There are literally dozens of reasons for owning a flashlight, including everything from hunting to home emergencies to professional uses. Up to quite recently buying a flashlight was just a case of choosing the size and power you needed and that was it. But now with advances in both the types of bulbs and batteries used in flashlights there’s a lot more choices for you to make.
|HexBright FLEX||Streamlight 88040 ProTAC HL||Maglite ST3DMR6 3-D||Coast LED Lenser HP8407||Coast HP314 Long Range|
|Bulb Type||CREE XM-L U2 LED||C4 LED||LED||LED||LED|
|Battery Type||Lithium-Ion||Lithium-Ion||Alkaline||Alkaline AAA||Alkaline D-Cell|
|Warranty||Unknown||2-Year Limited||Lifetime Limited||Lifetime Limited||Lifetime Limited|
So to help answer any questions you might have on the subject of buying a new torch we put together this flashlight buyer’s guide, and also included some reviews of popular flashlights at the end – just in case you need some recommendations to get your shopping juices flowing.
The one point we do want to make here before we go any further is that when it comes to flashlights size definitely doesn’t matter – a bigger flashlight isn’t always more powerful, especially when you take modern bulbs into account. A physically large flashlight can provide you with a very effective impromptu weapon though.
- 1 What Will It Be Used For?
- 2 What’s It Made From?
- 3 The Bulbs In Your Flashlight Matter!
- 4 Types of incandescent bulb
- 5 The Lens
- 6 The Reflector
- 7 Durability
- 8 Key Features In Your New Flashlight
- 9 Top 5 Best Flashlight Reviews
- 10 Conclusion
What Will It Be Used For?
As usual we’re going to tell you that what you actually plan on using the flashlight for will decide what type of flashlight you wind up spending your money on. You have 3 basic choices here: handheld, head-mounted or spotlight. Obviously if you’re hunting, biking or hiking then you’ll need a head-mounted flashlight so you can keep your hands free, but campers will have no problem using a standard handheld flashlight for example. A handheld spotlight would suit somebody who doesn’t have to carry it very far but needs massive amounts of illumination, such as a security professional. Modern spotlights are that bit cheaper but you still don’t want to be carrying one around for hours due to their sheer weight.
What’s It Made From?
It might not seem like an important consideration but what the casing of your flashlight is made from can be important for a number of reasons. The good news is that all modern flashlights are made from either aluminum, or some form of advanced plastic/polymer, so you don’t have dozens of choices here:
Aluminum is tough, light and rust-resistant but it can be permanently bent out of shape by a sharp impact. In terms of the finish on an aluminum flashlight you have 3 choices: powder-coated, Anodize Type-2 and Anodize Type-3, Power-coated flashlights look really well but the coating eventually gets scratched and starts to scrape off. Anodize Type-2 is where the aluminum itself is colored through a special electro-chemical process, so unlike powder-coating there’s no risk of it rubbing off, which enhances the anti-corrosion qualities of your flashlight. At the top of the aluminum “food chain” is Anodize Type-3, which uses the same processes as Anodize Type-2 but the aluminum is far, far tougher in any flashlight made from Anodize Type-2 aluminum.
Plastic is far easier to mould, and far cheaper to produce, than aluminum so it’s a popular choice for flashlight manufacturers. Generally speaking a high-quality polymer is capable of taking a more severe beating than an aluminum torch, is more buoyant and also isn’t prone to cracking when exposed to intensely cold environments. Another benefit of a plastic torch is they can be manufactured in any color you can think of, making them ideal in search-and-rescue situations, or just so that you don’t lose your flashlight the split second you put it down.
Knowing Your Lumens
A “lumen” is simply a unit of measurement for how much light a given device can emit, and is used to measure the brightness of projectors as well as flashlights. A smaller flashlight would be rated at around 50 lumens, whereas the larger military-styled torches produce about 200 lumens of light instead. A flashlight with a higher lumens rating is almost always a better choice.
You’ll also hear some people referring to this as “peak beam candlepower”, but they both mean the same thing – the brightest spot in the beam of your flashlight. People often confuse the lumens rating of a flashlight with the candlepower rating, but they’re actually different things. The lumens rating of a flashlight describes the total amount of light it puts out, whereas candlepower refers to the brightest spot in the beam. If you purchase a flashlight with a relatively high lumens rating its candlepower rating will usually be more than adequate too.
The Bulbs In Your Flashlight Matter!
