The Importance of Lightsources in a Survival Situation

Picture of Selco


I am Selco and I am from the Balkan region, and as some of you may know it was hell here from 92-95, anyway, for 1 whole year I lived and survived in a city WITHOUT: electricity, fuel, running water, food distribution, without any kind of organized law or government. The city was surrounded for 1 year and it actually was a real SHTF situation. Our allies were our enemies from one day to the next. Today I’m prepared and share my experience on this blog.

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In a previous article we discussed details of Everyday Carry Items (EDC) We started with the premise of a ‘layered’ EDC system, distributing items between pockets, small containers and bags etc depending on their importance and access requirements.

I, like many, am constantly reviewing, revising and amending my EDC, not least of which because of the amount I travel but also due to the extreme environmental fluctuations we have here in the far north of Scandinavia! Every year sees the long lazy summer days pass, the dismal vestiges of late autumn then break to a dark and cold winter, not only here, but in many other regions as well. Even if you are not entering a winter phase, it cannot be lost on us, as sure as the sun rises it sets, and dealing with the dark is a topic often overlooked in defensive circles. In this article I’m going to briefly but comprehensively take you through some of the considerations when it comes to the Importance of Illumination and some EDC options.

As a serious minimalist when it comes to equipment carry, to the extent I am very rarely subscribed to the ‘multiple redundancy carry’ mindset often espoused  (I do genuinely have my reasons) a review of my Level 1 and 2 EDC (On my body or within arms reach) reveals 4 separate illumination devices(!) This may seem extreme, so what am I carrying and why?

For an overview I am carrying, in order:

  • A small red LED light on a paracord neck chain. (Left of Picture)
  • A small blue LED light on my keychain. (Centre Left of Picture)
  • A Tactical Flashlight (Eagletac P20C2) in my pocket (Centre Right of Picture)
  • A (Petzl brand) Headtorch in my small ‘Manbag’ (Right of Picture)
illumination 1

Before I continue, I want to highlight a twofold advantage of this approach. Not only does this EDC offer a good, robust and resilient approach to many issues, both small and large, but it has proved, to date, to be one of the best ‘conversion strategies’ I have had in terms of spousal/family type ‘buy in’, not only for my family but for students of mine as well. While this is a significant issue of its own that I will write about further in a separate article, it definitely is worth mentioning here at this time!

So why am I carrying this? This I’ll answer by item, but in reverse order:

The Headtorch (or Headlamp)

Not only in my capacity as a professional outdoorsman, but on numerous occasions throughout my regular daily activity, I will need to illuminate a specific area AND want to keep my hands free. While deepthroating a maglite is eminently doable, I can’t say it enables one to focus well on any given task. That, combined with the fact this action, when performed at extreme low temperatures will result in your mouth being frozen to the flashlight for ‘some time’, normally ensures alternatives should be sought (I reserve the right to provide no further detail on this particular ‘fact finding story’, thank you very much) However you get to this end result, we can be happy with the idea that being able to provide light and keep our hands free is often a very good thing. From writing notes, changing a tire by the roadside, tying and untying knots, using tools, sharpening knives, or fiddling in the fuse box to fix the ‘blackout’ and much, much more not having one hand ‘occupied’ holding a light is a tremendous bonus.

One other, slight aside, but VERY useful tip on the headtorch. Look at the picture again. You see on the right hand side of the torch pictured the ‘battery box’? You see between the battery box and the light itself a small green colored object? This is a complete set of spare batteries secured to the strap of the headtorch with cloth tape. More on this a little later, but this tip has helped me more times than I can now count!

The Tactical Flashlight

For those of us living under heavy legal restrictions ‘weapon carry’ is exceptionally problematic. Even small folding knives in some countries will be dealt with in the most draconian way. A tactical flashlight has travelled with me through numerous countries, multiple security checkpoints, including American airports, and has never once been questioned or raised concerns. As well as offering a good, solid, white light source, useful for a wide variety of things. The strobe effect, hardened metal body, size and shape of this tool do give it some valuable ‘weapon level’ features. A lot of this tools power lies in its ‘pre-emptive’ ability. A good bright, light shone to the face is, at worst, distracting, can buy time and distance if used properly and can be used to conceal a whole bunch of other movement if you need it to. This is if you use the light when when directly facing a threat, but the ability to search an area more thoroughly (especially indoors) indicate or mask your location and clearly indicate your ability to see something are all additional and valuable uses. Even if living in a permissive environment where additional weapons carry is allowed, I still carry a tactical flashlight (as do many others I know) because of the advantages it offers.

