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Emergency lighting options for next power outage

Our power grid is fragile, and we’ve all seen what years of neglect, underfunding and political games can lead to.

Power outages and extended blackouts have become the new normal, and folks seem unfazed by these common occurrences since often, it’s just a matter of time until things get back to normal.

However, the increase in extreme weather events such as storms, excessive heat waves, and blizzards should put some common sense into folks since severe weather could leave them without power for days, if not weeks. Unfortunately, seeing how unreliable the US power grid is, there’s no guarantee that “things will get back to normal,” and one day, that typical outage may turn into something worse.

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This article will cover the most common emergency lighting options we have at hand to brighten even the darkest of blackouts. Since there are many lighting products available on the market, you need to be smart about picking your emergency lighting items, whether they are long-term or short-term solutions.

Traditional battery-powered flashlights

In every American household, there is at least one classic flashlight waiting to be used. Some may be in reach, while others may harbor dead batteries and are buried under a pile of supplies. With the vast array of flashlights available nowadays, one can pick a trustworthy Jet Beam 6000-lumen flashlight or a cheap, poorly made Chinese flashlight that can still do its job if you manage to find it in time.

  • Pros – Flashlights are easy to use, and even children can operate one safely without complications. They are the first item that comes into mind during a blackout, and it becomes your first line of defense. The LED technology improved the classical flashlight considerably, making it brighter and more efficient than twenty years ago.
  • Cons – The battery life and light output vary significantly from one model to another, and manufacturers have different performance standards. As a result, a flashlight is not an ideal solution for your long-term lighting needs, and it’s mainly a means to find your way through the dark.
  • My two cents – The cost of the average flashlight is neglectable, but higher-end models can draw hundreds of dollars from your prepping budget. I have more than one flashlight, but all of them run on the same type of battery. Keep this in mind when purchasing a flashlight since you won’t have to worry about stockpiling different batteries. Having suitable batteries on hand will make sure all your flashlights will work when needed.

Also, please keep them in reach and return the flashlights to their designated places after you’re done using them.

Rechargeable flashlights

These flashlights have a hand-crank mechanism or a small solar cells section embedded that makes them just what you’d expect, rechargeable flashlights using renewable power instead of batteries. I have a hand-cranked model, and around five minutes of cranking provides a decent amount of lighting.

I also have a few solar flashlights that require to be charged for the better part of the day, but they provide several hours of light, much more than the hand-cranked type. However, you can imagine that if they run out of juice at night, your best bet to light the way will still be the hand-cranked flashlight.

  • Pros – The hand-cranked flashlight provides a decent amount of time and a light workout (they can also keep your kids busy). The solar-powered ones are an excellent short-term lighting option if you don’t forget to recharge them. Both are a great addition to your prepping plan, especially if you run short on batteries.
  • Cons – Not ideal if you need immediate lighting since you need to power the flashlights before use. Solar flashlights might do the trick if the weather has been sunny and if you remembered to charge them.
  • My two cents – The quality of these flashlights varies greatly, and you have to pick a manufacturer you trust if you don’t want to regret your purchase. The most basic models are cheap, but the ones with radio, cell-phone chargers, and other conveniences can be pretty expensive. Such flashlights are handy to have given their versatility, but you need to make sure you bought some quality items once again.

Headlamps

Today’s headlamps have gone a long way since the era of the old-timey miners, and thanks to the LED bulbs, they are much brighter and easy to use. One of their best features, in my opinion, is the addition of red/green LED bulbs that preserve your night vision when using them. Toppled with the hands-free capabilities, headlamps remain one of my favorite options for camping, especially when I have to take care of nocturnal chores.

  • Pros – They have a decent light output (up to 150 lumens), and they provide the luxury of using both hands during a blackout. As a result, they are ideal for nighttime travel and work.
  • Cons – Some are short-lived, and you need to consider carrying a spare of batteries. Even more, some headlamps require batteries that are not so common, and you may have to adjust your battery stockpile accordingly.
  • My two cents – Headlamps are ideal for those on the go since they are simple to use and relatively cheap. Even the most expensive models are less than $50. In addition, having a headlamp provides you the luxury of using both your hands for various chores, and you won’t have to lug around a flashlight anymore.
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Glow sticks

Chemical glow sticks are a temporary lighting solution because they are simple and easy to come by. However, they are just a short-term solution and a fun novelty at best since they are inexpensive.

  • Pros – They are a one-off purchase that won’t break the bank, and they are the cheapest emergency lighting options (excluding candles).
  • Cons – They have low light output, and their overall usefulness is limited since you can’t turn them off. In addition, most of the glow sticks you can buy are not reusable, and you have to dispose of them properly.
  • My two cents – I usually avoid these types of items, although I’ve used some glow sticks in the past during my camping trips to entertain my nephews. However, if you want to add these to your emergency supplies, I recommend you reconsider and try the rechargeable glow sticks instead.

