Single-use batteries — officially called ‘primary’ batteries — have a role in your emergency kit even if you’ve tried to standardize your gear around multi-use ones. And, thanks to modern battery tech, you can save money and reduce how much you throw in a landfill by skipping over the common and cheapest alkaline disposables (eg. a basic Duracell pack) and sticking with a mix of rechargeable batteries and lithium primary batteries.
Preppers like lithium non-rechargeable batteries when:
- You just need a device to work for as long as possible without the hassle of recharging or rotating batteries (eg. during a bug-out or short-term emergency)
- You don’t have access to a charger or power source — or you just really dislike the idea of recharging
- Lithium primary batteries are excellent at holding a charge for a really long time, so they work well in gear you only pick up once every year or five
More: Check out the rechargeable batteries review or the beginner’s guide to batteries if you’re not sure about basics like lithium vs. alkaline or how to think about different sizes and types in your emergency preparedness.
Quality lithium batteries have over double the capacity and almost double the lifespan of high-end alkaline batteries, so you can store more electricity in a smaller, longer-lasting package. Even though you pay about 3X the price of high-end alkalines for that major boost in capacity and lifespan, lithiums are worth it for emergencies and always our preferred choice.
Unlike most of our survival gear reviews, this category doesn’t yet require a lot of deep field testing — mostly because there aren’t many worthwhile contenders to begin with. That’s partly due to the more complicated nature of building lithium-based batteries (which goes hand-in-hand with their rare chance of catching fire).
Energizer Ultimate Lithium AA
Energizer Ultimate Lithium AAA
We automatically disqualified products made from unknown or Chinese brands, which left us with one clear winner: The best disposable battery for preppers is the Energizer Ultimate Lithium line at $15 for a 12-pack of either AA or AAA. You can trust Energizer’s manufacturing and quality controls to deliver a predictable product, so you avoid any of the mystery-meat risk from lessor-known brands. They’re also the top of the heap for shelf life and capacity, holding their charge for up to 20 years!
The Ultimate Lithiums are commonly found in big-box retailers, so if you don’t want to buy a stockpile all at once, try to grab a smaller pack every month or so during a normal trip to the store.
Energizer Ultimate Lithium 9V
The market for C and D cell battery sizes isn’t nearly as robust as it is for the other sizes in this review. So while there are a number of lithium primary options on the market, there are none from makers that we trust. All of the batteries in this range that we found appear to come from Chinese factories with questionable quality variances. Unfortunately, that means we can’t recommend any lithium products in this category — use plain alkalines in the meantime, while moving your gear away from C and D sizes and/or embracing rechargeables.
There is an Energizer Ultimate Lithium 9V battery ($17 per pair), however, and we particularly like the long life of lithium batteries in 9V because many always-on but low-power-trickle products take that size (eg. smoke detectors). Which means you save money through less frequent battery changes and, because those products don’t kill batteries too quickly, they’re a backup source in case you need to cannibalize for more power after an emergency.
The best CR2032 batteries are the $5 per box of 10 Sony CR2032, and just a handful of these tiny, long-shelf-life batteries will keep many popular powered rifle optics going for decades. Many firearm optics use the CR2032 coin cell format, which is a prime example of an application where there’s really no point in looking for a rechargeable. Why bother with the reduced capacity of Li-Ion CR2032 and the bulk and bother of a battery charger when you can just buy a few extra lithium primaries and call it a day?
CR123A is another common battery size outside of the AA family, often used in outdoor-oriented torches and weapon lights (eg. the ubiquitous Surefire Scout). Many enthusiasts and our own experts reach for $25 per box of 12 SureFire CR123A batteries every time. Sure, some flashlight geeks have their own idiosyncratic favorite brands, but the SureFire CR123A remains the most widely loved and commonly recommended lithium primary in this category.
Why you should trust us
In addition to the 8 hours of research for this article, I interviewed a battery expert and an engineer at one of the top battery and charger makers. I also have an undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering and am one of the founders of the popular technology website Ars Technica. I’ve spent much of the past 20 years explaining complex technical topics to readers, and have written a book on microprocessor architecture.