Pilot’s Pen

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I’m an aircraft owner and use this very powerful LED-powered pen during night flying, but also while traveling on commercial flights and mostly at odd times: crosswords, fishing for something in the car at night, etc. The lighting and ink are independently controlled, so in addition to being effective, it’s easy to use: the button on top is on/off for the light and the pen rotates to retract the ink. I’ve had some promotional-type LED pens in the past, but the button cells burn out and then it’s difficult to replace them. This pen runs on a single AAA cell, which is easy to find and replace. The pen also comes with an extra battery and ink cartridge for $20 (with shipping) — not too bad.

-- Robert Cullinan  

Pilot’s Pen
$20

Manufactured by Britta Products

Available from Amazon



Reelights

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I was going to go with Pedalites, a previous Cool Tool, but I didn’t want in-pedal generators that add resistance to your effort. These front/rear-mounted strobe lights add very little unsprung weight to both wheels and work via magnetic induction, so there’s very little additional weight and no added rolling resistance. The initial ride takes about a mile to bring the front (white) LED up to a full charge, while subsequent rides have me fully lit in about fifty feet of pedaling. The rear (red) LED gets flashing in about half the time and stays flashing longer during any stops (it also flashes more regularly). They both flash for at least two minutes after stopping, which is ideal for early AM rides and for any stopovers where you’re basically waiting for traffic.

I put about 400 miles on my SL120s last season. They worked terrific. After storing my bike for four months — no activity — they worked perfectly again on our first ride of the 2008 season, a “Midnight Madness” run at midnight, followed by a post-ride trip to the bar. The lights recharged within half a mile (white always takes longer than the red). 6.97 miles, 35 minutes, and the red kept flashing the whole time I was in the bar (15 minutes — we were tired!).

The caution here is they mount on your axles, so you’re not flashing “high” as you might with saddle lights or a headlamp. They do not effectively illuminate the road. These are not overnight travel lights. They’re safety lights, a smart pickup for any lowlight rides. A great investment for me: increased safety, no more batteries, and definitely the best “green” investment I’ve made for training. Short of breaking in a crash, these lights will last me decades. The LEDs are not likely to burn out for at least ten years and you can measure the magnets’ lifecycles on a geological scale.

Bonus tip: The instructions stink, so you might be tempted to mount it outside the fork, because it’s easier and does not involve removing the wheel (my buddy mounted his incorrectly). Don’t be tempted, you cannot move the bracket close enough to the pickup magnets unless it is mounted inside the fork — wheel has to come off. Not a big deal up front, but could be axle grease messy for the rear. Once it’s on, though, you’ll be within 3mm of the pickup magnets and generating nearly-free electricity.

-- Christopher Wanko  

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Reelight SL120
$54
Available from Chain Reaction Cycles

Manufactured by Reelight



21-LED Flashlight

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This 21-LED flashlight dispenses an impressive amount of light for such a small and inexpensive torch. I find it to be of great use for illuminating a wide area, as it’s not the least bit directional like a laser pointer. If I need to find something under a car seat, this is the flashlight I grab, as it bathes the entire area with a bright white light. Most of all, I really like that it’s so compact. The three AAA batteries fit side by side in a carousel, so the whole flashlight is only about 3.5 inches long. The handle is made out of aluminum, and there’s a sealed rubber push-button switch on the end. It claims to be water and shock resistant, but I haven’t tested this. The light probably won’t outlive (or outperform) something like a Fenix, but hey, it’s only $11! I found it by skimming through JungleCrazy, a web site that lists Amazon deals. I bought three. I’ve been using one of them several times a week for the last nine months. I’m still using the batteries that came with it.

-- M. Schmidt  

21-LED Flashlight
$12
Manufactured by Architectural Lighting Systems

Available from Amazon



Lemnis Pharox LED Bulb

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I have been dutifully buying the various LED bulbs being marketed as home incandescent replacements for a year or two. Up until now, all have had that weird, blue flickery LED light, and all have been expensive. The Lemnis Pharox is the first one that actually delivers as a home bulb replacement. It sips electricity pulling down a mere 4 watts, will last for 35 years, and replaces the light of a 40 watt incandescent. I installed one in our recessed home lighting adjacent to normal bulbs, and asked my wife to pick out which one was the LED and she couldn’t tell which one it was. The only thing I am disappointed about is that they don’t have higher output ones yet available (such as a 60 or 75 watt replacement). I can only assume they are in the works. While you pay an early adopter premium on these ($50-60), they are excellent for places where it’s too much trouble to replace bulbs, or if you have a solar system on your roof and you want those watts to go further.

