Sunday, October 28, 2018

Cabin without electricity

An off-grid cabin that's dirt simple is pretty attractive. My dad's old hunting camp was such a place. To get there required a nine mile drive down a dirt road, then another quarter mile or so on a fire road. It was a simple 16 by 16 foot cabin framed with spruce poles. It had a woodstove. Water came from a brook down the hill. There was an outhouse and a woodshed behind the camp.

Back when it was built about the only way to have off-grid power was a noisy generator. Very few camps were equipped with them, as they were usually more trouble than they were worth. Dad's camp certainly didn't have one.

What it did have was a 100 pound propane tank. That ran a gas stove so we wouldn't have to light the woodstove just to cook dinner. More important than the stove were the two propane lights.

There were not a lot of good lighting options back in the day. Candles are dangerous, smokey, and don't really put out a lot of light. Kerosene lanterns were better, but they too put out a lot of fumes. If the wick was poorly trimmed, they'd smoke even more. Back then battery powered lights did not last very long. The batteries were primitive and the light bulbs inefficient.

Propane lights burned cleaner than the other options. The light from the two lamps in the small cabin was sufficient. One was installed in a central location for general lighting in the cabin. The other was located right over the table. That provided enough light to play cards or read books.

If I had to illuminate a small off-grid cabin today I'd definitely go with a small solar electric system. LED lights use very little power, last a long time, and are very bright. Once set up a small off grid system, say 50 to 100 watts, could last a long time.

While the propane lights were fine, there were problems. The mantels were fragile and often needed replacement. Hauling the propane tank though the woods wasn't always that fun either. The roads were not always drivable, even in a 4 X 4. One year we brought a tank in by snowmobile.

Of course, a small solar electric system can provide power for any number of tools and devices. However, I still think having a good, reliable, and long lasting lighting solution is the most important.



  1. I tend to agree that a small solar system would be ideal, especially with the LED lighting.

  2. Sounds like a plan.

  3. I don't believe a "camp" should have electricity of any kind. Back when I was younger and live in western Pennsylvania, we had a camp at the end of a sometimes drivable road that ran through a cow pasture with two gates and ended about mile into the woods at that end of the road. Had a spring for water and kerosene lights, a couple of them were the "Aladdin" type with brightly shining mantles. Loved going there.

    1. The Aladdin type puts out a lot of light. Probably the best of the kerosene lamps.

      I miss the old camp.

  4. Propane has the added benefit of putting out enough heat to knock the humidity out of the air. Not fun during the summer in Florida, but very nice in wintertime. Even better up north. Visited an Amish family and the heat from the propane lights did a nice job of knocking the chill out of the air in the house.

    So, sometimes the older ways are the better ways.

    And I've always liked the quiet hiss of a burning pressurized gas lamp. Reminds me of camping with my dad.

    1. I too have fond memories of camping with dad. Still miss him, and those days, something terrible.