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What To Look For In A Survival Flashlight

Posted by Thomas "Ghillie" Miller on 11/24/2014 to Ghillie's Corner
One of the primary concerns when looking for a piece of gear is to get the right “thing” for the job. This is especially true when looking at equipment that you may end up needing to survive. There is no exception to this rule when looking for a flashlight. When looking at a flashlight and evaluating its usefulness and practicality for preparedness, make sure to evaluate the capabilities as well as the purpose of the light to ensure you get it right. When the going gets tough, there won’t be any taking it back.


There are probably hundreds (if not thousands) of models of flashlights that are manufactured for various purposes. But even with so many models they all seem to be made of two basic materials, metal or plastic, or a combination thereof. As a result of current technology, there are some flashlights that are amazingly tough while still remaining very light but the material that your survival light is made out of should be thoroughly scrutinized to ensure that it will stand up to the task. Perhaps the most important consideration for the construction of a survival flashlight is its resistance to water and impact.

Power Source

Common batteries like AA, AAA, and D cells are the most suitable for a survival flashlight because they are typically easy to come by. Batteries, especially AA’s, are something that even if you did not have some on hand, would not be hard to come across during a disaster or tough time. They are readily found in electronics and toys and would not be too hard to stumble upon but this is not always the case for batteries. As an example, Surefire flashlights, one of the most popular high-end brands, have many models that use CR123 Lithium batteries which are not only expensive but harder to come by. While these batteries result in a light that is very powerful, the cost and availability can be a deterrent to selecting such a light for survival purposes. Should you choose a survival flashlight that uses uncommon batteries, think long and hard about keeping a stock on hand. If the supply system were to fall apart or amidst the chaos of a disaster, they may be hard to come by.

One method for guaranteeing the power supply to your survival flashlight is to get a light that is operated with rechargeable batteries or get common sized batteries that are rechargeable. Not only are some of these batteries capable of being charged rapidly, almost all of them can be recharged using a small solar system. If a redundant system is desired, look at getting rechargeable batteries that fit your light of choice and can be charged using a home electrical system, a solar system, or the DC (Direct Current) power from a vehicle power port.

Another type of flashlight to consider is a hand crank or squeeze-powered version. They are unique in that they have a renewable battery for their power source. All you have to do is crank or squeeze your way to seeing in the dark! I will even confess that my all-time favorite flashlight is a squeeze-powered light (and it only cost a few bucks!). It is not only adequate for seeing in the dark but the battery lasts an incredibly long time and while it is not the brightest flashlight out there, it has always gotten the job done. The greatest downside to hand crank or squeeze-powered flashlights are that they tend to not be as durable overall in comparison to battery-powered lights. This is balanced by the fact that the renewable battery removes the need for the extra weight of additional batteries and there are often additional features like a built-in weather radio receiver or USB charger.

What Is a Lumen?

A definite consideration when looking for a good survival flashlight is the amount of light that it puts out. This usually means looking for the brightest light and while a bright light can be useful, it is vital to know what you are looking at when evaluating the brightness (measured in lumens) of a flashlight. To provide an idea of how bright a single lumen is; one lumen is equivalent to the light from a single candle on a one square foot area, one foot away. This is a general idea but each individual light can vary in actual brightness based on the focus of the beam. A more focused (tighter) beam will be brighter and shine farther when compared to a less focused (looser) beam which will flood an area with light, even if they are the same number of lumens. An ideal survival flashlight will feature an adjustable beam for the best of both worlds.

To evaluate and compare lumens, first determine what the application(s) will be. A good general-purpose flashlight will be at least 30 lumens. This will give the user adequate light to complete common tasks like walking from one point to another or locating a lost item. If the purpose is to have a tactical flashlight, look for a minimum of 90 lumens. It is also good to remember to get the right light for the job but the brighter the light, the lesser the run time you will experience on average.

When looking at brightness, consider the type of bulb that you would like. The traditional flashlight has always used an incandescent bulb but that is old news. Modern flashlights use LED (Light Emitting Diode) bulbs that are smaller, brighter, lighter, and last so much longer. There is almost no purpose in selecting a flashlight that uses an incandescent bulb unless it is the only way to get replacement bulbs. LED flashlights are the way to go!

Size Does Matter

Depending on the designated task, a smaller or larger flashlight may be needed. An every day carry (EDC) flashlight for example will most likely be compact in size and light in weight to make it manageable and comfortable to carry all day, every day. There are even flashlights that are about the size of a quarter that will fit on a key ring but these are more suitable as a backup to a larger, primary light. For a flashlight that will stay in the house or car, a larger model that is capable of putting out more light may be the best option.


A flashlight obviously has the primary duty of serving as a light source. This probably goes without saying but also look at a flashlight for what else it can do for you. Is it built well enough that it would be used as a club for hunting or fishing if the need arose? Is it capable of being used as a defensive instrument and still work after you smack an attacker a few times with it? Is it bright enough to temporarily blind or confuse a potential attacker? There are even flashlights that are built with points integrated into the design of the beam end to be used as a personal defense tool. A good principle to employ is that the more a tool can do for you, the better and something that only serves on purpose has no place in a survival situation.

Look Ma! No Hands!

A headlamp is the perfect light for many of the situations that you might find yourself dealing with during a disaster. It doesn't matter if it is search and rescue, guard duty, or fixing a piece of equipment, a headlamp allows the wearer the opportunity to use both hands without losing the benefit of the light. Headlamps also have the added benefit of providing light everywhere you look because it is mounted to the head. All of this doesn’t even account for the fact that the newest versions of the headlamp almost weigh nothing at all.

While a headlamp is a great improvement on the flashlight, there is also something to be said for having a handheld light. A handheld light is usually the best option when you are looking for having maximum control of the direction of the light for either precision tasks or signaling, when you need the strongest light available, and of course when you need to be able to set the light down and still be able to use it.

Parts Availability

A final consideration when looking for the right flashlight to shine your way through doomsday is what the availability of repair and replacement parts are. Don’t forget what accessories may be available. There may end up being a situation where a color tinted lens is an advantage or even a necessity. Not only should these parts be readily available through normal retail channels but probably also should be relatively easy to scavenge for should the time come. Of course, the best option is to plan ahead and keep a few spare parts on hand so that you don’t find yourself in a jam.

There is a lot to think about when looking at a flashlight for survival purposes. Fortunately, the decision making process has been made a little bit simpler with the introduction of the ANSI FL1 standards (a voluntary set of standards introduced in 2009 and used by most major flashlight manufacturers) which provide a uniform method for measuring the run time, light output, beam distance, and impact and water resistance of a particular model of flashlight.

At the end of the day, it is important to remember that it is a tool and like most tools it is better to find the best one for the job, even if it costs a little more. There are many key factors to consider but it essentially comes down to what you plan on using the light for and what circumstances and conditions you would like your survival flashlight to endure. Don’t forget the survival saying, “two is one, and one in none” always applies.

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