The best emergency light stick
Power outages, car breakdowns, and other events rarely happen at the best time of the day. Having an emergency light source can make dealing with the situation much easier. But where do you find lighting without electricity? The answer is a chemical or battery-powered emergency light stick.
A professional-grade emergency light stick should not be confused with a "glow stick" party favor. The chemicals used to create the light are much more powerful and last much longer, and some light sticks use batteries and LEDs to create the same effect. Emergency light sticks are available in a range of colors and can be used to mark exits or detect people or pets in the dark.
If you are in the market for an emergency light stick, read our helpful buying guide. At the top of our list is Cyalume's ChemLight Military-Grade Chemical Light Sticks, a long-lasting chemical light stick with high visibility and a four-year shelf life.
Considerations when choosing emergency light sticks
Many people associate emergency light sticks with party-style glow sticks activated by a chemical reaction. In fact, a number of professional-grade emergency light sticks do work on that principle, but on a slightly larger scale. Shaking or bending a light stick combines two parts of a luminescent formula, and the resulting glow can last for 12 hours or more.
Other emergency light sticks work more like battery-powered flashlights or lanterns. A small but powerful battery (often lithium-ion) provides steady power to LED bulbs for 12 to 36 hours or can be activated on demand for days. These emergency light sticks generally last longer than chemical models, but they are not ideal during wet conditions.
Some solar-powered light sticks could be used to mark locations or illuminate a path during black-out conditions, but they need to be recharged during the day, and they tend to lose illumination power faster than chemical or battery-powered options.
Length of service
Some situations call for short-term emergency lighting, such as locating an exit or making a repair. Others require at least eight to 10 hours of steady illumination to provide a comfortable environment or aid in a search-and-rescue mission. There may even be times when an emergency light stick needs to remain visible for several days, such as a disabled boat drifting on open waters. It is important to assess the potential nature of an emergency in order to keep the right type of emergency light sticks on hand.
Most emergency light sticks are not designed to be stored indefinitely. Chemicals degrade over time, so a chemical light stick may not activate after several years of storage. Batteries can also lose power as their chemical components age. Manufacturers should provide an estimated shelf life for a specific brand of emergency light stick. Generally speaking, a lifespan of four years is fairly standard.
Most solar-powered or chemically powered light sticks are strictly on or off once activated. They do not blink, and the light level cannot be adjusted. Many battery-powered models, on the other hand, do offer different operating modes. Users can select a flashing mode as a more effective signal to rescuers, for example. Some models switch between a glow stick for visibility and a focused flashlight beam for illumination.
Many chemical light sticks provide a yellow-green glow because of the nature of the luminescent compounds. However, some chemical and battery powered models offer a wider array of colors. Users may want to mark dangerous locations with red lights, or use white lights for better visibility. Other color options include green, orange, and yellow.
Inexpensive chemical emergency light sticks are often sold in economical multi-packs, but the cost per stick is generally around 75 cents to $1. A higher-grade chemical stick or basic battery-powered model can cost between $1 and $3 per stick. The best battery-powered light sticks with different power modes can cost $3 to $5 per stick, with solar models costing even more.
Q. Are the chemicals inside an emergency light stick toxic?
A. Generally speaking, the individual ingredients inside a light stick are considered non-toxic. However, once the chemical reaction has started, they can generate significant heat, and the container itself can hold broken glass once the inner vial is broken.
Q. Can I use inexpensive "party" glow sticks as an emergency light source?
A. Glow sticks could be used to illuminate doorways or other exits, but they do not produce enough light to be useful during an emergency. Professional-grade emergency light sticks use much stronger chemicals to create illumination.
Emergency light sticks we recommend
Best of the best: Cyalume's ChemLight Military-Grade Chemical Light Sticks
Our take: For hunters, campers, and overnight hikers, these long-lasting light sticks should provide hours of emergency lighting or trail marking.
What we like: Provides up to 12 hours of light, with a four-year shelf life. Green light is visible for hundreds of yards. Available in multiple colors. Pack contains 10 sticks.
What we dislike: Some color options not as effective for emergency illumination. Some sticks don't perform as long as promoted.
Best bang for your buck: Cyalume's SnapLight Yellow Glow Sticks
Our take: The SnapLight glow sticks would be ideal for households and workplaces to have on hand during short-term power outages.
What we like: Multiple color options. Yellow-white light is very visible. Pack contains 10 sticks, good for multiple users. Lasts up to 12 hours when activated.
What we dislike: Produces a dimmer light than expected. Shelf life may be limited.
Our take: These LED light sticks last longer than chemical models, and users can switch between several different lighting options.
What we like: Offers four different lighting modes, including flashlight, blinker, and glow light. Lasts up to 200 hours in blinking mode. Uses energy-efficient LEDs.
What we dislike: Night light mode can shut off automatically after a few minutes. Relies on batteries, no chemical reaction.
Michael Pollick is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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