Saturday, November 1, 2014

R-Pal Latern Review

Most of the reviews I write are for things that are nice to have, but aren't exactly necessities.  And while a lantern is not a necessity in the same way air, food, and water are, it is pretty darn useful to have in the event of power outage. So instead of "This Week in Pocket Frosting..." as I have been accused of writing, enjoy something closer to a PSA. 

I am not used to reviewing laterns, but it is not because of lack of experience. Battery powered lanterns, as a product group, have only really come in to their own when the advent of modern LEDs. The old giant beasts with dim lights and huge square batteries were awful.  When I was a kid we had one and it stunk.

Flashforward 30 years (boy, that makes me sound old) and I am still using a latern.  This time it was one of the two illumination devices to let me and my wife sneak in and out of my infant son's room when he was sleeping.  It was a 4xAA Coleman that collapsed on itself.  We had had it forever, purchasing it after a major icestorm knocked out power for a few days.  It worked, but it was as durable as an origami duck.  And then there were the many rechargeable lanterns that came in my three different combo tool kits.  They were the phony tool that let Hitachi or Dewalt claim that they were selling a four piece kit (you know, the batter charger, the drill, the circular saw, and the lantern).  And despite the fact that I got one from Hitachi AND Bosch, both failed.  

Lanterns, as a genre of flashlights, just seemed like they couldn't get out of their own way. They  broke, they provided shitty, heavily artifacted light, and they didn't last.  They were the bastard child of the flashlight world (much like crank charging lights...when is someone going to make a decent one of those?).  Then I got contacted by the guys at R-Pal.  I did some research and their lantern looked...well actually good.  Real emitters, great power supply, substantial design, but a lot of lanterns look good on paper or the shelves of REI and turn out to be horrid.  So I  asked for a review sample and it came. I took the lantern on a few overnight trips into the woods and on a hiking vacation.  Its really....awesome.

Here is the product page.  The R-Pal is $129.95 without an 18650 battery.  The combo kit with a charger, the light, and two 18650s is the better deal at $164.95.  This is the first written review of the R-Pal Lantern, though it was covered by the shill sites.  Here is the Latern itself (the review sample was sent by R-Pal and has already been returned):

P1040205

You can purchase the R-Pal Lantern through this link (all purchases benefit the site):



Twitter Review Summary:  Best lantern on the market.  Not even close. 

NOTE: Because of how different lanterns are from flashlights I am not using a scoring system for this review.  If other lanterns attract my attention I might develop one, but as it is, this will be an unscored review.

The R-Pal is pretty simple--there are two switches, seen above.  The top switch increases the lumens and the bottom switch decreases them.  There is also an on/off button around the other side of the lantern.  The top of the light screws off and the 18650 drops in down the center of the unit.  There are no reflectors, as you can see, but there are three LED arrays.  The arrays are protected by a clear thick piece of what I think is polycarbonate.  It is not fixed in place, but once the top is screwed down it is held very securely and with o-rings.  There are o-rings all over this thing and the light, though made of plastic, is tough, putting me in the mind of a Surefire G2X Pro.  At the top of the light is a small steel bail and the bail has a nail knick in it to make it easier to lift it up.  The bail attaches via a threaded post which in turn fits into a universal attachment point (like the ones found on the bottom of cameras for tripod attachment).  The entire unit is very light, even with the battery.

Runtimes are good with something like 300 hours on low and significantly less, around an hour, on high.  Low is 2.9 lumens and high is 300 lumens.  The light has mode memory and an auto shutoff mode.  Overall the tint was good.  The light produced was a neutral light (listed at 3000K) and the CRI is listed around 80.  The artifacts were not awful, significantly better than the average lantern, but not as good as a flashlight (the lack of a reflector and the construction of a lantern always gives rise to artifacts).  Here is the light in a real world setting:

P1040332
 
300 lumens is a ton of light, more than enough to illuminate a camp site, like the one above with my Dad and son.  At 2.9 lumens it is a great way to get to the bathroom or find an honest man.  

