Review – Streamlight Stylus Pro LED Flashlight

Streamlight Stylus Pro

This is second review of a stylus-type light. See yesterday’s review of the 4Sevens Preon 2.

Streamlight Stylus Pro Specs

The package includes an extra rubber cover for the tailcap switch in case the original gets worn. I put mine in the bottom of the holster so I wouldn’t lose it.

There are multiple colors to choose from, including flat black, blue, lime green, red, and orange. I prefer continuous materials to coatings, so I went with silver, which is just a satin finish on the aluminum body. I figured the uncoated aluminum would show scratches the least and be the easiest to find in the dark.

The flashlight comes with a simple nylon belt holster. I had never carried a flashlight that way, so I strapped the Streamlight onto my belt for a few days so I could review the holster. Having a flashlight holster hanging down off my belt made me feel like a big nerdlinger, but the holster keeps the light nice and snug.

Carry

Since this is a thin, stylus-style light I mostly carried the Stylus Pro clipped in my back pocket, same as the 4Sevens Preon. The Stylus Pro carried much better in a back pocket than the Preon. The Streamlight’s stiffer switch didn’t accidentally activate the way the 4Seven’s switch did, so I never buttflashed anyone.

The Streamlight’s stiffer clip also held it in place more securely than the Preon. The clip is removable. You can reverse it and move it to the other end of the flashlight for bezel-up carry, or attach it anywhere in the middle of the light. That means I can use my favorite trick: clipping the flashlight to my ballcap when I need a hands-free light.

Interface

This won’t take long. Push the tailcap switch the light comes on. Push it again the light goes off. Partially press the switch for momentary on. That’s it. No power levels, strobe, or Pink Floyd laser light show.

Compared to the Preon you lose features, but you gain simplicity. Tough call. If I still did a lot of backpacking those emergency features would be tempting. In day to day use I like simple flashlights and never use the fancy features beyond multiple brightness levels.

4Sevens Preon 2 or Streamlight Stylus Pro?

At full power the Preon 2 has three times the lumens, which will be the deciding factor for a lot of people. You can go from a battery-saving low that’s dim enough for reading to a high that’s bright enough to scan the far reaches of a backwoods trail. If I was still doing a lot of backpacking I’d get the Preon 2 for the output and emergency features. If you’re a connoisseur of quality machining the 4Sevens is the better built of the two.

The Stylus Pro carries better in a back pocket by virtue of a tighter clip and stiffer tailcap switch that’s less likely to come on and drain your batteries. The simpler interface is a better fit for how I personally use a flashlight on a daily basis. The fact that it costs half as much makes it attractive for someone like me who tends to frequently misplace his EDC flashlight. Speaking of which…

How did back pocket carry work?

I’ve always carried a flashlight in my front pocket. I wanted to free up space there, so carrying a thin, stylus-style light clipped to my back pocket sounded pretty good. Comfort-wise, I had no complaints. Clipped to the outside edge of the pocket I never noticed the light when sitting in a computer chair, car seat, or on the couch.

Security of the lights in a back pocket is the Achilles heel. The lights sometimes came unclipped from the pocket. They would fall into the pocket or sometimes out of the pocket and I’d find them in my car seat or chair. I gradually learned to bend the clip in to tighten it. I misplaced the Preon 2 and still haven’t found it. I won’t say lost, because I’ve never permanently lost an EDC light, thought my record for misplacing one is nine months. For back pocket carry I’d definitely choose the Stylus Pro, which went rogue much less often than the Preon 2.

Review – 4Sevens Preon 2 LED Flashlight

This is the first of two reviews of long, thin, stylus-style flashlights. Tomorrow I’ll review the Streamlight Stylus Pro.

4Sevens Preon 2 Flashlight4Sevens Preon 2 Specs

  • 160 out-the-front lumens maximum
  • Runtimes: Low: 23 hours @ 2.2 OTF Lumens, Medium: 6 hours @ 22 OTF Lumens,  High: 0.8 hours @ 160 OTF Lumens
  • CREE XP-G R5 LED
  • Runs on 2 AAA batteries, included
  • Waterproof to IPX8 standard
  • Aluminum body
  • “Optical grade” glass lens
  • Price paid on Amazon: $43
  • Manufacturer page

The fit is snug and waterproof and the machining is well done. Spare o-rings are included in the box and the screw threads come from the factory with a healthy dollop of waterproof lubricant.

