Photo credit: HOKENA
If you take long-distance car journeys with any regularity, the chances are good you have experienced a roadside breakdown—and if you haven’t yet, well, it’s probably a matter of time. A breakdown as simple to fix as a flat tire can be especially inopportune when you don’t get a chance to move your vehicle off the roadway. Even if you’re able to stop on the shoulder, you and your vehicle are still at risk of being struck by a passing motorist, and that risk increases exponentially at night or in poor weather.
As inconvenient and frightening as it can be to find yourself stranded with a disabled vehicle, you can make the situation more manageable by making sure you’re always carrying a safety kit that includes the best road flares you can find. If you haven’t shopped for road flares in some time, you may only be familiar with the traditional pyrotechnic type, which uses a flammable substance to create a bright, red-orange flame that burns for an extended time.
These days, however, the best road flare manufacturers have switched to LED technology, which is safer and easier to use, and, due to an LED’s low energy usage, can provide more duration than a traditional road flare.
For more information on the best road flares, refer to our table of contents.
Table of contents
- 1. Editor’s Pick: Tobfit 6-Pack LED Road Flares
- 2. Best Value: HOKENA LED Road Flares
- 3. Best Chemical Road Flare: Cyalume Chemlight Chemical Light Sticks
- 4. Twinkle Star LED Emergency Road Flares
- 5. Cartman DOT-Approved Warning Triangles
- 6. Gear Gurus LED Road Flares
- 7. Garage Monkey Engineering LED Road Flares
- 8. Life Gear LED Road Flares
- 9. Marcala LED Roadside LED Road Flare Safety Discs
- 10. Lumen Wand LED Reflective Triangle
- Why Should You Keep Road Flares in Your Vehicle?
- How Have Road Flares Changed in Recent Years?
- Does a Road Flare Have to be Battery Powered to be Effective?
- What Are The Downsides to Battery-Powered Flares?
1. Editor’s Pick: Tobfit 6-Pack LED Road Flares
Our first recommendation is this product from Tobfit, which is a set of six battery-powered LED road flares. Tobfit describes this set of flares as a “family pack” that you can divide among all the vehicles in your household. Whether you do that or keep them all in one vehicle, we think these warning lights are a great addition to your road trip safety kit.
These flares glow with an orange-red light that Tobfit says can be seen from a mile away at night. They feature nine modes that include different brightness settings: steady-on, flashing, and three flashlight settings for illumination while you make repairs.
Built to IP67 waterproofing standards for electronic devices, these flares promise to work in wet or dry conditions. They are also built to withstand 30 tons of weight, which means they should suffer no damage if you or your roadside rescuer drive over them. Also, each flare has a magnetic backing plate, so you can even attach one or two to your vehicle’s bodywork.
2. Best Value: HOKENA LED Road Flares
Our second recommendation earns our best value label because these flares come as part of a comprehensive roadside emergency kit. HOKENA packages either three or five flares with a carry bag, a tool for cutting seatbelts and breaking window glass, a thermal blanket, a whistle, batteries, and keychain-sized tools for opening the battery compartment. These flares come with AAA batteries already installed, so you can use them right out of the box.
You can set these flares’ 12 amber warning lights to nine different modes that include always-on (low or high), various flashing settings, and even a morse code mode that flashes SOS. A three-LED flashlight setting activates white lights on the face of the flare. Depending on the mode you choose, HOKENA promises anywhere from 10 to 35 hours of battery life.
These flares also promise visibility of one mile, along with crushproof and waterproof construction. Each flare has a magnet you can attach to the side or rear of your vehicle.
3. Best Chemical Road Flare: Cyalume Chemlight Chemical Light Sticks
For a change of pace, here’s a road flare product you can choose if you want to avoid the risk of failed batteries after a long period of disuse. These light sticks are based on the same chemical technology that goes into the glow bracelets you can buy at the dollar store. If you bend, snap, and then shake one of these sticks, you’ll be rewarded with a bright, red light that Cyalume says will be visible up to a mile away.
