Power outages happen all the time, and the U.S. power grid is unreliable under normal circumstances. Extreme weather—be it strong winds, ice, or excessive heat—make outages, blackout, and brownouts even more likely, and depending on the extent of the damage, you could be without power for days if not weeks.
The good news is there are a number of emergency lighting products available that can brighten even in the darkest of power outages.
Adjust your expectations
As you explore emergency lighting options, it’s important to note that emergency lighting is just that—a sufficient light source to help you survive in an emergency, whether it’s a long-term one or a short-term one.
To be sure, a hurricane lamp or a battery-powered flashlight hardly produces the ambiance of a suburban house full of recessed lights and incandescent bulbs. This becomes clear enough when you see your child’s face haloed by the battery-powered flashlight as you hustle him to the basement as the storm sirens wail.
1. Traditional Battery-Powered Flashlights
From the 6000-lumen Spotlight to the venerable Maglite, there is a baffling array of flashlights on the market, which is a good thing. While cheap, poorly made products have proliferated, with a little research, it’s not hard to find reliable, well-made flashlights by well-known brands (Jet Beam, Fenix, Pelican).
COST: Ranges wildly; most flashlights are quite cheap, but higher-end models can be hundreds of dollars.
PROS: Safe, reliable, and easy enough for a child to use, flashlights are the first line of defense in a power outage. Thanks to advances in LED bulbs, they can also be surprisingly bright and efficient. There are also dozens of different types for a variety of uses, including high-powered searchlights.
CONS: Battery life and light output/performance differ a great deal between models and manufacturers. In addition, while flashlights are great for finding your way through the dark, as anyone who’s tried to read by flashlight can tell you, flashlights are by no means an ideal light source for long-term use.
Other light sources (headlamps, lanterns) are often better in sedentary situations or when you need to illuminate the entire room, not just a swathe of it.
ADVICE: When you buy multiple flashlights, make sure they all run on the same type of battery (AA, for example). You’ll only need to stock one type of battery, making the stock easier to maintain and ensuring all your flashlights will be in working order when needed because you’ll have the right type of battery on hand.
Don’t assume that a more expensive flashlight is the best option. On the contrary, it’s often better to have a number of cheaper options. (In real respect, the more flashlights, the merrier.) A flashlight isn’t any good if you don’t know where it is; keep your flashlights in a single designated place and always return it there when not in use.
2. Rechargeable Flashlights
Powered by a simple hand-crank mechanism or small solar cells, rechargeable flashlights are just what you’d expect— a flashlight with a renewable power source instead of a battery. For hand-crank flashlights, the amount of work that you’ll have to put in varies—usually five minutes of cranking will get you a decent amount of light.
Solar flashlights usually need to be recharged for the better part of a day in order to produce several hours’ worth of light.
Most of these flashlights use LED bulbs, which are quite bright and energy-efficient. Better yet, many variants include a radio, a cell phone charger, even USB ports, making them unique and versatile emergency lighting options.
COST: Flashlight-only products are quite cheap; combination radio/flashlight/cell-phone charger options are more expensive.
PROS: For the hand-crank flashlights, if you’ve got the time and energy to power them up, they aren’t a bad short-term lighting option. They also provide a half-decent workout. Solar power flashlights are good options, especially if you’re in the boondocks and short on batteries.
CONS: Given that they need to be powered up before use, hand-crank flashlights aren’t a great option if you need immediate illumination. (Solar flashlights—if the weather has been sunny—avoid this problem.)
Quality varies wildly, and there is a myriad of manufacturers, so choose a manufacturer you trust. (Freeplay Energy’s products have been well-reviewed by preparedness-minded folks.)
ADVICE: While they are hardly a comprehensive lighting solution, they’re always handy to have, especially given the versatility of the more expensive models.
3. Keychain Lights
Perhaps the simplest lighting solution, keychain flashlights are also one of the cheapest and most portable. I’ve used the keychain light on my keys dozens and dozens of times without replacing the battery.
PROS: Simple, easy, and discrete, their LED bulbs produce more light than you’d expect.
CONS: As you might expect, they only produce a small amount of light, and their batteries can be harder to find than your average AA and AAA varieties.
