10 Reasons to Add Glow Sticks to Your Survival Kit

Avatar Gaye Levy  |  Updated: December 16, 2020
10 Reasons to Add Glow Sticks to Your Survival Kit

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.

10 Reasons to Add Glow Sticks to Your Survival Kit - Backdoor Survival

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.

10 Reasons to Add Glow Sticks to Your Survival Kit - Backdoor Survival

Source: Wikipedia

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. They will last for 4 years at a minimum, and if stored properly, even longer.

Chemical light sticks are readily available at Lowes, 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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Below you will 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 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.

Glow Stick Bracelet

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: 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. What is not to like? Oh, and while you are at it, you might also like the Fiskars Axe & Knife Sharpener .

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.

Help support Backdoor Survival. Purchases earn a small commission and for that I thank you!


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17 Responses to “10 Reasons to Add Glow Sticks to Your Survival Kit”

  1. I was just talking with some prepper friends this week that a glow stick would be a great addition to a bug out bag. I’ll make sure to refer this article to show them that other people agree with me!
    What is in your opinion Gaye, the best glow stick to acquire?

  2. Hi Gaye, in response to a previous comment you said you were going to do a review of UVPAQLITE products, but I never saw that review. Did something happen?

    While UVPAQLITE products are more expensive than glow sticks they have advantages. The main advantages are that they are multiple use and will last basically forever. The main disadvantage is that you need a light source to charge them (it only takes a few seconds, though).

  3. Thank you..I have glow sticks and batteries????????. Glow sticks are a comfort for many, young or old or in between. I so appreciate the article Gaye. God Bless America & all those survivalist out there!

  4. RE Candles: “cannot be used outdoors … are not a mobile light source.” ?

    Two words for both points: candle lantern.

    RE Flashlights: “Light bulbs and lenses are breakable. When broken, they are useless.” ?

    The word, ‘useless’ seems inappropriate. Over the years I’ve used plenty of flashlights with cracked, shattered or missing lenses.

    Now, if the whole flashlight gets smashed into itty bitty bits after being run over by something heavy, well – then – the flashlight is useless… until a MacGyiver comes along, picks up the shards and builds a …

  5. I always believed that glow sticks weren’t as shelf stable as say Duracell batteries, and here’s a piece of evidence to back that up

    How long is the shelf life of glow sticks / glow products?
    Depending on how they are packaged the shelf life is 1 to 4 years. Items in foil packaging will last for up to 4 years and bulk items (no foil packaging) have usually just over a 1 year shelf life.

    And Duracell batteries have a 10 year shelf life.

    That said, it can be useful to have a few glow sticks in your supplies, all your other reasons (except #5) apply and they will work after an EMP event. Just remember to keep rotating your supplies, probably Fourth of July and/or Halloween would be good for a yearly rotation event.

  6. three times in this article you said that the lower-quality “party” glowsticks are fine for children but not for adults. while i might agree if this were an article on parties, i don’t agree with that advice in an emergency. kids are more likely to panic if their glowstick goes dark, they’re less able to deal with the unexpected, both physically and mentally, and they’ve had less experience in dangerous situations than adults. if anything, we should let them use the MORE reliable items; they need them more than we do. the belief that we should relegate the “junk” to children is pervasive–i often find it in product reviews. but, even in daily life, doesn’t that just teach them that they can’t and shouldn’t expect things to last, and that everything is disposable? is that the assumption we want them to carry through life? too many adults already think that way.

  7. they are defiantly a good add to any pack. Thanks for the great read. love your page more and more.

  8. I get the ones from the dollar tree for they have ones that come four to a pack. they don’t last as long but you wont waste the ones that last for six hours for something you need for minutes. If you are starting a fire you wont heed light after the fire is started. Even if resetting a circuit breaker it is costly to use the long lasting type. Don’t bother with the real small ones for they last only very few minutes I have the midsize and they last with very usable brightness for ten minutes. The dollar tree has everything for a dollar and I have stored up quite a lot I can use to barter when TSHTF.

  9. My kids love these, especially when we go camping. I would classify these to be one of the items that would be nice to add but only after you have all the essentials solidified. I have also talked to others that do not like adding glow sticks as they take up valuable space in a bug out or get home bag. To each their own I guess.

  10. Your readers might also want to check out the various products offered by UVPaqlite. They’re not quite as bright as glow sticks, but they’re rechargeable and can be used over and over. The site is //www.uvpaqlite.com/ . By the way, I don’t represent them and have no financial ties.

    • I second the comment on the UVPaqlite products. They last forever and are reusable – you just have to expose them to light for a few seconds or a few minutes depending on how bright the light is. I have one of the bigger ones set up as a nightlight in my bathroom. Just the normal light in the bathroom over the course of the day is enough to keep it illuminated all night.

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