Lighting the Way: The 10 Best Road Flares

Lighting the Way: The 10 Best Road Flares

Having your car break down on the side of the road is not fun; it’s downright stressful. Whether you’re trying to do repairs close to oncoming traffic or you’re stuck waiting hours for a tow truck, it can be a dangerous and time-consuming process.

To minimize danger and alert other drivers of your location on the side of the road, you should always have road flares as an essential part of your emergency kit.

Buying a set of road flares might sound like an easy endeavor, but if you take into consideration the different types, functions, and precautions, it becomes less straightforward.

Here’s everything you need to know.

Factors to Consider When Shopping for Road Flares

Who would’ve thought that there’s more to road flares than what meets the eye? Some are battery-powered, while others have chem lights instead of fuses. Each type has its own set of advantages and drawbacks that you need to be aware of to avoid any surprises out on the road.

The Different Types of Road Flares

There are three distinct types of flares that you’re likely to come across. First are LED flares, which are the most popular because of their versatility. Second, snaplight flares (sometimes called chem light flares), which essentially work like the glowsticks you get in a nightclub, but brighter. And last but not least, pyrotechnic flares, which emit an intense flame and are the ones that probably first come to mind when you picture road flares.

The functionality of these three types is generally the same, but how well they operate can vary depending on their power source, the weather, and visibility conditions. Here’s a breakdown of the three different types and how they work:

LED

The new and modern model of road flares. They’re reusable because they are powered by batteries instead of fire, and they can last for days at a time. These flares come with a large variety of settings and features to complement your emergency kit, and they can adjust to every type of situation related to roadside repairs. They tend to be waterproof, and some are even crushproof.

Snaplight

Also known as chem lights, these models are often advertised as military-grade and are easy to use; you just have to snap and shake them. They work like glow sticks, so they don’t produce fire and don’t need batteries, making them very versatile and resistant to different weather types. However, sometimes they are literally outshined by their counterparts.

Pyrotechnic

These are the road flares you usually see in shows and movies. When you light them, a chemical reaction starts a fire and slowly burns the fuel source inside of it. They usually last 15 minutes to an hour, depending on their chemical composition. Water is their number one enemy, so they are not ideal in wet conditions.

It is always advised to follow safety precautions when handling these flares, as they can inflict serious burns. However, they burn brighter than the other two types — and, let’s face it, look the coolest.

How to Choose the Best Road Flare

All road flares fulfill the same goal: warning oncoming traffic that you are pulled over. However, the way they operate does change depending on certain external factors. Here are the key characteristics to keep in mind when buying road flares:

Reliability

Do you live in a cold or warm climate? Strong winds and extreme cold weather can freeze the materials used in pyrotechnic flares, so it is important to keep them stored properly and not out in the open. LED road flares thrive in cold weather, as long as the batteries are well protected. Snaplight flares are sturdier and work well in most weather conditions.

If you’re unlucky enough to experience a breakdown in the midst of extreme weather conditions, like in the middle of a Minnesotan winter, a good set of properly stored pyrotechnic flares or well-isolated LED flares will be your best friend.

Brightness

Of the three different types, nothing shines brighter than pyrotechnic road flares. However, that doesn’t mean that LED and snaplight models are not visible. It all depends on the time of the day and the general visibility.

Longevity

Depending on your location, you may have to spend more time waiting for services. For example, in a city it may take just half an hour for a tow truck to reach you, while in the country, it could take hours. If you know you will be regularly traveling through more remote areas, LED flares or snaplight flares will be your best bet, as they tend to last longer than pyrotechnic flares.

Price and Quantity

Generally speaking, the cheapest products tend to be less versatile, but they still get the job done and let other drivers know where you are. Notably, road flares typically come in packs, which usually range from $20 to $60. The price heavily depends on the number of flares in the pack, the brand, and the scope of their functionality. You can find all of this information within our product reviews.

