Light Sticks: A Buying Guide for the Complete Beginner

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Beware: You should never explore wild caves alone or without proper gear. Consider getting in touch with a Grotto of the National Speleological Society at or a qualified cave club. These groups are skilled and will train you. Without sufficient knowledge, preparation, and equipment, cave exploring can lead to serious injury or death.

Light Sticks, or Glow Sticks, are one of the most popular items for parties, but they are frequently used by professional cavers too. They are even in the emergency packs of hikers, especially if they are going for trips into lesser developed locations.

Though buying glow sticks looks quite easy and straightforward, many small features can make a significant difference in how they perform when you need them.

But don’t worry! In this guide, we are going to share everything you need to know about light sticks and help you decide on the right ones to buy when you’re packing for your next caving adventure.

Types of Light Sticks

Party Sticks

A crowd holds up colorfully lit light sticks at a festival.

Glow sticks come in two main types – Party & Emergency. The party glow sticks are similar to emergency sticks, but the main difference is they are lumistick glow sticks. Lumistick glow sticks are mostly made of chemicals. You just need to shake them up and they start glowing. People can use them to have fun at parties or festivals.

Party sticks also have a shorter life and traditionally come with a hanging hook so that you can hang them on a tree or decorate your room. But if one breaks, the chemicals or broken glass inside can cause problems.

Emergency Sticks

On the contrary, most emergency sticks are more safe, non-toxic and waterproof. Some emergency glowing sticks come with batteries and have more glow and vibrant light than a party stick. They are great for a mountaineering expedition, as these lights can be used for signaling from a distance.

Emergency sticks are more durable as well. Some have a hook, but they are bright enough to do the job just by holding them in your hands.

Apart from this, the formula of the liquid tends to differ in both sticks. The type of liquid decides the quality of luminescence. Our advice is to buy from a reputable and famous manufacturer as they immensely focus on the quality; they stay clear from the bargain basement and make the best product that are sufficient for professionals. In party glowing sticks, we see a mixture of fluorescent dyes and hydrogen that makes them glow in unique ways and produce a different kind of light.

But the liquid formula of emergency sticks is usually safer. The main goal is to make them safe and nontoxic, especially inside water-filled caves as you are very close to the luminescence due to the presence of water. They need to be able to withstand the increased pressure, so companies take this into account.

Necklace sticks

Some party sticks come in the form of glow stick necklaces. But you don’t need necklace sticks for a caving adventure. They are mostly for kids and recreation. Necklace sticks are long and straw-like glow sticks, and they can change into other wearable shapes. Some people use them on their gadgets for night parties. But for caving, steer clear of things like this that won’t really be necessary or too helpful.

Light Sticks Qualities to Consider

A caver brightly illuminates a narrow passage inside a cave.

All light sticks are not created equal. Features and design can differ more than you might think, especially if you’ve mostly only encountered the variety found at parties. To make the right decision for your purchase, you will have to compare thickness, color, pack size, glow time, flammability, cost, and more.

To activate a typical glow stick, you simply need to apply gentle pressure in the middle with your thumb; this allows the chemical to mix and start glowing. You can also shake it well. However, battery-operated sticks have a button. All you need is to press it to activate them and they will stay on for hours. It works the same as the charging light.

If you have multiple light sticks, great. But you shouldn’t need to use two together. The glow of one stick is more than enough to read maps or illuminate uneven surfaces in the dark. If you still need more light just for fun, it is completely fine to use multiple lights for more glow, but otherwise, simply keep the extra sticks for emergency situations.

1) Thickness and Durability

Consider the thickness of the glass. Some products have a very thin glass which can’t be used underwater or even in a bath tub. If you’re planning on going cave diving, it’s important to know that your light sticks will actually be of use before you actually go underwater.

If you are looking for specific features here, we recommend 6-inch, 15-mm sticks. These are heavy-duty, and known as industrial-grade. Workers use them for signaling or close-range operations. Moreover, due to their thickness and toughness, one can use them safely underwater, making them a great choice for cave divers.

These days most light sticks are both weatherproof and waterproof. It is better to go for this feature specifically if you are buying them for diving purposes. As far as we know, the battery-operated sticks are usually not waterproof. They can operate rather well for camping or traditional caving, but in wet conditions, their performance is not as impressive. In fact, in wet conditions, you might find that you stress about your expensive battery-operated sticks rather than enjoying the exploration process.

Four divers swim underwater with green light sticks fastened to their backs.
Never lose a buddy underwater again!

2) Color Variety

We know many people, especially cavers, won’t really think about the color – does it provide enough light or not?

People think all colors work the same way in the dark, which is not true at all. The color of the glow stick might become an important factor for your needs. Glow sticks often come in packs, with many color variations.

You need to learn which color makes the most sense for the applications you are planning to use. For example, some people like to buy white light. It is great and an excellent choice for reading maps or taking photographs of the plants and rocks inside the cave, but this light isn’t highly visible in all conditions.

For emergency or warning people of danger, you have to rely on red, yellow, or green light. These colors are more visible and suitable for signaling and marking.

Keep popular colors in your emergency kit and tell your friend beforehand which color you are going to use for an emergency or dangerous situation. Perhaps you will use red when underwater to signal that there is an issue and you need to go back to the surface.

