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The Ultimate Guide to Flashlights

You want to be able to choose the best flashlight for your needs. This is because the best flashlight can give you a strong, portable beam of light. The right flashlight will give you precision controls with a certain dexterity of movement that works with you. It should also provide light while being held or while sitting down and some may be looking for a flashlight with signaling options.

Thanks to advances in lighting technology, there are a variety of LED flashlights and incandescent flashlights that can meet these needs. It also means that flashlights are brighter, smaller, and lighter than they were just a couple of years ago.

Are you ready to find the perfect flashlight today? Then the ultimate guide to flashlights has the information that will help to make that happen.

What You Need to Know About Flashlight Choices

There are 3 key considerations that are important to compare and contrast when you are looking for the best flashlight to meet your needs.

  • Light Output. This is generally recognized in lumens. Some manufacturers list the actual lumens of the light being offered, while others list the “potential” lumens that the light could produce. Look for flashlights that offer realistic ratings in this area for the best possible results.
  • Battery types and running time. Most flashlights will either run on alkaline batteries or rechargeable batteries. The majority rechargeable flashlights have been equipped with lithium-ion batteries. Running time can range from 30 minutes to 30+ hours, sometimes without a price differential.
  • Size and weight. How big a flashlight happens to be will not impact the lumens it can provide. The weight of the flashlight is often dependent on its function. Outdoor and tactical flashlights tend to weigh more than portable pen lights simply because their shape and function are different.

You’ll find a wide range of prices with the modern flashlight, with some models under $10, while others are over $1,000. Yet even with this pricing range, the flashlights may be of the same size, weight, and even use the same batteries. This is why the light output is often the most important category to compare and contrast.

Brighter lights use modern technologies, batteries, and bulbs so that they can produce a steady beam of light. This costs more than an old-fashioned incandescent bulb with a lower light lumen.

Rechargeable batteries will often boost the light output that a flashlight can provide, but they will also add another layer of cost to the final product. Waterproofing, impact resistance, and multiple light modes will also increase the final price of the flashlight.

Flashlight Terms You Need to Know

When you’re looking at flashlight reviews or product listings, you may see certain industry terms being used. Here are the definitions of those terms so you can make sure you’re purchasing the best possible flashlight to meet your needs.

AR Coating – This is an anti-reflective coating that is added to the lens of a flashlight.

Bezel – This is the front part of the flashlight. It often includes the bulb, the reflector, and the lens.

Candlepower – This is a measurement of the brightest spot of a flashlight beam at a specific distance. It is different than the lumen rating, which is a measurement of the entire output the flashlight bulb can produce.

CFL – This stands for “Compact Fluorescent.” It is an energy-efficient alternative to an incandescent light bulb.

CR123 – This is a common disposable lithium battery that offers a consistent power ration.

Cree – This is an LED manufacturer. You’ll see their LED light options in many product listings, such as XP-G2, XP-L, and so forth.

Die – This is the part of the LED that produces light for the flashlight.

Fast Charging – Although some listings use this term to describe how fast a rechargeable battery can be recharged, it is generally a term that is used for flashlights that are compatible with foreign electrical currents and outlets.

Incandescent – This type of flashlight uses a bulb which has a thin filament receive electrical current so it can produce light. It’s very similar to an incandescent home light bulb.

NiCd – This is a type of rechargeable battery. It is composed of nickel and cadmium. Most flashlights with this type of battery are considered to be high performance tools that can endure a rugged user experience.

NiMH – This is a type of rechargeable battery. It is composed of nickel and metal hydride. It is suitable for most residential applications, camping, and similar situations.

Peak Beam Strength – This is the same measurement that is used for candlepower. It focuses on the brightest spot of a focused beam and then provides a rating for it.

Reflectior – This is the part of the flashlight which surrounds the light source. It focuses and directs the light beam so that you receive the advertised brightness of the product.

