$14 on Ebay
No Lanterns at Your Walmart?
4 White Lanterns for $35, 12 for $80, Other Colors & Sizes
Dietz Cooker Lantern $35
Jupiter Lantern Amazon $48, Ebay $45
Reflector Oil Lamp at Lehmans $24.95
$20 for 33 feet of 1/2″ wick for Standard/Walmart Lanterns
5/8ths Wick for Cooker Lantern
7/8ths Wick for Glass Bottom Lanterns
I try to take nothing for granted. For some people it is probably a no brainer to have a couple hurricane kerosene lanterns on hand, and I’m sure a lot of you have at least one Coleman white gas lantern with mantles. But did you know that both of both of those will work with much more common fuels, and have you thought about whether you should store some extra wicks and mantles? How long does fuel last? How cheap can you get extra lanterns, and what is the best choice for fuel conservation? There are also some really good and cheap LED options for survival lighting these days as well. So for this week we take a opportunity to consider a few inexpensive approaches to light. There is a pretty good chance you will want to see at night once the lights go out. And you may feel confident that you have a plan for emergency lighting, but what will you do when the lights go out for good?
This article is way longer and has many more pictures than I planned, because like almost everything else that I thought I knew about survival, lighting is no so simple.
Before I get started on what I discovered with lanterns, which should be the meat and potatoes of your survival lighting, I’d like to turn you on to some really cool flashlight options. I already covered rechargeable batteries here at length, and as several commenters noted, all of the rechargeable batteries are sketchy in their long term reliability. I have also many times linked in this article to 12 volt LED bulbs to go with your solar generator systems, which I have also covered at length. Solar is great, but it is really high budget, and not everyone reading this column is on a high budget. I try to focus on minimums, and for lighting, say you get a leak in the middle of the night and you have to go outside to fix it, I found a cool $14 single LED flashlight connected to a 5000 mah battery pack and solar panel. As a backup phone charger it isn’t super, but as an emergency flashlight it works great. My kids use it as a bedtime reading flashight and they last for months without a recharge. It isn’t a lot of light, but it has fewer failure points than a flashlight and rechargeables, and it has a solar panel built in!
Just as an aside, for my own preparations I am concerned with relying on solar. That is why I decided to spend so much time with these lanterns, because I want to have light on those long winter nights, and without electricity at all, it isn’t going to be possible without a plan B. The problem with solar is that the active Solar Radiation Management programs in our skies have caused a 20-50% reduction in how much light reaches the planet. It is called Global Dimming,” and as I have said in my articles here before, I think that ultimately they are going to try to blot out the sun by busting underground volcanoes, worldwide. That would mean no solar, for a long time. I also have a wind turbine experiment I have been working on, but it seems that part of the weather modification fallout of late has also been Global Stilling, which is a reduction in the overall global wind speed. At this point I’m pulling my hair out of my head because without any electricity at all, communications will be challenging, and I want to know what the heck is going on out there.
At least for this article we can address the issue of light. Because regardless of how much power we’ll be able to get from the sun, electronics eventually fail. In my experience that is a hard lesson I have had to learn in life. Usually it isn’t that the components themselves fail. It is that they drop, or get wet, or some part falls off that should not have done so. So from a survival standpoint, I think we should all plan to use our electronics first, and that includes lights. But at some point we should all have a plan B.
After the initial pandemonium, when a lot of people are going to die, I think that fossil fuels will be plentiful. All of the cars will have gasoline in them, and if you have the tools to use that gas to your benefit, it adds up to a lot of light and even heat (see my article on the H-45 stove). Diesel fuel is less common in a suburban neighborhood, but it is even more flexible and easier to use than gasoline. Home heating is interchangeable with diesel, and in the Northeast, most homes have 200 gallons or more on hand. Considering that in the 1800s there was enough commerce in the world to refine and transport fuel for lights and heat to all of the population centers in the US, my guess is that commerce will eventually come back to that point again. For light, as you’ll see from my experiments, a little fuel goes a long long long way, if you have the right tools.