Carry

I had never carried a 2 x AAA stylus-type flashlight before. I normally carry a AA or CR123A flashlight in my front pocket. I wanted to try this style of light so I could carry it clipped in my back pocket. More impressions on back pocket carry after tomorrow’s review of the Streamlight Stylus Pro.

A couple of downsides of back pocket carry with the Preon are that the clip is a bit loose, so the light sometimes fell into my pocket, or fell out when I sat down or took off my pants at night. Removing the clip and bending it inwards helps some, but the clip just isn’t as stiff as it needs to be.

The switch is also a little too easy to activate if it presses against your hip. My wife noticed the light would sometimes switch on and off as I walked, so ninjas should beware of buttflashing their enemies. But seriously, you may wind up draining your batteries and not realizing it. I carry spares batteries no matter what flashlight I’m carrying, but with the Preon 2 it’s essential.

Some people buy a Preon 1, which has a recessed tailcap switch, and screw its switch into the Preon 2 body. You get the foolproof Preon 1 switch with the dual AAA battery capacity of the Preon 2. That works for diehards if m0ney is no object.

The all-black model I bought looked cool, but was showing small scratches within a few weeks under the clip and would be nearly impossible to find in the dark. If I had it to over again I’d get the silver-tipped model. or something else that’s more visible, like blue or red.

Interface

Click the switch once for low. Click twice more for medium and twice more again for high. The shortcut is to click once for low and then half-press for medium and half-press again for high. 4Sevens got the sensitivity for the half-press just right. It isn’t so soft that it changes brightness when you barely tough the switch and it isn’t so hard that you wind up with a full click.

Sometimes my light would inexplicably act up and no amount of clicking would get it to act right. The solution was usually to give it a 10 count and start over, which is frustrating on a fifty dollar light. None of the Amazon reviews mentioned this problem, so it was probably just my sample.

Like most lights these days you get strobe and SOS/beacon mode. I guess those features could save my life at some point and they’re definitely attractive in a hiking light, but I’d use them once in a blue moon if ever, so I prefer them to be out of the way. The Preon’s interface designers had the same philosophy. To access the strobe and beacon you cycle through low/medium/high three times and then strobe and beacon come next. They’re there if you need them, but they won’t get in your way in daily use.

Tomorrow: a review of the Streamlight Stylus Pro and a comparison of the two lights.

Help me pick an EDC flashlight for Christmas

I need a new everyday carry flashlight to replace the terrible Maglite XL100 I got last year. Here’s what I’m looking for.

  • LED with  long battery life and high output, natch. Is only way to fly.
  • Must run on a single AA battery.
  • I hate AAAs so those are right out.
  • CR123 batteries have more oomph than AAs,  but I can’t snag CR123s by breaking into a 7-11 after the zombie apocalypse.
  • I’ve tried lights that run on 2 AAs but they’re too long. In particular they’re just the right length to get caught sideways in dress pants or cargo pants.
  • It must have a thumbswitch just like God’s flashlights do. No side switch, no twist-to-activate.
  • It should have a simple interface with on/off or preferably hi/lo/off. I don’t need a bunch of crazy modes that do strobe/SOS/LOL/BRB/FIFY/OICU812.
  • High quality build. MILSPEC waterproofness would be great considering my habit of sending flashlights through the washing machine.
  • Attachment point for a lanyard would be good.
  • Under $100 would be nice so if I lose it I won’t have an aneurysm.

This Nitecore PD11 is looking pretty good. They’ve got an ingenious UI for customizing the brightness, and there’s an easy way to get to the highest and lowest brightness setting, and you still get the simplicity of a simple click on/click off interface. I dig the idea of putting a tritium vial in the end so I can find it in the dark.

I loved the heck out of my Nitecore Defender Infinity. Only downside? When I sent it to China for warranty repair it never came back and they stopped answering my emails. Surefire’s customer service department they do not have.