Now you know what to look out for, let’s get straight into our product list.

Top 8 Best Road Flares 2021

1. Best Overall Road Flares: HOKENA Car Safety Flare Kit

HOKENA Car Safety Flare Kit

Why we like it: This option provides you with not only LED road flares but a complete emergency kit, including batteries and the tools to change them.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts:

  • Number of flares: 3
  • Type: LED
  • Light duration: 20 hours on average
  • Brightness: Intense during nighttime
  • Crushproof: Yes
  • Waterproof: Yes

Hokena goes above and beyond most road flare companies by offering not only a reliable and versatile road flare kit, but also a series of safety items to go along with it. These items include an emergency escape tool that also works as a seat belt cutter, an emergency whistle, and a pair of thermal blankets.

The kit includes three road flares, which all come with batteries pre-installed. Not every kit provides batteries, and this is something that can definitely increase the price after purchase if you account for the three AAA batteries each flare needs to work.

Each road flare has 9 different settings, so you can customize them and adapt to every situation with ease. There are three intense white LEDs at the top of each flare, in case you need white light to focus on different objects or to use while performing repairs on your car. While LEDs emit a really bright light, it may not be bright enough for daytime use, and you may find them hard to spot during mid-day drives.

The flares are crushproof up to 1000 pounds in case they get run over. They’re also tightly sealed, making them waterproof, and they can even float. They are fitted with an anti-scratch magnet if you want to attach them to your car.

Despite its shortcomings related to day-time use, Hokena provides not only a road flares kit but an essential addition to your emergency kit.

Pros

  • Waterproof design
  • Versatile light settings
  • Customizable for different situations
  • Includes various tools for a more complete emergency kit
  • Comes with pre-installed batteries

Cons

  • Hard to spot during the day

2. Best Pyrotechnic Road Flares: ORION Emergency Road Flares

ORION Emergency Road Flares

Why we like it: The intense chemical reaction is unmatched by LED lights, ensuring better visibility in various conditions.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts:

  • Number of flares: 6 (2 packs of 3)
  • Type: Pyrotechnic
  • Light duration: 15 minutes
  • Brightness: Intense in any situation
  • Crushproof: No
  • Waterproof: No

No electronic device can match the brightness produced by a pyrotechnic flare, so if your primary concern is being seen by other drivers on the road, this is the product for you. Unlike LED flares, these pyrotechnic flares perform well at any time of the day. Should you need an extra light, each pack includes a snaplight flare that you can use to complement your warning signal or to inspect your car.

You need to be extra careful with this type of flare because they can produce severe injuries if pieces of the flare burn off. Be careful about where you place them and always keep them stored in their original package to avoid deterioration, which can cause malfunctions.

Unlike LED models, these flares are designed to do one thing only: to make yourself visible. They don´t have light modes or settings; you just light them and they´re ready to go. They´re a straightforward and simple solution, but do come with some drawbacks. They’re not waterproof or crushproof, which is something you need to consider depending on your expectations and needs.

They don’t require much cleanup or maintenance because they are made from a self-consuming material, so you don’t need to pick up after them or worry about littering. This is an important aspect because it means you don’t have to retrieve them when you´re done, which can be dangerous in high-speed zones.

Pros

  • Very intense light source
  • Doesn’t leave waste
  • Can be seen during the day

Cons

  • Requires extra care to set up and handle
  • Short duration time

3. Best LED Road Flares: Garage Monkey Engineering LED Lights

Garage Monkey Engineering LED Lights

Why we like it: These LED flares are versatile and perform well in extreme weather conditions while emitting some of the brightest light an LED module can produce.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts:

  • Number of flares: 4
  • Type: LED
  • Light duration: 20 hours
  • Brightness: Intense
  • Crushproof: Yes
  • Waterproof: Yes

Unlike many other brands, Garage Monkey provides you with a complete set of 4 flares for different kinds of situations. You can attach this extra flare to your car with the anti-scratch magnet or place it further down the road, to serve as an early warning sign that you are pulled over up ahead.

