Flashlights have come a long way since they were first introduced in 1898. Battery-operated and portable, these handheld lights are crucial during power outages and helpful for late-night security checks. They’re also essential for illuminating certain tasks, such as automotive work or fixing a leaky pipe under the sink. Today’s flashlights are brighter, more dependable, compact, and lightweight.
With so many flashlights on the market, finding one that lives up to the hype can be challenging. That’s why I took a hands-on approach and put several models to the test. While brightness is crucial, I also considered other aspects such as ease of operation, weight, battery type, and more.
No matter the purpose, whether it’s for a bedside table, utility drawer, emergency kit, or workshop, a reliable flashlight is a must-have. In this guide, I’ll help you choose the best flashlight for your needs by sharing the results (pros and cons) of my hands-on testing to help you make an informed purchase. The following models vary by intensity, intended use, and price, and each earned its spot on this lineup of the best flashlights after rigorous testing.
- BEST OVERALL: Streamlight 88040 ProTac HL Tactical Flashlight
- RUNNER-UP: Nitecore P12 1000 Lumen LED Tactical EDC Flashlight
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Olight i3T EOS Small Flashlight
- BEST TACTICAL: Olight Warrior X Pro 2100 Lumen Tactical Flashlight
- BEST EDC: Fenix PD35 V3.0 Everyday Carry Flashlight
- BEST LONG THROW: Fenix TK16 V2.0 3100 Lumen Tactical Flashlight
- BEST FOR LIGHT PACKING: Nebo Torchy 1000 Lumen Rechargeable Pocket Flashlight
- BEST FOR LONG USE: Milwaukee 2735-20 M18 Work Light
- ALSO CONSIDER: DeWalt DCL040 20V MAX LED Work Light
How We Tested the Best Flashlights
I extensively tested and reviewed each flashlight that earned a spot in the lineup. Those advertised as waterproof were submerged in water, while those designed to resist a small amount of splashing were passed through the spray of water in the shower.
The tactical flashlights were tested to see how far their light beam would illuminate, while the work-type flashlights were tested in realistic DIY situations, such as under the hood of a vehicle or under a sink. All functions, such as adjustable or strobe modes, on every flashlight were tested to ensure they worked as promoted.
In addition to analyzing overall quality and weather resistance, I recruited a helper, which allowed me to gauge the brightness and beam distance. I had my helper walk away, stop when the flashlight beam could no longer illuminate him clearly, and then I measured the distance.
Our Top Picks
My hands-on testing illuminated some of the best flashlight options on the market. The following flashlights vary in style, design, and cost, and while some are better suited to specific uses than others, all are top performers in their categories.
Coming in as the best overall flashlight in testing, the Streamlight ProTac packs many features into a pocket-size powerhouse. Right off the bat, I was impressed with the quality and solid feel of this flashlight, despite its small size: less than 6 inches long and weighing about 6 ounces. It’s made of durable impact-resistant aircraft aluminum and features rear one-button operation, which gives it a tactical feel.
The Streamlight is rated IPX7, meaning it should be waterproof to a depth of about 3 feet for up to 30 minutes. I filled the bathtub, dropped it in, and set the timer. In 30 minutes, I dried the Streamlight off and clicked the power button—the light came on immediately. In the field test with my helper, its LED beam at the highest setting was bright enough to see my subject at a distance of 165 yards.
Twisting the end of the flashlight allowed me to adjust the beam’s intensity from a narrow spotlight to a broad, more diffused beam. I could also lower the light’s intensity to that of a night light. This model also features a very bright strobe that’s guaranteed to attract attention. This impressive little flashlight comes with two CR123A batteries; rechargeable or non-rechargeable batteries can be used, but no charger is included.
