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How to pick a flashlight

Your complete flashlight buying guide!

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Due to the vast number of different types of flashlights on the market today, with similar ratings and reviews filled with Technical terms like Output, Lumens, Lux, and Candela that all seem to confuse you more than guide you, especially if you don’t know what these terms mean.

 

These reviews and guides make it quite difficult for an average consumer to know what to think or do.

 This guide aims to explain these different technical terms in an easy-to-understand way and hopefully make it easier to know what to look for when buying your next flashlight.

Table of Contents

  • Identify your needs!

There are almost as many applications for a flashlight as the number of flashlights on the market. So, before you go on the hunt for a new flashlight, you need to figure out what your specific needs are!   

If you plan to use it for tasks around the house, like power outages or nighttime walks, The flashlight brightness might be the essential factor to consider. But specs like weight, durability, and runtime might be more critical if you plan to use them for trekking and hiking.  Maybe you are looking for an EDC flashlight, then size and brightness might be the most important factors to consider. 

You can be lucky to find a good overall flashlight, but most flashlights tend to have one or two strong sides. Therefore, it’s best to know what kind of flashlight you are looking for to identify your specific needs.  

SHOPPING IN PERSON?

If you are shopping for a flashlight in person, look for the following!

  •  Does the weight and size of the flashlight match your planned application? Like Is it easy to fit in your pocket? Does it seem slippery and challenging to hold on to the flashlight?

 

  • How does the flashlight Feel in your hands? Does it feel sturdy or light enough?

 

  • Is the flashlight easy to turn on and off even when wearing gloves? 
  • Flashlight categories

When you have identified your needs and planned application, the next thing to consider is what type of flashlight will suit you best. 

There are flashlights for many purposes like mechanic flashlights, flashlights for Hunting, for walking your dog at night, etc. To make it more manageable, we have sorted them into two main flashlight categories: General purpose flashlights and Tactical flashlights.   

General purpose flashlights

General purpose flashlights are flashlights that you use in your day-to-day life. They are sold at most retail stores and come in different price ranges ranging from under $5 to over $200.  They usually have a 30 to 900 lumens rating and can be used for many different purposes. 

The quality of general-purpose flashlights ranges from low-quality, cheap flashlights with a price of under $5, which you can buy at most retail stores, to very high-end and top-quality flashlights with prices from $130 – $200.  

They come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from 2″ to 6″ long and weighing from 1-2lbs. They are often shaped as a cylinder or tube and usually use a button or a slider to switch it on and off or between different light settings and modes.

 For various applications, including around-the-house uses like power outages, if your car breaks down at night,  or lighting up your path when hiking, ETC.  

 

 

 

Tactical flashlights

Tactical flashlights are most commonly used by the Police, Military, and firefighters or for hunting and self-defense purposes. The characteristics of a tactical flashlight are that it is small,  lightweight, and often bright enough to blind possible attackers temporarily.  Tactical flashlights are usually sturdy and use a tactical tail gap making them easy to turn on in high-stress situations. (1)

Besides being extremely bright, tactical flashlights are often highly durable; with high impact resistance and an Ipx7 or ipx8 rating, these flashlights can last and endure whatever you throw at them.

Other characteristics of a tactical flashlight are that it is: lightweight, pocket-sized, easy to operate, and built with all the newest, most advanced flashlight technology!

Tactical flashlights are a solid choice if you are looking for an EDC flashlight or need one for other tactical uses.

Specs to consider when looking for a tactical flashlight!

  •  Regarding Tactical flashlights, the brightness and beam length are the two most important specs! A 1200+ lumen flashlight will light up your path fine and is useful when hunting or scouting over longer distances outside at night.
  • Consider what size and shape you prefer:  does it have the right size for the application? Does it seem robust enough? Can you turn it on even when wearing gloves? Are the controls easy to use even in high-stress situations? 
  • Tactical flashlights must be reliable enough to withstand even the worst cloud burst. Therefore, you should look for a tactical flashlight with an  ipx7 or ipx8 rating.
  • Some tactical flashlights come with multiple outputs, allowing them to shine with green or UV light, which makes them helpful in staying covered while hunting or for military and law enforcement applications.

 

person-standing-with-dog-at-night-with-flashlight- iluminating a road at night.

Flashlights are ideal for late-night walks!

Tactical flashlight on a black background

Tactical flashlights are ideal for hunting!

Other types of flashlights

Penlights

Penlights have the same shape and size as a regular pen and can therefore only illuminate a small specific area. Penlights are used chiefly by doctors and police officers to check how pupils react to light, but also for electricians and other handypersons who need to illuminate a small area.

