SHTF blog – Modern Survival

Bug Out Flashlight Wisdom: Part 1

Most of us have that sinking feeling that the end will arrive somewhere between a bang and a whimper.  It likely won’t be a SHTF Flashlightsmushroom cloud on the horizon, nor will it be a slow steady predictable slide over the edge.  Regardless when or where it arrives, other than a knife, the flashlight just might be the second most important everyday carry (EDC) item to get you to the next step.  And since there is a better than 50% chance that darkness will be the dominant atmospheric condition when you need to move, a light is essential. Why better-than-half odds for dark? Easy.  First, there is a general 50/50 daylight chance, but given human propensity to make things worse at night, even a rogue SHTF event will grow inversely to the amount of available light. Further, being inside a structure going dark is almost a given.

By Doc Montana, a contributing author of Survival Cache and SHTFBlog

Light the Night:

My quest for a powerful, durable, and dependable EDC flashlight began decades ago.  Long before the 1984 release of the AA SHTF Blogbattery Mini Maglite made flashlight EDC carry a household practice, I was searching for solutions in the dive light world.  Tekna produced two AA flashlights that were as durable as they were bulky.  With heavy ABS plastic bodies and overbuilt screwdown bezels, the lights had potential, but were severely limited by their traditional incandescent bulbs.  I hot-rodded my 4-AA Tekna dive light with a halogen bulb and gold washers, and thought I was king of the night with my photon firepower.

The two-AA Mini Maglite revolution of the 1980s spurred a rush for high powered pocket-sized lights.  Many other companies dove in, but until LED technology became affordable, all small lights were crippled by short battery life, fragile glass bulbs, and the most obvious, a low lumen count.  Maglite raised the bar further with its Solitaire single AAA flashlight in 1988, except that bar didn’t stay high for long since the notoriously unreliable Solitaire was carried on keyrings far more than it was ever lit up.

Related: Bug Out Gun Lights

When LED technology entered the mainstream marketplace, major flashlight manufactures seemed caught off guard. In true paradigm shifting fashion, some of the big guns in illumination were left in the dark as smaller more nimble companies flooded the market with higher lumen, long battery life flashlights for a similar cost to upper end traditional bulb lights.  Maglite released its first LED light in 2006, but quickly noticed that many folks who carried the classic D-cell lights were as interested in the flashlight-as-a-club as it for a flashlight.  It quickly became apparent that the power-sipping LEDs did not require a foot-long supply of batteries. But by then, the genie was out of the bottle and Maglite’s name was now synonymous with old-school.

A parallel revolution was also taking place in camera technology.  As film cameras and their early digital offspring developed TEOTWAWKI Flashlightsever more voracious appetites for electricity, both battery manufactures and the paying public developed a taste for powerful lithium-based batteries over their alkaline and carbon siblings.  Add in CNC machining, the drugstore availability of high-end batteries, advances in LED light color and intensity, and a few disgruntled workers leaving major flashlight companies to give it a go themselves, a literal explosion of flashlight tech appeared on store shelves, but mostly through online retailers.

Also Read: EDC Flashlight Comparison

And in true tech form, the microprocessor-controlled advanced lighting solutions came with complex multi-stage interfaces, regulation circuits, timed and sequenced lighting options such as strobe and SOS, and a Moore’s Law of its own doubling lumens at a predictable rate.

Where we were once satisfied with 20 lumens, we quickly wanted 100, then 200, then 500, then a thousand!   We could literally carry a car headlight worth of light in a pants pocket. But alas, it came at a cost both in terms of money and runtime.   This first Flashlight Wisdom installment will address the single-123 LED flashlight along with a healthy salting of flashlight wisdom.

Also Read: Black Diamond Mini-Lanterns

The shockingly small but powerful 123 battery has given flashlight designers, among many other technologies, a modern tool with which to pump electrons into something whose primary mission in life is to produce light. While the 123 batteries seem more expensive, they are actually cheaper then their lithium AA counterparts. And the advantages of a lithium-based battery include a decade of shelf-life, and a far greater operational temperature range. Other than cost, the only other downside is the increased risk of explosion and fire, so much so that in 2013 the TSA and Postal Service implemented restrictions on the carry and shipping of lithium batteries.

