General Purpose Survival Flashlight
Let there be light. In cities and towns, we're bathed in light all day. Street lights at night, and all the electrical devices in the house. We take light for granted these days. But in the woods on a dark night, during a power outage, or--most importantly--in a long-term survival situation, you'll quickly learn just how important light is, and how important it is to be prepared.
Here are my opinions about what makes for a good survival light.
First, there is no "one light" that will do every thing. Any more than "one gun" or "one knife". You wil need several.
1. Small and lightweight is better. Except when you need bigger. Indecisive? Naah, just that there are different needs.
A smaller flash light is the one you have with you at all times. A squeeze light on your key ring is there when you need it, or a light to put in your pocket. I carry a 2AA mini mag with LED conversion. It is a compromise between size, convenience, and light output. But, it's with me all day.
Some are bigger due to marketing, or poor design. Many rubber flash lights run on two AA cells, are twice the bulk of a Mini Mag, and don't work as well as the Mini Mag. Bigger flashlights are heavier. They may or may not have longer runtime.
2. Uses a common battery size Currently, the most common flashlight battery sizes are AAA, AA, C, and D cells. A few lights use 9-volt batteries or lithium photo batteries.
That leaves AA- or AAA-cell lights are the most convenient for pocket carry. C and D cells for in the truck. For occasional use when more light power is needed.
Using a common battery size is important for price, and for getting more batteries if you need them. Depending on the scenario, the easiest battery to find at stores is C. You may be able to buy or barter for AA, AAA or D cells. I just don't know about the lithium photo batteries. They may be in stores after a crisis, or may not.
3. Uses a variety of battery types It's important that survival flashlights be able to function whether using carbon, alkaline, or rechargeable batteries. Since you may run out, and need to use whatever you can find. In a long-term survival situation, rechargables and a solar charger may work long after there are no primary cells left. Most lights will function using all three types, though some manufacturers don't approve lithium primaries. Find out exactly what batteries your survival light can tolerate before you purchase it, or test the batteries in your light before you have to rely on them.
4. Fewer batteries is better Obviously, the fewer the batteries needed to operate the light . . . the fewer batteries you'll need to operate the light. This is a good thing in a survival situation, even better for long-term survival. As a rule, a survival light should use no more than two batteries, preferably just one. Currently, there are many one-cell AA lights on the market that not only produce a lot of light (for their size), but also enjoy excellent run times. Twenty-plus hours of usable light is not uncommon, and even longer run times can be found. There are also a few 1xAAA lights available that might make adequate primary or excellent back-up survival lights.
5. Simple to operate There are lots of fancy lights out there that sport multiple output levels, including SOS and strobe modes. Some are even computer-programmable. When it comes to survival lights, simple is usually better. A light with just one medium-intensity level will usually suffice, or perhaps a two-level light with low and high output levels. Just so that it's simple and intuitive to operate.
6. Reliable operation mechanism " Twisty" or "clickie," that is the question. Which is more reliable? There is no definitive answer, reliability depends more on the quality of the light than on the particular mode of operation. And even a good company can turn out the occasional bad light. Most clickies have the on-off mechanism on the rear of the light, while some have it on the side (e.g., Maglite). Most twisties are operated by turning the bezel (head) or tail cap. And there are also hybrid models utilizing both twisty and clickie operations. If at all possible, obtain spare mechanisms.
7. Well constructed Look for lights where the bulb is reasonably protected, that are shock resistant and water resistant/proof, and that won't accidentally turn on while in your pocket or backpack. Clickies are most prone to accidental activation. This can usually be prevented by rotating the tail cap counterclockwise while the light is on until the power cuts out, then clicking the clickie button off.
8. LED versus incandescent No contest here. A flashlight that uses an incandescent bulb is simply not a primary survival light. Period. If the bulb itself can burn out or malfunction due to shock (broken filament), then you don't want to trust your life to its operation. While light emitting diode (LED) "bulbs" technically don't last forever, a 5,000- to 10,000-hour use life is close enough to "forever" for survival purposes. LED bulbs are a heck of a lot tougher than other bulb types. Over the last few years LED technology has improved exponentially, to the point where they now can out-perform most other lights. The newest and brightest LEDs will do what you need. The LEDs put out blue light Many people find this blue objectionable. Some folks are willing to put up with the bluish tint due to its superb runtime (80+ hours of usable light on just 1 AA battery). Not to worry. The newer LEDs have a crisp white white light. Luxeon is like this.
