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Best Emergency Flares for Distress Signals

When you are in a life-or-death situation and need to call for help to survive, a reliable emergency flare can be your lifeline. You'll want to be seen for miles, and may even need a launcher to be seen. With shipping restrictions on pyrotechnic flares, there are only a few brands and types available but they perform very differently.

This is where we come in. We’ve researched the best flares, tested them, and now the results are in: the overall best, an LED option, and a launcher option. If you need to get help from afar, one of our picks will reliably send a signal.

Contents (Jump to a Section)

  • The Best Emergency Flare
  • Best LED Flare
  • Best Flare Launcher
  • Everything We Recommend
  • The Flares We Compared
  • What to Look For
  • How to Use a Flare for Survival
  • Who Needs Emergency Flares?

The Best Emergency Flare

Orion Safety Flares

High Visibility, Versatile, and Dependable

The original safety flare gets it done with a reliably bright, hot flame that is visible for miles.

$29* at Amazon

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

These simple pyrotechnic flares make sense in a wide range of emergency situations. Whether you're stranded roadside, out to sea, or deep in the backwoods- these flares put out enough light and smoke to signal long distances.

Orion may have monopolized shippable flares, but they are reliable, which is what really matters most. These flares never expire, making them ideal for emergency kits.

Here is what you get with this flare kit:

  • 9-pack
  • All-weather waxed flares w/ caps
  • 15-minute burn time
  • 6.2 ounces (each)

These highly visible, versatile, and dependable flares get it done every time- so it's easy to see why the Orion Safety Flares are the best.

LED Puck Flare

Best LED Flare

LED Puck Flare

Inexpensive, Lightweight, and Effective

These versatile LED pucks are useful in a huge range of situations and are small enough to pack in any mobile survival kit.

$20* at Amazon

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

While they aren't going to send a signal as far as a pyrotechnic flare, these LED flares make up for it with versatility. They work in any weather conditions and can take a beating. You can slap them on any metal surface with the magnetic back and they have a variety of light modes depending on what signal you need.

They are lightweight and versatile enough to include in any car survival kit and make sense to consider in a wide range of other survival kits.

Here is how the pucks measure up:

  • 3-pack
  • Red LEDs with 9 light modes
  • Up to 48-hour runtime, rechargeable lithium battery
  • Waterproof, crushproof, and magnetic
  • 5.3 ounces (each)
  • 4″ D x 1.25″ H

If you need a versatile light or flare for your vehicle, these LED Puck Flares are what you're looking for.

Orion Safety Alerter Flare Launcher Pistol

Best Flare Launcher

Orion Safety Alerter

Best Visibility, Versatile, and Reliable

Pop a flare to be seen for miles with this dependable 12-gauge flare launcher that will get you seen.

$78* at Amazon

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

The ultimate flare tool for getting attention, this pistol launcher kit is for when you don't have time to spare. Send up a 12-gauge flare that pumps out over 16,000 candles to be seen day or night from a huge range. Aerial flares drastically increase the distance you can be seen from several miles to over 40 miles.

This launcher exceeds USCG flare requirements (day and night) for most marine vessels and is known as a ‘Red Meteor' type of flare. They recommend you are reasonably sure you will be seen and launch two flares in sequence for assistance.

Here are the full specs:

  • 12-gauge pistol launcher
  • 4-pack red aerial flares
  • 7-second burn time, 500-foot altitude
  • Lifetime warranty
  • 1.2 pounds

If you are looking for a reliable launcher to send up a flare, you'll want to pick up the Orion Safety Alerter Flare Launcher Kit.

Everything We Recommend

Orion Safety Flares

Orion Safety Flares

The original safety flare gets it done with a reliably bright, hot flame that is visible for miles.

Where to Buy

$29* at Amazon

*at time of reviewing

LED Puck Flare

LED Puck Flares

These versatile LED pucks are useful in a huge range of situations and are small enough to pack in any mobile survival kit.

Where to Buy

$20* at Amazon

*at time of reviewing

Orion Safety Alerter Flare Launcher Pistol

Orion Safety Alerter

Pop a flare to be seen for miles with this dependable 12-gauge flare launcher that will get you seen.

Where to Buy

$78* at Amazon

*at time of reviewing

The Flares We Compared

Our research narrowed the field down to a few brands and types of flares that we compared: Orion, Eflare, Lizard, Flarealert, Bell, EMI, and more.

You can see our full list of review criteria below in the What to Look For section, with an explanation for each.

We considered a wide range of signal devices but focused on pyrotechnic and LED flares for our testing. We did not go too ‘outside-the-box' with tools not necessarily branded flares, like tracer rounds or lighted drones.

We’re always looking for new and better gear, so if you have a reliable flare we didn't consider, let us know in the comments. We review most of our tested gear annually so we can try to get it in the next roundup round and see if it will beat out our top picks.

What to Look For

The best emergency flares have a few features to look for:

  1. Value
  2. Durability
  3. Leverage
  4. Size & Weight
  5. Versatility

When you get the right blend of these, you can find an emergency flare that will reliably help you be seen. Below, we break down what each of these features means for the safety flares that truly set themselves apart.

