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Comparison of Lanterns: Propane vs. Kerosene vs. Battery-Powered

Since I’m into lighting options these days, I figured I would compare the three most commonly used lanterns: propane, kerosene, and battery-powered to see how they stack up to each other. In this case, I’m comparing a Coleman Two-Mantle Propane Lantern, Stansport Kerosene Lantern, Rayovac Sportsman LED Lantern, and I threw in another small battery-powered the Dorcy Mini Brite Lantern as it’s been a camping favorite with the kids for quite some time. Pricing ranges from under $10 for the Dorcy to about $35 for the Coleman propane lantern.

I figured the easiest way to compare them is to put them in a table and list the following attributes: costs (for unit and others besides fuel), anticipated working times (according to manufacturer estimates or my best guess), fuel to working time cost (comparing cost of fuel to estimated burn time as cost/hour of use), relative brightness (via my own pictures), and my comments at the end.

Image / Brightness (click to enlarge) Costs Working Time Fuel/Time Cost
Unit = $34.99



Additional Mantles=$6.99

Safety Post=$39.99 (used to connect and raise lantern to 20 pound tank)

  • Using one pound canister:
    -7 hours on high
    -14 hours on low
  • Using 20 pound *tank:
    ~130 hours on high
    ~260 hours on low

*assumed tank is never 100% full

Prices vary by geographic location and more:

  • One pound canister ($3 per assumed):
    -$0.42/hour on high
    -$0.22/hour on low
  • 20 pound tank ($50 assumed*):
    -$0.38/hour on high
    -$0.19/hour on low

*if you already own a tank then cost should be less than half those stated above

Unit = $16.48



Additional Wicks=$7.99

Can’t find data but from my experience using 32oz. bottle of kerosene I found:
~5-6 hours on med/high per one 8 oz. fill
~10-12 hours on real low per one 8 oz. fill
  • If using lamp oil ($10 per 32 oz. bottle assumed per Amazon price):
    ~0.50/hour on med/high
    ~$0.25/hour on low
  • If using kerosene* ($6 per 32 oz. bottle assumed):
    ~0.30/hour on med/high
    ~0.15/hour on low

*price can be significantly less if buying kerosene in larger quantities/bulk

Unit = $29.19




Using 3 D-cell batteries:
-40 hours on high
-90 hours on low
Using 12 pack of *Rayovac ($12.59 per pack or $3.14 per 3 batteries):
-0.07/hour on high
-0.04/hour on low

*Using Duracell or Energizer will cost more but not too much

Unit = $8.99




Using 4 AA-cell batteries:
-4 hours (only one setting)
Using 24 pack of Rayovac ($11.20 per pack or $1.86 per 4 batteries):

I would say the two biggest concerns would be cost to use and brightness. Granted, there are other potential costs but these are the biggest. In the cost to use category the Rayovac battery-powered lantern wins quite easily, though, a close second could be the kerosene lantern if you can buy lamp oil or kerosene in larger quantities. The other concern, brightness, is obviously relative in the pictures provided but I would say that the Coleman propane lantern is the winner followed by the Rayovac. All-in-all, therefore, I would say that the Rayovac is the clear winner, in my opinion. To be fair, however, I do not own a good quality kerosene lantern so it could still turn out to be a close second.

4 comments to Comparison of Lanterns: Propane vs. Kerosene vs. Battery-Powered

  • Wayne

    I have the Rayovac and love it. Here are more pluses that support the Rayovac decision: No worries about fire or venting. No smell or worries about tipping over. Doesn’t burn hand if touched. Use it anywhere.

    Also have red lamp-oil burning lantern which is about $7 at Walmart as a back up.

  • Dave

    Good review of some simple lighting options. Burning through batteries can get costly and bulky if you need to store 2 years worth. Might opt for rechargeable NiMH and a solar recharger.

    Although not in the same category of “portable” lighting, Home Depot has just started selling a Husky (Model # WL800LP-H) 15 watt LED flood light similar in shape and purpose to the popular 150 and 300 watt quartz utility lights. It is compact, has a 3-year warraanty and at 800 lumens will blind you – it also lights up a large area with cold white light. This type of light is my choice for use with a lead acid battery (recharged by solar) and small inverter when I need emergency lighting. There are also any number of 12 volt, 10 to 50 watt LED floods coming out of China (try eBay) … with the right power source, these can light a whole room for reading!

    • Interesting consideration about storing enough batteries for two years. While that was never my intent (a few weeks to months, really) doing the math says I would need 40 sets of replacement batteries (or 120 total) to run the Rayovac for 5 hours each night for two years on low setting. Considering I can get a 12 pack of Rayovac batteries for a little over $12 each I would, therefore need 10 packs at a cost of roughly $125 dollars. Not bad for two years of light from batteries!

      As for the LED flood light, I’ll look into it. I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to do with respect to solar-powered lighting… maybe this will help. Thanks.