9. Good compromise between output and run time Run time is arguably the most important criterion, and it's what separates true survival lights. The longer the run time, the better. Super-bright "tactical" lights are great for impressing your friends, but will usually suck batteries dry much more quickly. Also, the darker your environment, the less light you need to see well enough. Brighter lights can actually be a disadvantage, because they more readily attract unwanted attention, and can also impair your night vision. Again, we're talking about survival lights here, not tactical (super bright) lights.
It's OK to also take along a super-bright light for "tactical" use (e.g., disorienting or disrupting the night vision of a potential threat), in most cases these lights will not be used very often.
11. Quality of light beam What this refers to is the illumination pattern, or beam characteristic, of the light. For survival lights, you really need both. A wide beam provides light to a wider area, gives a broader picture and better edge vision. Tight beams will light specific objects, and will have longer "throw," but will also tend to draw your line of sight inward, so that you focus more on what's illuminated in the spot. Tight, bright beams are also more detrimental to night vision than wider, dimmer spill beams. But, sometimes you need to see what is that noise, out there. A few lights seek a compromise, claiming to offer both a bright center beam as well as decent spill. If you happen to choose to also carry a more powerful "tactical" light, you'll probably prefer that it have a bright, fairly narrow beam. But for a general purpose survival light, you want a wider, more diffuse beam, allowing you take in more visual information at one time.
12. Lanyard hole The lanyard hole is just that--a hole through which you can attach a lanyard. The lanyard can then be tied around your wrist, for example, or through a belt loop to prevent the loss of your light. Always use a lanyard and secure it to your person, your clothing, or your gear, especially when not in use. Your survival light is an essential, life-saving, possibly irreplaceable tool, but it will do you no good if you lose it.
13. Pocket clip Most smaller lights these days come with pocket clips. They are usually detachable. They are useful to clip the light to a pocket, or hat brim while performing tasks that require both hands. Pocket clips are nice to have. If your light doesn't come with one, it would be worthwhile to find a clip from some other source (such as another light of the same diameter).
14. Can stand on its tail Lights that can do so add a nice feature. They are especially useful when you desire area light, such as when reading or dressing in your tent. Of course, you can always prop your light up or clip it to some thing to get the same effect, but it's not quite as handy.
15. Caring for your light Other than lubing the bezel and/or tail cap threads with an appropriate wet or dry lubricant. Avoiding cross-threading. Put the batteries in, pointing the correct way. Keep it dry, don't drop it, etc. I'd suggest keeping your survival light empty of batteries until needed. Otherwise, keep lithiums in there. Alkalines can leak and ruin your light.
Q: What about headlamps? Can these be used as survival lights? A: Very handy items to have. The light shines right where you look. Including smack dab into the face of the person you're looking at. Maybe it's just me, but I don't much care for light in my eyes when I'm trying to preserve my night vision. They might also make a handy head-shot target for hostiles. Let's put it this way. While most small flashlights can usually be rigged to serve as makeshift headlamps (with the aid of a pocket clip or headband, for example), most headlamps cannot readily be used in the same manner as one might use a flashlight. Headlamps could possibly serve as back-up survival lights (if they use only one or two batteries), but I would not recommend them as primary survival lights. A flashlight will, in most instances, prove more versatile. Resources
1. The best flashlight resource on the Web is Candle Power Forums . Lots of traffic and more info about flashlights than most people would ever need to know. Also a good source for obtaining custom lights. 2. One of the better flashlight review sites is FlashlightReviews.com. It's no longer updated regularly, but many of the lights still being sold are reviewed at the site.
if you decide to transition to LEDs, save those original incandescent light bulb components. You never know when someday you may need a lot of light--for example for impromptu surgery out in the field.
The other exception is truly SHTF tactical use. While I do not advocate using a visible light flashlight or rail-mounted weapon light where you are up against and armed opponent. (Since they provide your opponent with a convenient point of aim.) They are fine for shooting marauding bears.
I also keep a 50 piece box of the standard Panasonic brand CR-123 lithium batteries in my refrigerator, as a "tactical reserve." These have a 10+ year shelf life.
Regarding lanyards, I recommend using a long, stout lanyard that is a full loop, preferably with a ball-shaped spring button slider. I mainly use olive drab paracord. The longer the better, for the sake of versatility. If the lanyard is too short, then there is not enough slack to loop the flashlight through (in a Girth Hitch--a.k.a. Lanyard Knot) to be able to hang a light from a branch, belt loop, tent d-ring, or other object.