Every Man Should Carry a Torch: A Primer on Flashlights

by Jeremy Anderberg on October 15, 2013 · 58 comments

in Manly Skills, Toolmanship

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From helping you find your way back to your campsite, to allowing you to find a missing widget under the bed, to providing illumination when the lights go out, to warding off a would-be attacker, there are few tools as handy and essential as the flashlight. And there are few tools that elicit as much affection and attachment. I think our British friends’ word for the flashlight – torch – gets right to the heart of the appeal. The flashlight is simply the latest iteration of the ancient need to carry fire in one’s hand.

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If I learned one thing from the Hardy Boys, it’s to always carry a flashlight!

As we’ve moved from burning branches to battery-powered tubes, the number of options for handheld light has multiplied. You may think that all flashlights are the same, but boy you’d be wrong. There’s more to know than you could possibly imagine. Today, we’ll stick to the basics that every man should know and consider when buying a flashlight.

Five Basic Categories of Flashlights

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Keychain/EDC. Typically 3” or less in length, these flashlights are an essential part of one’s EDC (Everyday Carry) kit. Their small size allows you to stick them in your pocket, stash them in various bags, or — and this is the easiest, most foolproof option — attach to a keychain. With their low light, they are intended to be used as a backup or emergency flashlight, not your primary one. The plastic variety often runs on coil cell batteries, like what you’d find in a watch, so when it dies, you’re better off replacing it entirely versus going through the hassle of replacing the battery. There are also some slightly higher-powered aluminum versions out there that will run on a single AA or AAA battery. In general, a keychain light won’t run you more than $10.

Utility. This is what you’ll find in most houses as a general use flashlight. It’s not a serious light by any means. It’s probably lightweight, made of plastic, and gives off just enough light to get the job done. They’re cheap, and will last a few years for your most basic flashlight needs.

Tactical. Brett has explained exactly what makes a flashlight “tactical” in a previous post (he also outlines how to use one): “A tactical flashlight is simply a flashlight that’s been designed for tactical (i.e. military or police) use. Many tactical flashlights are designed to be mounted to a weapon for low-light shooting. They’re typically smaller than traditional flashlights, emit much more light, and are made of weapon-grade aluminum for maximum durability. While tactical flashlights are designed primarily for military and police units, they’re also a really handy everyday and personal defense tool for the average civilian.”

These will generally be 3-7” in length, and are meant to be carried on your person as a self-defense tool. They may be small, but they pack a punch. I’m making a few broad generalizations here, but they’re generally made of aluminum, will be between 100-500 lumens (more on that later), and should run you between $30-$100.

Heavy-Duty or Industrial. These are the heavy, generally aluminum flashlights that you have in your house or garage, or on a worksite for extended use. Because of their hefty weight, some people carry them as a personal defense weapon as well. Think classic Maglite for this category. They give a lot of power but retain their handy size at generally between 5-14” long. They’re usually too big for a pocket, but still easily handheld. Prices vary widely on these flashlights — anywhere from $20 to a few hundred.

Emergency. These are hand-cranked or solar powered lights that don’t rely on batteries. They’re used mainly in emergency kits.

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Headlamps are another light option too, but this post focuses on the handheld variety.

Options and Functions to Consider When Buying

Next, we’ll go through the various options and features you’ll find when shopping for flashlights. The majority are simply user preference, but I’ll outline pros and cons where appropriate.

Battery Type

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What kind of battery will your flashlight run on? Most flashlights will run on either AA or AAA batteries, but you’ll also find ones that run on C, D, or 9-volt batteries. Some flashlights will run on lithium batteries, which are better for long-term storage and cold operating conditions. Be sure to check the packaging or product details, however, because not all flashlights will accept them.

Generally, flashlights with multiple brightness levels have longer run times. There’s also the renewable energy type (emergency lights) as mentioned above that are hand-cranked or solar powered. No matter which light you go with, you’ll want to have plenty of batteries on hand, so stock up. It’s also a good idea to keep a few batteries close to where you store each flashlight in your house or in your EDC kit.

You also want to be sure to know about the ease of changing the batteries. Some lights may require a small screwdriver, while some may have a slip-off case like a remote control would. Keep this small detail in mind while shopping.

Material

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There are two main types of material for flashlights: plastic and aluminum. Some models have stainless steel in the head for greater impact resistance. Aluminum is usually known to have greater durability, but it can get extra hot/cold and is heavier than plastic models. This is simply user preference, but unless it’s a high-grade plastic material, aluminum will be your best bet.  

Bulb

LEDs have come to rule the flashlight market. The bulbs last up to 100,000 hours, are incredibly durable, use only 20-25% the energy of an incandescent, and generally provide all the light you could possibly need. Incandescent bulbs have a softer light, which some people prefer, and are cheaper. They are more fragile, however, and break easily when dropped. They also have a much shorter shelf life not only with the bulb, but they use up your light’s battery juice much quicker, as well.