Value: Cost vs. Benefit

The amount of money you spend on something like a flare shouldn’t blow out your entire budget. Unless your budget is really strapped, they shouldn't set you back much. They are inexpensive and our top pick has an unlimited shelf life, meaning you only need to invest once.

Still, you never want to spend too much money on one tool when it comes to survival kits. It’s better to diversify your spending to make sure you are covered for a wide range of scenarios.


Pyrotechnic flares have great light intensity, burning between 10,000 and 40,000 candles depending on the flare model. This brightness allows it to be seen far away, plus they put out a good amount of smoke that can be visible during daytime.

LEDs don't have the intensity and smoke production of conventional flares, but can still put out some lumens of their own. The main benefit LED flares bring is how long they can continue to signal.

Signal Time

As a trade-off to intensity and altitude, some signal flares just run for a really long time. If you are unsure when help could arrive, this may be a better option. It also gives you a lot of versatility since you will have some light for much longer than a 7-second aerial flare.

While conventional pyrotechnic flares can run up to 30 minutes, LED flares really excel here with runtimes that can span days. If you are looking to extend your signaling tool into a small light or marking device, there is a wide range of survival versatility these things bring.

Size & Weight

Flares themselves are typically lightweight and don't take up much room in a kit. Launchers can add some ounces though, with a simple pistol launcher weighing a bit more than a pound.

You'll need to look at your situation and survival kit specifically to determine your needs and how much size and weight you can accommodate. This is one reason we say flares are essential for many kits.


Both LED and pyrotechnic flares have their uses for sending signals, but they also each bring different versatility to your survival kits.

The best emergency flares can be used for a wide range of survival uses that we cover below.

How to Use a Flare for Survival

The main use for an emergency flare is to signal for help in an emergency. There are plenty more survival uses, but we'll go over the main use first:

  1. Line of Sight: Make sure you will be visible for long distances or directly to those who could assist you. The USCG recommends you wait until you can verify help is in the area before you use your flares so you don't waste them.
  2. Remove Flare Cap or Cover: Take off the cap and let anyone with you know you plan to light the flare. Don't accidentally light it prematurely and get a good grip on the flare so you don't drop it.
  3. Light the Flare: Use the strike cap or pull tab to ignite the flare (check the instructions to see which).
  4. Signal: Hold the flare at arm's length and move it in a circle or figure eight for visibility.
  5. Extinguish: When the flare goes out, make sure it is fully out by extinguishing it in dirt or water. (Don't start a forest fire!)

For survival uses beyond signaling, flares can be useful as a fire starter, light source, sending smoke signals, deterring wildlife, trail marking, and even as an emergency heat source.

‘Crazy Russian Hacker' aka Taras Kul showed off our top pick as it relates to survival a few years ago:

Who Needs Emergency Flares?

Flares might be a requirement for certain vehicles, but they make a lot of sense in a wide range of survival kits too.

Flares are essential for:

  • Bug Out Vehicles

We suggest you add flares to these kits:

  • Car Survival Kit
  • Bug Out Bag
  • Get Home Bag
  • INCH Bag
  • SCARE Kit

Depending on your other signal methods and communication resources, you can consider adding them to your:

  • Home Survival Kit

As long as you are safe with handling and storing flares, there is not much of a drawback to picking up a few since they are so inexpensive.

How We Review Products: We research thoroughly before selecting the best products to review. We consult experts in the field for a better understanding of what makes the gear great. Hours on end are spent field testing gear in stressful conditions. We assign performance criteria and impartially rate each tested item. You can support us through our independently chosen links, which can earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. After our review process, some of the items reviewed end up in our giveaways.

Sources and References

All of our experience and the testing we do to determine the best emergency flares are useless without listing our research sources and references. We leaned on these for the book knowledge that we paired with our hands-on testing and practical survival experience:

Riva, M., et al. (1980). Impact of Highway Safety Flares on Driver Behavior. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board. Issue 3. Pages 39 – 48. (Source)

Sabatini, J., et al. (2015). Chlorine-Free Red-Burning Pyrotechnics. Angewandte Chemie. Volume 54. Issue 37. Pages 10968 – 10970. (Source)

Webster, H. (1985). Visible Spectra of Standard Navy Colored Flares. Propellants, Explosives, Pyrotechnics. Volume 10. Issue 1. Pages 1 – 4. (Source)

The Final Word

Flares aren't anything new, and can even be a requirement for some activities. Even though they are low-tech, they are hands-down one of the most reliable signaling methods for long distances. This is why they make sense beyond cars and boats- consider them for your other survival kits as well.

Here are a few other guides and reviews our subscribers have found helpful:

  • Best Emergency Glow Sticks
  • The Best Signal Mirror for Rescue and Survival
  • Get Home Bag (GHB) Guide, Gear List, and Checklist

We presented quite a lot of information, but as always: if you have any questions let us know and we would be happy to help. Our research and testing found the Orion Safety Flares to be the best option given its value, intensity, signal time, size/weight, and versatility.

Keep exploring, stay prepared, and be safe.

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The Best Emergency Flare

The post Best Emergency Flares for Distress Signals appeared first on TruePrepper.


By: Rusty Collins
Title: Best Emergency Flares for Distress Signals
Sourced From:
Published Date: Wed, 20 Sep 2023 12:10:55 +0000

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