Reusable glow sticks

The battery-powered or rechargeable glow sticks are far better than the chemical ones since they provide a decent amount of light. Some models contain crystals that can absorb light during the day and glow all night due to a chemical process. These reusable glow sticks are more expensive than their classical counterparts, but they are still inexpensive compared to flashlights or other emergency lighting items.

  • Pros – They provide a decent amount of light, and I’ve used the Lifegear LED model to get by at my campsite at night without problems. The light output is dependent on batteries, but some models are better and long-lasting compared to others.
  • Cons – They do not provide the amount of light needed to illuminate a room correctly, and they can prove problematic during an extended disaster when good lighting is required.
  • My two cents – If you want to give rechargeable glow sticks a try, I recommend the UV Paqlite since, in my opinion, these are the best on the market. They may be a great long-term lighting solution, provided you don’t need to light up an entire room completely.

Double-mantle propane lanterns

These lanterns are designed so that everyone can screw in a propane tank to provide the much-needed light during an extended blackout. These can be considered “plug and play” since you can easily swap out used tanks, and they are pressure regulated to provide consistent lighting.

These can be considered somewhat expensive compared to battery-operated or kerosene lanterns. Still, seeing that propane is cheap and it’s easier to find than kerosene, they are a worthy candidate for your emergency lighting planning.

  • Pros – Simple and easy to use, these landers provide a bright light unmatched during extensive blackouts. There is little smoke or soot, and you can extend the use of your propane lantern by using the lowest setting (I managed to get 12 hours out of one of these).
  • Cons – Sometimes, you need to replace the mantles. When you have to tie the mantles onto the burners, the first time you use them can prove troublesome for some folks.
  • My two cents – The low cost of propane and the simple maneuverability of double-mantle propane lanterns make them an ideal candidate for extended power outages. There are various brands on the market, and if you manage to take advantage of the various yearly sales, you won’t regret the purchase.

Battery-powered camping lanterns

There are various models on the market that have changed the way people see camping lanterns. Thanks to LED technology advancements, the battery-operated camping lanterns you can buy today are much lighter and brighter than their ancestors. And unlike their fuel-burning predecessors, the new, inexpensive camping lanterns do not produce carbon monoxide.

  • Pros – Easy to use with a constant and bright light. They are ideal for emergencies since they do not produce CO, and you can find them for cheap at thrift stores and the like.
  • Cons – Some camping lanterns can be pretty bulky even with the new LED technology embedded. This makes them a somewhat secondary option for your bug-out planning, as you may need something lighter.
  • My two cents – The battery-operated lanterns can be ideal for indoor and outdoor use during a blackout since they provide bright light. However, when purchasing one or more of these lanterns, make sure they use the same batteries and that you’ve got a proper buttery supply at home.

Kerosene lanterns

You’ve seen many kerosene lamps in discount stores, and the average ten-dollar kerosene lamp can still be found in the American home. They are a relatively inexpensive option when it comes to emergency lighting.

  • Pros – Cheap and easy to set up, but most importantly, they are easy to transport. Even more, some lamps can use citronella oil as fuel.
  • Cons – Low light output compared to other items, and they produce black smoke. Therefore, the wick needs to be maintained and checked regularly. Also, since they make CO, the lamp should be used only outdoors.
  • My two cents – The light output is not as bright as the one from other emergency lighting items listed here, and many see these lamps as fuel-powered candles. Nevertheless, they are not a bad option when facing a blackout, provided you have taken care of the downsides of such items.

Candles

Candles were, and remain, one of the primary artificial lighting sources used worldwide, even in this age when technology rules our lives. They are still useful today because they are cheap, low-tech and you can always count on them no matter what.

Some like to make their candles while others buy them for the general stores. Even survival varieties can last for many hours, and they are gaining a lot of popularity among preppers and survivalists.

  • Pros – Incredibly inexpensive, especially if you shop in the clearance section. They are easy to transport, and they only require a fire source to function. Some of the survival varieties can last for almost thirty hours, and a good supply of such candles can cover your emergency lighting needs for months to come.
  • Cons – Candles remain a severe fire risk, and caution is required when using them indoors and outdoors. If you have children and/or pets, you need to make sure they do not interact with the candles. Candles do not provide a great deal of light, so it would not be easy to properly light up the entire living room. They are useless as a bug-out emergency lighting option.
  • My two cents – Having a stash of candles is a good and inexpensive option to cover your lighting needs during an extended blackout. However, candles should never be your primary option to produce light, and you should rely on safer methods to light up a room. They are a constant fire hazard, and you have to use them properly to avoid housefires.

