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Reviews > Lighting > Lanterns > UCO Original Candle Lantern LED > Test Report by Curt Peterson
UCO Candle Lantern plus LED Light
Report Series by Curt Peterson
Initial Report - March 2008
Field Report - June 2008
Long Term Report - August 2008
Tester Background and Contact Information
Name: Curt Peterson
Height: 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)
Weight: 270 lb (122 kg)
Email address: curt<at>boopants<dot>com
Location: North Bend, Washington, USA
I live in the Cascade foothills, just 20 mi (32 km) from the Pacific Crest Trail via trails leading right from my backyard. My outdoor time in Washington is spent dayhiking, backpacking, climbing, and skiing everywhere from the Olympic coast to rainforests to Cascade volcanoes to dry steppe. I played football in college and often evaluate products from a big guy perspective. My typical pack load ranges from 11 - 20 lbs (5 - 9 kg) and usually includes plenty of wet weather gear.
The UCO Candle Lantern plus LED takes the humble wax candle and wraps it in all kinds components to create a unique lantern that can burn wax candles and offers the option for battery-powered LED light as well. This thoughtfully-designed kit virtually eliminates the dripping wax mess that most candles present and packs it all into a clean and compact package.
The candle lantern arrived in a plastic bubble case that included all of the required parts (including a candle and batteries for the LED) as well as clear instructions and a full-color presentation of the other UCO products and half dozen accessories for the Candle Lantern plus LED. The literature highlights the three ways to use the lantern. It can be used as a candle lantern, LED flashlight, or mini table top LED light. According to UCO, the candle will burn for over 9 hours and the LED light will last up to 40 hours on the two CR2032 watch batteries it requires.
The basic design appears simple enough. It's a candle lantern with a small LED disk in the base of the unit. This simplicity is a bit deceiving, however. The candle is not just sitting there slowly burning down as most candles do. Instead, it's resting on a baseplate which sits on a spring. All of this rides in a long metal cylinder with an opening for the wick and flame. The idea behind this design is that the opening for the flame, with the wax candle continuously being pushed upwards by the spring, will remain a consistent size and burn all of the liquid wax before it can drip and run down the candle. Combined with UCO's candles that are designed to burn cleaner, drip less, and avoid hot weather melting, the UCO Candle Lantern plus LED is made to burn without soot and avoid becoming a drippy mess.
All of these capabilities come at the expense of weight and simplicity. While a stand alone candle can simply be lit and work, the UCO Candle Lantern plus LED uses 8 different parts to do its job. That's not including the batteries or separating the spring from the base or metal hook from the hanging bail. Including these the whole setup has 12 different removable pieces. Not only does this make it relatively complicated for a camp light, but the parts add up to a comparatively hefty weight. In the grand scheme of things 7.2 ounces (206 g) is not that much, but when a candle setup weighs more than my gas cartridge stove and cook pot COMBINED, it stands out in my gear kit. I also have a gas cartridge lantern and LED headlamp that combined weigh less than the UCO Candle Lantern plus LED. They each give off much more light as well, so this setup is certainly not the most efficient in terms of power for weight. Still, the soft flicker of candlelight during camp evenings and the quick LED light for midnight rummaging are hard to complain about. The entire package collapses into a tough, secure, reasonably small package as well, which makes packing it very easy.
There are a few neat features of the UCO Candle Lantern plus LED that stand out on first look. One is the slot in the side that allows the user to see how much of the candle remains. There are actually two of these slots that align when the candle is set up correctly. In fact, it's impossible to have them not be aligned if the candle lantern is inserted the right way. The slot in the candle cylinder can be seen in the components picture above. Another neat feature is a lean-to wire stand on the LED light. By propping up the LED light, it can be used as a tabletop light. It is set up this way in the picture of the components above. Although not featured this way by UCO, I can also see this stand being used to hang the LED as a stand-alone overhead light in a tent or under a tarp. With lightweight line this would provide overhead lighting for barely 0.5 ounces (17 g) when used without the candle lantern. The two can be used independent of each other, so having a candle lantern outdoors in the camp kitchen and keeping the LED light overhead in the tent is a definitely possibility. The other neat feature of the LED is the super simple twist on/off mechanism. A quick 1/8 turn flicks it on and off. It's easy, hard to imagine being accidentally done, and would be just as easy with gloves as without.
I look forward to testing the UCO Candle Lantern plus LED. I'll be testing it this spring in Central Washington and in the lower elevations of the Cascades. We've had a heavy winter snowfall this year that is not giving up quite yet. In fact, even now in late March the mountain passes are adding to the snow pack totals. It may be late July or even August this year until the trails open up in the high country, but I'll push the snow line in search of high lakes throughout the test period. Sunset will be very late - near 10:00 pm by mid test - but I'll be sure to stay up late enough to give the UCO Candle Lantern plus LED a good workout.
do believe there is something instinctual about an open flame that
humans find comforting. I rarely have open fires anymore, so I look
forward to bringing a real flame into my camp!
Initial Report Summary
The UCO Candle Lantern plus LED is a neat little item with some clever design features. I believe it is definitely a "nice to have", not a "must have" item in my gear kit, but ten years ago I would have thought it was one of the cooler things to take along on a backpacking trip. I'll be tapping into that gear-head side of me for this test. It is awfully heavy, however, and in the age of sub 3 ounce (85 g) LED headlamps I will be looking for some of the less tangible qualities of taking a candle lantern to justify the comparatively hefty load.
