Whenever I think of glow sticks, my first thoughts are of kids’ sleepovers or rock concerts. Despite the visions of the Dollar Store party supply section that are probably dancing through your head, the bright tubes are actually a great addition to your preparedness supplies.
Glow sticks are also known as light sticks or chemical lighting. Here is how they work:
A glow stick is made from a plastic sheath or tube that houses a mix of chemicals. Basically, the way it works is that you bend the sheath to crack the capsules that hold the different chemicals separate from one another, then you shake it up to mix the contents, creating a chemical reaction that emits energy with only a teeny emission of heat. This is called chemoluminescence).
The diagram below provides some detail.
1. Plastic casing covers the inner fluid.
2. A glass capsule covers the solution.
3. Phenyl Oxalate and fluorescent dye solution.
4. Hydrogen Peroxide solution.
5. After the glass capsule is broken and the solutions mix, the glow stick glows.
The result is a brightly colored, diffused light that is good for short term illumination (about 6-12 hours). There are several variables that affect the length of time the stick will stay lit: the length of the stick, the chemical composition in the sheath, and the ambient temperature.
What are the advantages of glow sticks over flashlights and candles?
Normally, when you think of emergency lighting, you think about candles and flashlights. While both have their place in the survival kit, there are some downsides.
Here are the cons to these standard light sources:
- Candles can be dangerous if extreme care is not taken in their use. The National Fire Protection Association reports that candles cause 29 house fires per day across the country. Their statistics show that candles caused 3% of the reported home fires, 4% of home fire deaths, 7% of home fire injuries, and 6% of direct property damage. Furthermore, the Red Cross warns against any emergency use of candles in the home due to severe risk of fire.
- Candles are not wind and waterproof and cannot be used outdoors.
- Candles should not be left unattended. They should not be used as all-night lights, or by children or the elderly.
- Candles consume oxygen and should not be used in confined spaces.
- Candles go out when dropped and are not a mobile light source.
- Candles are risky to use when natural gas or other fuels are present
- Batteries lose power and may leak or corrode when stored for an extended time. This damages the internal mechanism of the flashlights, rendering them useless even with new batteries.
- Flashlights are great searchlights but give poor room illumination.
- Light bulbs and lenses are breakable. When broken, they are useless.
- Only very expensive flashlights are truly waterproof.
- Flashlight internal circuits are subject to corrosion if there is moisture where they are stored.
What kind of chemical lighting should preppers stock up on?
Glow sticks come in various lengths, with 6 or 10 inches being the most popular. A stick of this length can have a duration of anywhere between 30 minutes to 12 hours, based on the factors we discussed above. Whereas duration is determined by the chemistry of the formulation, brightness is affected by temperature: the warmer the temperature, the brighter the light will appear.
Some of the sticks are flexible and have a connector on the end that allows you to turn them into a bracelet or necklace. This is ideal if you want to give them to children. These are usually lower quality sticks, so you won’t want to rely on them for adults.
There are also small and compact mini 4” light sticks which are great for handbags, medical kits, and glove boxes in vehicles. They can provide up to 4 hours of illumination.
The shelf life is at least four years especially when packaged in foil packaging. Plus one popular brand, the Cyalume Snaplight, is manufactured in the United States.
Here’s why you need light sticks in your kit.
Glow sticks are far more useful than their inexpensive origins might indicate.
1. They are safe in all environments, including those where questionable or even undetectable gases may exist.
2. They are waterproof and can be used in the rain.
3. They are weatherproof and windproof
4. They are non-flammable, and non-sparking, eliminating the possibility of burns or the ignition of other flammable substances.
5. They have a long shelf life.
6. They are very inexpensive.
7. Most light sticks can be seen from a mile away in the right conditions, making them ideal for indicating your location in a rescue situation.
8. The bracelets can be worn by children who are afraid of the dark.
9. By clipping them on a jacket or placing it around a wrist, they can help you keep track of children when you’re out camping.
