How to Have Lights for Vandwellers and Survivalists
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:
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
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
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
Solar 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.[/caption]
Solar, 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
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
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
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