Compared to other members of the animal kingdom, humans have a major deficiency: poor night vision. As ambient light fades, our eyes struggle to perceive even the faintest outlines of objects in our immediate vicinity. This poses a safety risk during nighttime group activities such as hiking and cycling, since it’s easy to get disoriented and separated when you can’t clearly see your friends. It’s also a hazard in urban environments, because motorists may struggle to see you from a distance. And in a SHTF situation, a persistent light source provides the means to signal for rescue after dark.

A flashlight or headlamp can illuminate your field of view, but these directional light sources aren’t ideal tools for making others aware of your position (at least not without temporarily blinding them). Enter the identification light, a device designed to attach to your gear and provide a source of long-lasting, clearly visible light. Identification lights are typically compact, lightweight, and durable — some are even intended to be disposable one-time-use items.

Pocket Preps identification lights flashlight clip light LED chemlight glow stick 1

The most commonly known ID light is the chemlight, also called a glowstick. These flexible plastic tubes contain a glass ampoule that can be snapped to mix two chemicals, inducing a reaction known as chemluminescence. This reaction can be calibrated by the manufacturer to glow dimly for a long period or brightly for a short while, but either way, the stick’s light will gradually fade after a few hours. Chemlights are still commonly used today, but technological advancements have made ultra-compact LED lights a viable alternative. LED identification lights can be reused and often feature multiple output colors or modes.

We collected and evaluated seven compact lights that are ideal for nighttime identification, or for use in situations where only a small amount of diffuse light is needed, such as reading a map or illuminating the inside of a tent. Consider one of these lights as a supplement to your current flashlight or headlamp.

Streamlight ClipMate USB

OFGP-180800-POCKET-19.jpg

Claimed Maximum Brightness
70 lumens

Claimed Maximum Runtime
65 hours

Dimensions
3.1 by 2 by 0.7 inches

Weight
1.9 ounces

Battery Type
Built-in lithium-polymer rechargeable

Controls
Push-button switch

Output Modes
low/high red, low/high white

MSRP
$55

URL
streamlight.com

OFGP-180800-POCKET-21.jpg

Notes
With a flexible neck and slim rectangular body, the ClipMate USB is just the right size for a shirt pocket. Its strong metal clip also fits nicely on PALS webbing loops, 1.5-inch belts, or a hat brim. When light is needed, the segmented neck can be aimed precisely in any direction, casting a dense spot beam. The ClipMate includes red and white output modes, which can be accessed by either a short-press or long-press of the top-mounted power button (short-press turns on the last-used mode). This light is also USB-rechargeable via a hidden charge tab that enables the user to plug it directly into any USB outlet or computer port. Streamlight says it can be fully charged in 2.5 hours, and it’s rechargeable up to 300 times.

Pros:

  • Flexible neck allows for targeted hands-free illumination
  • Red light is directly accessible, preserving the user’s night vision

Cons:

  • Tight spotlight beam pattern is too focused for identification purposes
  • Integrated charge tab hangs the light precariously on a USB port while charging and blocks nearby ports. Its cover is also easily dislodged, allowing for ingress of water and dust.

Nite Ize TagLit

OFGP-180800-POCKET-13.jpg

Claimed Maximum Brightness
Unlisted

Claimed Maximum Runtime
70 hours

Dimensions
2.2 by 1.6 by 0.5 inches (folded)

Weight with battery
0.5 ounces

Battery Type
CR2032 lithium (one, included)

Controls
Push-button switch, press repeatedly to change modes

Output Modes
Green flashing or constant-on

MSRP
$10

URL
niteize.com

OFGP-180800-POCKET-15.jpg

Notes
This magnetic LED marker light features a folding design with two strong neodymium magnets that can adhere to the edge of any shirt, jacket, hat, headlamp band, or even a dog collar. The TagLit is available in three high-visibility colors: red, pink, or neon yellow. The former two feature four red LEDs, and the latter features four green LEDs; all include stripes of reflective silver for an additional boost in visibility. A hidden pressure switch under the power symbol turns the light on and cycles between its two modes. Nite Ize doesn’t advertise an exact lumen output for this light, but we’d guess it’s around 5 — plenty to alert motorists of your position during a nighttime jog. Clipped to the brim of a ball cap, this light can also be used for map reading and other low-light tasks.

