5 Make-Shift Urban Survival Lights When the Electricity Goes Down

It’s impossible to be perfectly prepared for an imperfect world. Sometimes you just have to go MacGyver and solve common problems by using the resources you have on hand – combined with a little ingenuity, of course.  I’ve always said that the ability to improvise is one of the most important survival skills.

This article is a collection (not all my own I’ll admit) of a few, creative, makeshift lighting solutions you may have to deploy as a last resort if the grid goes down. You just never know when one of these innovative ideas might shed some light into your darkness one day.

Shining Sardines

Sardines are an excellent survival food. They have a long shelf-life and are full of protein and fats. Maybe you have some sardines packed in your emergency food storage. If not, consider them.

sardines

On a different note, oil lamps have been used for hundreds of years. From rendered whale blubber to modern kerosene lanterns, oil lamps are excellent “off-grid” lighting solutions. What do sardines and oil lamps have to do with each other? Quite a lot, actually, if your sardines are packed in olive oil.

Once you’re done smashing those tasty bites of fish, place a natural fiber wick into the remaining oil and slightly over the edge of the sardine container. The wick, in this case a cotton string from a mop head, will absorb the oil. Once the wick is fully soaked, simply light the end. A sardine lamp with just a little bit of oil will burn for many hours. Sure, it’ll smell like fish, but that’s what you get for not including emergency candles in your “bug in” supplies. Running low on oil? No problem, just top it off with some more olive oil from the pantry – or any cooking oil for that matter.

Cotton Fiber Mop Head

Cotton Fiber Mop Head

Cotton Fiber Wick Soaking Up Olive Oil

Cotton Fiber Wick Soaking Up Olive Oil

Sardine Olive Oil Lamp

Sardine Olive Oil Lamp

Glowing Crayolas

Games and toys are excellent items to pack in an emergency kit – especially if you have small children. Simple toys such as crayons and coloring books can help keep their mind off of the misfortune that caused the lights to go out in the first place.

But if you’ve focused only on toys and no essentials, like candles and flashlights, then you may have to sacrifice some of their least favorite crayon colors and make some Crayndles. I made that word up. Crayons are basically colored wax. If you’re in a hurry, just break the point off and light the paper label at the end of the crayon. As the wax melts, the paper becomes a wick and one crayndle will last about 30 minutes. Not too bad.

crayola-candle

You can also get a little more creative and sandwich a natural fiber wick (like a shred of t-shirt material) between three crayons that have been stripped of their labels. Bind everything together with two short pieces of wire. Paper clips work well. Then, simply light the wick. I got one of these to burn about an hour. Not too bad for a 10-second makeshift crayndle.

Three crayons - No Paper - With Cotton Fiber Wick

Three crayons – No Paper – With Cotton Fiber Wick

Cotton Fiber Wick in Middle of Three Paperless Crayons

Cotton Fiber Wick in Middle of Three Paperless Crayons

Three Crayons - No Paper - Wired tight around cotton fiber wick

Three Crayons – No Paper – Wired tight around cotton fiber wick

Blazing Bottles

If you’ve listened to anything I said in “Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag,” then I know you at least have a headlamp packed in your 72-hour disaster kit.

Yet as nice as headlamps are, they aren’t always the perfect lighting solution. Ever tried having dinner or playing cards across the table with someone who’s wearing a headlamp flashlight? It’s really annoying and gets really old, really fast. You get blinded every time they look at you.

Instead, set a relaxing mood perfect for cards and a sardine dinner using a headlamp and a water-filled clear plastic milk jug (or any clear container filled with water). Invert the headlamp around the bottle so that the light shines toward the CENTER of the bottle. The water diffuses and diverts the light – making a nice, mellow, glowing lamp that will help set a perfect mood during any disaster “bug in.”

headlamp-bottle-daylight

Headlamp Bottle Lamp

Headlamp Bottle Lamp

 

Beaconing Bacon

If you’re like my mom, then you have a jar in the cupboard where you pour and keep excess bacon grease. This grease makes the perfect improvised survival candle. Jam in a natural fiber wick and light. It’ll burn as long as any comparable sized candle.  See this post here about how to make a BACON GREASE CANDLE.

