Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Milk carton lantern

I recently did a tarp and hammock overnighter at Gilwell (which for those that don't know is the  Association's HQ and is a campsite too) with the view to helping with a photo shoot the next day. As the mobile quartermaster store (the car) wasn't too far away I decided to try a few things out as I didn't have to lug everything on my back.

One of those things was a milk carton lantern. I've seen them on social media from time to time but it's one of those things I've never got round to trying, and as it's simply a reversed head torch/ glo stick shining through/ out of a four pint milk carton I decided to tick it off.

I filled a third of a carton up with water for stability and strapped on an old head torch and it was ok light wise, diffused and helped to lift the darkness but equally it wasn't something you could read by.

I posted a picture on several places on Facebook and several suggestions came back, some I am awaiting more info but one being that the carton is best full of water so I decided to retry this and do the glo stick test as well. I used a low light setting on my camera and did them one after the other. There was a little ambient light at Gilwell so I did the test shots early in the morning near a window with the curtains open a little.


First up the head torch with and without water in (left to right). To be honest I didn't notice a great deal of difference between the two versions.


Next up the yellow glo stick, well I say yellow...It's what I'd lined up but despite my best efforts I couldn't get it to light up so I subbed the next best colour I had which was green. Again, the pictures show with and without water (left to right) and whilst it looks rather bright in the pictures it was in fact pretty much similar to the head torch light intensity.

Whilst I was outside I decided to flip the red filter on just to see what it was like and it wasn't that good and made the carton look like a rather peculiar minion. 

I also saw this  suggestion via social media about using a candle which I have tried out. 

To make it cut a hole in the milk bottle lid, I used a hot skewer which could equally be a smoldering stick end on camp, insert the candle and use the handle to tie the carton to a tree.   


I cut a hole in the carton base so that the candle didn't melt the carton, or got starved of oxygen. The light was arguably the best of the three methods but reading would still be a strain. I tried this on the stillest of nights but tried blowing the candle out level from a foot away, then at 45 degrees to the cut hole, then nearly vertical and it was only when overhead that it succumbed.

Stuart suggested that I try using one for an extended period to see if a small hole would suffice. I had one going three hours or so until the candle gave out and not only did it stay intact, it held off some heavy rain late on. Perhaps an adjustable hinged top with a small hole may be a good compromise?

Well, I've ticked a milk carton lantern off the list of things to do but you can beat  the light of a fire...And the warmth...and the fact that I cooked my dinner on it!


  1. Hi Austin, nice to see that you gave the candle a try, and glad that you had good results.

    One thing I would say is that whenever I've used this method I've cut the whole bottom off of the milk bottle, rather than just making a hole, I might be being over cautious but I feel that it's safer that way. It looks like your method worked well though and didn't cause you any problems.

    All the best,


    1. Hi Stuart, firstly thanks for the idea :) I wondered about the size of aperture but when I was trying to blow the candle out it was stable right up to the point where I was overhead and finally managed to blow it out so the flame was stable. I might try leaving it for a prolonged period and see what happens.

    2. I'm more concerned about heat building up inside the bottle with just a small hole to let it escape than I am with the candle blowing over or similar. I'd be a little concerned that if the bottle got warm enough it would flop down onto the candle and catch fire, cutting the hole bottom of the bottle off effectively eliminates any build up of heat within the bottle.

      I'd be interested to hear how you get on with leaving yours burning for a longer period



  2. Good point...I'll *have* to try it now!