A Camper’s Guide To The Camping Lantern

When it comes to camping lanterns, this is what every camper needs to know.

I have been camping outdoors since I was a kid. We used Coleman lanterns in the camp site and when going fishing on the lake. As an adult, I used Coleman lanterns as a safe and reliable source of light AND HEAT when the electric grid went offline for several weeks.

Most recently, I rode out hurricanes Katrina, RIta and Ike. In each case, a camping lantern provided much needed light and comfort when everything else failed.

The camping lantern is an often overlooked source of light and heat and comfort. So you must be careful not to overlook the importance of selecting a proper camping lantern before your next camping trip.

Whether you choose a kerosene or propane lantern, or opt for an electric lantern, you need to understand the function, advantages and disadvantages of this important piece of camping gear.

This Is What I Use

Coleman Premium Dual Fuel Lantern
Coleman Premium Dual Fuel Lantern

I currently maintain three of these bad boys. I generally use Coleman Fuel in two of them and keep a third one as a spare. If a mantle breaks, I simply fire up the spare and change the mantles in the morning.


Kerosene Camping Lanterns

Most people are familiar with the traditional kerosene lantern, especially the venerable Coleman outdoor lanterns, which are still produced today.

Specifically, the kerosene, or multifuel lantern, has a reservoir to hold liquid fuel that is fed via air pressure into a mantle where it burns brightly until the wick is broken or the fuel supply or air is exhausted.

The advantage of the multifuel camping lantern is that it burns a multitude of readily available fuel very efficiently. Unfortunately, because they use liquid fuel and produce a lot of heat, multifuel camping lanterns are highly flammable and dangerous. Once the lantern runs out of fuel, it needs to cool for a significant amount of time before safe refueling is possible.

If you want a safer alternative and do not care about the heat, then you might want to consider a propane lantern.

I Keep One Of These On Hand

Coleman Deluxe PerfectFlow Lantern
Coleman Deluxe PerfectFlow Lantern

I prefer the Coleman Dual Fuel Lanterns, but I keep one of these on hand. It is very convenient and uses the same propane cartridges as my Coleman stove. You can also get an attachment to connect it to a 5lb propane tank. See below.


Propane Camping Lanterns

Propane lanterns work in in much the same way as kerosene camping lanterns, except that the fuel is supplied by a propane cylinder that is inserted into the bottom of the lantern.  This provides a safer alternative to using a flammable liquid for fuel.

However, the fuel cylinders, while convenient, are also expensive and do not last all that long. One alternative is to fasten the camping lantern to a larger 5 gallon propane bottle so that propane is said continuously to the latter over a long period of time. Coleman makes camping accessories for just such a purpose.  

The biggest disadvantage to using a propane camping lantern is heat. Therefore, propane (and kerosene) camping lanterns are generally unsuitable for use indoors during a hurricane or other natural disaster.  

Where heat is an issue, you should really consider an electric camping lantern.

Electric Camping Lanterns

Many campers are not aware that electric camping lights are cheap, efficient, and very safe.

Most importantly, electric lanterns do not give off large amounts of heat. This makes them ideal for indoor use or during a natural disaster where light is needed but not heat.

The disadvantages of the electric camping light are similar to those of the propane lantern in that you will need to stock extra batteries. In addition, the electric camping lanterns are not as efficient as the kerosene lanterns. For some, the advantages greatly outweigh these disadvantages.

Camping Lantern Selection Need Not Be That Difficult

Now that you know a little more about camping lanterns, you can approach camping in a whole “new light.”

Select a kerosene lantern where heat is not an issue but you need a good source of efficient light for a long period of time. Propane offers a safer alternative to kerosene if you are willing to stock extra cylinders or have access to a large propane tank.

Finally, if heat is an issue, you would be best served by an electric camping lantern. Be sure to bring extra batteries.

So, the next time you’re packing for a camping trip, grab your tent, stove, bug spray and a camping lantern that is most suitable for your purposes.

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Comments 2 comments

twman987 profile image

twman987 6 years ago

Camping just isn't camping without the constant hum of a gas burning lantern while you are playing poker after a campfire dinner!

MRSPOK 5 years ago

You cant beat the fuel lanterns for light output, but the electric LED lights are safer and more easy to use.

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