No bacon grease? No problem. If the electricity is out, then the bacon in the fridge is going to go bad anyway, so you might as well use it for something. Tear off the fatty pieces and jam them in a jar around a natural fiber wick, and this will burn like a candle as well. The fatty bacon pieces will melt just like wax. Mmmmm, smells like bacon.  TIP:  Smear the wick with bacon fat first!

Smashed Bacon Candle

Smashed Bacon Candle

 

Kindling Crisco

But what if the electricity is off for more than 30 days straight and you need a light source that will shine for at least a month?

No problem, Crisco’s got your back.

Press a natural fiber wick (like a cotton t-shirt shred or a mop strand) using a forked stick to the bottom of a can of Crisco and you’ve got one of the longest burning emergency candles on the planet. Yum, doesn’t that make you hungry? Fried chicken anyone?  We’re testing it right now but I’ve heard reports of these burning for more than 30 days straight!!!???

Note: Smear the top of the wick with Crisco to get it to burn better.

Forked Stick Positioned to Jam in Cotton Fiber Wick

Forked Stick Positioned to Jam in Cotton Fiber Wick

crisco-pushing-in-wick

Removing Stick after Pushing in Wick

Removing Stick after Pushing in Wick

Cotton Fiber Wick - Trimmed

Cotton Fiber Wick – Trimmed

Crisco Candle

Crisco Candle

 

Conclusion

What’s the lesson here? Make sure you have non-electric lighting solutions in place just in case the grid goes down. If your solutions are battery powered, you will also need extra batteries as well. Oil lamps, flashlights, candles and glow sticks are great emergency light sources. Don’t resort to smashing bacon fat into a jar with your bare hands unless you absolutely have to.

Note: Candles have a bad reputation of causing house fires. Makeshift improvised candles are even more dangerous. Use only as a last resort, burn only on a noncombustible surface and keep close watch on any makeshift candle. A house fire can turn a “bug in” scenario into a “bug out” scenario really fast.

Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN.

Comments

  1. Really creative, cheap, and new ideas to me. I gotta try a couple of these!

  2. Kimi Kathleen Kroha says:

    knew a few- the 'crayndle' is new- and interesting! :)

  3. Debbra W says:

    I’ve used several of the “lights” and found them very helpful. I make smaller veggie shortening candles and have even made a veggie shortening heater/food warmer out of a tuna tin, cardboard cut to fit and veggie shortening. Works great and makes a lot of light and cooks food (okay – not great, but in a dire situation okay is great). Love this site.

  4. David Nash says:

    Cool, I have tried most of these, but the first two are unique… I'd rather not burn sardines – but that's why I store candles… Good Job

    • Chris Stork says:

      You eat the sardines, and use the can to hold some olive oil and a makeshift wick. Check out the pic at the top again. I store candles too, but really like the crayola idea, having kids. They would probably thinks it was cool, and easy for them to make as a distraction from a lights out situation.

  5. Hope that Crisco is in one of the metal cans and not the cardboard type cans that are just lightly lined with foil.

  6. Shelley Davis Brandon Barrington says:

    Some things we all may want to think about with the weather and political world a mess lately….

  7. Donna Bushek says:

    Thanks great new things to get prep-bag.

  8. Sandra Bedford says:

    I'm going to buy a spare cotton mop head to keep for wicks.

  9. Morgan says:

    Very unique ideas! I love the wick & crisco idea, that would last quite a while. Another idea is using a birthday candle in Vaseline. There are many ideas for creating candles and general light, all we gotta do is get creative with it! :) Thanks for the great info! Just discovered this site and will certainly be returning!

  10. Jack says:

    All good last-option ideas. But, I see these as more of a 10th-tier option. (e.g. there are SO MANY other options, before we have to resort to most of these options.) If you are resorting to crayons as candles, you might as well rub two sticks together and make a fire, instead.

    Before “tier 10,” I’d like to suggest some of the following options:

    First, when TSHTF, (e.g. after a major earthquake, or hurricane,) there’s usually LOTS of light sources at-the-ready. I was somewhat shocked as I watched the aftermath of the earthquake victims in Haiti. There were TONS of cars that were now damaged and “out-of-service.” The headlights, batteries, and cabling could be salvage from these cars, and string together to create lighting for a field hospital tent, food kitchen, etc.
    Heck, people were living under makeshift tents with tarps, as tropical storms then rained-down upon them. Instead, they should have removed the hoods from some of those totaled carts, to create a more rigid roof shelter.
    Think SALVAGE, people!!! Those cars may have been damaged, but most of their engines and alternators were still functional. These could have become instant gensets. Fuel in the tanks of abandoned cars, could be collected and pooled for power the lights at the field hospital/kitchen.
    Even bicycles can be static-mounted, and turned into human-powered generators.