But TSA and USPS aside, the true goodness of the 123 battery really shines in the single-cell EDC flashlight. Some companies are producing flashlight that are not much larger than the battery itself, while others are able to stuff a mind boggling number of lighting choices into a light the size of your thumb. Of course that latter option comes with a programming interface that will require some homework to operate.

Also Read: Surefire G2X Pro

A handful of single-cell 123 LED lights were chosen for this article.  Represented are models from Surefire, Streamlight, 4Sevens, Bug Out LightsExtreameBeam, and Fenix. This is not a specific review of each light but rather more of a comparison of options and designs that should help you decide on what flashlight in this EDC lighting space will best serve your lighting needs. Since the flashlights are all of quality, have high (enough) lumen counts, run on the same single battery, and are backed by customer service and a warranty (mileage may vary), we will focus on the operation, features, and differences of the lights with a general sprinkling of opinions based on real-world carry.

Lumen Madness:

Let’s get this out of the way first. The lumen number is an indication of how bright the flashlight is, but not how far the beam will survival_flashlights_flashlight_led_shtf_teotwawki go or how much spill to the sides. Nor does it indicate the purity of the light such as the color or if artifacts like rings, hotspots, or LED squares are visible. But high lumen numbers sure do sell flashlights.  Real world lumen numbers are important, but the knife cuts both ways. While large sells, low lumens extend battery life. I have a triple-123 Surefire Fury that has a 20 lumen first stage and a 1000 lumen second. If I need to blind someone at a thirty yards, I can do it. But 99% of the time, 20 lumens is plenty. Even five lumens will get you through most tasks if it’s dark enough to really need a light.

Also Read: Streamlight TLR-3 Gun Light

For output adjustability, my preference is the Fenix. It uses a small rubber mode switch on the bezel, and a tailcap on/off switch. So the Fenix is easy to cycle through the brightness options during a natural hold.  And it remembers your last choice so if you put the light to bed on high, it will wake on high.  Or my preference, low on low.

Size Matters

Of these five lights, the Surefire is by far the largest, and the 4Sevens is by far the shortest. The 123 battery is about an inch-and-SHTF Flashlightsa-quarter long. The 4Sevens is twice that length at 2.5 inches, and the Surefire almost doubles that stretching out to near four-and-a-half inches or three-and-a-half times the length of the battery.  While the Surefire is arguably the world’s largest single-cell 123 flashlight, the 4Sevens is not the smallest, but it does seem like it. The other lights in this comparison all hover around 3.5 inches.

For carry, small is good.  However, the use of a flashlight involves actual activity beyond just transporting. As a light gets smaller, it loses more than size, it also loses mechanical switches, lanyard attachments, and bezel options. In the case of the 4Sevens, its switch is a twist of the bezel.  While possible one-handed, the programming interface of the 4Sevens is definitely a two-handed job. Further, while the light can be off, a slight pressure compressing the head to body will fire up the flashlight whether in pocket or pack unless unscrewed far enough.

Also Read: Petzl Tactikka Headlamp Review

Compared to a tail switch, the twist-to-light is less convenient. On a good note, however, the light can be pulsed by pushing on the bezel, but without a further twist, the light will go off the moment pressure is released.

Some tail switches like that on the ExtremeBeam glow in the dark. It makes for easy identification but only if the little green switch cover has eaten enough daylight to illuminate until needed. Also, the ExtremeBeam is an all-or-nothing interface. One speed; full blast. Great for blinding bad guys point blank, but not good for sipping volts to ride out the storm.

Under Pressure

Something to keep in mind here is that waterproof flashlights are air-tight in both directions. That means that if your batteries Best Survival LED Flashlightoff-gas, they will pressurize the inside of your flashlight. Usually this is not much of an issue except when the rubber cover over the tailcap switch swells like a balloon. Then it can be difficult to depress the switch. The quick fix is to unscrew the light releasing the pressure. Then note the type of batteries since some are more prone to off-gassing than others.

