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Hand Powered Flashlight

Owning a hand powered flashlight is a good idea - and not just for camping!

hand powered flashlight

There are lots of great flashlights available - but most of them have one big disadvantage: they are powered by batteries. And batteries wear out - whether or not you ever use the flashlight!

Advantages of A Hand Powered Flashlight

It can sit indefinitely, unused, and then be ready when you need it.

You can store it away with your camping gear at the end of the season, and it will still work next year!


The light from a hand powered flashlight is not as bright as from a comparable battery-powered light.

A hand powered flashlight should be reserved for use as an emergency flashlight, not as your everyday flashlight.

Types of emergency flashlights

Shake lights

Shake flashlights were all the rage a few years ago. We bought some for our kids. It sounded like a great idea: a flashlight that was powered by shaking!

How do they work?

I won't pretend that I completely understand the science involved, but here are the basics:

  • When you shake the unit lengthwise, a sliding rare earth magnet moves back and forth through a spool of copper wire.
  • This creates electric current that powers an LED light.

Shaking the unit vigorously and steadily for about 30 seconds is supposed to provide about 5 minutes of light.

Are they practical?

It turns out that 30 seconds is a long time to shake a flashlight! It's beyond the capability of all the kids I know.

The light that is generated is not very bright.

I suppose that if there were a genuine emergency and I really needed the light, I could get myself to shake the unit for the required time - but I'd rather not!


  • Don't get one of these unless you have a strong arm and lots of patience.
  • Be sure to get a good one. The good quality models do work and will last. They just take a lot of effort. 
  • Beware cheap knockoffs! Some are actually fakes: they look like shake flashlights, but they are powered by a small battery! Other cheap models are true shake lights, but are poorly made and break easily
  • Since a shake flashlight contains a strong magnet, be sure not to put it close to your computer, electronics, or credit cards.

Squeeze handle flashlights

These are easier to use than a shake light.

How do they work?

  • Squeezing the handle spins a gear which spins a flywheel and magnet
  • The magnet induces an electrical current which flows through the filament of an incandescent bulb, producing light.

Are they practical?

These flashlights do work, but unless they have a battery, they cannot store power.

You get light only as long as you are actively squeezing the handle!

Some models do have a battery that is supposed to be charged when you squeeze - but most reviewers say that the system doesn't work well.


These are fun to play with, but not very practical for actual use.

You could use one of these to light your way to the real flashlights!

Hand crank flashlights

This is my choice for a hand powered flashlight.

How do they work?

Turning the crank operates a generator which charges the battery.

A good quality hand crank flashlight will produce up to an hour of light with just 60 seconds of cranking.

Are they practical?

I think that they are. I find the cranking motion much easier than either shaking or squeezing.

Solar powered flashlights

A solar powered flashlight isn't hand powered, but it too makes a good emergency flashlight.

How do they work?

When the solar panel is exposed to sunlight, it converts that energy into electrical energy which is then stored in a battery.

Are they practical?

Solar flashlights work, but they aren't ideal emergency flashlights for camping. Here's why:

  • Solar flashlights should be stored on a window sill so they can be exposed to sunlight.
  • Once a month, the flashlight should be turned on and left on for at least 15 hours, and then placed back in the sun to recharge. If you don't do this, the batteries will lose their effectiveness.

For these reasons, these are not ideal emergency flashlights for camping.

I like to store my emergency camping flashlight in the camping tub, and not think about it at all until I need it!

A solar powered flashlight would be a great emergency flashlight for home or vehicle, though.

Or you could get one of these hybrid flashlights! They combine the advantages of solar and hand-cranked power.

I haven't tried these yet, but they get enthusiastic reviews.


Leave a solar powered flashlight on the dash of your vehicle all the time. It will charge whenever the sun is out!

The bottom line

If you are looking for a good emergency camping light, get a hand crank flashlight.  Don't depend on it for all of your lighting needs, though.

Now that you know about my recommended hand powered flashlight, click here to learn about more types of camping lights.

Planning a camping trip? Visit The Camping Family home page to get started.

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