How to Operate

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Is it a push button, a slider, or a rotating bezel that turns the light on and off? This is something to truly think about. How will you be using your flashlight? A rotating bezel will require two hands to turn it on and off. A push button may have a more audible click than a button that slides up/down. There are also lights that have a non-clicking insta-beam, which turns the light on by just depressing the button, and it will turn back off once you remove pressure. That could be handy in a situation where absolute silence is paramount, or you need just a quick flash of light. The feature could also make emergency signaling easier, as you don’t have to toggle a light fully on/off while giving the SOS. Tactical flashlights often have a push button on the tail-end, making them easy to hold like a weapon and operate with just a thumb.

Additional questions to consider are if the light could accidentally turn on inside a pack or large pockets. Also think about if you’ll be operating it with gloves on, and how that could impact ease of use.

Reflectors and Lenses

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The reflector is parabolic in shape and organizes the light from the bulb into a focal point. Deep and narrow reflectors will have a more concentrated beam over a long distance (also called a “throw” beam). Wide and shallow reflectors (like on a floodlight) will give a wider, less concentrated beam (“flood” beam).

Lenses are usually flat, and are either made of plastic or glass, with glass generally being preferred (although you’ll find as many opinions on this as people). Plastic has a tendency to discolor over time – see car headlights as an example. And although the average user isn’t likely to run into this, a bright enough bulb can melt or disfigure a plastic lens. As for scratch and impact resistance, it just depends on the quality of the plastic or glass in question. Both materials can last for many years if they’re high quality, but glass will tend to shatter a little easier.

A glass lens with anti-reflective coating is even better than plain glass (not possible with plastic lens), as it allows more light to pass through without being bounced back into the reflector. Some flashlights do have curved lenses, which concentrate the beam even more. And some lights will have adjustable lenses that let you switch between a wide flood beam and a throw beam.

How Many Modes?

Many modern flashlights, especially of the tactical variety, will have multiple modes of operation. It can be as simple as three or four levels of brightness, or as complex as having built-in emergency light strobes, or even programmable modes that can be loaded onto the light by the user.

Grip

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A smooth, plastic flashlight is liable to slip out of your hands when working in wet conditions, or if you’re sweating. Make sure that you can grip the flashlight firmly, even when your palms are sweaty (a common occurrence when nervous or stressed – like while frustratedly working on a car, or checking your home at night for an intruder).

Performance Specifications

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As with anything you buy, there are certain performance indicators to look for. With cars, you look at horsepower, gas mileage, towing capacity, etc. There isn’t necessarily a best/worst or right/wrong for these specifications, it simply comes down to what you need and prefer as a user. Flashlights are much the same way. There are anywhere between 4-6 specifications you’ll see when looking for lights. They aren’t necessarily better or worse, just different depending on what your needs are.

There is actually a standard for flashlight performance. It was published in 2009 by the American National Standards Institute and is called the Flashlight Basic Performance Standard (or “FL1 Standard” for short). The FL1 Standard outlines four categories of flashlight performance. The categories are as follows:

  • Beam Distance (meters): Technically, this is how far the light will shine before the brightness diminishes to the equivalent of the light from a full moon, because full moon illumination is considered adequate for safe and careful travel outdoors. Having said that, a full moon is not actually that much light, so keep that in mind. When evaluating your needs, as with any of these indicators, think about how you’ll be using the flashlight. If you need to illuminate an object from a distance, this is the measurement to focus on. For camping or outdoors use, you may want a longer beam distance than for household use.
  • Peak Beam Intensity (candelas): The candela is a unit of luminous intensity — in other words, a measure of a flashlight’s brightness. One candela is roughly the equivalent of the brightness of a single candle from a foot away. This can be hard to interpret, because perceived brightness is non-linear — meaning that twice the candelas (abbreviated “cd”) is not twice the brightness. When comparing lights, keep in mind that twice the brightness will actually be about four times the candelas. You may still see the term “candlepower” (or “candle power”) in places, but it’s been deemed obsolete and was officially replaced by the term “candela” over 60 years ago.  Another way to think about intensity is that this is how focused the light is. If light is more focused/concentrated, it will naturally be brighter. Now, what to do with this information? Again, you must think about use. If using in a garage at night, you won’t need a high intensity. Generally speaking, for work at close range, you don’t need a focused light, you just need light, period. In these instances, look more at lumens (below). If you need a focused beam, say for spotlight use or outdoors use, this measurement of intensity is what to look at.
  • Run Time (hours/minutes): This is simply how long it takes the light output to drop to 10% of the initial output on new batteries, rounded to the nearest quarter-hour.
  • Light Output (lumens): A unit of measure of the light’s total output. This measurement can be anywhere from 1 lumen (keychain lights) to multiple thousands (search lights). This is different than beam distance or intensity in that it simply measures how much light is being emitted out of the lens, whereas intensity measures the brightness of a beam at its most intense point. A flood light could have 1,000 lumens, but the light would spread widely over a given area, meaning less intensity. A throw bream could also have 1,000 lumens, but be narrowly focused into a one-foot area. Therefore the throw beam would have a much higher candela reading. Another example of lumens versus intensity that can help make the distinction more clear is a laser. It has incredibly low total output (lumens) but it has incredibly high intensity (candelas) because it’s so focused. Keep in mind that the higher the lumens, the shorter the run time, in most cases. The lumens number is generally the first thing that people look at when buying flashlights. It’s sort of the base performance number. Once you determine how much light you’ll need, then you can get into the specifics of distance and intensity.

