No Time for Nonsense – The 7 Best Emergency Flashlights

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If you are in a hurry, my pick for the Best Hand Crank Emergency Flashlight is the Cynergy LifeLight Multi-Tool Emergency Hand Crank Flashlight (Radio Version).

Every emergency kit needs to be stocked with more than one Hand Crank Emergency Flashlight for a number of reasons that you can probably think of, and many more that you can’t.  Emergencies are always unexpected and often undefined.  Modern-day examples include Hurricane Katrina and Maria, and in Alaska, the 1964 earthquake still resonates with people in my world to this day.

Here are some of my favorite picks for Hand Crank Emergency Flashlights.

What to look for in an Emergency Flashlight

Shelf life

Thankfully natural disasters do not occur on a regular basis, so your Survival Flashlight can lie dormant for quite a long time. It is a good idea to test your equipment on a regular basis, but any Survival Flashlight you are relying upon should be charged (or ready to take a charge) even after years of storage. All batteries drain slowly over time so the latter is more likely.

Ability to power

In a natural disaster, the standard systems such as food and power break down. You always need an alternate method of powering your Survival Flashlight that doesn’t rely on a wall plug.

Longevity

Once charged you may need to rely on your Survival Flashlight to light the darkness for several hours in the evening. This may occur for multiple weeks. You should be able to reliably charge your Survival Light during the day and have it work for you for hours in the evenings with power to spare for use in the middle of the night.

Durability

Part of preparing for a natural disaster is realizing you can’t simply go and replace equipment when it breaks. Your Survival Flashlight needs to have a high level of durability and, that being said, you should still always have redundancy.

How durable is it? What does IPX6 mean? Read our Ultimate Guide to the ANSI/PLATO FL1 Standard symbols!

Lighting Options

Your light may pull a lot of duties in a natural disaster, from providing soft light for a child to read a book to providing a signal light for help to find you. Being the brightest is not the key here as brighter lights (even LED ones) can drain your battery fairly quickly. Low light options are desirable to conserve valuable energy and also protect night vision. Yellow or red Strobes are good options to have in addition to strobe or SOS signal options on the main light.

Radio

Radio is the most reliable means of communication in a natural disaster and having a reliable one on-hand is essential. Many lights look to serve double duty by including a radio. This is a good option but please realize that the radio is likely to be of poor quality.

Charging Bank

Many torches are now touting the ability to charge your cell phone to stay connected. Personally, I never understood this feature or thought it was valuable. If you want to keep your cell phone charged there are plenty of more efficient options than using the valuable energy in your flashlight. However, when coupled with a Hand Crank this may be the only option for charging your cell phone in extreme scenarios.

What is the Best Way to Keep Your Flashlight Powered?

How you power your Survival Flashlight over time determines how long it can serve you, but not how well it can serve you. There is a trade-off here as you can see below.

Kinetic or Hand Crank

This method of charging is best for situations that last months and months. If you think that is a very long time for a natural disaster, know that as of this writing Puerto Rico still has major power outages almost 1 year after Hurricane Maria.

With this option, you are charging your light via physical motion such as shaking or cranking. Easily the least convenient method to power your flashlight, with some lights having a ratio of 1:2 charge to usage time. That means 1 hour of charge time for 2 hours of use.

If this is your method then working together is the best option. Take turns charging for a few minutes then pass it along to the next person in the group, everyone taking their turn. In cold climates, this provides the added bonus of warming up the person doing the charging and keeps the kids busy.

Solar

If you are in a location with reliable sunshine, then Solar may be the most convenient option for you. You may want to consider a separate solar charging station with a larger panel (such as the RAVPower Solar Charger) instead of relying on a flashlight that has an internal solar panel, as these can be very poor quality and often take more than a single day to charge your light.

USB power bank

USB charging may make your emergency start to feel like a normal day at the office. Plug your light in via USB to a power bank and you are back up to fully charged performance in no time. My small, cell phone-sized USB power bank (the Anker Power Core) can recharge some of my torches 5x or more with a single charge. However, it is just a bit battery and does run out over time.

