Review: Oil and Wind-Up Lanterns

We’ve been messing around with various non-electric light sources here at the Eat Close Home. So far, nothing really comes close to the light strength, color, and especially ease of a good ol’ electric lamp. I realized the other day that we have five contenders, and I thought I’d post them so you can have some more data in case you’re thinking of checking some of these out, too. If you have other non-electric light sources (that you like or don’t), I’d love to see them! I don’t consider this search over and I really hope I don’t have to buy one of everything to figure out what’s best. And like so many things, I think there will be different lanterns that do different things “best.”

Here we go. First, a line-up of the contenders. Yes, I’m doing this in the root cellar – the only place dark enough on a sunny May afternoon. Well, except the bathroom, and you think I’m going to blog from there?

A variety of lanterns

Left to right: Coleman rechargeable fluorescent lantern, Dietz "Li'l Hurricane" oil lamp, Wind-n-Go 7800, Indigo Freeplay lantern, olive oil "camp lantern"

Overall impressions:

  • The Coleman lamp is by far the brightest – and by far the least pleasant light. The rest, in order of brightness, are the Dietz lantern, the Indigo Freeplay, the Wind-n-Go, and the olive oil lamp.
  • LED light is harsh and blue, and throws a lot of shadows.
  • Hand-crank lanterns throw about as much light as a run-of-the-mill flashlight. I’ve been really disappointed with them over all, due to flimsiness and poor lighting performance, but the Indigo Freeplay is the best in quality and amount of light of any I’ve used. (I’ve used more than the two I’ve reviewed here – these are just the ones I’ve purchased.)
  • I’ve yet to find a really good alternate fuel lamp I can read by comfortably. Part of this has to do with light positioning; reading lamps are generally above your head, casting light down, but you tend to set a lantern on a table, so the page is in the book’s own shadow. I’m planning on rigging a “lantern post” that will position a lantern over my shoulder – but there are only certain lanterns I’d trust to put at the top of a post! I don’t want hot oil spilled down my neck.
  • Having a variety of lights is a good idea.
  • Having a/c PLUS hand crank PLUS a solar panel would be ideal for LED lights.

Details on each model, plus links to purchase, are after the cut.

Coleman rechargeable lantern, high

Coleman rechargeable lantern, high

Name and model: Coleman  Rugged Rechargeable Full-Size Lantern with U-shaped Fluorescent Bulb (Model 2000000867)

Power source: Rechargeable battery; charge via a/c plug (household outlet) or d/c adapter (car charger)

Settings: Low, high, and nightlight. The nightlight setting is useless to see anything at all, though it might comfort someone who’s terrified of the dark. Can be left plugged in and will light up automatically if the power goes out.

Light quality: Very bright, harsh blue light. Far and away the brightest lantern of this bunch, but it throws a lot of shadows. You could easily play a board game on “low”; “high” would be enough light to cook or clean by.

Reading: You can easily read by this light, though the shadows can cause difficulties. As with all lanterns, reading would be much better if the lantern were on a stand above head-height, so the light falls the way it would fall from a reading lamp.

Pros/cons: It does require electricity, though you can charge it from household a/c, the car, or any solar array with a 12v (car-type) d/c output. Very cool when running; very safe – nothing burning.

Overall rating: **** Worth buying; practical for everyday use; can be used off-grid if you have some kind of solar charger

Dietz high flame

Dietz high flame

Dietz high flame, after 5-10 mins

Dietz high flame, after 5-10 mins

Name and model: Dietz “Li’l Wizard” oil hurricane lantern

Power source: Lamp oil or clarified kerosene. I’m using lamp oil.

Settings: Flame can be set from low to high; there is a very noticable difference depending on how high you turn the wick up. The lamp also gets marginally brighter after it’s been burning a few minutes. It is far brighter than the olive oil lamp or a candle, even on medium.

Light quality: Warm and cozy yellow light, like candlelight, only much brighter than one candle and the flame does not flicker at all.

Reading: If I position myself and the lamp correctly (which is not necessarily easy or comfortable), I can read by this light. Mothers around the world would shriek that I’ll go blind doing it, though. After a few minutes, I was happy to extinguish this lamp and turn the CFL reading lamp back on.

