Kerosene Lanterns, by Pat Cascio

It is no easy task, to find products to write about. I know a lot of our readers, would like me to simply cover firearms, some knives, and other survival gear. While I really enjoy writing about new firearms, to be honest, there’s not a lot of actual “new” firearms to write about – the gun makers do their best to come out with a new firearm, that no one else has out there on the market. Many new firearms are just cosmetically slightly different than another similar gun. When it comes to knives, it is extremely difficult to find something to write about, when it comes to the latest cutlery on the market. And, these days, it is tough – very tough – to try and find some knives that are new, that aren’t made in Mainland China. There are plenty of new survival gear options I can cover, however, in the end, they are usually just an improved version of some older products.

With the afore said, you need to have at least three things in order to survive in the wilderness; one is water, two is shelter and three is fire. No matter what your wilderness survival situation might be, you really need to at least have these three things if you want to survive. I know a lot of Preppers, who don’t give much thought to fire, since they might be sheltered in their homes, and have running water – if they’re lucky. But many don’t think about fire for some reason.

Consider the old-time kerosene lantern, that has been around for hundreds of years, in one form or another. It is just important today, as it ever has been. Yes, I realize that battery-operated lanterns are just the ticket, and easier to use than some form of oil lantern. However, you have to stock up on a literal lifetime of batteries to keep those types of lanterns going. Believe me, I know, we have quite a few of the lanterns that operate off of batteries, and you have to keep rotating through your batter supply. However, I’m talking about the old “railroad” type of lanterns, you’ve all seen them, they are a rugged type, with a wire protective cage around the glass globe, with a fuel tank on the bottom, and a wick enclosed in the lantern to draw the kerosene up from the supply tank to provide light. Not a lot can go wrong with these types of lights, and a secondary function is providing some heat – not a lot, but maybe enough to keep you from freezing to death in a small space, like a tent.

We have quite a few old-time kerosene lanterns in our house, and in our small travel trailer. I’m here to tell you, they sure do come in handy when the lights go out. Over the winter months, we always lose power, at times for a few hours, and other times, for several days, and some kind of light source sure does make survival a little better.

Kerosene lanterns come in several shapes and sizes. However for the sake of argument, we are talking about the basic red lanterns that you can find in many hardware stores, or sporting goods departments in the big box stores. As already mentioned, they are about as basic of a light source as you can find – see the pics with this article.  And, one of the best things is, they are usually very inexpensive, and come in quite a few sizes as well. We have two sizes and more often than not, use the smaller size. Someone once gifted my wife with some of those glass lanterns – they look nice, and provide light and a little heat. However, one of the biggest drawbacks is the fact that they are mostly made out of glass, with only the interior of it – where the wick comes out of the fuel supply tank being made out of brass.

Another thing I don’t like about them is that they tip over easily.  We used to raise German Shepherds, and they were always bumping into a table or something, where you’d have one of these glass lanterns placed – and sure enough fall over and break – fortunately, they were not lit or it could have easily started a fire that was hard to put out – even with a fire extinguisher. A real hint here: Make sure you always have several ABC fire extinguishers handy – even if you don’t use kerosene lanterns. So, those glass lanterns are best reserved for decorations. Plus, those fancy glass numbers, are better at burning lamp oil, and that stuff is a lot more expensive than kerosene is. We keep a good supply of kerosene on-hand that we purchase from the small box store…a 2.5 gallon plastic jug of it can be had for well under $20 when you buy it in the off-season. And, it will last you a very long time.

You will need a small funnel, to put in the fill opening of the kerosene lamp tank. Depending on the size of the lantern you have, it honestly doesn’t take a lot of fuel to fill one of these lanterns up. And, even the smaller lanterns can easily burn 8-12 hours – depending on how much wick you have exposed in the glass globe.  Another hint here, don’t attempt to refill a kerosene lantern if it is still hot – odds are good, you’ll start a fire, so wait a half hour to refill a recently-used lantern. Keep wicks trimmed, so that they don’t smoke up your chimney.

Make sure you have plenty of spare wicks on-hand at all times. Believe it or not, your lantern wick will eventually burn down to the point where you can’t use it. And, to be sure, don’t purchase some of the wicks that are wrapped on a piece of cardboard – you don’t get much wick for your money. Shop around on the ‘net, and get some rolls of wicking – and make sure you order the right width – the bigger lanterns take a wider wick, than the smaller ones do – and when bought by the roll, spare wick material is very cheap – so get lots of ‘em.  Any excess will be great for barter or charity.

We also keep our kerosene stored outside, not close to the house, and covered with plastic tarps – this protects them from the direct sunlight and the elements – makes the kerosene last longer if you don’t use it on a regular basis. Even when kerosene gets older and starts to turn yellow, it will still burn – just not as clean – no big deal here!

If you are out camping, in a tent, a single kerosene lantern can actually provide you with some heat in your tent – just hang it from the center of the tent – however, not too close to the tent material, or it can burn it or catch your tent on fire.

When using a lantern in your travel trailer, make sure that you have one window cracked open ever so slightly, so that you’ll have fresh air coming in. Same when using one in your home – make sure there is a little source of fresh air. Now, if you don’t believe a lantern can provide you with some heat, then light a lantern in a small room like a bedroom, reenter that room after an hour or two, and you’ll feel that room is warmer than the room you just came from. Now, you won’t have a lot of heat, but when you’re in the dark, at night, and the temperatures have fallen, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. That little bit of heat will sure be appreciated.

Every now and then, Major Surplus And Survival will run a sale on the smaller kerosene lanterns and you can pick up a pack of 4 or 5 of them for about $25.00 – get several packs of them – that’s cheap insurance for an emergency light source. They also have some of the larger lanterns – but you will have to keep checking – their supply source isn’t steady, and odds are you’ll find them totally sold out of all their lanterns.

Yep, a kerosene lantern is an inexpensive light source, but a reliable one. No doubt, you’ve seen some of the fancy mantle kerosene lights, that advertise they provide you with the light equal to a 60-watt light bulb – and they do. However, they are fairly expensive and burn a lot of fuel. For sure, the old-style lanterns don’t provide you with a lot of light – however, it is enough light to read a book by – ask some of our older grandparents or great grandparents, and they will surely have a story or two, to let you know how often they used these types of lanterns. My own maternal grandparents, were from Kentucky, and they told me about living with kerosene lanterns as their one and only light source. Both were born in 1899! The old wood home my wife was raised in – it had propane light fixtures on the walls – it was their only source of light for many years. Not a great light source, but better than sitting in the dark after the sun went down.

Let’s be honest, we don’t know when the lights will go out – and maybe, they may never come back on – and for a small investment in some old fashion kerosene lanterns, and some kerosene – you can make your new lifestyle a little more comfortable – just make sure you keep a decent supply of extra wicks on-hand as well as kerosene. Life could be worse – if you don’t have some kind of backup light source. Think about it!