Flashlights vs Lanterns vs Headlamps for Survival: How to Choose

Having a light source is an important piece of gear to have. It can help us to avoid dangers in the dark, to keep us on the path, to signal for help, or to simply read a book when the power goes out. 

More than a few times I have come across people asking if it matters which type of light they buy. I think it does matter because all three of these products provide something a little different from one another.

The way that I describe the following three light sources may seem elementary, but it is important in understanding what they are best used for. So, sit back and relax as I go through the particulars and pros and cons of each of them. 

Flashlights for Survival

A flashlight is a handheld light source with a focused beam of light that can be directed in a specific direction. It can be set down if the light does not need to be moved but it is most effective and usually held in the hand. 

Flashlight

Flashlights come in a variety of different sizes, light color options, and different light modes. They may also be powered by common batteries, specialized batteries, rechargeable batteries, solar power, or crank power. 

Due to the different sizes available, they can easily be carried in a pocket, purse, backpack, or even on a keyring. A flashlight is a great option for a person who always wants a light with them but without a specific task in mind. 

Pros 

  • Different sizes
  • Can be carried in several different ways 
  • Provides a bright focused beam
  • In rare situations, a flashlight can be used as an impact tool
  • Durable 
  • Easy to use 

Cons 

  • Provides light in one direction 
  • To move the light, it generally must be held in the hand 

Headlamps for Survival

This is a light source that is worn on the head or is secured to a hat. They can be powered by several different sources such as common batteries, uncommon batteries, or solar power. 

Headlamp

I must say that it took me quite a while to come around to the idea of these because I used to dislike them solely based on their appearance. This was not a good basis to judge them on and have since come to love headlamps. 

The advantage of this item is that once they are on, they are almost entirely hands-free. The light must be turned on and off or adjusted from time to time but since it is worn, the direction of the light is as easy to change as turning your head.

In my experience, a headlamp is best suited for situations where there is work that needs to be done and a person’s hands must be free. They are great for walking on a path in the dark or simply reading a book when there is no other light around. 

Pros

  • Lightweight and compact 
  • Hands-free
  • The light is automatically directed to wherever the user is looking

Cons 

  • Light direction is dependent on where a person is looking
  • Generally, only serves one person 

Lantern for Survival

A lantern is quite a bit different from the previous two options. Flashlights and headlamps primarily provide light in only one direction whereas a lantern provides light in 360 degrees.

Lantern

Lanterns can be powered by common batteries, uncommon batteries, rechargeable batteries, and solar power. However, traditional lanterns are still around and burn fuel such as lamp oil. They are generally on the large side, but some modern ones are smaller which makes them easier to transport and use.

A lantern is most helpful when you need to light up your immediate surroundings without a specific area in mind. 

I find lanterns to be most useful when I am staying in one spot or I am sharing the light with multiple people. For example, a lantern is great to set out in a camping area or the middle of a room after the power has gone out. 

Also, most lanterns have carrying handles on them that makes them easy to transport and to hang up to light up an area. 

In my experience, the one downfall of a lantern is that it can limit vision and be somewhat blinding when it is held at head level.

Pros 

  • Provides 360 degrees of light
  • Easy to hang up 
  • Can serve multiple people at once
  • Different sizes available 
  • It can be powered by, batteries, solar, or a fuel source 

Cons 

  • The light is scattered and not focused 
  • Cannot light up objects at a distance 
  • It may not be as durable as a flashlight
  • Usually not as convenient to pack or transport as a flashlight or headlamp  

Wrap Up 

I hope my quick rundown of these three popular light sources has made it a little easier to decide which one you should choose. Given their affordability and the fact that you never know what you will run into, I recommend having at least one of each. That way you will always have different lighting options as well as a light source you can depend on when you need it. 

Thanks for reading and keep the light on!

What is your favorite type of light to use? Sound off in the comment section below and let us know!




Written by Bryan Lynch

Bryan grew up in the Midwest and spent every waking moment outdoors. Learning how to hunt, fish, read the land, and be self-reliant was part of everyday life. Eventually, he combined his passions for the outdoors, emergency preparedness, and writing. His goal was to spread positive information about this field. In 2019, Bryan authored the book Swiss Army Knife Camping and Outdoor Survival Guide. His second book, Paracord Projects For Camping and Outdoor Survival, is scheduled to be released on March 2, 2021. Read more of Bryan's articles.

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