Light Up the Night (and your Campsite) with a Classic Coleman Lantern

12Feb
Light Up the Night (and your Campsite) with a Classic Coleman Lantern

Every RV owner needs a classic Coleman lantern, right?

For years I have bought inexpensive, battery powered, LED lanterns–and while they may light up my campsite, most of them are pretty cheap looking, and they are definitely not built to last. A few of them have only lasted for a season. So what’s a camper in need of illumination to do?

This past fall my buddy Phil got me interested in Coleman’s classic lanterns. We were hanging around drinking coffee on a chilly November day at Old Mill Stream Campground in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania when he asked a fateful question. Would I want to go with him to the Coleman outlet store nearby? He needed a new globe for one of his gas powered lanterns.

Globes and gas powered lanterns? This was an exotic, foreign language to me. But I was intrigued–and ready to check out some new camping gear.

Because I’m always ready to check out some new camping gear.

That night I purchased an attractive looking limited edition National Park edition of the Coleman Northstar Propane Lantern–in park ranger khaki and green. I loved that lantern so much I bought……a few more…..and then a few more after that.

Little did I know I was heading deep into a rabbit hole–and a fascinating chapter in the history of American camping.

Here’s what I learned and what you need to know.

Coleman still sells a variety of lanterns that are powered by propane, kerosene, or camp fuel (aka white gas). They are still built in Wichita Kansas (though some parts, such as the globes, are made in China) and are widely available for sale online and in some big box stores.  Because millions of them have been sold over the years, they are also widely available, sometimes for as little as 5 or 10 bucks, at garage sales, on Craigslist, and on Facebook Marketplace.

But which one should I buy?

Good question.

In this post, I’ll share some pros and cons for each kind, accompanied by videos demonstrating how they all work.  The first video demonstrates how to attach the mantles and pre-burn them. The next two videos skip that step and just demonstrate how to light them after they have been prepped. Sounds like an exotic foreign language, right? It’s actually very simple. Check it out!

The links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you purchase something through the link, we receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Jeremy will use all of that money to buy more lanterns, so he kindly thanks you.

1. Coleman Duel Fuel Premium Lantern

PROS

  1. Sturdy and Classic Design
  2. Camp Fuel is Cheaper than Batteries
  3. Warm and Fairly Bright
  4. Often Includes Hard Carrying Case

CONS

  1. Camp Fuel Must be Safely Stored and Transported
  2.  Lighting This Lantern Requires a Wee Bit of Work
  3.  Silver and Black? I Prefer Green or Red.

2. Coleman Kerosene Lantern

PROS

  1. Kerosene is Safer to Store than Camp Fuel
  2. Kerosene is Cheaper than Camp Fuel
  3. Needs Less Maintenance than a Duel Fuel Lantern
  4. Very Stylish and Classic Look and Color

CONS

  1. Requires Additional Step of Preheating with Denatured Alcohol (See Video)
  2. Not Cheap at Around $100 Bucks
  3. Case Must Be Purchased Separately

3. Coleman Northstar Propane Lantern

PROS

  1. Affordably Priced and Widely Available
  2. Super Crazy Bright!
  3. Includes Sturdy Carrying Case
  4. Easiest to Light and Operate

CONS

  1. Coleman 16oz. Propane Tanks May Be Difficult to Recycle
  2. Not as Classic as the Kerosene and Duel Fuel Lanterns
  3. Somewhat Loud on Highest Setting

The Wrap Up

Compared to these classic lanterns, your modern LED lantern is a toy–and toys are for kids.  So it’s time to get a real lantern–and become the master of your campsite–and a master of the night.

If you want to learn more about the fascinating history of Coleman Lanterns and see how they are built, check out the short video below.  And if you want more classic camping gear, check out our definitive guide here. Happy camping! See you at the campground!

Coleman Lanterns

6 Comments

  1. Willie

    I’d always wanted a Coleman Duel Fuel Lantern but could never justify coughing up close to $100 to buy a new one. I have a propane lantern that I received as a spiff from work a few years ago. It works like a champ but we just don’t use it that often. We also have a worthless LED lantern and several old-timey kerosene lanterns that wife purchased as decorations. In the summer I use a couple of those with citronella to keep bugs away.

    As I’m prone to do from time time, I was bored at the office one afternoon and decided to take a look at Craigslist for “Coleman Lantern.” To make a long story short, I found one from the early 1980s. Lady said it worked the last time they used it (who knows how many years ago) but her husband couldn’t get it to light. She was asking $40.

    Being the resourceful negotiator that I am, I offered $10 and said I could pick it up that afternoon.

    Sold!

    After some research and some help from new Internet friends, I had to replace the generator (about $10 at Bass Pro) and wallah! It lit right up. I’m looking forward to first camping trip in a couple weeks to see how it works when it’s really dark!

    But there is a downside, I’ve been bitten buy the bug and now find myself returning to Craigslist a couple times a week as well as looking at flea markets, etc. to add to “my collection.”

    • RVFamilyTravelAtlas

      I have also been bitten by the bug! Good luck searching for some new treasure to add to your collection! –Jeremy

  2. Michelle Davidson

    This makes me really miss our Coleman Propane lantern. We lent it to my brother in law for his camping trip and it never returned to us…RIP Coleman.
    I actually love the loud sound, it is like crickets to me- a total camp sound.

    • RVFamilyTravelAtlas

      Sounds like you need to stalk Craigslist for a used one, lol!!!

    • Bill Sheehy

      That sound is what we collectors call, “hiss therapy,” that calming sound that takes us back to happy times camping with family and friends…

  3. John

    Just recently had the same experience. Not sure what got into me but had a flashback to younger years camping and the hiss these things make. Haven’t used on in over 30 years. So bought one off of Craigslist for $10. A little cleaning and a bit of fuel and off we go. I’m now able to expose my kids to this technology. I don’t think it’s long for the world. Too many nannies saying it’s unsafe, etc etc. but as it is we have enjoyed playing with it and will continue to do so until the kids loose interest. Then it will be a shelf queen decoration.

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