7 Best Hand Crank Flashlights for Emergency Use

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You’ve got lots of lighting options for bugging out or hunkering down at home to ride out an emergency.

Each type of light has pros and cons, but a hand-cranked device is the only option that requires no external power. If you’re in a dark cave with no batteries to hand, you’ll still be able to generate light.

This doesn’t make them the best lighting choice in every situation, but they’re a great last-resort option and it’s worth having at least one in your prepping kit.

Read on to find out what to look for when buying a hand crank flashlight and the best models currently available on the market.

Our Favorite Hand Crank Flashlights

Quality Pick

Goal Zero Torch 250

It’s expensive, but this flashlight has a super bright beam and lots of charging options.Check On Amazon

Mid Range Pick

Thorfire Hand Crank Flashlight

This basic hand crank flashlight does the job at a reasonable price.Check On Amazon

At a Glance: Best Handcrank Flashlights

Click link to go to full review.

Pros and Cons

Before we dive into what to look for when buying a flashlight, let’s quickly cover the pros and cons of hand crank lights over other options.

Pros:

  • They don’t require any external power source (batteries, solar power etc.) other than a bit of muscle, so you’ll always have a light.
  • Low cost, simple devices – i.e. there’s not much to go wrong!
  • Many hand crank flashlights come with additional features, such as a radio or the ability to charge other devices.
  • Eco-friendly.

Cons:

  • They take a LOT of effort. If you want constant power, then your arm is going to get a serious workout. Unless you’ve got a secondary means of powering the light (such as solar) then see this as an emergency back-up lighting option rather than your primary light.
  • They’re relatively bulky compared to battery-powered flashlights or rechargeable headlamps.
  • Cheaper models are prone to breaking – if the crank snaps, then you’ll be left in the dark.

How Do They Work?

Electricity is generated through electromagnetic induction.

Without getting too geeky about it, when you power the flashlight, a magnet spins within a coil of wire which generates electricity. Most models contain an internal battery which stores the electrical charge, meaning you don’t have to constantly crank the flashlight.

How long your flashlight will shine for depends on:

  • The maximum capacity of the flashlight
  • How long you crank the handle
  • How luminous it is (some flashlights have multiple brightness settings)
  • What type of bulbs are used (LEDs last the longest)

As well as hand crank flashlights, you can also buy shake lights and squeeze lights. (Amazon Links). These operate in a similar way, but rather than turning a handle you either shake the flashlight or squeeze a handle to generate power.

As most models have a small internal battery, your flashlight won’t last forever. To make sure that your flashlight will work in an emergency, charge it up every month to keep the battery active.

Tip: Have a schedule of regular checks of the contents of your Bug Out Bag or emergency supplies which includes charging and testing hand-cranked devices.

What to Look for When Buying?

Hand crank flashlights are never going to be the brightest lights on the market, so your priorities when shopping for one may be a little different to normal.

Aside from budget, we’d suggest considering the following (in priority order):

1) Durability

This is going to be your “last-resort” light, so you want to be sure it’s going to work.

There are tons of cheap torches on the market but the build quality for these isn’t always that great. The last thing you want when you’re stuck in an emergency situation is for the crank handle to snap off, rendering your flashlight useless.

It’s worth spending a bit extra to get a robust model.

2) Battery type and how long they hold a charge

Although hand crank lamps and flashlights are often marketed as battery-free, most have a tiny battery built in – this is required in order to hold the charge you generate when turning the handle and then release it when you use the light.

Most flashlights have either a NiMH or lithium-ion battery, but some have a capacitor.

NiMH and lithium-ion batteries typically last longer per charge when out the box but their effectiveness deteriorates more quickly.

Capacitors will give you less light for your arm power, but their performance will be more consistent.

Recap: As a guide, NiMH and lithium-ion batteries are typically rated for 500-1,000 charges and capacitors will last around 500,000 charges.

3) Other features

Lots of hand crank flashlights come with additional features, such as the ability to charge USB devices or an inbuilt radio.

These can be handy but may add to the size and weight of the flashlight.

Also bear in mind that the more you use it, the quicker the battery will deteriorate. It’s probably best not to rely on it as a sole charger for your phone or other devices, but it could be useful as a back-up for a solar charger.

Some flashlights will also have alternate charging options, so you can charge it from a solar panel or battery pack (via USB) in addition to cranking the handle. If the maximum capacity of the light allows you to get a decent run time when fully charged, this could be a very useful feature.

4) Brightness options

Basic flashlights may just come with one lighting mode but having several brightness options gives you more flexibility and can save you constantly having to re-crank the light to keep it running. A red light is a handy feature as it uses minimal power and won’t destroy your night vision.

