Get the LED Out

These days,there's no reason to fumble around in the dark. The market is full offlashlight choices, and many of them are far more technologically advanced thanlights that were available just a few years ago, especially those that uselight-emitting diodes (LEDs) and exotic gas-filled bulbs. The catch is makingthe right choice for your outdoor lifestyle.

WHICH BULBS?

The heart of aflashlight is the bulb, though not all bulbs are created equal. Incandescentbulbs are cheap, but they produce a fairly dim, yellowish light. They also haveshort lives, die easily when abused and drain batteries pretty quickly.

THE BRIGHTESTLIGHTS: Halogen, Xenon and Krypton bulbs bore through the night with focusedbeams that penetrate up to four times farther than standard bulbs. The bulbs'filaments send powerful illumination through focusing lenses, concentrating thebeam. These bulbs last several times the life span of a standard bulb, but theydo have a filament so they're vulnerable if dropped. They're also relativelypower-hungry and get very hot. So hot, in fact, that some flashlights havewarnings printed on the surface near the bulb.

THE LONGESTLASTING: If you want brilliant light, long life, rugged durability and optimumenergy efficiency, LED bulbs are the champs. Typically rated for 100,000 hours(more than 11 years if the light is on 24/7), LEDs have no filament to breakand consume very little power because all of the energy goes into creatinglight, not heat. The traditional drawback with LEDs is that although they areoutstanding for near-distance illumination, they do not project light very far.However, with more diffuse light you don't feel like you're walking in atunnel. Performance is ramping up quickly, and some LED units are now beginningto push aside their incandescent brethren when it comes to lightpenetration.

UPGRADE YOURLIGHT: If you don't want to buy a new flashlight, both LED andHalogen/Xenon/Krypton bulbs are now available as replacements for most standardflashlight bulbs. Two sources on the internet are theledlight.com andcarleylamps.com.

WHICHBATTERIES?

Some lights arechambered for either AA or AAA cells, giving you no choice because themanufacturer specifies one battery type or the other. Others are configured forCR123A lithium batteries only. But if your lights do give you a choice betweenalkaline and lithium batteries, here's what you need to know about theirdifferent characteristics.

Alkaline Pros:Alkaline batteries have a sloping discharge curve, so a flashlight powered bythese cells will tend to go dim toward the end of the battery life. This is notall bad, because it gives you a warning that it's time to change the batteriesbefore your world suddenly goes black. They are less expensive than lithiumbatteries and they are widely available. Cons: Their shelf life is good, butnot great. Alkaline batteries do not perform well in low-temperaturesituations.

Lithium Pros:Lithium batteries have a very flat discharge curve, providing a steady voltageright up to the end. Lithiums deliver power two to four times longer than theiralkaline counterparts, have an exceptional shelf life and are especially wellsuited to cold-temperature operation. Cons: When the battery dies, the lightdies without warning. They are less broadly available than alkalines and up tothree times as expensive. The Lights Today's crop of lights offers some interesting options. There are hundreds oflamps to choose from. Here's a sampling of some of our favorites.

1. BROWNING 7 LEDHEADLAMP BULBS: 7 LED BATTERIES: 3 AAA alkaline SIZE/WEIGHT: 3 x 2.25 x 1.6 in./4.5 oz.RUN TIME: 9,000 minutes (1 LED); 4,800 minutes (3 LED); 1,500 minutes (7 LED)PRICE: $48 WHY WE LIKE IT: Water-resistant housing is O-ring sealed.Unbreakable LEDs rated for 100,000 hours. TO BUY: browning.com

2. BROWNING BLACKICE BULBS: 6 LED (2 white, 2 red, 2 blue) and 1 Xenon BATTERIES: 2 CR123A lithiumSIZE/WEIGHT: 5.85 in./8.25 oz. RUN TIME: 120 to 1,440 minutes (depending onbulbs used) PRICE: $60 WHY WE LIKE IT: Red LEDs are for night vision, blue helpin blood tracking and white are for camp chores. TO BUY: browning.com

3. FREEPLAY SHERPAWINDUP FLASHLIGHT BULB: Dual-filament Xenon Battery: Ni-MH SIZE/WEIGHT: 6.3 in./13 oz. RUN TIME:300 minutes (fully charged) or 8 minutes (after a 30-second handcrank) PRICE:$70 WHY WE LIKE IT: The Ni-MH battery can be charged with the handcrank or anAC/DC power adapter. TO BUY: freeplayenergy.com

4. GERBER FLASHFLOOD MULTI-LIGHT BULBS: 5 LED (3 white, 2 red) BATTERIES: 3 AAA alkaline SIZE/WEIGHT: 3.62 x3.69 x 1.96 in./5.9 oz. RUN TIME: 2,400 minutes (steady on); 12,000 minutes(beacon) PRICE: $40 WHY WE LIKE IT: Internally housed 5-foot retractable zipcord to attach light to trees, posts etc. Removable belt clip on back covers apowerful magnet for attachment to truck bumpers. TO BUY: gerbergear.com

5. GERBER REACTOR3 ULTRABRIGHT LIGHT BULB: 1-watt LED BATTERIES: 3 AA alkaline SIZE/WEIGHT: 8.0 in./5.6 oz. RUNTIME: 6,000 minutes PRICE: $42 WHY WE LIKE IT: Features a black machinedaircraft-aluminum housing with a lanyard hole. TO BUY: gerbergear.com

6. SUREFIRE E20OUTDOORSMAN BULB: Xenon BATTERIES: 2 CR123A lithium SIZE/WEIGHT: 4.5 in./3.2 oz. RUN TIME:150 minutes PRICE: $95 WHY WE LIKE IT: Extended run-time lamp. Stainless-steelclip allows for hands-free carry. Made with aerospace-grade aluminum withMilSpec hard anodizing. TO BUY: surefire.com

SURVIVALQ&A Have you ever faced a survival situation while hunting or fishing in which youor a companion was injured, lost or otherwise in serious trouble? Do you wonderwhat you could have done to improve your situation or avoid it altogether? Stopwondering and ask our survival expert. Send details of the situation and whatyou did and didn't do, and Rich Johnson will try to address your dilemma in anupcoming column.

Visitoutdoorlife.com or send your question to Outdoor Life, Survival Situation, 2Park Avenue, New York, NY 10016. Sorry, not all questions can be answered.

See in the Dark

The human eye contains light-sensitive rods and cones.When adapting to a dark environment after exposure to bright light, the conescan attain maximum sensitivity in 5 to 7 minutes, but the rods take as long as30 to 45 minutes of absolute darkness to become fully acclimated. This is whennight vision becomes effective.

Be careful not to expose night-acclimated eyes tobright light again, or night vision will be lost in seconds. To maintain somenight vision when bright lights cannot be avoided, close or cover one eye.Night vision is an independent condition in each eye, so protecting one eyefrom the light will maintain it in that eye. Red lights and filters onflashlights and headlamps provide illumination without disrupting nightvision.