Sunday, April 13, 2008

Got a Light?

Flashlights are an important part of everyone's preps. They come in all different shapes and sizes. There are different bulb types to choose from. They use different types of batteries. They have different housings from aircraft aluminum to cheap plastic. The brightness varies a lot depending on the type of batteries used, the lens, the reflector and the bulb. Throw (how far away it projects it's beam) and spot (how solid and uniform the projected light is) are also important factors to consider.

The type of bulb used is probably the most important factor to consider. The most common bulbs are incandescent. These are the bulbs that you find in older flashlights, the cheap little cheesy lights that you get in emergency kits or small mini-mags. They aren't very bright and the color of the light is a distinctive yellow color. The light gradually gets dimmer as the batteries lose power. The spot isn't usually very solid. They're cheap and they have good throw, though. Having a few of these around doesn't hurt since they're so easy to find.

LEDs are the next most common type of light that you'll find. They're cheap, the battery life is excellent and the bulbs will usually outlast the light. You can get them with multiple bulbs to increase the light output. A lot of them also come with lenses that magnify the beam. The light doesn't dim much until the batteries are dead. They aren't particularly bright and the throw isn't very good but they provide enough light to see by. Because they don't use much power these lights can be extremely small. They're also used in solar powered and hand crank lights. You can get LED upgrade kits for some of the more popular brands of incandescent lights which will extend the battery life and usually improve the output. The throw might suffer a bit but you won't have that ugly yellow color with the nonuniform spot. I keep a small, $3, AAA led pen light in my pocket wherever I go. I used to keep a photon light on my keychain but they wear out and fall apart too fast if you use them a lot. The batteries are also hard to change.

Xenon bulbs are another pretty common bulb type. They're extremely high output bulbs but they suck up battery power fast and they usually need special, expensive high output camera batteries (CR123). The light is solid white. The beam is usually adjustable. The throw is amazing. Most brands have great spot. They're expensive and the battery life is very low, though. The batteries needed are also pretty expensive. Like incandescents the light output gradually degrades as the batteries die. I keep a Surefire G2 on my nightstand. It's easily the best Xenon light for the price.

The newest bulbs on the market are the high output LEDs. Several companies make these but Cree and Luxeon seem to be leading the pack as far as quality goes. These lights are usually about the same price as Xenons. If you go with a cheap, Chinabrand you can find them much cheaper but the quality is always suspect. High output LEDs aren't quite as bright as Xenons but the battery life is much better. Rather than 2-3 hours the battery life can be upwards of 6-8. You can also get extremely bright LED lights that use the more common battery types because of the power regulators that they make for the LEDs. You can get Cree or Luxeon LED upgrade kits for most of the high end Xenon lights. If you use your light a lot then this is a good thing to have because of the savings on batteries.

The different types of bulbs all have their pros and cons. Obviously you'll need to decide what you need it for. How big of a light do you want? If you want to be able to use it as a weapon then you'll want a big, heavy light. You'll also want it to be bright enough to blind someone. If you want it to be small enough that you can fit it in your pocket then you'll probably be limited to a normal LED or possibly a very small incandescent. If you just want a light in each room in case of a power outage then price will probably be the most important factor. If it's going in your bugout bag then you might want to consider a light that uses the same type of batteries as all of your other electronics that you'll be taking with you. You'll also want something with a good battery life.


Suburban Prepper said...

If you have every been without a flashlight when you need one, then you know how valuable they are!
I just picked up the Surefire G2 LED version for my vehicle bag and the light is ever-so-slightly dimmer than the incandescent G2 but the light is much cleaner... very white beam. Overall I am very happy with it.
Check out my new Suburban Prep sight at

Romeo Vitelli said...

Or no battery at all. There are some excellent hand-crank flashlight/radios on the market. For emergency use, a smartphone can work so long as recharging is not a problem. I have a flashlight utility for My Motorola Q that lets me use it as a flashlight as needed. In a pinch, I can recharge using the cigarette lighter plug in my car.

Jennersen said...

G2 lights are really nice. I keep one handy at home myself. I tend to use my D cell LED MagLite. My old mini-maglite needs to be replaced. I will get a LED version next time. I like the little LED light a friend gave me made by Mossberg, so the label says. He got it free when he ordered some stuff from CDNN. Lights are invaluable, and I should also get a dynamo powered light. I used to have a cheap one made in China, but it broke. It was awesome for brightness, but the dynamo snapped on the inside. Live and learn there next time better quality.

Anonymous said...

I got the "leatherman" "monarch500"
LED light from costco for Xmas, it has a stainless steel body, big chunky "O" rings to keep it water tight, tailcap switch, and best of all it runs on three AAA batteries.
IT is as bright as my "streamlight" "stinger XT" and has over half the throw of it too. I saw it last week for $29.00 and I think I am gonna get one for each family member for in the good packs. I am really happy with the Lil thing, I have used it for everything I used the stinger for and I haven't changed the batteries yet. Tip in lost wages

fallout11 said...

The Streamlight Scorpion is a good alternative to the Surefire G2, comparable in all respects but usually comes with metal beltclip and CR123 batteries for the same price point as the G2 (with neither).
An LED model is available as well, but I have not used it so no idea on its performance.