Camping enthusiasts love to sit under the stars, listening to ambient sounds drifting in the background – the chirping of grasshoppers, the croaking of frogs, the crackling of the campfire. For many adults, these camping memories also include the hissing of a nearby propane camping lantern.
The propane camping lantern has long been the traditional choice for camping illumination. In 1885, Austrian chemist Auer von Welsbach invented the durable thorium mantle, which created the basis for 100 years of propane lantern technology. (Historians note that Welsbach was partially driven by the competition of the incandescent electric light.) The propane lantern became a powerful source of light, providing the equivalent of a 300-watt light bulb.
With the development of LED lighting technology, however, (also created to compete with incandescent light) LED lanterns are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to propane models. Today’s LED camping lantern offers many benefits over its propane counterpart – although many people still use propane lanterns for camping. The following is a look at how the two stack up.
Energy source. Propane is a relatively easy fuel source to use, and on cold evenings it can also double as a mini-heat source. However, it is still a fossil fuel. Battery-powered LED lanterns, on the other hand, do away with the dependence on fossil fuels – as well as the need to lug around extra fuel tanks. Plus, their renowned energy efficiency helps maximize battery life.
Maintenance. Propane lanterns require periodic maintenance, such as replacing mantles, regulator switches or lenses. An LED camping lantern generally requires no maintenance, except the need to change the batteries every now and then.
Safety. Remember the days of having to juggle your flashlight while changing at night because bringing a propane lantern into the tent was a fire hazard? LED lanterns solve that problem, because unlike propane models, they require no matches and emit virtually no heat. While users must be cautious about letting items get too close to a propane lantern (as they could melt), LED camping lanterns don’t pose this risk. Additionally, there’s no need to worry about emitting easily breathable carbon dioxide, which especially poses a safety hazard for children.
Emergency use. When an emergency arises, an LED camping lantern is by far the superior option. There’s no need to hook up a fuel tank or light a match; the user needs only to turn on the power switch for instant illumination. There are even models that have a red-light option for emergencies. LED lanterns are also lightweight and easy to pack in an emergency kit – and batteries take up far less space than extra fuel tanks.
Cost. A propane lantern will last about 14 hours on one tank of fuel. An LED camping lantern can run for 84 hours or longer on a single set of batteries. Over time, the LED lantern will win out in terms of cost.
Brightness. Technically, propane wins the brightness game, as most propane lanterns emit more light than the LED versions currently on the market. They also provide more precise control over the level of light; while some LED models offer a dimming option, there usually only offer a one or two different options, whereas a propane lantern can be continuously dimmed.
Sound. Many campers prefer the silent illumination an LED lantern affords. However, there is a contingent of enthusiasts who enjoy the hissing sound and still use propane for the nostalgia factor.
Durability. Propane lanterns are generally more fragile than LED camping lanterns – especially those that are made of glass.
If sheer brightness is your only concern, propane lanterns may still be the preferred option. When it comes to convenience, safety and cost, however, an LED camping lantern provides considerable benefits.