How to Have Lights for Vandwellers and Survivalists

These are flashlights I carry. Each excels at a  function better than any of the others.

These are flashlights I carry. Each excels at a one function better than any of the others.

If you are going to live in a van or prepare for emergencies, then you must have a plan for how you will have light. Essentially, we live off-grid without being plugged into the electric grid so you need to generate your own power for lights. You may think to yourself, “Why do I need light, I’ll just sleep at night and use a flashlight.” That’s the kind of thinking that comes from living in a house all your life where you just flip a switch and light magically appears. We are so adapted to it, we aren’t even aware of how dependent we are on artificial light. So here is an experiment you can try to get a better understanding. If you’re still living in a house, throw the main circuit breaker and live without electricity for a few days. Very quickly you’ll become aware that you’re remarkably dependent on it!

Having lived in Alaska for 45 years, I’m very tuned into the need for lights. Anchorage has more than 17 hours of darkness in the winter so flashlights are critical and they’ve been a hobby of mine for my whole life. Today with the advent of LEDs we have an embarrassment of riches of truly outstanding lights. The problem is that many of them are very expensive and I think they are a waste of money because you can get as much or more with a much less expensive light. Here are my recommendations for lights for vandwellers and survivalists.

Ideally, you’ll have a solar power system on your van or RV and LED lights wired to it, but not all of us can afford that and sometimes there isn’t enough sun to keep the batteries charged. Not only that but you must have portable light that you can take with you away from the rig. I have lots of solar but I still consider all these tools I am going to tell you about to be essential:

This Duracell flashlight has 500 Lumens and has a brighter beam than any other flashlight I've ever seen but only uses 3 C batteries.  I wouldn't be without it. The smaller one has 250 Lumens which for it's small size is amazing!

This Duracell flashlight has 500 Lumens and has a brighter beam than any other flashlight I’ve ever seen but only uses 3 C batteries. I wouldn’t be without it. The smaller one has 250 Lumens which for it’s small size is amazing!

Flashlight: Whether you’re a vandweller or a survivalist the first thing you need is a good flashlight and batteries. At one time Mag lights were the cream of the crop but now there are many brands that are better. I have a Duracell 500 (it’s made from aluminum and uses three C cells) that is simply the best LED flashlight I’ve ever owned –and I am a connoisseur of flashlights! With 500 Lumens it is blinding and throws a beam of light so far that my eyes are the problem and not the amount of light. It has a hood that slides in and out so you can totally illuminate the area right in front of you or progressively narrow it down until it’s a tiny area ¼ mile away. It also has three settings 1) high 2) low 3) flashing. You may think the flashing setting is a waste but the truth it is so blinding that it is virtually paralyzing; making it a very good defensive tool, much better than using it as a hammer to hit someone. I was lucky and found a 2-pack at Costco for $20, but Amazon sells them for $30 each; it’s such a great flashlight I wouldn’t hesitate to buy it for $30. Get it from Amazon here: Duracell Ultra High Intensity Flashlight 500 Lumens

Smaller Carry Flashlight. I also have a small 250 Lumen flashlight that I can carry in my pocket or in a case on my belt. Duracell makes a three pack of them that I highly recommend. I keep the 500 in the vehicle and carry the 250 with me because it is so much smaller but still has a LOT of light! Get them from Amazon here: Duracell 250 Lumens High-Intensity LED Flashlight, 3-Pack

I've been using this Energizer headlamp for 4 years and I love it. The latest version has two buttons.

I’ve been using this Energizer headlamp for 4 years and I love it. The latest version has two buttons.

