As part of my general sorting, cleaning & tossing, today I gathered together several of my lighting systems and stove systems. At present I’ve got about 2 “office boxes” of each.
In the process, I got to do a bit of long duration assessment; in that some things had sat a long time and so if they didn’t work or had “issues” now was a good time to find out.
Fire & Stoves
First off, I pitched 2 x disposable lighters. One, a no-name non-brand, had the flints frozen to the striker wheels. I did manage to get them loose, and then the gas lit. A small flame and perhaps low on gas. But it was still too much of a PITA to try making it light again. The other, a Scripto brand, was devoid of gas and would not strike anyway. Several metal surfaces having a slightly white oxidized look. Books of matches stored at the same time (about 15? or maybe 20… years ago) were fine, even loose in the box. I’ve now put them inside a short dumpy canning jar with a tight lid so they are waterproof too. Clearly disposable lighters work much better, for a while, but need replacing periodically. Matches, as long as they stay dry, look to be forever items.
A European military stove (from the Army Surplus store for about $3) that is like a can of Sterno with a metal ring to hold the pot above the flame had all the fuel evaporated. These come sealed with metal foil and if that is intact, store for a very very long time. This one I’d opened and tested many years back. It works a little better than Sterno in terms of heat, but a little dirtier flame. Despite a gasket in the lid, it was unable to prevent evaporation of the fuel over the years. So “very good” stove but don’t open the fuel until you use it.
Sterno makes a similar ‘ring stove’ thing that fits around the big can, and if you are careful, a re-installed metal “pry off” lid seals for years. Of the two, I’d choose the Sterno stove. Sterno (and Coghlan’s) both make a folding square stove that takes Sterno cans (and an odd diethylene glycol fuel called “Camp Heat”). Both work well. I’ve been using Sterno in the Coghlan’s stove and it’s fine too.
I like the Sterno stove just as much. They seem nearly identical in use, though the Sterno stove is a bit trickier to get folded back flat right but is lighter being mostly aluminum.
It is also quite possible to burn small sticks in a used up large size Sterno can, or just pour in liquid alcohols or antifreeze as fuel. As a “preparedness stove” it’s actually pretty good for nearly no money (about $10). When buying knockoff brands of “chaffing fuel” for it, be aware some use methanol so have a lower heating value, some use ethanol so better heating value, and some add water in the mix for poor performance. Sterno is best, though the others will work. It is slow to boil water, but will get there in still air at non-frozen temperatures. That is, I’d not use it in the wilderness in the winter. It’s fine for “lights are out, make coffee and heat canned ravioli on the counter”. For that matter, a larger chaffing dish using Sterno would work well too and could still be used as a dress-up fondue server.
For most uses in cold environments, I use a single burner propane stove. Works great, always. Fast. Cheap. Good. Reliable. Canisters store nearly forever. Too heavy for real backpacking, but otherwise my “go to” car camping, emergency and general lights out stove. I have 2 of these, I liked them so much. I think the first one I bought was so long ago it was about $12. Now they are double that at $24. The propane bottle that I stored with it is still full. I’ve lost track of how long ago this one was stored. At least a decade. Maybe two, I’ve been using the other one.
For the spouse, I’d bought something more familiar and easy to use. It lived in a kind of a “Class Bag” at her school when she was regularly teaching along with some other things. I was “on the road” a lot then, and I wanted her to be able to “fend for herself” if I was caught out on the other coast when The Big One hit. Eventually it came home with the rest of the “School Stuff” when she left the classroom. Biggest issues with it are that in the black case it is easy to forget where it is in the back of a closet; and a willingness to actually use it must exit. That is, it’s fine to have it in the box of stuff, but the person needs to care about it to remember it exists.
I have the “Gasone” model only because it was being old at the local Asian Grocery store for something like $15 a decade+ ago. Uses a butane fuel can that’s likely hard to find outside Asian Grocery Stores. A bit big for camping, but common on home tables in Asian cooking and acts a lot like stoves folks are familiar with. I’d tested this one on a cartridge about a decade back (maybe a bit more?) and then it went to the “go box”. Then about 6 months back I unpacked it and used it to make coffee a half dozen times. Maybe a dozen times… Tonight, I again used the same stove and fuel can to cook dinner. Sauteed onions and zucchini with Italian spices and garlic; boiled 4 quarts of water and then cooked pancetta tortellini in it. Still have about 1/3 of a can of fuel left. Loading and unloading the fuel can does NOT seem to result in any fuel leaks.
