Camping & Survival

Quick Prepper Tip: Let There Be Light – Alternative Light Sources

Flashlight head and light beam

Perhaps you have lost electricity to your home during an emergency and need a backup source of light. Perhaps the high cost of electricity has you on the look out for alternative lighting options. Whatever the reason, we all need artificial lighting at some point during a 24-hour period. Whether for reading, work, cooking or navigating a set of stairs, light is more than a luxury; it is a necessity to maintain our lifestyles.

No one wants to be in left the dark, so now is the time to think about getting an alternative light source or sources. Here are a few options you may want to consider—before the lights go out.

Solar Powered Lights or Lamps

Pros: Environmentally friendly, little to no electricity charges and no toxic fumes. Cons: No sunshine means no power, short life/light span and initial investment may be expensive.

Fuel Lanterns (Kerosene, Oil)

Pros: Fuels are readily available and units are often affordable. Cons: May release toxic fumes (depending upon type of fuel used), fire hazard, must use extreme caution with these units when children or pets are present and some oils may produce odor.

Battery Operated

Pros: Non-toxic, readily available, affordable, portable and safe. Cons: Need to keep supply of fresh batteries on hand.


Pros: Inexpensive, can be homemade and long-lasting. Cons: Fire hazard, limited amount of light, dangerous around children or pets and extinguishes easily due to drafts or wind.

Do you have an emergency lighting tip? Share it with us in the comment section.


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Comments (12)

  1. Excellent comments! The goal of the article was to focus on a few popular alternatives sources for light. We can all learned from what others are doing/using for alternative light sources. Thanks again for the comments. Merry Christmas to all of the loyal Cheaper Than Dirt readers!

  2. You left out one of the cheapest, and safest options. Glow Sticks. There are military grade ones and then there are the ones for kids on Halloween. I have no idea of the difference, but on November first, you can stock up on them for less than 50 cents a stick from any big box store dumping the rest of their stick as they get out the Christmas stuff. No batteries required. Not a fire hazard. Very portable. Not exactly sure of the shelf life, but as long as the capsules inside are not broken, I would guess they last years if not decades.

  3. Growing up in the watchung mountains of NJ we used to have frequent power failures, during the winter months so I was used to the candles and fireplace for light and heat. Now my wife and I are avid campers and always have a back up or secondary heat and light source so when Hurricane Sandy hit, we were ready. No power for a week, no computer, no TV AND no cell phones. My favorite lights is the kerosene lanterns and the old Coleman 550J lanterns which produces about 300 watts of light. We had city water, but I had stashed about 20 gals on the side just in case. We were the only ones on the block with light and a working stove an hot water heater(we kept the gas service instead of converting over like or neighbors did). We had playing cards and domino’s to keep our interests. For heat we had three Kero heaters plus 75 gals of Kerosene on hand since I mostly use it to clean engines with I can use it for heat and light. We do have a portable generator but have yet to use it, I’m still figuring out how to store fuel for it. I’m thinking of converting it over to LP gas for the storage problem. Gasoline goes bad after a few weeks, but LP goes a long way in storage.

  4. Here in hurricane country – Florida – I’ve found the Rayovac Sportsman LED Lantern to be a good choice. It will run 40 hours on three D batteries, and 90 hours on low. I’ve found low to be sufficient to light a room adequately so as not to walk into the furniture, and use high only for reading or detail work. Search “LED lantern” on and the Rayovac usually comes up as the first item. They frequently are on sale; I bought two yesterday for just $18 each, with free shipping. These things are a LOT safer than anything with a flame.

  5. I’ve also been meaning to go back to the RV store, but haven’t yet. They sell, or did sell about a 40w incandesant bulb which looks like a regular frosted bulb, but is 12v. I even have a couple of the old 6v ones which were my dad’s. A few of these work well in a droplight, or floodlight, with battery charger clamps in place of the 110v plug.several of these with a deep cyle battery or two, and a solar panel from an electric gate opener will be more efficient than the afformentioned malibu lights, although not as portable. I also have many old UPSs w/gel cell batteries, which I haven’t tried, but I believe I can substitute a deep cycle to run small wattage 110v lights and appliances from. I want to try one in a vehicle as an inverter, but am not sure how it might affect an alternator on the vehicle. Still procrastinating on that one.

  6. People think I’m crazy, but I utilize “Malibu” LED solar yard lights, the spot focused kind on spikes. Buy the better brands, ones with 2 AA batteries rather than one. The ones I use have 3 LEDs. Buy more than you think you might need, in case you need to stagger usage if you find that you have extended cloudy periods to re-charge, or you need more, or brighter light. They think I’m crazy cause I use hose clamps to mount one on my weedeater, gas blower, one or two to the handle of my push mower, etc. I have two mounted to large heavy speaker magnets, which work well on anything metal, at pretty much any angle. I took a clamp from an old floodlight, and mounted to one, to expand applications. With quite a few of them and some bailing wire, string, or small nails, you can hang them in trees, or almost anywhere as high as you can reach, and light up a large campsite. The little solar panel mounts on top with a plastic piece, which is the most fragile part of the light. If you include a small philips head and a handful of alkiline batteries, you can extend useful run time, and the 1.5v will be brighter than the 1.2v. Just avoid the cheaper ones out there, as some only run on one battery, and aren’t very bright, or last as long on a charge. I keep mine handy, and place them about the house during storm seasons.