Pros:

  • Magnetic clasp attaches securely to clothing and other gear
  • Bright color and reflective accents increase visibility

Cons:

  • Weather-resistant but not waterproof
  • Slightly too wide to fit into PALS webbing loops

Princeton Tec Amp 1L

OFGP-180800-POCKET-16.jpg

Claimed Maximum Brightness
90 lumens

Claimed Maximum Runtime
72 hours

Dimensions
5.1 by 1.4 inches (including cone)

Weight with battery
2.2 ounces

Battery Type
AAA (two, included)

Controls
Twist head

Output Modes
On-off only

MSRP
$20

URL
princetontec.com

OFGP-180800-POCKET-18.jpg

Notes
The Maxbright LED in the Amp 1L produces 90 lumens and gradually ramps down brightness to yield a 72-hour run time from its AAA batteries. Twisting the rubberized bezel turns on the light, and pressing on the included cone diffuser attachment scatters the beam into a broad lantern-style pattern. The light can then be attached to a tent loop or ridgeline with a carabiner to illuminate your campsite, or used as an ordinary flashlight with the cone removed. Half of the light’s polymer body is rubberized for extra grip, and it’s fully O-ring-sealed for an impressive waterproof rating. The loop at the tail end of the Amp 1L also features a bottle opener tab in case you need a way to open a cold beverage. Made in the USA.

Pros:

  • Bright, diffuse light works great as a mini-lantern
  • With the cone removed, it works equally well as a spotlight
  • IPX8 waterproof to 100 meters

Cons:

  • Bottle opener seems like an afterthought, and can’t be used when the light is attached to a carabiner
  • The cone attachment is held in place by friction alone
  • Single output mode limits versatility

Nitecore NU05

OFGP-180800-POCKET-10.jpg

Claimed Maximum Brightness
35 lumens

Claimed Maximum Runtime
20 hours

Dimensions
1.2 by 1.2 by 0.6 inches

Weight with battery
0.4 ounces

Battery Type
3.7v 120mAh lithium-ion rechargeable

Controls
Push-button switch, press repeatedly to change modes, press and hold for lockout

Output Modes
Red LED indicator, slow flash, or fast flash; white LED slow flash or constant-on

MSRP
$20 with headlamp/bike kit, $15 for light only

URL
nitecore.com

OFGP-180800-POCKET-12.jpg

Notes
Nitecore calls this tiny light a “headlamp mate” due to its ability to be used in tandem with a full-size headlamp, either clipped to the back of the head strap or worn elsewhere on the body. As a result, the NU05 is tailored to identification purposes. It features a total of five LEDs — two white, two red, and one low-output red indicator light — each of which includes a flashing mode. The NU05 also features one 35-lumen constant-on setting that can be paired with an optional head strap and bike mount bracket kit to provide emergency illumination. The built-in battery will last just one hour when used this way but can be quickly recharged via a micro-USB port. We noted that this light is the perfect size to clip onto a single loop of PALS webbing, making it a valuable accessory for nighttime hiking or backpacking.

Pros:

  • Tiny size and light weight make it an ideal backup for emergency use
  • For an extra $5, the head band and bike mount kit add versatility.
  • IP66 waterproof

Cons:

  • Short battery life when used in constant-on mode
  • Lacks constant-on mode for red LEDs

COAST HX4 Cliplight

OFGP-180800-POCKET-04.jpg

Claimed Maximum Brightness
80 lumens

Claimed Maximum Runtime
3 hours 45 minutes

Dimensions
3.1 by 1.8 by 1.2 inches

Weight with battery
1.8 ounces

Battery Type
AAA (two, included)