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How Many Lumens Do You Really Need?

It can be tempting to say you want a 4,000-lumen flashlight. If you’re going to have the tool, why not have the best and most powerful tool possible? The reality is that the vast majority of people will never need more than 150 or so lumens. This is why most flashlights will be between 10-100 lumens, with tactical and super heavy-duty lights going above that. Police officers carry lights that are around 100, and it’s been said that 80 lumens will temporarily blind an assailant. If you aren’t sure of you exact needs, variable brightness lights work great. They generally range from 20-100+ lumens, with three or four levels of brightness. If there’s only one lumens number on a variable flashlight, it’s the max number. Let’s take a look at a few use cases so you can determine what’s best for you:

  • 1-20 lumens: finding keyholes, close-range use, walking in the dark, reading in the dark.
  • 10-25 lumens: general household use, when the lights go out.
  • 35-60 lumens: general outdoors uses, car repairs, hiking/camping in the woods.
  • 100+ lumens: tactical lights, security purposes, work duties (police, firemen, construction).
  • 1,000+: search and rescue, caving, heavy-duty outdoors uses.
  • Water Resistance (uses IP ratings). Some lights will also have ratings for water and impact resistance. Water resistance is rated using the IP system. This is obviously important if using your light in the rain or around bodies of water. Three ratings are used for flashlights:
    • IPX4 — splash resistant from all angles, after the impact test (see below) has been applied.
    • IPX7 — temporary immersion of up to 30 minutes at a depth of 1 meter.
    • IPX8 – submersion up to 4 hours at the specified depth.
  • Impact Resistance (meters). Tested by dropping the light onto a concrete surface at the rated distance with all bulbs, lenses, batteries, etc. The light will still function after being dropped from this height. As with any electronics device, however, treat it with care. This test is primarily to ensure the light remains functional after occasional accidental drops. It is not a test of resistance for a light being run over, being struck with a heavy object, or being used to strike other objects.

Because this is a voluntary standardization, not all flashlight manufacturers abide by them. If you’re out and about looking, however, you’ll recognize the terms used, as those should be the same.

What Next?

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Always have a flashlight ready or risk burning down the house and being berated by your local fireman, you thoughtless oaf.

Now that you have all this information, what do you do with it? The following three websites are incredibly helpful for learning even more, and getting specific reviews for lights. If you have questions, the forums are incredibly helpful and welcoming to beginners.

For the Average Joe – the guy who isn’t going to turn into a flash-aholic – there are a few basics you should consider:

Keychain flashlights can come in handy — make one part of your EDC. You never know when you’ll need a light for something. Many people will also use their smartphone’s light (either built-in or via an app) for situations when they’re in a pinch. That’s a fine option, but keep in mind that you often first have to navigate your phone to get to the light, and it also drains the battery quickly. A light on your keychain can be activated in seconds and is much more reliable (and durable, for that matter).

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Sometimes the thing that goes bump in the night turns out only to be a piano-playing cat (keyboard cat’s grandma, perhaps?). But it’s good to have a tactical flashlight on hand anyway.

Consider having one or two tactical flashlights in your possession. One can be carried as a personal defense tool, and another can be in a gloveseat, in a bedroom nightstand, or where you may keep a gun in your home.

For your garage/household needs, a couple heavy-duty aluminum flashlights and/or floodlights should get the job done just fine. Maglites are a proven classic, and won’t break your bank. It’s a good idea to have one in the kitchen (or wherever your central meeting place is for your household in emergencies), one in the basement, and of course, one or two in the garage. It’s also a good idea to have a flood light or two for garage or outdoors use for when you want to work at night and that little light bulb with the pull-string isn’t doing the job.

All households should also have an emergency hand-crank flashlight. Solar power just isn’t reliable or practical for all emergency situations. An emergency flashlight will run you anywhere from $10-$60 depending on the quality. As with any emergency tool, it’s not a great idea to skimp on quality in favor of price. Many models today will also have built-in radios, clocks, and even USB chargers.

While shopping, keep in mind that you may not find the information outlined above. For example, a quick search for flashlights on Amazon will tell you that you won’t get much technical information from their listings. Accessing the sites mentioned above will be a much greater source of information.

Everyone will have different opinions about flashlights, but take the time to think it out. You don’t want to just rely on your smartphone when you need a light, like I see most people doing these days. Every man should always have a torch at hand, and you should now have all the information you need to make an informed decision on what type of flashlight(s) is best for you and your family.

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Press forward and carry your torch!

{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bassopotamus October 15, 2013 at 9:12 pm

I think the right EDC light actually covers most of the bases. I have a little AAA oLight that has 70 lumens and covers pretty much anything I have ever needed a flashlight for around the house and such. Fits easy on a keychain. Can’t use it as a club or anything, of course, but it is more than just a backup.

