Category: Tools

Chem Lights

A tool used from everything from Special Operations Warfare to safety at halloween to Rave funness is Chem Lights. They are a great tool to put in your 72 Hour Bag because they are light weight, have no batteries or expiration date and provide a good amount of light for map reading, signaling or using them to allow you to accomplish tasks at night.


Some may know of them by their brand name Cyalume. But push come to shove they are chemical lights. The plastic outer core contains one chemical called  biphenyl oxalate. With a suitable color dye and contained within that plastic container is a glass ampule with another simple chemical hydrogen peroxide. When you bend the stick it breaks the glass ampule and the chemicals mix when shaken. The chemical reaction causes light. These two chemicals can be altered with dye to create different colors and even into the infrared spectrum. When the infrared chem lights are used they require Night Vision devices with infrared capabilities to see them. On some missions the military use this technology to mark doorways they enter; dropping an activated chem light at a doorway before a team enters tells other personnel that friendlies are inside that structure. These types of chem lights can also be used to mark a landing zone for helicopters where in the past you would have to ignite flares or pop smoke for a pilot to see.  Today military  helicopters have the equipment to see these infrared chem lights, keeping the troops safe from being detected by the enemy.



There is a product made by Cyalume which has a handle and strong string attached to a high output chem light. When the chem light is cracked and activated it can be swung around to signal for help. These will last for several hours once activated but once they’re activated there’s no turning it off. So it’s one and done. If I were a boat owner I would invest in these pre made SOS chem lights. When you’re cold and taking on water you don’t want to be fumbling with the fine motor skills of tying a little piece of string onto a chem light in high seas.





If you don’t want to spend the extra money to buy the fancy SOS Cyalume signaling chem lights it’s easy to fashion one from some paracord, light sticks usually have a tab at one end with a hole which when attached can be used to swing them around in a circle, tie them to an object or hang them around your neck. If you have a bunch of the civilian chem lights they also make a great lightweight tool for marking a landing zone at night.

red rescue helicopter arriving after a ski accident
I always try to put chem lights in places where it’s absolutely necessary I have light in an emergency. One place is attaching it to my safe. If the power goes out I can crack the light stick and still open my safe. photo

There are also security chem lights. Cyalume makes a special product when used looks like dirt, but as you walk across it the pressure from your footstep activates the chemical and you leave infrared footprints behind. rotationimage2 images-2

There are a bunch of brands on the market, some manufacture their own chem lights while others will rebrand the actual Cyalume light stick. No matter which you buy, make sure it is manufactured in the USA, there is a marked difference in performance between the USA made and ones made overseas. It’s worth the extra little bit to buy the American made chem lights.


I wanted to dedicate a post to my favorite piece of gear I carry on a daily basis. The Exotac Nano Striker.


This fire starter attaches on to my key chain easily and is the perfect size to grab the keys easily when needed. The Nano comes with a lanyard which I promptly removed and fed my key ring through the hole on the striker. Here’s how it looks when fully assembled:



To make it work you unscrew the three pieces, notice the hole you attach to your key chain is on the smallest part of the Nano, making it easier to keep track of where this small piece is. The major reason I like this striker versus a host of others is it is water tight, sealed with O rings. The rod is good for 1,000 strikes and every part can be replaced from the O rings to the rod itself making it a tool when used properly can have back ups already in place for a rainy day.



Once you screw the ferro rod onto the handle the assembly looks like this:


Here is the point at which I’d like to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of this piece of gear. The striker is your get out of jail card. Under normal operating procedures I would not recommend using this part of the starter. So you ask how do I make fire? Well thats simple, using the one is none, two is one and three is for me rule of preparedness you should have at least ONE knife on you at all times. The knife I carry to work is a bench made which just so happens to have a flat back with a 90 degree corner making it a great striker on a ferro rod.12495-bm551s

If you take this a step further and follow the adage: Carry seven knives at all times: two for you, two for your buddy, two to throw and one as a back up, you’re sure to have one at all times!


Okay so now that we have that out of the way lets get to that striker found within the kit attached to your key chain. This is your emergency back up. Reading reviews it is probably the most complained about part of the striker. People have reported the sharp striker popping out of the holder when they used them. I have used the striker and it works fine. I would guess people used too much force exceeding the strength of the glue holding it into the cap. But for safety measures I keep it in reserve until the day I find myself without a knife,  the SHTF and I really need it. 


The Nano can be found at a variety of outdoor stores including REI.

Solar Power on The Go

How will you power your devices like your cellphone, gps receiver or
radio when you’re on the move?  A solar charging kit is a great option
as components have gotten smaller, lighter and cheaper.  You can buy
kits like the Goal Zero Guide 10 solar panel which comes with everything
you need to keep AA and AAA batteries charged, or you can build your own
system to meet your specific needs, we’ll look at both options so you
get an idea of some different options.

