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
Here are my opinions about what makes for a good
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
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
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
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
A: Very handy items to have. The light shines right where
Including smack dab into the face of the person you're
Maybe it's just me, but I don't much care for light in my
I'm trying to preserve my night vision. They might also make
head-shot target for hostiles. Let's put it this way. While
flashlights can usually be rigged to serve as makeshift
(with the aid of a pocket clip or headband, for example),
headlamps cannot readily be used in the same manner as one
might use a
flashlight. Headlamps could possibly serve as back-up
(if they use only one or two batteries), but I would not
them as primary survival lights. A flashlight will, in most
prove more versatile.
1. The best flashlight resource on the Web is Candle Power
. Lots of traffic and more info about flashlights than most
would ever need to know. Also a good source for obtaining
2. One of the better flashlight review sites is
It's no longer updated regularly, but many of the lights
sold are reviewed at the site.
if you decide to transition to LEDs, save
those original incandescent light bulb components. You never
someday you may need a lot of light--for example for
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
(Since they provide your opponent with a convenient point of
They are fine for shooting marauding bears.
I also keep a
50 piece box of the standard Panasonic brand CR-123 lithium
in my refrigerator, as a "tactical reserve." These have a
Regarding lanyards, I recommend using a long, stout lanyard
that is a
full loop, preferably with a ball-shaped spring button
mainly use olive drab paracord. The longer the better, for
the sake of
versatility. If the lanyard is too short, then there is not
slack to loop the flashlight through (in a Girth
Knot) to be able to hang a light from a branch, belt loop,
d-ring, or other object.