-- Alexander Rose  

Lemnis Pharox LED Bulb
$24

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Lemnis Lighting



Aladdin Lamps

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Aladdin lamps have been around for 100 years. At their brightest, they’re about as radiant as a 60W incandescent light bulb, so you can easily read by them. They burn kerosene or lamp oil, and employ a cylindrical wick that heats a Welsbach mantle (it’s bright incandescence comes from thorium and cerium oxides). Similar to a lantern, but without the pumping and compressed air hissing. As such, the Aladdins are perfectly silent. They’re also more fuel-efficient than a pressure lantern, yet provide almost the same amount of light. Though they’re not more fuel-efficient than an average oil lamp, they can make a typical oil lamp look like a nightlight.

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The lamp on the right (above) does not use a mantle, just a wick. They are both using the same fuel; I use Klean-Strip’s “Klean-Heat” which is a purified kerosene substitute usable anywhere kerosene is specified. A bowl of fuel can put out a lot more lumen-hours than a battery-operated lamp, making the Aladdins perfect for off-grid use or in the event of a power failure. I have an off-grid cabin in San Benito County south of the Pinnacles National Monument. Though I spend most of my time at my on-the-grid home, I’m partial to using an Aladdin at both residences. After trying other lamps, including a basic oil lamp I bought at Wal-Mart, I finally got Aladdin’s Genie III shelf lamp, the basic no frills version.

When properly adjusted they are essentially odourless and smokeless (the only time there is a slight smell is right after extinguishing the flame). By raising and lowering the wick, you can dim the lamp, too. If you raise the wick too high, though the fuel/air mixture becomes too rich and they start to soot/smoke, just like any other oil lamp. Properly adjusted, the wicked fuel creates a blue flame that heats the mantle. An optional chimney extender creates more updraft allowing you to operate the wick higher and get even more light. They recommend this for high-altitude (5000-ft.) operation.

-- Bruce Bowen  

Aladdin Genie III Lamp
$111

Available from Aladdin US

Manufactured by Aladdin Lamps



AO LED Safety Glasses

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Wearing these safety glasses sure beats trying to hold a flashlight and use your hands. I own head-mounted lamps, which I use for certain activities, but wearing safety glasses and a headlamp can be a little too bulky. I got these safety glasses about 6 months ago after some of the guys I work with were using them on the job for viewing plans at dusk/night. I’m a Highway Safety Consultant, however my background is construction and I still do some work in that area, so most of my work requires approved safety glasses. I just wear these on a neck cord and put them on as I need them during the day or night. Each side has its own switch. They are great for working in any low light situation, so I also enjoy wearing them for activities that do not really require safety glasses. I use mine for wiring electrical panels since the light is usually poor in a new house that doesn’t have power. Some of the older guys I work with use the bifocal version. I recently got my mother-in-law a pair of the bifocal ones for sewing detail work.

-- Scott Newton  

LED Safety Glasses
$12
Manufactured by Aearo Corp.

Available from Amazon



SteriPEN

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I took a SteriPEN to Africa for 3 months this summer and the verdict is in: it’s the best water purifier you can carry without a tractor-trailer. It’s basically a UV ray flashlight you submerge into your glass. The water stays cool and it doesn’t change the water, except to kill all the living things in it, viruses included. It is expensive, but pays for itself quickly, as you don’t have to buy bottled water. On my trip, often when I asked a waiter for a glass of tap water, my request would elicit a smile or a laugh. In some cases, they simply would not bring me a glass of water. Most of the time, though, I convinced them — and then, to their amazement, I would take out the SteriPEN, push a button, and stir the water with the glowing purple UV light that always brought stares from other diners. After less than 60 seconds, I would take out the SteriPEN and drink the water, occasionally hearing gasps from other tables. Then I’d mention that UV light is how certain towns and companies now sterilize water.

In the 3 months I used it while abroad, I never got sick and the recommended CR123 batteries lasted all summer. Of course, it doesn’t make Uganda’s water taste any better, and often buying a plastic bottle and tossing it in the car is more convenient, but the SteriPEN will save you if you need it and it will save you money if you use it. For backpacking, it’s what we call a disruptive technology — no other water purifier comes close. I haven’t tried the MIOX, but it seems like a hassle in comparison. You have to make a kind of concentrate that you pour into your water and you need salts for it. I would bet on the SteriPEN because you treat the water 100 percent, there are NO consumables, and there aren’t any follow-up steps, which you might screw up. I have tried pills and filters in the past, but I think the SteriPEN is the best solution in all circumstances. I would take one on an extended wilderness trek with no hesitation. It will become a permanent travel companion.

