UCO Original Candle Lantern
By Esther Yu
A candle lantern can be a useful, lightweight tool around your camp. Besides providing light economically, it produces warmth and reduces condensation. This source of light is especially convenient for a backpacker trying to reduce weight and use as little space possible in a backpack.
A candle lantern has advantages for both backpackers and car campers. The lantern can be hung from the center of the tent to provide a more all-encompassing light than other sources of its size. Not only would a propane or liquid fuel lantern be too heavy to hang from the tent, it is more of a fire hazard. Also, the candle lantern is quieter than one lit by propane or gas.
Flashlights, another source of camp light, require batteries that are usually too bulky and heavy to hang in a tent, and provide no heat nor reduce condensation. The lantern is lighter weight, smaller, and more environmentally conscious than a flashlight.
I tried out two different UCO candle lanterns: the Original Candle Lantern and the Mini Lantern. Both provided enough pleasant low light inside the tent for a person to read by. Also, both provided some additional warmth, though that was only obvious a within a few inches of the candle lantern. Heat emitted by the candle was also manifested by reduced condensation in a foot wide radius on the tent wall around the lantern.
The Original Candle Lantern comes in an aluminum or brass frame. According to the company, the aluminum candle lantern weighs 6.4 ounces, including the candle. The brass candle lantern weighs 8.8 ounces. My favorite aspect of the original UCO candle frame is the 9-hour candle on a spring-loaded tube. This keeps the candle at the top of the tube so that it keeps burning at a constant height. We've found this especially useful in comparison to some candle lanterns that give off less light as the candle burns down into the base of the lantern. There is a viewing slot on the lantern's side allowing you to see how far down the candle has burned.
I found the candle lantern's construction extremely convenient to set up and safe to use. The candle is enclosed by a glass chimney, which makes the candle effectively windproof. Because the candle and flame are totally enclosed, the danger of flame spreading your tent is dramatically reduced. Once the candle lantern fell inside my tent, and although the flame didn't go out instantly, the flame didn't start our sleeping bags on fire. Rather, the flame was trapped inside the glass chimney and soon was extinguished. With another low-cost candle lantern I had tested earlier, I had to be extremely careful about handling the lantern for fear letting the flame escape.
The chimney enclosure also reduces the chances of a hot wax spill. With the UCO lantern, I didn't have to worry about wax dripping out of the candle, which happened with the other brand when I bumped the candle while moving around inside.
The candle can be lit two ways, both quite easy. One way is to slide the glass chimney down into the lantern and light the candle from the top. The other is to unscrew the candle from the twist lock base, light it, and screw the base back into place. When not in use, the candle then compacts from 6.5 inches tall to 4.25 inches where the glass chimney slides into the frame.
The lantern comes with a carrying handle and hanging hook, which ensures that you keep the lantern far enough from the top of the tent to prevent it from melting the tent fabric. For extra security, we tied a string to the candle hook so it was even further from the top of the tent. One option is to remove the hook and substitute a string when weight is a concern.
Though weight decreases as the candle burns, the brass candle lantern is noticeably heavier than the aluminum (2.4 oz). I wouldn't recommend the brass version for weight-conscious backpackers--in the wilderness the brass has no advantages over the aluminum to offset the extra weight. However, brass is a better material in environments where corrosion is a concern, such as kayaking or canoeing, especially in salt water. Aluminum will corrode over time, brass will not. UCO also suggests that overall, the brass is a slightly higher quality metal than the aluminum.
Though UCO's the Original Candle Lantern is the currently the most popular of UCO's lanterns with backpackers, the Mini Lantern seems a preferable choice for lightweight-loving backpackers. It only weighs 3.5 ounces with its candle. The frame is aluminum and it has a candleholder that stabilizes the Tealight Tub Candle, which has a four to five hour burn time. Like the Original Candle Lantern, it has a wind resistant glass chimney. However, since the lantern does not compact, being only four inches tall, the chimney does not slide up and down. There's just one way to light it -- remove the twist lock base with the candle on it. We lit our Mini Lantern several hours before going to bed. While it provided a nice, low light, the candle actually burned out right before we planned to blow it out. It's advisable to bring spare candles for the Mini Lantern. The big window keeps the light bright until right before it extinguishes, though.
UCO also claims their candles are specially formulated for longer burn times, we haven't tested this by comparing other manufacturers' candles. Also, while both these candle lanterns are cleverly designed, the cheap protective carrying case it comes with is not. While carrying it back into the house, the candle fell out of its clear, plastic container. Perhaps I did not insert the lantern securely into the case, but the glass chimney shattered instantly. Fortunately, if this happens while you are on a trip, the candle lantern is still useable. It just doesn't have the added protection against wind and spills that the glass offers.
UCO also offers replacement parts as well as higher quality candle lantern covers so you can play it safe here, too.
The aluminum lantern has a suggested retail price of $18. Painted aluminum lanterns in various colors sell for $20. The brass lantern retails for $25.
Summary: The UCO Candle lantern is a safe, lightweight and convenient lantern for backpackers and car campers. The enclosed inner chamber reduces the worry of flame escaping or wax spilling. The brass lantern adds weight unnecessary for backpackers, who should opt for the aluminum lantern. At $18 it is an excellent buy.
Esther Yu is a Contributing Editor specializing in car camping and mountain biking.
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