When the time comes to hit the road and get out of dodge, most of us will depend on our vehicle to ferry us through the chaos to a safe destination.
The vehicle we choose for the task, our bug-out vehicle, might be a daily driver or a purpose-built survival machine that can tackle anything the road can throw at it and carry plenty of additional supplies besides.
But unfortunately, just because we have the ride and a destination in mind does not mean we are home free. On a normal commute or a harrowing bug out things can go wrong.
Crashes, collisions, mechanical failure and more all await the unwary and unlucky on the roadways, and statistically one of the most dangerous things you will engage in with your vehicle is attending to trouble while stopped on the side of the road.
Getting pasted by passing traffic that could not see you or noticed you too late is definitely a bad outcome, and will only bring an ignominious end to your travels.
The solution to prevent that from happening is to use road flares in order to dramatically increase your visibility both to other passersby and to potential rescuers.
Road flares should be mandatory equipment for any bug-out vehicle or daily driver, and in this article we are bringing you a list of the best options.
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I Have a Flashlight. Why Carry Flares in My Car at All?
Like everything else in the world, and particularly everything else up for consideration in the prepper sphere, road flares are contentious.
Some folks categorize them as a personal lighting tool or device while others lump them in with specialized signaling gear. As it turns out, they are both, and at the same time neither. Let me explain.
When you consider flares as a personal lighting tool, they might seem positively redundant, even supremely inefficient, when viewed against the sublime usefulness of a flashlight, headlamp or electric lantern.
Whereas any of the above are easy to carry, easy to use and handy when worn or carried, flares are none of those things. Even so, flares may be used for reliable near area lighting in a pinch.
Considered as signaling gear, though, flares excel, typically being laid down or placed in a series that will not only dramatically increase their overall brightness and visibility, and ergo your own visibility, but also standing out as a stark pattern against the surrounding environment.
This will further improve upon its ability to attract the human eye and thusly attention. In this regard, the adaptable, unidirectional capability of flares to signal presence or distress is unrivaled.
But these two criteria together make flares the perfect option for emergency roadside lighting. They will immediately attract the attention of drivers a significant distance away, decreasing the chances that they will collide with you or your vehicle, while at the same time handily lighting up the surrounding area, making your job easier in conditions of darkness.
Bottom line up front, flares can do things for you in a roadside emergency situation that flashlights and lanterns cannot do, or at least cannot do nearly as well.
Battery Powered vs. Chemical Flares
Compared to decades past, you’ll have many options when it comes to roadside emergency flares today. Once upon a time, chemical flares were the only, and ubiquitous, option.
Today we can enjoy a variety of battery powered flares, more accurately described as strobes, to go alongside them though they function similarly with the same intent.
Both have their advantages, both have their disadvantages. What we need to do is figure out which is best for us, or possibly both!
Chemical flares are the older and traditional form of roadside emergency flares, and look very much like a giant firecracker or stick of dynamite with a plastic cap and a thin wire stand on one end.
Though these flares are combustible, furiously so, they do not explode or expel very much smoke and instead burn steadily with a bright, gently crackling flame that is extremely visible thanks to its vibrant, cherry red color.
Perhaps the best advantage of chemical flares is that they have an extremely long shelf life, are more or less impervious to conditions typical of being stored in an automobile for a long period of time and are extremely reliable with basically no maintenance requirements.
Even though they are not as bright as some battery powered flares they are, according to various studies, more visible and likely to be noticed.
Disadvantages of chemical flares is that they naturally present an extreme fire hazard and might make a bad situation worse in dry conditions or when they cannot be placed on pavement. They also cannot be shut off once activated, and will continue to burn until consumed.
Battery-powered flares come in a variety of configurations and form factors, but all modern examples rely on ultra-bright, ultra-tough LEDs for illumination.
