Memorial Day Gear Guide: We Test Camping Lanterns and Multitools
Not Your Father's Lantern
By Peter B. Mathiesen
Whether you're camping out near a trout stream in summer or in a wall tent on a fall elk hunt, having a reliable lantern makes life a lot more enjoyable. And as millions of Gulf Coast residents can attest, lanterns can be lifesavers during emergencies. We compared three propane lanterns for convenience and brightness, and then tested three alternatives. Here's what we uncovered. The Test: Lanterns
I measured the following three propane lanterns with a Canon handheld digital light meter under similar conditions and found that the Coleman Pinnacle was 10 percent brighter than the Brunton, which was 60 percent brighter than the Primus. Of the non-propane group, the Coleman NorthStar was the brightest of the three, just shy of the Brunton. Battery lights can't compare to fuel-"the Essential Gear measures at only half the glow of the miniature EasyLight, and the Gerber at much less than that. Spencer Jones
Coleman Pinnacle ($70)
The Lowdown: Although this propane lantern can be tricky to put together, it’s sturdy once assembled, and it easily disassembles inside its stand. The base is wide, with folding feet for stability.
Hits: The clip-on mantle is much easier to install than the traditional tie-on style.
Misses: Trying to line up and fit the top back onto the frame is a challenge in the dark or when the lantern is hot.
Contact: 800-835-3278; coleman.com Spencer Jones
Coleman NorthStar ($100) (Editor’s Choice: Most Versatile)
The Lowdown: Weighing 5.35 pounds, this lantern will run on Coleman lantern fuel or unleaded gas. It’s a breeze to light with electronic ignition, and the clip-on tube-style mantle burns brightly. The bottom has a steadying wide rubber base. The tank cap and fuel valve are ridged plastic, easy to grip and turn.
Hits: It’s nice to have a lantern that you can find fuel for anywhere, except…
Misses: …it may clog on Canadian unleaded fuel, due to different additives.
Contact: 800-835-3278; coleman.com Spencer Jones
Primus EasyLight ($55)
The Lowdown: This compact model weighs less than a pound even with a 4-ounce fuel canister. The hardware is clean in design, simple to use, and efficient. The EasyLight comes with a case that is less than 5 inches long. It’s the quietest of the propane lanterns tested. Rated at 80 watts, however, it is less than half as bright.
Hits: Compact, fast to light, with great instructions, it takes a hard fall well.
Misses: It’s only bright enough for a small area. Car campers will want more power.
Contact: 307-857-4660; www.primus.se Spencer Jones
Brunton Orion ($90) (Editor’s Choice: Best of the Test)
The Lowdown: This propane lantern’s assembly and operation are incredibly simple: There is a base, a valve, an auto light switch, and a diffusion pattern on the globe. You can get it up and burning in less than a minute, and its three mantles throw off a lot of light. The Orion weighs 2 pounds 1 ounce without the canister.
Hits: The Orion is compact, has a smart case, can be set up and lit quickly, and is bright.
MIsses: Its mantles felt clumsy to install compared with that of the Pinnacle.
Contact: 800-443-4871; brunton.com Spencer Jones
Gerber Hornet ($38) (the small lantern)
The Lowdown: This lunar module lookalike fits in your palm and weighs a minuscule 1.2 ounces including three AAAs. It will burn up to 40 hours with one set of batteries, has a 15-foot visibility area, and is water resistant. A great light for a small tent, the Hornet even has a red emergency flashing option.
Hits: It’s compact and perfect for wilderness use. It will stand on its own or can be hung.
Misses: No manual, and I’d trade a little weight for more light.
Contact: 800-950-6161; gerbergear.com Essential Gear 12LED ($50) (the large lantern)
The Lowdown: Twelve LED bulbs are mounted in a vertical spear that the manufacturer claims will never need to be replaced. It will burn for 40 hours at the highest setting, 10 days at the lowest. By far the brightest of the battery lights we reviewed, it weighs 2.7 pounds with four D-cells.
Hits: Bright and durable, it stays lit a long, long time. The rim on the top helps keep the light out of your eyes.
Misses: The batteries make it a little heavy.
