Lighting is one of the most important, yet often overlooked, resources you’ll want to include in your bug out bag. Not only is lighting necessary to move around much at night, you’ll also need it for finding items after dark and you may even need it for signaling rescuers or companions.
But while you can use just about any flashlight when walking your dog at night or trying to replace a blown fuse in your house, you need a high-performance, reliable flashlight to survive in the wilderness or a deserted urban area. But because flashlights often contribute significant weight to your bag, you’ll need to choose carefully and avoid over-packing.
Below, you’ll find some of the types of lights (as well as specific product recommendations) that you’ll want to pack in your bug out bag. While you should always feel free to adapt or adjust these items to suit your specific needs, the following represents a good starting point.
Obviously, your lighting equipment should start with a high-quality, portable flashlight. This will be your primary light-producing tool and the one you’ll use most often. Accordingly, it makes sense to consider your decision carefully before making a purchase.
At the outset, it is important to understand that flashlight technology has advanced by leaps and bounds over the last half-decade or so. Manufacturers have produced many new flashlights – especially those that rely on LEDs – that are far more powerful than flashlights of the past were.
In fact, many small pocket lights produce 1,000 lumens or more, which alleviates the need to bring along a gigantic Maglite (and the four D-cell batteries it requires!). Now, you can bring along a compact, yet powerful flashlight, which will perform just as well as those weighing many times as much.
It is important to note that flashlights aren’t only tools for illuminating the ground as you walk. You can also use them for a variety of other reasons.
For example, you can obviously use a flashlight to search for resources or check game traps after dark, and you can use one to signal others, but you can also use one for self-defense. You could try to blind an attacker by flashing the light in his eyes, or you could even use the flashlight as a weapon, by striking your opponent in the head or face with the light’s bezel.
A flashlight may also be important for finding your traveling companions, should you become separated after dark.
Features You Want in a Flashlight
No matter what type of flashlight you want or how much you intend to spend on it, you’ll want to look for a few key features when making your purchasing decision. You don’t have to get a flashlight that has all of these features, although this would be ideal.
Some of the features you’ll want to seek include:
No matter how careful you are, you’ll eventually end up dropping your flashlight in a puddle or spilling your coffee on it before your eyes fully open in the morning. Accordingly, you want to find a flashlight that is as waterproof as possible to prevent such occurrences from reducing your chances of survival.
You don’t always need the full power or your flashlight, so it is helpful to seek a flashlight that produces light in several different ways and at several different power levels. This way, you can use the highest power setting when searching for small items in the dark or trying to blind an attacker, yet you can use a low-light mode when trying to consult a map without constricting your pupils. Additionally, some lights have a “flash” mode, which can be helpful when using the flashlight as a signaling device.
A wrist strap can make it much easier to keep your flashlight handy when you need both hands for a task – this way, you don’t have to keep putting it down and picking it up. Additionally, a wrist strap will help prevent you from dropping your flashlight while walking through the forest or negotiating difficult terrain.
It is also wise to select a flashlight that will work best with the way you like to use it. In other words, you’ll want a flashlight with the on-off button located on the back if you like to hold it with a back-handed grip, but you’ll likely prefer one with the switch on the side of the light if you prefer to grab it with a traditional under-handed grip.
Flashlights that require you to twist the front ring are typically not easy to operate, and they are very hard to turn off quickly, which may be necessary if you are traveling in the vicinity of unfriendly people. Accordingly, it is usually best to avoid these types of lights.
The Rule of Redundancy: Two Is One and One Is None
Equipment malfunction or loss is always a concern for survivalists and preppers, so it is usually wise to bring several versions of each important tool in your bug out bag. However, you can’t very well do this for every tool in your bag, as it would become too heavy to lift and carry.
However, due to the importance of a flashlight and the significant impact it will have on your chances of survival, it is always wise to have at least one backup flashlight in your kit. You may want to consider making your backup light smaller and lighter than your primary, but if you aren’t concerned about the extra weight, you can just purchase two of the same flashlight for your bag.
Specific Flashlights You Should Consider:
Headlamps are often overlooked, but they are incredibly valuable tools, which can make it much easier to remain comfortable, safe and productive after darkness falls. Headlamps help you to see better, but they also keep your hands free so that you can work on tasks more easily. They can also be easier to hold still, as you can get the “shakes” when forced to hold a flashlight still for a long time (particularly if you are tired or stressed, which are both likely in a survival situation).
In fact, headlamps are quite valuable in a number of scenarios, as they make it much easier to build a shelter, set game traps, start a fire or perform first aid when the light levels are low.
Features You Want in a Headlamp
Most modern headlamps produced by the leading manufacturers are quite good, and personal preference will drive most of the decision-making process. However, you’ll still want to look for headlamps that provide a few key features to get the most value for your dollar.
Look for headlamps that are:
- Lightweight – Heavy headlamps will eventually lead to neck fatigue and headaches, and they are more difficult to use than lightweight models are.
- Equipped with Colored Filters – Red light doesn’t cause your pupils to dilate like bright white light does, but you can still see much better with a red light turned on than you can in pitch black conditions. Therefore, you’ll want to look for a headlamp that has a filter switch, which will allow you to switch between red and white lights with ease.