Comes in an nice plastic carry case. Handles a 10 inch cast iron skillet just fine. Very stable on counter or dinning table. Handles a lot like a regular stove. Turn knob all the way left it ignites via a self-sparker. Then back to adjust flame. Reasonably fast and good flame control. Only “odd bits” are that the fuel can goes under the funky door / corner on the right side, with a catch to secure it; then you use a lever on the front to push it onto the valve, or not. I’ve loaded / unloaded it a few times. I’ve left it engaged with the valve for months. Doesn’t seem to matter much and didn’t leak either way. Looks like $18 from Amazon now. It has little indents in the burner to prevent pans from slipping, but they still can slip. Don’t use it on an angle… I found it pleasant to cook on it but have a pot holder on the skillet handle when stirring things. Works well as an alternative kitchen stove without looking like camping in the kitchen / dinning room. Looks more like the omelette chef at the restaurant…
As I’ve decided to “lighten the load”, I’ll be cooking dinner on this stove until I’ve used up the 4 cans of fuel I bought oh so long ago. Nice thing is I can cook on it while watching the big TV ;-)
I had bought a “wind up LED flashlight” long long ago. After a decade or so, the battery has no charge. Winding the generator for a long 30 seconds gave me about 10 seconds of light from the battery. Either wind the thing up every so often to keep it charged, or expect that in an emergency you will be cranking it for a long time to condition and recharge the battery. I’d be happier with a candle or kerosene lamp.
A miniature “Lithium Flashlight” about the size of my little finger still worked fine. IIRC it has one 3 VDC disposable battery in it. Shelf life was supposed to be something like 10 years. It’s certainly that and then some.
I made some “jar candles” decades back. They are still working great, thanks. Found a couple in the old box. Still the same. Details here:
What can I say? They just work. One had been in a car bag for a while. When I took the lid off the wax had clearly softened and flowed at some point. The wick was not visible. Pushing on the top, a thin crust of wax cracked open to reveal the wick under it. Lit, worked fine. I’ve used up 4 small ones (4 oz) and have settled on the 8 oz large ones as my default. I’ve got about a half dozen of them (they burn for many many hours) and I’m not going to bother using them up, just pack and go. There’s a bit of a candle smell to them, but not bad. I’ve used them in many power outages over the decades and love them. Decent light, little flicker.
I have also used an REI Coop “Candle Lantern” and it’s great too, but needs special candles. We’ve got two candle holders with glass bowl /shades on them that work just as well (though too large for camping ;-) and take regular candles.
I have two of them, but bought them at REI Coop and it was about $10 then. This $21.44 price is just too high for a candle holder; though it does pack / camp well. I’d take a mini-Maglight with LED bulb instead…
Which brings us to the topic of the title of this article. Kerosene. I have a half dozen kerosene lamps and lanterns. In unpacking / repacking the box I noticed that the very small (12 oz?) bottle of Lamplighter Lamp Oil had a brittle fracture hole up near the cap. That oil was poured (after breaking the top off attempting to remove the cap) into one of my lanterns and is now lighting the room as I type. Another quart sized bottle with thicker plastic is not suffering breakage (yet…). One lamp had been stored with some oil in it. That evaporated / polymerized leaving a yellow film in the glass bowl, and odd odor of “varnish”, and a yellowed sticky wick. I’ve put fresh oil in that lamp and it, too, is lighting the room. The old wick lights more slowly, but looks like it is still wetted enough to work.
Light quality is good, and more than enough for casual use. Easy to operate. long life of flame. Relatively cheap.
Downsides? Don’t want one on the mantel when the earthquake comes. Broken pint of kerosene with flame while shaking not a good idea. Don’t set it under things that burn. Spouse complained about the smell (and lamp oil or kerosene does have a certain odor to it). You either hate it or find it nostalgic. After a few hours use, you need to use small scissors to trim the wick to a smooth end again. Square or rounded change the flame shape. Do NOT store / display lamps with oil in them. It will slowly evaporate (so you are being exposed to unburned hydrocarbons long term) and polymerize making your wick clogged with goo. Have fresh dry wicks in storage and have the lamp “displayed” or stored with no oil in it. Store the oil in a metal can or sealed glass jar. The plastic bottle will eventually brittle and break. Sunlight will increase oil polymerization into goo.
But having grown up with them, I find the aroma nostalgic and love to just watch the flame waver and do that slow dance it does. They will also add some warmth to a cold room, but remember to not have a SEALED room as they do burn up the oxygen. Some ventilation required.
Just as a note of completion: Over the years I’ve tossed out a good half dozen expensive high quality Maglight flashlights as batteries leak. Doesn’t seem to matter what brand. Left long enough they all leak. This is made worse by the LED bulbs as then batteries last nearly forever, or until they leak. I make it a habit to check the batteries every year or so, but even then, eventually the leak hits you. For this reason I tend to have a couple stored without batteries in them, a battery pile that gets used / rotated in various things, and 3 or so that are “loaded and in use” at any one time. Every so often I’ll just toss old batteries even if they’ve not been used much. I’ve gotten tired of tossing flashlights and radios and stuff… For this reason I’d rather have a jar candle in my storage bag than a loaded Maglight. Light the candle, THEN put the batteries in the flashlight by candle power.
