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Got a Light?

It’s always great to be prepared for any eventuality, but not everyone has the patience and room to carry around 100 feet of 550 cord,  three days-worth of food and water, and a firearm. Aside from the usual things you need to go about your job such as your phone, laptop, pen and paper, and the like, I’m of the opinion that the absolute minimum one should have on their person is a knife and a light. We’ll talk about knives in another installment of this column, but today, I’m going to make the case for why you should always have a light handy, and what to look for in one.

Fenix LD20

Ok, if someone told you there was a 70 percent chance of rain later, would you take an umbrella with you? It would only make sense. So why wouldn’t you bring a light, given that there’s a 100 percent chance that night time will come? We’re daytime creatures, and while our ability to see both color and detail are superb, once the sun dips under the horizon, we’re more or less blind. Darkness doesn’t have to come at night either. Shuffling through a bag, searching for something under a desk, or having to make a quick trip to the basement are all made so much better with a decent handheld light. I hope it never happens that you get stuck for any amount of time in a stalled elevator with no power, but if you want to keep your sanity, a light is going to help loads.

Flashlights also make great signalling devices. This isn’t something I thought I would end up using a lot, but getting someone’s attention from a distance, or in a crowd is made so much easier with a light. It allows you to stand out easily, and takes far less effort (and is a lot less annoying) than shouting.

So you’ve been convinced as to the utility of a dedicated flashlight. What light should you get?

This is going to be a classic “the one that suits your needs” scenario, but there are a few things I feel are going to be universally appreciated. First, pick a light that takes power cells that are easy to find. I don’t mean specialty store easy here; I mean grocery store easy, or even a random drawer easy. Yes, I understand that CR123s offer a lot of power in a small package, but if  you’re in the middle of nowhere, and your fancy CR123a dies, then all you’ve got is a fancy carrying case for your dead battery. AA and AAA batteries are far easier to find, and if things go extremely sideways, you have a fair chance of finding a working cell in a remote control, wall clock, or other battery-powered device.

Even better are lights that accept both common battery types, and higher output cells. The light I carry daily is one such example. I walk around with a 14500 cell inside the light, but should that die on me, i can simply swap it out for an AA battery. Sure, I get half the maximum output, but half a light is better than stumbling around in the dark with my mobile phone flash.

Another consideration is the size. I like carrying my flashlight in my pants pocket, so something reasonably small is necessary. The light I mentioned above takes a single 14500 or AA cell. The overall length is about one and a half AA batteries, and it’s just under an inch at the thickest part. This allows it to sit comfortably in my hip pocket, within easy reach. For a long time, I carried a 2xAA light, and while I did get a lot of light, it really wasn’t the most comfortable thing to carry in my pocket.

Additional light modes are a nice thing to have, and more than once, I have had to switch modes to suit the situation. Do try to stay away from complicated interfaces with plenty of buttons, switches, and controls the closer you are to just an on and off switch, the better. Should you find yourself in a sticky situation, you will find that a simple light will be much easier to use properly than one that requires you to recite several lines of Shakespeare while patting your head and rubbing your belly.

Don’t skimp on your light. It’s tempting to go with a PHP 500 tiangge special, but trust us when we say you do get what you pay for. Go for a reliable brand, and a model that is well-reviewed, so you can be sure it’s not just to sit useless when you need light. Generally speaking, you’re going to  want to stay away from those lights with multiple LEDs, or with focusing adjustment. There are prime examples of the first, but they aren’t cheap at all, and I have yet to see a decent specimen of the second. And yes, LEDs are where it’s at. You don’t need the power draw and short lifespan of an incandescent.

There are a lot of other factors to consider, but this is a good start. We’ll cover more ground in the next installment of BulletPoints, so stay tuned!

Also published in GADGETS MAGAZINE December 2016 – January 2017 Issue.

Words and Photos by Ren Alcantara

Artwork by Jael Mendoza