2 Vito October 15, 2013 at 9:16 pm

I couldn’t agree more with this article. After Hurricane Sandy, last year, I’ve learned to always have a dependable go-to flashlight on you at all times. I have the larger house/car flashlights, and the hand crank powered/solar powered/radio flashlight as well but my EDC one is the Fenix E05. It’s lightweight, water resistant, emits a great deal of LED light and it runs on a single AAA battery. It’s the size of a Chapstick. It’s a great EDC light and I highly recommend it.

Thanks for the article.

3 Nick P. October 15, 2013 at 9:18 pm

I have always had a Maglites both large and small. Great flashlights that always work. Plus, I remember my dad always had them so it reminds me of my childhood on the farm with him. I also keep a few shake lights since they don’t require batteries and are waterproof as emergency lights. When I worked in the oilfields they were awesome when you needed a light in a pinch. Great post Jeremy!

4 Joel October 15, 2013 at 9:23 pm

I for one would recommend not going to candlepowerforums.com, not because they don’t have great info, but because you will soon find you have spent hundreds of dollars on flashlights and batteries with no end in sight.

5 Adam Lawson October 15, 2013 at 9:41 pm

I got a 4Sevens keychain light for Christmas a few years ago. It goes everywhere with me, and is worth far more than what it cost. A single AA battery keeps it powered for a long time (I think I’m on my fourth regular AA — rechargeable batteries don’t seem to hold the brightness as long), given how often I use it or accidentally turn it on in my pocket.

That said, there are a variety of larger flashlights strategically strewn about. I have one of the large square-ish ones that have honking big square-ish batteries in them in each bathroom. When turned on, these suckers illuminate the room enough to shower without electricity (a possible concern in hurricane country!). You could even play cards with the light.

The ability to make light is something a lot of people take for granted — but anyone who lives on the Gulf Coast knows it’s not always going to happen when you flip a switch… so we gotta have a backup!

6 Tony Rovere October 15, 2013 at 10:04 pm

For my bet, the best flashlight anyone can carry is a Maglite. I like the ones that need at least 4 D batteries and always keep one in the car.

Not only is it great if you break down to have one, but I always feel safer when I have “The Equalizer” with me.

After all, if I run into a problem I know I only need to hit them once and its over.

7 Doc October 15, 2013 at 10:12 pm

I carry a streamlight microstream with me everywhere.
Its a small, aluminum, led powered by a single AAA battery. Its about 25 lumin.
Two way pocket clip & good life.
I also have a surefire 6p classic with a drop in led bulb, right about 250 lumin at 6 volts.
Carry that when I think I need something “extra”.
Streamlight polytac HP mounted on my AR15.

8 Andrew October 15, 2013 at 10:47 pm

A really handy app for those of us with smart phones is Tesla LED (http://teslacoilsw.com/teslaled/), which converts your phone’s camera flash into an instant torch. Obviously, it drains your phone’s power but it can be really useful if you need light quickly.

9 E. Jason McGhee October 15, 2013 at 11:21 pm

Great article. I keep a tactical light as my EDC light and a larger Maglite as my camping/utility light. There is also a smaller Maglite in my bug-out-bag. Those three cover 99.9% of all my situations. There is another tactical light on my home defense 12ga which never comes off except for cleaning.

10 Minimal EDC October 15, 2013 at 11:36 pm

The last flashlight you’ll ever need: it’s Very bright, tough, typical batteries (1x AA) that last quite long, compact and multiple brightness outputs. Used by Israeli army.

http://www.amazon.com/Zebralight-SC52-Flashlight-Cool-White/dp/B00AJXUU6M/ref=pd_sim_sbs_p_3

11 Jesse October 16, 2013 at 12:08 am

What about headlamps? They keep your hands free and also shine light every direction you choose to look.

12 Rui October 16, 2013 at 4:38 am

I always carry with me a Eagletac PN20A2, with spare eneloop bateries. I seached a lot before buying it, reading the posts on candlepowerforums. It was a bit expensive, but I’ve used it nearly every week for the last 3 years, and i love it. This and the victorinox compact are two of the most useful items I bought.

13 Sam October 16, 2013 at 5:56 am

I’ve been carrying a Streamlight Nano with me for the last year, and it’s easily become my favorite keychain tool. Tiny enough to not be in the way on the keychain, but super bright white light when I need it. I’ve used it for everything from investigating the tiny print on motherboards in dimly lit corners of a server room, to lighting my way mowing the lawn when I didn’t beat the daylight.

14 Gilles October 16, 2013 at 6:51 am

Believe it or not, I have received this newsletter right at the moment I was unpacking my new Fenix LD15, I got in the mail today!… I have bought this light to replace my mini Maglite I have carried for two decades, with something a bit more powerful. It is barely 3” long with the output of a tactical light. Reading the informations on this article make me think I have made a quite decent purchase, especially for my needs.

15 Jeff October 16, 2013 at 6:52 am

I really enjoyed this article because I think it promotes an common sense attitude of preparedness that too many men are lacking to grasp these days. I keep an older SureFire G2X in my truck, two lights in my flight bag, a SF A2 aviator and a nifty IR/blue/red capable light I can clip to my knee board I use flying. In my flight suit is a Nova pen light for conducting pre-flight’s in our helicopters tiny inspection panels. But, I also purchased a SF E2D Defender and honed the crenelated crest so she can use it as a self defense weapon while walking to her car on dark nights when class runs late. Great article again!