10. They can be placed around the house in Mason jars during a power outage, safely lighting your home to prevent accidents without the risk of a fire.
What’s not to like? There are just a few bug-a-boos.
Depending on your needs, the standard 360-degree illumination may be an annoyance. Also, the longer rated 8 to 12 hours light sticks will definitely start to dim after a few hours and dim considerably towards the end of their rated life.
The ambient temperature strongly affects the brightness at each end of the heat spectrum, with overall brightness starting to dim in cooler temperatures below 40 degrees and temperatures over 80 degrees. Also, once activated by breaking the internal glass vial and combining the chemicals, they cannot be turned off, which could be a security issue if you were in a situation during which you needed to hide.
Military Grade vs. Industrial Grade: What is the difference?
The cheapo sticks from the dollar stores are just that: cheap. It’s very worthwhile to spend a small amount of extra money and get higher quality sticks.
There is no discernable difference in either light output or duration between these two grades. It seems that the only difference between the two is that the U.S. military, for reasons best known to it, requires a slightly different formulation for their light sticks. This formulation has a four-year shelf life while the Industrial Grade formulation has a five-year shelf life.
Go figure. The bottom line is this: the Military Grade version is a good light stick but not worth the 25% extra you pay over the Industrial Grade light stick, which produces the same amount of light and lasts just as long.
The Final Word
Glow sticks are a safe and inexpensive addition to your home, your vehicle, and your gear kit. They have a myriad of uses. A pack of 10 will cost between $10 and $15, and even less on a per unit basis if you purchase a larger supply of 30or more. They will last for 4 years at a minimum, and if stored properly, even longer.
Chemical light sticks are readily available at Lowes, Amazon, and many outdoor stores. The only caveat is to know that those sold as a consumer item ( such as those sold as toy and party items at the dollar store)are not the same quality as an industrial grade or military grade light stick. That said, for the kids, these inexpensive party-like glow sticks are terrific.
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
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Bargain Bin: Below you will find links to the items related to today’s article along with a few other basics for your survival kit.
4 Inch Premium Glow Sticks – Assorted: These 4” glow sticks are fantastic! Each stick glows for 8-12 hours, and comes with a pre-attached hook and lanyard. They are well priced and hold up well when packed around in a pocket or handbag.
8″ Glow Stick Bracelets Mixed Colors (Tube of 100): You are going to want some of these for the kids to wear. You get 100 for $9 and while they are not of the highest quality, they are great for keeping track of where your are during the night or during a blackout. Also, there is the advantage of making things a bit less frightening for the young ones.
Cyalume Snaplight: These quality light sticks are mad in the United States. They come in various sizes lasting up to 12 hours. These are extremely bright and are the brand I store with my preps. Emergency Mylar Thermal Blanket: For less than $7, this pack of 10 is a great deal. Free shipping too.
Gerber Bear Grylls Survival Hatchet with Nylon Sheath: Gerber products are easily sharpened and will last a lifetime. For less than $30, what is not to like? Oh, and while you are at it, you might also like the Fiskars Axe & Knife Sharpener for an additional $10.
Gerber Bear Grylls Survival Series Fire Starter: Here is another great product from the Gerber Bear Grylls Survival Series.
Sabre Compact Pepper Spray with Quick Release Key Ring: The portability of this pepper spray adds to its appeal since it can be easily carried on a key ring or in a handbag or backpack.
The Prepper’s Pocket Guide: 101 Easy Things You Can Do to Ready Your Home for a Disaster: Written by Bernie Carr at the Apartment Prepper blog, this is highly readable guide to all things preparedness.
For over 25 years Emergency Essentials has been providing the highest quality preparedness products at great prices. Plus, each month they feature sales that quite honestly are fantastic.
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My favorite Clear Mist 115 Hour Plus Emergency Candles are $4.95 and the Mobile Washer (Hand Operated Washing Machine) is on sale for $11.99. Finally, prices on Mountain House products continue to be heavily discounted as are the Emergency Essentials brand of food storage items.
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