Keychain flashlights

Most people rely upon their smartphone's flashlight to illuminate their path, even though it drains their battery and has a limited brightness! This is where having a keychain flashlight may come in handy! With affordable prices ranging from under $5 to over $50 and a small design made to fit in any keyring, a keychain flashlight is handy when walking to your car at night or in any other type of EDC application.

  • HEADLAMPS VS. FLASHLIGHTS

One of the main gear questions that are often discussed mainly among hikers and backpackers is whether you are better off using a headlamp or a flashlight when hiking or backpacking, and in the end, it all comes down to preference. 

A headlamp may prove superior in cases where you need to use both hands, like when cooking or doing other two-handed tasks.

On the other hand, headlamps are often more expensive than flashlights and lack features that most flashlights have, like a zoomable beam, more diverse modes, different light settings, etc.

To make it easier to decide, we have created a list discussing the pros and cons of each piece of technology.

 

Flashlights

 

Pros: 

  •  A small, lightweight flashlight is often cheaper than a lightweight headlamp, and if you buy a pocket clip(under $5), it allows you to mount any flashlight you like on caps or other types of hats and use it as a headlamp.  When hiking, most people like to wear a cap anyways, so it is a win-win situation.
  • Your neck won’t tire as much when using a flashlight, and it’s also possible to shine light in multiple directions fast without having to turn your head all the time.
  • As mentioned before, some flashlights have a zoom feature, which makes it easier to spot things further away. Unfortunately, headlamps rarely have a zoom feature, and those that do are often very expensive.
 

Cons:  

  • Heavy Flashlights tire out your hand quickly and are also easier to drop. I have personally never dropped a headlamp, but I have often accidentally dropped my flashlights, and doing so too often tends to shorten their lifespan.
  •  When one hand is holding the flashlight, doing two-handed activities like reading a map or grabbing something out of a backpack may become a bit more complex. You can avoid these problems if you buy a pocket clip or a small flashlight that you can easily hold with your mouth.                                                                                                                                                             

Headlamps

 
Pros: 
  •  As mentioned before, using a headlamp over a flashlight frees up both of your hands for two-handed activities, like cooking or reading maps/books, and headlamps are also ideal for nighttime running or walking.  
  • You can pull the headlamp off your head and use it as a flashlight when necessary, which is excellent in some situations. Doing so will also counter most of the cons listed down below. That said, most headlamps aren’t designed to be held in your hands over long periods and are therefore a bit more inconvenient to carry than a flashlight.
  • As mentioned, you rarely drop your headlamp, and they don’t tire your hand like a flashlight, which is nice if you need to walk multiple hours at night. 
 
Cons:
 
  1.  When hiking or walking in nature, you are more likely to get bugs in your eyes and face than if you were to use a lower-held flashlight, but as I mentioned earlier, you can always take the headlamp off and use it as a flashlight until the bugs are gone.                                                                                                                                                        
  2.  Headlamps are often more expensive than flashlights and have a shorter runtime than most flashlights. Therefore, you can usually get more value for money when buying a flashlight than when buying headlamps.                                                                                                                                                                                    
  3. Most hikers probably learn the hard way that when using a headlamp, it’s essential to avoid blinding others accidentally when turning your head, as doing so may annoy your fellow hikers and friends.                                                                                                                         

So, should you buy a Headlamp or a Flashlight? 

Ultimately, it all comes down to your personal preference, and I can’t tell what will work for you. 

 I have tried many different headlamps and flashlights and am pretty fond of both technologies. Currently, I like to use a small 300 lumens flashlight when hiking for that extra brightness and a 30-80 lumen headlamp when I’m cooking or reading in the camp. I like to have the ability to switch between using a flashlight and a headlamp, depending on the situation.

There are a lot of opinions on Headlamps and flashlights, but as mentioned before, it all comes down to personal preference, so my suggestion is to try them both and see which one you prefer, or go to your local outdoor store and try them out. 

 

  • Lumens vs. Candela

Despite popular belief and what the major flashlight companies want you to believe: Brighter is not always better! It depends on the planned application of the flashlight; if you plan to use it for minor tasks like reading a book in the dark, having a flashlight that’s too bright might wash out what you are trying to see.  On the other hand, if you plan to use it for walking outside at night, you need a flashlight with enough brightness and a wide enough beam to light up your surroundings and enable you to walk safely through rough terrain. 