- Lumens: 750
- Power source: 2 CR123A lithium-ion batteries
- Runtime: Up to 18 hours on low output
- Weight: 5.6 ounces
- Light source: LED
- Material: Black aircraft aluminum
- Beam adjusts from narrow to wide by twisting the end of the flashlight
- Very bright strobe light that flashes off and on to attract attention
- Rugged steel belt clip keeps the flashlight firmly attached to a belt or strap
- No charger included for the CR123A rechargeable batteries
Get the Streamlight flashlight at Amazon or Acme Tools.
Coming in a close second, the Nitecore P12 Tactical Flashlight stands out for its powerful 1,000-lumen beam that allowed me to illuminate objects at 180 yards. It boasts an ultra-tough industrial-grade body and is IPX8 rated to withstand submersion in up to 6 feet of water for up to 30 minutes. The first thing I did was drop the Nitecore P12 in a bathtub full of water for a half hour, and then completed all other testing after submersion—and it performed admirably.
This flashlight is very lightweight at just over 3 ounces, and it comes with a sturdy steel clip for carrying on a belt or in a pocket. At maximum intensity, the rechargeable batteries should last approximately 1.5 hours; reduce the beam to 70 lumens, and battery runtime can last up to 28 hours. At first, in the dark, I couldn’t find the mode adjustment—it’s a small rubber button located on the barrel about 1.5 inches down from the top. Once I found it, I could scroll through four intensity levels, and I could activate a strobe mode by holding it down.
The Nitecore P12 is impressive in its intensity, yet its light weight, slim dimensions, and small size (under 6 inches) allow for easy toting in a pocket or a purse. It runs on a single 18650 lithium-ion battery (included) or two CR123A batteries.
- Lumens: 1000
- Power source: One 18650 or two CR123A lithium-ion batteries
- Runtime: Up to 28 hours on low
- Weight: 3.10 ounces (without battery)
- Light source: LED
- Material: Aero-grade aluminum alloy
- IPX8 rating means it can survive being submerged at depths greater than 3 feet for longer than 30 minutes.
- Very bright LED beam illuminated to a distance of 180 yards
- Belt hook makes it easy to carry on belt, waistband, or strap
- Mode button in less-than-ideal location—takes some getting used to
- No battery charger included—plan to purchase charger or replace batteries
Get the Nitecore flashlight at Amazon.
Those looking for an affordable flashlight for everyday tasks, such as checking under furniture for a lost earring, walking safely through the house in the event of a power outage, or even reading the menu in a dimly lit restaurant, need look no further than Olight’s i3T slim LED flashlight.
On first inspection, the i3T seemed more like a toy than a tool, but I inserted the included AAA battery and dropped the little pen-like light in a tub of water where I left it for 30 minutes since it’s rated IPX8, meaning it should be waterproof at depths greater than 3 feet for longer than 30 minutes. I then dried off the little light—it’s only 3.5 inches long and weighs just 1.4 ounces—and clicked the On button, located on the flashlight’s tail end. It lit right up. I was able to scroll through intensity settings with additional clicks.
The i3T wasn’t as bright as some of the other flashlights I tested, but it’s not meant for tactical use. It’s made to offer a convenient source of light that can be clipped to a keyring or carried in a pocket or a purse. On its brightest mode, the i3T illuminated my test subject clearly at about 30 yards. While it’s not a distance flashlight, it’s a boon when you need a little light and don’t want to carry a heavier model.
The i3T operates on a single AAA battery (included). This is especially handy if you plan to take it hiking or camping and you won’t have access to an electrical outlet to charge a battery. Just take a couple of spare AAA batteries along and insert a new one when needed. On Low, the i3T runs up to 16 hours on a standard battery.
- Lumens: 180
- Power source: 1 AAA battery
- Runtime: 16 hours on low
- Weight: 1.4 ounces
- Light source: LED
- Material: Aluminum alloy
- Comes with a clip for carrying on a waistband, belt, or backpack strap
- Small and lightweight—fits neatly in a purse or pocket
- Water-resistant, so it’s safe to use in snowy or rainy situations without damage
- The i3T is not as bright as many larger flashlights
Get the Olight i3T EOS flashlight at Amazon, Olight World, or B&H.