Review: Six Months with the MagLite XL100 LED Flashlight

The Maglite XL100 is the first flashlight that uses an accelerometer as part of its user interace. If you click and hold the thumbswitch you activate the accelerometer and the XL100 becomes motion-sensitive, like a Wii controller or an iPhone. Turning your hand the way you’d turn a motorcycle throttle adjusts the current mode.

On the basic dimming mode turning your hand adjusts the beam strength. The other modes are SOS, Strobe, Nite Lite, Signal, and Lockout.

Neat stuff, if that’s your thing. The truth for me is that I pretty much just turn the light on to see things in the dark. A single mode is okay by me. If the light has a high beam and a low beam I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven. If you’re like me and don’t need the motion sensor you can buy the Maglite XL50 and save 10 clams.

Pros

  • Incredibly bright. Brighter than my MagLite 3 D-cell LED. Brighter than my Surefire E2D Executive.
  • The machining and finish are extremely good. Better even than previous MagLite LED models.
  • Doesn’t have the candle feature of the Mini-Mags, but can tailstand on a smooth surface like a table.
  • With head removed it casts a gorgeous, even disc of light. My kids love it for shadow puppets and I like it for reading.
  • Plenty of modes that are easy to adjust thanks to the motion sensor.

Cons

  • AAA batteries have poor battery life. I prefer AA or CR123a cells.
  • Cylindrical, constant-diameter shape is slippery. The surface grooves run the length of the light, so they don’t keep the light from slipping forward or backward.
  • Because of the symmetrical shape it’s hard to tell which end is which by feel.
  • Focusing feature is really a de-focusing feature. If you loosen the cap the bright center disappears, but the rest of the beam doesn’t become appreciably brighter.
  • No lanyard ring.
  • According to this review the circuitry will gradually self-discharge the batteries over many months. That isn’t a problem for an everyday carry light that will have its batteries replaced every few months anyway. It does make the XL100 unsuitable as an emergency light for the glovebox, bug out bag, or household emergency kit.
  • The thumbswitch isn’t recessed. More than once I noticed that the light had gotten turned on in my pocket, or retrieved the light to find the batteries drained.

Wrap-up:  neat technology, but the body has terrible usability. You’d be better off with almost any LED flashlight from Fenix, NiteCore, or Surefire.

PreviouslyFlashlights, Y’all: Maglite’s Wii-like XL100 and Surefire’s First AA Light

Flashlights, Y’all: Maglite’s Wii-like XL100 and Surefire’s First AA Light

This is the first flashlight that uses an accelerometer as part of its user interace. If you click and hold the thumbswitch you activate the accelerometer and the XL100 becomes motion-sensitive, like a Wii controller. Turning your hand the way you’d turn a motorcycle throttle adjusts the current mode. On the basic dimming mode turning your hand adjusts the beam strength. The other modes are SOS, Strobe, Nite Lite, Signal, and Lockout.

Originally I thought the light would be changing all the time, but it only changes if you press and hold the thumbswitch. If you just click and release it turns on just like a normal flashlight.

I also thought you’d never be able to know what mode you were in if it’s dark, which is a popular time for many Americans to use a flashlight. Maglite put a raised arrow on the thumbswitch so you can find the dimming function in the dark. From that reference point you can suss out the location of the other modes.

The review mentions that the XL100 slowly drains batteries, so it isn’t a light to keep in a glove box or emergency supply kit. It doesn’t strike me as a problem for an everyday carry light that will go through its batteries in a matter of months anyway.

I’m not crazy about the fact that it uses AAA batteries, which don’t last long, but that’s OK. This is such cool technology that I plan on buying one anyway for the user interface experience. It’s a flashlight and a cheap thrill! Reports are that they’re already showing up in the Maglite displays at Lowe’s and Home Depot.

Review at Candlepowerforums.

Surefire E2L AA Outdoorsman

I like CR123a batteries for their amazing output, but AA batteries are cheap and always available. Lithium AAs are also the best performers in the cold, if you’re in chilly climates. I’m happy to see my favorite flashlight company release their first flashlight that runs on AA batteries, the E2L AA Outdoorsman.

