13/11/2012
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Quick camping guide to lantern power

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Most of us take lights for camping pretty much for granted. If you decide that you would actually like to see what is cooking, read without strain and live in the light rather than the gloom, then you will probably end up buying a variety of lights that need regular attention.
 
Electric

Light emitting diodes (LEDs) have made the old problem of broken bulbs irrelevant and you really can now chuck torches across the garage into a box between trips and through the winter. That would be a shame if traditional batteries power it. If these leak (and they will if left long enough), then the chances are your purchase will end up in the bin. It will be late on site when you discover the problem or the flat batteries. Before dropping into the Big Box of camping essentials, whip out the batteries and drop them with the torch into a plastic bag, tie a knot and sleep soundly. Similar advice applies to any battery-powered light. Otherwise, give them all an occasional wipe down and quick dry. If you use a head torch regularly, consider washing the headband every now and then.

Gas

If you have ever sat in the light given off by a powerful gas lantern, you will want one for yourself. You will need to spend a little more time on care and definitely not try hurling it about. The key element is the mantle. Mantles start out as a supple mesh but, once fitted and lantern lit, turn into a rather brittle ash. Drop them or just knock them and holes can appear which reduce efficient burn and light output. Mantles are pretty cheap so keep a couple of spares handy and check out the lantern after storage. I like to keep a spare globe to hand in case a careless moment breaks it.

Liquid fuel

If you think gas lanterns are great, try using a liquid fuel lantern. OK, those cute retro paraffin lanterns based on the legendary Tilley lamps are fun for lighting up the garden for barbecues at home. Duel fuel lanternBut, as with most candle lanterns, that really is about all they are good for. Tilley, on the other hand, offers the classic powerful Stormlight, fuelled by paraffin, and with easy access to spares on online.

However, they are pricey and a more affordable alternative is another classic – the Coleman lantern. Designed to run on Coleman fuel, they can also run on unleaded petrol – the much cheaper option. Both brands use mantles and need regular maintenance to maximise performance. Rather than taking a look when something goes wrong, it makes sense to check regularly.

My checks and fixes includes:
  • Poor quality dirty fuel, clogged fuel tubes and torn mantles may result in lanterns spluttering and losing light output. It is sensible to use a screened funnel to trap contaminants before they reach the fuel tank.
  • Generators convert fuel into fine droplets for easy burning and a brighter light and they can become clogged; sometimes, it is better to replace the generator and head off frustration.
  • As with gas, keep an eye on mantles and change as needed.
  • Liquid fuel needs pressure in the tank to reach the generator. Fortunately, maintaining the pump is easy. Once in a while, add a few drops of light machine oil to the cup plunger; it helps keep the plunger sealing tight against the pump tube.
  • When storing a lantern for a while, empty the tank back into the fuel container; a decent-sized funnel is a great help. Left to stew, as it were, the instability of petro-chemicals means elements can clog up the fuel pick-up tube and add to a potential rust problem. Old fuel does not burn efficiently either.
  • If your lantern is dirty, clean it with mild soap and water. Dry it thoroughly and pack it away in a bag.
With care, you can expect long service from camping lighting. Over time, though, all lanterns can become worn and routine care and maintenance will need to be beefed up with replacement parts or repair - contact the manufacturer.
 
Top Tips
  • It is vital that you use a clearly labelled appropriate container to move and store unleaded petrol. Filling an old juice bottle is crazy.
  • Even if your lantern has normally reliable piezo-electric ignition, keep matches or a lighter to hand in case of problems.
 
Handy links

Read more of our handy camping guides by clicking here.

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