The bulb(s) in your flashlight produce all the light you see, so it’s important that you understand what types of bulbs you can choose from, and the pros and cons of each type.
This type of bulb is made from a metal filament (like a thread) inside a glass casing – the filament is then heated by electrical current until it glows, producing light. An incandescent bulb produces a very intense light beam but the filaments themselves are extremely fragile, so it only takes a single drop to destroy one and render the bulb useless. A major downside to this type of bulb is that even without any damage an incandescent bulb will fail after no more than 20-hours of continual use, except in unusual circumstances. In fact most incandescent bulbs tend to fail after no more than 5-hour so of continual use, so if you need a long-term emergency flashlight this will be a major deciding factor.
Bi-Pin bulbs are an incandescent bulb with two pins coming out of their base, meaning they’re pushed into their socket rather than being screwed in like most incandescent bulbs. LED lights have taken over from bi-pin bulb assemblies.
Types of incandescent bulb
A modern incandescent flashlight will use halogen, krypton, xenon or HID bulbs to produce light. A krypton bulb tends to be the most popular choice in bog-standard flashlights, and produces an adequate amount of light. Xenon and halogen bulbs both produce far more light thanks to the chemical properties of these gases, although HID (high intensity discharge) bulbs are the most powerful incandescent bulb on the market – they’re often used by the military for example.
More and more manufacturers are using LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs in their flashlights for a number of different reasons. Firstly LED bulbs use electricity very efficiently, so the bulk of your battery power is converted into usable light. This efficiency means that your batteries last a lot longer (5x – 10x longer) in an LED flashlight, and coupled with the fact that the lifespan of LED bulbs is measured in tens of thousands of hours you can see why they’re such a popular choice.
In addition to this LED bulbs are available in different colors, so you can have the right “color” of light for your own particular needs. What other color light do you need beside white? Well hunters and astronomers need red LED light so that their night vision isn’t immediately ruined by white light. There are even blue LED flashlights which can be used to track wounded prey – the blue light highlights the blood as dark black patches on the ground. LED bulbs are also pretty much impact-resistant, so if your drop your torch you should find that your LED bulbs will just keep on working as they did before.
So are there any downsides to LED lights? The reality is that they just don’t produce as intense a light beam as incandescent bulbs, so their lumens rating is about 50% lower than a typical high-quality incandescent flashlight.
One final note on LED lights is that 5mm LED bulbs are far superior to 3mm ones, so make sure your future flashlight uses LED bulbs of this size if possible.
Although you can buy flashlights which use a fluorescent bulb they simply can’t compete with either incandescent or LED bulbs, and are also impossible to focus. Next!!
In older flashlights the lens was simply a glass or plastic cover used to protect the bulb from damage, but in more modern torches the lens is also used to focus the beam of light in a specific way. You’ll find that most of the entry-level torches don’t have a lens that does very much except for actually protecting the bulb inside though.
This is the polished mirrored surface inside your flashlight which focuses the light from the bulb(s) forward, instead of allowing it to dissipate to the sides. A reflector can be fabricated from either plastic or metal, depending on the size of the bulbs/heat generated in the bezel of the lamp. A flashlight can use either a smooth reflector or a textured one – smooth reflectors give intense beams of light, but can suffer from darks spots in the beam. With a textured reflector you don’t get as intense a beam of light, but the light distribution is far more even, with no dark sports or rings.
Regardless of why you’re buying a flashlight you’ll need to ensure it can be used in poor weather conditions, and that it won’t simply fall apart the first time you happen to drop it – and we can guarantee that you’re going to drop it or smack it against something by accident sooner rather than later. How durable you need your torch to be will depend on where you’re using it, so a dive torch is obviously going to be 100% waterproof, whereas a basic emergency flashlight will only need to be water-resistant. A reasonably high-quality light will have a seal of some kind between the lens and the internal workings of the light, as well as on or near the buttons/switches used to control the flashlight.
Key Features In Your New Flashlight
So now that you know what a flashlight is made of and how it works, what exactly should you be adding to your “Must have” feature list for any flashlight you intend buying?
Do you want a torch constructed from plastics or aluminum, and if so why? The environment you work or live in will have a big impact on what your torch is manufactured from.
It’s going to come down to you choosing between an incandescent or LED bulb-powered flashlight. Incandescent bulbs are brighter and can be focused in on one single spot, but don’t last very long and aren’t very power efficient. LED lights aren’t as bright but consume a fraction of the power and last roughly 1,000x as long as any incandescent bulb.
