Bright Ideas: 6 Long-Lasting Light Sources for Camping and Survival
From headlamps to mag beams to tactical flashlights, these tools will brighten your day
We are sort of hard-wired to fear the dark—even the toughest hunters. After all, darkness can hide any number of threats looking to turn us into a quick snack. Fortunately, we have numerous tools that help us bring light into the night. And while you don’t need to invest in all of these, each has a purpose when it comes to lighting needs.
1. Pocket Flashlight
For years I didn’t understand the appeal of carrying a flashlight in my pocket all day long. Then, a buddy of mine convinced me to give it a go. I was surprised at how many times I ended up using it on a daily basis. At the time, I was working as a private detective and found a small flashlight really helped in navigating dark hallways when I was out knocking on doors.
For most folks, something around 75-100 lumens will suffice, though more is always better. I like the convenience of USB charging, but models that run on a single AA or AAA battery are great, too. Many of the ones on the market today are made to look tactical, even if they aren’t quite that robust. Stick with known brands for the best quality. Look for one that is water-resistant, in case of an accidental dunking. I like having the power switch on the tail, but that’s just a personal preference. That said, a light that can stand on the tail end can be an excellent way to light up a room for a bit.
Use a spotlight for checking out the noise in the backyard or something similar. You want a lot of light that you can throw accurately and easily. Personally, I prefer something with a pistol grip, rather than a large cylindrical flashlight. Variable power settings can allow you to dial back the brightness when you don’t need to cast shadow puppets on the surface of the Moon. Any sort of spotlight tends to be a heavy power user. The key is to make sure it is always charged and ready to go. The last thing you want is to venture out the back door and find you’re holding a hunk of worthless plastic in your hand.
Keep in mind, too, that LEDs get hot after being on for a while. Unless the situation warrants keeping the light on for extended periods, use it intermittently. Look for a model that you can prop up in some way, such as through the use of an integral stand of some sort, to give you a hands-free option. For lumens, I’d recommend 1,000 or so for the highest setting.
A reliable headlamp is essential when you’re performing any other sort of task or chore that requires both hands. They’ve have come a long way in recent years. They are small, lightweight, and very bright. Look for ones that have a soft elastic headband and easy to find controls. Many of them have a red light feature, to help save your night vision. Some have a strobe as well, which I personally can’t stand, but your mileage may vary. You don’t need a ridiculously bright light for this; something around 200 lumens will be plenty.
4. Magnetic Light
This style flashlight is a handy work-light option to consider. Take advantage of the magnetic base and stick the light under the hood of a car or in other places as needed. Experience has taught me that having one when you’re changing a tire late at night would be beneficial. These types of lights come in different sizes and configurations, some having magnets on top and bottom to give you more options. An adjustable head allows you to move the light closer to where you need it, which can be important when you’re limited where the base can be placed.
It doesn’t get much easier than light sticks. Just crack and shake, and you have ambient light for several hours. The upside of a chemlight is they don’t require batteries or any other power source. But, they are one-time use, which is a significant drawback. While dollar stores have all sorts of cheap knock-offs, spring for the real deal. They are brighter and burn longer. I keep a few in every survival kit I build that is large enough to hold them, along with a length of parachute cord. Together, they work great as an emergency signal. Tie the chemlight securely to a length of cordage, maybe 18 inches long. Activate the light, then spin it in a circle in front of you. This glowing circle can be seen for quite a ways at night.
6. Dynamo Flashlight
When a battery-powered or USB-charged flashlight dies, a dynamo flashlight can save the day. These crank-powered lights aren’t going to set the world on fire with their brightness, but they can be a reliable source of light when you need it. They can also be a fun toy for your kids to play with on camping trips.