The $7 Survival Lantern
What I don’t think is going to survive after the collapse is the manufacturing of cheap goods, and right now you can get a 100% top of the line hurricane lantern at Walmart for $7. It comes with an extra piece of wick and a fuel funnel. Then, if you buy enough wick ($20 for 33 feet), it will light your nights as long as you can get the fuel. I also bought some lanterns online under the name Dietz and V&O, and they are sold under a number of other brands, but they are for the most part the same. All made in Asia, most likely in the same factory with the same machines, and though the globe may look different and the height of the lantern may be different, they for the most part use the same burner, in one of a few different wick sizes. You can pay $30 for a hurricane lantern or you can pay $7 for a hurricane lantern. In my experience, the best of the lot is the Walmart lantern.
The same is true of the kerosene lanterns with the glass bases. There are a ton of used versions of these lanterns on Ebay, many of them dating back to the 1800s, but most of them come without chimneys, and the chimney is as expensive as a brand new complete oil lamp at Walmart. As you can see from the pictures, I used the Walmart lamps for my tests, because all of the burners seem to be the same. I also bought a few household type lamps new on Amazon at twice the Walmart price, but other than specialty types of holders, as a pure survival tool they all seem to be the same.
If your local Walmart doesn’t have these lanterns in the camping section, I have posted a link above to a seller on Ebay offering 4 of those same lanterns for $35, and 12 of them for $80. I linked to the white ones but they also come in red. These don’t appear to come with a fuel funnel, so you should get one to keep with your lanterns.
As you can see from the pictures, I got a few of the specialty Dietz lanterns. The cooking lantern is kind of nifty. It comes with a little cookset and the top is meant to come off and be replaced with a pot holder rack. It works great I cooked some powdered eggs and beans. I also tried a “Jupiter” lantern, which has a base that holds 4 cups of fuel. As I write this it has been burning it’s 7/8ths wick on high for about 65 hours, and it is still going strong. If you have an issue with being able to start fires, it would probably be a good tool to leave on low. I don’t know know about using it as a small heater. I am going to do a carbon monoxide article soon I hope. The lawyers have created an environment of fear, where everything has to have a warning label, but I’m curious just how much carbon monoxide is a concern with small flames.
The other lantern I tried is the Dietz railroad lantern. It’s funny because I didn’t realize that this lantern was created to duplicate a small flame that is used for signalling, not for seeing. The burner has higher lips, and I found that you can get a really bright flame out of it without a lot of smoke. The cup of fuel ran out much sooner, like 15 hours in, and the glass will have to be cleaned, but it was substantively more light, FYI.
Burning Gasoline and Diesel
There are essentially two types of lanterns that you should consider for survival. If you live in suburbia, or in a city, and you are willing to put away some fuel, I think that the regular cheap kerosene lamps above will be your best choice. They were originally made for kerosene, but will burn liquid paraffin just as well, which is the clear lamp oil you see in the stores, as well as the citronella versions. If you read stuff online it says that the liquid paraffin can’t be used with wicks more than 1/2 inch, but I burned the Walmart one in my 7/8 inch wick lanterns just fine. The problem with storing a lot of that oil, as well as a lot of kerosene these days, is that they are expensive. In my tests diesel fuel burns just as clean and lasts possibly even longer in these lanterns as their intended fuels, and it is no more or less dangerous than kerosene to handle and burn. Cold can make diesel fuel gel up, but I put a can in the freezer for a day and my 1/2 inch wick was still able to wick it up and burn it. Diesel has a wide range of quality, and home heating oil is also diesel, so results may vary when it comes to gelling it. I have personally seen problems with keeping these lanterns lit in extreme cold. We use them for the big Channuka Menorahs on campus, and they can give you fits.
The fuels that kerosene lanterns absolutely shouldn’t be used to burn are gasoline and Coleman fuel. Both are just too volatile for a system that wasn’t made for pressure. If you put gasoline into a wick style lantern, you are asking for an uncontrollable fire. I by mistake put Coleman fuel into one of these lanterns and it blew itself out from the gas escaping from from the heated up reservoir through the burner. This is not something you want to experiment with, even if gasoline is the only fuel you have available.