This really only applies to flashlights with incandescent bulbs, or high-end LED lights. It basically indicates just how bright the central part of the beam of your flashlight is.
Without getting into technical detail more lumens is better when you’re shopping for a new torch, but you’ll be surprised that a higher lumens rating doesn’t require a massive torch – smaller torches can outshine many of their bigger competitors.
A flashlight can produce a flood, spot or adjustable beam, although any high-quality flashlight will have an adjustable lens so you can switch it between spot and flood mode whenever you need to.
If you plan on carrying this torch around with you for several hours each night then weight will be something you need to consider. As we mentioned earlier though modern flashlights don’t need to be massive to produce truly impressive beams of light.
LED lights win hands-down here because batteries in an LED torch last at least five times longer than in a regular flashlight – there’s just no competition when it comes to the power efficiency of LED-based flashlights.
This is measured in meters and tells you how far the light from the flashlight will shine before diminishing to the equivalent of the amount of light created on a clear, moonlit night.
Batteries can be expensive to replace, so you need to make sure that not only does your flashlight perform well but that it’s also reasonably cost-effective to run. You do also have the option of buying a hand-cranked emergency flashlight which never needs new batteries though!
Top 5 Best Flashlight Reviews
We have put together the five best flashlights and wrote a quick review about each one.
1. HexBright FLEX Flashlight Review
This minute flashlight is all the proof you’ll never need that size isn’t everything because it’s rated at 500 lumens and it’s even rechargeable. The HexBright FLEX uses a special type of bulb called a CREE XM-L U2 LED which produces s dazzling performance from this tiny flashlight. The case of this flashlight is made from aircraft-grade aluminum, meaning it’s lightweight while also being small enough to keep in your pocket. The HexBright FLEX is also water-resistant and the electronics in this flashlight are even programmable if you want to experiment with them. Several hundred 5-star reviews and a sub-$100 price tag makes this one of the best LED torches on the market.
2. Streamlight 88040 ProTAC HL Tactical Flashlight Review
If you’re looking for a powerful but tiny tactical flashlight then the Streamlight 88040 ProTAC HL is a great choice. Firstly you get 600 lumens of light pumping out from the waterproof aluminum casing. Another nice feature of this waterproof flashlight is that it has 3 separate operating modes, including a strobe mode which is ideal for self defense, or even offensive operations. Weighing in at 2-pounds the Streamlight 88040 ProTAC HL comes with a 2-year warranty and costs around $70.
3. Maglite LED Flashlight Review
We don’t need to explain who Maglite is as a company so we’ll just get on with explaining how good this torch is. This LED flashlight puts out 104 lumens and has a beam distance of over 360-meters, which is more than enough for the average emergency torch. Something we’ve always loved about the Maglite range is that you can change the focus of the beam by simply rotating the bezel at the top of the torch. For under $30 you get a small, light and powerful torch with a camo finish and the kind of beam intensity other products could only wish for.
4. Coast HP7 Flashlight Review
This lightweight flashlight from the team at Coast produces almost 200 lumens of light, at a distance of well over 600-feet in spot mode. Made from aluminum and sporting an advanced LED illumination system you get more light than from any other flashlight of this size. In addition to being particularly powerful the LED Lenser HP8407 also has a battery life of 64-hours and is powered by just 4 standard alkaline batteries. The one-handed speed-focusing feature makes this torch ideal for people working in the law enforcement or security professions, but also leaves a home owner with an additional hand free to protect their property. A thoroughly impressive flashlight which retails for less than $30.
5. Coast HP314 Flashlight Review
So far we’ve only reviewed lights which produced around 200 lumens of light but the Coast HP314 Long Range is capable of a lot more than that. How much more? Oh just a paltry 1132 lumens of light…which is pretty much like trying to stare into the sun. This oversized torch is 17-inches long and because it weighs several pounds it’s actually supplied with a shoulder strap. 4 x D-Cell batteries will give you almost 5-hours of run time and the beam distance of almost 700-meters will make sure that nothing can escape your gaze. The Coast HP314 Long Range costs just over $200, but if you’re looking for a truly superior flashlight, which can also double as a baton, then this is it!
You probably never expected that there was so much to learn about flashlights when you started reading this guide, right? Now you know exactly what type of flashlight is going to suit your own particular needs and you even know how to choose one that will cost you as little in replacement batteries as possible!