"I'd rather have a flashlight and no food than food and no flashlight," Marty Harbibi announced one morning to all and sundry.
Actually, I was both "all" and "sundry" that day, everybody else being out watching the hot competition in the age 10-12 division in the Hardyville Kids Kombat Shoot. Marty and I pretty much had the big round table at the Hog Trough Grill and Feed all to ourselves.
"Huh?" I asked him, looking up from my copy of the Hardyville Independent, where I was perusing results for yesterday's six-and-under Kombat division, where Carty's tough toddlers had -- no surprise -- whupped the rest of the kindergarten crew with their tricked-out .22s race guns.
"Well, with a flashlight," Marty expounded, "I can get food. But food won't get me a flashlight."
"Don't you mean a gun?" I asked, envisioning him in TEOTWAWKI time, beaning somebody with a big heavy old Mag-Lite to take their cans of beans. Marty's neither too smart nor too couth. He might do something like that. "You mean with a gun you can get food? But food won't get you a gun?"
"Huh?" it was Marty's turn to say. "No, I mean a flashlight. So if the power goes out, I can find my way to the shed where the wife keeps the canned goods. What did you think I meant, anyway?"
"Oh ... nothing," I mumbled, sticking my head back in the fishwrapper.
But Marty had raised a subject near and dear to my heart.
I love flashlights. When it comes to preparedness preps, you might not be able to afford a diesel generator or an underground gasoline storage tank. Thousand-dollar battle rifles may be out of the question. Six-gallon pails of honey or cases of that ever-mysterious but apparently universally useful substance "fruit galaxy" might require some budgeting. But flashlights? With a few notable exceptions, they can be picked up for a song -- literally less than the price of a music CD.
Flashlights are among the world's phenomenally useful items. Nowadays, their vast universe of designs and functions is awesome. Flashlights, in short, can satisfy your inner gear-head without pushing you to the outer limits of debt.
The bounty of new designs is useful too. How many times have you been caught with a flashlight close at hand -- but it wasn't really right for the task you needed to perform? Not bright enough or not sharply focused enough. Too tightly focused to show you your surroundings while walking in the woods. Not stable enough to stay where you put it. Not hands-free when you needed both hands for holding tools.
The holidays are coming up and cool flashlights make good gifts. With that in mind, I thought I'd share some of my illuminating favorites, and the reasons I have them.
So without leaving you in the dark a moment longer ...
Next time I have to wriggle around in the mud under the rear end of my truck with a wrench in one hand and a jack handle in the other, trying to spot where (never mind why) the geniuses at Toyota so cleverly hid the release mechanism for the spare tire ...
... I'll be wearing an LED headlamp. The one I have is a brand-X, purchased on eBay for a whole $1.99. But it's been perfectly serviceable. I can run it with one LED, three, or seven, depending on how much brightness I need. It's great, among other things, for setting up a tent in the dark or even reading in bed when you need a very focused beam that won't disturb a companion.
Here's an even better LED headlamp: the Rayovac Sportsman. For $9.99 you get three unique modes -- single LED for most uses, red LED for night vision, and a krypton bulb for range. (As one reviewer puts it, the bright, but battery-consuming krypton bulb is for those moments when you're asking yourself, "Is that a racoon or a skunk" across the campsite?)
If the power gets zapped and I have to stumble across a midnight living-room mine-field of sleeping dogs, cats, half-read books, and toe-destroying furniture legs to check the breaker box ...
... my tool of choice is the Freedom Flashlight. Click once and a camera-type battery activates a bright LED. Click twice and the Freedom Flashlight goes into self-generating mode. Just shake it for a few minutes. A magnet slides back and forth through a copper coil and provides permanent, batteryless power.
In shakable mode, the light is pathetically dim. But it's sufficient to get you to the breaker box or to the kit where you keep your camp lantern. The Freedom Flashlight also rests on its side without rolling, stands on either end -- and even floats. (Fifteen minutes in my bathtub bothered it not at all.)