The UCO Candle Lantern plus LED has been used on three camping nights so far - two car camping and on quick overnight trip. The overnight trip was in Central Washington in the Channeled Scablands and primarily focused on the LED use. I arrived in camp late and was much more interested in getting camp set up quickly and getting to sleep than I was enjoying a candlelit evening. The car camping days were just outside of Leavenworth, Washington and saw the UCO used both nights for a couple hours each night. All three nights had lows in the low 40s F (~5 C) and were used during the evening so the temperatures were just a bit warmer than that. There was a little precipitation on one of the car camping nights but the UCO was protected under an awning.
Both of the major components of the UCO Candle Lantern plus LED have been fun to test so far. The LED is proving to be a great little light on its own. I have used it as a flashlight a little bit, but to be honest it was only because of this test. Especially with the hanging bail attached it's not a particularly comfortable flashlight to use. I guess when I think of a flashlight I want it to be tough enough to handle the inevitable drops and be able to be tossed around. This is not something I'd recommend with the UCO, but it's also not its intended use. I can see using it as a flashlight for very short periods to find something but not really as a traditional flashlight replacement. The LED piece on its own, however, is really interesting. I've used it with great results both as a hanging general tent light and as a tabletop area light. Hanging the LED from the roof of a tent has been really effective for me so far. As long as I'm not leaning over and blocking the light with my head, it gives off a top-down light much like home lighting and seems more useful and thorough than the focused beam of headlamp lighting. The little clip that lies flat while attached to the candle makes it easy to clip the LED to a mini-biner and attach to a gear loft loop or other attachment point inside the tent. As a tabletop light the LED is really bright, but in my opinion not as useful as when hung overhead. The main problem for me is that to shine it on the area I want light in I end up positioning it in a way where it's always right in my eyes. I imagine if I was working on something and the light were next to me shining on whatever I was working on it would be pretty effective, but so far the ways I've tried to use it have just forced me to squint a lot. It's neat that it works like this and is much nicer to use this way than setting a headlamp down with the beam in the general direction I want it to go in.
The candle is obviously not nearly as bright as the LED, but it has a gentle glow to it that can only come from a real flame. It's easy to light, seems to burn forever, and so far has been a great addition to camp life. Sliding open the cylinder and lighting the candle isn't as much of a hassle as I'd expected - even when it was hanging higher than eye level. The candle continues to burn just fine even with light winds that would surely snuff any exposed candle. I've seen no soot or black marks on the glass so far and haven't managed to burn my fingers yet. I definitely give the top a little time to cool down before stowing the candle lantern, but it hasn't been a problem. It gets hot enough that I would not be comfortable using it close to the roof in a small tent, but for outside camp time it gives off enough light to see by but not so much that it is blinding like a headlamp. It's nice to be hanging out in camp and not constantly annoying everyone with our headlamps! The UCO quickly becomes a centerpiece that we find ourselves sitting next to for evening chats. The candle has burned for about 3 1/2 hours so far. There is no waxy mess and the original candle has a lot of life left in it.
I have a four day backpacking trip planned in just over a week and at least a couple car camping trips in July as my work schedule eases for the summer. I plan on seeing how the UCO does in more serious backcountry conditions and noting just how long the candle and batteries in the LED last. So far, this test has been a fun way to use an item I likely would have overlooked in the past. With a different twist on ways to use an LED light and bringing the atmosphere of an open flame in a simple-to-use package, the UCO is turning out to be a neat backcountry luxury so far.
Long Term Report
Long Term Report
The UCO Candle Lantern plus LED has been on every trip with me since it arrived. During the Long Term Test period I went on two trips. One was a 3-day, 2-night backpacking trip up the Taylor River into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington's Cascades. The other was a quick overnighter up the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River in the same area. Both trips had good weather, warm temperatures, and late sunsets. The first was on the Summer Solstice, which means sunset after 9:30 pm this far north. The other was a few weeks later, but still had post-9:00 pm light. Despite the late evening light, I did stay up late enough on both trips to give the UCO a solid couple of hours of use each evening. It has continued to be a solid performer.
I never did fully trust the candle indoors, however. It wasn't because I worried about wax or open flame. Instead, I worried about hot metal touching easily-melted fabrics. I always found ways to use it outside, however. Usually a simple trekking pole firmly planted would do the job very well (see picture above). Wind has essentially no effect on the flame. Even when blowing down directly into the top vents the flame doesn't snuff easily. I did experience dripping wax for the first time, but it was very little and it all stayed in the lantern. It does indeed burn very clean. Even after multi-hour burnings there is no soot and I would be comfortable wrapping it up in clothing in my pack with no concerns about getting crud on my shirts. It has proved to be a solid, well-built, versatile source of light.
Long Term Summary
Long Term Likes
Long Term Dislikes
The UCO Candle Lantern plus LED is unique. There are many ways to get light into camp - headlamp, open fire, gas lantern - but with the exception of an open fire it is difficult to get the quiet, calming, comfortable light a big candle can provide. For the times when a quick light is needed and lighting a candle would be a hassle the LED does the job quickly and easily. These two functions are packaged together, but I see them most versatile when separated. I will definitely make the small LED disk part of my year-round camping kit. It is so light, so easy, and provides all the area lighting I need for anything but trail use. I envision utilizing the candle more in the fall and winter months when dark comes at 4:00 pm and camp life can include hours of dark before going to bed. The candle is fantastic for group camping and family camping and adding some atmosphere to the scene. The LED disk is perfect for fast, solo overnights where weight is a concern and getting to camp generally means eating something quickly and going straight to bed. Regardless of which piece I'm using, it's nice to be able to remove the headlamps, quit blinding camp mates, enjoy the right amount of light to get done what is needed but not light up the sky.
My thanks to UCO and BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to test this fine piece of gear!
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