Posted by on Sep 23, 2014 in Survival | 2 comments
Smart Use of Light at Night

Until humans are able to see in the dark, it is a good idea to always have a flashlight with you. Ask any law enforcement officer how quickly a basement can turn daytime to night and you’ll understand why carrying a flashlight is important in your everyday carry. While there are countless options on the market from incandescent to LED and from keychain to external battery pack spotlights, what you carry isn’t always as important as how you carry and how you use it. Understanding how light affects the eyes at night, how light enhances your security and improves your survivability is more important than the brand of tactical light you slip in your pocket. Like any other piece of kit, owning the item is the first step and mastering the skill is the next.


The author’s nightstand.

Protecting Night Vision:

While human eyes can’t see perfectly at night, vision will improve as your eyes adjust to the darkness. The human eye is equipped with rods and cones and the previous is responsible for our night vision. Any sudden introduction of white light disrupts the rods and throws off our ability to see in the dark. For this reason, lights are often equipped with various color filters for use at night. Sometimes though, these filters make it hard to distinguish other colors like black from blue and red from brown. If you don’t have a filter, you can simply control the light you use by cupping your hand over the bezel of the flashlight or by using the light against your body and reflecting the light onto what you want to illuminate. In this way, you are able to use white light that is softer and that doesn’t confuse your sense of color.

Threat Discrimination:

The general standard for facial recognition at night is 25 meters. Night vision and weapon lights are usually expected to allow the user to discern friend from foe at this distance. This translates to about 100 lumens. Think about what this means to you. Would you rather have a small light unable to throw a beam more than 10 meters or one that reaches out to 25 meters and beyond? At only 10 meters, the potential threat is danger close. At 25 meters, you will have more time to respond. The skill here is choosing a light that meets your needs. Lumens are measured at the source and you really need to find out what light throws a good solid beam. Your life may be at risk if you don’t select the right light.


Strike bezel on my flashlight.

Focusing your vision:

When using your light, the tendency is often to look at the center of the spotlight. This is usually the brightest part. For reasons to protect your night vision listed already, this is the worst spot to focus on. When working with a light at night, I often flash the light toward the target but sweep my eyes from the outside in. I can acquire objects faster with my peripheral vision as it often picks up motion better. If working in a group, one light source can be used and 2 people can work from left to right and right to left scanning the illuminated area.

Light retention:

Many tactical lights have momentary on and momentary off buttons in addition to click on. If you are using your light, stumble and drop your light, you run the risk of not finding it. All lights should be dummy corded or attached to the body or kit in a way they can’t be lost. There are glow in the dark beads you can purchase that are good to use on your dummy cord even if that fails. Make sure to use your handheld lanyard in a way that will prevent entangling you. Loop the lanyard around your thumb to drop it quickly if need be.


Concentrated light at the center and less intense to the outside of the spot.

Preserving Battery Power:

When you have instant light at your disposal, there is a tendency to overuse it. You can either carry a smaller light with less output, a light with dual output or you can become more comfortable in the dark. The last option is the one that requires the most time in the field. You will learn what you are comfortable hearing, identifying the sound and dismissing and what else you are capable of in the dark. Kids at first always want to light up every sound they hear. Once they get more comfortable, they preserve their battery. Adults can learn from them. Use your light sparingly to temporarily gather your bearings and avoid prolonged run time.

The inclination of many is to purchase the latest and greatest light out there. Learn the skills if you are going to own the tool. The methods mentioned here barely crack the surface of how to use a light. Try them out and see how they work for you. If you own a light, you can own the night.

-Kevin Estela

About the Author

Kevin Estela is the Founder and Head Instructor of Estela Wilderness Education. He conducts private and semi-private wilderness and urban/suburban survival courses, tests and evaluates knives and equipment for various companies, is a Mountain Khakis Professional Ambassador, and is a life-long outdoors enthusiast with additional pastimes in canoeing/kayaking, fishing and cooking. Kevin's work has taken him from Los Angeles, CA to the United Kingdom and many points in between. Kevin is ranked in both Sayoc Kali and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and is a shooting enthusiast. Kevin is formerly the Lead Instructor for the Wilderness Learning Center. When not teaching outdoor skills, he is a full-time High School History Teacher and Track and Field Coach who lives in Connecticut.