The Best Flashlights of 2021

If you’re looking for a new flashlight, check out the models that came up winners in our hands-on testing.

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The Best Flashlight Options

Photo: Glenda Taylor

Battery-operated, handheld flashlights have been around since 1898 and have come a long way since. These household essentials can be crucial in power outages, helpful for late-night security checks, and key to illuminating certain tasks, like when doing automotive work or fixing a leaky pipe under the sink. Flashlights are not only brighter and more dependable than ever, they’re also more compact and lightweight.

With hundreds of flashlights on the market, we set out to find the ones that really stood up to the hype, so we put them through their paces with hands-on testing. Brightness is important, of course, but other considerations factor in as well, such as ease of operation, weight, battery type, and more.

So whether you need a beacon for your bedside table, glove compartment, utility drawer, workshop, or emergency kit, keep reading to learn how to choose the best flashlight and to find out how the following models performed in our tests.

  1. BEST OVERALL: STREAMLIGHT – 88040 ProTac Professional Flashlight
  2. RUNNER-UP: NITECORE P12 Waterproof Tactical Flashlight
  3. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Anker Super Bright Tactical Flashlight, Bolder LC90
  4. BEST TACTICAL: OLIGHT Warrior X Pro 2100 Lumens Tactical Flashlight
  5. BEST HANDS-FREE: Energizer HC-550 LED Flashlight, 550 High Lumens
  6. BEST FOR LIGHT PACKING: Nebo Torchy Rechargeable Pocket Light Bundle
  7. BEST ADJUSTABLE BEAM: Maglite Heavy-Duty Incandescent 2-Cell D Flashlight
  8. BEST FOR LONG USE: Milwaukee New 2735-20 M18 LED Work Light
  9. BEST MULTIMODE: Fenix Flashlights FX-PD35TAC Flashlight, 1000 Lumen
  10. ALSO CONSIDER: DEWALT 20V MAX LED Work Light / Flashlight (DCL040)

Photo: istockphoto.com

The 411 on 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 best suits your needs.

Light Output

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 1,000 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. Both have their pros and cons.

  • LED: Light-emitting diode bulbs are energy efficient, so batteries last longer, requiring 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 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 they cost less than LEDs, but in the long run, 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.

Waterproof Ratings

The abbreviation IPX (for Ingress Protection) 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 IPX-4 means the flashlight should function if it gets splashed or sprayed, while a rating of IPX-8 indicates that the flashlight will still be operable after being submerged for up to 4 hours.

Power Source

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 today use rechargeable batteries. They cost a bit more than disposables but 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 an 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.

Style

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.

Our Top Picks

Our hands-on testing illuminated some of the best flashlight options on the market. We tested a wide variety of products to determine the amount of light generated, the beam distance, and the ease of operation for the various functions on each model.

In addition to testing each of the functions on the flashlights, I recruited a helper, which allowed me to gauge the brightness and effectiveness of the beams. I had my helper walk away and then stop when the flashlight beam could no longer illuminate him clearly, and then measured the distances. The following flashlights vary in style, design, and cost, and some are better suited to specific uses than others, but all are top performers in their categories.

Best Overall

The Best Flashlight Option: Streamlight 88040 ProTac HL 750 Lumen Flashlight
Photo: amazon.com

Coming in as the best overall flashlight in our tests, the STREAMLIGHT ProTac HL 750 Lumen Professional Tactical Flashlight 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 stature: 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 its 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 3-volt CR123A batteries; rechargeable or non-rechargeable batteries can be used, but no charger is included.

Key Features

  • Lumens: 750
  • Power source: Two 3-volt CR123A lithium-ion batteries
  • Runtime: Up to 18 hours on low output
  • Weight: About 6 ounces
  • Light source: LED

Product Specs

  • Power switch location: Thumb button, end of flashlight
  • Material: Black aircraft aluminum
  • Case: Canvas holster with Velcro-type closure

Pros

  • Adjustable beam width
  • Very bright strobe light
  • Rugged steel belt clip
  • Cons
  • No battery charger included


Runner-Up

The Best Flashlight Option: NITECORE P12 Waterproof Tactical Flashlight
Photo: amazon.com

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 at least 30 minutes. The first thing I did was drop the NITECORE P12 in a bathtub full of water for half an 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 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 3-volt CR123A batteries.