Controls
Push-button switch, press repeatedly to cycle through modes

Output Modes
White constant-on, red constant-on

MSRP
$18

URL
coastportland.com

OFGP-180800-POCKET-06.jpg

Notes
This new LED light is available in a variety of color configurations that include white plus red, blue, green, and/or ultraviolet. The HX4 features a spring-loaded pocket clip that allows the light to be easily attached to the hem of a pocket, PALS webbing on a MOLLE-compatible pack, or the brim of a hat. Four small magnets are also attached to the corners of the clip, providing more hands-free mounting options. COAST says the light’s head rotates 180 degrees, but we’d say it’s closer to 220. Combined with the wide flood beam, this makes the HX4 ideal for illuminating a workbench while mounted on your shirt pocket or lighting your path while mounted on your belt. Pressing the large rubberized power button turns it on in white mode; pressing again cycles through other colors.

Pros:

  • Wide beam pattern provides a smooth wash of light for your work area
  • Clips onto gear in a variety of locations, and can be aimed easily by rotating the head

Cons:

  • White light must be turned on before other colors, potentially impacting night vision.
  • An additional low-output mode would’ve been helpful to extend run time.

Fenix CL09

OFGP-180800-POCKET-07.jpg

Claimed Maximum Brightness
200 lumens

Claimed Maximum Runtime
150 hours (90 with included battery)

Dimensions
3.1 by 0.9 inches

Weight with battery
1.8 ounces

Battery Type
ARB-L16-700U rechargeable (one, included) or CR123A (not included)

Controls
Twist tail cap, twist on and off repeatedly to cycle through modes

Output Modes
Low, medium, high, turbo, red, red flashing, green

MSRP
$45

URL
fenixlight.com

OFGP-180800-POCKET-09.jpg

Notes
Serving as a hybrid between an identification light and a miniature lantern, the CL09 can sit upright on any flat surface, hang from a small carabiner, or slide securely into PALS webbing. There’s also a magnet in its tail cap, making it a good hands-free work light. This light includes Fenix’s ARB-L16-700U battery, which features a micro-USB charging port, but it also accepts more common rechargeable CR123A (aka 16340) and standard CR123A batteries. Twisting the tail cap repeatedly cycles through a total of seven modes, with a white light that ranges from 1 to 200 lumens, as well as 5-lumen red and green. The anodized aluminum body is available in either black or gray finish.

Pros:

  • White setting works great as a mini-lantern for your campsite; red and green modes can be used for identification or signaling.
  • Magnetic tail cap adds versatility
  • IP68 waterproof to 2-meter immersion

Cons:

  • Red and green light modes aren’t directly accessible
  • Included Fenix battery has a convenient charging port, but offers 40-percent shorter maximum run time than a standard CR123 (90 hours versus 150 hours).

Blue Force Gear MARCO Marking System

OFGP-180800-POCKET-01.jpg

Claimed Maximum Brightness
Unlisted

Claimed Maximum Runtime
4 hours at maximum intensity, more than 24 hours total glow time

Dimensions
6 by 3 by 0.75 inches

Weight
3.8 ounces

Battery Type
None

Controls
Push forward to partially eject a marking stick, then bend upward to snap and activate light

Output Modes
Available in red, green, blue, or infrared

MSRP
$65

URL
blueforcegear.com

OFGP-180800-POCKET-03.jpg

Notes
This system was originally designed to identify cleared rooms inside a building. Instead of carrying a handful of loose chemlights, the MARCO enabled quick access to dozens of smaller marking lights. The system has many non-combat applications, such as marking a trail or tracking downed game animals. The MARCO’s tough polycarbonate dispenser features a spring-loaded follower that feeds 30 2-inch sticks to the top one at a time. These sticks can be activated one-handed by bending them upward with your forefinger as they’re dispensed. Various optional storage pouches are available. Made in the USA.

Pros:

  • Easy to activate and deploy several light sticks with one hand
  • Ideal for identifying multiple items or individuals
  • Color options increase versatility

Cons:

  • No built-in way to attach the sticks to gear, although we found sandwiching one behind the edge of a Velcro patch works well.
  • You’ll need to use all 30 lights in a short time frame, since the active chemicals begin degrading as soon as the dispenser is unwrapped.
  • Each dispenser is designed as a single-use item.

Write A Comment