Pros/cons: The lamp kicks out a lot of heat when it’s running. That’s a big plus for the winter, but a con in the summer. If there is a hard freeze forecast and I’m worried about things in the greenhouse, I will put this lamp out there to burn overnight. In a true heating emergency, I bet it (and our body heat) would keep our small bedroom at a very reasonable temperature. I’ll test that out at some point this winter.

Lamp oil is expensive – $4.50 a quart where I have found it so far, and this lamp will hold nearly a quart. It’ll  burn for 24-30 hours, about the best ratio of the Deitz lanterns (see PDF chart) I considered, but still…that’s a lot of money. Kerosene is cheaper but smellier. You can use either, so long as you swap the wick and clean the fuel chamber in between. You cannot use any kind of vegetable oil.

This is probably the safest flame-based light there is. It’s sturdy and unlikely to tip over easily. The flame is enclosed in a durable glass chimney, which is firmly attached to the lantern. It’s advertised to go out if it is tipped over. It won’t blow out easily if used outdoors. But – it’s still a flame, and the metal fittings can get hot in places. It does smell a bit like burning oil, especially in the first few uses. Lamp oil is safer than kerosene for indoor burning, but hurricane lanterns like this can safely burn clarified kerosene indoors. (Even better for using kerosene – which is much cheaper than lamp oil – indoors is a “hot blast” lantern, but they supposedly throw half as much light.)

Overall rating: *** Good light, but not my first choice for everyday…unless it’s cold. Ok for off-grid if you can get lamp oil or kerosene

Wind-n-go 7800 lantern

Wind-n-Go LED lantern

Name and model: Wind-n-Go LED lantern model 7800

Power source: Hand crank only

Settings: On/off

Light quality: Cold, bluish, LED light. Many shadows. I found a tip online suggesting you could diffuse the harsh light by wrapping the globe with Scotch tape. I did that on this lamp, and it really does help soften the shadows. It’s ugly, though. 🙂 This lamp threw little enough light that I couldn’t get a non-blurry picture.

Reading: If you’re desperate…at least you can hold it right next to your book without setting it on fire.

Pros: No outside fuel source needed. Cheap. Would give you light to find the matches to light an oil lantern. Safe. Cons: Feels quite flimsy compared to the Freeplay. Winding is a chore; I wish it also had an a/c plug so I could keep it charged when there is a working outlet nearby.

Overall rating: ** Not a total piece of junk, but its uses are very limited and I’m not convinced it’s study enough to last long

Freeplay LED lantern

Freeplay LED lantern

Name and model: Freeplay LED lantern. Newer model is available here. Looks to be pretty similar, though I swear I didn’t pay $55 for mine. Wonder if this one has upgrades?

Power source: a/c plug or built-in hand crank

Settings: Dimmer switch for main LEDs; also a one-LED spotlight that’s good for reading or other spot-illumination tasks.

Light quality: Cold, bright, bluish LED light. Though it’s hard to tell in the pictures, it does put out more light than the Wind-n-Go. The spotlight is incredibly handy; I probably use that more than the lantern part. The top of the lantern is a curved reflector that gets more of the light pointing down where you need it, too. Like most multi-LED lights, the lantern part casts a different set of shadows with each bulb (5 total). Since the globe isn’t frosted, this can be really obnoxious. Frosting the bulb with tape is an option; I wish the globe just came frosted, though.

Reading: Not bad with the spotlight. I’ll turn the spotlight on and tucking the lantern under my arm, so the light points directly at my book, and it’s not too bad.

Pros/cons:Very sturdy hand-crank – the best of any crank-powered light I’ve tried. (The one on my solar/crank flashlight/weather radio broke off on the first serious winding, and the Wind-n-Go feels pretty flimsy, too.) A decent amount of light, especially for a hand-crank light. The a/c charging option is very convenient.

Overall rating: **** Of the hand-crank lights I’ve bought, this is the only one I’d buy again. It won’t do for a room light, but I use this the most when the power goes out.

Olive oil cabin lamp

Olive oil cabin lamp

Name and model: Olive oil cabin lamp

Power source: Olive or any other vegetable oil. You can even use animal fat in a pinch. Do NOT use any petroleum-based oils.