The brightness emitted from these LED flares is quite distinctive compared to other brands. They emit a reddish-orange light, which is easier for drivers to spot from a distance, especially at night.

These flares have different light settings and three white LED lights, along with a convenient hook that you can use to hang the flares on the hood of your car or set them at an angle on the floor to increase visibility. They also come with a set of gloves, so your hands don’t get dirty while setting up and picking them up from the ground.

The kit does not include batteries or a tool to change them. Each flare requires three AAA batteries, so in total you’ll need to buy 12 batteries. It’s best to opt for high-quality batteries because cheaper models might be more susceptible to humidity.

All in all, this is an excellent product. All of the flares offer extensive functionality and excellent brightness. However, if you are considering this product, you should also add a screwdriver and a few batteries to your shopping cart.

Pros

  • Comes in a pack of 4 instead of 3
  • Waterproof design
  • Really bright light
  • Versatile settings to customize your distress signal

Cons

  • Requires extra tools to change the batteries
  • Does not includes batteries

4. Best Budget Road Flares: SlimK LED Road Flares

SlimK LED Road Flares

Why we like it: Affordable but has all the functionalities of other models, and it comes with a convenient bag. It is simple and easy to use.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts:

  • Number of flares: 3 or 5
  • Type: LED
  • Light duration: 36 hours
  • Brightness: Medium
  • Crushproof: Yes
  • Waterproof: Yes

Just because this is a budget option doesn’t mean it lacks functionality or visibility benefits. The kit includes three flares, which have various light modes, so you can customize and arrange them depending on the situation.

If you’re concerned about cost-effectiveness, you’ll be glad to know that the SlimK Road Flares don’t cut corners. They offer pretty much the same functionality as the more expensive models do, including 9 different light modes, an anti-scratch magnet, and a front-facing white LED white light. The kit even includes batteries, so you can save money on the initial use.

The common denominator across many LED models is their ability to withstand the elements, and these flares are no exception. They are designed to be waterproof and can float. They are advertised as crushproof, but a few users have said they are not.

Although the kit comes with batteries, they’re not the best quality, so it’s probably best to buy some extra ones for emergencies. It also doesn’t have come with a screwdriver to replace the batteries, so you need to source that tool yourself.

Pros

  • Excellent quality for price
  • Comes with many different settings
  • Last longer than other LED models
  • Available in various sizes
  • Comes with a complete emergency kit

Cons

  • Not crushproof
  • Not as visible during the daytime

5. Best Premium Road Flares: Tobfit 12 Pack LED Road Flares

Tobfit 12 Pack LED Road Flares

Why we like it: Generally speaking, 3-4 flares will not be enough for larger cargo trucks, vans, and semis. This kit offers 12 flares, making it the ideal choice for large vehicles.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts:

  • Number of flares: 12
  • Type: LED
  • Light duration: 12 hours
  • Brightness: Intense at night
  • Crushproof: Yes
  • Waterproof: Yes

Just like many other LED flares, these come with 9 different settings, including an SOS signal and a low light mode, which makes them a perfect complement to your boat flares. Do not replace your maritime flares with these because there are different legal requirements.

Tobfit claims that these road flares can be seen as far as a mile away at night. However, just like with many other LED lights, their daytime use is lacking.

When you are in extreme weather conditions, these flares perform well. They’re crushproof, waterproof, and are designed to float. However, they do not come with pre-installed batteries, so you need to buy 36 AAA batteries for the 12 flares – plus their emergency replacements.

