Friday, December 4, 2015

Candle Lanterns Now and Then

ECO Micro Candle Lantern outdoors
I have been using candle lanterns for many years as my outdoor light or lantern when backpacking. My first candle lantern was a simple one, without springs or fancy mechanisms. Just a glass jar with a bail to hang it in my tent or on a branch, with a metal bottom that screwed on and a small candle inside with an open top. I used this lantern for years during college when backpacking around Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. It warmed up the picnic table, the tent or the log I was sitting on. Not really bright enough to read by (though I did anyway), it did light the way for late cooking and when I didn't have a fire, it gave me something flickering to stare at until bedtime.
In the 1980's when I started upgrading my backpacking gear, I purchased a modern spring assisted candle lantern, one that was guaranteed to burn all the wax away. I used it to read Tolkien and science fiction paperbacks inside my tent. I kept the lantern inside a fleece pouch for safety and used it quite a lot. It was still in use in the early 2000's when I camped out with my son in the Boy Scout Troop. 

Collapsed to fit inside my pack
My most recent candle lantern is simpler and much lighter. It is a UCO Micro Candle Lantern which uses one tea light candle. Blue, it won't blend in with the leaves on the trees or on the ground (so it shouldn't get lost) and it is much smaller and lighter than the other ones I have owned. 
It gives me around 4 hours burn time per candle which is enough for a couple weekend trips (about 8 hours of light from both tea light candles), has a bail with a chain and hook for hanging, and has a glass chimney that stores inside the base. A feature I like is that it carries a spare tea light candle in the base.  It weighs only 4.2 ounces on my scale (3.9 ounces on the package) including the 2 tea light candles. I have not used it yet in the south so I have little experience with it reducing humidity in the tent. You could use citronella candles to keep the bugs away, clear plastic base candles for more light, or even beeswax tea lights for longer, gentle light. If dripping wax is too much for you, try a battery powered flickering plastic LED candle you can buy at Target. With candle tea lights it can warm up the tent just a little with an output of 450 BTU. 

All 3 peices
I have not tried to boil water over a candle like others online have. I say try it if you need to, but you are on your own.
The 15 lumens of light shines downward, (1 candle = 12.5 lumens or LUX) reflected from the top cap/vent, so hang it above your working/eating/reading area. Nowadays, I like to read about tomorrows trail and look at maps and maybe even write some notes about today's hike, who I met, etc.
It seems the best use for this candle lantern is in places where campfires are prohibited, as it gives you flickering "camper TV" to stare at until bedtime.
Much more earthy to use around the camp site than an LED headlamp (which I still carry), it is one of those few inexpensive camping gear purchases, costing under $14. At 4.2 ounces it is light and small enough to easily fit inside my ultralight backpack in the top pocket. The collapsed aluminum case covers the glass chimney, so it will be protected.
To use, twist the plastic bottom to the left.  This will allow you to separate the lantern to light the tea light candle. The tea light sits on a small aluminum stand above the plastic base. To get to the spare candle, hold the plastic base at the top and twist the bottom to the left to separate those bases. 

Weighs 4.2 ounces on my scale, 3.9 ounces is listed on the package
My trick is to pull apart the aluminum frame to extend the globe first before lighting the candle. The three supports will lock in place. To put the base back on the aluminum frame, twist it to the right. Remember to do this carefully without spilling any wax on your gear. Hang the bail on a branch or clip it inside your tent. 
To blow out the candle, blow in from the top while holding your hand behind the top to direct your breath inside the globe. Never leave the candle burning near children or pets and blow it out before leaving your tent. You can get burned by touching the glass chimney or the aluminum frame, so beware!

Hook and bail
The height opened is 3.5 inches, width is 2.25 inches, collapsed height is 2.5 inches. There are 2 accessories available; a top reflector and a Cocoon protective case. The top reflector may help prevent some temporary blindness when the candle lantern is placed on a table or log. I don't carry the cocoon since the glass is enclosed inside the aluminum frame. The UCO website has lots of other interesting items you should check out.
For durability, I give it only a barely passing grade. The aluminum frame can be bent, the glass chimney can be broken. You must be careful when using this. I am very gentle with all my gear. If it breaks and cannot be fixed, I will replace it at a later time. Yes, my older candle lantern was much better built and weighed 9-10 ounces, about what my whole cooking kit weighs now. It was bigger and made with thicker aluminum, plus the candle would last around 9 hours. For a similar burn time I have reduced the overall weight by over 5 ounces, and saved 2 inches of backpack pocket space.
Disclosure: I bought the UCO Micro Candle Lantern at REI using my own funds.

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