It costs less than $15. And like the shovel, it’s incredibly important.
Let’s get started…
One of the facts of any survival situation or low-light utility scenario is that you need light.
Any prepared citizen carries a flashlight, probably several, as a result.
We are fortunate that a variety of products are available today that put flashlights at our fingertips in a variety of form factors. But most of these flashlights depend on power sources such as batteries…
Dynamo and solar emergency lights require time to charge if they run out of batteries.
What, then, is a good alternative to a light source that does not need some external means of making it go?
If we are willing to be a little fast and loose with the definition, there is a new category of emergency light on the market. These are sort of luminous crystals, or plastics that have luminous crystals or substances embedded or suspended within them.
They must be left in the sun or under some ambient light source in order to charge them up, yes, but once charged, they simply glow all night long.
The idea is that you could have a light that always works at night and then charges itself during the light of the day — something that requires no batteries and no other intervention save for leaving it out on a dashboard or hanging from a pack.
Doesn’t that sound perfect?
Well, your results are going to vary. I’ve tested a few of these lights. Some looked like round pendants; others looked like tubes; still others looked like little bricks of glow-in-the-dark crystal. The crystal feels like plastic (and probably is closer to plastic than to “crystal”) and glows green in the darkness.
The fundamental problem with these light sources is twofold…
You’ve got to have light for a while before you can have darkness, so these are not a good light source to keep in your car tucked away for an emergency. (A standard cyalume chemical light stick would be better for that.) You can keep the glow crystal on your dashboard to charge up in the sunlight during the day, yes, but on cloudy days the charge you get won’t be very impressive.
I got the best results by keeping my light crystals hanging inside a lampshade in a standard incandescent light during the hours that I was working and it was dark outside.
After that, the light glowed pretty well and did so for several hours.
What you will find, though, is that most of the company literature for these products includes the caveat that your eyes must be “adjusted” to the darkness.
In other words, while these glowing crystals are better than pitch blackness, they simply aren’t that bright, nor will they illuminate much for any distance around you. Even when your eyes have adjusted to the darkness, you’ll barely be getting by with these as your light source, and you won’t be doing any late-night hiking.
Still, these are preferable to complete blackness. Especially as a backup to other redundant light sources, these are worth hanging from your rearview mirror or pack and left to charge up in the sunlight or under your desk lamp whenever you can.
Keep in mind, however, that you can’t turn them off.
They’re going to glow when it gets dark, and even if they don’t “throw” a lot of illumination, they will mark you like a beacon at a distance. They might even keep you up at night if the crystal’s in your room.
Come to think of it, these just might be the coolest “night lights” ever…