Highly visible in all weather conditions, many utilize a pulsing, blinking or spiraling pattern to further attract notice and increase visibility in bad conditions. Some feature hooks or magnets to allow mounting or placing on various surfaces depending on conditions.
The strength of these flares is that they are not reliant on combustible chemical energy to operate, meaning they present an exponentially smaller fire hazard than traditional flares, and can be used freely in all climate conditions.
However, batteries are generally far more sensitive to those same climate conditions and not as well suited to long-term storage as chemical flares, particularly while inside a vehicle.
Despite their extreme brightness, they are just not as noticeable as the flickering flame of a chemical flare.
Which one should you get? I say get both and cover all your bases, as they are generally affordable, long lasting and their small form factor means almost any vehicle will have plenty of room in the trunk for them.
If I could only get one, I would still lean towards traditional chemical flares owing to a combination of reliability and visibility, and would take my chances doing what I could to reduce the risk of accidental fire.
Now, let all of that marinate and let us get on to the list of products for your consideration.
The Best Road Flares for Your Vehicle
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Tobfit LED Road Flare / Emergency Beacon
These small, disc-shaped LED road flares might be considered the standard of our time. shaped like a hockey puck, and containing both a hook for hanging and a powerful magnet for attaching directly to a vehicle or any other ferrous, surface these electronic flares are adaptable, multi-purpose and completely safe for almost any environment.
Powered by AAA batteries (and that is three each, not one per) these electronic flares illuminate with an extremely bright reddish orange LED light easily seen up to one mile away in clear conditions.
Even better, they feature nine different selectable safety modes to help better inform observers. Steady, blink, radial and SOS signal modes are included and suitable for terrestrial or maritime use.
Weatherproof and made from crush-resistant heavy duty plastic, these flares will certainly stand up to a life of neglect in your trunk and harsh conditions when deployed. All three come in a convenient duffle style tote.
Note that the single biggest shortcoming of battery powered flares is the fact that they rely on batteries in the first place.
Make it a point to choose the significantly more expensive lithium-fueled equivalents to ensure the best possible combination runtime, shelf life and also to delay the onset of destructive corrosion that can form on your battery terminals, ruining your flares when you need them the most. Get them on Amazon.
Cyalume Chemlight military grade chemical light sticks
One of the most underrated sources of emergency lighting in civilian applications is the chemlight, or snap light.
These interesting little tubes usually make an appearance at raves and around Halloween, but rarely any other time unless one is in the military.
That is a shame, because the same attributes that make them so suitable for safe, heatless on-demand emergency lighting make them a great addition to your roadside emergency kit.
Chemlights function thanks to a chemical reaction, as expected: All you need to do is sharply bend the tubular casing to break an internal ampoule, and mix the binary components.
A quick shake after, and then suddenly the whole thing will light up with a vivid red or other colored light for up to 12 hours of 360° area lighting. Under clear conditions, these are also visible for up to a mile away.
Probably the best part about chemlights for our application is their long shelf life. There are no batteries to burn out, no highly reactive combustible chemicals to go stale or crumble away.
They don’t last forever, but they are non-toxic, non-reactive and absolutely non-flammable while being utterly, totally waterproof in every way.
For use in the worst conditions or total assurance of safe operation, chemlights are tops, even if they aren’t quite as bright and noticeable as the other flares on this list. Get these chemlights from Amazon.
TwinkleStar Emergency Roadside LED Flare
A different take on the typical puck-shaped LED flare, this option from TwinkleStar provides us with a flare that is shaped more like a traffic cone, complete with a sturdy stand for maximum visibility.
The flares themselves are completely coated in a two-tone orange and white “glint” reflective tape to further increase visibility from nearby light sources or oncoming headlights.
The super bright, red LED array is easily visible in the dark and can be set to an SOS strobe, constant on or even a directed flashlight mode for maximum versatility. There are four units in the kit, stored two to a case and a pair of hard, durable cases for maximum longevity.