There’s nothing wimpy about the Olight Warrior Tactical Flashlight. Right out of the box, I could tell the Warrior X was a quality flashlight. Its sleek, anodized aluminum body is slightly heavier than some handheld LED flashlights, weighing in at just under 8.5 ounces, but those added ounces give it a solid feel. The Warrior X features an end-thumb on/off switch for one-hand operation. The switch is also a powerful magnet, letting me hang the Warrior to the underside of a steel table.
Like the other flashlights promoted as being waterproof, the Olight Warrior X began its testing at the bottom of a bathtub full of water for 30 minutes. After the water test, which it passed with flying colors, I tested its illumination. After dark, I directed my helper to walk away while I kept the beam from the Warrior X on his back. At about 450 yards—as far as my helper could walk without reaching the end of the property—the beam was still bright and clear. I think it could easily reach its 500-meter promoted maximum.
The Warrior X comes with just two modes, high and low, which are selected using a button on the bottom of the flashlight, and it’s powered by a rechargeable 21700 lithium-ion battery. Charging the battery is a simple matter of setting it atop its magnetic charging disk that plugs into a USB port. The Warrior X may be too bright in neighborhoods with nearby homes, but it’s well suited to camping, hunting, and hiking—when it’s essential to see in the dark and at a distance.
- Lumens: 2100
- Power source: 21700 rechargeable lithium-ion battery (included)
- Runtime: Maximum 8 hours
- Weight: 8.43 ounces
- Light source: LED
- Material: Aluminum alloy
- The Warrior X had the highest intensity beam of any flashlight tested
- Comes with a magnetic base for attaching to steel items
- Handy USB charging base makes recharging the flashlight a snap
- Only 2 light modes; a little limiting compared to other options
Get the Olight Warrior X Pro 2 flashlight at Amazon, Olight, or Longhorn Tactical.
Overall, an everyday carry (EDC) flashlight should be dependable, functional, and easy to use. The Fenix PD35 easily fulfilled those criteria and offered a powerful beam of light to boot.
I was slightly confused when I unboxed the Fenix PD35 because it came with a USB charging cord, but I couldn’t find a charging port anywhere on the flashlight. Finally, I removed the battery and discovered a charging port on the side of it. After charging the battery, I reinserted it in the PD35 and dropped the flashlight in the tub for 30 minutes. It’s rated IP68, which means it can stand up to 30 minutes of submersion. After I dried it off, it lit up like a champ.
The flashlight features five intensity modes and a strobe mode. On the highest mode, Turbo, it illuminated my helper at a distance of about 350 feet, but within a couple of minutes, the flashlight got pretty warm in my hand. On the lowest mode, Eco, it’s just bright enough to read a book by at night. The strobe mode is highly intense on the PD35, and I felt it would quickly draw attention in an emergency. However, it’s not very big for all that power and intensity. The PD35 weighs just 2.95 ounces and measures 5.28 inches long. I could clip it on the waistband of my jeans and I barely knew it was there.
It also comes with a toothed strike bezel, which means the protective metal ring around the lens is fluted in case you need to smack someone in self-defense. The fluting will supposedly do more damage to an attacker than a smooth ring would do. I didn’t test this aspect of the PD35, but security-minded buyers may appreciate this feature.
- Lumens: 1700
- Power source: One 18650 lithium-ion battery or two CR123A batteries
- Runtime: Up to 230 hours on Eco mode
- Weight: 2.95 ounces
- Light source: LED
- Material: Aluminum
- 5 intensity modes plus a bright strobe mode for virtually any lighting need
- Water-resistant, making it suitable for use in rainy or snowy situations
- Lightweight and compact, yet offers a very bright light beam
- Flashlight gets very warm when used on the most intense setting
Get the Fenix PD35 flashlight at Amazon, Longhorn Tactical, or Fenix.