The LED Keychain Light

In the first instance this is most useful when trying to find the right key and access locks. Having a light, right there on your keychain, prevents a whole lot of ‘fumbling around in the dark’. We are aware approaching our residences and vehicles is a time of particular risk, so minimizing any ‘faff’ time in these areas is highly desirable. I particularly like a ‘non white’ light here so it is not overly conspicuous and is not compromising my eyes adjustment to the dark as much. In this regard red or green light is preferable, but I am using blue for now for a specific, but separate reason.

The LED Neck Chain Light

Having a small, discreet, easy to access light source is very useful. I typically use this light for signaling short distances at night when I want to remain quiet, or if I have a quick job I need to complete and do not need or cannot access my headtorch. You will see from the close up picture this LED light not only works by being squeezed (typically between finger and thumb) but also has an on/off switch.

illumination 2

So it is simple and easy to switch ‘on’ and be held lightly between the teeth to illuminate an area immediately to your front but also keep the hands free. Why not use the headtorch? It’s a good question, and I’ll tell you a little, frequently occurring experience of mine. I’m using my headtorch very often, now ask yourself, when are the batteries most likely to ‘die’?  Why when it’s in use of course, is the obvious answer! Now think, is it typically light or dark when using it? Hmmm, dark… And herein is the problem. Changing torch batteries in the dark is not the easiest of things, so with this set up, a battery change becomes easy, especially when I know exactly where the spare batteries are (Taped to the torch strap, remember!?!) As and when my illumination device fails, I use the small LED light that is immediately available to complete a quick and easy battery change. The same method could be used for any number of similar, small tasks.

I mentioned earlier the ‘spousal conversion’ benefits of this EDC setup. To touch on that again, briefly. Many of us committed to learning and training for conflict, face varying levels of resistance or concern from our families and frequently little ‘buy in’ from our spouses. This may be a general lack of interest to an active vilification of our lifestyle choices (“What do you need another (insert defensive tool name here) for, you already have so many???” is a frequent refrain heard by many)

While I will address this more in a separate article, I’ve found illumination devices a great ‘start point’ in getting greater understanding in families as to some of the benefits in EDC, and with these type of ‘small wins’ the stepping stones to greater acceptance and involvement are paved. I typically ‘gift’ these small LED lights to friends and family (especially kids), and often will actively put them on the keychain for them, so they ‘have it right there’. To date, no one has ever failed to understand the value in doing so. For a few this has then led the conversation to, ‘what would you do if you need a better, slightly more powerful light source, for instance in a blackout or if you had to quickly step out the house, for example to check something?’ Again, this logical progression makes sense to many and can quickly lead to the purchase (or gifting) of a tactical flashlight, especially given there are many excellent priced ‘entry level’ models now on the market.

Once they have become a proud owner of a tactical flashlight, almost everyone I know has enjoyed and been fascinated by it features and potential additional uses and most are very satisfied at the idea of carrying something that has ‘more than one use’. From this point, often, more ‘small steps’ can be taken in a positive direction. A number of people within a short time of owning a tactical flashlight have come back with some story of how it proved to be ‘so useful’ in some sort of situation they have faced, and this is one of those great occurrences that can lead to even more productive conversation and understanding of some of the benefits not only of EDC but development of a well rounded ‘resilient mindset’.

I’ve highlighted the main uses for my illumination devices and the details of my EDC here, but remember the possibilities are limited only by your imagination! I’ve left LED lights on and ‘discarded’ too lure students into ambushes, attached them to foliage for navigational way points, performed an impromptu shadow puppet show to calm a child after first aid treatment and seen the slickest deployment of CS gas ever, masked by a flashlight. As always, we should be challenging our equipment and our minds to perform above and beyond our expectations.

If you have a great story too share with regards to your use of an illumination devices be sure to post it in our forum or the comments below, as we love hearing from our readers and learning from their experiences!

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22 Responses

  1. Not just lights. I buy super reflective tape and apply it to tack heads. you can mark your trail with the track heads and then illuminate them quickly with a flashlight to get a free and permanent indication of route. A lot of hunters do this in the USA with very large reflectors. but if you get the super insane reflective tape used for trucks a tiny tack head will show up as a bright spot from even a dim flashlight beam.

    My EDC flashlight has a spare set of lithium batteries. they do not self discharge and they have a 15 year lifespan when sitting in the bag. that way I know my spare AA for my flashlight will work when I need it.

  2. Walmart, of all places, sells sets of thumbtacks. 25 night time white reflectives and 25 day time red reflectives. They come in a plastic box, 50 to a box. All my Bug Out Bags have a box.