Cyalume claims it manufactures these light sticks to military-grade specifications. However, they are non-toxic, so they’re even safe for your kids to use while camping, hiking, or playing in the back yard. However, these light sticks really shine when employed as emergency road flares. Cyalume says each flare is designed to provide useful light for 12 hours, after which they will dim and go out. Sold in packs of 10, each six-inch flare is individually packaged in foil and promises a shelf life of four years, after which you should replace unused flares.
While we’re recommending Cyalume’s red light sticks for road flare use, you can also choose from blue, green, orange, yellow, or white.
4. Twinkle Star LED Emergency Road Flares
Next on our list is a Twinkle Star product that attempts to blend the look of a traditional road flare with modern LED technology. Twinkle Star offers you its LED road flares in sets of two. Each one consists of a red LED array at the top, a reflective shaft, and a four-footed stand to help keep the flare upright by your vehicle. However, buyers report that the bases are not weighted. Each flare also has a built-in magnetic base so that you can attach it to the side of your car.
These flares promise visibility of one mile. You can set the flare to stay lit continuously, flash the morse code message for SOS, or provide more focused lighting for flashlight use.
Each light uses three AAA batteries, which are included. One buyer reported their kit arrived with dead batteries, so we recommend that you test the flares as soon as you receive them. The kit comes packaged in a compact, hard-sided case.
5. Cartman DOT-Approved Warning Triangles
If you prefer a low-tech, low-maintenance approach to roadside safety, check out this set of warning triangles from Cartman as an alternative to LED road flares. A reflective orange triangle is one of the designs the U.S. Department of Transportation recognizes as an approved warning device for broken down vehicles. Indeed, Cartman says its warning triangles conform to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 571,125. So while these triangles are a relatively unsophisticated solution for roadside safety, you won’t have to worry about other road users knowing what it means when they see the triangles reflected in their headlights.
In each kit, you get three warning triangles, each with its own stand that keeps it upright on the roadway, with Cartman promising the non-skid base will withstand strong winds. Each triangle stands 17-inches tall and sports red reflectors on both sides for effective visibility. You can fold the triangles down into a compact size so that they all fit in the supplied storage case.
Cartman also makes its warning triangles in a design that satisfies the European Union’s road safety rules.
6. Gear Gurus LED Road Flares
For the next item on our list, we bring you another set of puck-style LED road flares, this time from Gear Gurus. Visually and functionally, these flares are similar to the ones we’ve profiled above. Each kit includes three disc-shaped flares that use bright LEDs to warn other drivers and road users that you’ve experienced a breakdown.
Gear Gurus’ LEDs shine red and boast six lighting modes, though the company doesn’t describe those different settings. Based on the images in Gear Gurus’ listing, however, one is a set of white LEDs for task lighting. The company does make the usual claims of one-mile visibility along with water and crush resistance so that you can confidently use these flares in challenging conditions. Each light also has a hook by which you can hang it under your vehicle’s hood, for example, if you’re diagnosing engine trouble.
The kit also includes a screwdriver for opening the battery compartment, and a set of gloves to protect your hands from dirt and injury while you get your vehicle moving again.
7. Garage Monkey Engineering LED Road Flares
Next up is another set of disc-style lights that is among the most affordable of its type that we found. Garage Monkey Engineering sells its LED road flares in a package of two. You’ll recognize many features of these lights from the other similar products we’ve featured here. Each flare uses three AAA batteries to produce red-orange light. You can toggle through nine different settings using the button in the top panel, including a flashlight that employs a separate set of white LEDs for a focused beam of light. Among the flashing modes is a morse code that repeats the SOS message.
These flares are waterproof for use in any weather. They also promise to float, which can be handy if you wish to use them on a boat. The back panel features a magnet in case you want to affix these flares to your vehicle’s body.
Replacing the batteries requires a screwdriver, which is not included. Your purchase does not include batteries, either. One drawback of Garage Monkey Engineering’s design is that these lights are not crush-resistant, so they will be damaged if you or someone else accidentally drives over them.
8. Life Gear LED Road Flares
Life Gear makes our list of the best road flares with an LED-powered design that emulates the classic stand-up pyrotechnic style. This is an especially affordable product that we feel confident recommending if you are on a tight budget, but find yourself frequently making long car trips in challenging conditions.