Runtime varies across lights, but you should hope for an hour at full speed, and many hours, even 10+ when running in low gear. Between five and 20 lumens is enough to navigate at night, but you will need the higher side of that low range when lighting for a group of folks.

Also Read: Surefire LX-2

Most newer LED lights step down their output to match the available battery power.  That means that while the maximum output might 500 or 1000 lumens, it won’t last long.  Then output will drop off along a shallow slope until zero. So after a few tens of minutes of running on fresh batteries, the difference between high and low will not be as dramatic.  A few tens of minutes more any you might not be able to tell the difference between high and low.  I’m told it’s a feature, not a bug.

And finally, regarding battery life, I have learned to avoid those lights that feel a need show their lower voltage by blinking every so often.  For me, that almost makes the light useless at that point except for walking in the dark.  So what the manufacturer thought was a good idea actually lessened the battery’s service life due to the programmed-in strobe distraction.  You will need new batteries when the light dims significantly or goes out.  I thought everyone knew that.   Got a single cell like you love? Tell us about it in the comments below. – Stay tuned for Part 2.

All Photos By Doc Montana

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22 thoughts on “Bug Out Flashlight Wisdom: Part 1

  1. Ok here’s what works for me. I went to ebay searched for flashlights that used a single AA battery and/or a single 14500 li-ion battery. Cost to me well under $4 each delivered, Next I ordered some 14500 batteries (cheaper if bought in bulk) for about $3 each rated at 2300mAh and a wall plug-in charger for USA about $2. Total cost for each complete unit including charger around $8. The flashlights have a high, low and strobe function. Also the flashlights have an adjustable beam width by sliding the head forward and backward. I prefer the 14500 batteries but if unavailable I can use everyday AA batteries or rechargeable AA’s and I use other peoples discarded garden solar lights to charge them (free). I modified my EDC leatherman case to more securely hold the light clip. This may not be the most powerful light but it is plenty bright and if I lose it I’ve got more. If I need a powerful light I’ve got some FOX FURY lights that will definitely blind you but they cost a lot more.

  2. I personally prefer my $10, Black and Decker single LED, 2-AA battery flashlights! AA’s are very common and available, my headlamps use them as does my small radio; all the electronic devises I normally carry. This keeps my battery logistics very simple. Plus, I keep rechargeable AA’s and several solar battery chargers. Are the 123 batteries rechargeable? Will they be available after a SHTF event? Good Luck!

    1. Hi Roger,

      There are rechargeable 123 batteries on the market, but I’ve yet to hear about one that is a powerful, reliable, and durable as quality 123 lithiums. Some of the double-stack rechargeable options and Surefire’s solutions seem to rank pretty high both in performance and price.

      I’ll be addressing the rechargeable issue in Part 2. What I do is run rechargeable AAs in my lights that are used for general purposes, but have a stockpile of Energizer AAs.

      I reserve the heavy 123 lights for big duties and from when I am further away from basecamp or home. They are also in my backup bags, go bags, trucks, and anywhere else where I want a light stashed but maybe not used for years.

      Frankly, I have some backup options but my philosophy here is, as I noted in my Weapons light article, to err on the side of primary use. I’ve met many a pepper who have flashlights that you shake for power (and I use the term flashlight loosely). From what I can tell, the folks with those lights in their kit have never really needed a light nor used their shake lights under serious conditions. There are better and worse ones, but any light I carry must pass the “run through the forest at night” test. Five lumens is a careful walk; 20 lumens is a cautious jog; but you need 100 lumens or more to run.

      I have tested many lower priced lights and found their LED color to be too greenish (I actually have a spectrometer to measure the light’s wavelength color distribution). I’ve also found them to have significant artifacts like dark spots, lines, squares, circles, bright spots, and wildly uneven light distribution. It’s east to test for those by shining the light on white wall at various distances and slowly rotating the light looking for any observable changes. The different distances are important because the size of the artifacts vary and the brightness can mask the effect close up. One of the danger with artifacts is that they can appear as objects or movement (like a shadow moving) when the light moves (which is pretty much always).