Settings: On/off

Light quality: Warm and yellow, like a candle, but does not flicker at all.

Reading: Not really. Perhaps if it were positioned differently…but it’s too shaky on its stand for me to trust it above my head.

Pros: The only lamp I could grow fuel for. Non-flickering light is nicer than a candle, and a bit brighter. When using olive oil, it’s smokeless and nearly scentless. (The smell just makes me think something’s cooking.)  Cons: Very concerned that it could tip over. Not bright enough for seeing many details (it’s far less bright than the Deitz) and doesn’t throw light terribly far. Olive oil is expensive, but you could use cheap pomace olive oil – which would definitely be cheaper than lamp oil. I haven’t tried it with sunflower oil yet, but I’ll do that when I get around to pressing some.

Overall rating: *** Pleasant ambient light; the most truly sustainable light in the bunch since you can grow the fuel. Could easily be improvised at home (jar + wick + wire wick holder). A good lesson in the need to change expectations for light off the grid.



  1. Heather said,

    May 23, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    Wow, thanks for all of this. Just one thing…PLEASE be careful trying to heat your bedroom with an oil lantern. I worry about carbon monoxide poisoning…

    BUT…this stuff is good to know!

    • Emily said,

      May 24, 2010 at 8:42 am

      That’s a really good point. Since the lamp is ok for indoor use, I assumed that it would be ok in any size room. Anyone have some data on the CO2 from oil lamps??

  2. May 24, 2010 at 1:06 am

    […] See the article here: Review: Oil and Wind-Up Lanterns « Eat Close To Home […]

  3. Jennifer said,

    May 24, 2010 at 6:01 am

    A parallel purchase to these — especially the olive oil lamp — might be to find at Goodwill one or two of those big decorative olive-oil-and-herbs bottles that no one ever uses. 🙂 The rounded (side to side) flat (back to back) ones, if emptied and refilled with water, can act like a convex lens and actually amplify the amount of light that a little lamp can put out. Best of all, if you strain the oil from the jar, you could use that in the lamp. 🙂

  4. May 31, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    I would be very careful of any of the combustion lighting. When we moved into our farm house over 20 years ago it was propane gas lighting. For ten years we tried to get it to work right. The propane company came out repeatedly trying to get the leaks to stop. They reinstalled everything. No joy. I had headaches and stuffy sinuses from it. We got rid of the propane and I felt much better. I don’t like blowing up. I keep reading about homes blowing up from propane, yes, even professionally installed.

    So we heat with wood and passive solar. Neither blows up.

    We light with LEDs. They use almost no energy. We use AC power for some, batteries for others. The batteries last a long time. I could hook up a small solar panel to provide the energy for the LEDs – on my to-do list but hasn’t gotten to the top yet. Just avoid Sylvania LED lights as I have found they die.

  5. May 31, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    By the way, which plugins are you using for your “Notify me of follow-up comments via email” and “Notofy me of site updates”? Do you like these plugins? I’m transitioning to WordPress and looking for a good solution for these two issues.

  6. June 6, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    Thanks for the review. You saved me some time, money & trouble.
    I am on the prowl for a wind up lantern and your review confirmed what I was already thinking 🙂

    When there’s no power I use Aladdin mantle lamps for reading. I’m very happy with them.

  7. June 25, 2010 at 6:24 pm

    Through the process of collecting solar energy industry is becoming more and more solar panels and the response to air pollution, global warming and a host of other factors does not mean quality air. The building of their own solar panels is now available for almost all homeowners, then you will have an impact on our overall lifestyle.

  8. August 30, 2012 at 10:47 pm

    […] Review: Oil and Wind-Up Lanterns « Eat Close To Home […]

  9. Anonymous said,

    July 7, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    thank you very much for all the time & effort that you obviously went to, to give this review. I found it very in-depth and helpful – I just would like you to know that I found it very helpful : )

  10. July 13, 2017 at 2:48 pm

    […] way back in 2010, I reviewed the Coleman  Rugged Rechargeable Full-Size Lantern with U-shaped Fluorescent Bulb (Model … . My main complaint was that the light it gave was a really horrid blue color. As the years have […]

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