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  • Writer's pictureAllen Crater

Gear Review: Petromax HK 500 (Chrome) Kerosene Lantern

Updated: Mar 7

Petromax HK 500 Kerosene Lantern next to axe


When I saw it in the 2019 Orvis gift catalog, I knew it had to be mine. Being an outdoorsman drawn to products with history, craftsmanship and practical durability, the Petromax HK 500 felt like it had been made just for me. With a 400 watt output, the lamp combines a classic, elegant design with German-engineered performance. Invented in 1910, and still boasting more than 200 pieces that are assembled by hand, it is truly one part art and one part function. 

The chrome lamp weighs just over 5 pounds, has an eight-hour burning time, a tank capacity of one quart and features temperature-resistant borosilicate glass

The HK 500 is not recommended for indoor use, so once the weather broke a little I finally had the chance to test it out at our Northern Michigan hunting property over the last couple of days. I could not have been more impressed.

Petromax HK 500 Lantern

What I like: There are three main things that drew me to the Petromax: history, design and functionality/quality.

In terms of history, The Petromax 500 HK is likely among the most famous lamps in the world. The Petromax lamp was created in 1910 in Germany by Max Graetz, who also named the brand, on the basis of a spirit lamp that was already well-known. Graetz then designed a pressure lamp, working with vaporized paraffin (kerosene). To start this process, the lamp was preheated with denatured alcohol, in later models such as mine you can also use the integrated "Rapidstarter" running from the paraffin tank directly. In a closed tank, paraffin was pressurized with a hand pump. The heat produced by the mantle was then used to vaporize the paraffin, which is mixed with air and blown in to mantle to burn. Around the year 1916, the lantern and its name started to travel around the world. The name Petromax derives from “Petroleum” and “Max Graetz”.

From a design standpoint the lamp is simply a classic. The piece is substantial with elegant lines, a brilliant chrome finish and beautiful control components. It is truly an heirloom- quality piece that can be passed to the kids and grandkids.

A testament to the quality/functionality of the product is it's ongoing use by humanitarian-aid organizations and armed forces all over the world. The HK 500 is high-quality German engineering and manufacturing at its finest in the form of a weatherproof and reliable light source that can be used in all conditions.

The lamp delivered beyond my expectations in every category.

Close up of Petromax HK 500 Kerosene Lantern

What I don’t like:

There are two things about the lamp that might be off-putting to some.

The first is price, retailing at around $280. Yes, it's a lot of money for a lantern. But when you consider the engineering and craftsmanship that goes into each lamp - including over 200 pieces assembled by hand - the price seems more than justified.

The second is the operation. The HK 500 is an intricate piece of equipment with a number of dials and knobs and adjustments. This isn't your typical Coleman propane lantern. With the Petromax, the kerosene under pressure is conducted into a carburetor, where the vaporized fuel reacts to the mantle impregnated with luminous salt, which results in a bright, warm light. It can seem a little complicated. Below there are steps for lighting (with a new mantle).

  • Unscrew the manometer

  • Add fuel to the tank

  • Make sure that the nose is pointing upward

  • Screw the manometer onto the tank by hand

  • Make sure that the bleeder screw on the manometer is properly tightened

  • Unlock the pump by turning the pump knob

  • Repeatedly push the hand pump’s plunger until 1.5 bar (red line on the manometer)

  • Push the lever of the rapid preheater downward and immediately ignite the flowing fuel with a lighter

  • With a newly installed mantle, close the lever after approx.10 seconds. Let the mantle burn down completely until dyed grey appears, and make sure that the mantle has no black bits

  • Finish by pushing the lever downward and immediately ignite the flowing fuel

  • Repeatedly push the hand pump’s plunger to keep the pressure at 1.5 bar

  • The rapid preheater will now preheat the carburetor. It must be preheated for at least 90 seconds. The time needed depends on the outside temperature

  • After 90 seconds,turn the handwheel nose down

  • As soon as the lamp lights, close the lever of the rapid preheater

  • Bring the lamp to operating pressure (2.5bar)

Like I said, it isn't your typical Coleman propane lantern. There's a lot of pumping. And the rapid preheater is basically a small flamethrower that can seem a little daunting at first. But once I went through the steps following the instructions I found it easy to set up, burn off the mantle and preheat the lamp with the rapid preheater. After a 90-second preheat the lamp burns brilliantly and cleanly throwing a lot of light and a fair amount of warmth.

Close up of Petromax HK500 Kerosene lantern

Perfect for: Can you find a lantern that throws light with less fuss and less cost? Sure. And I have a few of them. But, for me, the HK 500 is a perfect heirloom-quality lamp for someone that appreciates fine craftsmanship, beautiful design, and rugged functionality.

Stars: 5 out of 5

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1 Comment

Feb 09

I bought the same few years ago for same reason you did, and have used it indoors also (gasp...). When I was a teenager one of my friend's family had a lakeside cottage without electricity. So in winter every evening we pumped up the Petromax (might have been Tilley also) to give light to the large main room. Some rural homes were still without electricity and has used or still used these lantern routinely indoors, where else would you actually need light really? "Outdoor use only" must now come from strict liability laws, as it certainly is possible to start a fire with these contraptions if hung too close to ceiling and/or if a flemeup happens (which does occasionally). But…

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