The first click goes to low mode, which puts out 3 lumens for 60 hours. Second click switches to high at 80 lumens for 9 hours. That’s amazing. For comparison, my six year old SureFire Executive incandescent running on a pair of CR123a puts out just 60 Lumens and only for an hour. LEDs, y’all.

LED Resource has a review.

Review: Streamlight PT 2AA Flashlight with C4 LED

I was out of Cr123a batteries for my SureFire so I stopped at BatteriesPlus last night. They were out of the SureFire packs, so I was going to have to pay 12 smackers for a pair of CR123As. No thanks.

At that point I realized it would be nice to have another AA light for just this sort of occasion. They were having a 30% off Streamlight sale, so I rolled the dice and bought the PT 2AA light. It was the last one, so there was no packaging, but I decided WTH.

The light is rated at 120 lumens on high, though I’m not convinced it’s really that bright. Body design is fairly good. The grippy molded body rings have flat spots to keep the light from rolling off of a flat surface.

The pocket clip is sturdy and designed for bezel down carry. You could probably reverse it with some effort, but it’s on pretty snugly. My personal preference would be two pocket clips in opposite directions. One for bezel-down pocket carry and one for attaching to the brim of a ball cap, which is something I do sometimes with my SureFire if I need my hands free.

After getting it home and using it a bit I realized the batteries rattled from side to side. Not the best design there. I reduced the rattling a bit by unscrewing the tailcap and stretching the pigtail spring slightly to put more pressure on the batteries. What it really needs is a plastic liner (or a better design).

On the way to low the PT goes through high and strobe. That’s obnoxious in the sort of situations – like finding your way in theater – where you’d want a low beam. On previous lights like this I’ve learned to put the lamp against my pantsleg or a table while cycling through the modes.

Overall I’m not too impressed. On high it runs for less than two hours, which isn’t what I want. On low it runs for 21 hours. Better, but not great, and it’s enough of a hassle to get to low that I’ll use it less than I’d like. Also, and this is just personal preference, I have no use for a strobe and would prefer to not have to deal with it at all.

I’ll see if I can take it back today.

Using a Flashlight with a Defensive Handgun

Carteach has some thoughts, especially on Harries vs. Rogers carry. You can see a brief comparison of flashlight carry methods here.

I tend to agree with people who say that when you’re holding a flashlight you’re basically holding your gun one-handed. Even if the technique tries to put the two hands together you don’t have the stability of a two-hand hold.

Mostly what the various techniques do is to point the gun and the light in the same direction. That’s good and bad. Good if you’re ready to shoot. Bad if you’re not sure what’s out there. You wind up pointing your flashlight and your gun at whatever’s there, friend or foe. The whole thing winds up being a massive violation of rule 2 – don’t point your gun at anything you don’t want to destroy.

Between Harries and Roger, Rogers does a slightly better job of holding onto the gun, while Harries does a much better job of holding onto the flashlight. Since the support for the gun is still half-assed, I tend to shy away from Rogers.

Rogers requires a cigar grip, which I think is a finicky grip to get into under pressure. Neck index and FBI use an icepick grip, which is foolproof. It’s also the same way I handle my pocket flashlights in routine use. Neck index and FBI don’t require pointing the gun and flashlight together. FBI moves the flashlight away from your body so you’re less likely to get shot by someone shooting at the light.

If you do want to use a cigar grip, the Nitecore Defender Extreme or SR 3 would work great. They’d also work fine for the other methods, which work with just about any light.

What’s the New Hotness in Tactical LED Flashlights?

I’m in the market for a tactical LED flashlight. My three year old broke my Nitecore Defender Infinity on vacation – dropped it off of a bunkbed onto a tile floor. I’m sending it to Nitecore for repair, but I realize I need a second light anyway for all those times I misplace my flashlight for a few days.

I’m looking for ideas. Requirements are pretty simple:

  • Small enough to carry in a pocket every day.
  • More than one light level.
  • Tailcap switch.
  • No Fenix lights. Personal preference – I’m just a simple caveman and their switching system confuses and frightens me.