ADVICE: Perfect for when you’re on the move, they are a handy addition in almost any situation and especially useful in Bug Out bags.
If you’re like me, when you think of headlamps, you immediately think of old-timey miners, but headlamps aren’t what they used to be. Today’s headlamps are often inexpensive, easy to use, and bright, thanks to LED bulbs.
Better yet, if you shop around, you can often find headlamps with red/green LED bulbs, so you don’t lose your night vision when using them. And while wearing a headlamp might look a little strange at first, headlamps are one of the only hands-free lighting solutions.
COST: Pretty cheap; even “expensive” models are only around $50.
PROS: Easy to come by and can produce a good amount of light (anywhere from 50-150) lumens. Perhaps the biggest advantage is the most obvious—you don’t need to lug around a lantern or a flashlight, which makes working (or reading) in the dark a cinch.
CONS: As they are battery-operated, they can be somewhat short-lived, and some take more esoteric battery varieties.
ADVICE: A great option for when you’re on the go, they are simple but quite useful. (This is true in non-emergency situations, too; they are incredibly popular among amateur astronomers.)
5. Chemical Glow Sticks
While certainly not anything more than a temporary emergency lighting solution, chemical glow sticks are simple and easy to come by. With that said, they might be a fun novelty option for a camping trip or a rave. Chemical glow sticks aren’t much of an emergency lighting solution if you need to light your home for a few days.
COST: Inexpensive, but you can’t reuse them.
PROS: Other than candles, they are probably the cheapest lighting option, at least in terms of a one-off purchase.
CONS: Probably the worst lighting option in terms of light output and overall usefulness. Most are not reusable, and there’s also no way to turn them off, which could prove problematic in an emergency situation where you want to stay incognito.
ADVICE: I avoid them. Their output is too weak, and there are simply other glow stick options out there that are better. (See below.)
6. Battery-Powered Glow Sticks and Reusable Glow Sticks
While chemical glow sticks aren’t an ideal emergency lighting solution, battery-powered glow sticks (including Lifegear’s LED model) provide a decent amount of light. As a perk, Lifegear will even replace the batteries in it’s LED model over its lifetime—not including shipping and handling.
UV Paqlite has a line of reusable glow sticks that contain crystals that absorb light during the day and then glow all night long, thanks to some clever chemistry.
COST: While more expensive than traditional chemical glow sticks, they aren’t all that spendy. The UV Paqlite is somewhere around twenty dollars, and the LED glow sticks are only a few dollars.
PROS: Both varieties of non-traditional glow sticks produce a halfway decent amount of light—certainly enough to get by in a camp at night. They are hardly spotlights, however. While the Lifegear light is dependent on batteries, the UV Paqlite is certain to produce light no matter what.
CONS: The Lifegear LED light’s appeal is in part based on the free batteries, which could prove problematic in an extended disaster.
ADVICE: The UV Paqlite is the rare lighting option that is renewable, and for that reason, it’s not a bad item to try out, especially if you’re interested in longer-term lighting solutions. It might not light up your living room, but it’s better than nothing. The LED flashlights, on the other hand, are a good short-term solution or for when you’re on the go.
7. Battery-Powered Camping Lanterns
In the time before LED bulbs, camping lanterns were bulky, heavy, power-hungry devices. Thanks to LEDs and improvements in materials technology, these battery-powered lanterns are lighter and brighter than ever, and a great choice for use in any emergency situation.
PROS: They provide a bright, consistent light and are very easy to use. It’s also quite easy to fi nd older models for almost nothing at thrift stores and the like. Unlike fuel-burning lamp, battery-powered lanterns don’t produce carbon monoxide gas.
CONS: Even with LED technology, battery-powered lanterns are often fairly bulky, so they aren’t well suited for Bug Out Bags. Older models use the relatively clunky six-volt batteries—and sometimes even two—and these aren’t always easy to find, at least at your traditional department stores. Even when you find them, they are often rather expensive when compared to more traditional battery types.
ADVICE: A necessity for any base camp, camping lanterns are reliable, simple and bright, and perfect for use indoors or out. When purchasing one, be sure its battery type is common and that you’ve got an ample supply.
