this thing's incredible

The Quarantine Stopped Me From Camping, But It Hasn’t Stopped Me From Using This Camping Candle

Photo: Snow Peak

When I’d go camping as a kid, the ride home was always filled with the sound of our empty, or near empty, fuel canisters clanging in the back of the car. They’d ping off each other in different tones, depending on how much fuel was left in the cans. What were we going to do with that rusted-out hull of a canister on the next trip? Use the dregs to half fry an egg? We often ended up releasing the little leftover gas into the air and throwing away the cans. Not very ecofriendly on two fronts.

Snow Peak, the Japanese outdoor company, figured out the most elegant way to use those last bits of fuel. Of course it did — the brand consistently turns out products for your camping trips that are so cleverly designed and thoughtful, like a cutting board that stores your knife or the (unfortunately discontinued) marshmallow-roasting rod fashioned like a fishing pole. They’re things you never would have thought of, but once you see them, you’re convinced you need them in order to survive. Until you look at the price tag.

I first saw the Mini Flame when it launched at an outdoor trade show a few years ago. It was alongside a camping couch (a couch!). Where the couch was the large-scale extreme of Snow Peak’s signature practical design, the Mini Flame was a superfluous fun riff on it. One I had to have.

The light is about four and a half inches tall, and it screws right onto the fuel canisters you’d use for traditional lanterns. Light it, and a little orange flame begins bouncing in the small glass hurricane, casting the quiet, comforting glow of an enormous candle across your picnic table. It feels significant, like the sturdy little flame of Paul Revere’s warning lantern in a cool Japanese-designed cylinder. A little tab at the bottom lets you control the size of the flame, just like a dimmer switch in your dining room — only your dining room is nature.

It’s great at a campsite, but with all of this social distancing, I haven’t been able to get together with friends to camp and use it. What I have been able to do is put it in the only bit of wilderness I’ve been enjoying lately: my back patio. Like a lantern at its lowest setting, it casts just enough light to keep me from tripping when I head inside to refill my drink, but not enough to disturb the peace and dark around me. Plus, it seems to be universally flattering. That’s nice enough when it’s just my boyfriend and me, but I can’t wait to use it when actual parties are no longer forbidden. Maybe I’ll even take it camping again.

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