16 Derek October 16, 2013 at 8:12 am

This is insane – I was about to write you requesting a post on flashlights, and here it is! We recently moved from the city to the country, and the few flashlights we have are too weak.

17 Buster October 16, 2013 at 8:27 am

A man can never have too many flashlights or pocketknives. Great article

18 Dustin October 16, 2013 at 8:32 am

As a pilot and airplane mechanic, I have a lot of experience with flashlights. The one thing you have to remember is batteries! I’ve seen a lot of emergency lights not only useless when needed, but completely ruined by leaking alkaline batteries. When they die, batteries will leak! I test and change batteries in flashlights every year if they are in a secure location. At home where the kids can find them, the batteries are stored near the flashlight, but not always in. A good option to avoid the mess can be lithium batteries.

I carry both a red and a white LED CMG task light without the batteries installed for emergencies. This light is so durable! I dropped one into slushy snow in Alaska and lost it, and three months later, during the spring thaw, found it laying on the lake shore. It had been frozen/thawed and underwater for an extended period but turned right on and was none the worse for wear. I also carry a Streamlight Nano for everyday use. My go-to working flashlight is the ultra durable and blindingly bright rechargeable Streamlight Stinger. This is a tactical flashlight, and maybe over the top for some, but the best I’ve seen.

19 NakedNorth October 16, 2013 at 8:43 am

I highly perfer headlamps to handheld flashlights. there are too many things that can’t be done with one hand. In boyscouts & later in the military I always used a headlamp.
However I keep a Ledlenser p17 at home. They are about the size of a Maglite, but about 4-5 times brighter, and the focus is one-handetly adjusteble. (Btw. Maglites are outdated & overpriced. You can get a palm sized handheld flashlight with LEDs that’s brighter, lighter & lasts longer than one of those old big Maglites.)
For the headlamps I would reccomend petzl. They are small, cheap durable and bright. Also most of them offer to switch to red, which doesn’t destroy your nightwision.

20 Ben October 16, 2013 at 9:31 am

I have to agree with most of the commenters on this one. I feel that the omission of headlamps is a big oversight here. The new LED type are small and reliable and they attach to your head for reading, or any other task that requires the use of both hands. An LED headlamp is a standard piece of my toiletries kit that I carry everywhere with me when I travel. Indispensable bit of gear.

21 Brian October 16, 2013 at 9:40 am

Another vote for the Streamlight Nano.

I was introduced to this less-than-$10 keychain wonder while trying to repair a remote reservoir shock on a rally car in a dark service park. My fellow teammate had one on his keychain and it was so bright, we couldn’t even see the beam from my forget-the-brand-now 2XAA LED handheld.

I got two of them within a month and now carry on both my personal and work keychains. Like Sam comments, above, they’re perfect for anyone working in a data center environment. When you’re working with data and electrical connections in the backs of servers stacks or under raised flooring, you kinda want to be sure what you’ve got. They’re priced cheap, but I’m still on the original “watch” batteries nearly a year later.

No doubts on the Streamlight Nano.

22 Sebastian October 16, 2013 at 9:55 am

I have a small LED torch and I can tell you a funny story how it helped me one time when I walked in a park and saw a beautiful girl I wanted to approach.

I didn’t want to scare her because it was dark (it was about 9 pm in the evening on a winter day). Before she passed my way I put on my small torch, made a little bit of light right in front of me and then I approached her by telling her that she is beautiful. I also told her that I only turned on my torch because I didn’t want to scare her. She totally loved it!

23 Ryan Grimm October 16, 2013 at 9:56 am

A few words on flashlights, from someone who has had them for over 55 years, and sold them as part of my living:

The ones I prefer are all Alkaline Cell battery-powered. The ones that use rechargeable batteries are eventually going to shit the bed, which means an expensive replacement, and proper disposal of the old rechargeable batteries/cells.

Mine are mostly Maglites, with a couple PETZL headlights. I have several Mags, from the single AAA attached to my keys (and Swiss Army pen knife) to the 4-D monster I use on security sweeps.
Maglites are upgradeable to some extent….you can get LED replacements for the Krypton bulbs in some models.
As for the Krypton bulbs themselves, they tend to be very reliable, and the spare kept in the base of every Maglite is a nice backup…I also keep spares in the house and car, along with spare cells. The cells I keep in ziplocs.

Consider the C-cell flashlights…most everyone has them for sale, and they are the ONE battery/cell that NEVER gets sold out during emergencies like hurricanes and floods. While once very popular for small portable radios, they are gradually going the way of the dinosaur, but still everywhere. Just make sure they are fresh…you can sometimes work a deal with sellers if they have a lot of stock left over.

Cheap flashlights are a waste of money…you WILL replace the flash later when it craps out…and it WILL fail when you need it most.

A word on cells:
DURACELL batteries have guarantees..if they corrode and ruin your device that uses them, DURACELL has a replacement program to replace the device with the cells….look into it, not well advertised, but well worth it.