For additional terms, be sure to reference this helpful guide:

How to Properly Measure Flashlight Performance

Since 2009, ANSI FL1 standards have been put into place so that every flashlight can be tested and rated under the same criteria. This isn’t a mandatory set of standards, however, so some manufacturers provide their own internal testing and report the data from that instead. For the most consistent results, look for flashlights that include ANSI FL1 performance data on the packaging, listing, and reviews that are offered.

There are 5 standard categories that are tested using these standards.

  • Light Output. This is always measured in lumens according to standards. It is a reflection of the intensity of the beam that comes from the flashlight. Outputs generally range from about 10 lumens to around 3,500 lumens, though some flashlight models have recently topped 10,000 lumens.
  • Beam Distance. This category is always measured in meters but is often converted to feet because of the internal reporting of some flashlight manufacturers. The distance rating is a measurement of how far the light will shine before it diminishes to standard moonlight.
  • Running Time. This category is always measured in hours, though some flashlights are unable to produce a full hour of run time. It is a reflection of how long it takes for the flashlight to drop to 10% of its rated top output when new batteries have been activated. You’ll find different run time ratings for flashlights that have different light settings.
  • Impact Resistance. For this rating, a flashlight is dropped 6 times onto concrete from its rated distance. Measured in meters, the goal is to determine if the flashlight can still be functional when being struck on an occasional basis.
  • Water Resistance. The ratings in this category are based on the standardized IPX system of water resistance. The two most important ratings to look for are anything below IPX4, which indicates the flashlight cannot be exposed to water, and IPX8, which indicates it can survive up to 4 hours of submersion at a specific depth.

Many of today’s top flashlight brands are including this data on a regular basis, including Maglite, Inova, and Fenix.

For more information about the technical aspects of how a flashlight works, be sure to review the Flashlight Pro Expert Content on How an LED Flashlight Works.

Choosing the Best Flashlight Features and Functions

Some attributes are fully rated by ANSI and meet specific standards. Other features and functions of a flashlight may also be available and not be tested by ANSI or a manufacturer. Taking a comprehensive look at these miscellaneous features and functions can further refine the shopping process to make sure the best flashlight comes home.

Here are the attributes you’ll want to take a closer look at before you finalize your purchase today.

  • Battery Type. The most common batteries used in flashlights are AAA or AA alkaline batteries. You can often use the rechargeable versions of these alkaline batteries if you prefer. The CR123A battery and 18650 rechargeable batteries are two additional options that offer you brighter lighting and longer run times while reducing the overall weight of the flashlight. Larger models may take C- or D-cell alkaline batteries instead.
  • Beam Type. Flashlight beams can offer you a fixed beam width, which is good for general use. Spot beams or focused beams can condense your light so that it can offer you long-distance sight lines in difficult conditions. Adjustable beams will allow you to switch between fixed and focused options.
  • Bulb Type. Many of today’s best flashlights use LED lighting, but that isn’t the only option that is available today. Incandescent bulbs are still available, sometimes referred to as “Krypton Lights,” on new models. Halogen or Xenon bulbs utilize gas to maximize outputs while keeping the quality of light being produced as consistent as possible.
  • Controls. The location of the power switch is important to consider. Some switches are sliders instead of a push-button control. Rotating bezels may also control the power and that might take two hands to complete the action. Some flashlights have started including a safety lock so they cannot be accidentally turned on.
  • Modes. Many flashlights come with a single mode. You turn the flashlight on and it turns on. Some models offer up to 5 different lighting options, an SOS feature, a strobe feature, and even mode sequencing. You may see USB and Bluetooth connectivity available on recent models. Look for flashlights that have a silent function that allows you to cycle through features or lighting options for the best results.

Always use the batteries that are recommended by the manufacturer in every flashlight. If you equip lithium-ion batteries to a flashlight that has not been designed for that type of power, you may wind up damaging the flashlight.

Do I Need to Have Flashlight Accessories?

If you have a handheld flashlight, chances are you’re going to be holding it when using it. Headlamps are going to be strapped to your head. Some flashlights you can just sit on the ground to get the light you need.