Headlamps: I’ve fallen in love with headlamps! There are many times you are working with your hands but still need a light and for that situation nothing works as well as a headlamp (they are also great to read by). I also prefer to wear a headlamp when I am walking because that leaves my hands free and the light is always wherever I am looking. There are many top-quality name brand headlamps that are very expensive but I no longer buy them. In Alaska I ran a lot in the dark with my dog so I was looking for a headlamp with a red LED to put around his neck. So I bought a cheap Energizer headlamp and my dog wore it as a collar around his neck with the red LED light pointed back towards the ground between his legs. That gave enough light that I could always find him in the dark and yet it didn’t affect his night vision. He wore that headlamp for three Alaska winters and it never failed me in any way—I still have that headlamp and use it anytime I need red LEDS. After that I fell in love with Energizer headlamps and flashlights and since then they’ve been my first choice because they are cheap but well-made and very durable. I’ve owned at least 5 of them and none has ever broken or failed me! Later I got a 1 watt Energizer headlamp that I’ve been using for many years and love as much today as the day I got it because it throws a LOT if light. Highly recommended! You can get it from Amazon here: Energizer Brilliant Beam Headlamp

This is a great 3-in-one light

This is a great 3-in-one light

Battery Operated Lantern: I own a couple of Energizer Weather Ready 3-IN-1 Lanterns that I really like because they are small and work three ways: 1) Flashlight 2) Lantern 3) Nightlight. It does each of those things reasonably well and like all Energizer lights is extremely durable. It’s the light I keep next to my bed because it is so flexible. If something wakes me at night the night-light setting won’t blind me but if I need more light there’s the flashlight or lantern. If I go outside I want the Duracell 500 but if I used it inside it would blind me. I’ve owned and used one of these for over 6 years and it works just as well today as the day I bought it. It’s has rubber seals so it is weather-proof, but I’ve never tested it. You can buy it from Amazon here: Energizer Weather Ready 3 In 1 Flashlight

Every vandweller should have one of these Energizer Solar Lanerns, I love it that much!

Every vandweller should have one of these Energizer Solar Lanerns, I love it that much!

Light-lantern-001Solar Powered Lantern: Because I am such a fan of Energizer lights, when I came across a Energizer solar powered lantern I had to have it!! I ordered it off Amazon (which is the only place I’ve ever seen them) and I’m very glad I did! It’s the best light I’ve ever owned and I think every vandweller should own one. It has a fairly large solar panel that easily recharges its internal batteries in a day even if it is a little overcast, and it will also run for a long time off regular D batteries. In the space of a van it’s a comfortable amount of light. You can read by it but it’s barely enough if you are going to read a lot. I need a lot of light to read by so I would also use a headlamp. Highly recommended; you can buy them from Amazon here: Energizer Solar Rechargeable 9-LED Lantern

caption id=”attachment_4955″ align=”aligncenter” width=”480″]This AM/FM Short Wave Radio can be charged by its solar panel, crank or batteries. It also has a decent LED light and a USB port that can charge other items. This AM/FM Short Wave Radio can be charged by its solar panel, crank or batteries. It also has a decent LED light and a USB port that can charge other items.[/caption]

light-kaito-USBSolar, Crank or Battery Powered Radios with Lights: I have a Kaito Voyager Radio/Light that I think every vandweller should own. It has a good sized solar panel that easily keeps its batteries charged as well as a crank that will charge its batteries, or you can use regular disposable batteries if you prefer. It has LED lights that put out a small amount of light. You can read by them but not for very long without getting eye-strain. But it’s not only a light it is also a very good AM-FM, Weather Alert and Shortwave Receiver. It gives you light, entertainment and keeps you in touch with the world. Best of all, it has a USB port so you can charge your other devices from the solar panel or crank!! I think it’s an essential piece of equipment for every vandweller and survivalist. You can get it here from Amazon: Kaito Solar Crank Radios

I have enough rechargeable batteries that I can take a dead set out of a device and put in a fresh set and then recharge the drained ones.

I have enough rechargeable batteries that I can take a dead set out of a device and put in a fresh set and then recharge the drained ones.

Rechargeable Batteries: All these things—and many others—use regular batteries so you should keep quite a few AA, AAA, C, and D batteries on hand. But in the long run it’s impractical to try to keep enough of them to last you long term in an extended emergency because they are 1) very expensive, 2) slowly lose their charge, 3) damage the land-fills, and 3) eventually you will run out of them. A much better idea is to buy a charger and rechargeable NIMH or Ni-Cad batteries. They are fairly expensive to start off with but then they can be recharged and re-used thousands of times. In the long run they are cheaper and better in nearly every way than regular disposable batteries. The one thing I don’t like about them is their discharge characteristics: unlike alkaline batteries, they give you very little warning when they are about to run out. They will be working fine and then 30 minutes later they will be totally discharged. That’s a disadvantage but I get around it by keeping fresh batteries in the items I use them in.

