(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)
When one acquires one or more of these flashlights, how do we keep them running if the batteries are not available at the local store or there is not power during a blackout to run a battery charger? Over time I have come to appreciate four types of batteries or cells to power my flashlights and buy them accordingly. AA lithium or rechargeable NIMH, CR123 primary cells, 18650 rechargeable lithium ion and cells or batteries that are built into the light and charge by USB or magnetically. These cells can meet all my needs quite well. Usually, I have alkaline batteries on hand as well, but one must be careful not to leave them in any light of value due to the possibility of the cells leaking. Do not let that stop you from having some. Rotate them as needed in cheaper lights and in my opinion, Energizer6 cells tend to not leak as often as Duracell.7 Lithium cells andCR123 have no such leaking problems and can be stored for 10 years or more retaining full power. These are sometimes called primary cells and are not rechargeable.
NIMH8 cells, NiCd9 and lithium Ion (Li-ion) cells like the 18650 are rechargeable and come in many sizes. I have found having a mix of all the above is a good strategy for being prepared should the lights go out long term.
One thing to be aware of is rechargeable cells will not last as long in a light and will need to be recharged when compared alkaline or primary cells. This is a small shortcoming and nothing when you consider that rechargeable batteries can be recharged 500 to 3,000 times depending on their chemistry.
Rechargeable cells also have the big advantage in that they can be recharged with household current but more importantly by stand alone solar panels or solar power units sometimes called solar generators. Having Eneloop AA rechargeable cells and 18650 cells paired with even a small solar unit such as Bluetti or Jackery (there are many other brands) along with a coup solar panels can keep these portable solar box units capable of USB A and C charging as well as having 110 volt outlets so having ‘smart battery’ chargers that plug into a wall outlet such as a Nitecore or XTAR as well as 18650 cells with built in USB charging will give you multiple options, especially if you have CR123 set aside. It really is about multiple ways to keep the lights powered.
I have a couple smaller 5- and 10-watt Goal Zero solar panels that can charge a USB battery off the panel or plug into smaller AA battery chargers that hold 4 NIMH AA cells. Lion Energy makes a couple of small panels that work great. A 20-watt panel and a 50 watt that have USB outputs so you can charge any smaller USB devices, lights, or batteries. Just put the panel in the sun and plug in your light or a battery that has build in USB charging like a lot of the 18650 cells out there now. I like the build and quality of my Lion Energy Solar Panels.
Here is a brief list of how I have prepared to a layered approach to lighting:
Several Flashlights with dual fuel/multi fuel lights are a bonus.
Lights that can be powered by two or more different battery types.
When it comes to flashlights, the old saying is two is one and one is none, really applies here.
At least one headlamp for each person. We have Princeton Tech that have worked great.
A stock of primary CR123 batteries if any of your flashlights use them.
This battery is also commonly used on red dot and similar weapon sights.
I like the Titanium Innovations10 and at this time they can be bought for $1.10 a cell online.
For cells made in the USA, Panasonics11 run $1.50 or less buying in bulk. I have found these to be quality cells.
You do not want to buy these cells in Home Depot or Walgreens. They are priced ridiculously high in most cases.
Rechargeable AA and AAA cells.
Such as Panasonic Eneloops which are the best out there at this time.
Lithium-ion cells like 14500, 18650, and others depending on your light’s requirements.
These cells come in protected and non-protected forms.
I prefer protected cells.
“Smart” Battery Chargers
I have the XTAR VC4 and Nitecore D4 Channel Smart Charger.
A stock of alkaline and/or lithium primary cells.
Such as the Energizer Ultimate Lithium AA. An outstanding battery who’s only drawback is that it is expensive.
Alkaline can be acceptable to build up some reserves if not stored in the light.
A solar powered portable battery unit and a solar panel or two to go with it.
Some people build their own and that is fine but there is no shame to buy one of the great units on the market.
YouTube has a wealth of information on these. My experience is with Lion Energy and Bluetti units. Both are very high quality but there are other wonderful solar generators on the market.
You do not need one of the bigger units to charge batteries.
Do the research and you will find that most manufacturers list what devices their units will power.
I like that I can also power my cordless tools, cordless fans, and radio batteries as well.
A smaller solar panel, around 10 – 20 watts.
A smaller solar panel that can charge USB directly as well as AA cells. These little panels can be left out all day in the sun when you are going about other chores.
Make sure you have some extra USB, Lightening, and Micro-USB cables.
A 12-volt cigarette lighter plug with USB outlet is not a bad idea to have.
Having the ability to charge your flashlight batteries when the sun is out but the grid is down will make the $600 – $1,000 investment now in one of these smaller power units and solar panels worth it then.
Solid flashlight brands are Surefire, Malkoff Devices, and Elzetta, among American-made products. Flashlights like Malkoff and Elzetta are premium lights that will likely never let you down. Things like premium LEDs and potted electronics where the electronic circuitry is filled with a type of epoxy making them highly shock resistant. So, dropping one of these lights in the street will not matter. It will work when you pick it up. Do not look for these brands in your local gun shop or Cabela’s though, they are mostly a mailorder item, available on the World Wide Web.
Mag Lights have come a long way and are still made in the USA, but they are slow to incorporate newer technology. They do have LED lights available now and are pretty reasonably inexpensive and do make a good light for a lot of situations. Just be careful leaving alkaline batteries in them for extended periods of time.
Other companies are imported but offer some particularly good lights. Some manufacturers like Streamlight produce lights here in the U.S. and overseas with their higher-end models being made in the U.S. Imported brands like Nightcore, Fenix, Olight, and Acebeam all produce decent lights. I rarely experience trouble with any of these. I have at least one and sometimes several of each of these brands as well as others. I am a fan of Streamlight, owning six or more Stingers over the years, which is their popular rechargeable contractor flashlight but I have found that the switch or other electronics will give out and have problems after three or four years. I have never had one last longer than that. The same goes for their Strion model. My company uses them for commercial use, which means hard use on almost every call, five or six days a week. These flashlights get dropped, roll around in the truck and sometimes get left in the sun or snow. A Streamlight ProTac as your EDC (everyday carry), being turned on just a few times a week most likely will last much longer.
While any light can malfunction and is the reason you need more than one quality light, you will experience less problems overall with a brand like Surefire or other American-made light or a higher end imported model.
Looking online can be a great starting place to see some of these lights and learn about them as well as the cells that go with them. 1Lumen.com is a fairly good review site and you can get a good look at lot of popular lights on the market.
Hopefully, by now you have considered how important flashlights can be for self-sufficiency, preparedness, and survival in any situation. Battery and flashlight technology is still improving with batteries being able to store more power in the same size cell, flashlights that are brighter, smaller, and more reliable. Solar panels are getting more efficient and battery storage units are constantly improving.
Like most other things when it comes to preparedness is to get your lights, batteries, and chargers now while you can. Things are not getting cheaper and lockdowns, supply problems and panicked consumers can cause these things to disappear.
I rate a good flashlight as important as a sidearm or water filter. It is that important. Important to take the time and to research and acquire what you need now, while you can. Be warned however, that flashlights can be addicting, and that you may find yourself with more than one or two. When you consider how practical they are though, that is a good thing.