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Perfect For the Apocalypse: Coleman White Gas Lanterns

Posted on 30 June 2016

Nothing beats a Coleman white gas lantern. I grew up with a Coleman Double Mantle Lantern, but of the propane variety. As far as I know, my dad still has and uses it. These lanterns are great, but they require the spin on propane tanks that I feel are fairly wasteful. 

A number of years ago, I was out in Central California picking up a VW Bus and came across a box of Coleman 242 lanterns and parts for a few bucks. At that point I had only had experience with the propane variety and held the common opinion that the white gas models are more fiddly. They are, but minimally more so. The propane lantern is the automatic transmission, where the white gas is the manual. 

The biggest difference between a white gas and propane lantern is fuel costs. Fuel is much cheaper and abundant for the white gas models. One gallon of white gas is around $10-$15 and will last a darn long time. In a pinch, gasoline works just fine, but will create more soot. White gas lanterns are crazy bright, meaning everyone in your camp site can put away their headlamps and move around unencumbered by a piece of plastic strapped to their forehead. 

My favorite model is the 242. I have 6 or 7 of them, which is truly excessive as you really only need one for a lifetime (according to my boyfriend). They are super easy to work on if something goes wrong, parts are still available, even for 75 year old lanterns, and the single mantle models don't use much fuel. The double mantel models are far more common than the singles as they are twice as bright, but they also use twice as much fuel. I personally find the single mantle to be perfectly adequate for light output. 

One can pick up a good single mantle for around $20 to $50 if you keep your peepers out at pawn shops and junk stores. The big deal breaker is if the inside of the fuel tank is rusty. If this is the case, I would just walk away. Otherwise, glass globes and other parts are still affordable. I would avoid new Colemans as it seems their quality has slipped. If you come across any vintage mantels (the little sock like element that glows when the lantern is lit) I would pick these up. The old ones went out of production as they are radioactive and were deemed dangerous to manufacture. The danger posed by them for users is very minimal however (just don't eat them, you rube), and they burn brighter and hold up longer than new ones. That said, if you are squeamish about them, the new ones work just fine. 

Don't fall for the camping gadgetry that REI wants you to think you need. Just pick up an old Coleman lantern, give it a little love, and you will have it forever. A big plus to remember with the Coleman is it will never run out of batteries. You just need to pour a little more fuel in it, and it's hot to trot. Plus there is nothing like drinking beers in the woods with the gentle hiss of an old lantern in the background, keeping the bears and cougars away. 

Classic lantern parts and information available here and at your locally owned sporting goods shop.


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