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Cyalume ChemLights – Is Carrying Glow Sticks Worth It?

Thoughts On Cyalume Chemlights [Glow Sticks]

Cheap Glow sticks can be found at dollar stores across America. These cheap versions of the cyalume chemlight are usually four inches in length and will last around four hours. The chemlights that you get in emergency kits, army surplus stores and in places like Walmart are usually six to eight inches in length and have a run time of eight to 12 hours.

The question is whether they’re worth having in your kit as a backup light source, and I think that they’re great to carry in certain situations.

dollar store chemlights

Cyalume Chemlight Pluses

Lighting Your Immediate Work Area

Chemlights don’t have a lot of throw. They light can light up a room, but it’s not like a flashlight where you can use it to see things at distance. A dollar store glow stick is only good within five feet, and the industrial or military grade cyalume lights will reach 20 feet maximum in an outdoor setting. In other words, they’re great for lighting up a tent, small to medium room that’s dark, or for working under the hood of the car in an emergency, but they’re no replacement for a real flashlight.

No Power, No Batteries Needed

Chemlights don’t need batteries to work, and as a general rule of thumb, are very reliable within five years of the date of manufacture, provided you’ve kept it in the original packaging. They’re fully submersible and water resistant, and finally, they’re not very breakable by natural means, so you won’t risk breaking one by dropping it by accident. On the other hand, most LED flashlights won’t break either, so that’s really not a unique feature of the chemlight.

Compact, Thin, Convenient and Cheap

Chemlights don’t take up a lot of space in an EDC, glove box or bag, so having one or two around doesn’t usually factor into space requirements (unless you have something like a Maxpedition Mini). Additionally, they add almost no weight so that isn’t much of a factor either. They can be cracked at anytime for instant light and don’t cost a lot to acquire. Chemlights are also kid-safe, so putting one in your child’s backpack isn’t going to cause worry either.

Cyalume Chemlight Minuses

Reduced Light In Sub-Zero Temperatures

One of the bad things about chemlights are that they don’t do as well in cold weather. Trying to use one when it’s freezing out, you’ll notice that it doesn’t stay bright as long as in warmer weather. The way you can overcome this problem is to keep the chemlight against a hand warmer to keep it warm, but that has it’s cons too. If the chemlight is in your warm car, and then you put it out in the cold, within a half hour it will have lost around 50% of it’s brightness, and after an hour, it will be almost 75% dimmer.

My suggestion is to put the chemlight into a Ziploc bag with a hand warmer and shake frequently to keep the chemicals warm for full brightness.

Can’t Turn Off; One Time Use

The second problem with Chemlights are that they’re a one time use light. There’s absolutely no way of “turning it off” and saving it for later. Once you’ve snapped it, it’s going to run it’s four to 12 hours and then that’s it. Again, on the plus side, they’re cheap and can work in some places where your grandpa’s EverReady flashlight won’t.

Overall Thoughts On Chemlights

As a backup light source, I recommend having these lights in your home or car for the unlikely moment that you actually use up all your AA and AAA batteries for your EDC flashlight, and you just can’t get more easily. Expect to never use them. Near the end of their shelf life, give them to kids to play with and just buy some more. 

Chemlights are perfect for kids and trick-or-treating, for use in a “just because I can” situation, and when camping to save battery power for later. The only time I’ve ever used chemlights in an emergency situation was during the northeastern USA blackout of 2003, and since then, I’ve rotated at least four sets of glow sticks around the house and car without need or use.

Are they Worth It?

I think that they are to some extent. Most of the time, you’ll use them just because they’re convenient and fun to use. Again, they don’t cost a lot of money, so if you have to toss a few away, it’s not going to break the bank either.

When you are in an emergency, they can help, but not nearly as much as a cheap $10 Chinese flashlight you could purchase on that has the strobe light feature.

I carry a couple in my backpack and also a couple in my EDC. I’ve given them out as novelties to deserving well-behaved kids more than I’ve actually used them myself. They are, however, there if the situation calls for them.

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