How To Make An Improvised Camping Lantern

Feature | Lantern hanging in the tree | How To Make An Improvised Camping Lantern

Learn how to make an improvised camping lantern in this straightforward guide, so you don’t get caught in the wild without a light!

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DIY Camping Lantern You Can Make in a Jiffy

What You’ll Need to Make the Best Kerosene Lantern

Kerosene Lantern | How To Make An Improvised Camping Lantern
  • Kerosene fuel
  • Small glass bottle (syrup or soy sauce)
  • Small cup or container (to pour fuel from)
  • A small funnel
  • Aluminum can
  • Cotton t-shirt
  • Scissors

Instructions to Make Vintage Kerosene Lanterns DIY

 Step 1: Prepare the Container

Smaller container with ruler | How To Make An Improvised Camping Lantern

To make these old kerosene lanterns, we begin by pouring approximately 5 oz. (depending on the size of the bottle you are using) of kerosene fuel into a smaller container. This will make pouring into the funnel much easier and more manageable.

Now, using the cup and funnel, fill your bottle about 3/4’s full. Then, replace the lid and set aside for later.

Step 2: Make the Camping Lantern Wick

Black cloth wih metro and ruler | How To Make An Improvised Camping Lantern

Next, take an aluminum soda can and using your scissors, remove the top and bottom portions. You can cut using the part where the flat area meets the tapered portion as a guide.

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Then, take the remaining piece and cut it in half as shown in the picture. Take caution though, as the edges may be jagged and sharp.

Trim the ends by cutting off only enough to remove any jagged edges. This is what you should have left.

Step 3: Prepare Parts of the Wick

Can in half | How To Make An Improvised Camping Lantern

Now, cut the rectangular piece in half since you will only need one piece for the syrup-sized lantern. This will give you an extra piece to make two.

But, depending on the size of the bottle on hand, you may have to use the entire piece of aluminum. This is the approximate size for the syrup-sized lantern, 2.75″ X 2.75″.

Once you’ve completed this, set it aside for just a moment.

Step 4: Preparing Fabric for the Wick

Piece of aluminum| How To Make An Improvised Camping Lantern

Next, we cut a section of cotton t-shirt out, approximately 5.5″ X 6″. Now, take your section of the t-shirt and roll it up tightly.

This will act as the lantern’s wick then. First, place the rolled-up section of t-shirt and place it on the piece of aluminum at one end.

The t-shirt should stick out a quarter inch-sized on one end. You’ll need to roll it as tightly as possible though.

When finished, it should look like this. Don’t let go as it will unravel. Now grab the bottle you previously set aside and remove the lid.

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Step 5: Insert Your DIY Wick in the Bottle

Holding aluminum portion | How To Make An Improvised Camping Lantern

Insert the t-shirt “tail” into the bottle and continue to thread it in. Once you get to the aluminum portion, you may have to slightly crimp the ends in order for it to go into the bottle.

In some instances, the piece of aluminum may be too thick and you may have to trim some off for it to fit in the bottle. While inserting the t-shirt fabric and piece of aluminum, sometimes, a twisting motion aids in getting it to go into the bottle.

You want the aluminum to fit snugly in the bottle opening while still being able to move up and down.

Step 6: Make Sure Wick Fits Snugly In

Putting aluminum in the bottle | How To Make An Improvised Camping Lantern

This is what the completed lantern should look like. When you place the cap back on, simply push the aluminum “wick” down, flush with the bottle opening, and twist the lid on as usual.

Make sure you check the bottle for any leakage. Out of the six syrup bottle lanterns I have made, none have leaked.

The soy sauce bottle lantern tends to leak slightly. I remedied this by cutting a small piece of cork or rubber and placing on the lid to act as a washer; this seemed to do the trick.


When you are ready to use it, remove the lid and using your multi-tool pliers, grab the aluminum wick and pull it out about ½”. You will need to pull more t-shirt material up through the aluminum as it burns down.

Whenever the t-shirt material no longer reaches the kerosene, just pull the wick out and replace it.

Step 7: Light Up Your Improvised Camping Lanterns

Improvised kerosene camping lanterns | How To Make An Improvised Camping Lantern

There you have it, improvised kerosene camping lanterns from sauces or syrup bottles. This handy little lantern will be a useful addition to your EDC gear or camping equipment for sure!

What is EDC? EDC is short for Everyday Carry. It is an assortment of tools and gear that will help a person thrive in any everyday situation.

Remember to exercise caution while working with the cut aluminum, kerosene, and fire!


This video from Survival Life shows another great idea for camping lamps DIY using olive oil and a mason jar:

No matter what your level of survival expertise is, from newly converted enthusiast to seasoned veteran, improvisation is a must-have skill. However, the ability to take what’s available and create something practical and useful is quickly becoming a lost art.

With this simple guide, you only need fuel, and you can always go on a dumpster dive for the rest of the materials to make one of these improvised camping lights!

How did your own camping lantern improvisation work out? Let us know in the comments section below!

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How To Make An Improvised Camping Lantern |

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on October 19, 2018, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.

79 Responses to :
How To Make An Improvised Camping Lantern

  1. Jimbow says:

    instructions on how to make a fancy fire bomb?

    1. Mike Eaton says:

      Known as a Molotov cocktail! The idea was first mooted in Russia but named by the Finns during their war with Russia prior to WWII. It was considered an insult to Molotov a Russian Politician

  2. Anthonyk747 says:

    The only thing that I can’t understand is how the kerosene manages to affect the top of the t-shirt material (or any material, for that matter), despite not being soaked into the material as a whole. Can someone kindly explain the science of this for me? Thanks.

    1. Left Coast Chuck says:

      If I understand your question, it is a process called capillary action that draws liquid from the place of greater concentration to a location of lesser concentration. Thus the kerosene is drawn from the bottle where it is a greater concentration to the top of the wick where it is being burned off, a location of lesser concentration. There is less oxygen present in the tightly wrapped wick than at the top of the wick where the kerosene is burning. Thus the kerosene burns but the wick only chars due to low oxygen. Eventually the wick destructs and more wick must be pulled up. The tighter the twist, the more slowly the wick chars. Too loose a twist and the wick will burn off rapidly.

      1. T says:

        Chuck, I have the feeling. You know, when a mom knows a kid is sick. When a wife knows a husband is up to something. When a prepper knows it is about to happen. Chuck, I have been following you for years. I have never replied. I have just learned. And I have learned A LOT. Now I have the feeling. We live in Connecticut. We are homesteaders. I work for the Government. Husband is retired. Just something in my gut is telling me SOMETHING is about to happen. We are stocked for three months. I mean STOCKED. We have learned to make alcohol out of mint. We have enough beans and rice for six months. We have enough coffee. We have flour and sugar and potato flakes. PLEASE tell me to buy cheap. We just bought a car cash so our savings is low. Cheap and long storage. The feeling will not go away.
        Chuck, PLEASE. Ifeel it coming. My feelings are saying October/November?????

  3. Anonymous says:

    If you don’t want to ruin a T-shirt, you can use dryer lint, however, the performance won’t be the same.

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