I love the Nitecore, so if I don’t find anything that moves me I may just buy another one of those. At 65 bucks it’s a fair deal for a great light. Something else on my short list is the SureFire E2D LED. At a buck fifty it’s pricey, but I loved my old incandescent model.

NiteCore Defender Infinity Flashlight on its Fourth Life

At the movie theater tonight I couldn’t find my every day carry (EDC) flashlight, a NiteCore Defender Infinity. I wound up using my cell phone’s display to find Natalie’s 3D glasses.

When I came home and shifted the laundry from the washer to the dryer I found my flashlight in the washtub. That’s the third time that’s happened and the NiteCore still works good as new.
Sure, your flashlight may have survived three tours in the ‘Nam and in the Sandbox, but has it survived three tours in the Kenmore?

Previously

Review: Nitecore Defender Infinity flashlight

I tried a Surefire E2D Executive Defender. Great feel. Great tailcap switch. High output. Unfortunately, it had a very short battery life of 60 minutes. For me that completely ruled it out for everyday carry. Now it’s back to being a companion to a home firearm.

Next I tried a StreamLight TwinTask. The TwinTask has two light sources – a high-output Xenon bulb and a long-life LED emitter. You choose between them at the click of a button so you can have either high output or long battery life. At 35 bucks the price was right. One downside of the TwinTask was that it used a thumb-activated switch, which I never cared for. Tailcaps are the only way to fly.

When the TwinTask went on the fritz I decided I wanted four things in my next light:

  • Tailcap switch like the Surefire for good ergonomics.
  • Multiple light levels like the TwinTask – high for lots of light or low for long battery life.
  • Ability to use plain old AA batteries. The Surefire and StreamLight used CR123a batteries, which have great output but are more expensive and harder to find than AAs. In a pinch I want to be able to get batteries at the Gas and Dash.
  • The newer, more efficient CREE LED rather than the older Luxeon LED.

I settled on a Fenix L2D CE Q5. It met all of the criteria. Output was super bright. At $55 the price wasn’t cheap, but it wasn’t unreasonable for a flashlight nut.

There were three things I didn’t like about the Fenix:

  • The modes and tailcap sensitivity were too much. There are five power levels plus a strobe mode. Worse, while it took a deep click to power up the light once it was on just barely brushing the switch would switch modes. You could go from high to SOS in no time.
  • It was too long, or more to the point it was just the wrong length. AA batteries are longer than CR123a batteries. With two of them the flashlight was enough longer to be just the right length to get bound up sideways in the pockets of the Columbia pants I live in.
  • It was too slippery. There wasn’t enough checkering or variation in diameter.

That led me to my current light, a Nitecore Defender. It has all of the strong points of the Fenix, but none of the problems.

It uses a single AA battery so it’s the smallest EDC flashlight I’ve ever used. It has great checkering and enough variation in diameter so it’s easy to grip, and the flats on the high rings keep it from rolling off of flat surfaces. The tailcap has two modes that are programmable to be as high or as low as you like. There’s a crenulated bezel in front and loops in the rear for attaching keyrings or lobsterclaws. It can use longlife Li-Ion batteries or regular alkalines. I keep a spare AA in my back pocket.

The Defender is amazingly waterproof. Mine has taken two trips through the washing machine and still works beautifully.

The only downside to the Nitecore Defender is the price, which was about $80 when I bought it last year. I’d like to see them drop the gift box and a few other doodads. On the other hand it comes with a spare tailcap, which is pretty amazing, if not essential. I do like the the paracord lanyard, which turns out to be incredibly helpful on such a small light. The tip of the lanyard has a glow in the dark plastic insert like a cereal box toy. You can charge it up with the light in a few seconds, though it doesn’t last very long.

The price is a little high, but this is my ideal for a personal flashlight for now.

Notes

  • If you don’t mind CR123a batteries or a street price well over $100 the newer Surefire E2D LED has two light levels and much longer life than the old version I have. If it wasn’t for my AA battery requirement I’d probably reach deep into my pocket and get one of these.
  • If all that sounds too expensive, I’ve heard good things about the Brinkman LED light from Target and the Coleman LED light from Wal-Mart. Both sell for around $20.
  • Here’s a video showing how to set the brightness levels on the Defender Infinity:

Photography notes

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Flashlight-a-holics, Meet YouTube. YouTube, Meet Flashlight-a-holics

A Maglite is a gateway drug to a serious flashlight addiction. Surefires, Streamlights and Fenixes are the hard stuff. I’ve got one of each now and I’m still looking for the perfect light.