Similarly, pretty much everything with a battery in it has a shelf life. From wind up flashlights, to radios, to clocks and even computers. If a battery is involved, it’s a chemical timer and life limiter. I found my “car jumper pack” that was last charged about 6 months ago and was set aside fully charged. It’s now discharged. After a full day plugged into the wall, still showing full charge draw (has a red / green light system so not much granularity. Still solid red, not flashing red and certainly not green). I’ve had it about 5? years, so yeah, probably inert now.
For this reason I try to make certain I have a non-battery option for anything that has a battery. Candles and all fossil fuels work great. Some, like gasoline and kerosene, can polymerize and form “varnish” in long term storage or with UV exposure for a year; so even it needs “rotation”. Solid fuels seem to store forever. Charcoal for a portable grill. Wax candles. Firewood (though it slowly dries and loses oils), hexamine tablets.
This is part of why, having had various “Emergency” items for decades; I’ve regularly added other versions. Trying to find The One Perfect Solution. It doesn’t exist, but you can get close. In particular, the various LPG Liquefied Petroleum Gasses are great. Propane, Butane, iso-Butane, you name it. In metal cans, they seem to have unlimited shelf life. I’m sure eventually the rubber in the fill valves would degrade and the fuel leak out, but until then, they are fine (and after 20 years at least I’m still waiting for a failure). I’ve had propane bottles leak after using them a couple of times, but suspect that’s dirt getting in the valve from a dirty propane nozzle. Self pressurizing, they are trivial to use.
I have a fancy high end whiz-bang camp stove, single burner, backpacking, that can burn just about anything from gasoline to kerosene to even Diesel fuel. It’s a PITA to get started on Kerosene and Diesel, and on Diesel makes for sooty pots and stinky cooking. I’ve had to buy a repair kit for it since the gaskets in it fail in long duration storage (about 20 years in they failed). I’ve never used it for the intended purpose. It is only for a real aw-shit use on found fuel of ‘whatever’ kind. Why? Because propane is clean, easy, cheap, just works, and neither smells bad nor makes soot. Oh, and no worries about spilling it in the tent or on your clothes / sleeping bag.
About mid 1970’s some serious camping friends along with some of us “car camper” types went on an outing to Big Basin park. After hiking a couple of miles in, in a pleasant evening, we set up camp. Friends start fussing with their fancy stoves, pumping and priming and all, and we eventually get dinner made. Some “humor” was had at my expense as I’d packed in a propane bottle and a small propane torch. You know the kind, used for heating pipes and soldering things. About the size of your index finger with a valve on the end. I had to spend a bit of time finding 3 good rocks to make a pan support, then lit it up and made my dinner.
Well, that night it rained and rained. I’ll skip the part about 5 people one at a time wedging into one pup tent…
Next morning we awoke (for the dozenth or two time…) at dawn (and before dawn and at midnight and…) and folks decided to make breakfast. I had my “3 stones” from the night before. Took my propane torch, turned the valve, applied the sparker (the kind used for lighting welding torches as it’s what I had) and set it in the rocks. Pot on, boiled water in a minute or two, add instant cocoa mix… Started next pot of water… Wandering over to those who had “ribbed” me the night before…
They were trying to get their little self presurizing gas stoves to light. Like this one:
Pouring a bit of fuel on them to try to warm them up. Pumping and trying again. I helpfully offered to make some cocoa for them while they worked ;-) Did I mention it was a cold cold morning?
Eventually we used my torch to warm the fuel tank of their “self pressurizing” stoves and they set about making breakfast. I was done with my breakfast by then, and had made some coffee for others…
Needless to say, since then I’ve been especially fond of LPG based stoves and lanterns. I still think of my propane torch head as a nice burner for a ‘3 stone stove’. If worried about weight, there are very nice miniature iso-butane stoves that work as well and weigh a lot less. Like this titanium one at $25:
At 0.8 ounces, a far cry from my couple of lbs of torch and tank. Yet the same principle.
I’ve also got a collection of ultra light solid stoves (various tablets and stuff). Nice for “store forever use only in a real emergency”, but otherwise not really a good idea. Most of the fuels are some kind of toxic or at least stinky stuff. Not much heat output. Generally inexpensive, so worth tossing one in a day pack as an Aw-Shit choice. BUT, if you really expect to cook on it, get a gas stove with fuel in a can.
I have a particular interest in liquid fuel stoves. I’ve got a couple of self pressurizing alcohol stoves, a couple of kerosene stoves, some gasoline stoves, etc. etc. I’m especially fond of the alcohol stoves. They work well, are clean, and you can buy fuel at the car parts store or hardware store. Small, light, cheap to operate. Fun to play with. BUT, at zero or below with some wind, or if wanting some coffee in a hurry, I’d rather pop out a pressurized gas stove and just be done. Not too interested in playing with the stove then.
I’ve had the joy of sipping hot cocoa while watching other folks play with their stoves in the cold. They were not amused. I’d rather be amused ;-)