Since this was the second Fenix flashlight in the test, I knew to check the battery when I couldn’t find a charging port on the TK16. There it was—the charging port—right on the side of the battery. After charging the battery and inserting it, I got right to testing. The TK16, which is rated IP68, withstood submersion in the tub and went on to shine brightly.
In fact, the TK16 is so bright it illuminated my helper when he reached the edge of our rural property—about 450 yards, but that was on Turbo mode, and within just a few minutes, the body of the TK16 became uncomfortably warm. The heat isn’t an issue on lower modes, but Turbo mode takes a lot of power to generate 3100 lumens of intensity, and the side effect is a warm flashlight. The strobe function is also incredibly bright and should catch the attention of anyone nearby.
Fenix packs a lot of beam intensity into a relatively small tactical flashlight that weighs just under 4 ounces without the battery. With the battery in place, the TK16 weighed just under 6.5 ounces on my digital kitchen scale.
Like the other Fenix I tested, the TK16 comes with a strike bezel, and this one features tungsten-breaking tips. The manufacturer doesn’t specify what the tips are designed to break, but they might come in handy if the user needs to break a car window to rescue someone trapped inside. I did not test that function, however.
Despite the heat generated on Turbo mode, this was among my favorite flashlights, primarily due to its high lumens, which offered excellent illumination of my rural property. However, the TK16 is suitable for various flashlight purposes, given its multiple intensity modes.
- Lumens: 3100
- Power source: 21700 rechargeable lithium-ion battery
- Runtime: Up to 43.33 hours on Eco mode
- Weight: 3.95 ounces (without battery)
- Light source: LED
- Material: Aluminum
- Super-intense Turbo mode throws light up to 450 feet away
- 5 intensity modes (plus strobe) allow users to choose the best option for their needs
- The included belt clip secures the TK16 to a waistband, belt, or strap
- The flashlight heats up within minutes on the highest (Turbo) mode
Get the Fenix TK16 flashlight at Amazon, Longhorn Tactical, or Fenix.
Proving the adage that good things come in small packages, this little number is incredibly bright and handy. At just 2.64 inches long, about an inch wide, and weighing in at 2 ounces, the Nebo Torchy is slightly bigger—and a bit better—than the average penlight for similar uses.
The most significant difference between the Torchy and penlights is the light intensity. The Torchy casts 1000 lumens of super-bright light on its highest setting (Turbo). It also features high, medium, and low intensities, plus a strobe. The strobe function emits 500 lumens, and I was able to see it flashing from nearly 400 yards away. When testing regular beam intensity, I could see my helper clearly at about 130 yards.
The small flashlight operates on a single 16340 rechargeable battery and comes with a handy USB charging base. There’s also a removable clip that can attach the flashlight to a hat brim, a belt, or a purse strap.
- Lumens: 1000
- Power source: 16340 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
- Runtime: 6 hours on low
- Weight: 2.2 ounces
- Light type: LED
- Material: Aluminum
- Generates up to 1000 lumens in a tiny package that weighs barely 2 ounces
- USB base charger and cord make it simple to attach and charge the flashlight
- Magnetic flashlight base attaches securely to steel for hands-free use
- The beam width on this flashlight is not adjustable
Get the Nebo flashlight at Ace Hardware, Overstock, or ACGBrands.
Having been a fan of Milwaukee tools for years, I was eager to test the company’s 18-volt work flashlight. I found the Milwaukee to be well suited for lighting up an immediate area, but before buying, be aware that—like many cordless, manufacturer-specific tools—the Milwaukee flashlight is sold as a “tool only.” That means you must already own, or buy, the battery and the charger. If you have other 18V Milwaukee tools, you can swap out the batteries to power the flashlight.
On a fully charged battery, this work flashlight emits 100 lumens, which I found impressively bright for most low-light work situations. The 18V battery slides into the bottom of the flashlight and provides a sturdy base. A flip-out hook allows users to hang the Milwaukee rather than put it on a flat surface—a true convenience—and there’s a single on/off switch on the front.