Reviews

Thorfire Flashlight

There are several flashlights that have almost identical features at a similar price point. There’s not much to choose between them but the 18-month warranty you get with the Thorfire speaks for its durability and tips the scales in its favor.

Check Prices on Amazon

Thorfire claims you can get 60 minutes of light (on the highest setting) from a minute of cranking. This would be pretty awesome if it were true, but most users have found this to be a significant overestimate.

Still, you should be able to get at least ten minutes of decent light (the brightness will fade as it loses charge) which is pretty good for a hand crank light.

You can also charge it using the small solar panel, though sadly there’s no USB charging option. It’s not the brightest of flashlights and the “low” mode is pretty redundant unless your eyes work well in the dark, but for a hand crank light, it’s not bad.

In terms of size and build quality, this is a small, lightweight flashlight that’s a good option for your Bug Out Bag or emergency drawer at home.

It’s pretty robust and weatherproof – the manufacturer claims it’s waterproof to 45 feet so it shouldn’t suffer from being out in the rain.

If you’re interested in the comparable models, check out the Secur Dynamo flashlight and the iGadgitz Xtra flashlight. (Amazon Links).

Pros

  • 3 brightness modes
  • Decent ratio of output to cranking time
  • Small and light
  • Good warranty
  • Weatherproof

Cons

  • No option for USB charging
  • Hard work to crank

Check On Amazon


Meco Flashlight

The Meco is a basic flashlight with one brightness setting, and a crank handle and small solar panel for charging. It’s not going to win any prizes for looks or features, but for under ten bucks, you wouldn’t expect that.

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Considering it’s a budget flashlight, it performs pretty well. Although the solar panel is too small to be particularly effective, it will save you some arm power if you’re able to leave it in full sun all day.

The sellers claim that six minutes of cranking gives an hour of light, but it may also give you repetitive strain injury, so it’s perhaps more useful to know that a minute’s winding is likely to give you around 8-10 minutes of light.

The light isn’t especially bright but it’s enough for indoor use or to stop you tripping up in the dark.

The clip on the handle is a nice feature, enabling you to attach it to a belt loop or backpack. It’s not waterproof and though the build quality is fairly robust, it’s probably not something you want to accidentally chuck over a cliff in an emergency.

Pros

  • Low cost
  • Handy carabiner clip
  • Option for solar charging
  • 18-month warranty

Cons

  • Not waterproof
  • No extra features

Check On Amazon


Goal Zero Torch 250

This is a bit of a cheat pick as the hand crank on the Goal Zero Torch 250 is very much an add on to the solar-powered design. But in our opinion, this makes it a better overall product to have in your Bug Out Bag due to its versatility.

Check Prices on Amazon

First off, compared to most hand crank flashlights, the beam is bright enough for pretty much any task. There’s also a floodlight beam in addition to the spotlight beam so you can set it on a table and use it as a lantern.

On the flip side, because the beam is so bright, it’s a big ask to charge it by hand – for every minute of cranking you only get two minutes of light – so it’s definitely for emergency use only.

However, unless you’re living in a cave, likelihood is you’ll be able to use the sun’s energy. Leaving it out in a sunny place during the day will help keep the battery topped up and you can also plug it into an external solar panel or battery pack for faster charge.

If you’ve access to either of these options then you can realistically use the flashlight to keep small electronics, such as your phone, charged.

If you just want a hand crank flashlight to use as a last-resort light, then you’d be better off with a lighter model that gives you more run time for your arm power. But if you want a reliable flashlight that has multiple charging and output options, this is a great choice.

Pros

  • Bright light
  • Spotlight and lantern modes
  • Lots of charging options
  • Can use to charge your phone

Cons

  • Very slow to charge when using crank handle
  • Expensive
  • Heavy

Check On Amazon


Tiemahun Radio Flashlight

There are plenty of emergency radios which have a small flashlight built in, but for this article, we’ve chosen one that’s small enough to fit in your hand and use primarily as a flashlight. If you’re looking for a radio first and foremost, check out our guide to emergency radios.

Check Prices on Amazon

The Tiemahun Radio Flashlight would be a great option for your Bug Out Bag. It’s compact, not too heavy and can be used as a flashlight, radio and to charge your phone. Granted, it’s not the brightest flashlight, the highest quality radio or the best charging bank out there, but multi-use devices rarely are.

It is designed to pick up NOAA broadcasts (a must have for emergency radios) in addition to AM and FM frequencies but unfortunately, it doesn’t have an alarm to receive alerts. The flashlight brightness is similar to most hand crank flashlights – okay but not brilliant.