      Also the switches are a deadly weak spot that doesn’t show up until the light is pressed into service. And don’t underestimate the hardness of the lenses. Cheap plastic and glass lenses scratch, break, distort the light, and rarely keep out moisture.

      LEDs are mass-produced by the thousands to millions. Cheap lights use whatever rolls off the line, while better lights high-grade the LEDs choosing the best ones based on a handful of measurable performance standards. Although high-tech, LEDs are much like lumber. Not all pieces are the same and everything that the mill makes is used somewhere and somehow. But the select boards are the best for quality projects. And the common grades go from usable to progressively worse. Same with LEDs which explains how LED lights can be given away for free as promotions and toys.

      Stay tuned for part 2.

      1. Nitecore and any panasonic (true) 123s are quality, but why use a R123 when you can use a 18650? Highly suggest you hang out on candle power forums and read a bunch on the subject. Its a great read and you’ll save some time and money with the 18650’s.

        1. Good call on the CF forum. I used to hang with the flashaholics but slowed to a stop.

          Some lights are sensitive to rechargables and circuit damage can occur. Last thing I want in my $200+ lights is fried wires.

          Thanks for the info. I’ll check into it more.

        2. Some flashlights that use two 123’s cannot accept a 18650 battery. I have some pelican and surefire that will not accept an 18650. Rechargeable Lithium 18650’s in my opinion are potentially very dangerous. Inspect them carefully before and during use. That said I do use them and am willing to accept the possible risks for the advantages they offer but I have discarded several of them.

    1. Hi Bama,

      A lot of batteries might be on some lists, but remember batteries are expensive, heavy, perishable, temperamental, and inedible. Plus their care and feeding requirements cause them to go bad, discharge their power and intestines, and die when hot or cold.

      I don’t advocate hoarding them unless there is a bigger plan at work, and proper storage is possible.

      Personally, I look at flashlights in survival as tools that reach only a year or so in the future. Rechargeable cells maybe reach further, but I only plan on using portable electric torches to gain the initial advantage. Then when the dust settles and we know who the players are can we assess the relationship between preps and survival. So my guess is as good as yours.

  3. Fenix E05 works great for me. 1 AAA battery 85 lumens output. Run time is 3.5 hrs I believe.

    The flashlight is exactaly as long as a Chapstick. Little smaller in diameter. I carry mine on my keys. Small enough to always have it handy, bright enough to make a difference. No oddball expensive batteries either. Simple AAA. I swap in a fresh one every 3 months if I use it or not. At that rate a 4 pack of batteries lasts me all year.
    Bright enough to stop someone, nope. Sure will light your way out of an office building when the power goes out. Think mine was $25.00. Going on it’s 4th year in service. Can’t say enough good things about it. Reminds me of the handgun saying a .22 in the pocket beats a .45 in the glove box. Same applies for flashlights I guess.

    1. a mag lite Solitaire sells everywhere for less than ten dollars, and uses the same AAA cell. I still keep this one incandescent bulb flashlight with me, most of the time. I plan to keep one in my First-Aid Kit, too. LEDs just seem too bright when I go to check someone’s pupils. (they should both be the same size, and react the same to the light)

  4. PS get a Dietz kerosene lantern and 5 gallons of fuel.

    Save the batteries for when there really needed not daily illumination chores.

  5. Great points here. Flashlights are so crucial to have – but there’s a lot of options out there to choose from. Thanks for sharing your insight on what you’d need!

    1. sorry Pekka,
      hand cranking gets old, real quick.

      the hand crank lights I’m familiar with, don’t fit in my pants pockets. I often carry more than one flashlight with me, on any given day. your hands aren’t free to hold your pistol, or any other tools, while you are cranking…

      the crank mechanism tends to make lots of noise, and the light goes dim at the worst of possible times. the lower quality hand crank lights may wear out before a decent set of rechargeable batteries would.