The Sanyo Enloops brand is generally considered the best brand of AA and AAA batteries, but they are expensive. Amazon came out with its own brand of batteries which cost much less so I switched to them and I’ve been very happy with them. You can buy them from Amazon here: AmazonBasics AA NiMH Precharged Rechargeable Batteries (16 Pack, 2000 mAh)  I got tired of having my batteries floating around ending up everywhere so I bought a nice case for them. I also highly recommend it from Amazon: Range Kleen 82-Battery organizer with Tester For C and D batteries I use the Tenergy brand of rechargeables and they have served me well. Tenergy 8 pcs Premium C Size NiMH Rechargeable Batteries

I've been really happy with this Tenergy charger. I especially like that it will charge all the sizes of batteries I use.

I’ve been really happy with this Tenergy charger. I especially like that it will charge all the sizes of batteries I use.

Battery Chargers: I own two different battery chargers and have been very happy with both of them. They are reasonably fast and my batteries have lasted a long time. What I like most about them is they will charge all the different sizes of batteries from AAA to D. I already have a large solar power system and just charge them off it. But if you don’t have solar you can buy chargers with their own solar panels. I have friends with them and they say they work very well. Solar Powered Battery Charger Charges 4 D, C, AA and AAA Batteries
I’m a big fan of rechargeable batteries and highly recommend them to you. You can buy them from Amazon here: Tenergy Universal Charger AA/AAA/C/D/ Charger with LCD Display

Thanks for shopping Amazon from these links!

I make a little money (even if you buy something else) and it costs you nothing. 



I've been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

53 comments on “How to Have Lights for Vandwellers and Survivalists
  1. One thing you don’t see much anymore is flashlights with magnets, the way they made ’em back in the stone age of my youth. So I bought a pack of small magnets and used epoxy putty to glue them to some LED flashlights (powered by rechargeable batteries, of course). I can stick them all over my van interior to use for lighting, and I don’t need to rummage around for them.
    Al Christensen recently posted…Extended forecast: disagreementMy Profile

  2. Avatar Rob says:

    The hand cranked/solar shortwave radio is a great idea!
    Rob recently posted…1st Monday Trade DaysMy Profile

  3. Avatar Harmony Rose says:

    Great post! I’ve been longing for this from you for awhile 🙂
    I wanted to ask you your opinion about the AM/FM radio (and please take into account my lack of understanding of these things). With governments now moving radio (and TV) stations to digital (well, in Australia they have at least), will having an AM/FM radio still be useful? If the world was going to go pear shaped so to speak, would people/govts go back to transmitting on AM/FM channels? I assume digital would be out of the question because that’s a computerised type of transmission?

    • Bob Bob says:

      I’m sorry, Harmony Rose, that’s something I never heard of before so i can’t comment on at all. It’s hard to imagine that all of a sudden every radio in the country would suddenly be useless scrap. But who knows?

  4. Avatar cathy says:

    You are a true free spirit, i have learned so much from you info. Posted, im off to look for solor power items, at flea mkt!

  5. Avatar Jackie says:

    Thanx for all the info! We have become very energetic about our emergency preparedness after witnessing the havoc caused by the tornado last November in the town just 8 miles west of us. Yikes!

    • Bob Bob says:

      Jackie, theres nothing like seeing a disaster firsthand to make you a prepper! Good for you for taking it to heart and putting it into actions!

  6. Avatar Calvin R says:

    I appreciate the coherent discussion. I have and use a small head light, and a larger head light also makes a good bicycle headlight. (I lost y larger head light to family but will surely get another.) Hand-held flashlights had lost my attention due to those, but the one that strobes makes perfect sense as a self-defense tool that does no permanent harm to the other person. Its variable settings will probably make it an important tool.

