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How to Choose the Right Lantern for Your Campsite Needs

Posted by 
May 30, 2014
4666   Comment


Lanterns have long served as mankind's primary light source. Early versions used candles for illumination. Others were fueled by animal or seed LanternBuyingGuide HEADERoil. In the mid-1800s, kerosene came into wide use as lantern fuel.

The 20th century brought new innovations in lantern design, including the popular Coleman lantern introduced in 1914 and still widely used today.

In the 21st century, there are even more lantern choices for campers and others who need a light source. Here are the primary types now used, and some pros and cons of each.   

Liquid Fuel Lanterns   

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The convenience of using disposable, screw-on propane cylinders had made these more popular than liquid fueled lanterns.

Liquid fuel lanterns run on naptha, better known as white gas or Coleman liquid camp fuel. Some are now available in dual fuel models that run either on white gas or unleaded gasoline like that you use in your car.

Liquid fuel lanterns produce very bright light, although some are adjustable and can be turned down to a low setting. The biggest downside is the fact they are for outdoor use only due to the heat and vapors produced. You shouldn't use them in a tent or building. You also must use great care in pouring fuel from a storage can into the lantern's small gas tank. The lantern must then be pumped up via a thumb pump to pressurize the tank, and the tank may have to be repressurized periodically by pumping to maintain brightness. 

Propane Lanterns  

Propane lanterns typically run on 16.4-ounce disposable propane cylinders. The cylinders attach to the lantern by simply threading them onto a fitting. A plastic base then snaps on the bottom of the cylinder to provide a stable base.  

The convenience of using disposable, screw-on cylinders has made propane models more popular than liquid fuel lanterns. There's no need to pour fuel, no spillage possibility, and no need to pump.

Propane lanterns also can be purchased with an electronic ignition option, meaning no matches are required to light the lantern. This popular feature is unavailable on most liquid fuel lanterns.  

Like liquid fuel lanterns, propane lanterns are intended only for outside use, but propane models are comparatively less expensive to purchase (comparing two-mantle standard to two-mantle standard). Liquid fuel lanterns are less expensive to operate, although both types are inexpensive to run on a per hour basis. Both have similar run times, about seven hours on high per tank of fuel, or about 14 hours on low. Propane lanterns have a more consistent brightness because of pressure regulators. They don't have to be repressurized, or pumped up, like liquid fuel models.  


Both liquid fuel and propane lantern types use mantles — small, fabric bags that attach to the burners and produce illumination. Single and double mantle models are available. Double-mantle models are brighter and but more expensive.  

Clip-on mantles are now available, but old-fashioned tie-on mantles are still used as well. Although today's mantles are considerably stronger and more durable, and have been engineered to produce a whiter light, they are still a lantern's most fragile component. Always care spares.  

Battery Lanterns  

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Non-gas lanterns can be used inside tents and can be very compact.

Battery lanterns come in many varieties and are the best type of lanterns to use in tents or indoors. They also are useful outside and are the best choice for kids to handle. Unfortunately, battery lanterns are not nearly as bright as fuel lanterns.  

Most battery lanterns use primary cell batteries (D-cells, C-cells or 9-volts). These must be replaced when they are discharged, although one also has the option of buying rechargeable batteries and a recharger. Spare new batteries should be carried on any trip longer than one night. 

Battery lanterns come in many styles, from those resembling classic Coleman lanterns to contemporary styles and colors. Coleman offers one model that features a remote switch, allowing the lantern to be turned on, off and changed to one of its three brightness settings from a distance of up to 50 feet away. It has a built-in nightlight that will run for 100 hours.

Coleman's CPX 6 Signature Series Duo LED Lantern is two lanterns in one, with two removable stand-up sections that snap into and out of the base section. Streamlight's Siege 3D LED Lantern has three brightness settings, a flash SOS setting and one red LED for better night vision. Check other models for special features, too. 

Rechargeable Lanterns  

Rechargeable lanterns also are available. These have built-in batteries that can be recharged when they run low, don't have to buy new batteries. Run times vary considerably, but some models will provide illumination approximately as long as primary cell battery-powered lanterns.   

Some models can only be recharged with a 110-volt household current, limiting their use afield. Others incorporate 12-volt recharging cords so they can be plugged into a vehicle's cigarette lighter or power plug.  

To choose the best rechargeable for your needs, read the package carefully for manufacturer's specifications.


The type of bulb used by your lantern is another thing to consider. Lanterns that incorporate classic bulbs provide brighter illumination but have significant battery consumption. Lanterns that use LED technology provide lower illumination but use far less energy than traditional bulbs and last much longer. (LED lamps can burn more than 100 000 hours.) Combined lanterns (bulb and LED) provide the best of both worlds. You can adjust the brightness and thus energy consumption level of your lantern. 

In the end, you should consider all the pros and cons of each type of lantern before deciding which is best for you. Fortunately, there are many different models from which to choose, and one of them is sure to be just right for your needs.


Tagged under Read 4666 times Last modified on September 27, 2017
Keith Sutton

With a resume listing more than 3,500 magazine, newspaper and website articles about fishing, hunting, wildlife and conservation, Keith Sutton of Alexander, Ark., has established a reputation as one of the country’s best-known outdoor writers. In 2011, Sutton, who has authored 12 books, was inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as a “Legendary Communicator.” Visit his website at

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