My perfect every day carry flashlight de jeur would have a CREE LED bulb which is the most efficient thing going. It would use AA batteries for easy availability and the option to use Lithium AAs for higher output. It would have a tailcap switch for better ergonomics. Finally, because today’s high output LEDs are too bright at full power for some applications it would offer at least two light levels – high and low.

I thought this Fenix L2D CE Q5 was the light for me, but the tailcap switch is too sensitive and the body isn’t grippy enough. On the plus side it meets my other requirements and the light output of the CREE is amazing – even better than the Surefire E2D but with twice the battery life on high. (Want the Fenix? Make me an offer.)

The Internet has a new way to enable our madness. People these days are posting flashlight videos to YouTube.

These next videos are all from glowgadgets, AKA Doc from glowgadgets.co.uk. He’s a genius at using YouTube for promotion.

Doc’s first video shows just how far behind Maglite has fallen compared to the little LED lights that fit in your pocket and run forever.

Doc Speaks Out! This guy really makes me want to buy something from him.

See also:
What’s on My Nightstand?
Archie Gates and Some New Flashlights

Emergency Supplies

In light of Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans I’ve been thinking about emergency plans for the Jones family. My main concern is being caught in a blizzard like the one we had in 1994, with the potential loss of power, heat, and telephones. There’s also a remote potential for an earthquake. East Tennessee is on a large, but largely inactive, fault line. This should also encompass even more common occurrences such as medical emergencies, fire, car breakdowns, power outages, etc.

This is me thinking out loud. Any advice appreciated.

What we have now

  • Propane grill, 1 cylinder, propane heating attachment bought two winters ago UPDATE: replaced the radiant heater with a Mr. Heater Buddy from Lowe’s as a Christmas present. 2008 update: we now have three 20 pound propane cylinders.
  • Lots of candles and flashlights (mostly StreamLight TwinTasks) and lots of batteries bought in bulk at Home Depot or Lowe’s.
  • Battery-powered radio for AM/FM/UHF/Weather Band (the UHF TV is actually more useful than the FM/AM – local TV news has great, almost non-stop reporting during bad weather). 2009 update: with the move from analog to digital TV the UHF option no longer works. It’s worth remembering that in many areas a local TV station broadcasts the audio portion of their programming near the bottom of the FM dial.
  • Cell phones. Charge them in advance of a winter storm and have DC/cigarette lighter chargers handy. In a prolonged power outage the batteries in the cell phone towers will give out, meaning you’ll need other means of communications.
  • First aid kits in backpack and house, though both need re-thinking/replenishing UPDATE: added all-new OSHA-approved kits from Beprepared.com.
  • Plenty of guns, ammo, holsters, etc. if the SHTF. Plan is to take a couple of concealable handguns and a long gun for basic self-defense.
  • Pocket knives, sheath knives, and Swiss army knives and multi-tools on person, in car, and in house, compact shovel in car
  • Tarps and ropes UPDATE: added ratcheting tie-down straps (4 for $15 at Home Depot) which make it easier to tie down loads tightly
  • Tools and gardening tools
  • Arkansas credit card (gas siphon hose) UPDATE: it turns out the cheapie model I had didn’t work well at all when one of our cars ran out of gas because the hose was too wimpy to force into a gas tank; I’m going to get a better model with a more substantial hose and handpump)
  • Fire extinguishers in cars, house, bedrooms
  • New FirstAlert OneLink smoke and CO2 detectors with wireless links and voice alerts LATER: these turned out to be overpriced junk. I replaced them with more-conventional smoke/CO2 alarms.
  • Computer backups & important documents offsite in bank safe deposit box (cheap at $38/year) with pictures and MP3s backed up to DVDs stored at work, LATER: We still use those backup options, but now also use Mozy online backup, which is easy, automatic, and cheap at $5/month. If you’re just starting your backup plans skip everything else and go directly to online backup.
  • Car emergency kits (road flares, booster cables, tow cables, blankets, tire inflater, etc.) and a large synthetic blanket in the trunk.
  • Lots of backpacking equipment (tents, sleeping gear, water treatment, packs, lightweight stoves and mess kits, flashlights and LED headlamps)