To make it easier to get an overview, we have created a list of recommended lumens for specific uses. (2)

a 20- 300 lumens flashlight is good: for everyday uses like reading or lighting up smaller rooms/tents/bedrooms. This lumen rating is also ideal for EDC flashlights.

300-900 lumens are for outdoor activities like walking/running at night or camping.

1000- 1200 lumens is the ideal lumen amount to use as a work light if you are a mechanic or have a job requiring a work light. 

1200 + lumens: These are for tactical uses like Hunting, police, and military. 

Flashlight shining on a dark background, flat lay. Light beam made of paper. Search concept, copy space. Creative photo, place for your ad.

The Differences between Lumens, Lux and Candela

Just because a flashlight has a high number of lumens doesn’t mean that it is the brightest! to figure out how bright a flashlight is in the real world, you need to consider the Lux and Candela ratings.

  • Lumen:  This is the base metric that manufacturers use to describe the total potential light output of the flashlight. It doesn’t account for anything concerning the design, clarity of the lens, or the size of the reflector; therefore, some flashlights with the same lumen rating can be very different in terms of brightness.
  • Lux is the amount of light landing on a surface from a specified distance (usually around 10 meters). It is a way more accurate way of measuring and comparing different flashlights to see how they do in the real world.
  • Candela: is a light intensity measured at the light source. It describes the volume and power of the light. One candela is approximately the light intensity of one ordinary candle.

Therefore, to better compare different flashlights, it’s essential to compare the flashlight’s Lumens, Lux, and Candela ratings, which will give you a better understanding of how the flashlight works in the real world.

A Flashlights brightness all comes down to lumen, lux and candela

different colored flashlight
  • Flashlights Sizes and weight

The size, shape, and weight of a flashlight can vary depending on what type of flashlight it is. 

  • Most General-purpose flashlights are handheld and range from 2″ long pocket-sized flashlights to 6″ long heavy-duty flashlights. They are often shaped as a tube or a cylinder and can have different weights ranging from 1-2 lbs. 

  • Tactical flashlights: They are often smaller and lighter than most general-purpose flashlights, Their size ranges from 3″  -5″ long, and they usually weigh less than 1lbs.
  • Penlights are, as the name suggests, shaped like a pen; their length usually ranges between 3″-5″ long and weigh less than 1lbs. They have a small diameter, which makes them easier to fit in your pocket.  
  • Keychain flashlights: An good choice if you are looking for an EDC flashlight with a small size, usually under 2″, a lightweight design, and the ability to fit comfortably in any keyring while being bright enough to light up your surroundings even when outside. 
  • The cost of the flashlight

Flashlights come in many different price ranges, depending on the quality, features, and specs.  A cheap flashlight can be just as good as an expensive one; it depends on the application. 

The pros about flashlights under 10$ are that you can afford to buy many of them. So, for example, if you need one in your truck, the car, the kitchen drawer, and on your person as an EDC flashlight, it won’t be too expensive.

There are some cheap flashlights, which are of good quality and may outlast even high-end flashlights, but the quality of cheap flashlights often fails, and therefore they need to be replaced more frequently, which can cost you a lot of money in the long run. So, it may be worth spending a little extra cash on your flashlight in the long run.

Remember to be careful when buying cheap rechargeable flashlights on the internet. The chargers and batteries are often cheaply made with harmful materials and can be dangerous!   

Suppose you plan to go trekking, hiking, or camping, where you have to rely on your flashlight for multiple days to light up your tent or path through rough terrain; it is worth spending a few extra bucks on a reliable, High-quality flashlight.  Paying a bit more for your flashlight will often give you a more durable design, a higher output, longer run time, more modes, a higher impact resistance, etc. 

When it comes to flashlights, a good rule of thumb is “You get what you pay for,” so identify your needs and how much you will be relying on your flashlight to determine if you should buy a cheap or a more expensive flashlight.

  • Features and specs

 The FL1 standards are a set of flashlight performance guidelines and can be found on the packaging of most flashlights these days, they are made to make it easier to compare different flashlights, and they describe how flashlight manufacturers should test and describe different specs like beam distance, run time, water resistance and impact resistance. The flashlight manufacturers do the testing themselves and test the flashlights as the FL1 standards dictate (3):

Beam distance: This is how far a flashlight can shine before the brightness diminishes to the equivalent of the light from a full moon. Beam distance is measured in meters and can vary depending on the flashlight’s brightness setting.

Run time: It is the amount of time a flashlight can shine until the output drops below 10%.