ANOTHER word on cells:
GO WITH STORE BRANDS. For example, the TRUE VALUE brand cells are made by the Duracell people…same cells, different labels…because THEY do not have a $60 MILLION+ ad campaign like Duracell, the hardware stores can sell for much less.
Look into their sales when you can; many hardware stores get special deals at trade shows (usually twice a year), and they are motivated to move old stock….we received batteries by the skid load. Cheaper for sellers, better for you.

CELL LIFE: Keep them cool and dry, and rotate your stocks. Look to see if there are expiration dates on cells, use up the older stuff first…obviously.

CARRYING FLASHES:
I have leather belt holsters for my 2-AA and other flashes, and Maglite sells a belt loop/ring for the D-cell models…very convenient to have on hand, and I keep one hanging from the steering column shift in my pickup truck. It’s easy enough to take that and snap over my belt for carry.

I’m not an advertiser for Maglite, I just trust their stuff completely over decades of use.
I use other lights such as head-mounted lights (PETZL) for times when I need hands-free. Focusable, lightweight and waterproof.

24 Ryan Grimm October 16, 2013 at 9:58 am

One last thing:
SHOULD you have a Winchester flashlight, consider selling it to a Winchester collector. Anything that is manufactured by a gun maker is highly collectable, be it a flashlight tools or similar.
You could be sitting on a few dollars that would get you a better flashlight in any case!

25 C Jackson October 16, 2013 at 10:58 am

This has inspired me to really upgrade my flashlight stock in the house. I have two in the junk drawer and one in the garage (…I think) but they really are low quality. One thing I do have is a flat led on my keychain for EDC, super handy, not bulky, and the kids like to play with it. But yeah I see a MagLite in my future. Thanks for the article.

26 John October 16, 2013 at 11:33 am

I have found that Surefire lights are worth the money. I carry two. An E2D LED Defender and a Backup. Streamlight makes great lights at a lower price.

27 Jim Collins October 16, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Esteemed Jeremy, Readers, Kate, and Brett,

My wife and I keep a stash of cells in our deep freezer. This greatly extends their shelf life and allows us to purchase in larger, hence cheaper, lots.

Regards,

Jim Collins

28 Rob October 16, 2013 at 12:36 pm

As a 6-year member of candlepower forums and having purchased thousands of dollars worth of high-end flashlights over the years, there are two brands I would recommend above all else: SureFire and HDS Systems.

SureFire carries an entire line of EDC flashlights, tactical flashlights, weapon lights, helmet lights, and headlamps. HDS only makes two different models, but with various customizable options.

Both companies make what are, IMO, the highest quality, most durable lights on the market. Both also cover their lights with lifetime warranties. Be forewarned though, this level of quality, craftsmanship, and performance comes at a higher price that most are willing to spend on “just a flashlight”. That being said, they are totally worth the money.

One more thing to note, most HDS products are currently on a 6-12 month wait/backorder.

29 Craig S October 16, 2013 at 12:49 pm

You mean a smartphone? I’m a bit miserly with the room in my pockets and on my keychain

30 Geoff October 16, 2013 at 12:53 pm

I have flashlights all around the house, as well as a couple in the car including a Maglite. I also keep a couple of headlamps both in the car and around the house, which I find useful for things like walking the dog at night and changing a tire on a dark road.

31 Scott Sideleau October 16, 2013 at 1:52 pm

I love my Streamlight 3C. It has taken me through the Bush in Queensland, AU and back to the East Coast without issues.

32 Eric_G October 16, 2013 at 2:11 pm

It seems like every few years I get a flashlight as a gift, either from work or a family member. They are always appreciated, and they end up put into key locations throughout the house, next to the bed, in the glove boxes, near the safe, near the fire extinguishers, and of course in my tool kit.

When I worked outside and at night, a headlamp was essential. I just glued it to my hard hat and it was always there when I needed it. I still use one when camping, it saves a lot of battery power since you only have to have light where you happen to be looking, not everywhere at the camp site.

Another +1 for the Tesla LED app on Android. I no longer have a light on my keyring because of it. It will even send Morse code for you.

33 Wilder Man on Rolling Creek October 16, 2013 at 2:27 pm

HA ! What an excellent post ! I have been meaning to get by your blog … but I have not been successful. Flashlights. They have transcended time, when you consider that they started off as fire. T

34 Anthony October 16, 2013 at 2:57 pm

I try to carry a flashlight as much as I can, but ease of carry tends to be the biggest problem. I loved my Streamlight Stylus, but a) it uses AAAA batteries, which are hard to find, and b) it’s hard to carry if my shirt doesn’t have a breast pocket (too long for a pants pocket: it was always falling out when sitting).

A keyring flashlight is a great idea, but I don’t like bulky keyrings (don’t fit in the pocket well).

What I’d really like is a good belt-carry light, but on the small size (so I don’t look like a wanna-be cop). I did find a Maglite that comes with a nylon belt case but it’s not LED and the case seems cheap and has no clip or catch, so I’m afraid the flashlight would fall out if it ever went much more than horizontal. Any better suggestions?