My original review sample had a switching problem, but given that it was a prototype of sorts, I was more forgiving than I would be if had been a production unit.  The second unit I received was a production unit and it was bulletproof.  There are all sorts of touches that tell you this is a quality tool--the universal attachment points, the nail knick on the bail, and the dead simple UI with perfect level spacing (it is logarithmic spacing so the levels make a difference and are noticeable to the naked eye).   

Overall the R-Pal was a superb device and something that will be added to my array of lights soon.  I am not sure how much more of a review you need, because that says a good deal about the product.  I have a collection of lights that is, really, embarrassingly well-stocked, but even with some of the finest designs ever made, the R-Pal fills a role nothing else does.  It is light years ahead of the lanterns you find at Wal-Mart or Calebas.  Some of the specialty stores, like REI, have decent lanterns, but they are nothing like the R-Pal.  Its basically like comparing a Fenix to the HDS Rotary--that is the gap in quality and performance. 

The R-Pal may not be EDC strictly speaking, but it is something that you need to own if you have a house or like to go camping. Its light enough, tough enough, and small enough that you can throw it anywhere and it will be useful.  The battery choice is a bit flashoholic, but if you already have 18650 capacity (charger and battery) it is super awesome to have one around in case of an emergency or to tie on to a branch or in a tent for light.  This isn't so much a fun gadget as it is a necessary bit of kit for your emergency bag.  With a charged 18650 it will likely get you through most storm related power outages.

If you like lights, being prepared (but aren't fully committed to going "Doomsday Prepper" weird), going camping or...well...seeing things in the dark, you should probably have an R-Pal hanging around.  This isn't just for flashlight nerds, this is light most people should have, if you can deal with the battery choice.   

Now if someone could just make a decent crank light. R-Pal?

7 comments:

  1. I'm gonna be honest here...first time you posted something on the R-Pal, I thought it was made out of PVC pipe fittings.

    That said, I may be giving away a few this Christmas...

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  2. Since you are talking about crank lights I assume that sustainability products might be important to some people. It is too bad more people in the uber gear community do not tout the benefits of innovative ( i.e. cool ) products like these. Of course, performance is an issue in the uber gear community but we have to start from somewhere.

    http://www.amazon.com/Green-House-Powered-emergency-GH-LED10WBW/dp/B009588582

    http://deciwatt.org/

    http://www.shake-flashlights.com/

    OBTW, is there ever going to be reviews of multi-fuel portable collapsible stoves? Just curious.

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  3. Thx for the review Tony! I've been considering buying one since the company owner solicited comments for this design on CPF around a year ago.

    On rare occasions I might have need for this kind of product, but haven't been able to justify the cost since most tail standing, P60 type lights w/a diffuser, using 18650s seem to work just as well, or perhaps even better, since the diffused light is generally more pleasing than the stark, no-reflector "mule" type R-Pal beam.

    I would personally be more interested in the R-Pal if a version was available where the polycarbonate covering the emitter(s) was frosted or diffused in some way.

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  4. The cool thing is the lantern does look a lightsaber though.

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  5. Great review of an interesting product. I had forgotten about lanterns. My dad has a Coleman that's powered by some 9-volts (I think?) with two halogen tubes. It's awful.

    I remember the sliding/collapsible Eveready ones from the 90's - the round one that took 4xAA's and the HUGE square one that took one of those massive square batteries you talk about. Both really poorly built. Funny how nowadays we take for granted that a light will just turn on and off when you want!

    I would suggest a few more pictures in these reviews, personally. But I liked it quite a bit. Thanks!

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  6. I've read elsewhere that this light uses PWM for the dimmer settings. Is the frequency high enough that it's not noticeable/annoying? I generally prefer current limiting as is done in HDS, Surefire, and Zebralight torches. Plus they seem to be more efficient when it comes to runtimes at lower outputs. Should I let something like PWM keep me from purchasing this otherwise seemingly excellent lantern?

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