Water resistant Flashlights are commonly given three different ratings:

IPX4: The flashlight can resist water splashes from any direction.

IPX7: This means that the flashlight can be submerged 1 meter under water for 30 minutes and still function afterward.

IPX8: The Flashlight can be submerged deeper than 1 meter. How deep and for how long is specified by the flashlight manufacturer.

Impact resistance: Is measured in meters and is tested by dropping the flashlight onto concrete multiple times and checking if it still works after the drop.

Battery type

 Before you buy your next flashlight, you need to consider what kind of battery type it requires and if it’s possible to get replacement batteries. 

Alkaline vs. lithium based flashlights

  • Lithium-based flashlights: are generally smaller than Alkaline driven lights. They are often brighter due to the higher voltage of the lithium cells and have a longer run-time than Alkaline-based flashlights. Manufacturers also usually use more modern flashlight technology and features in lithium-driven flashlights.
  • The downside of lithium-based flashlights is the availability of the batteries; rechargeable lithium batteries are difficult to find in most stores except online stores. To recharge them, you need to buy a battery charger designed to charge lithium batteries! Which can get quite expensive.
  • There are many disadvantages of using Alkaline batteries, including a shorter run time, and Alkaline driven flashlights are usually large flashlights. One of the significant drawbacks is that the power of a small one-cell AA flashlight won’t be very bright compared to lithium lights, and a two-cell alkaline flashlight is over 7″ long, which makes them inconvenient for most applications.

Rechargeable/renewable batteries

To avoid buying extra batteries all the time, you should choose a flashlight with rechargeable batteries:  the low running cost will save you money and reduce waste in the long run, so it’s a win-win situation. These flashlights are recharged via a USB connection to a computer or a charger plugged into an AC/DC outlet. 

Renewable Batteries: Some flashlights are equipped with a hand crank or even a solar panel, which can be used to recharge the battery! An ingenious technology ideal for ANY hiking, backpacking, and emergency kits.  As the name implies, a common problem with solar-powered flashlights is that it probably requires enough sunlight to recharge, which can be challenging to get when you are walking in a forest or on cloudy days, so always have a spare alkaline-driven flashlight with you just in case!

 

 Modes

Some flashlights have multiple modes, including brighter light modes, strobes, or other SOS features, which can be helpful when hiking or backpacking outdoors. 

Some flashlight has software that allows you to create and download your designed modes and settings via a USB cable plugged into the flashlight.

A flashlight with one mode is usually enough for most situations you might encounter in your day-to-day life. 

 

 Accessories

Some flashlight comes with different accessories when you buy them or can be bought individually. The most common accessories are a pocket clip or belt clip, which is nice if you need to carry a flashlight on you at all times or want to use your flashlights as a headlamp for two-handed activities.

The flashlights controls 

The design of the flashlights controls is essential to consider when picking a new flashlight; where the switches and buttons are on the flashlight and what type of switch the flashlight uses to turn on and off, or switch between different light modes and settings, may determine how much you like your flashlight in the long run.

Most flashlights either use a button or a slider. 

The button is mainly used as a power button, turning the flashlight on and off or changing between modes and different light settings; it is often located at the bottom of the flashlight or on the side.

Most tactical flashlights and smaller flashlights have the power button on the bottom of the flashlight, making it easy to find even in total darkness, and turn on in high-stress situations.

Most larger flashlights use a slider As a power button or to switch between modes. The slider is close to the head of the flashlight, making it easier to turn on and off while only using one hand. 

Some flashlights have a safety lock to prevent them from turning on inside your pocket and draining your battery.

Tactical flashlight on a black background

An example of a tactical flashlight with two buttons, the big one is a power button, and the small red one is for cycling between modes and light settings.

illuminating beautiful starry sky with flashlight at night.

The Flashlights beam type

Every type of flashlight has a slightly different beam type , the beam can vary in shape and size, but the Flashlight beam is always divided into one of the two main groups spot beams or flood beams.

Spot beams are easy to recognize because they have a bright focal point/spot in the middle of the beam. Spot beams are good at projecting light over longer distances but are not ideal for reading maps or books.

Flood beams have no focal point but spread light more evenly over a general area; these are suitable for reading a map but often have a shorter beam length than flashlights with spot beams.

Some flashlights have adjustable beams, where you can switch from spot beam to flood beam and back again on the fly; this is especially useful for hiking and backpacking trips, where you might need to be able to read a map (using a flood beam) and look in the distance for the right path (using a spot beam).