35 Omar Carreto October 16, 2013 at 5:40 pm

As an Automotive Mechanic I can say YES you can’t never have to many flashlights is best to have all types, sizes, colors, ranges and made materials because in case of an emergency…who knows if the one you have at the time will work or might run out of battery specially during these times when technology makes things so easy and lazy for us humankind, we cannot rely on any of i-stuff to save us or our family from a dangerous situation. We must be prepared for the UNKNOWN anyway I’ll be on a hunt for one “tactical flashlight” if the military use this torch it should be end of the world proof.

Best Regards
Omar Carreto

36 Dave October 16, 2013 at 6:40 pm

I’m a trucker and frequently work nights, so I always have the need to carry my own torch, as the trucks I drive may not have a torch available in the tool kit, or the torch battery may be dead. So invested in my very own torch. It’s also tax deductible as a tool for my work.

Over the years I have found the best torch to use is a Maglite 4D, I also have a Mini-Maglite (2xAAA with LED bulb) in the glove boxes of both of my cars, the daily driver and the weekender.

I can not recommend them highly enough, they are dependable, durable and sturdy.

37 mike October 16, 2013 at 8:43 pm

I work lapolicegear.com and we sell a ton of these things. Surefire and Streamlight are the 2 most popular items namely the tlr1 weapons light and the stinger led

38 Jeff Williams October 16, 2013 at 9:25 pm

Good article. Any suggestions for flashlights that get left in cars for days on end at below freezing temperatures?

39 Rhys Smith October 17, 2013 at 3:56 am

Some torches (flashlights for my American brethren) that are designed for specialist use can be amazing general duties stuff- I use my dad’s old cycling light, very, VERY bright (about 200 Lumens) only 12 centimeters long, has a battery life of about 12 hours and is re-chargeable from a wall socket- no need to buy batteries! It is incredibly light and drop proof.

My dad is a GP- a doctor- and I’ve borrowed his surgical head lamp a few times- bloody hell, talk about a brilliant light. If you can get a hold of one, do it.

40 Anwa October 17, 2013 at 7:29 am

The best flashlight I’ve ever bought is a glow in the dark, unbranded 6 LED flashlight for 99p. I’ve had it for well over 6 years and it has more than paid for itself

41 Caleb October 17, 2013 at 10:14 am

Great article.

With the round cell battery lights (Mini-Mag, Maglight, etc) it is very easy to switch the direction of the batteries so that it is not accidentally turned on. This saves the batteries when stored in a glove box, in a bag while travelling, etc.

My EDC is usually a 2-AA Mini-Mag LED. Came with a convenient belt holster. Looks a but dorky, but I am in Colorado and many people have a knife/mulittool/flashlight on the belt!

No mention of CR123 batteries? These are becoming very popular as they are smaller and have more power than traditional batteries. More people need to use them to bring the cost down!

I also have some really cool lights for the house that plug into the wall outlets. They have a dim nightlight feature so they turn on when it is dark and they turn on full-power automatically if the power goes out or you pull it out of the base. Great stuff. found at Costco.

It would have been nice to mention the usefulness of momentary switches, but that does fit more in the tactical article.

42 Jeff October 17, 2013 at 12:16 pm

In your older post, you note that you love your Nitecore Extreme tactical light, but that it seems to be out of stock. Check Amazon, you can find it there…

43 Denis October 17, 2013 at 12:29 pm

Another great option is called a Shaker. It’s a flashlight with an internal magnet that you shake for a few minutes to charge. I carry a 5 inch lightweight one in my back pack. It floats and is impact resistant and you never need batteries nor bulb replacement.

44 Texburrito October 17, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Harbor Freight has some great, inexpensive LED flashlight options. Bright, inexpensive, and durable. I also buy them for my kids. They love them.

45 Matt October 17, 2013 at 7:15 pm

After Hurricane Sandy I decided I needed a serious flashlight. In my quest to find one, I actually got 3: A Maglite LED, a Dorcy LED, and a Surefire Fury. The Maglite was a decent flashlight, but not very bright. The Dorcy is pretty incredible – it’s bright, floats, has a carabiner hook and for under $10 was an incredible value. The Surefire ($112 on Amazon) oozes quality, and its 200 lumen setting is like a second sun. Now that I have the Surefire, I don’t think I’ll ever use anything else.

46 Troglodyte October 18, 2013 at 1:06 am

For EDC, I usually stick with the 2xAA LED, Maglite. The latest is mult-imode – high, low, blink and SOS modes. Since too bright a light can be blinding by way of lighting the outside of a hole when you’re trying to look inside, the low-power mode is often useful.

The Maglites will often start to fail after about a year of regular use due to contact wear and corrosion. A few quick cycles of the switch can often help in a pinch. Disassembly and cleaning with contact-cleaning spray and a swab will sometimes fix this.

I’ll often keep a smaller 1xAA in the pocket as a backup for the one on my belt.

The batteries in lights kept in the car/truck are likely to go dead or corrode faster due to the wider seasonal temperature ranges. So it’s even more important to check function and inspect for corrosion regularly.

47 Michael October 19, 2013 at 1:08 am

personally ive always been a fan of Underwater Kinetics dive lights they are made of high quality plastic and very bright

48 MikeX10A October 21, 2013 at 5:45 pm

Very informative. I’ll be sticking with the smart phone flashlight. Works like a charm and I always have it with me. I have some other ones, nothing to mention though. However, when I leave the well-lit suburbs, I’ll re-visit this helpful article and buy me a man’s flashlight.

