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[personal profile] bquinlan
I was pleasantly surprised to receive some requests already, so I am going to start working on those.

[personal profile] elke_tanzer asked for suggestions on a good flashlight to put in a car emergency kit.

I'm going to talk a little about batteries, bulbs, and other technical issues, but you can just skip to the recommendations if you like.

Flashlights that use conventional or alkaline batteries are not ideal. Everyone has had the experience of grabbing an "emergency" flashlight at home and finding it dim or dead after sitting unused for a few years. The self-discharge rate for most batteries goes up dramatically with temperature, so even a few months of sitting in a car may kill them.

Lithium batteries are not immune to heat, but they still hold their charges much longer. They also store more energy per volume, resulting in a more compact light. As an added bonus, lithium batteries can release their stored energy more quickly than other batteries, making them better for high-intensity lights.

Manually-powered lights provide you with a generator and something like a crank so you can provide the power yourself. That solves the self-discharge issue, but limits you to a relatively short-lived and only moderately bright light. It also means that you may have to wait a minute or two before you have any light at all, which can be a problem. Given those limitations, they are an extremely reliable and self-renewable source of light.

Recharging lights also solve the self-discharge issue. Unless you are willing to do regular maintenance on your lights, I would only recommend the ones that remain plugged in to your car's electrical system all the time when not in use. Even if they only receive power when the car is on, they will maintain a nearly full charge at all times.

The technology at the business end of a light is important too. LEDs have long been the most reliable, long-lasting, and energy efficient choice, but they used to be too dim for a lot of applications. That has changed dramatically in the last few years. LED lights are now the best choice for almost every purpose.

The other area where technology is really changed lights is the addition of circuits to maintain a constant level of light output. Old-style flashlights were just a bulb, a battery, and a switch. After the first minute or two of use the brightness would fall off significantly and would continue to diminish until only a dim glow remained. Newer lights hold fairly steady through most of the usable life of the batteries, then drop off sharply to a lower level.

I think there are two very different categories of emergency lights. If you break down along a major road you will need a bright light that can be used to inspect and repair your vehicle as well as to signal. If you end up stranded in the middle of nowhere by weather or other factors you may need a light that will last for several days of regular use.

My recommendation is that you buy one good light to fill both roles. It should be powered by one or more CR123 lithium batteries. It should use a high-powered LED bulb. And it should have a circuit that regulates the light and provides several brightness settings.

There are a lot of lights that meet these requirements. Most are not cheap ($50-$60), although you can occasionally find bargains online. Just be aware that quality affects reliability. If you pick up a $10 bargain light, test it thoroughly under normal conditions before you count on it in an emergency.

I've had good luck with Fenix lights, which are available all over the place online. My primary car light is an older version of the Fenix PD20.


Other brands to look at include NightCore, Quark, Olight, Streamlight, and ITP. And if you're curious you can take a look at my light collection for more ideas.

If a multi-mode light costs more than you want to spend I recommend a single-mode high-intensity light of the same general type. That should drop the price by around half. The Streamlight PolyTac LED would be my first pick.
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