It also works in extreme cold and heat -- conditions that cause old-fashioned batteries to get cranky or die off altogether. Perfect thing to keep in a vehicle's emergency kit.
Retail is $24.99, but Amazon.com offers a better deal. And right this moment, if you also happen to be in the mood for some holiday book shopping, you can get at-cost deals on a Freedom Flashlight here or here.
If flipping a breaker doesn't work and the power stays out all weekend and I'm just desperate to finish reading War and Peace or the last volume of the federal tax code ...
... I'd turn to my GE Steelbeam Lantern. My favorite camp lantern has a long-lasting fluorescent bulb. It sits, hangs, or carries easily. Its mostly-steel construction makes it sturdy. Although its light might not quite make it through a thorugh reading of the entire tax code, it'll certainly get a body through an evening's power outage or a weekend campout.
If some nasty happened to bust into Cabin Sweet Cabin in the middle of the night (not that any nasty is likely to be foolish enough to tred the doggie mine-field), it could be a lifesaver to have ....
... one of SureFire's LED tactical flashlights. But these are Not Cheap (and please take those capital letters very seriously if funds are limited). They can run up to $270. Ack. If you receive one of these for a holiday gift, you know know the giver loves you beyond all reasonable budget considerations.
I do not own a SureFire LED. What I do have is my somewhat more humble, but still piercingly bright and well-focused SureFire 6P. The original SureFire. It's an oldie but a goodie, with its lithium batteries, Xenon bulb, and better-than-four-D-batteries beam.
When I'm locked out of my truck or cabin on a moonless night with coyotes, cougars, skunks, porcupines, and bears creeping menacingly in the nearby brush, I have handy on my keyring ...
... not one but two tiny flashlights. First is the Mag-Lite Solitaire. Amazon.com sells these for a mere stocking-stuffer price, less than half what I paid at the hardware store. The Solitaire takes a single AAA battery and puts out about as much (actually as little) light as you'd expect. But it's sturdy, reliable, and always handy on its lanyard. And really, how much light do you need to find a door lock?
Backup is the much brighter LED keychain light that comes as a free bonus with the Freedom Flashlight. This also shows signs of being semi-indestructable. Its only drawback is that you must keep your finger on the button whenever you want light.
BUT ... Should TEOTWAKI strike while I'm stranded on a desert island with only one flashlight and I need to find the spare tire, flip a breaker, tell a raccoon from a skunk, unlock the front door in one big darned hurry, AND read the latest 4,000-page shameless-tale-of-graft-and-pork federal appropriations bill ...
... then that one-and-only Super Flashlight would be (TA DA!) the Dorcy Focusing Lamp (aka 4D Spot Lamp). For an all-purpose light, nothing else even comes close. It's a floodlight. It's a spotlight. (Just push the bar with your thumb to change focus.) It's bright. It's got a built-in stand and when it's on the stand, you can pivot the light 360 degrees.
Need to grab the flashlight and go? The stand becomes a sturdy handle. Need to hang it? Suspend it from a nail or a hook -- and again point it wherever you need it.
I've had one of these puppies for about five years and if I confessed how seldom I need to change its four D batteries, you wouldn't believe me. My Dorcy Focusing Lamp just keeps going like the Energizer bunny. Better yet, this priceless gem costs all of $7.95 and can be picked up in hardware stores, grocery stores, and Wal-Marts all over the country. Not to mention Amazon.com.
With the above (and, I confess, quite a few more), I'm pretty well set for flashlights. But the world keeps throwing temptation in every gear-head's path. So ...
Check out this selection of emergency lights.
And how about some camping lights. One glows in the dark (just what a flashlight should do, right?). One is built into a survival knife. (Here's another source for the knife-light.)
Stay on Santa's good side for the next month or so and who knows what cool and very useful object might show up in your holiday stocking?
Experience the exciting new novel by Claire Wolfe and Aaron Zelman: RebelFire: Out of the Gray Zone. It's the story of one boy's dangerous quest to fulfill his dreams in a world where dreams are dulled with prescription drugs and everything, everyone, everywhere, is watched and controlled. First four chapters and reader reviews are online.