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Sci-Tech

Camping lantern promises to create a force field against bugs

Using a butane cartridge and a compound derived from chrysanthemum flowers, this lantern might become your new best camping buddy.

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Raise shields! Could this little lantern be a big weapon against mosquitos? Thermacell

Ah. You've arrived at your campsite, the tent is set up, the sleeping bags are unfurled, the fire is going and it's time to sit back in your comfy camp chairs and rela -- um, what was that? And that? And that! As the black flies descend and you run to your gear box to find some DEET to slather yourself with, you start to wonder why you didn't choose to stay home and watch an episode of "Man Vs Wild" instead of venturing out into the pest-ridden woods yourself.

Next time, you might want to take a new lantern from Thermacell with you. It uses a butane cartridge to heat a pad containing Allethrin, a synthetic version of the substance a chrysanthemum flower puts out as a natural repellent. As the repellant is vaporized and released into the air around you, it creates a 15x15-foot zone of protection from pests all around you, according to the manufacturers. (I'll be testing out this claim later in the spring, so check back for updates.)

Backing up its claims, Thermacell points to the fact that the lantern was tested by the Department of Defense, which found between 87.5 percent and 98.6 percent protection from biting insects in Costa Rica, Turkey and Korea. The tests all indicated that the closer you are to the lantern, the better the protection. The US military has also purchased oodles of the lanterns to outfit their troops around the world, so that seems like a pretty decent endorsement.

This lantern is a brighter, tougher update of a previous Thermacell model. It throws out much more light, which it can do for 50 hours on four D-cell batteries on its highest setting (out of three). It's also water resistant and has a battery indicator that changes from blue to orange to red as the batteries fade. The manufacturers say that the vapor released by the Allethrin is "virtually odorless."

The butane cartridges last about 12 hours and the pads about 4. They are both replaceable, with a pack of three mats and one cartridge running $7.49. The mats turn from blue to white when it's time to replace them.

The lantern retails for $59.99 and can be shipped only to the continental United States. That price tag, combined with the cost of refills, seems like the system can get pretty pricey depending on how much camping you do. But really, can you put a price on a mosquito-free evening in the woods?

If you do find that the Thermacell system is too costly for you, there's a more affordable candle-based option from Off, but it won't throw as much light or be as functional as an enclosed water-resistant lantern. Cutter also offers an option that works in a more limited range than the Thermacell lantern and claims to keep you safe from bug bites by masking the odor of mosquito-attracting carbon dioxide from your body.