    Incidentally, the link to the Kaito Solar-Crank Radio took me to a list of Energizer head lights. This may be because I’m on Linux and/or because I’m using Firefox.

    • I get the same erroneous link and I’m using Chrome on a Mac.
      Al Christensen recently posted…Extended forecast: disagreementMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Calvin, the Duracell 500 throws a VERY long beam and so I consider it essential. Nearly any decent flashlight/headlamp will give you all the light you need up close but this is one of the few that works for distances very far away and up very close. Homer stays outside in the evening and fairly often I will hear him take off after something so when I run outside I want a flashlight that will help me spot him and whatever he is chasing. This is the best I’ve found. I think of it as my “eyeball finder” because coyotes eyes stick out like glowing orbs in the darkness.

  7. Avatar Sameer says:

    I like you need lots of light to read! I love my headlamp. It is great for working under the hood too!

    Sameer at the Grand Canyon!
    Sameer recently posted…How to Have Lights for Vandwellers and SurvivalistsMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Sameer, is it colder there than here? I really enjoyed camping at the Grand Canyon, it just has a unique “feel” to it.

      • Avatar Sameer says:

        When Mr. Pico and I leave here we will stop by and say hello. The Grand Canyon is remarkable and free on the 19th and 20th We are preparing to head to Albuquerque and then to Denver and the Rockies! Woo Hoo!
        Sameer recently posted…How to Have Lights for Vandwellers and SurvivalistsMy Profile

      • Avatar Ming says:

        Bob and others, question for camping at the Grand Canyon, what did you do with your dog? National parks in the US seem so dog restrictive – it looks like you would have to either kennel them in town, or restrict yourself to very few walks/ hikes.

        • Bob Bob says:

          Ming, nearly all the National Parks in the USA are surrounded by public land, either National Forest or BLM, I’ve never had a probl
          em finding free camping just outside the entrance. At the Grand Canyon we had a great, free campsite in the Kaibab NF within a 1/2 mile of the entrance.

          You can have your dog in your car and outside the car in developed areas, you just can’t take them onto most trails or the backcountry.

          • Avatar Ming says:

            thank you Bob, for the camping suggestions. Do you still feel like you got to see the Grand Canyon?

          • Bob Bob says:

            Ming, I’m not sure it is possible for our little brains to ever “see” the Grand Canyon! It really is pretty incomprehensible. I know it’s expensive but I would say the best way I saw it was by helicopter. I also have a goal to take a raft through it. I think you have to do both of those to really “see” it as well as we can. Hiking it would be best, but I’m no longer up for that. I like the view at Toroweep on the north side a lot! It’s very sheer.

  8. Avatar Canine says:

    I like flashlights that aren’t metal. Anodized aluminum gets cold quick and is easy to freeze wet fingers to it. Hard on the teeth, too, when you have to put it in your mouth.

    I also like non-round flashlights so they don’t roll away.

    I carry a Photon Freedom on my key chain. It’s the size of a thick quarter. The amount of light is practical, too, not some dim, yellow light to get you by. I barely ever use it, but when I do, I am sooooo thankful to have it. My dog has a red one on her collar in case I want to keep a better eye on her or to light her up so motorists see her better at night.

    I have the non-solar version of the solar powered Energizer light. The one with the LED’s works better than the one with the fluorescent bulbs. I use it all the time to read by. It isn’t super bright, but it is enough. Wouldn’t mind upgrading if I find a suitable replacement.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Canine, I also have a photon on my key ring but just ordered something from Amazon to replace it but it didn’t get here in time to test it for the article. I know everybody loves the photons but I’m not a fan: too little light, hate the little batteries, don’t like the switch. But, I’m aware they are a cult favorite among many.

      I figure the two metal flashlight I have are for a very long throw with 250 and 500 Lumens. For constant use outdoors I use a plastic headlamp but for a long beam I want a specialized light and these fit the bill.

      The solar version and the regular version of the Energizer lantern are EXACTLY the same light but one has a solar panel and internal battery and the other doesn’t. The difference in price is $4!!! I can’t recommend the exact same lantern for $4 less but no solar panel or battery.

