When it comes to being prepared there is no way that is completely right. Some prepare for disasters with extra batteries, crank radios, and other various electronics. However, the things that have worked well through centuries are usually a better option. In fact, some of that old technology is being revitalized and reimagined in some of the most dramatic and modern ways.
UCO has been designing light and lamp options since the 70s in Washington State. They are best known for their small, portable candle lanterns which are designed for campers, backpackers, and disaster preparedness. Each of their products is handmade and proven through decades of use.
But they don't limit themselves just to candle lanterns. They provide a wide range of electronic flashlights, headlamps, and fire-starting tools. Still, their flagship products still seem to be centered around candle power and light. It's with good reason, as these candle-powered lanterns not only save people a ton of money on batteries, oil, and gas but they are also relatively safe.
The Mini-Lantern is one of my personal favorites. The aluminum exterior, glass surround, and thick plastic floorplate house a tea light that can be used to light up dark spaces. It stands about 4 inches high and 2.25 inches across for a small, packable light that can quickly be refilled.
I was excited to try this lamp out the most. Partly because I have felt that tea lights are a great survival and disaster preparation tool. Tea light candles are small, economic, and inexpensive but still put out a pretty substantial rate of heat and light. Since most of them can burn for 4-6 hours it is a simple way to illuminate a dark home.
The lamp itself puts out as much light as any tea candle would. The aluminum base of the candle sits inside a small, lifted retaining system built into the vented, plastic baseplate. While it worked great for the candle that came with the Mini-Lantern most other tea lights did not fit properly. As the candle would burn and the wax got soft the metal retaining prongs would force the candle to jump, spilling wax on the plastic base.
That's an easy enough fix. Add a bit of wax to the clips or find a better fitting tea light are not difficult obstacles. It's just better to know before your big trip into the woods.
Original Candle Lantern:
Here is where the big boys start to play. The Original Candle Lantern hold a proprietary 9-hour candle. It looks similar to the Mini-Lantern but stands at 6.5-inches tall and only 2-inches wide. These lanterns can collapse down to 4.25 inches with the candle still inside.
The amount of light this Lantern puts out is great. It's more than enough for a saunter into the woods at night. With the handle a quick walk is comfortable and more than enlightening… pun intended. In practice this lantern seems to be best suited for inside a small room or even a small tent, with proper precautions. The collapsible size also makes it a perfect option for backpacking.
Care must be taken when changing the candle and the candles are not inexpensive. The glass 'chimney' and housing move up and down to protect the user from the flame and funnel the heat up to the aluminum cap and vents above. The aluminum cap also could double as a hot plate, but with the small footprint and light weight of the Original Candle Lantern that would not be recommended.
This is the big-daddy of the UCO lineup. Three 9-hour candles are encased inside this 8-inch light and 4-inch wide lantern. With all three candles lit there is enough light to illuminate a room and help to heat it during the cooler nights. In fact, the aluminum cap is similar to the Original Candle Lantern but is actually sturdy enough to put a pot of water on top and essentially bring to a boil.
However, not all the candles need to be lit at the same time. Lighting with what the needs of that moment will allow the candles to last longer and become more efficient. A tent doesn't need 3. powerful, bright candles to prepare blankets.
This Lantern is quite a bit more cumbersome to carry and adds a significant amount of weight compared to the previous two lantern options. That doesn't mean this should only sit at home to use during an emergency, though. Take it with you camping and attach it to your backpack. You'll thank me later. The versatility of this lantern puts the others to shame.
Ways They Are Even Better:
UCO thought of nearly everything when it came to these lantern options. They even make a repair kit than can be used in the field or at home to fix or replace broken, lost, or damaged parts. The glass and springs are obviously the most vulnerable due to misuse or improper reloading of candles.
To add to that, they also make options that can be added to the Lanters to funnel the light in a desired location. There is a side reflector of the Original Lantern and another for the Candlelier. Also, a flat pac reflector is made which will work with both the Mini and Original Lanterns. It does an outstanding job of putting the light straight down and fits just over the handles/hook so you can carry or hang the lanterns with the reflector attached.
This Flat-Pac Reflector utilized 4 brass connections to hold two reflector pieces together. When used, the reflector will heat up to an alarming temperature near the center and on the brass fittings. Care should be taken when handling!
The Mini-Lantern is $13. The Original Candle-Lantern is $20. The Candlelier Lantern is $40. Each has additional options or colors which can bring the price up. Overall, even the additional options like the reflectors run around $10. For the price, you can't go wrong.
The candles, on the other hand, are on the pricy side. Twenty 9-hour beeswax candles for the Original and Candlelier run $70 or the regular wax run $30. Even the tealights start at 50 cents per candle. It can be a bit pricy and something to consider.
Removing price from the equation the function of each of these units cannot be beat. There is nothing else like them on the market. For preparedness it's an excellent option and even provides some multi-function capabilities. The lightweight build also makes each of these an exceptional backpacking and camping lighting alternative or all-natural light option.