  7. Presently I live in southern California and until recently I didn’t really see a need to be a preper but I kind of saw the handwriting on the wall so I started planning about a year ago. After seeing a couple of power outages that lasted more than a few days in the hurricane states and the states that freeze I got even more serious. We plan on moving to Michigan and frankly I’m worried. Not wanting to lose a frig and a freezer full of food I bought the biggest generator I could afford and when we do move it’s going with us. Whether there will be gas in an emergency available to run it worries me and I really don’t like to store the stuff even when I’ve added STABLE. But I’m half blind and I need light. I hope to have solar power installed when we move there and possibly even a back up wind generator.

    We always keep a good supply of candles handy and they may be great for a romantic dinner at home but they’re a poor substitute for electric lights. We converted our present home to the low energy fluorescent curly-cue lamps which have improved a lot. We invested in thermal dual pane gas charged windows and we texture coated the house so now we don’t even get an electric bill for two to three months a year. As a result we don’t use enough electricity to justify solar here but I’d like to be as independent as possible when we move. Everyone where we’re moving to has septic systems and a well but they’re all hooked up to and dependent on the power company.

    We have a lot of those little flashlights all over the house that use a cell of three AAA batteries and have multiple low energy bulbs but I’ve never intended to use them except in an emergency. I’d like some input from those of you in the less temperate parts of the country as to what back up you have for when the lights go out. Hank

  8. Any of the flashlights that use 18650 LIon rechargeables are great. New Quality 18650’s can be purchased for 10-12 bucks, another source for free 18650’s is damaged Laptop battery packs, as well as damaged cordless tool battery packs, most of these LIon packs have inside of them 18650 batteries. When these packs become unchargeable it’s usually only one or two cells in the pack that actually go bad, the charger can’t charge a pack with even one bad cell so it reports a bad pack, anyway take the packs apart…carefully… if there are any charged cells left in the pack and you short one out they can explode. The tabs on each cell used to connect them together are spotwelded on, you can grab the tab with needle nose pliers and roll the tab up with the pliers it will usually pull free without damaging the battery.

    Friends and computer repair shops can be a good source for these damaged battery packs, after dismanteling the packs check each cell with a voltmeter, bad cells will typacally read under One Volt, though any that read under 2.8 Volts should be discarded. Fully charged cells will usually read 4.2 volts, though some manufacturers will limit this to 3.7V.

  9. The article left out the best option available, especially if you own your own home… a natural gas / propane fueled electric generator! They are not as expensive as you might think and come in all sizes… some about as small as a regular 5,000 watt gasoline powered portable generator.

    Our entire city of 30,000+ spent 7 days without electrical power back in ’09 because of a 6″+ ice storm that downed over 130 major electric poles that fed power to the city. There were approx. 1,000 electrical poles down in a 3 county area.

    The temperatures were averaging around 20 during the day and low teens at night. It was miserable for people who live in a all electric home!!!! Especially if you normally use a Bi-pap / C-pap machine when you sleep due to apnea or need a home oxygen generator to help you breath. Also, we were worried the whole time about the water pipes bursting in our exterior walls, so we were having to keep a lantern going for heat inside our laundry room in the garage. You gotta remember, that even though your central heat unit may use natural gas, it still takes electricity to run the blower to circulate the hot air.

    I had stocked the freezer & frig with lots of food in anticipation of bad weather, but no one had expected 6″ of ice and no power to cook with for a week.

    Thank God, during the storm we had enough ‘cash’ in small bills [1’s, & 5’s] stashed away for emergencies to be able to buy camp stoves, lanterns, oil lamps, candles, batteries, fuel and such at stores that opened on a ‘cash only’ basis. We ended-up spending almost $1,000 for the additional emergency supplies. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it wasn’t for our elderly parents… they really suffered.

    Gasoline was available on a cash only basis from a couple of stations operating their pumps on generators, if you didn’t mind standing in a line for 4-5 hours in the cold… and you could only get 2- 5 gallon cans of gas at a time in many cases. Lots of people with 4-wheel drive trucks were driving 30 miles to a nearby small town to get gas… so many that one station there finally started refusing to sell to anyone from out of town.. so they would have enough for their own locals. They were making people show their driver’s license w/ street & town address or looking at their car tags to determine which county they lived in… before allowing them to pump gas

    Having gone through that, we decided, ‘Never again’! After the weather cleared, we invested in a 20 Kw Generac natural gas fueled electric generator w/ automatic switching system. One of the very best investments we ever made. That generator sits on the patio 24 / 7 / 365, ready to go in the event of a power failure. If the electrical power goes out, the generator comes on instantly and 12 seconds later the whole house, the yard security lights and power to all the out buildings is restored. When the utility power comes back on, the generator switches back to city utility power so fast that the lights & computer don’t even flicker.. then the generator shuts itself down automatically. No getting out in the bad weather to hook it up or fool with gasoline.

    I also had the electric water heater & clothes dryer changed over to natural gas. and I have a large blue flame heater set-up so I can hook it up to our fireplace log’s natural gas tap. Now all those emergency supplies I bought are stored away as a second line of emergency preparedness, backing up the natural gas fueled electric generator. It would take a heck of a emergency to knock out our natural gas supply.. like a major earthquake.. and we don’t have a problem with them in my area.

  10. Sometime back I invested in some 100 hour emergency candles. A search on ebay will bring up lots of choices. Even found a 200 hour candle. A regular fuel lantern would work better outdoors in the wind though. The emergency candles don’t usually put off a lot of fumes. Be sure to also search for soy wax emergency candles in the mason jars for long lasting slow burn candles. Being in the dark can really suck after just a short time.

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