I bought the lightweight Traveler version (picture above), and my only complaint is that the silver coating disintegrated after a while somehow. It works fine, but now it looks more like a Star Trek prop than it did when I bought it. Since the Traveler and Adventurer models are the same product, just different colors, I would recommend the Adventurer. Quick aside: SteriPEN’s solar charger is way too heavy at this point.

-- David Siegel  

SteriPEN
$77
Manufactured by Hydo-Photon, Inc.

Available from Amazon



Tire Sparx

While a standard red rear safety flasher is indispensable for twilight rides, it’s both helpful and amusing to make your bike even more luminous, especially in the city. These little lights screw into Schrader valves (Presta adaptors cost a buck) and create a pleasing glow as you ride (they’re motion sensitive and turn off after about ten seconds). They’re not going to last a lifetime and they’re not nearly as fancy or as practical as the Pedalites. They’re also not as elaborate as the larger, multi-colored spoke fixtures you can go crazy with (i.e. Hokey Spokes). However, what’s great about these is they’re inexpensive, quick to install and tiny — so much so that I now keep a set in the bag I take cycling. It’s nice to bring the option along for the ride (I unscrew them and disconnect the battery to keep them from flashing). The bike shop I frequent sells a case of these every year in the weeks leading up to Burning Man. Why wait?

Tire Sparx
$11

Available from Amazon

Also eBay offers a wider color selection
Manufactured by Buztronics, Inc.



Pedalite Bike Pedals

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I have been using my Pedalites the last couple of years for short-range commuting up and down an unlit, rural county road, and would indeed recommend them, $55 price tag and all. They work just as advertised: pedal for 20 seconds, and the dynamos charge up and power flashing LEDs with a resulting effect similar to marker lights on a truck. The pedal incorporates both a white “front” and red “rear” LED. You never replace batteries. They have held up to rain, though I haven’t done an extensive amount of rain riding with them.

I would say they are really best for a city commuter (I recently transplanted them onto my city bike), because the dynamos do add resistance to the system. However, I don’t mind having to work a little harder for that extra light. Note: a charged set will flash for over five minutes after you finish pedaling, which means that after you chain and walk away from your bike, it’s still there flashing “look at me! look at me! (steal me!).” Of course, “Look at me” is exactly what you DO want while riding. The LEDs don’t emit enough light to navigate, so you still need at least a headlamp — certainly while rural riding — but their side flashing is especially valuable for urban riding.

-- Ben Goetter  

Pedalite Bike Pedals
$52

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Pedalite Ltd



Newlite Portable, Solar LED Lights

I’ve used these solar LED lights for reading at night for over a year. There are three models and I have one of each — the Heavy Duty Compact model, the Compact model and the Mini, which I attach with Velcro to my backpack and then to my bike helmet when I need it for night riding. On full brightness, the Mini lasts 12 hours (recharge time is advertised as 7 hours).The Heavy Duty charges completely in 10 hours and, at full brightness, gives 12+ hours of light, while the Compact charges completely in 6 hours and, at full brightness, gives 12+ hours of light.

I’ve never run the lights until battery drain so I can’t speak to recharge from zero. I use them for reading at night so that is usually only an hour or two a night and they are always connected to the solar panels in my south facing window.

I took all three lights on vacation to Jamaica last December, and used each of them except for the Mini (no biking). After the trip, I gave two sets of friends the extra lights I’d bought. Both couples like these lights, too.

They also offer a variety of connectors, which work with all models of the lights, that allow you to charge your phone, camera, computer, etc. I bought all to test for compatibility and found it to be a very good system (although at $20 a pop the connectors are a little pricey). It’s worth noting, I use them only for demo purposes. I haven’t tried to run my computer, for instance, on the Compact model.

I settled on this brand because they were the first I’d seen with a natural form factor. They looked sleek and useful and have turned out to be all that I expected. The only quibble I have is that there’s a light sensor that will not allow the lamps to go on in the daytime. I’d prefer a switch so that I can decide when to turn them on or off without being overridden by the sensor. Still haven’t seen anything that is comparable on the market.

Gotta tell ya, it makes me feel good to use these things. Finally, after all these years, this renter has one room that is solar-powered. They made me an honest solar advocate, somebody who not only talks the talk but walks the walk as well.

-- George Mokray  

Newlite Portable, Solar LED Lights
$32
Manufactured by Newlite

Available from Amazon