    Personally, I also like to PREPARE for these events. I recently purchased a string of solar-powered sting lights from Target, with a built-in battery back and built-in solar panel. They looked a bit cheap and questionable at first. But, my fears were soon put to rest.
    We took these camping, but arrived only an hour before sunset. I went ahead and stung-up the lights across the front of the tent (figuring we’d use them the following night, instead.) As the sun began to set, the lights didn’t come on. I figured there wasn’t enough charge?… But, about another hour later, they magically popped-on. It turns out, that these little suckers have a light-sensor switch, too! They don’t go on, until it’s dark enough to warrant it. After only an hour of sunlight, those little suckers stayed on until past midnight. (We had to actually turn them off, because they were too bright to fall asleep to.) They were PERFECT for walking in & out of the tent, or dealing with a makeshift kitchen table adjacent to the bonfire, etc. Heck, they were even downright romantic as we turned in for the night. Not to mention it made our tent look like a happy little party,, compared to the darkness of the other tents, or the constant pumping of their fire-breathing Coleman lanterns. We had a similar amount of light, with ZERO effort!
    The following day was pretty windy. When we returned to our campsite (this time AT sunset,) we found that the wind had blown the little battery pack (solar panel) to where it was now facing the tent, instead of the sky. Oops!!!
    We quickly built a good bonfire before we lost twilight, and our little solar lights never came on. (boo hoo.)
    Or, so we thought…
    As the fire began to burn-down later in the night, the string of solar lights sprung back to life!!! As it turns out, that little photo-cell light sensor is so sensitive, that the firelight caused it to remain “off.” But, as the fire dimmed, the lights automatically came on. Bingo! Let there be light!!!
    A month or so later, we lost power in our home for a few days. One of the first things I did, was dig into our camping bag, and retrieve those solar lights. They were again AWESOME!!!

    I also can’t praise our little Coleman LED lantern enough. I’m one of those old-school guys, who fondly recalls camping with those old-school Coleman-fueled lanterns, and retro oil lamps. There was something “primitive” about them that reminded me of a by-gone era. But, storing/hauling the white gas, or propane, or alcohol is a pain. Dealing with sensitive light nets that are softer than moth wings SUCKS! Not to mention the glass lenses.
    Yet, the new-age plastic, rechargeable plastic LED Coleman lanterns are AWESOME!!!!
    They are smaller, lighter-weight, provide a better quality of light, and last longer. Oh, and they are CHEAPER, too! I love these suckers (in all sizes.) Add a roll-up solar charging panel to your inventory, and you have a method of keeping essentially eternal light for yourself.

    Several years ago (heck, probably a decade now,) I saw commercials about crank-lights, crank radios, and subsequently “shake-lights.” I was again a skeptic. I waited a few years, until I purchased my first LED crank light flashlight. I was SHOCKED, SHOCKED, SHOCKED by how GREAT these are, and how long they last. It has a regular home in our travel bags now! We even use them when spending the night with friends, or in hotels while traveling, etc. Just crank them for 30 seconds or so, and you have 40-60 minutes of light! Crank them for a couple of minutes, and you will likely have light until your fall asleep hours later. We took them with us on a cruise recently. There as a momentary power outage. No problem — crank-light to the rescue!!!
    My BIGGEST ISSUE with most flashlights (even my favorite MagLights,) is that their batteries always seem to be dead, when I need them most. Yet, the crank lights are ALWAYS at-the-ready. (I’m even surprised by how long the HOLD a charge — even when NOT used for prolonged periods of time.)
    Some of the newer units even include some sort of min-USB charger port. (e.g. crank and recharge your cell phones enough to make a quick emergency call or two.)