Key Features

  • Lumens: 1000
  • Power source: One 8650 lithium-ion battery or two 3-volt CR123A batteries
  • Runtime: 1.5 hours at maximum intensity
  • Weight: 3.10 ounces
  • Light source: LED

Product Specs

  • Power switch location: Thumb button, end of flashlight
  • Material: Heavy-duty anodized aluminum
  • Case: Canvas holster with Velcro-type closure

Pros

  • IPX8: Can survive being submerged in 6 feet of water for up to 30 minutes
  • Very bright LED beam
  • Easy to carry at just over 3 ounces

Cons

  • Mode button in less-than-ideal location
  • No battery charger included


Best Bang for the Buck

The Best Flashlight Option: Anker Super Bright Tactical Flashlight, Bolder LC90
Photo: amazon.com

Those looking for a tactical flashlight at a budget-friendly price might consider the Anker Bolder LC90 Flashlight. While the beam didn’t quite hit the manufacturer’s advertised distance of 200 meters, I was able to see my helper at 165 yards, which is still pretty good. The Anker is IPX5-rated, so I passed it through the shower a few times and dried it off before proceeding. It functioned without a glitch post-spray.

On its highest setting, the Anker Bolder LC90 emits a 900-lumen beam, and it comes with four other modes: medium, low, strobe, and SOS. Both strobe and SOS modes flash, but the SOS feature sends out three short flashes, followed by three long flashes, and then three more short flashes, which is the universal call-for-help signal in Morse code. I was able to scroll through the different modes quickly with the Anker’s rear thumb button.

The body of the Anker Bolder is impressive: Made from smooth anodized aluminum, it feels just as substantial as some of the pricier flashlights I tested, and it weighs 6.24 ounces. The flashlight operates on a single 18650 lithium-ion rechargeable battery (included), and it comes with a USB cable for recharging.

Key Features

  • Lumens: 900
  • Power source: 18650 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • Runtime: Maximum 6 hours on medium intensity
  • Weight: 6.24 ounces
  • Light source: LED

Product Specs

  • Power switch location: Thumb button, end of flashlight
  • Material: Smooth, anodized aluminum
  • Case: No case included

Pros

  • Affordable tactical-type flashlight
  • Battery and USB charger included
  • Strobe and SOS emergency modes

Cons

  • Less than 1,000 lumens
  • No carry strap or case


Best Tactical

The Best Flashlight Option: OLIGHT Warrior X Pro 2100 Lumens Tactical Flashlight
Photo: amazon.com

There’s nothing wimpy about the OLIGHT Warrior Tactical Flashlight. Right out of the box, I could tell the Warrior 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 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 began its testing at the bottom of a bathtub full of water for 30 minutes. After dark, I directed my helper to walk away while I kept the beam from the Warrior 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 comes with just two modes, high and low, which are selected using the thumb button, and it’s powered by a rechargeable 5000mAh 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 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.

Key Features

  • Lumens: 2,000
  • Power source: 5000 mAh 21700 lithium-ion battery
  • Runtime: Maximum 8 hours
  • Weight: 8.43 ounces
  • Light source: High-performance LED

Product Specs

  • Power switch location: Thumb button, end of flashlight
  • Material: Black anodized aluminum
  • Case: Reinforced holster with magnetic closure

Pros

  • Highest beam intensity of any flashlight tested
  • Magnetic base for attaching to steel items
  • USB charging disc and cord

Cons

  • Only two light modes


Best Hands-Free

The Best Flashlight Option: Energizer HC-550 LED Flashlight, 550 High Lumens
Photo: amazon.com

The Energizer LED Flashlight isn’t designed to cast light at a distance but rather to illuminate the immediate area. I found it well suited for both under-the-hood mechanic tasks and workshop needs. This is the flashlight to rely on when tackling two-handed DIY tasks in low-light situations.