Pros

  • Waterproof design
  • Variety of light settings
  • Long-lasting
  • Many different size options

Cons

  • Doesn’t include batteries

6. Best Snaplight Road Flares: Cyalume SnapLight Sticks

Cyalume SnapLight Sticks

Why we like it: They’re perfect for any weather and come in a large pack. They are by far the easiest to use and also quite versatile.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts:

  • Number of flares: 10
  • Type: Snaplight
  • Light duration: 12 hours
  • Brightness: Medium
  • Crushproof: Yes
  • Waterproof: Yes

Versatile and easy to use, these road flares are a great option in between pyrotechnic and LED lights. They don’t require batteries or produce potentially dangerous flames. They have an impressive 12-hour duration that is not impaired by weather conditions like rain or snow.

You can also use them in different situations outside of emergencies, like for hiking or camping. However, it’s best to keep a separate pack specifically for emergencies so you don’t run out when you need them.

The flares are available in several different colors, but it is recommended to choose red or orange for emergencies, as these are the colors everyone associates with danger or caution.

They are easy to spot during the night but are dimmer than LED flares during the day. It’s also nice to not worry about batteries.

You need to be wary about expiration dates because their intensity gradually decreases after they have expired. They don’t require any special type of storage, but they should still be handled with care. You have to pick up after them when you’re done, which can be dangerous.

Pros

  • Long-lasting
  • Easy to use and deploy
  • Pack includes 10 flares
  • Multiple color options

Cons

  • Light intensity is not as strong as other types
  • Light degrades after expiration date

7. Most Resilient Road Flares: Wagan FRED Light

Wagan FRED Light

Why we like it: Many models boast about their durability, but this one truly stands out from the rest when it comes to reliability. It excels in all kinds of weather conditions.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts:

  • Number of flares: 3 or 5
  • Type: LED
  • Light duration: 36 hours
  • Brightness: Medium
  • Crushproof: Yes
  • Waterproof: Yes

This kit is perfect for people who tend to drive in extreme weather situations or busy highways because the road flares are shatterproof and waterproof. Wagan Tech designed these road flares to prevent battery drainage related to humidity and lack of insulation, making them last longer than other options.

While LED flares are great for cold weather, products that are not insulated tend to underperform because their batteries drain faster, reducing their effectiveness and reliability on the road. You should generally change road flare batteries every six months or so, but many people don’t remember, so insulation is a better way to preserve energy in extreme conditions.

Resilience is an important quality to have in a product. In extreme conditions, you need to always be aware of how your flares are performing because buildup of mud or snow can render them completely useless. Just like other LED road flares, this product struggles during daytime use. It does not come with pre-installed batteries or a screwdriver to change them, which is something you need to account for yourself before including them in your emergency kit.

Pros

  • Longer battery life
  • Excellent for extreme conditions
  • Crushproof and shatterproof

Cons

  • Doesn’t come with batteries
  • Underperforms during daytime

8. Most Visible LED Road Flares: Twinkle Star Emergency Kit

Twinkle Star Emergency Kit

Why we like it: Sometimes it’s not about functionality or versatility but brightness. That’s where this product shines the most in relation to other brands.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts:

  • Number of flares: 3 or 5
  • Type: LED
  • Light duration: 36 hours
  • Brightness: Medium
  • Crushproof: Yes
  • Waterproof: Yes

These LED flares have a completely different shape than most brands and look more like pyrotechnic flares with a long and tube-like design. Because of this unique design, they are taller than most other LED flares, but they are not waterproof and or crushproof.

To keep it simple, each flare comes equipped with just three light settings: SOS, flashlight, and strobe. The flares come in packs of four, and the kit includes a sturdy storage case to keep them in great shape. They conveniently come with the batteries already installed.

Unfortunately, they’re not waterproof or crushproof so you need to be extra careful about their use during rain or in highly transited roads. They are a great product to use in the city but not so much in the country, where you’re more likely to find more mud or wet roads.

Just like other LED road flares, these come equipped with a magnetic base that can be attached to any vehicle for even better visibility.