49 jacktheclipper October 23, 2013 at 7:29 am

A very good site for flashlight info is Budgetlightforum.com

50 Silverlakebodhisattva October 25, 2013 at 11:10 pm

Always been a big fan of the Mini-Mag with 2 AA’s;the most useful add-on is a flexible plastic end cap that I found at REI, which fits on the back of a Mini-mag, allowing you hold (and aim!) it while holding it in your mouth WITHOUT chipping an incisor…

51 Bruce D. Jenner October 28, 2013 at 7:58 pm

I have and use and swear by Streamlight Polytac lights for all around and weapons usage. They bright, compact and relatively inexpensive ~$40.

LED bulbs and Lithium 123 batteries, they also last forever when not used continuously.

52 harsat October 29, 2013 at 4:56 am

I’m surprised no one mentioned that true tactical flashlight runs on 18650 batteries. Those are 3.7v and pack a lot of juice. With 3 of those you get 11.1v circuit up to 5000ma with over 2,000 lm. Flashlight using one of those batteries are small at around 4″ and can pack almost 1000 lm to cover all your needs.

53 B.j November 5, 2013 at 9:58 am

A tip for everybody that I picked up watching some SAS survival videos…. if you need to be stealthy you can stick a piece of duct tape or tie some cloth to the illuminated end of your flashlight so it will provide a much smaller (less visible hence more stealthy) light source.

54 George Matheis November 9, 2013 at 5:36 pm

After being in the personal preparedness and protection community for two decades I have settled Klarus MI Ti in my pocket backed up by a Olight T25 and a Petzl Headlamp in my Bag of Evil. A good headlamp is a MUST in an real emergency light changing a tire or doing first aid in the dark. All my lights are AA or AAA and I will never use a CR123 again.

55 Rob December 23, 2013 at 3:15 am

As a Railroader I find that a carman’s lantern makes a great shop light because it has a swivel stand and you can get an led bulb from Ackllands Grainger that makes it very bright, about the same as my Coast 200 lumens light for inspecting railcars. For a lantern that you can hook over your arm get a Conductors lantern, takes the same bulb as the Carman’s, but with a large loop, swivel handle. My Coast HP 7 is bulletproof, it’s been dropped, kicked, soaked, frozen and fallen from 20′ off a multilevel car carrier. It looks ugly now but it keeps throwing light.

56 Denis December 31, 2013 at 2:32 am

I’m a huge proponent of carrying around a flashlight whenever I know I’ll be going into a situation where the ability to see in the dark may be necessary.

I have, in my time since, found the perfect flashlight for me: the Streamlight ProTac HL. This thing is great, and affordable. It has a sturdy metal construction rated to IPX7 that is easy to grip with a no-click option for silent illumination. It offers a high beam, a low beam, and a very fast strobe. It runs off of Streamlight’s C4 LED, and in high-beam, it blasts out 600+ lumens at 16,000 candela peak intensity. This thing can and will blind anyone should it be necessary, especially when coupled with the debilitating strobe. The beam can be seen for up to 250 meters, and its slim profile and smooth black finish ensure that it is easy to carry and conceal. This thing has helped me out so much. It is a tad pricey, at about 70 USD a unit, but damn worth the money.

I will probably get myself a good headlamp soon, but for now, my needs are met.

57 Roger Church January 3, 2014 at 10:22 pm

Did the article mention convenient 2 cell AAA penlights that can clip into the breast pocket of a shirt? Very handy and no larger than a fountain pen. Slighter larger, but still useful, are 2 cell AA flashlights that go into a small pouch that slides on to a belt.
These, along with a Swiss Army Knife, can help satisfy your inner MacGyver.

58 DP January 30, 2014 at 5:31 am

As one of the other contributors I too am a pilot and a mechanic who lives in Alaska. There was federal regulation that any pilot flying at night must carry a flashlight that used at least two “D” cell batteries. This normally eliminated the headlamp option unless one wished to carry both. This was also at a time when smaller flashlights were less efficient in both the bulb and battery department, so the requirement of two “D” cells ensured brightness and duration. The flashlight I carried in my flight bag was a waterproof 2 “D” cell flashlight with a rubberized outer cover. The all metal mag-lights were just available, but the metal exterior of the flashlight body of those units were difficult to hold with a snowy glove and, as you always kept the flashlight inside your parka next to your body, the all metal was much less comfortable close to the chest. Flashlights do not work well or very long at negative 40 degrees unless you keep warming them up inside your parka.
The other advantage to the soft outer cover is that if you must hold the butt of the flashlight in your mouth so you have both hands free, it is far easier and more comfortable than a metal bodied flashlight. Yes, I know, this is why headlamps were invented. However on two separate occasions I managed to have a total electrical failure on aircraft at night, in the clouds, and as my good luck would have it, over the mountains. There were no options of dropping to a lower altitude, so it was the flashlight in the mouth and press on until I knew I could descend in better weather. I now have an excellent LED headlamp in my flight bag, but there is still a two “D” cell rubberized and waterproof flashlight as well.

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