These road flares are not as bright as others on our list, so choose another product if you want something visible from a long way off. However, these flares do cast a useful amount of red light to warn other drivers that you’re stranded at the roadside. You can use these flares to cast a constant glow or flash in a repeating pattern.
Life Gear has designed its flares to use LR44 disc-type batteries and claims you can use these lights for up to 100 hours in flashing mode, and 20 hours when switched to the solid-on setting. Each flare comes with a stand to keep it upright on the ground, and the bases are also magnetic in case you want to secure the flare to your vehicle.
9. Marcala LED Roadside LED Road Flare Safety Discs
The next spot on our list goes to these square LED flares from Marcala. The company makes the impressive claim that you can see these road flares from up to two miles away at night, which doubles the visibility claims made by competitive designs. In addition, Marcala says its flares are visible one mile away in daylight.
Each kit includes three square road flares, which you can place on the ground near your disabled vehicle or use the magnetic surface to stick them to your car or truck. Each light also has a built-in hook for hands-free use while you work under the hood. Marcala’s road flares shine orange-red and can be set to a variety of flashing modes, a solid-on mode, and a flashlight/task light setting that activates white LEDs. The lights are waterproof and crushproof, are designed to float, and can withstand temperatures from negative 40-degrees Fahrenheit to 212-degrees F.
Each light comes with AAA batteries installed. The kit also includes two screwdrivers to open the battery compartment, and a whistle.
10. Lumen Wand LED Reflective Triangle
Our final road flare recommendation for you is this product from Lumen Wand, which combines the utility of a reflective road flare with battery-powered illumination. This combo is Lumen Wand’s specialty: the company also makes an LED reflective traffic wand from which it derives its name.
Using three AAA batteries, this hazard triangle lights up from both sides so it will be visible to all drivers. Lumen Wand says its design’s other perk is that the triangle is reflective front and back, too, unlike traditional triangles that only have one reflective surface. This is one of the few road flare products we found that provides both active and passive visibility.
The light has solid-on and flash modes, with Lumen Wand claiming the flash setting provides better long-distance visibility. The batteries fit into the triangle’s base, and a single button activates both lighting modes. This triangle has a built-in stand that twists away when you don’t need it for space-efficient storage. The downside is that Lumen Wand sells its triangle singly with no option to bundle multiples in a more affordable package.
Why Should You Keep Road Flares in Your Vehicle?
No matter how lucky you are or how diligently you maintain your vehicle, there is always the possibility that your car or truck will break down. If it happens at night and you’re unable to move the vehicle off the roadway, making it visible to other drivers is critical to avoid a crash.
That “what if” scenario is the main purpose of carrying flares when you travel by road. No matter which style you buy, you can use flares to alert other road users to an obstruction. This is especially important if you are changing a flat tire or attempting a roadside repair, but flares are also a good idea if you are going to sit in your vehicle while you wait for help to arrive.
How Have Road Flares Changed in Recent Years?
If you haven’t shopped for road flares in some time, you may only be familiar with the old-style “fusee” flares. These are pyrotechnic devices that, once lit, glow bright orange or red for a period of time. They are effective, but can be difficult to light and can be dangerous in inexperienced hands.
Many modern flares are technically not flares at all in the strictest sense, because they use LEDs powered by household batteries to generate light, usually in a red-orange color synonymous with emergency situations. A couple of the battery-powered models on our list are designed to look like traditional flares.
Does a Road Flare Have to be Battery Powered to be Effective?
Flares that light up are the most effective, but there are other useful options. One of our battery-free recommendations is a set of reflective warning triangles. These make for a highly recognizable alert because the same shape is among the designs approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation to warn of a broken-down vehicle that is obstructing the roadway.
What Are The Downsides to Battery-Powered Flares?
One drawback is that batteries run down over time even if you don’t use the lights, so you’ll have to check every few months that your flares will work when you need them. And if you leave them unused long enough, the batteries can leak toxic chemicals that can ruin the flares themselves.
Also, traditional pyrotechnic flares are more effective for daytime use. A battery-fed LED flare will not be as useful in a daylight emergency, especially if the sky is bright and sunny.
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