Primary Cells

Changing out batteries is the most efficient way to keep the lights on. However, we are talking about emergency situations where your light, and your batteries, can be sitting for years. Not only do all batteries slowly discharge over time, but Alkaline batteries (most of your AA, AAA, C, D, etc.) also tend to leak over time as well – especially if they are stored in your light. This can make a mess of your flashlight and likely take it out of commission just when you need it the most.

When properly stored in a cool, dry place (0°C-25°C), outside of equipment, and in a battery case, Alkaline cells can be usable for many years.  However, Lithium cells have the longest shelf life of 7-10 years and are the best option for stored Primary Cells.

Learn everything you need to know about Batteries with our Ultimate Guide to Batteries!


Generator

A generator is the king of power in a natural disaster. If you have one (or access to one) then you have no problems with recharging your lights or other devices as long as your fuel holds out.

Like all things in an emergency situation, redundancy is the key. You never want a single point of failure. Personally, my family takes this in layers. Fortunately, at our home we have a portable generator like this Honda 2200 watt model, so using that is our first go-to method for charging if it is running. We recharge our USB charging banks while the generator is running so they are the next line of recharging. We keep primary cells on hand and have a preference for lights that use rechargeable 18650 Li-Ion cells or Lithium cells such as CR123 cells which in many cases are interchangeable (2x CR123 usually fits the same as a Li-Ion 18650). We go through so many batteries that our Alkaline batteries are usually quite fresh as well.

Solar is something I wish worked better in Alaska because I simply love it when Mother Nature does the work for me! However, Solar doesn’t have the reliability or capacity in the north that has in a sunbelt state. If I lived further south I would probably have a lot of solar panels since the free sunlight will last a lot longer than my generator fuel supply.

We do keep some kinetic lights on hand as well. This keeps the kids busy and warm, and we like to have an option for when the generator fuel runs out.

Product Reviews

While most on my list are Hand Crank Flashlights, some use plain old battery technology.

Streamlight Survivor

Streamlight is an excellent brand, delivering high-quality lighting for any use. The Streamlight Survivor is as versatile as a camping lantern with the ability to be used as a hands-free work or reading light or hung by its’ clip or D-ring. It is made of high visibility plastic in a variety of bright colors and has large buttons that can easily be operated with a gloved hand.

The Streamlight Survivor runs for 3.5 hours run time on High (175 Lumens), or 13-15 hours on Low (60 Lumens). There are also modes for flash signaling that last 8 hours, or a ‘moonlight’ mode for up to 30 hours of operation.

This light is waterproof to the IPX4 standard, meaning it can take water splashes from any direction and can take a 2-meter drop.

Pros

  • The bright casing is highly visible
  • Versatile use with standing base, clip and D-ring attachment
  • Long-lasting (13-15 hour) low power setting
  • Large buttons for use with gloved hands

Cons

  • Uses a non-USB charger (rechargeable model)
  • Uses Alkaline (AA) batteries instead of Li-Ion
  • Only IPX4 waterproof standard

Cynergy LifeLight Multi-Tool Emergency Hand Crank Flashlight

This light is like a Swiss army knife. Aside from a flashlight, this unit includes a glass or window breaker, seat belt cutter, and flashing yellow signal light. The light has a magnetic head (not base) to mount the light on a hood or the side of a car, exposing the yellow signal light.

This light has a Li-Ion rechargeable non-replaceable cell which is can be charged via USB or a hand crank. The company also advertises that this light can charge a cell phone or other device via USB, but in practice, this feature does not work well and requires that the hand crank is turning while charging the device.

There is also a version of this torch that includes a Radio which is an interesting feature. It is by a different vendor but is clearly a related light. Seeing the same item with different labels is common with products sourced from China.

The company has not published any testing data on battery size, brightness, or waterproof standards. However, by all accounts, the brightness is about 200 Lumens and the torch is splash resistant at likely an IPX4 level. This lack of standards testing does make me question the reliability of the torch.

