Review: A Gas Coleman Lantern Is a Classic For a Reason. Lots of Them, Really.


Lighting a Coleman fuel-powered lantern is so much more satisfying than merely clicking the “On” switch of a modern, battery-powered lantern. If you’ve ever used a Coleman lantern, but like most of us, have since switched to rechargeable battery lanterns, you’ve probably forgotten that. I had forgotten that myself until a few months back when the boss man assigned a story about the history of the Coleman lantern for Adventure Journal’s forthcoming summer issue (subscribe right here so you don’t miss it). Feeling like it wasn’t possible to properly cover the lantern without using one again, I did my journalistic due diligence and picked up the Coleman Premium Dual Fuel Lantern and waltzed down camping memory lane. 

Wish I hadn’t waited so long—these lanterns are fantastic. 

The lantern runs on Coleman Fuel, you may be more familiar with the term “white gas,” though it will also burn gasoline in a pinch. I wouldn’t recommend that as gasoline is smelly and mixes poorly with Coleman Fuel, so you’d want to be sure you burned all of the gasoline before refilling. And yeah, this lantern is burning a petroleum product, which I don’t love, but it’s a tiny amount, and to get out in the backcountry I’m using gasoline anyway, and to cook I’m using propane. It’s just something I try to be cognizant of, so I treat the fuel seriously, and don’t waste it by burning the lantern endlessly or when I don’t really need the light. 



Okay, with that out of the way, let’s talk about the lantern. First, the basic principles of this lantern have been more or less unchanged since W.C. Coleman developed it in 1928 (earlier Coleman lanterns used a slightly different gas system.) The light comes from rayon mantles impregnated with rare earth elements that glow brightly when heated. The white gas fuel is pressurized in the lantern’s base, producing a gas that when exposed to flame ignites the mantles. The mantles don’t actually burn—the rare earth elements do. Adjusting the pressure of the gas controls the heat of the mantles, and, therefore, the brightness. Pretty cool, huh?

That brightness is why I’ve fallen in love with this lantern. It’s a warm, natural light that’s easy on the eyes. There’s something vaguely comforting about it. There’s a nice steady hiss from the pressurized gas being delivered into the glass cylinder I also really enjoy. It’s not really nostalgia because I didn’t grow up using these lanterns, but there’s a connection with the past here that’s satisfying. Campers have been using these lanterns in basically the same form for a century and I like being part of that history.

Using it is simple. If it needs fuel, you fill the base with a supplied funnel. Thirty pumps from a small plunger pressurize the gas. Strike a match, stick it through a hole in the glass cylinder and whoosh, the mantles catch. As you can imagine, the process is sorta fun. 

Coleman gas lanterns are manufactured in Wichita, Kansas, with more by-hand assembly than you might think. They don’t just have a reputation for lasting forever, they seemingly do. In researching the article about the history of the brand I came across a half dozen fan clubs that regularly bring out lanterns that are 70-80 years old in perfect working condition. This is something else I like a lot about the lantern. Little of it is plastic. If something breaks, you can fix it. It can get wet without worrying about complicated electronic innards. Clearly they last for decades. Or longer. 

It’s also just nice to get away from electronics for a little bit. To not worry about whether my electric lantern is charged, or if my charger that will charge the electric lantern is charged. As long as I have Coleman fuel, I know the lantern will work. If I lose power at home in some kind of long-term emergency, I’ll have light even if the power doesn’t come back for a long time. A small thing, but a nice thing. 

I’m glad I rediscovered this classic, it’s a classic for lots of very good reasons. 

Get yours here

REI ($110)

Coleman ($110)


Words by Justin Housman



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