There are more camping lights on the market than fireflies in a summer field. So why would you want a propane lantern instead of one powered by batteries or some other fuel? We’ll let me enlighten you.
Propane lanterns have some benefits over other styles of camping lanterns and can serve as the cornerstone light fixture of your camping and overlanding gear. That doesn’t mean they are the right choice for everyone or every situation, but they are worth seriously considering if you are in the market for camp lighting.
Before we get into why and how to choose a propane lantern, we’ll spotlight some of the best propane lanterns for camping and overlanding. We know some people are just looking for recommendations, so with no further ado….
Our Picks for Best Propane Lanterns
You’ll see a lot of Coleman lanterns on this list. They’ve been making propane camping lanterns for decades and still make some of the best. While other companies make better lightweight backpacking lanterns, Coleman is still start of the propane lantern world.
Coleman Elite PerfectFlow Propane Lantern
The Coleman Elite PerfectFlow Propane Lantern does a nice job of balancing brightness with run time. It can put out up to 1000 lumen, which is plenty for most situations, but can also run for up to 13 hours on the low setting. It has a base arrangement that enables it to adjust to sitting in a highly consistent and level manner. It uses a more traditional style mantle, which are easier than Coleman’s north star mantles to find in stores. This is a great all around lantern and a solid choice for overlanding and car camping.
- Brightness: 1000 lumens
- Run time: 7.5 – 13 hours (on 16.4 oz cylinder)
- Weight: 4 lbs
- Dimensions: 12 x 9 x 7 inches
Coleman Northstar Propane Lantern
Coleman’s NorthStar Propane Lantern packs in a lot of modern features while maintaining reliability and durability. It’s one of the brightest camping lanterns available, featuring two tube-style mantles that can generate up to 1540 lumens. A dimmer knob lets you adjust the light output, and on low, you can get 9.25 hours out of a single 1 lb propane tank. The lantern comes with a push-button igniter, which makes it easy to start without matches or a lighter. Unlike mantles of old that had to be tied on, Coleman’s Insta-Clip Tube Mantles are easy to install.
- Max brightness: 1540 lumens
- Run time (1 lb tank): 4.3 hours – 9.25 hours
- Size: 12.9 x 8.5 x 6.5 inches
- Weight: 2.1 Pounds
Stansport 2 Mantle Propane Lantern
If you are looking for an inexpensive propane lantern from a reputable company, the Stansport 2 Mantle Propane Lantern might brigthen your day. It’s a no frills lantern that gets the job done. It features a simple on-off switch, no dimmer, and comes with a base that slides onto a propane tank and a metal handle for carrying and hanging.
- Max brightness: 810 lumens
- Run time (1 lb tank): 4.2 hours
- Size: 9.6 x 7.3 x 7.1 inches
- Weight: 2.4 Pounds
Coleman Compact PerfectFlow Gas Lantern
Coleman’s Compact PerfectFlow lantern is a single-mantle lantern that won’t crowd your camping gear box. This lightweight and compact lantern has a dimmer dial for adjusting the light output. It doesn’t come with an autostart button, so you’ll need some matches or a lighter. While it’s far less bright than some of the other lanterns highlighted here, it can burn for up to 12 hours when set on low. Since many people will be fine with that amount of light, this could be the sweet spot if your looking to carry fewer propane tanks with you for long trips or, well, just because.
- Max brightness: 273 lumens
- Lit area (radius): 26 feet
- Run time (1 lb tank): Up to 12 hours
- Size: 6.75 x 4.95 x 3.8 inches
- Weight: 1 Pounds
Why Choose a Propane Lantern
There are really two nice things about propane…no make that three. First, it’s a compressed gas so comes in sealed canisters, which means easier to handle than liquid gases, such as white gas or gasoline. In the United States and Canada, these canisters can be found in outdoors stores, most convenience stores, and many grocery stores and department stores.
Second, the quality of light produced by a propane lantern tends to be warmer and generally more pleasant than that produced by electric lanterns, which tend to be cold and harsh. Third, the propane canisters used for lanterns are also used for other camping equipment, including camp stoves and heaters. It’s convenient to have one fuel and tank type that’s used for multiple purposes, as you can shift the tanks around as needed.
Of course, nothing’s perfect. If you plan on carrying your lantern in a backpack, propane isn’t your best choice, as the propane tanks are heavy for lugging around in a pack. Disposing of the empty propane tanks or getting them refilled can be a pain, as they can only be recycled at certain locations, such as outdoors stores. In some countries, it can be hard to find propane tanks, which could be a serious issue for long overlanding trips out-of-country.
White gas and gasoline lanterns would be a better bet if you are planning to travel to countries where propane tanks are scarce. Or use an electric lantern that can be recharged with your vehicle or solar panels. If you have a portable power station, you can store a good deal of energy to power electric lights.
Lastly, liquid gas lanterns can burn brighter than propane lanterns, but the ease of use of propane outweighs any advantages of having a big more light, in our opinion. To sum it up, if you are traveling where you can get propane tanks, and weight isn’t really an issue, we recommend seriously considering a propane lantern.
How to Choose the Best Propane Lantern
A lantern’s brightness is given in units of lumens (short for luminous flux), which indicates the amount of light emitted over a period of time. To give a sense of scale, a typical candle flame emits about 13 lumens while a 100-watt lightbulb emits about 1600 lumens. The brightness rating of a lantern determines to a large extent how far it can cast light. For instance, a 1000 lumen lantern might cast light in a circle with a radius of 24 yards. Other factors in the lantern’s construction can affect this as well, but its rated luminosity is the largest factor. Most lanterns will allow you to adjust the brightness, which will also determine how much gas they will use over a given period of time.
Closely related to light output is how long a propane lantern will run on a single tank of gas. Simply put, the brighter it burns, the faster it uses gas. Manufacturers will often give a minimum and maximum run time for lanterns based on a certain size propane tank. For instance, a lantern might run for 4 to 8 hours on a 1-pound (16.4 oz) propane tank, which is a common size tank sold in many stores. If you are looking to maximize your run time, consider getting a smaller lantern or one that can be turned to a low setting to reduce gas use.
Number and Type Mantles
Propane lanterns use mantles, ceramic mesh bags, that glow brightly when the lantern’s flame is ignited. The number of mantles plays an important role in determining how brightly the lantern can burn. Mantles are very fragile and need to be replaced often, which adds some cost and hassle to their use. A single mantle lantern will be easier to maintain, but will generally produce less light than multi-mantle lanterns.
While traditionally propane lanterns used mantles that looked like little sacks, with an opening only on the top, some newer models use a tube mantle, that connects at both the top and the bottom. These mantles are, by most reports, brighter and less-fragile than the traditional style. That said, they are also more difficult to find, which means you’ll probably want to stock up on them if you choose a model with a tube-style mantle.
Size and Weight
Tanks aside, propane camping lanterns aren’t typically very heavy or large. It’s worth considering, however, whether you might be using it for backpacking in addition to camping out of a vehicle. If so, it’s probably worth looking for a smaller, single-mantle lantern that won’t take up a ton of pack space and weigh you down. If you’re looking for a dedicated backpacking lantern, I’d recommend looking into lanterns that use isobutane, which comes in small tanks that are light and easy to pack. The Primus EasyLight Lantern is a good choice on that front.