Some flashlights have multiple beams, enabling them to shine in different colors like red, blue, or even ultraviolet. Multiple beams are most common in tactical flashlights and help search crime scenes, stay hidden during hunting, etc.

The two major factors which influences the flashlight’s beam and beam length, are the flashlight’s reflector, and the bulb.

The reflector

The reflector sits in the part of the flashlight closest to the bulb and has a massive impact on the flashlight’s beam. Two types of reflectors are most commonly used in flashlights.

Smooth reflectors: Makes a more concentrated beam and are therefore suitable for casting light over longer distances. (spot beam)

Textured reflectors:  Spread the light more consistently over the entire beam. (flood beam)

The bulb

There are two kinds of bulbs that are most commonly used in flashlights.

The incandescent lightbulb gives a yellower light and a more narrow beam and is not commonly used in newer types of flashlights.

 Most flashlights these days use LED modules due to their more consistent light output and overall efficiency.

1: The reflector is the grey part sorruonding the bulb
2: A flashlight bulb

FAQ:

How many lumens is a good flashlight?

  •  A 20- 300 lumens Flashlight is suitable for everyday uses; these flashlights will have good enough brightness to light up smaller rooms, read, fix power outages, and more without being too bright. 
  • A 300-900 lumens flashlight is suitable for outdoor activities like walking/running at night or camping.
  • A 1000- 1200 lumens flashlight is the ideal lumen amount to use as a work light if you are a mechanic or have a job requiring a work light. 
  • 1200 + lumens Flashlights: These are very bright and are ideal for tactical uses like hunting, police, and military 

Are higher lumens better for a flashlight?

  • A higher lumen rating doesn’t generally mean that it’s a better or even brighter flashlight. Depending on the planned application, other specs like run time, beam distance, and battery type might be more critical than lumen ratings.
  • Furthermore, the Candela and Lux ratings are more accurate at describing the brightness of a flashlight than lumens.  

Are 1000 lumens good for a flashlight?

  •  A 1000 lumens flashlight is ideal for work light in different workspaces but is also bright enough to light up things at a longer distance, depending on the reflector, beam type, and general flashlight design. A 1000-lumen flashlight is therefore ideal for hunting and other tactical applications.  

Are 3000 lumens bright for a flashlight?

  • A 3000-lumen flashlight is an extremely bright flashlight, suitable to lighten up large outdoor areas making it ideal for tactical uses like hunting, law enforcement, military, or search and rescue tasks.
  • In most cases, 3000 lumens would not be ideal for everyday uses; 20-300 lumens should suffice.  

How many lumens is a police flashlight?

  • The lumens ratings of most police flashlights would be between 1000- 1500 lumens, which is enough for tactical uses like self-defense or to lighten up dark indoor and outdoor spaces.
  • These numbers can vary depending on the application needed for the flashlight.

What are the qualities of a good flashlight?

  • The qualities of a good flashlight include having a sturdy, light, and intelligent design with a user-friendly way to switch the flashlight on and off or change the light settings even while wearing gloves. ¨
  • It should have a suitable lumens rating, with enough brightness to complete different tasks. 
  • It should have a suitable size for the application and a battery with a long enough run time, even on brighter light settings.
  • It’s essential to consider what beam type you want it to have. For example, does it need to be water resistance and impact resistant or maybe rechargeable? Etc.  

Can 1500 lumens blind you?

  • Yes! 1500 lumens flashlights can easily blind persons even during the daytime, making them suitable to be used in self-defense situations to blind possible attackers temporarily. Still, a 300+ lumens flashlight should suffice in most cases.

The Conclusion

The most important thing to do before buying a flashlight is to ask yourself, “Why do I need a flashlight, and what do I plan to use it for?”. The answer to these two questions can guide you towards knowing what kind of brightness, beam type, battery type, etc., you need. Remember! Brighter is not always better, and a cheap flashlight can be just as good as an expensive one, depending on the application.  

Ultimately, it’s all up to you to decide what flashlight you like. Remember that buying and testing more than one flashlight may be necessary before you find the perfect one! 

Patrick D. Bayless

Patrick D. Bayless

The founder and main writer on Survivalwiz.com.


Refferences:

(1)The peli blog  link: https://blog.peli.com/products/lights/what-are-tactical-flashlights

(2)The NitecorestoreBlog link: https://blog.nitecorestore.com/how-many-lumens-i-need-for-flashlight.html

(3)The LED-resource webpage Link: https://www.led-resource.com/ansi-fl1-standard/#standard

 

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