Yet one question still remains: what do you do with the flashlight when you aren’t going to be using it?

This is why a consideration of certain flashlight accessories is important to the shopping process. Some flashlights come in “kits” that will include a number of accessories. Others may sell them separately, but still need to be purchased because the accessory is an integral part of the flashlight user experience.

Look for these options as the best flashlight accessories to own.

  • Belt Clips. These allow you to put your flashlight safely and securely onto your belt when it is not in use. This keeps the flashlight within easy reach.
  • Belt Holsters. Similar in function to a clip, the difference is that you can often lock your flashlight into place when using a holster. The holster may be placed in the pocket, around the ankle, or in other locations as well.
  • Diffusers and Filters. These accessories change how the light can be used from the flashlight. Look for UV filters so that you can hunt down pet stains, especially if you have a flashlight that can be converted into a black light.
  • Lanyards. If you have a small flashlight, instead of using a clip to secure it, a lanyard that hangs around your wrist might be a better solution. Many lanyards are designed to work with carabiners so you can clip the flashlight to your pack, a belt loop, or another location for hiking, camping, and climbing needs.

A word of caution: Some flashlight manufacturers have taken advantage of the added accessories by creating what can only be called “base unit pricing.” As you look through each flashlight review and product description, it is important to make sure that you are receiving the batteries and chargers that are required for rechargeable flashlights.

To reduce the cost of the item, these items have been removed from the initial purchase, but will be required in order for the flashlight to operate properly.

Emergency Flashlights: What You Need to Know

Emergency flashlights are sometimes grouped into a category that is called “renewable.” This is because they do not require a battery in order to operate. Using either a hand-crank or a solar panel collector, the flashlight contains a storage cell that will keep the energy that you or the sun produces. Then, when you’re ready to use the flashlight, you can just turn it on and then keep supplying it with power.

Most emergency flashlights that do not include any additional features are often quite small in size and will have a lumens output that is less than 10. This makes them suitable for power outages, camping situations, or vehicular emergencies. If you want a brighter output, look for emergency flashlights that offer a weather radio, an AM/FM radio, or additional features that are powered by the solar or hand-crank energy.

Flashlight Materials and Why It Matters

When you look at the modern flashlight, you’ll discover that most are made of either an aluminum alloy or of plastic components. Not every aluminum alloy flashlight is built to the same level of quality. Thinner metals tend to make the flashlight feel a lot lighter, but thicker metals tend to make the flashlight have a better impact resistance rating.

Plastic flashlights tend to be the most affordable and the lightest. They also tend to have the lowest impact resistance ratings.

The weight of a flashlight is not a reflection of its light output of beam distance. It’s more about how much weight you’re comfortable carrying around with you when you need to have this tool. Larger flashlights that are heavy do seem to have longer running times since they typically have higher capacity batteries, so that is something to consider.

For the best value option, look for flashlights that have added stainless steel within the head of the flashlight. This will give you an improved impact resistance without the added cost of reinforcing the entire frame of the flashlight.

Cylindrical flashlights are very common, no matter what materials are being used. These flashlights tend to roll around a lot, however, so checkering and profiling are added to the design to prevent movement. This can create a certain sharpness to the patterning and profile that could potentially damage clothing, so be sure to check the best flashlight reviews to make sure this isn’t an issue with your preferred model.

Are You Ready to Find the Perfect Flashlight Today?

Sometimes a flashlight offers one basic function: to provide light. For many, that’s really all that is needed, so virtually any flashlight can be the best flashlight to meet their needs.

For others, there are specific needs that must be met in order for the flashlight to serve its purpose. That’s why a comprehensive look at the construction of the flashlight, its overall ratings, and the add-ons or accessories that come with it are so important.

Whatever the case may be, you deserve to have your needs met with a flashlight that is priced competitively. Figure out your needs, then compare pricing with the help of the best flashlight reviews to make sure you’re receiving the best deal possible.

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