A Guide to Camping Lanterns

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When buying a lantern specifically for camping, there are many different choices available to you.

The main difference between most lanterns is the way they’re powered (although this goes on to affect their size/weight/light output).

Lanterns can be battery operated, solar powered, wind up or powered by gas or liquid fuel. As well as these types, conventional candle lanterns are also available, and these work well in an emergency.

We’ll take a look at the different types of camping lanterns that are out there and the pros and cons of each.

Battery Powered Lanterns

Battery powered lanterns are simple, easy to use and extremely safe (as there is no flame), making them the preferred choice for many people.

Battery Powered LanternHow easy are they to use? Instead of having to light a flame, turn on a gas switch or wind them up, all you usually have to do is press a button to turn them on!

There are essentially two types of battery operated lanterns – fluorescent tube lanterns and LED lanterns.

LED lanterns are great as they can often last for over 50 hours, whereas fluorescent tube lanterns will last for considerably less time.

If you’re considering buying a battery powered lantern, be sure to note the ‘burn time’ and the ‘lumens’ before buying.

‘Burn time’ refers to how long the lantern will last (on a standard set of batteries) and ‘lumens’ refers to how bright the lantern will be. Generally, the higher the lumens are, the lower the burn time will be.

The main disadvantage of using battery powered lanterns is that you have to be constantly wary of the batteries going flat (which means it’s a good idea to take spare batteries with you).

One potential option would be to buy rechargeable batteries and to charge them up before every trip (so you know you’re starting the trip with a set of fully charged batteries). If you plan on using your lantern a lot, using rechargeable batteries should also save you a lot of money in the long run, as you won’t have to keep buying new batteries or fuel.

The other downside of using batteries as a power source is that they can be affected by cold weather. If the temperature is particularly cold, batteries won’t last as long and will discharge more quickly (think about how car batteries can struggle on cold mornings).

If you’re planning on camping in particularly cold weather conditions, you’re much better of using a liquid fuel lantern instead.

Wind Up Lanterns/Solar Powered Lanterns

I have included wind-up lanterns and solar powered lanterns in the same category because they are very similar in the way that they require no external fuel source.

Solar Powered LanternAlthough you might count sunlight or kinetic energy as a fuel source, neither of those will take up space in your backpack (in the way that a gas canister or a set of batteries would).

The second reason I have included them in the same category is because some lanterns can run on solar power and can also be wound up.

For example, in the day time it’ll run off the solar panel, then it’ll have a handle you can crank at night time to keep it powered when the sun is down.

The advantages of wind up and solar powered lanterns are obvious: They won’t run out of fuel or batteries, you don’t need to bring any replacement fuel/batteries along with you (meaning your bag will be lighter) and they’re environmentally friendly.

The main disadvantage of wind up and solar camping lanterns is that they aren’t very bright, and that a lot of winding will generally only produce a small amount of light.

Gas Canister Lanterns

Gas lanterns are very popular among campers, as they provide a very high light output (i.e. they’re brighter than most other kinds of camping lanterns).

Gas powered LanternGas canister lanterns are fairly easy to setup and use (compared to liquid fuel lanterns, at least). Attaching the gas canister usually just consists of screwing it on, for example.

Another benefit of using a gas powered lantern is that if you’re also taking a gas powered camping stove with you, the two should be able to run off of the same fuel, therefore minimizing the amount of fuel canisters you’ll need to take with you.

They typically use either propane, butane or isobutane gas, so be sure to pay attention to this when buying.

One disadvantage of using gas powered lanterns is that they don’t perform well in temperatures below freezing (especially when compared to liquid fuel lanterns).

Also, if you’re going camping with small children, you’ll need to keep them away from these lanterns as they can get very hot and because they’re a potential fire hazard.

Liquid Fuel Lanterns

Liquid fuel lanterns can be fueled by either kerosene or unleaded fuel. Coleman also have their own brand of fuel that can be used with their brand of lanterns.

Liquid-Fuel-Lanterns-300x236The main advantage of liquid fuel lanterns is that they work great in any weather condition, making them perfect for the more hardcore campers/mountaineers who don’t mind braving the cold.

Although these camping lanterns aren’t as bright as gas canister lanterns, they are far more efficient (meaning they can last longer), and replacement fuel is cheaper to buy.

The main disadvantages of liquid fuel lanterns are that they can be difficult to set up and refill and you need to let them cool down for a while before you refill them (which can be a real hassle during the middle of the night).

Just like gas canister flames, they also produce a flame, making them a potential fire hazard and dangerous around young children. These kinds of lanterns are actually outlawed from some campsites such is their danger if used incorrectly.

Camping Candle Lanterns

Candle lanterns are essentially a candle inside an protective enclosure (to prevent it being blown out by the wind), and are one of the cheapest kinds of lanterns on the market.

Camping-candle-lantern-300x300Although camping candle lanterns don’t have the same light output as battery operated lanterns or gas powered lanterns, their main benefit is that they’re extremely lightweight, as you only need to carry the lantern itself, some candles and a means of lighting the candles.

Other lanterns may require you to carry fuel canisters, batteries and spare light bulbs – some of which can take up considerable space in your backpack and weigh a great deal.

Whenever purchasing a camping lantern, the most important thing to take into account is safety. Lanterns with an open flame (particularly gas powered lanterns), should be treated with care, and should not be used in flammable areas (such as inside your tent).


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