  6. the main criterion I’m looking for in an EDC flashlight is the O ring seal…

    I don’t want the switch contacts to be open to the air. I don’t want
    “features”. I just want lots of light when I need it, and not being an ignition source is a very big plus.

    1. Hi IDU,

      From my experience, all good lights will be effectively sealed both with one or even two quality O rings at critical intersections, and durable rubberized seals over switches.

      Lesser lights might have rubber coated switches and thin O rings if at all. Making a $10 light requires about $2 in materials and engineering. I think the math speaks for itself. And so do the lights.

  7. I have been reading posts about flashlights forever and am surprised that no one ever mentions the Maglight Mag-Tac. I purchased one of these when they first came out and have been extremely pleased with it. The only thing I would have liked would have been a choice of low/high beams. It’s rugged, small and powerful.

    1. Thanks for the feedback about the Maglight. With the dozens of lights in the space under discussion, it’s hard to address anything beyond those torches we have personal experience with. I bought into Maglight’s 3AA LED lights when they first came out but had buyers remorse once I saw what was available outside my local Home Depot.

      Once high end lights were available, there was no turning back.

  8. Thrunite t10 has been a pocket fav for me for a few months now.. This 1-AA $30.00 CAN light is a great piece of gear…. and AA batteries are much easier to find on a local store shelf….


  9. My daily pocket-carry flashlight is the Quarrow Rechargeable 40-Lumen Cap Light. I like several things about it:

    * It’s small enough to fit easily in my pocket.
    * It has a detachable magnetic clip, allowing one to use it as either a cap-mounted light or a small, hands-free work light.
    * I can recharge it from any standard 12V vehicle socket (I use my Goal Zero Yeti 400’s 12V socket for routine recharging in the house).
    * At $15, it’s inexpensive enough to buy one for EDC, plus one for my vehicle. If I so choose, I can use a 12V socket splitter to keep one charged, while running my GPS receiver.
    * It has an advertised water resistance rating of IPX4 (“water splashing against the enclosure from any direction shall have no harmful effect), so rainfall shouldn’t affect it.

    Of course, it does have some downsides:

    * It only has a 6-hour advertised run time.
    * The only way to recharge it is with a 12V socket, so many portable solar panels won’t recharge it (Goal Zero’s Nomad 13 includes a 12V socket adapter).
    * At a rated output of 40 lumens, it won’t pass Doc Montana’s “run test” (but, since it’s brighter than his 20-lumen “cautious jog” assessment, it might be good enough for a healthy jog).

    I like having one in the pocket and one in the socket.

  10. I found this flashlight on ebay It has a built in stun gun and duel charging 110 and 12 volt. I just did a first test run and it still has usable light after 2 hrs. Its made by Cree and for under 20 bucks it seems like a great unit. The only issue I have is that the charging port cover doesn’t stay down, easily fixed by a wide rubber band.
    Merry Christmas folks

  11. Think about bugging out right?, why would you want the brightest Flashlight? so you can be seen with NVGs 6 miles away. oh no, so you can blind your attacker after he finds you and is about to kill you. O.K then, shouldn’t you try to be covert, remain unseen and evade the enemy? Take a LOOK at the Phantom Warrior flashlight……
    if you can find one on EBAY because Phantom Warrior out of FL won’t sell to the public so this light does not get into enemy hands and our soldiers remain safe in the battlefield. This light can be undetectable with NVGs as close as 30 yards and has an average battery lifespan (4 AAs) of 150 hours to 250 hours if your light disciplined, so that could easily last you one year. With IR mode you can put on your NVGs and move in complete darkness and see up to 400 yards. bulbs are rated at 50,000 hours. waterproof to 200 ft. You can run it over with your truck. Safety lockout deters accidental turn on in your pack. THIS IS AN ITAR-RESTRICTED ITEM (SECTION 121) so it is not allowed outside the USA by law.

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