Last year, the Thumbs homestead purchased an Eton Scorpion Windup/Solar Radio to be used when camping. Inclement weather is always a concern when we go into the wild, and while there is little we can do to control the heavens, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared for what may be coming one’s way. The unit came in handy when the ice storm hit Toronto at the end of the year, as well; when the power went out, we had a way to keep tabs on things (radio) as well as the ability to see at night (flashlight). It is a purchase that we did not regret. Champ, makers of emergency-preparedness gear, also have a similar product called the Survival LightStick (which they sent us to review). Like the Scorpion, the tool has many functions, and while the LightStick lacks a carabiner-style clip, it has a few more features that make it an invaluable companion to have on hand – especially in emergencies.
The Survival LightStick is constructed of hard, durable plastic and is almost eleven inches long. It is mostly white, with grey trim, and has a translucent red piece covering the hinge (on both sides). The “front” of the unit has all of the primary controls (Power, Menu, Reverse, Forward and a flashlight/distress button), while the back contains a speaker (about an inch in diameter). One of the most interesting features of the LightStick is the fold-out reading light (which can be used for things other than reading, of course) which is made up of two rows of six LEDs against a mirrored background, five inches in length (with a solar panel on the outer side). The dimmer dial for controlling the light is only revealed when the light has been unfolded from the main body. Opposite the light is the hand-crank (for generating power), a USB Out port and a microUSB In port. Finally, the flashlight is located on the bottom of the unit.
When I first opened up the box (which was pretty informative on its own), I removed the LightStick, the stand, the USB-to-microUSB cable, and the manual. I noriced that the LightStick is easily grasped in the hand (even by older children without difficulty), which makes it easy to locate when the lighting conditions are not so good (especially given the white-coloured casing). For a 10-in-1 multifunction survival device, it doesn’t really weigh a lot (maybe a half pound or so by my estimation), which is another useful attribute. Having an emergency-preparedness device that weighs too much makes little sense.
The flashlight is a 3-LED-bulb model with decent range and brightness. The focused beam helps you to see quite far ahead, and is accompanied by a wider lighting effect that does a great job keeping the area in front of you generally lit. The fold-out reading lamp, on the other hand, does a better job lighting the immediate area, and is perfect to use in the car or in a tent for maximum effect. For more pressing needs, holding down the flashlight/distress button will set off the distress light/siren. This light cannot be seen that far, but it flashes red (thanks to the plastic covering) and the siren is quite loud. To increase the utility of this device, there are magnets built into the bottom of the unit surrounding the flashlight, so you can stick it on your car in an emergency (presumably using one of the other lights or the siren to attract attention while you keep your hands free).
For situations requiring being kept in the know, the LightStick’s AM/FM radio can be activated. There are no presets, of course, but both bands can be traversed by using the Forward and Reverse buttons – they can also be scanned by holding down one of the buttons (and the device will search for a usable radio station on its own). You can also tune into Weather Band frequencies (up to 7 channels) using the on-board Weather Radio. This is the most handy due to not having to sift through other information. Also, you can set the radio to alert you when NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) weather alerts are issued – also a good thing if you are multitasking and don’t want to sit by the radio waiting for alerts. Of course, all of these activities drain your battery, so it’s good to keep it charged.
The LightStick has an internal rechargeable lithium-polymer battery (which cannot be removed) that holds a charge and dispenses power for a long time. I charged it up a few times using one of my computer’s USB ports, as well as with a wall adapter for one of my smartphones – and it consistently charged up (from empty) in just under 4 hours. To discharge it between tests, I would turn the reading lamp up to full blast and let it sit. Surprisingly, the reading lamp would last for up to six hours at that intensity. While this might sound inconvenient (especially if you’re thinking about keeping this in your car or taking it into the wilderness on a camping trip), the fact that there is both a crank (which is very durable) and a solar panel to generate and store power makes this well worth the money (turning the crank for a minute at the recommended 120 RPM is sufficient to power the flashlight for 5-6 minutes). Champ recommends checking the charge every 3 months.
The internal battery can also be used to do more than power the LightStick’s functions; it can be used to charge up an electronic device. All you have to do is plug your device into the USB Out port and you will give your device enough power to make an emergency call (don’t forget to bring along your charging cable). The LightStick isn’t really meant to charge your phone to 100% (that would take a bigger on-board battery and compromise the price and weight); however, if you feel like you need to charge your phone more than 5%-15%, you simply charge it as much as the LightStick will allow, unplug, hand-crank, and plug your device back in. Rinse and repeat.
The Champ LightStick is a great survival tool to keep with you in the car or on a camping trip to ensure that you are never without light or information (especially weather warnings). The solar panel and hand-crank extend the life of the device regardless of your power source circumstances. The LightStick is handy in a sheltered situation – but if it’s too hot or cold, or if it’s too wet, it’s not going to be of much use. I would personally like to see a similar device that is water and weather-proof, to make up for this shortcoming (a backlit LCD would also be nice, so that you can see the radio settings in darker situations without having to resort to using the lamp). That being said, at an MSRP of around $70, this is a great value for what the unit can do.