Let’s look at 3 components of mobile solar charging:


Store bought ready to go:

We’ll start out with the Goal Zero Guide 10 solar kit which retails for
about $100.00.  It comes with the Nomad 7 solar panel, a rechargeable
battery pack that holds 4 AA or AAA batteries.  4 AAA batteries are
included and you can purchase additional batteries separately.  Also
included are a 12v DC adapter and a few other cables.

Here are both sides of the kit, there are 2 panels which fold to close
like a book, and zipper together.

We have the panel for collection.
The rechargeable battery pack fills the role of storage.
The rechargeable battery pack is also used for distribution.

One note about this kit, the battery pack can be recharged via the solar
panel, A/C or DC power, so there is some overlap on a few of these

This is the power connector block which is connected to the panel.

There are a quite a few different ways to use this kit, one is by using
the solar panel to charge a battery pack of AA or AAA rechargeable
batteries.  This connection is made with the included (unfortunately)
proprietary cable.  You can also recharge the battery pack via A/C
using, unfortunately, a USB mini cable, not a standard micro USB cable.

Once you charge your rechargeable battery pack, you can do 2 things,
take the batteries out of the battery pack and place them into a device,
or connect a USB cable to the battery pack and charge things directly
from the battery pack, like a cellphone.

You can also use the 12 volt auto adapter cable, plugged directly into
the power block on the panel, to power/charge 12 volt devices.  This
setup skips the storage role as it is only powering devices.

You can also plug a USB cable directly into the power block on the
panel, and charge any USB devices.  This setup skips the storage role as
it is only powering devices.

There’s an example of an available product that fills all the roles of
mobile solar charging, the kit including batteries weighs .4 lbs.  

Self Built Kit

Let’s see one made from individual parts and pieces, it consists of a solar panel, a solar charge controller, a 12
volt auto adapter and all the necessary cables.

For collection, we have a Powerfilm Solar brand rollable solar panel,
model R15-600.


   Rated Power (Pmax): 10 Watts
   Operating Voltage (Vmp): 15.4 Volts
   Operating Current (Imp): 0.6 Amps
   Weight: 1.0 lb
   Dimensions: 11.5″ x 4.25″ x 4.25″ (Rolled), 11.5″ x 38″ (Unrolled)

You roll it up and keep it closed with a velcro strap, it’s light,
waterproof, and very packable.




This setup skips storage, but can send power to any battery pack, like
the one from the Goal Zero, for storage if desired.

Distribution is handled by the solar charge controller.

This is a Powermate Technology model PSC-A15. solar charge controller.
It takes the input from a solar panel and regulates the output voltage.


   Charge Load Current: 15A
   Automatic Charge Voltage: 12VDC/24VDC
   Maximum Charging Voltage: 14.7V for 12V systems, 29.4V for 24V
   Maximum Discharge Voltage: 10.5V for 12V systems, 21V for 24V
   Maximum Solar Panel Power: 180W @ 18V for 12V systems, 360W @ 36V
for 24V systems
   2 selectable modes
   LED mode indicator and audible alarm for warnings
   Recommended wiring: 8-10 AWG
   Aluminum heat sink
   Size: 5.51″ x 3.54″ x 1.42″
   Weight: 210 grams (7.4 oz.)


There are a few different way to connect things up.  The solar panel has
a connector on it that can accept different cable attachments, one of
which has the solar panel connector on one end, and bare wires on the
other end.



If you look on the top of the solar charge controller, you will see 2
connector holes on the left hand side at the bottom, with a small icon
for a solar panel.  Those connectors accept the the solar panels bare
wire output leads.

There are 2 other sets of connector holes on the solar charge
controller, the middle one has a battery icon.  This connection provides
output voltage and can connect directly to a car battery for example.
This will allow you to keep a car battery charged or even recharge it
over time, directly from the sun.  Part of what a solar charge
controller does is provide overcharge and reverse charge protection.
Once a battery is fully charged, the solar charge controller will stop
any current from backing up from the fully charged battery, back into
the panel and destroying it.


One of the other connectors that plugs into the solar panel connector is
a female auto socket adapter.  That will allow me to plug in a 12 volt
auto to USB adapter and charge or run devices directly from the solar




The voltage coming from the solar panel when it’s placed in direct
sunlight is around 15.5 volts. The 12 volt auto to USB adapter I’m using
has built-in voltage limiting, so it will lower the 15.5 volts from the
solar panel to 5.5 volts for USB automatically, and not damage my
devices. I like this adapter because it can also plug into A/C by
flipping down the prongs.

Since the solar panel is only rated for .6 amps, I will add a second
solar panel in parallel to this system.  My rechargeable battery pack
draws 1 amp when charging 4 batteries simultaneously.  With both panels
connected I can charge my batteries with the 12 volt auto connector from
my rechargeable battery pack.


The panel and all of its accessories roll up and store inside of a 4″
diameter pvc pipe.  I bought the 4″ pvc pipe, one solid end cap, one
internally threaded end cap and one threaded screw end cap.



Hopefully you got some worthwhile information from this article, feel
free to post questions/comments.