Pros

  • Unique design
  • 3 different light settings
  • Long-lasting
  • Comes with a storage case

Cons

  • Not crushproof or waterproof

Guide to Buying Road Flares

Now you’ve seen the best products available, here’s everything else you need to know to support your buying decision.

Why Are Road Flares So Important to Have?

road flare ignited on highway

It all comes down to communication between you and everyone else on the road in an emergency situation. The sight of a road flare is a universally understood distress signal, a global convention that says, “Hey, I’m here – caution!”

You could set up a flare on a road in Tajikistan or Australia, and people in both places would know what it means and act accordingly. This is crucial for your own safety, even if you are not stopped for long. It’s important to alert other people on the road so they know to slow down and drive carefully.

Plus, having an emergency light source ready in your car is always a good idea. You never know when you could end up stuck somewhere and need extra light. It’s all a matter of being prepared. You don’t want to be the person who wishes they had put together an emergency kit after they’re already caught up in a difficult situation.

All in all, having road flares in your car comes down to a matter of safety, with the added bonus of the extra utility they offer.

How to Safely Use a Pyrotechnic Road Flare

With LEDs, you’re usually going to have one button to worry about, which is mainly used to change the light setting between different modes. They are completely safe to manipulate. Snaplights are even easier to use. All you have to do is snap and shake them, and you’re ready to go.

However, when it comes to lighting pyrotechnic flares you need to protect yourself and everyone around you. Here’s our step-by-step guide to safe practice.

  • Inspect the flare: Check the expiration date and make sure it’s not damaged before you light it up.
  • Get in position: Walk to the location where you want to place it and light it there, instead of lighting it first and then trying to figure out where to put it.
  • Set the base up: If it has a base to make it stand, set that up first so you don’t have to do it while the flare is burning. Keep in mind that some snaplight and pyrotechnic flares don’t have a base.
  • Take the cap off: Take off the plastic cap on top of the flare but don’t throw it away. You’re going to need it to light the flare.
  • Aim away from yourself: With the flare aiming away from your body, locate the striker on top of the plastic cap you just took off the flare.
  • Light it up: Use the lighting material and the flare just as if you’re lighting a big match. Try to do it fast so your hand doesn’t get caught in the chemical reaction.
  • Carefully put it down: Firmly place it in a visible, secure spot so it doesn’t roll away.
  • Pick up the leftovers: Make sure you pick up any debris left over after you’re done so you don’t pollute the area.

For a more visual guide, you can check out this video showing how to strike a pyrotechnic flare.

Remember, it’s one thing to read about flares and another to actually use them. It’s a good idea to practice setting up a couple flares in your own backyard, so you can get the basics down and don’t have to figure it out in the middle of an emergency without a light source, where you can injure yourself or anyone close to you.

How Should You Position Road Flares?

When using pyrotechnic flares, make sure they’re not close to any flammable sources or your car, but don’t put them too far away either because you want people on the road to be able to see them. Find a good in-between spot within five meters of your car.

When it comes to LED flares, you can play around more, depending on the number of flares you have. A standard kit comes with 3-4 flares, so you can put them down with 3 feet of space between each one and make a safe barrier for your car.

Snaplight flares are more flexible. You can use a configuration similar to the LED or pyrotechnic flares, and either way would be fine because they’re not at risk of burning your car. However, it’s still important to arrange them strategically and make sure you’re giving people on the road enough warning.

How Long Do Road Flares Last?

It all depends on the type of flare. LED models are reusable and can last for days, depending on the quality of the batteries they use. Low quality batteries will drain energy faster.

Pyrotechnic road flares tend to last between 15 and 60 minutes, depending on the brand, but they’re single use and you will need to light a new one each time they go off. Keep in mind that the longer they last the more they tend to cost.

Snaplight flares are always a good in-between option. They’re single use but tend to last longer than pyrotechnic flares. Generally speaking, most industrial-grade models last about 12 hours.

Do Road Flares Explode?