- Highly Adjustable – For a variety of reasons, you’ll find it helpful to move your headlamp around as you work. You’ll also need to be able to adjust the headlamp band to accommodate any hats or bandanas you may be wearing. Fortunately, most high-quality headlamps not only feature adjustable straps, they also have articulated light mounts, which allow you to point the beam in various directions.
Specific Headlamps You Should Consider:
While a flashlight or headlamp is good for creating a narrow beam of light that can completely illuminate a small area, lanterns spill light in all directions, creating a relatively consistent level of illumination throughout a larger area. This is helpful for keeping a tent or shelter lit at night, and, to a lesser extent, a campsite. Lanterns can also be helpful for lighting manmade structures which do not have electricity, should you be fortunate enough to find one.
Note that some flashlights and headlamps also have a “flood” option, which widens the size of the beam considerably. However, while these modes are sometimes helpful, they provide nowhere near the type of illumination a good lantern does.
Different lanterns rely on different power sources. Some use propane or a similar combustible fuel, while others rely on battery power. There are even a few that collect the energy from the sun’s rays during the day, to charge the internal batteries for use at night. You’ll simply have to weigh the competing factors and differences among the various types, to determine which style is best for you.
For example, batteries are heavy, but they usually last for a long time. They are also small, so they won’t take up much room in your bug out bag. By contrast, propane doesn’t last very long, but it doesn’t weigh very much either. It does, however, take up a good bit of space in your bag.
Solar-powered lanterns don’t require you to set aside space for any type of fuel, but they aren’t as dependable as the other two. For example, they may become completely useless if you experience rainy, overcast weather for a few consecutive days.
Specific Lanterns You Should Consider:
Flashlights, headlamps, and lanterns are all fantastic tools that should be included in every bug out bag, but if they fail or you end up having to survive for a lengthy period (which will likely drain all of your fuel or battery stores), you’ll be stuck without a light. Additionally, it is important to remember that things with moving or powered parts are always at risk of breaking.
Accordingly, it is always wise to have a backup light that doesn’t require electricity or fuel to function in your bug out bag. There are two basic types of these “power-free” lights, each of which excels in different applications. Note that neither is truly “power-free” (that would be impossible), but they do not require conventional power sources.
Chemically Powered Lights
Snap-lights, glowsticks and similar lights work when two or more chemicals stored in the light are allowed to mix freely. This causes a release of energy, which typically produces a colored light. These lights rarely produce very many lumens, but they are good for providing consistent, gentle lighting for an extended period of time.
Thanks to the colored light they produce, glowsticks are great for marking trails or other points of interest. If you are leaving your tent or campsite after dark, it is helpful to hang one up, so you can easily find your way back.
Note that chemically powered lights cannot be turned off. Once you activate them, they’ll continue to stay lit until the chemicals stop reacting – usually several hours later.
Other lights rely on your energy to operate. Typically, you’ll operate these lights by shaking them back and forth, turning a crank or squeezing a level repeatedly. While it can become tiresome to perform these actions over and over, they can essentially be powered forever in this way, which means they’ll never stop working (unless one of the internal components breaks).
These lights are usually fairly small and lightweight, which also makes them well-suited for your bug out bag.
Power-Free Lights You Should Consider:
Miscellaneous Lighting Accessories
In addition to the lights mentioned above, there are a few other accessories that you may want to keep in your bug out bag. Some of the most important items to pack include:
It should go without saying that you’ll want a couple of sets of backup batteries in your bug out bag. You’ll have to carefully consider the weight-to-battery-life ratio, as batteries are too heavy to pack huge quantities of them in your pack. However, as a rule of thumb, you’ll want to pack a new set of batteries for every two or three days.
Note that it is generally wise to avoid off-brand, bargain-priced batteries for your bug out bag. While you may want to save a buck when purchasing new batteries for your TV remote or your kid’s toys, you don’t want to tempt fate in a survival situation. Buy the longest-lasting, highest-quality batteries you can.
If you intend to use a propane-powered lantern (or one that uses a similar fuel), you’ll need to pack a few additional canisters in your pack. If possible, try to select a cook stove (if you choose to use one) that uses the same type of fuel as your lantern, so you don’t have to bring several different types of fuel.
While new, LED-style flashlights alleviate the need to bring backup bulbs, you’ll always want to bring a couple of replacement bulbs for any flashlights that use traditional, incandescent bulbs to produce light. Use care to pack replacement light bulbs carefully, so they don’t break while bouncing around in your bag.
Some flashlights utilize O-rings to keep water and debris out of their internal mechanisms. If your flashlight requires them, be sure to pack a few extras in your bag.
A hands-free strap can turn any small flashlight into a headlamp in a matter of seconds. In fact, while these aren’t as useful as proper headlamps (they rarely allow you to adjust the path of the beam), they can alleviate the need to pack a dedicated headlamp in your bag. This will keep your bug out bag a little lighter and free up a tiny bit of space too.
You can make your own red filters if your flashlight or headlamp doesn’t already provide such an option. You’ll just need a bit of transparent red film (available at arts and crafts stores, among other places) and a couple of rubber bands to keep it attached to your light. Alternatively, you can engineer any number of make-shift frames to keep the film stretched taught, which you can then attach to your flashlight.
As you can see, your lighting needs go far beyond a flashlight and single set of backup batteries. You’ll actually need several different items to ensure you’ll be able to see and navigate potentially hostile or dangerous areas at night. But, if you follow the guidelines and advice above, you should set yourself up for success.