What I know we need off the top of my head

  • Emergency baby food supply
  • Emergency pet food supply
  • Hurricane lanterns UPDATE: got them in the camping section at Wal-Mart for $4.50 each; they burn lamp oil, kerosene, and tiki torch fuel, which is handy since we always have a few gallons around for the patio torches.
  • Multiband crank radio (and I’m not talking about Art Bell) UPDATE: got the Coleman Outrider model, which works very well with minimal cranking, and also runs for 20 hours on the internal rechargeable battery.
  • Propane-powered stove burner and spare propane cylinders UPDATE: got the spare propane cylinder as a birthday present, and got a propane turkey fryer (which is basically an outdoor burner) at an after-Thanksgiving sale for 50% off. UPDATE 2: we now have a third propane cylinder.
  • Spare butane cylinders for the backpacking stoves UPDATE: got them
  • Power inverter (for running small AC electrical equipment off of car’s DC cigarette lighter – also handy for car camping and other things) UPDATE: we got this Xantrex model from Amazon; it isn’t clear in the Amazon photo, but it can connect to either a cigarette lighter adapter, or directly to the car’s battery posts (which is necessary for higher wattage appliances); both cables are included. Also got this Husky power box which contains a car battery, inverter, a compressor to inflate tires, and cables for jump-starting a car.
  • Information for bank and insurance accounts and other important info.
  • Gasoline containers UPDATE: got three five-gallon cans ($6 each at Wal-Mart) and a spare spout
  • Utility trailer for evacuating (I want one anyway for moving furniture and such) UPDATE: I may ditch the utility trailer idea and get a receiver hitch rack which is less expensive, takes less space when not in use, and is easier to maneuver; we now have a Honda Odyssey, which makes for a better bug-out vehicle; it has a GPS nav system, roof rack, trailer hitch, and much more room and seating capacity; we also keep a state atlas in the van
  • UPDATE: we now have an appliance dolly (“hand truck”); along with ratcheting tie-down straps this is a great way to stay mobile if we run out of gas
  • Pair of hand-held ham radios; will need to get trained and licensed; also useful for hiking, backpacking. UPDATE: Bought a set of inexpensive FRS/GMRS radios for $10 each, and a Cobra Road Trip CB radio. UPDATE 2: Snagged a CB radio with a cigarette lighter adapter and magnetic antenna at a yard sale for $10.
  • Water storage and treatment strategy (have iodine and household bleach, may get one of these MSR units – also useful for backpacking) UPDATE: got extra iodine tablets ($3 a bottle in Wal-Mart camping section), three seven-gallon potable water containers ($7 each at Wal-Mart), and two flats of bottled water ($4 each at Home Depot) that we keep on top of the kitchen cabinets and rotate once a year.
  • Decide on a place to keep emergency supplies for easy access in a hurry UPDATE: using overnight backpacks we use for camping
  • Create a supply check list
  • LATER: Cash. In an emergency without power credit card readers won’t work and you won’t be able to withdraw money from ATMs. We keep rolls of quarters and a pack of 1 dollar bills in the cars for emergencies. If you routinely travel outside your county keep enough cash to pay for enough gas to get home as well a few meals and a night in a hotel.

Links
Inexpensive Alternatives to Emergency Generators
Emergency Communications over Two-way Radio
Government recommendations (Ready.gov)
Doc Russia’s recommended first aid kit part 1, part 2
Countertop’s thoughts
Preacherman’s lessons learned from his New Orleans bug-out
Water supply and storage
Storing gasoline
Head’s experience evacuating from Hurricane Rita

Backpacking Headlamps

Some people are turned off by the nerdiness of a headlamp, but even my most non-nerdy friends fall in love with headlamps once they try them. The benefits are obvious: light whereever your eyes are pointing, with both hands free for pitching a tent, cooking, or hoisting a food bag into a tree. Headlamps are also ideal for cycling, caving, and climbing. There are dozens of headlamps on the market. The ones below are the ones I’ve owned, in order of purchase.