This is especially handy because you could deploy one as a traffic control wand while you set out the other three for signaling the accident site.
Like other battery powered flares, this one relies on the now common arrangement of three AAA batteries to function. Note that that is three AAA’s per flare. As always, I highly recommend you get the best lithium-based cells that you can afford so that you can rest assured you will have power when you need it and you won’t degrade your units while they’re not in use.
Keeping any electronic component in an automobile means it will be subjected to rough conditions, so don’t skimp out! Get these LED flares from Amazon.
Stonepoint Emergency LED Magnetic Flare
Though they have an old school appearance, the Stonepoint Emergency LED flares offer excellent performance, particularly durability and longevity, though they are not as adaptable as the more modern puck-style flares.
For those who want a good set of LED flares on a budget, or just want the longest possible run time for their batteries, these are an excellent option
These LED flares are no fuss, no mus. They have one output level that can be set to steady on, with a 20-hour runtime, or blink, with a 60-hour runtime.
Considering that blink mode is usually the best bet for LED flares of this type when it comes to overall visibility that is an awful lot of life off of three AAA batteries. Each flare also has a strong magnet in the base so you can easily attach it to any metallic surface if required.
You can get a three pack of Stonepoint flares for a song, and they come in a sturdy carrying case for stashing them in your trunk or cabin. Get these magnetic flares from Amazon.
Orion Safety Products Highway Flare Kit
Orion Safety Products is the oldest and certainly the largest continually operating manufacturer of highway safety flares in the whole world. The ubiquitous picture of the red, firecracker-like safety flare is due mainly to their flagship product offering: the Model 6030 highway flare.
Ignited through the use of a striker cap, each flare in this six pack bundle will burn for at least 30 minutes, providing ample time for you to get your affairs in order on the roadside, either by trying to effect quick repairs or just get your possessions and your family safely away from the vehicle.
This isn’t just marketing jib-jab either. Countless studies of actual, field use shows that these traditional chemical flares result in nearby traffic reducing speed by 16% on average and causing a whopping 89% of that same traffic to change lanes away from the site of the accident. That is certainly a value-added deployment!
This six pack of flares gives you plenty of run time and flexibility, allowing you to set up a chain of flares extending around a blind corner or run two sets of three flares each to maximize your uptime while on the side of the road.
The whole thing comes in a heavy duty case for safe storage along an orange reflective vest to maximize your personal visibility.
EcoAngel USB rechargeable LED road flare
A modernized take on the puck-shaped electric road flare we have covered already, this version from EcoAngel brings us the form factor, operation and multimode illumination we are already familiar with from other entries on this list but marries it to efficient, renewable battery packs.
Rechargeable by any common USB port or dongle, this can save you a ton of money on batteries over the life of the flare and also reduce worry over loss of capability or destruction thanks to corrosion buildup that is common with more typical disposable cells.
Modern rechargeable batteries have a very low self-discharge rate, and these are still suitable for long-term storage, although it is not comparable to chemical flares, chemlights or high capacity lithium batteries.
Particularly for preppers that have a long way to travel or expect to spend a lot of time on the road these might be an ideal option since they are easily adapted to in vehicle recharging.
Instead of burning up a chemical flare, throwing away a dim chemlight, or scrounging for batteries to replenish other flares of this type, you can just plug them in until the built-in indicator shows they are fully charged and then put them away for another day.
That is a small price to pay for having to stay on top of regular maintenance and recharging.
Any emergency that results in your bug out vehicle or daily driver stopping alongside the road has the potential to turn disastrous if you, your passengers or your vehicle are struck by traffic.
You can greatly reduce the chances of that unhappy outcome by utilizing flares to improve your visibility and help other drivers, not to mention rescuers, see you.
With so many road flares worth consideration, both battery and chemical versions, you are certain to find at least one that will fit your needs on this list. Road flares are an essential part of any vehicle’s emergency kit, so equip some today!
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.