What is a glow stick or ChemLight? The official definition is a self-contained, short term light source.
Chemicals are housed separately in a plastic sheath that when mixed create a temporary chemical glow. There is a fragile glass vile inside a plastic sheath that contains one of the chemicals, which is hydrogen peroxide, and separate from the glass vial in the sheath is dye and diphenyl oxalate.
To activate you simply bend the plastic sheath to crack the vile to mix the chemicals. The sticks can glow anywhere from 1 hour up to 12 hours depending on the size of the stick.
Heat will cause a brighter glow, but will reduce the glow time while cold reduces the glow, but extends the glow time.
Once activated the glow cannot be shut off, so consider this if you are on night maneuvers. Under the right conditions the glow can be seen up to and even beyond a mile. Be prepared to either bury the light or cover in some manner so it cannot be seen.
Light sticks do not spark or create significant heat so they are safe to use where open flames or sparks would be considered hazardous. The sticks are waterproof and so can be used underwater and wind has no effect on the light source.
Caution: Do not cut into the sticks or otherwise cause the chemicals to be exposed. While not considered toxic the chemicals can cause skin irritation/burns and respiratory distress.
Like any other product on the market there are various grades of glow sticks from low quality on up to so-called military grade. The lower quality sticks may have a reduced glow time and the plastic casing may be thinner and more easily penetrated by children and adults alike, so keep this in mind. Typically, the larger the glow sticks the longer the glow time.
Glow Sticks in a Survival Situation
1.) Use at Night to Mark Your Location for Rescuers
Activate glow sticks and place in empty and capped water bottles to float on water to signal aircraft and watercraft. Most glow sticks will sink because their density is greater than the water. If you do not have water bottles attach stringers to the sticks so they can be secured to keep them from sinking out of sight.
The sticks can be seen when submerged in water, but of course the deeper they are, the harder they would be to detect form the surface. Glow sticks are waterproof, and do not react to water pressure and so can be used when scuba diving as well.
If you are nowhere near a body of water then use the sticks to mark your location on the ground in clearings and along paths and roadways that can be seen from overhead at night.
Unnatural things in nature get spotted more easily, so your signal has to stand out from nature. A group of three is the universal signal for distress. “SOS” three “X’s” and so on can be used when signaling for help. If you hear an aircraft or watercraft you can attach an activated glow stick to several feet of Paracord and spin it overhead to create a light blur that can be seen at night.
2.) Follow in Formation
If lost as a group the best method for navigating at night is to designate a point person. That person carries a light source and plots the course, and others follow behind. Others form up behind and follow the directions of the point person, but you have to be able to see the person in front of you.
Attaching glow sticks to each pack or to the person allows the person behind to follow more easily. It is quite easy to become confused in the dark and having glow lights as markers attached to a person can keep everyone grouped together and moving in a straight line.
You cannot have everyone in the group reading maps and compasses and trying to decide which way to go. Designate one person to cut down on confusion, and to keep from getting off the trail use glow sticks to keep track of the person you are following.
3.) Marking Trip Hazards
If you have set up a tent or have made a shelter out of ponchos or tarps then there are probably guy-lines and stakes in the ground that you and others can trip over in the dark. Mark them with glow sticks. Hang the lights off any lines that are strung and place near any stakes protruding from the ground. Use the sticks to mark other natural or man-made hazards that you would want to avoid in the dark.
4.) Use When Fishing At Night
Fish are attracted to light so when night fishing attach a glow stick to the end of your pole or attach to your line to attract fish.
5.) Help Keep Children Calm and Track Their Location
You can purchase glow stick bracelets that children can wear at night to help calm them in the dark, and so you can spot them more easily as they move about. If you do not have the bracelets you can attach glow sticks to their clothing front and back, so you can see them if they do wander a short distance away.
6.) Mark Water Hazards
Mark a safe channel to shore, or to mark specific hazards such as protruding rocks or logs using glow sticks. You can put them inside capped water bottles or even empty gallon jugs that can be capped so they float in the water or attach them directly to the hazard. Attach in a line and secured the line at the shoreline to mark a safe lane.
Under normal circumstances, you would not be navigating in waters you are unfamiliar with in the dark, so always attempt to mark a safe channel during the day and mark hazards with glow sticks that can be activated at night as you leave to go fishing in a boat/canoe for example.
7.) If Sheltering In Place
Use glow sticks to mark openings inside the home so people can navigate about without using lanterns or flashlights. This way you can conserve on fuels and batteries. Use to mark the pathway to the latrine you had to dig because the grid shut down. You would want to mark any open pits on your property to keep people from falling in at night.
8.) Mark Distances for Night Fire
Place glow sticks out during the day at various distances from your shelter. A green light, for example, could be 100 meters and a red light could be 200 meters and so on. As darkness sets in you can activate the lights, so anyone sighting from the shelter knows the distance to the lights. This of course alerts others that you are there, so you have to decide whether to mark distances for night fire, or go dark, and hope people passing by do not spot your shelter.
9.) Infrared Chemical Light Sticks Used To Mark Locations or Targets
Use these glow sticks to mark shelter/camp locations, cache sites, and rendezvous areas for those in your group or family. Others with NVG’s would be able to see the sticks of course, but by using sticks that can only be seen using NVG’s reduces the risk of others discovering your marked locations.
10.) Use IR Glow Stick to Detect Intruders inside the Perimeter
What you will need is trip wire, which can be twine/string or light gauge wire and the protective sleeve the light came in or a sleeve you make that covers the light.
To set up, attach one end of a piece of trip wire to a fixed object such as a tree or stout stake in the ground, and then attach the other end to the light stick. Then take another piece of trip wire and attach to the end of the protective sleeve and then attach the other end to a tree or stake driven into the ground. You want the sleeve to stay in place as the light is drawn from it when the wire is tripped. Activate the stick and slide back in the sleeve so it cannot be seen once the trap is set.
When the wire is tripped it pulls the light stick from the protective sleeve and is now visible when viewing with NVG’s.
Once you can see the stick you know someone or something has passed through the area. If you use glow sticks that can be seen with the naked eye for intrusion detection then the intruder and others can see the light as well. If an intruder knows they have been discovered you lose the element of surprise.