Contact: 413-772-8984; essentialgear.com Spencer Jones
Tooling Up: Multitools that fit your hunting and fishing needs
This month our test panel cut cardboard, whittled wood, twisted and cut wire, and loosened rusty bolts, all in the pursuit of rating the best new multitools on the market. The tools were graded on blade and tool design, functionality, and stamina. All models were introduced within the past year, and in the case of the Gerber Freehand, our testers were the first consumers in the country to try it out. Field & Stream’s only requirements: Each tool had to have a knife and a pair of pliers and be applicable to hunting and fishing. Turn the page to see how four multitools rated. The Test Panel: Kent Koptiuch
Home woods: The Green Mountains, Vermont
Annual days in the outdoors: 40 Nick Kleto
Home woods: Outer Banks, North Carolina
Annual days in the outdoors: 90 Steven Nicovich
Home woods: Southern Oregon
Annual days in the outdoors: 100 Curt Michaels
Home woods: Au Sable State Forest, Michigan
Annual days in the outdoors: 45 Want to become a member of the Field & Stream Reader Test Panel? Apply here! Spencer Jones
Leatherman Surge ($80) (Editor’s Choice: Best of the Test)
Overall Score: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars
The Lowdown: This classic multitool has a selection of four screwdrivers and four measuring surfaces in inches or centimeters. There are nine lockable blades and tools with a file that stores in the nylon sheath and replaces the saw as needed. The outside blades are notched for thumb opening. Weighing 13.4 ounces, the stainless-steel Surge has a matte-and-chrome finish and comes with a 25-year warranty. The panel gave the Surge a minor knock for its somewhat sharp outer frame and a perceived lack of durability for the file and saw blade holder. Besides that, it drew solid scores across the board, and it didn’t receive a rating lower than second from anyone.
Hits:“It’s the only one with a screwdriver bit small enough to tighten eyeglasses.-¿ -“Nicovich “The knives can’t be opened when the pliers are deployed, an excellent safety feature.-¿ -“Koptiuch
Misses: “The file-to-saw blade exchanger seemed weak.-¿ -“Kleto
Contact: 503-253-7826; www.leatherman.com Spencer Jones
Gerber Freehand ($90)
Overall Score: 4 out of 5 stars
The Lowdown: One hand is enough to operate this tool, which has sliding needle-nose pliers and extremely tough wire cutters. At 14 ounces, the Freehand is the heaviest of the four tested. It comes in a nylon sheath and features eight lockable blades and tools, including one of the sharpest serrated blades. The stainless-steel finish is rustproof. The testers raved about the Gerber’s convenience, and all but Michaels liked how quickly the pliers deployed. Koptiuch severed a heavy 8-gauge fence wire with them, though he needed two hands to do it and got a nasty blood blister in the process. Not everyone thought the sliding pliers would hold up, but nobody could get them to fail. Michaels wanted to see the lock button increased in size for easier use.
Hits: “The only multitool that opens with a flick of the wrist.-¿ -“Nicovich “The thumb knurls that you use to open the blades are a standout feature.-¿ -“Koptiuch
Misses: “Sometimes the palm of my hand got pinched when I released the sliding pliers lock.-¿ -“Koptiuch
Contact: 800-950-6161; gerbergear.com Spencer Jones
SOG PowerLock S60 ($75)
Overall Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars
The Lowdown: Made in the United States and the only tool in our test with a ¿¿-inch socket, the SOG is best known for the leverage of its pliers. The S60 weighs 12 ounces, comes in a leather sheath, and has nine other blades and tools. With a smooth finish, it contains wire cutters, a wire stripper, and well-machined needle-nose pliers. The PowerLock has a lifetime warranty. Everyone liked its high-quality construction, sharp blades, and comfortable in-hand feel. The ¿¿-inch socket driver was a big hit, although some feared the nut could be easily misplaced. Three testers objected to the fact that the pliers had to be opened in order to use the other tools.
Hits: “SOG’s geared hinge creates compound leverage that is buttery-smooth and provides effortless gripping power.-¿ -“Koptiuch
Misses: “The gap in the wire cutters prevented me from cutting fishing line smaller than 10-pound-test.-¿ -“Nicovich
Contact: 888-764-2378; sogknives.com Spencer Jones
Wenger Evolution S 557 ($60)
Overall Score: 2.5 out of 5 stars
The Lowdown: This multitool’s primary features are its compact size and weight. At only 4¿¿ ounces, it was by far the lightest tool in the test. It has one locking blade and seven other tools including pliers, scissors, two screwdrivers, a corkscrew, and more. Fear not, you still get the toothpick and tweezers. Every tester credited Wenger (Swiss Army) as being the father of the first multitool, but that wasn’t enough to keep the Evolution from scoring in the cellar. It just couldn’t overcome its small and less-than-aggressive tool profile. There was general agreement that the S 557 would work fine for backpacking and camping. One tester commented that it was like comparing a BMW sedan to a ¿¿-ton diesel truck.
Hits: “I liked the small wrench tool.-¿ -“Kleto
Misses: “The pliers are only as strong as your fingers.-¿ -“Nicovich
Contact: 800-267-3577; wengerna.com Spencer Jones