This is a great little light to keep in the glove box or your auto emergency kit. It is recommended by the seller to recharge the light at least once a month which is convenient with a micro-USB cable.

Pros

  • Versatile multi-tool
  • Magnetic Head
  • USB rechargeable
  • Hand Crank rechargeable

Cons

  • Lack of documentation and standards testing
  • Phone charging feature is poorly implemented

Goal Zero Torch 250

This light can switch from a standard torch to a floodlight, both with a low and high-intensity setting, as well as a red light. It is charged via USB, internal Solar panel, or Hand Crank. This torch can also charge your cell phone or other USB devices.

I really like the idea of the Solar option. However, the charge time via Solar is 23-46 hours – that’s a lot of days of charging! Even the manufacturer recommends an external solar panel such as this one to charge it in under 7 hours, but this option can work for other lights as well.

Pros

  • 3-6 month shelf life between charges
  • Large 4400mAh lithium battery
  • Can be used as a charging bank
  • Solar power option
  • Hand Crank

Cons

  • Very expensive for the features
  • Not waterproof
  • Internal Solar panel is too small to charge in one day

Esky Portable Emergency Weather Radio

Fairly standard hand-crank flashlight radio. I do like how compact and sleek this is with little protruding from it to grab or catch other gear. There is a charging bank option but again with a 1000mAh battery capacity, it will not go far.

This light also has an internal Solar Panel for Solar charging, but like other units, these small Solar panels are very inefficient.

This light combines a light, radio, and charging bank with a hand crank and solar panel for charging and does poorly at all of them.

Pros

  • USB Rechargeable
  • 140 Lumen light
  • Sleek profile

Cons

  • Small battery size for to use as a Power Bank
  • Lack of red/amber signal lights

Kaito Wind-up 5-LED Flashlight

The Kaito takes the recipe of combining a flashlight, radio, and hand crank and adds a NOAA weather band radio into the mix. They have left off the anemic internal solar panel and made the hand crank 1:10 efficient – meaning 1 minute of hand crank will give you 10 minutes of power. The handle is small and uncomfortable for extending charging (just have the kids do it!)

The radio brings in surprisingly clear AM and NOAA signals, but the small knobs make tuning it difficult.

There is a charging bank but the battery is small and charging your phone may drain it completely.

Pros

  • NOAA radio bands
  • USB rechargeable
  • Efficient hand crank
  • Clear radio reception

Cons

  • ‘Busy’ knobs making radio tuning difficult
  • Small battery

PrimalCamp Hand Crank Solar Powered Rechargeable LED Flashlight

The selling point of this torch is the integrated carabiner clip which allows for suspending the light from a branch or rope. This little dynamo focuses on being a convenient and efficient light without other features which may be poorly implemented.

There is no option for charging this light from an external power source which at first was alarming. But the integrated solar panel actually works well, providing a full charge in 7 hours. Many customers report never using the charging handle at all, which charges at a relatively efficient 1:8 ratio (1 minute of charging provides 8 minutes of light).

Water-resistant and durable this would make a good camping light as well as for stocking your emergency kit. This is also economical enough to buy several and keep around the house or car.

Pros

  • Integrated carabiner
  • 7-hour charge via Solar
  • Water-resistant
  • Economical

Cons

  • No external charge ability
  • Cannot swap batteries

Conclusion

For survival situations, you never want to rely on only one solution. Survival flashlights are inexpensive, and it is highly recommended that you get not only multiple lights but multiple flavors of them.

That being said my favorite torch of the bunch is the Cynergy LifeLight Multi-Tool Emergency Hand Crank Flashlight (Radio Version).

I can keep it plugged into the USB charger in my car so it’s always ready to go. It’s well built with good reports of reliability. Strobes and signal lights are common, but the magnetic head is a very useful and uncommon feature. It is also nice to find a digital radio tuner instead of the hard to tune analog knobs that most have.

Add in the waterproofing and durability that many of the others seem to lack, and the Cynergy LifeLight Multi-Tool Emergency Hand Crank Flashlight (Radio Version) is a clear winner

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