Scot’s Product Review: The Orb and UV Paqlite

We have many needs; food, water, air, shelter, and heat come to mind. To acquire and use all those things, we have to be able to find them, and the tool used the most is our vision. Our eyes work great during the day but not so well at night, so having a way to make light is vital.

We started off making light the same way we made heat and cooked, with fire, but that has drawbacks. We finally came up with electricity, and now the most common way we make light is to flip a switch on the wall. We also have flashlights for when we want to be mobile. A drawback to electric lights, of course, is that they need electricity, which has to be provided by wires or batteries.

As we cast about for alternatives that need little or no electricity, someone came up with glow sticks that contain two chemicals that are kept separate until a glass vial inside the stick is broken by bending it. When the chemicals mix, presto, we have light. There are some major drawbacks, though, with these products; chief among them is a limited shelf life. I only get a year or so of life out of mine, but I am often told that if they are stored in a cool place and packaged in a tightly sealed container, they might make it to four years. I prefer for things to last longer than that. There is one more problem to contend with; they only work once, and then you have trash.

UV Paqlite is an innovative company that has some ideas about how to deal with these problems. We have reviewed some of their products before, so I am mainly going to focus on some of the new ones introduced since the last review, but I will take a quick look at the whole product line.

I should first say that UV Paqlite is most well known for their use of strontium aluminate crystals– a fascinating material that absorbs electromagnetic radiation and ultra violet rays and then returns them to us as light. The really fantastic thing about these crystals is that they can charge in relatively low light and then remain visible for up to 24 hours. UV Paqlite has come up with a number of very useful ways to use the abilities of these crystals.

When you first charge the crystals up, they seem really bright, but they fade a bit pretty quickly. They aren’t a Surefire flashlight by any means, but they retain enough light emitting ability to be able to find things in the dark from dusk to dawn, much like one of the long-life glow sticks. I was initially disappointed when I ran into our darkest closet with them, but I realized that my eyes were not dark adapted. Once that happens, the UV Paqlites really show their stuff. I tried an assortment of their products on a Cub Scout campout. When I got up before dawn for a call of nature, I was pleased to be able to find everything I had attached them to without needing to wake anyone up with a flashlight. Sadly though, they were not a deterrent to Cub Scouts running between tents and knocking out the tent stakes the lights were attached too. I suspect they might have been using the lights to better target the stakes.

The main item I’m writing about here is The Orb. Orb is a word derived from Latin that basically means a glowing disk. Writers often wax poetic about the full moon as a glowing orb and UV Paqlite’s Orb is much the same. It’s a glowing disk, but it has a cunning trick that makes it much more interesting.

The Orb is about 1.5 inches in diameter and about 1.25 inches thick. It only weighs 1.5 ounces and goes for $25. It contains a generous supply of the crystals that make it glow for hours after it is exposed to light. It does more than that, though. There is a built-in LED light that does two things. First, it provides enough light to safely find your way down a trail or to wander about a campsite. It is wonderful for reading maps in the dark or searching the bottom of a backpack. While you are using the LED, you are also charging the crystals, so you are left with a period of rather bright light that will continue to let you read a map or find the toothbrush that somehow got mixed in with the dirty underwear. UV Paqlite says you will get about four hours of battery life when using the LED. which was about what I got in use.

Once you get over how well it does these tricks, check out the next one– a hybrid mode that uses a timer to turn the LED light on every two minutes for long enough to recharge the crystals to full brightness. If your eyes are dark adapted, you can see it for really long distances. It is brighter, of course, during the moments the LED is on, but since it is always close to fully charged, it is easy to find. Steve Nagel from UV Paqlite suggested a great use for it in this mode– hanging it in a very visible spot near your car while hunting or hiking to provide a beacon should you run late returning. I hung it on our tent while camping and had no trouble finding my way back on a moonless night.

An added feature– a light sensor– further extends the life of the battery if you are leaving it someplace during the day that you want to locate in the dark. You can set it to a mode where the LED only comes on once it gets dark. Since you can get about 100 hours on the battery in the hybrid mode, you should be able to get a week out of the nighttime only setting.

The battery is charged with a USB cord, and it comes with a short one. A small solar panel or one of the storage batteries people use to extend cell phone life can be used to keep the Orb going. I suppose you could probably use a small panel to keep one going indefinitely, if desired.

There is also a waterproof housing you can get that protects it to 300 feet. The Orb by itself is rated water resistant, but you have to make sure that the cover for the charging port is properly inserted.