  3. I’ve benefitted greatly having one of the caps with a build in light. Since I wear it daily I have found many uses even in the daytime. I have tried different brands but this is the one I’ve found to be the most reliable and lasts the longest.
    They can and do wear out but I haven’t had a problem getting a year or two out of them.
    I like the idea of having the spare batteries handy and will incorperate them in my cap. On the underneath side of the bill there is enough room to glue a small military grade compass and a small watch. I used a drop of gorilla glue to attach both and haven’t had a problem. I bought a cheap watch, took the band off and filed down the ears off of the case. I’ve also have a length of flexable wire in the band that I could use making a snare or for any purpose that might come up.

  4. Big fan of the key chain lights. Bought a handful at the local NAPA store for $1 ea. Use them on zipper pulls on my packs and always have light while looking for gear, internal pocket zippers on jackets too, besides putting them on key chains.

  5. Hi.

    I have over 20 flashlights. My most carried are Zebralight sc62w for EDC, Nitecore MH20 usb recharcheable and Fenix LD41 for satchel bag edc. and the Klarus mix6 ti on the keychain. I often carry a fenix hl50 headlamp. Let me explain why and what for…

    The Zebralight has a really neutral tint which is great for identifying colours properly and is easy on the eye and it runs 1000 lumens for two hours on one 18650 battery.

    The MH20 is extremely handy as the USB capability allows it to be recharged directly via solar panel, battery bank, wall outlet, computer etc etc so you always have power even in grid down or for lack of spare batteries. It has the same basic lumens and runtime as the Z’light. It too is Neutral White. I’m a horticulturalist so plant ID at night is important too

    The LD41 is my Maglite replacement in that it can be used for SD and is blindingly bright with strobe. It is big and just heavy enough for potential SD with the crenulated bezel. Here we can basically carry nothing for SD so we have to be inventive.

    The Klarus on the keychain is a handy backup light and since my keychain never leaves me this tough little light is always there. I have a spare AAA in a capsule on the same keychain.

    Additionally I have many AA lights since AA batteries are everywhere here so easy to find ‘ammo’ for them. I do not buy cheap lights anymore I only invest in quality as I have become a flashlight snob much to the dismay of my savings account. I also only buy Neutral white tinted lights, making me a terrible tint snob much to the chagrin of my cool white accepting friends. Flashlights rule man.

  6. I use the first 3 of these levels but as a 4th level carry a few tiny glow rods intended for night fishing, always 2 green 1 red, sometimes a blue as well. They’re single use but very small, low weight and cheap, give several hours of light, can be used for general illumination but also good route markers, etc.

  7. Recently my wife retired so we have since started to exercise some. We do short hikes and it is nice to carry some sort of light. My wife is definitely not into prepping and barely tolerates me doing so. To buy something like a new headlamp would get a real notice. Sooooo we have a couple of old mountain bikes which I am in the process of rebuilding. I also have a son who is big into biking. Well if he says we should have it then it is a done deal. So in the rebuild we have front and back lights which are by the way removable as handheld. I also got two Black Diamond headlamps for changing tires, I also threw in some reflective tape and tacks too. So for those of you there are ways go getting what you need.

  8. I also keep a couple of cyalume sticks in my EDC bag — one 30min Bright White for first aid (or perhaps an important mechanical fix) and a 12 hour red. I want to have some sort of illumination that is cold, non-sparking (you don’t want to use anything electrical around a gas leak), EMP proof (I don’t expect to lose LED flashlights in an EMP event, but you never know), and most importantly — something that I don’t mind either handing off to someone, or leaving in some place as a marker.

  9. What is the “specific, but separate reason” for changing your keychain LED light from a red or green to a blue? I would hink you would prefer red or green because they don’t affect your night vision as much as blue does.

    1. Green also resembles the ‘firefly’, so in the South, more stealthy in the woods.

      UV PacLite makes a glow in the dark mylar enveloped product that takes up very little space, is nearly weightless, waterproof and has no batteries to run out. Recharged via any light source. Does not cast a beam, only glows, but in darkness, it works pretty well. They also make a necklace amulet, but in my opinion, does not cast more light than the envelope.

      Doesn’t replace flashlight, only extends your battery life.

  10. Look for regulated lights – that put out a consistent level of light over the life of the battery, rather than constantly getting dimmer. Zebralight and Fenix make regulated flashlights and headlamps, so do others. Some of them have crappy regulation (cough*Princeton Tec*). Buy stuff with good regulation.

    Some LEDs are more efficient than others. Petzl, for some inexplicable reason uses LEDs that are far less efficient than some other manufacturers. You want to get the most lumens per watt-hour out of your batteries. Inefficient LEDs suck. Blue tinted LEDs suck, too – neutral color LEDs are a decent choice.