Features

Tilt
Except for the Saxo all of these lights have a pivoting lamp. You can tilt the light up or down, which is especially handy when reading. It’s also essential for good headlamp etiquette: if you’re talking to someone and notice your light is in their eyes, you should tilt your lamp away.

LED vs. Incandescent Bulbs
Flashlights and headlamps have traditionally used incandescent bulbs, but LED lights are moving into the mainstream. The big advantage is their battery life, which is many times that of regular bulbs. You’ll carry fewer batteries and be assured of long-lasting light. The downside is generally lower light output, and less distance (LED light can’t be focused). LED bulbs last many times longer than traditional bulbs before burning out, but if they do burn out or break they generally can’t be replaced.

One or Two Strap Headband
All headlamps have a band going around the head. Some also have a a strap going over the top of the head. The extra strap is good for heavier lights to help distribute weight, but tends to make adjustment more difficult.

The Headlamps

Petzl Micro
headlampmicro2.gifI bought this lamp years ago for the simple reason that it was the lightest on the market. Today, the LED lights have taken away that title. Even if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t recommend the Micro. The beam is anemic. I once compared it to a Mini-Mag (which also uses 2 AA batteries). It was about half as bright. The tilt stage on the Micro can’t be tightened enough, so with a little age it works loose and begins flopping down during night hiking or caving. The straps are also difficult to adjust.

Petzl Saxo Noi
headlampsaxo2.gifThe Saxo is a compromise between a flashlight and headlamp. It works pretty well as a headlamp, but lacks a tilt adjustment and tends to bounce around because of its size. In flashlight mode, it’s shaped for comfortable carry. You can remove the headband and thread it through the tail of the light to create a cushy wriststrap. I used it this way at the Lake Eden Arts Festival, where a headlamp really would have been too nerdy. The Saxo is a good choice if you aren’t sure about the whole headlamp thing, or expect to use a flashlight more frequently.

Petzl makes a waterproof version called the Saxo Aqua. That may be a good idea, since my Saxo succumbed to water damage that corroded the electronics.

Black Diamond Gemini
headlampgemini.jpgThe Gemini bridges the divide between incandescent and LED bulbs by using both. Press the power button once for LED, and a second time for incandescent. It works great, and the headband and switch are very good. When folded, the tilt mechanism shields the power switch to keep it from being activated inside a backpack and draining the batteries.

The Gemini’s incandescent bulb is the brightest of the four lights reviewed here. If it still isn’t bright enough, a high-output krypton bulb is included in the package. My original model uses just one LED and was plenty bright for Melissa and I to play rummy at Icewater Springs. Newer models include two LEDs for even better output.

Petzl Tikka Plus
headlamptikka.jpgIf I’m camping I’m wearing a ball cap. With most headlamps, that means turning the bill around and wearing the lamp over the cap. I bought the Tikka Plus because I could easily wear it under a ball cap, with the lamp shining out from under the bill.

The Tikka Plus uses 4 LEDs for amazing light output. It’s almost as powerful as the Gemini’s incandescent output (with 8 meters range compared to the Gemini’s 10). That’s remarkable considering it uses AAA batteries to the Gemini’s AAs, and has significantly longer battery life.

You want tricks? It’s got em. Press the power button once for maximum light, again for medium, then low, then emergency strobe. In strobe mode it lasts for an incredible 400 hours. You can go directly from the current power level to off by holding the power button down for a second.

Conclusion: Duh! Buy the Tikka Plus
This is easily the lightest, simplest, and most comfortable headlamp I own, and one of the brightest. It’s the perfect light for backpacking.

Black Diamond Gemini Petzl Micro Petzl Saxo Noi Petzl Tikka Plus
Empty Weight 4.6 oz 3.5 oz 4 oz 2.8
Batteries 3 AA 2 AA 4 AA 3 AAA
Burn Time 7/1000 hours * 7.5 hours 9 hours 80 hours

* 7 hours for incandescent bulb, 1000 hours for LED bulb