8. Kerosene-Based Lamp Options
There are many lamp options, and they range from ten-dollar kerosene lamps from a discount department store to somewhat more expensive (but well-known) lamps like Dietz hurricane lamps.
COST: Relatively inexpensive.
PROS: Simple and easy to set up, they are cheap and easy to transport. Some lamps don’t require kerosene and can instead use citronella oil as a fuel.
CONS: The lamp’s light output isn’t particularly bright, and they can produce sooty, black smoke; over time, the wick also needs to be maintained. In addition, because they emit carbon monoxide, they need to be used outdoors.
ADVICE: While decidedly low-tech—in many respects, a kerosene lamp is essentially a higher-powered candle—they are handy, simple to use in an emergency and inexpensive. All in all, not a bad option to have in one’s stable of emergency lighting options.
9. Double-Mantle Propane Lanterns
In many double-mantle propane lanterns, a screw-in propane tank serves as part of the lantern body itself. This “plug-and-play” approach makes it simple to swap out used tanks, and many such lanterns are pressure-regulated, so the fuel flow (and resulting light) is consistent.
COST: More expensive than kerosene lanterns, but still not terribly expensive. In addition, propane is cheaper and easier to find than kerosene
PROS: Simple to use, the twin mantles produce a bright light, and there is little smoke or soot. Limiting your usage and using a lower setting can extend the burn time you’ll get out of a canister—sometimes extending it by more than 12 hours.
CONS: When you first purchase a lantern, you need to literally tie the mantles onto the burners. While not difficult, it’s not entirely foolproof. Mantles also eventually need to be replaced.
ADVICE: Given how ubiquitous propane is, its low cost, and how simple many of the double-mantle lanterns are, these are a great option.
Alongside the oil lamp, the candle was among the first artificial lighting sources, and even in an age of high technology, they are still useful today. In fact, they are useful in part because they are so low-tech; no matter what happens, a flame, a wick and wax will always get you light when you need it.
There are a number of different candle options—everything from votive candles (the candles you remember from church) to dedicated survival candles, and either variety is handy to have.
COST: Incredibly inexpensive.
PROS: Candles are dirt cheap, and if you shop the clearance section, you can often get them for next to nothing. They’re also easy to transport, making them an easy emergency lighting solution.
A single survival candle can also last a long time—more than thirty hours in some cases—making them quite cost-effective, and if you stock up on them, you can be assured of light when you need it for months to come.
CONS: A serious fire risk, candles should be used with caution indoors, especially around children. In addition, they don’t provide a great deal of light, so don’t expect to light up your whole house while using them. Candles are also essentially useless if you’re on the go.
ADVICE: Candles are among the most useful—and ubiquitous— emergency lighting sources. Be sure to have a stash for when the lights go out.
Additional option – 12-Volt Solar Setup
While renewable resources like wind and solar power are enticing power options, setting up a reliable renewable system isn’t simple. When it comes down to it, you have to do your homework and run the numbers; thankfully, a few all-in-one solar lighting kits that have done most of the legwork for you do exist.
One example is the LEDTronics Solar Panel 3-Bulb system, which consists of a solar panel, a controller box and four outlets—three of which are dedicated to LED bulbs and one that can be used to charge a cell phone. With a full charge, the lights will operate for the better part of a day (and sometimes longer).
COST: By far the most expensive option on this list—at about two hundred dollars—it also offers perhaps the largest upside in a long-term disaster.
PROS: While there are many other do-it-yourself solar options, the LEDTronics Solar Panel 3-Bulb system takes the guesswork out of things, a major benefit if you’ve ever attempted to tackle (the somewhat tricky) world of solar power.
CONS: The lights must be used indoors only, as the equipment is not rated for the outdoors.
ADVICE: If you’ve got the money, this seems like a great emergency lighting source.
There you have it, the emergency lighting options you may use in case a regional blackout hits. You have all the info needed to pick the emergency lighting options that work for you and our advice would be to have more than one option at hand. Keep in mind the pros and cons of each and make sure you always have a backup plan.
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