    You’ll be happier if your lights use common batteries – AA is probably a good choice. I’d look for lights designed to use NiMH rechargable batteries. The Japanese-made NiMH batteries are probably the best rechargeables – Fujitsu, Panasonic, etc. You want Low Self Discharge rechargeable batteries, or LSD – so they are still holding a charge when you need them.

    In a cold climate, your batteries may freeze. Lithium batteries tolerate cold temperatures better than alkaline batteries – but neither is rechargeable. Certain NiMH rechargeable batteries have better cold tolerance than others – look at the specifications. Some headlamps have remote battery holders for just this reason – you keep the battery holder inside your coat, so the batteries stay warm.

  11. Great article, I like the idea of redundancy in lights, they are priceless given the situation. In terms of headlamps, IMO, Petzl makes great stuff. I have also been using a Black Diamond Icon Headlamp for 2 years now, and it’s got a metal lined battery case. Probably the best headlamp I’ve ever had (I worked in the woods at night for 3 years-gone through plenty of headlamps), efficient w/AA bats, multiple modes, also has red & green I think. I’ve also doubled up on some lights and keep them in my truck & pack.

  12. I’ve used my; original model, Surefire 6p, (only 60 lumens) tactical light to hold 3 perps at bay without ever drawing my sidearm. That and a firm, authoritative voice. I don’t leave home without it. always have spare batteries as well. No light at night is blind and at the mercy of any predator. I have found that even in daylight in a dimly lit room, it comes in handy.

  13. Before I retired I worked the afternoon shift. In doing so I would need to sleep when it was light. Now what could this have to do with having light WTSHTF. Light gives away your location. I tried many things to block the light so I could sleep but the best was cardboard and aluminum foil. I would cut the card board to fit my window and cover it entirely and the edges double so when I pushed it into the window and it blocks light in total. The best part is that it can be removed easily I found that if I reinforced the edges with thin wood they lasted longer. lastly except for the foil they are free.

  14. For years I’ve used a headlamp while doing early morning chores (milking) before going to work. I used to take a flashlight, but it’s hard to carry it, and keep your empty milk bucket clean and not spill your “wash udder” bucket with warm water into it.
    Once I am all set up (cow in place), I take off headlamp and set it on something nearby so I can see when milking. (Headlamps near a cows’ flank looking down doesn’t illuminate much.)
    I don’t need to actually see to milk, the light is for critters who think they like to pester me–cats, skunks, possums, snake(s), etc.

  15. Why 7 Light Sources Is Not Necessarily Overkill

    EDC Bag Main Headlamp – Streamlight Sidewinder issue LED that has White/Red/Blue/IR/Strobe … multiple brightness, (1) CR123A. I also carry a spare battery, but it fits in a tiny Go Tube held in place with a loop of shock cord and an elastic web keeper because adhesive + batteries = no go … for me. PowerPaxx of spares live in my EDC bag.
    EDC Technora Restraint Escape Necklace – SO LED with positive on/off – red – if I leave my bed I am wearing it.
    EDC Concealed Carry Light – Surefire E2 converted from Incan (because I have carried one since the early 90’s and in case the LED doesn’t survive a SuperEMP.)
    EDC Last Ditch Restraint Escape/E&E Kit carried Hidden – Cyalume Mini Chemlight
    EDC Keychain Light – Fenix EO5 single AAA variable brightness settings for car trunks, key holes etc. – for convenience when I don’t want to pull out the light on my necklace for any reason.
    EDC PSK In Pockets – Petzl e+lite Micro Headlamp. Variable bright, red/white/strobe (2) CR-2032 mil-packed (LaserBrite) Because bags tend to get separated from you in emergencies e.g. lost in crash, stolen, unplanned swim, have to bail with only what’s in your pockets or strapped on.
    EDC PSK In Pockets – “Blacklight” Photon Microlight II – Scorpion finder and for tagging drops with UV Pen

    3 of the lights are tiny, 2 very small and the remaining 2 are still small and you can easily hold them all in one hand but each serves a distinct niche. Basically the same functions as the author + UV, IR & Restraint Escape because of environments I frequent and other specific reasons. All of the key chain LEDs use the same battery, as do the Sidewinder and the Surefire. All have lithium batteries.

  16. Hey Everyone. Thanks for all the GREAT comments so far, I’ve learnt a lot by reading them and really enjoy reading these responses. Can I ask a favor? If you are going to mention a specific item, maybe include a (hyper)link, then we can all be 100% sure exactly what you are referring to. Just a thought! Looking forward to more great comments…. THANKS once again 🙂

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