

Without delving too deep into technical light information, just remember a couple of numbers: 2700K is the upper limit of warm lighting, and 3000K is the beginning of stark, bright, cold light. The lower the number, the warmer the light. Depending on your bulbs, you may be able to swap out the brighter “cold” ones for warmer ones closer to the 2700K range.

the interior of a campervan with a bed and multicolor string lights
Photo: Steve Alberts

Types of Accessory Lighting for Camping

Instead of swapping out your bulbs, you can turn them off and set up supplemental lights. You can use a combination of the following outside and inside.

String Lights

Use a set of colored string lights and a warm-white rope light, like these inexpensive ones, around the ceiling of your rig as mood lighting. Outside, hang larger solar-powered patio lights, which are bright enough to cook by and still warm enough to evoke relaxation. For those with a space crunch, these Luci solar string lights are nice and compact.

Lanterns

You can use solar-powered inflatable lights, like Luci’s Color Essence, which switch through a range of colors to match your mood. There’s also UCO’s candle lanterns (yes, those are real candles).

Side view of a van awning strung with lights. Two camp chairs and a rug are set up as the sun sets.
Photo: Karuna & Steve Alberts

Accent Lights

LED lights that flicker like candles set a nice tone around camp, though they occasionally freak out camp hosts when fire danger is high because they look so convincing. Try placing one or two on the table, then perching others here and there around camp. 

For safety, you can use them as walkway lighting and near steps, along with lighted tent stake markers. Faux-candle-flicker accent lights come in many shapes, from tea lights to luminaries, but these inflatable solar-powered ones from Luci are popular. 

Sky’s the Limit

There are many other ways to cheer up a campsite with light, like LED tiki torches, DIY glass jars with wire lights inside, mini-flashlight lanterns, and even electric and propane fire pits. Whatever you choose, an added benefit is that you’re likely to end up spending more time outside, enjoying the atmosphere.

Related How to Choose a Portable Fire Pit for Your RV

Close up of an inflatable solar light sitting on a rock.
Photo: Karuna & Steve Alberts

Lighting Power Sources

Many of these lights are solar-powered, which makes them relatively hassle-free. But if you’re running plug-in lights, make sure to go LED, so they don’t put an extra drain on your battery. And if you are ecologically and budget-minded, USB-chargeable batteries work well in flashlights and battery-powered lanterns, plus they give great savings over disposable batteries.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Remember that light pollution in campgrounds is extremely annoying to other campers, and can even be damaging to wildlife and plants. So point those bright lights in a downward direction, and turn off all lights when you go to bed.

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Karuna Eberl & Steve Alberts

Karuna and Steve write about and photograph wildlife, sustainability, nature, history, and travel for magazines, newspapers and websites. Their most recent work, about a Zuni conservation crew at Bears Ears, can be found on the cover of National Parks magazine. They also co-wrote an award-winning guidebook to the Florida Keys and are currently completely renovating an abandoned house in a ghost town.

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