In addition to charging using the crank or solar panel, you can also plug it into a power bank or mains electricity adaptor. The versatility and sturdy construction make this a great multi-function addition to your emergency kit.

Pros

  • Multiple charging options
  • Compact, sturdy design
  • Reasonable radio
  • Able to charge your phone
  • Great value

Cons

  • Tuning radio can be tricky
  • Won’t have the range of a larger, more expensive radio
  • Doesn’t have alarm tone

Check On Amazon


Thorfire LED Camping Lantern

This camping lantern is a clever little thing. Collapsed, it takes up very little room in your pack and can be used as a flashlight, but when you expand it you get a 360-degree lantern.

The ‘high’ setting gives a bright output of 125 lumens and the low light mode (30 lumens) is still plenty bright enough to see by.

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If you’re a super speedy cranker, one minutes’ cranking will give you an impressive 18 minutes of light on high and 40 minutes on the low setting.

For those of us whose arms get tired, a more sedate pace will give you 11 minutes low-level use for a minute’s work. Handily, you can also charge the lantern via USB and if charged to full capacity, you’ll have 4.5 hours of low-level light.

Theoretically, you can use this to charge your phone, however, in practice, this only works when you’re using the crank handle which is a little frustrating.

It does come with an 18-month warranty but given the pop-up design and crank handle, it may not be the most durable option for long term use.

Pros

  • Small and lightweight
  • Bright
  • Two brightness settings
  • USB charging option
  • 18-month warranty

Cons

  • Only charges a phone when using the crank handle
  • Questionable durability

Check On Amazon


Luxon 7-in-1 Emergency Tool

We recommend you always carry a flashlight in your vehicle, but this Swiss-Army-Knife-style tool is a much better choice for a car emergency kit than a standard hand crank flashlight. It’s got a built-in window breaker and seat belt cutter, but it’s the flashlight features that make this tool particularly useful.

Check Prices on Amazon

The LED flashlight has three modes: bright, dim and flashing. On the highest mode, it’s brighter than a lot of hand crank flashlights and the dim and flashing modes will help conserve energy.

In addition to the regular flashlight beam, there’s a red SOS light built into the handle with three brightness levels that you can use to attract attention or make other drivers aware of your vehicle in poor visibility. Magnets and a suction cap allow you to attach it to the outside of your vehicle, kind of like a flashing emergency beacon.

The flashlight can be charged via USB as well as the hand crank, though some users have reported issues with the included charging cable.

It does come with a 12-month warranty, so if you do end up with a defective model you should be able to get a replacement.

Pros

  • SOS light enables the flashlight to be used as an emergency beacon
  • Different lighting modes
  • Bright beam
  • Magnets to attach it to the car body

Cons

  • Some users have reported issues with charging
  • Questionable battery life

Check On Amazon


IKEA LJUSA LED Torch

IKEA is possibly the last brand you’d expect to see on this list. They don’t seem to be branching out into prepping gear yet (flatpack Bug Out Cabin, anyone?) as this flashlight is marketed as a fun kid’s toy, but if you look past the branding, it’s actually a pretty good buy.

Check Prices on Amazon

Firstly, as with everything IKEA, the design is simple but functional. It works and as it’s designed to be tossed around by kids, it won’t break easily. Score one.

Secondly, it’s one of the few hand crank flashlights you’ll find that uses a capacitor rather than a battery. While this means you’ll put in more effort per minute of light (20-30 revolutions give you around 1.5 minutes of light), it has the advantage that it won’t deteriorate over time.

As you’ll be doing a lot of winding, it’s a good thing that the crank handle is light and easy to turn. So much so that kids aged three and up should be able to operate this flashlight easily. Whether you’re buying it for your kids or for yourself, this is a worthy addition to your emergency kit.

Pros

  • Simple, durable design
  • Uses a capacitor rather than a battery so better for long-term storage
  • Easy to wind
  • Great for kids
  • Low cost

Cons

  • Light doesn’t last as long per charge as other flashlights
  • On/off button may be a bit stiff for small fingers

Check On Amazon

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Leave a comment

  1. I bought an Ideaworks flashlight at a thrift store and didn’t even realize until I got home that it has an USB port for charging. It also has a hand crank, which produces a fairly bright light, but the charge from the USB charge is very faint. Is this normal, or should the USB charge produce as bright of a light as the crank?

    • Hi Karen – it should create the same level of light. Sounds like the battery inside the flashlight has lost the ability to hold charge.

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