An older product– the Mule Light– was composed of a Larry Light, a nifty little LED flashlight that works well for area lighting, and the UV GloStik. The idea was similar to The Orb. A bunch of the crystals in the GloStik could be charged with the light to provide a nice source of light at the cost of little battery life. The GloStik could be rubber banded to the front of the light or pulled off if you wanted to get all of the LED’s light on the subject. I like the fact that the Larry Light uses three easy-to-find AAA batteries. The combination worked very well, but UV Paqlite decided to upgrade it and add the hybrid functions of The Orb to the flashlight, which promises to be a very useful combination. This one has entered production at the time I wrote this and should be on the market soon. The price hasn’t been set.

Besides The Orb and the Mule Light, UV Paqlite has a number of products that are recharged purely by ambient light. There are several varieties of glow stick-shaped lights, a disk that looks like an oversized glowing Lifesaver candy for you to wear at night, Glow in the Dark spots you can attach to whatever you need to find, adhesive sheets that work much better than the stuff I have previously used in darkrooms, and several other formats of the glowing crystals to meet your needs for finding things when there is no light.

One thing I really liked is the Scout package that gives you several different UV Paqlites, all of which I found useful camping with Scouts, despite the fact they didn’t slow down seven year olds creating mayhem.

Valley Food Storage Update

I reviewed some storage food from Valley Food Storage last December and overall came away pretty happy with what we tried. They have introduced some new choices and were kind enough to send four samples, which we have dug into. They are all packaged in sturdy Mylar pouches with zip seals to preserve any unprepared foods. The containers provide enough food for a family meal, which is a point I like. Larger containers offer some cost advantages, but you frequently have so much that everyone hates it by the time the large container is finished. Valley Food eschews genetically modified foods and MSG, which I appreciate.

I think it is helpful to know something about the tastes of the testers, but I don’t, however, want to repeat all that here for the sake of space and time. You might want to go back to the original review, if you are curious about us. I didn’t get a chance to have my sister sample any of the new entrees, so this is based on opinions from my wife, my 10-year-old son, and me.

I will reiterate that my most important criterion these days is that storage food be things we will eat in normal times. I have found myself throwing out food that no one would eat when the time came to rotate it, which didn’t make me happy.

The first item we tried was the Enchilada Beans and Rice, and it was enjoyed by all three of us. We didn’t have any fresh tortillas to serve with it, and that would have greatly improved it, as would some fresh grated cheese, chopped onions, and peppers. My wife said she would be fine with storing it and eating it, but she wouldn’t go out of her way to have it in normal times. She wouldn’t let it go bad when it came time to rotate it but would probably prefer to have something else. If I presented her with it for dinner, there would not be any issues with her eating it, though. The package promised five 230-calorie servings for $11.95, and it seemed reasonably close, assuming a meal would have other items to go with it.

The Strawberry Cream of Wheat was a big surprise for both my wife and me. She really doesn’t like cream of wheat, but she liked this stuff and would be okay having it around anytime. My son snubbed it, though, and refused to try it. I was pretty much the same as my wife. I like cracked wheat cereals and oat meal, but cream of wheat always seemed too much like paste. This, however, was good. If you had some fresh blueberries to throw in, it would be very nice indeed. The $34.95 package is said to provide twenty 220-calorie servings. However, if it is the only item on the breakfast menu, that seemed optimistic to me, especially if folks are doing any sort of physical labor. As a side with an egg or two and some bacon, though, you could walk away pretty stuffed and fueled for some serious work.

The Irish Pub Cheddar Soup was a huge hit with the adults, but I couldn’t get my son to try it due to the presence of some tasty leftovers in the refrigerator. I was surprised and impressed with how well the potatoes and bacon bits reconstituted. I’ve had other dehydrated products that had odd, disconcerting textures. This one was not as good as fresh-made from scratch, but it was very good and better than I’ve had in restaurants or boxes from the grocery store, largely thanks to the flavorful seasoning. My wife said I can buy this and serve it anytime. The five-serving package goes for $11.95 and provides 230-calories per plate. Again, you would want to add some sides to your meal to get the calorie count up, especially when working hard.

I’ve saved the only one we didn’t like for last. It was the $11.95 Mac and Cheese. We would eat it in bad times, but the flavor just wasn’t up to the standard grocery store brand or Kraft Macaroni and cheese kits. At first, I just wondered if the problem was that it is just different, but I decided I really didn’t like the cheese. The flavor wasn’t what I expect with macaroni, and the texture wasn’t smooth enough for me. The noodles reconstituted well and were fine. So, it was all about the cheese. My wife or son didn’t like it either; so this one won’t be on our buy list, unlike the other three or the ones we tried last year. This one gives you 280 calories per serving.

Overall, Valley Food has some very useful products for food storage. I am a fan of a number of brands of storage foods, but Valley Food is carving out a nice niche of tasty and different entrees at a decent price that could greatly reduce food boredom in a crunch. Some of us can handle boring food, but I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t appreciate a tasty meal every now and then as well as some serious variety. In the end, food is fuel, but good food can provide a lot of comfort in times of adversity.

– SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor, Scot Frank Eire