One of the great benefits of camping is taking a break from all the bright lights at night. We usually seek out a place that’s far from town, which also means less light pollution and more starlight. Putting distance between us and glaring lights is one of the elements that allows us to relax and unwind in nature.
As camping shelters have advanced from a modest canvas tent with flaps for doors to a mini home on wheels, so has the lighting we take into the campground.
We used to be satisfied with the light from a campfire and flashlights. Then came lanterns. Those fussy propane lanterns with a mantle and the little pump to keep it going. Once campgrounds outfitted sites with electricity, our love affair with artificial light at night followed us.
Various forms of lanterns have been used by humans for hundreds upon hundreds of years. But lanterns for camping transformed the way we slept in the woods in 1900 when W.C. Coleman invented the first portable, gas-powered lantern. Over the last 120 years, lighting technology has broadened the variety of lanterns available. If you don’t want the inconvenience of a gas lamp with consumable mantles, you can opt for the ultra-modern LED lantern with batteries or a solar cell on top.
There’s no doubt that lanterns make camping easier. Eating, getting ready for bed, and trips to the restroom are easier when you have portable illumination.
But there are things that should be considered. If you’ve ever sat near a lantern in a campground, you may remember all the moths that gathered. We’ve come to expect and accept this activity by our nocturnal pollinators, but we rarely think of the consequences for these fuzzy-bodied creatures.
When moths are drawn to artificial light, they can fly until they die from exhaustion. Instead of looking for food to fuel their little bodies, they expand massive amounts of energy. Gathering around a light also makes them easy prey for predators who love to take advantage of an easy meal.
Consider dimming the light you use and limiting it to only when you really need it. Another step that can deter the attraction of moths is wrapping your lantern with a red or amber-colored film. This helps to protect our vital nocturnal pollinators.
ROPE LIGHTS & OTHER DECORATIVE LIGHTS
Glamping has grown in popularity over the last decade or more. With the increase of “glamour camping” has come new items on the packing list. These often include accessory lighting, such as bright rope lights, a string of twinkly lights, or a string of bright LED lights, often with circus-like round bulbs. These bring the comfortable feeling of your own backyard into the campground.
While these lights certainly add usable light to your camping space, they truly are just accessories. They can light up a much wider area and push the darkness of the campground back much farther. In many cases, they send light right into the space of nearby campers who may not want all that light.
These lights are often elevated, too, which makes stargazing even more difficult. They also have an impact on the nocturnal wildlife and disrupt fragile nighttime ecosystems near your camping space.
I know they’re pretty, but they do so much to ruin the ambiance of the night, our connection to nature at night, and our ability to enjoy the night sky. Consider using them inside your tent or RV, or leave them at home and enjoy them on your patio instead.
INTERIOR RV LIGHTS
Whether you have a small RV that just gets you out of the elements and gives you an indoor cooking space, or you have a modern mini house on wheels, an RV allows you to bring more of the comforts of indoor living into the campground. Many retirees have created an exciting RV lifestyle for part of the year, allowing them to see more of our beautiful country.
Many people don’t think about how much light can spill out of the windows of an RV when the curtains are open at night. It certainly adds more light to your outdoor area, but it also adds more light to the people nearby who might not appreciate it. It also makes stargazing difficult.
By all means, enjoy your creature comforts in your RV. But consider closing all the shades before turning on the interior lights. Keep the light inside where you need and want it instead of sharing it with everyone else.
EXTERIOR RV LIGHTS
Like lanterns, exterior RV lights are a magnet for moths. They also are rarely shielded, which means they shine straight outward and into the eyes of anyone walking or camping nearby. Sometimes they’re much brighter than you’d expect.
Consider using your exterior RV lights only in the moments when you really need it for safely navigating steps or cleaning up the campsite before bed. You can also look for a way to shield it so that it can be enjoyed only by you in the spot you need to illuminate.
I recently saw an article that promoted 15 ways to illuminate the night at your campsite. While some of them were clever and could certainly add a soft and romantic glow, it made me wonder how much we miss when we focus on adding light. How much more we could enjoy our experience if we engage with the night sky and have fun identifying constellations or watching the moon instead? To do that, you need to take a break from all the artificial lights, both big and small. And in doing so, we can all be happy campers.