My favorite part of the flashlight is the adjustable head that allowed me to direct the beam higher or lower as necessary. The flashlight itself weighs just over 12 ounces (without the battery), making it suitable for carrying in a tool box or even in some types of tool belts.
- Lumens: 100
- Power source: 18V Milwaukee-specific rechargeable battery
- Runtime: 29 hours with Milwaukee’s extended-capacity 18V 5.0 amp-hour battery
- Weight: 12.8 ounces (without battery)
- Light source: LED
- Material: Aluminum head and rubber overmold on handle
- Wide base allows the light to stand on its own for hands-free light needs
- Adjustable head tips up and down; easy to target a specific spot
- Long runtime on fully charged battery offers illumination for up to 12 hours
- The battery and charger must be purchased separately
- Flashlight only accepts Milwaukee 18V batteries
Get the Milwaukee work flashlight at Amazon, The Home Depot, or Acme Tools.
The DeWalt 20V MAX LED Work Light is a solid option that pulls double duty both as a flashlight and a work light. At 110 lumens, it’s not as powerful as some models, but it’s not designed to cast a distant beam of light. Instead, it’s meant to illuminate a nearby work area, such as the inside of a furnace or an HVAC unit where you’d typically find dim lighting.
Prospective buyers should keep in mind that they must also have (or buy) a DeWalt 20V battery and a charger—both of which are sold separately. The battery attaches to the bottom of the light and forms a stable base, so I set the entire unit inside the bottom of a sink cabinet, and I had more than enough illumination to see all the plumbing valves and fittings. It includes a stainless steel ring for hanging on a bar or a hook.
The pivoting head on the DeWalt rotates 120 degrees, so users can adjust it to suit lighting-angle needs. This flashlight makes a nice addition to a tool collection for those who have other 20V DeWalt cordless products.
- Lumens: 110
- Power source: DeWalt-specific 20V rechargeable battery
- Runtime: Up to 25 hours depending on battery amp-hour
- Weight: 10.1 ounces
- Light source: LED
- Material: Plastic
- Bright, hands-free lighting makes this work flashlight suitable for many situations
- Stainless steel ring for hanging allows user to position the light in various ways
- The pivoting head on the DeWalt flashlight fine-tunes the angle of the light beam
- Battery and charger are not included—must be purchased separately
Get the DeWalt work flashlight at Amazon, Ace Hardware, Lowe’s, or The Home Depot.
What to Consider When Choosing a Flashlight
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 best suits your needs.
There are still a few flashlight models on the market 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 light? Flashlights with over 1000 lumens are available—just don’t aim them toward your neighbor’s windows at night!
The two main types of bulbs found in today’s flashlights are LED and incandescent, and both have their pros and cons.
- LED: Light-emitting diode bulbs are energy efficient, so batteries last longer and require less frequent changes. And while they’re extremely bright, emitting a clear white or bluish light, they don’t generate as much heat as incandescent bulbs. The best LED flashlight stays cool even if it’s operating continuously for an hour or more.
- Incandescent bulbs: A flashlight that’s more than a decade old likely uses an incandescent bulb, but this type of bulb, which emits a warm yellowish tone, is gradually disappearing. If the flashlight is left on for a while, the incandescent bulb will get hot. Some folks still hunt for incandescent bulbs because their initial cost is less than LEDs, although LEDs last longer so there may not be any real savings.
Beam Distance and Type
Flashlight packaging will tell how far the beam will go and what sort of beam it is—both important considerations. The distance a beam will shine is measured 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 spotlight as needed.
In addition, tactical-type models may feature an emergency strobe function, designed to attract attention if the user needs assistance. A strobe-flash light emits an intense, piercing light sequence that’s easy to see.