3) Pack Size

If you aren’t interested in the battery-operated stick, go for the pack.

The glowing stick pack is great for one-time cavers and it is ideal for an 8-10 people group. Each group member can have 10 sticks and have more than enough light for hours inside a cave. Furthermore, the glowing stick pack is easy on the pocket. If you are a professional caver, the quantity of the sticks can help you stay inside the cave for days. You won’t have any trouble exploring the formation. You will have enough light to read 24/7 with just one pack.

There is another benefit of buying sticks in a pack. If some glowing stick starts to leak for any reason, you won’t panic. You have 25 or 50 other sticks inside the bag which can be utilized at once.

Remember to check the size of the sticks as well. Mostly six-inch sticks are available in the market, which are perfect for outdoor activities and fit well in the hands of the cavers. Professional cavers can even put them inside their caving suit pockets. Campers also love these small sticks because of their hooks; they can hang them inside their tents while sleeping or relaxing.

4) Glow Time

The glow time tells you the quality of the glow/light stick.

The standard time of the glow in each stick is anywhere from 8-12 hours. But some sticks, especially battery-operated ones, last even longer. Many customers report that they face variations in the glow time especially if they are buying a pack. This can happen, but the difference isn’t significant. It is often the color that diminishes over time and makes the light look dull. The average proper glowing time you need to keep in mind is 6-8 hours.

The glow time is also directly related to the shelf life of glowing sticks.

The standing time is 2-years, but companies are advertising 5-years shelf life these days. Experts believe if you are very passionate about caving, it is better to replace the glowing sticks with fresh ones every two years.

This doesn’t mean you should only aim for the 2-year shelf life products. A 5-year shelf life feature is still going to be safer, but if you don’t replace those sticks every few years, it will increase the likelihood that they won’t work when you need them the most.

A waterfall is colorfully illuminated by streams of light.

5) Storage

Glowing sticks can be stored in a bag without fear that they will leak or melt. Manufacturers often test the quality and durability of their sticks before offering them in the market as they know they are used by children and teenagers too. It is even possible to store them in a car or with your camping gear.

But the ideal temperature for use and storage is around 50 degrees. This temperature suits both camping and caving activities. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to find the temperature of the sticks in most descriptions. If you are buying some different or a powerful glow stick with batteries, it is good to contact their customer support team and ask questions regarding the temperature.

This will give you a pretty good idea about how they perform in inclement weather or harsh conditions. Preppers should focus on the temperature feature particularly as their first aim is to store them.

6) Cost

The cost of the glow sticks depends on their set. For example, the least expensive set has 25 sticks; its price is between $10 and $25.

This set is great for one-time cavers as they can check how the glow sticks perform inside the dark passages of a cave. There is a mid-range set too which costs around $45; it has 52 pieces, however, they are divided into different color sets; there will be 8 red sticks, 8 blue sticks, etc.

Some mid-range sets also have 4-5 glowing necklaces for party and entertainment. We have some high-end packages as well that contain 1,000 pieces. They provide the largest variety of solid and gradient colors.

12 Ultra Bright Glow Sticks - Emergency Light Sticks for Camping Accessories, Parties, Hurricane Supplies, Earthquake, Survival Kit and More
These green light sticks last over 12 hours each.

7) Dangers and Disposal of Used Sticks

Nowadays, light sticks are extremely safe. If a company promotes its sticks as non-flammable, it means its product doesn’t generate any kind of heat and you can use it constantly for hours without any issue about where it’s stored or left unattended. Typically, any light stick you find will be non-flammable, but it’s worth checking just in case.

Glow sticks have safe chemicals, but this doesn’t mean you can recycle them. Once used up, they should go into the regular garbage. Don’t try to keep them inside the home or in some drawer, especially if you have small children at home.

These products are advertised as nontoxic, but teething children can ingest their fluid accidentally. In case some accidental ingestion happens and your child consumes the chemical, call the emergency services straight away; they are the ones who will determine the best course of action.

With that said, if a stick breaks and the liquid is spilled on furniture, wall, or clothing, it is easy to get it off with water and soap. You can also contact the customer support team of the product and ask them about the cleaning products that are effective with their liquid formula.

What is the meaning of CPSIA Compliant?

We often see this tag in the description of glow sticks. The CPSIA Compliant confirms that the product is safe for children and it doesn’t have harmful levels of lead and phthalates. Companies use this tag for the products which are safe for children under age 12. Though it doesn’t mean there is no lead at all. Some products like toys, paints, and glow sticks are CPSIA Compliant but they have an allowable safe amount of lead which is 90 ppm. In other words, this tag is the certificate for safety and it is used to increase the worth of the product.

Several cavers look down a slope at stalagmites and other formations below.


If you are buying glow sticks for the first time, remember that they are designed to be used in dark environments. You can’t check the quality of their light during the day or in the evening. The best place to check their quality is outside at night or inside a darkened room.

If possible, use an environment that imitates the exact environment of the cave. Glow sticks do glow in daylight also but you notice a faint glow only that is barely noticeable. So, make sure you are checking them in the right environment.

If you have any further questions or opinions to share on light sticks, feel free to let us know below! And When you’ve figured out exactly what kind of light you’ll need, head over to this article to see our top 5 glow stick review.

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