You may find yourself stranded on a back country road. You may find yourself living in a suburb without power. But no matter where you are, being without electricity is absolutely no fun at all.
Of course, the ultimate solution is to have a massive generator standing by to power up the house. Unfortunately, most of us don't have that luxury--and when the power is out, it can be difficult to find fuel to power the generator. Furthermore, where would you put a generator in a one-bedroom apartment?
I'm no survivalist, and I don't expect most people to have a bomb shelter with fresh batteries and iodine tablets standing by. However, after enduring innumerable blackouts in the city and the country, there are a few gadgets that I recommend keeping around the home for times when the lights go out. Here are four devices that you don't need to maintain constantly, but that will help you get through the dark nights after the storm. Think of them as preparedness tools for those of us who usually aren't prepared.
1. Crank Radio
With all the devices I test, I find I never have enough batteries. So something that doesn't need power but lets you see in the dark and listen to radio reports is ideal.
Eton's $35 American Red Cross Microlink FR160 is "self powered," by which the company means you have to crank the built-in handle to get it up and running. Once you do, there's an AM/FM radio (with NOAA weather channels), an LED flashlight, and cell phone charger. Getting the radio running only takes a couple of minutes of cranking, and it can hold rechargeable batteries or charge via a small solar panel on top.
The FR160 isn't for heavy duty use, and some owners have reported problems trying to charge an iPhone with it. However, it's inexpensive and you can throw it in a drawer and forget about it--until the next emergency.
2. LED Flashlight
A solid, bright, and reliable flashlight is must in a blackout. LED models take less battery power and last longer than regular bulbs.
My favorite model is the Princeton Tec Torrent. At $50, the Torrent isn't cheap, but it's bright enough (95 lumens) to be the regular household flashlight, and it will last for more than a day on 8 AAA batteries. It's also waterproof (helpful in a storm) and has a locking switch so that it won't accidentally get turned on in a jammed storage bin or glove compartment and drain the batteries.
It's not sexy, and it isn't terribly high-tech, but if you've got to endure multiple evenings without electricity, a good lantern is invaluable.
Needless to say, it's not a good idea to try to use an oil or kerosene camping lantern inside a home (especially around kids in the dark). Better is a battery-powered model like the $25 Coleman 8D Rugged Full Size Lantern. It takes 8 D-sized batteries to keep it running for up to 28 hours on its low setting (about 18 hours on high). The lantern uses two fluorescent bulbs that don't get hot (so there's no fear of fire), and it can light up a room with a maximum of 365 lumens of brightness. I've found it's perfect for keeping a large living room illuminated so that the family can play Monopoly or charades to chase away the darkness.
Coleman also makes rechargeable models, but then you have to remember to plug it in before the power goes out.
Once the storm is over and the sun comes out, you may still have to do without power for days (as tens of thousands of people are realizing this week). A small solar charger can then come in handy.
The $100 Solio Classic has three small solar panels that fan out and can be propped up with a pen to angle at the sun. It comes with half a dozen different connectors for, say, an older Nokia or Samsung phone, plus a USB port that will work with most smart phones. There's also a built-in battery that lasts for about about 2 and a half hours, depending on what it's used for (just making cell calls or playing music on an MP3 player). The one caveat: It takes a solid 9 hours of sunlight to charge fully.