Talk about practical travel gear: this UCO Arka gadget is a flashlight, a lantern, a charger for your gadgets—all rolled into a water-resistant package that collapses down to fit into a corner of your bag.
I’ve annoyed a few PR people over the years who were pitching camping lanterns or flashlights they thought this travel gear blog should review: I passed because they used throwaway batteries. Sure, it’s possible to charge C or D batteries if you have the right kind of big, bulky charger. But who’s going to carry that along on even a car camping trip? Hardly anyone, so people just buy disposable acid batteries that will be chucked into a landfill probably.
In this day and age, that just seems barbaric.
This device charges up by USB, so you can plug into a laptop, into a wall outlet with the included adapter, or into a solar charger like the ones we’ve reviewed from Goal Zero or Bruton. Or some portable charger you’ve carried along like the Innergie, Digital Foci, or Eton travel chargers we’ve checked out. But the current can also flow the other way, this light itself serving as a charger if needed.
If you’re into stats, here are the ones that matter. This UCO Arka lantern weighs less than half a pound (213 grams) and its light output is 180 lumens. The charging output is 3.7 volts, 4AH. That should be enough to fully charge your dead smart phone. As for how long the light will stay lit when fully charged, the official promise is 6-8 hours on high. In my tests though, it went for more than eight hours on full blast. So figure you’d be good for a weekend camping trip without needing a recharge: on low mode it’s supposed to last 50 hours. It juiced back up again in about two hours from my laptop, a tad less from a solar panel charger in full sun.
There’s just one button on the top of this flashlight/lantern and it cycles through the various modes. You can use it as a flashlight or lantern in low or high, of course, or you can go in red lantern mode, flashing or steady on. The really cool thing is that button is also a dimmer. Hold it down and dim it or do it again and make it brighter, to the exact level you want.
The designers didn’t take the easy way out on this product. They even built little extendable feet into the base of it that fold out when using it as a lantern, fold back when a flashlight. And you pop it down to half its height when it’s time to use it as a flashlight or just pack it away to get a move on during daylight hours. There’s also a ring on top for hanging it in a tent or on a branch.
My only real complaint about this Arka lantern is the way it is packaged. For something so eco-friendly, the packaging is atrocious: lots of Chinese plastic that requires judicious cutting and can’t be recycled. It took longer to free the lantern from its bondage than it did to figure out how to use it.