    Another “discovered favorite” has been the little individual solar-powered pathway lights. We got a set of a dozen at a local discount store at a basement-bargain price. (I think it was a store called Big Lots.)
    Each of these little lights has an spear-like shaft at the base of the shaft, which is topped by a light, that is then topped by a small solar panel. Again, they also have built-in dusk-to-dawn photo cells, too. These are handy to place wherever you need them. e.g. adjacent/under your makeshift kitchen table? Atop of a picnic table? At the entryway to your tent/home? Heck, even light-up a small pathway to an outhouse or toilet-pit/trench to make that midnight run a bit safer.
    Set them in fork of a tree branch, wedge them into the crease of a car/truck hood, even carry them in your hand. You can even take them INSIDE of your tent/home/RV, too! Portable lights, that recharge themselves daily (even under cloudy, overcast skies.)

    I mention all these “modern day” luxuries, because I feel that 90% of our “disasters” aren’t forcing us into the woods with just a backpack across our shoulders. MOST hard times hit us while we’re all “in the big city.” And, we still HAVE TIME to prepare for these events!!!

    Instead of stockpiling cans of Crisco, or boxes of crayons — we should be stockpiling some of these self-generating, long-life, durable, purpose-built lighting options. (Or, be ready to raid your local big-box store for them once TSHTF.)

    Let there be light…

    Peace.

    • BobE says:

      I agree with you Jack. Rather than using the methods of crayandles an such, which are very creative and will work, I think you have come up with much better ways of providing emergency lighting. I especially like the yard lights. They are really built perfectly for survival lights. Another one that you did not mention are the solar security lights that you mount under your roof edge. They have solar panels and also motion detectors and are much brighter than the walkway lights.
      Many ways to make light in an emergency.

  11. Mcgee Fio says:

    So the crayon candle was completely new to me. First thing I did after reading this was go light a few crayndles…OK I used closer to TEN. But it was for research ;) Rose Art crayons burn a little bit faster but only by about 1 minute and they smell better when they burn. Cheaper too. I also tried another "off" brand from the Dollar Tree that happened to be scented. Very nice. Thanks for the great post Creek!

  12. Stewbert says:

    I agree, Creek. Those are last resort methods of lighting. If the grid goes down, edible fat will be scarce. Too scarce to use for lighting, IMO. But these methods are all tucked away in the back of my brain, just in case.

    Thanks for your most excellent blog, Stewbert

  13. Priceless info.

  14. Joe says:

    They make a lighted lid for the standard size Nalgene bottles that turns it into a nice lamp.

  15. Pixie says:

    If you use a short or broken taper candle to go down the center of the shortening, you have a built in wick without much fuss. Just an idea.

  16. Dan Syrcle says:

    I have carried a grease lamp that uses bacon fat in my rendevous gear for over a decade….uses an altoid can and an expended 30/30 round and a piece of cloths line for a wick.

  17. Jose Orlando Irizarry says:

    love it

  18. Erin Stein says:

    you guys forgot one, you can peel an orange as carefully as possible to keep the half intact and light the little center piece with some oil underneath and it will act like a candle and smell nice too.

  19. Dude, these are brilliant. Great job!

  20. Alex says:

    Really creative ideas here! Gives me a few things to demonstrate to my boys next time we go camping. Not sure they will be too happy to give up their crayons but I’m sure it will impress them when we turn them into candles!!:)

  21. Awesome issues here. I am very satisfied to peer
    your post. Thanks a lot and I’m having a look ahead to contact you. Will you kindly drop me a mail?

  22. nice theory but I,ve never been able to make it work, wicks won't stay lit

  23. Quality articles is the important to invite the users to visit the website, that’s what this web site is providing.

  24. I'm gonna buy spare wicks to keep for a mop head

  25. Mary Niesen Peters says:

    Chris Stork I think he was being facitious about burning the sardines. Hahaha

  26. Mary Niesen Peters says:

    Gerald Heading This will teach you how.

    http://www.deliacreates.com/2012/12/orange-candles.html

  27. Shepherd says:

    Creek, How long did the Crisco candle last? Or is it still going? ha!

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  32. Waleska Crespo says:

    Thanhs for the tips now i go to buy some sardines

  33. Tirzah Schmaltz says:

    Mary Niesen Peters The link wouldn't work for me; but having trued on numerous occasions with the citrus candles all I got was marginal success also known as failures. Perhaps if one uses a fiber wick it would work.

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