      The confusion is that on my model they put the LEDs in diffusing tubes that look like fluoresent tubes. It looks like the latest version is slightly different but they both use LEDs.

      Here is the one without a solar panel for $26:

      and the one with a solar panel for $30

      They both have the same 9 LEDs.

      I’m not fond of having many different batteries but I have enough things that use them that I have all of them in rechargeable and they do work very well. 500 Lumens draws a lot of power and AAs just won’t do it. I consider it essential to living in the outdoors.

  9. Avatar CAE says:

    Aren’t there crank flash lights as well? I saw one once and thought it would be perfect for me. But I never got it.

  10. Avatar Silvianne says:

    Great post, Bob! I just wanted to put in an enthusiastic word for the Energizer Solar Lantern. It’s one of the first things I bought before I hit the road last October because you had mentioned it in your on-line book and I love, love, love it. I’ve hardly ever had to use the D-battery feature and most of the time it has been my only light source except for a headlamp since I don’t yet have solar. It just makes me soooo happy to have “free” light every night and I love the nightlight feature if I have to get up to pee in the middle of the night and don’t want to blast myself with brighter light.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Silviane, there are very few things in life that exceeds your every expectation and that Energizer is one of them. I’m glad it is serving you well!

  11. Avatar jonthebru says:

    I really like this model:

    It is sturdy, has a magnet and a hook and can be a flashlight or worklight.
    Also it may have been mentioned but sticking with as few different types of batteries as possible is best. D batteries store a lot of current, but they are expensive rechargeable versions are imperative. I try to get devices that use AAs but they are small in capacity so a charger is important and once they don’t hold a charge they gotta be replaced.(Its important to recycle batteries for several reasons I won’t bore you with here, every Home Depot store has a place to recycle by their customer service desk.)

    • Bob Bob says:

      jonthebru, thanks for the recommendation! It’s good to know of something that is cheap but still works really well. I too prefer everything to use AAs but high output lights just don’t last long with AAs. But like you said, with rechargables it’s not a problem.

  12. Avatar LaMarr Harding says:

    Harbor Freight has 24 LED flashlights I got one free with a coupon.

    When the AAA batteries died I replace the batteries with a USB cord hardwired.

    since my telephone has a flashlight since my telephone has a flashlight buildin its always wit it’s always with me and I keep my phone charged

  13. Avatar LaMarr Harding says:

    Harbor Freight has 24 LED flashlights I got one free with a coupon.

    When the AAA batteries died I replace the batteries with a USB cord and plug it in with a cell phone plug. It pretty much lights up the whole van interior.

    Since my telephone has a flashlight built-in its always wit it’s always with me and I keep my phone charged

  14. Avatar LaMarr Harding says:

    First off I’m Sorry for the double post last time.

    The LEDs ran continually with the higher USB voltage have burned out.

    I haven’t used rechargeable AA cells since the 70’s.

    I also gave up on rechargeable power tools, they lost there charge if they were infrequently used, and often times the battery would run out in the middle of a project.

    I found Sears Craftsman and Black and Decker matrix power tool system. I have both battery and corded power handles, saws, router, oscillating tool, impact wrench, drills, and Craftsman even has a tire pump. I must admit I have used and enjoyed them once again.

    The cell phones I have had in the last 15 years have had cameras and flashlights built in. (I haven’t found how to add photos to this).

    Dancer converted a clamp on reflector light to a bright automotive LED bulb a few years ago. This makes a powerful corded lamp.

    Now to find out how long the battery lasts in these electronic ignition keys.

  15. Avatar Ed Westerman says:

    Bob, Your Amazon link about the solar flashlight from Amazon is no longer working.
    Love your live style. Ed

  16. Nice!!

    This post is really worth to read.

    After reading this post I visited the Amazon link that is mentioned above and bought two flashlights, one for my wife and one for my daughter.

    Since my wife comes late night from her job and my daughter has recently stepped into the collage.

    Thank you for sharing this information with us.

  17. Avatar Mark says:

    LEDs really have changed the game when it comes to lighting. With some of the rechargeable batteries you’ve shown here you can really be self sufficient.

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