No. One of the myths surrounding flares is that they can explode if they’re not stored in the right conditions, but it’s not true. The chemical reaction that happens within pyrotechnic flares, including road and maritime types, is not even explosive.

However, they are still very flammable. In fact, during the Syrian Civil War, rebels used Swedish-made road flares to quickly start fires in buildings. They are dangerous tools and can inflict serious burns and other injuries if handled irresponsibly. Be mindful of when and how you use them and always follow the safety instructions that come with them.

How Should You Store Them?

The chemical reaction of flares is intense, but they’re still relatively safe to store. All you need is a secure bag to keep them in. Make sure they’re in a spot where it’s not easy for them to roll or be jostled. If your flares have tears, don’t use them. Same principle applies to snaplight flares which are relatively easy to keep stored and to care for.

Self-consuming flares don’t have to be disposed of because there’s not much left of them when they’re done, but it’s still important to follow the disposal directions for faulty or damaged ones.

Make sure to clean LED flares every so often, so there’s no buildup of mud or dust impacting their visibility. This applies too during their usage in snowstorms.

How Many Road Flares Should You Have?

The amount of road flares you need will depend on your location and type of vehicle. If you live in a remote area and break down on a quiet country road, a single pyrotechnic flare is probably enough to alert other drivers. But on a busy road or freeway, it’s best to have a set of flares you can arrange to safely block an area where you can make quick repairs or wait.

For large trucks or vans, you’ll usually need a set of 4-10 flares to sufficiently outline the space around the vehicle. It’s also a good idea to have multiple flares in case you break down near a sharp corner. That way, you have more flares to give drivers a heads up before they go around the turn, which can be very dangerous if your car is broken down near the corner.

Also keep in mind how much time you’ll probably need to use the flares. If you have pyrotechnic flares and have to spend a couple hours on the road, you need to remember that they won’t last as long as LED or pyrotechnic flares.

Do Road Flares Expire?

Pyrotechnic and snaplight flares can last for years but they do eventually expire, which compromises their light intensity over time. They also become less reliable after their expiration date. Every now and then you should check the expiration date of your flares and replace the expired ones to avoid any surprises on the road. LEDs are reusable and only their batteries expire, which you can change yourself with the right tool.

Are Road Flares Affected by the Weather?

As with most tools, the performance of road flares can be negatively affected by extreme conditions. Especially battery time because of drainage, which can be accelerated by humidity. Heavy rain, snow, and mud could compromise the brightness and effectiveness of some road flares. Most LED models are waterproof, which is a huge advantage over the other kinds, and many LED and snaplight road flares can float.

Pyrotechnic flares, on the other hand, will not work well or at all if they’re wet. However, their visibility does tend to reach farther than the others in extreme conditions, such as intense fog or blizzards.

Do LED Road Flares Overheat?

Even after several hours of continuous use, most LED road flare brands perform without any problems. Instead of overheating, battery drainage should be your first concern. Even after hours of continuous use, they rarely suffer any type of malfunction, and if they do, it’s likely related to factory problems rather than the flare itself.

Do You Need More Than One Type of Road Flare?

For most people, a single road flare kit should be more than enough. Suppose you drive long distances regularly, across different weather conditions and from rural country roads to populated city streets. In that case, you may consider including an additional kit to make sure you’re covered for different kinds of situations.

Final Thoughts

Road flares are the type of product that you buy in the hopes you won’t have to use them. You may even forget about them until an emergency arises. But if it does, you need to be prepared. After all, performing repairs on the side of the road is really dangerous. There are over 36,000 fatal car crashes in the United States every year.

Safety should always be your number one concern on the road, and one of the best ways to protect yourself is by being prepared for any type of situation with the right equipment.

While keeping road flares in your vehicle is an important element of road safety, it is only one element. To ensure that you’re fully equipped in the event of any unexpected roadside issues, you may wish to go all-out and purchase one of the best emergency road kits.