Buyer’s Guide: Flashlights
If it’s time for a new flashlight, learn the basics of bulbs, beams, batteries, and more, and check out our top picks so you can get the right light to suit your needs.
Battery-operated, handheld flashlights have been around since 1898 and have come a long way since. These household can be crucial in power outages, helpful for late-night security checks, and valuable when trying to find something under the bed. Flashlights are not only brighter and more dependable than ever but are also more compact and lightweight.
So whether you need a beacon for your bedside table, glove compartment, utility drawer, or emergency kit, here’s the info you need to make the right choice among the countless available options.
Making Sense of Flashlights
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) rates flashlights by their light output, battery runtime, beam distance, and beam intensity. When shopping, you’ll notice that each product comes with a series of ratings. Understanding what these ratings mean is key to finding a flashlight that perfectly suites your needs.
You can still find a few flashlights with incandescent, krypton-type bulbs, but the vast majority of today’s models feature LED bulbs that produce brighter beams over greater distances. The amount of light a flashlight produces is measured in “lumens.” A flashlight producing 25 lumens is sufficient for reading a book under the covers, while 200 lumens will illuminate the corners of an average size yard. Need more? Flashlights with over 1,000 lumens are available—just don’t aim them toward your neighbor’s windows at night!
Beam Distance and Type
Flashlight packages tell how far the beam will go and what sort of beam it is—both important considerations. The distance a beam will shine is given in meters. For instance, a beam distance of 200 meters is equal to just over 650 feet. There are also two types of beams. A “flood” beam lights up a wide area, while a “spot” beam produces a narrower stream of light that travels a greater distance. Some flashlights allow you to toggle between a flood beam and a spot beam as needed.
With more intense and powerful light output comes the need for longer battery runtimes—after all, a high-lumen flashlight won’t do you much good on a weekend camping trip if the batteries run out in two hours. The more powerful the beam, the more quickly the batteries will drain. Fortunately, many flashlights today use rechargeable batteries. They cost a bit more than disposables but will save you money over time if you use the flashlight frequently.
The abbreviation “IPX” (for Ingress Protection) denotes that a flashlight will resist moisture and water, something to check for if you plan to take your torch on adventures where it might get wet. A rating of IPX-4 means the flashlight should be okay if gets splashed by a little water, while a rating of IPX-8 indicates that the flashlight will still be operable after being submerged for up to four hours.
Our Top Picks
Our research illuminated some of the best flashlight options available on the market. With your shopping considerations in mind, choose the model you’ll get the most use out of.
The Streamlight ProTac HL 750 Lumen Professional Tactical Flashlight packs a ton of features into a pocket-sized powerhouse. Made of impact-resistant anodized aircraft aluminum, it weighs less than 6 ounces, measures only 5.4 inches in length, and comes with a canvas holster. Its adjustable light output lets you crank beam intensity all the way up to 600 lumens or tone it down to a discrete 33 lumens. This model features a no-fumble, push-button end-switch for easy on-and-off operating and at full beam intensity, it operates for approximately 1.5 hours before its lithium batteries need recharging. At it lowest output, the batteries last for up to 18 hours.
Patterned after military and law enforcement gear, the NITECORE P12 1000 Lumens Precise Tactical Flashlight stands out not only for for its powerful beam (able to light over 200 meters), but also for its ultra tough, waterproof, industrial-grade body. At maximum intensity, the rechargeable batteries last approximately 1.5 hours; reduce the beam to 70 lumens and battery runtime can last up to 28 hours. Among its best features is the ability to strobe an S.O.S. signal in emergency situations and an included car-charger for recharging on the go.
ALSO CONSIDER: DEWALT 20V MAX LED Work Light / Flashlight
The DEWALT 20V MAX LED Work Light / Flashlight is a solid option that pulls double duty both as a flashlight and a work light. At 110 lumens, it’s not as bright as others, but what makes this pistol-gripped product perfect for stowing in a toolbox is its 120-degree pivoting head and stand-up base. These features of the design enable you to direct the light wherever you need it while leaving both hands free to work. Only note that you must separately purchase a 20-volt max 3.0 Ah lithium-ion battery and charger.