Made from impact-resistant plastic, the Energizer features three methods of hands-free use: It can hang from the pull-out hook located at the top, attached to a metal surface via a powerful magnet on its back side, and it can stand solidly on its base atop a table or other flat surface. The Energizer is promoted as being able to withstand a two-story drop, and while I didn’t test that claim, I accidentally dropped it from the back of a truck bed to the concrete driveway and it suffered only a tiny scuff—all of its functions still worked. The flashlight delivers 550 lumens and operates on four AA batteries, which are included.

Key Features

  • Lumens: 550
  • Power source: four AA alkaline batteries
  • Runtime: 8 hours maximum on highest setting
  • Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Light source: LED

Product Specs

  • Power switch location: Front trigger-type switch
  • Material: Impact-resistant molded plastic
  • Case: No case included

Pros

  • Magnet in back for positioning flashlight on steel support
  • Hands-free lighting
  • Hook for hanging
  • Wide area of illumination

Cons

  • Doesn’t cast a long beam of illumination
  • Tips over easily when standing on base
  • Head angle not adjustable


Best for Light Packing

The Best Flashlight Option: Nebo Torchy Rechargeable Pocket Light Bundle
Photo: amazon.com

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 1,000 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 3-volt CR123A rechargeable battery (not included) 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.

Key Features

  • Lumens: 1,000
  • Power source: Single 3-volt CR123A battery
  • Runtime: 30 minutes maximum on Turbo setting
  • Weight: 2 ounces
  • Light source: LED

Product Specs

  • Power switch location: Side of flashlight, near head
  • Material: Black aircraft aluminum
  • Case: No case included

Pros

  • Intense 1000 lumens in a tiny package
  • USB base charger and cord
  • Magnetic base for attaching to steel
  • Removable clip

Cons

  • Lacks a carry strap or case
  • Beam width not adjustable


Best Adjustable Beam

The Best Flashlight Option: Maglite Heavy-Duty Incandescent 2-Cell D Flashlight
Photo: amazon.com

The only incandescent flashlight I tested, the Maglite Heavy-Duty Flashlight is solid, impressive, and designed for one purpose—to quickly light up the immediate area. Weighing in at 1.44 pounds and measuring nearly 10 inches long, the Maglite is well suited to storing on a shelf for quick retrieval when the lights go out.

This Maglite is rated IPX4, which means it will withstand a bit of rain or splashing water, but it’s not submersible. I turned on the shower, passed the Maglite through the spray a few times, and dried it off before testing its other functions. It performed flawlessly.

A fairly basic and affordable model, this Maglite features a single on/off button near the head of the flashlight and has no strobe function. To adjust the width of the light beam, simply rotate the entire head. I could see my helper at a distance of 150 yards away. The Maglite operates on two D-cell alkaline batteries (not included). While the Maglite only features 27 lumens, the fewest of any flashlight in the lineup, it was still surprisingly bright, perhaps due to the reflective surface inside the head.

Key Features

  • Lumens: 27
  • Power source: Two alkaline D-cell batteries
  • Runtime: 8.5 hours
  • Weight: 1.44 pounds
  • Light source: Incandescent

Product Specs

  • Power switch location: Side of flashlight, near head
  • Material: Textured black aluminum
  • Case: No case included

Pros

  • Hefty and substantial
  • Bright incandescent light beam
  • Adjustable beam width
  • Good as an emergency flashlight

Cons

  • Flashlight gets warm after about 10 minutes of use
  • Not as bright as an LED flashlight
  • No case or holster included


Best for Long Use

The Best Flashlight Option: Milwaukee New 2735-20 M18 LED Work Light
Photo: amazon.com

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 18-volt Milwaukee tools, you can swap out the batteries to power the flashlight.