The abbreviation IPX stands for Ingress Protection and denotes that a flashlight will resist moisture and water, an important feature if the torch will be taken on boat trips or other adventures where it might get wet. A rating of IPX4 means the flashlight should function if it gets splashed or sprayed, while a rating of IPX8 indicates that the flashlight will still be operable after being submerged for up to 4 hours.
The more powerful the beam, the more quickly batteries will drain, so with more intense and powerful light output comes the need for longer battery runtimes. After all, a high-lumen flashlight won’t do much good on a weekend camping trip if the batteries die in 2 hours. Fortunately, many flashlights use rechargeable batteries. They cost a bit more than disposables, but they’ll save money over time if the flashlight is used frequently. In addition to batteries, there are solar and hand-crank power sources for flashlights, and all are detailed below.
- Solar: These flashlights are designed for extended outdoor use, and when the battery runs down, the flashlight can be recharged via a small solar cell. This makes solar-powered flashlights among the best options for camping and hiking. They may come with additional power options, such as the ability to charge the flashlight from a USB port.
- Crank: Purchased most often for emergency standby use, a crank-type flashlight features a handle the user cranks manually to charge an internal battery, which then generates light. Crank-type flashlights are handy in case of a power outage. Some come with additional features, such as a built-in emergency radio.
- Rechargeable battery: Many of today’s flashlights come with rechargeable batteries and can be charged with solar cells, USB ports, or adapters that plug into household power outlets. They’re among the handiest options—as long as the user keeps them charged, they’re ready to go at a moment’s notice.
- Battery: A good number of flashlights still take disposable batteries, and they’re typically among the most affordable models. For the best results, the user should keep a supply of extra batteries on hand or risk being caught without a functioning flashlight.
The best flashlights are available in a handful of styles. These include handheld models in various sizes, ranging from tiny penlights that can fit in a purse or a pocket or attach to a keychain to the large, hefty models frequently carried by security guards.
Lantern flashlights are designed to sit on a flat surface to illuminate a wide area. They’re popular for use in tents or to light up entire rooms during an outage. Many also come with a hook for hanging, but they don’t cast bright, directional light, so they cannot reach items in the distance.
Headlamp flashlights are must-have tools for mechanics who want to illuminate the inner workings of an engine while keeping their hands free. They feature a headband with one or more LED lights on the front that turn on by pressing a button.
Continue reading below to find the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about flashlights.
Q. What does “lumen” mean?
A lumen is a measure of light. The intensity of a flashlight’s beam is measured in lumens, and the higher the number, the brighter the light.
Q. Do LED flashlights get hot?
LED bulbs are much cooler than incandescent bulbs, but a powerful LED flashlight may still become warm. It shouldn’t become scorchingly hot to touch, however.
Q. What does “EDC flashlight” mean?
EDC is an acronym for “everyday carry” and is used to describe items, including flashlights, that are well suited for daily use but might not rise to the level of function required for particular activities. For example, an EDC flashlight would be suitable for lighting up a door lock at night, but it might not be powerful enough for tactical or first-responder use.
Why Trust Bob Vila
Bob Vila has been America’s Handyman since 1979. As the host of beloved and groundbreaking TV series including “This Old House” and “Bob Vila’s Home Again,” he popularized and became synonymous with “do-it-yourself” home improvement.
Over the course of his decades-long career, Bob Vila has helped millions of people build, renovate, repair, and live better each day—a tradition that continues today with expert yet accessible home advice. The Bob Vila team distills need-to-know information into project tutorials, maintenance guides, tool 101s, and more. These home and garden experts then thoroughly research, vet, and recommend products that support homeowners, renters, DIYers, and professionals in their to-do lists.
Meet The Tester
Glenda Taylor is a product tester and writer specializing in the construction, remodeling, and real estate industry. She and her husband own a general contracting company, and Taylor is experienced in both residential and commercial building applications. She tests a wide range of power tools as well as other home improvement, household, and lawn-and-garden products.