How to choose the right flashlight?

At some point in time – while fixing the kitchen sink or preparing for a camping trip – everyone finds themselves searching for a flashlight. Which one to grab (or which one to purchase the next time you buy a flashlight) depends on what you’ll be using it for.  Are you looking for an emergency light to keep in your home or car?  Do you need a work flashlight for inspections or on nightshift security rounds? Will this be your go-to camping/hunting flashlight?  After you determine your purpose, we can then break down the key technical factors that go into choosing the right flashlight for you.

How Bright - A Look at Lumens
A lumen is the amount of light something emits, and this is one of the first factors you’ll notice about a flashlight. Some flashlights put out about 35-100 lumens, which is great for reading a book in the dark, searching for something in the attic, or on family camping trips.  Others, such as tactical flashlights, can give off 300 or even 1000 lumens, which will give you visibility the length of a football field. 

Which Battery Is Best?
Another factor to consider is the kind of battery a flashlight uses.  In most cases, these will be AA, AAA, or D batteries.  However, others may use lithium-ion batteries that can be recharged by connecting to a USB port, a wall outlet, or a solar charger.  Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries come in many sizes, but the most common for flashlights are 14500, 18650, and 26650.

The smallest of these, the 14500, are the same size as standard AA batteries, but do not interchange lithium-ion 14500 and standard AA batteries in your flashlight.  Make sure a flashlight is approved for lithium-ion batteries before trying this, however, as this type of battery heats up quite a bit more than single-use ones.

The next size, 18650, is most commonly used in flashlights, and it’s a bit larger than a standard AA battery.  Due to its high performance, it is the most popular lithium-ion battery.  Keep in mind that when shopping for rechargeable 18650 lithium-ion batteries, make sure you buy “protected” ones. These are equipped with a circuit board that protects the battery against common dangers, such as overcharge, over discharge, and short circuit.  Protected batteries are safer to use in your flashlights.

Lastly, larger flashlights may use 26650 batteries, which are a little wider and much longer than regular C batteries.  This type of battery has extremely high-capacity and will hold up for hours of continuous use.

Whether it be alkaline or lithium-ion rechargeable batteries, by understanding how these work with a flashlight you will be able to make a more informed choice when making your next flashlight purchase.
 
Size & Weight
Police officers, security guards, and rangers famously wield footlong flashlights that can double as a baton if the need arises. However, for the everyday consumer, smaller is probably better if you’re keeping an emergency light in your kitchen drawer, glove compartment, or toolbox.  Nowadays, flashlights come in a variety of sizes, from the slim pocket-sized penlight to the bigger and heavier tactical flashlights, so you have lots to choose from.

If portability isn’t all that important and you simply need a light to use in one place, you’ll want to consider a lantern. The Gearlight S300, for example, can light up your tent, campsite, or living room for up to 12 hours on a single set of 3 AA batteries. While lanterns aren’t ideal for carrying around to light the way, the S300 folds up nicely to be packed up for travel.
 
Flashlights for Self Defense
A flashlight can be an excellent form of self defense, and if you’re looking for one for this purpose, it’s best to consider a tactical design. Tactical flashlights have higher lumens, making them intensely bright when aimed into the eyes of a trespasser or assailant. If you’d like to do more than temporarily blind someone, you might also use the strobe function included on many tactical flashlights. This causes something called the “Bucha” effect in which the person with the flickering light pointed at them becomes disoriented, confused, and can even develop a headache or nausea if exposed to it for a long enough time.

When blinding or confusing someone isn’t enough, many tactical flashlights are designed with jagged edges around the LED end, which are useful for gouging or tearing at an attacker’s skin. Tactical flashlights also tend to be very impact-resistant and durable, so they can stand up to being used in a scuffle or fight.
 
The Bells and Whistles
Beyond the factors mentioned above, you’ll also want to look at the various items that make a flashlight more user-friendly or multi-purpose. A zoomable flashlight design, for example, will allow you to focus the beam to cast more intense light on a single spot a long distance away or zoom out to sweep light over a larger area. The highest-quality flashlights on the market will be water and shock resistant, which is particularly helpful if you use your light outdoors for camping or hunting.

Some people find adjustable lighting modes to be useful - being able to put your flashlight into low, medium, or high mode allows you to customize the amount of light you need without burning excess battery power.  Certain flashlights even come equipped with magnets that allow you to easily attach them to a car, toolbox, or any other piece of metal for hands-free use. These extra features may be a must-have, depending on what you need your flashlight for, or they may simply be an added plus for you.
 
Is Cost a Factor?
No matter what your flashlight wish list contains, cost will often be a deciding factor between one model and another. Generally, pen lights and standard flashlights will be more affordable than tactical flashlights. All the extra features we discussed, from water and shock resistance to various lighting modes, will also add to the price. Still, it often makes more sense to invest in one high-quality flashlight than it does to constantly replace lesser-priced lights that are easily damaged and broken.
 
Which Flashlight is Best for You?
While there is no one “best” flashlight, there are many excellent and reliable models on the market. Which one will work best for you will depend on which of these factors are most important to you. The key is knowing what you need from your flashlight, finding the model with the features most helpful to you, and fitting that into your budget. A dependable light can be a lifesaver, so remember to keep yours charged, ready, and in an easy-to-remember location.