On a fully charged battery, this work flashlight emits 160 lumens, which I found impressively bright for most low-light work situations. The 18-volt 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 allows me to direct the beam higher or lower as necessary. The flashlight itself weighs just 12 ounces (without the battery), making it suitable for carrying in a toolbox or even in some types of tool belts.

Key Features

  • Lumens: 160
  • Power source: 18-volt Milwaukee-specific rechargeable battery
  • Runtime: 12 hours maximum
  • Weight: 12 ounces
  • Light source: LED

Product Specs

  • Power switch location: Trigger-type on front of flashlight
  • Material: Impact-resistant molded plastic
  • Case: No case included

Pros

  • Hands-free lighting
  • Adjustable head
  • Built-in hook for hanging
  • Long runtime on fully charged battery

Cons

  • Battery must be purchased separately
  • Charger must be purchased separately
  • Accepts only Milwaukee 18-volt battery


Best Multimode

The Best Flashlight Option: Fenix Flashlights FX-PD35TAC Flashlight, 1000 Lumen
Photo: amazon.com

At first glance, the Fenix FX-PD35TAC looks like any other pocket-size tactical flashlight, measuring just under 6 inches long and weighing 3.1 ounces, but it proved to have more output settings than most. It’s rated IPX8, so along with the other waterproof flashlights, the Fenix spent 30 minutes underwater in the bathtub before further testing, and submersion didn’t affect its functioning at all.

The Fenix emits a 1000-lumen bright light on its most powerful setting, which allowed me to see my helper clearly at a maximum distance of about 175 yards. The flashlight features two main modes, an outdoor mode and a tactical mode, selectable via a rear thumb button. In the outdoor mode, the Fenix offers six output settings (via a side button), so I could choose the exact amount of illumination I wanted. Most LED flashlights I’ve seen have fewer output selections. In the tactical setting, three additional output modes are available, including turbo and strobe modes.

The Fenix comes with a strong steel clip for securing to a belt or a pocket, and the flashlight operates on two CR123A batteries (not included).

Key Features

  • Lumens: 1,000
  • Power source: Two CR123A batteries
  • Runtime: Maximum 1 hour, 10 minutes on highest output
  • Weight: 3.1 ounce
  • Light source: LED

Product Specs

  • Power switch location: Thumb button, end of flashlight
  • Material: Black aircraft aluminum
  • Case: Canvas holster with Velcro-type closure

Pros

  • Separate mode button on side
  • Nine output settings in total
  • Lightweight at just 3.1 ounces
  • Steel clip (removable)

Cons

  • Canvas case is flimsy
  • Batteries are not included
  • No charger included


Also Consider

The Best Flashlight Option: DEWALT 20-Volt Max Lithium-Ion LED Flashlight
Photo: amazon.com

The second manufacturer-specific flashlight in the lineup, 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 20-volt 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 20-volt DeWalt cordless products.

Key Features

  • Lumens: 110
  • Power source: DeWalt-specific 20V rechargeable battery
  • Runtime: Up to 25 hours on a full battery charge
  • Weight: 10.1 ounces
  • Light source: LED

Product Specs

  • Power switch location: Trigger-type on front of flashlight
  • Material: Impact-resistant molded plastic
  • Case: No case included

Pros

  • Bright, hands-free lighting
  • Stainless steel ring for hanging
  • Adjustable flashlight head

Cons

  • Battery must be purchased separately
  • Charger must be purchased separately
  • Accepts only DeWalt 20-volt battery


Our Verdict

For bright dependable light, all of the flashlights that earned a spot on our lineup are worthy contenders. Coming in as our favorites are the STREAMLIGHT ProTac for its sleek, waterproof design and intense illumination, and we recommend the Anker Bolder Flashlight for its high-end tactical features at an affordable price.

How We Tested the Best Flashlights

We extensively tested and reviewed each flashlight that earned a spot in our lineup. Those advertised as being waterproof were submerged in water, while those designed to resist a small amount of spray or splashing got 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 modes or strobe modes, on every flashlight were tested to ensure that they worked as promoted.

FAQs

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.