Concluding

The emergency lighting options listed in this article can come in handy if a regional blackout hits, but you should pick only the items that are right for your needs. You have all the info to make an intelligent choice, so keep in mind the pros and cons of each when you build your backup plan.

Written by

Bob Rodgers is an experienced prepper and he strives to teach people about emergency preparedness. He quit the corporate world and the rat race 6 years ago and now he dedicates all his time and effort to provide a self-sufficient life for his family. He loves the great outdoors and never misses a chance to go camping. For more preparedness related articles, you can visit him at Prepper’s Will

Latest comments
  • We have frequent blackouts here on Long Island because power lines get too close to the trees. Power company trims constantly, but nature always comes back. When we need our backup generator, I run a large capacity extension cord inside, and divide the power to each room using smaller extensions. Harbor Freight sells AC-powered LED light strings which put out tons of light. We run them down the floor in all the halls and in each room, and never run out of light. They pull almost no current, which leaves power for our other devices.

  • My two cent’s worth on a couple of items . . . I love propane lanterns, but the ones that are available, today, are a rip-off because they are terribly inefficient and consume way too much propane. I purchased my propane lanterns back in the 70s and I used them extensively on camping and hunting trips. It was normal for us to get three days of light from one tank of fuel — approximately 36 hours, maybe more. Today’s lanterns, as you pointed out, will give you a maximum of 12 hours from one tank of propane. Still a good choice, but you’d better lay in a few cases of propane, as well. If you can find old propane lanterns from the 70s and 80s, those are your best choice. You mentioned kerosene lanterns, but you dealt only with the old “hurricane lamp” style of lantern. You completely ignored the Coleman kerosene lantern. This lantern uses kerosene as fuel and there is a pump for you to pressurize the tank. The kerosene is then burned through a mantle, just like a propane lantern. They are not quite as bright as a propane lantern because they have only one mantle (at least the one that I own has only one mantle). They are far more conservative of fuel than propane. A one-gallon can of kerosene would probably last you a month, or more, using it every night. The only inconvenience — and, it’s a slight one — is the need to pump the tank up occasionally. When the light begins to dim, you know that you need to pressurize the tank, again. A few strokes of the pump handle and you’re good to go for another three or four hours. I agree with you 100% regarding candles. As a retired firefighter, I’ve lost count of how many house fires we fought that were caused by candles. However, there is a way to use candles safely. Years ago, my girlfriend bought me several candle sconces that mount on the wall. There is a tall glass container which is open at the top to allow air in, and smoke out, permanently built onto the sconce. You place a candle in the bottom of the container and it remains there until it is completely burned. The only drawback is that you will need a long match — a fireplace match — or stick to reach the wick of the candle in the bottom of the container in order to light it. I have several of these things located strategically around my house. They are the safest way to use candles because the entire candle and its flame are contained inside the glass. They are permanently mounted on the walls, at about eye level or a little higher, so they are out of the way and the chances of knocking one off the wall or breaking the glass are slim. The fact that they are located up high also spreads the light farther than simply placing a candle on a table or counter top. And, finally, you completely ignored the solar rechargeable lanterns. There are many different brands of these. I own several made by luminAID. They are made of a heavy opaque white plastic that you blow into, in order to inflate it. A combination solar panel and battery with an LED light inside the lantern provides the power and light. They recharge after three or four hours in the sun, but they provide a shockingly bright amount of light. They have two, different, settings — one for dimmer and one for brighter. I have left them on all night at the brightest setting as a test, and the lantern was still producing light when I woke up in the morning.

  • A lot of good suggestions here. However, people should know about the hazards of using mantles at all due to the severe cancer and health issues that the bi-product of mantles produces – which is THORIUM. I grew up in a town in Illinois that had a company that made mantles (Lindsey Light) and tons and tons of hazardous waste and soil contamination (which all had to be remove by dozens of coal cars to be dumped somewhere else – pity the recipients), houses torn down, residents with reproductive issues and other health problems. Look it up. You should be able to find out all about how dangerous this stuff is by checking out the history of West Chicago, Illinois.. Forewarned is forearmed.

  • During your article’s introduction and one “click” away from your article was this comment: “After all, lightless homes make easy victims.”. That presumption may be accurate for accidents in a dark home or yard; but research has been done in Europe that suggests “unlit yards and homes” deter break-ins more than lit up yards and homes. In many areas Police Reports indicate that on the darkest nights there is less break-in/entry crimes. The fact that most USA burglaries happen during daylight supports this view. Outlaws prefer lighting outdoors and indoors to see what they may face during a break-in — to determine the odds of success; and to develop strategies to plan their focus on how much time to spend indoors.. Take away lighting and they are at a greater risk than homeowners, who know their own home and yard–many who are very willing to whack or pop the first hint of light. .

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