For that reason, I think it is a good idea to have on hand a Coleman “Duel Fuel” lantern. Technically all Coleman lanterns will burn both Coleman fuel, which is distilled gasoline, and regular unleaded gasoline. You just have to clean he burner fairly often, which involves taking apart the lantern. The duel fuel lanterns are I guess made to handle the gasoline with less upkeep? There isn’t a ton of information on them, but you can usually find them at Walmart.
So that’s the rub really, for most of us living in suburban and urban environments. Kerosene lanterns are the better choice, but most likely your local available fuel will be gasoline, which they can’t burn.
In my tests focused mostly on the kerosene lamps, and I compared 1 cup of diesel to one cup of kerosene to one cup of liquid paraffin. For the most part, regardless of big or little the actual lantern may be, the wicks are two basic sizes in the cheap lanterns, 1/2 inch and 7/8ths inch. All three fuels burned in the 1/2″ wick lanterns for about 20 hours straight. In the lanterns with the 7/8ths wicks, the ones with the glass bases and chimneys, the burn time was about 2 hours less. If any of the fuels had an edge for burn time it was the diesel. The tests were done in South Florida in October, so not a chilly clime. The numbers aren’t exact, because even when you cut your wicks straight they all burn as slightly lopsided shapes, and this allows you to only adjust them so high without them smoking your glass. One of the commenters here noted that if you cut the corners off it won’t do it as bad. At 20 hours they started to go out, and the 7/8ths glass lanterns had been lit about two hours later than the 1/2″ wick lanterns.
Compare that to the Coleman lantern on full blast. It has over 800 lumens, compared to maybe 10 for the 1/2″ wick and 12-15 for the 7/8ths wick kerosene lanterns. But one cup of Coleman fuel lasted just over 3 hours. I haven’t tried the same experiment on low, but I doubt it would go more than another hour or so. My take is that Coleman lanterns are about available fuel, not fuel economy. You can read just fine with a 1/2″ wick kerosene lantern, and you can find your way through the woods with it as well. The mantles on Coleman lanterns are a little too dainty for my survival tastes as well, but I’m getting a supply of them, just in case.
That is also why I didn’t test the Aladdin Lantern. I had one years ago and they are amazingly bright for a zero pressure kerosene lantern. But the wicks are expensive and almost as dainty as Coleman mantles. The Amish give Aladdin lanterns a market, because as a daily use lantern they are great. But after the bubble bursts the Amish aren’t going to have an easy time getting more mantles, and I am sure they all have regular wick lanterns in the basement as backups. Flat wicks aren’t terribly bright, but they work and the mechanism is simple. we got some good comments on this article and I’m going to follow it up with an overview of Aladdin and the other “center draft” lamp, the Rayo. If you buy the proprietary products for them now, though, both will be much better for dinner lamps, parlor lamps, etc.
There are also several lanterns from Coleman, Petromax and others that are pressure systems capable of using kerosene. I didn’t buy any because for one, I have no idea if they’ll burn diesel reliably and safely, and two, if I have diesel, why wouldn’t I conserve it by using wick lanterns that are plenty bright? Those pressure kerosene lanterns are primarily for markets in the 3rd world where kerosene is still sold at competitive prices to gasoline. Here in the US I have yet to see it less than several dollars per gallon more than gasoline and diesel. Supposedly there is a pink version that is cheaper, but I have yet to find it.
I hope to construct a full article on this subject, because like everything else, you just don’t know unless you try. I found out from a nice interview with emergency prepper extraordinaire Steven Harris that any HDPE container can be used to store fuel. Gas cans have gotten more and more complex over the years and more and more expensive as well. For hurricane season down here Walmart brings in $12 cans and I bought a bunch of them, but I have been in Walmart in the north where you can’t get a 5 gallon can for under $30. I paid like $30 each for my steel 5 gallon Gerry cans as well. A more affordable yet manageable size is a 15 gallon drum with bung caps. When you can find them they go for less than $20 each in quantity, and full they will be under 100 pounds. 30 and 55 gallon drums are great too, but they sure aren’t traveling with you.
Steven also turned me on to Pri fuel storage additive. Supposedly it is superior to the Stabil you see on the shelves at the store, so I’m trying it. I didn’t know that diesel fuel actually gets mold in it without treatment. Check out the Pri website if you want to read up on it. I bought some on Amazon and am putting it in my fuel now.