Just as technology has made amazing strides in the past 20 years, it was inevitable that someday the flashlight would eventually catch up as well. The invention of the LED…(light emitting diode) seemed like a good fit to eventually replace the standard “bulbs” that flashlights used for decades to produce light. These days, choosing the best led flashlight is to understand which features are available, and what you actually need.
Tips on Choosing the right LED
DOES SIZE MATTER?
Gone, are the days when you needed something resembling a billy club to shine a beam of light. Most lights today can be described as EDC (everyday carry) which means they’re probably 6” in length or less, and about 1” thick. There are a great deal of mini-size lights ranging from about 1 ½ “ to 4” in length. These are the ultimate in EDC lights. Battery options for these tiny torches will be covered shortly.
HOW DO THESE BABIES WORK?
Most turn on/off from a rear “clicky switch”. But of late, there’s been a push to reinvent the old fashioned side switch. Some lights will feature both types working in tandem. It’s up to you to decide which is more convenient. The advantage of a tail switch often means that the light will have tactical abilities. This is where “momentary-on” is possible, in addition to constant-on. Not all lights with tail switches will feature this.
Some lights even operate (in layman’s terms) like a dimmer-switch. This is often referred to as variable control or infinite brightness. As is pictured, they’ll be a ring below the head. To adjust brightness, just turn the ring, and it’ll go from really dim to really bright! It’s really cool!
Another typical feature, are multiple levels of brightness. Usually, with continued presses of the switch, (either side or rear) the light will offer a minimum of three levels; low, medium & high. This will vary.
Some have an ultra-low (moonlight) level and some will have a turbo mode in addition to a ‘high’ mode. Other modes (sometimes described as “hidden”) will include strobe, beacon and SOS. “Hidden” refers to the fact that either a few extra button presses, or an extra twist of the head, is the only way of accessing these modes. Some people describe them as “disco lights” and say they’re unnecessary. It’s all a matter of preference. However on a high-end light, those modes will come standard whether you’ll ever use them or not.
With LED flashlights, it’s all about the lumens! And it’s an important term to be familiar with since each light will advertise its top lumen level. Just shy of a decade ago, 100 lumens of LED brightness was considered blindingly bright. Today, 100 lumens pales in comparison to those sporting anywhere from 300, all the way up to 1000 lumens and above! The truth is,
if using a light ONLY for indoors, (and especially in pitch darkness – [indoors]) a mere 10 lumens or LESS will be all the light you’ll need! But, it’s also good to have options available for outdoor use, or if an electrical blackout occurs and you need substantial light just to do the simplest of tasks. Many lights will stand upright and can be used as a candle.
For camping, hiking, and general outdoor activities after dark, you’ll find even 100 lumens is often not bright enough. Many multi-level lights will have a lumen range from as low as 0.01 all the way up to 700 (for example) with fixed increments between the two. With the previously mentioned variable ring, their are no increments!
Lights will also differ in terms of throwing capability – the distance in which the light can shine a useful beam. This is usually determined by how far down the LED is seated within its reflector. The type of LED used will also determine this. This distance will be trumpeted on the package (or in the description) and measured in meters. A very good range will usually begin around 100 meters.
NOT ALL LED’S ARE CREATED EQUAL
CREE is the “brand name” of most all LED’s. The basic description of any light will give the type of LED used. A few years ago, most LED’s were of the XP-G variety. This was the technology of the time. The beam of an XP-G light had a narrow spotlight center, and their top lumens was often not much more than 200. LED technology has advanced a lot since then. Most of the lights as of this writing, now use a CREE XM-L LED.
The variances within these LED’s will often be “T6” or “U2”. The beams produced by these lights often have a wider center, and an ever wider “spill” area. This gives the light the ability to illuminate an extremely wide area in total darkness. The older LED’s could not accomplish this to the degree that they can today.
FEEDING THEM THE POWER
This one is a biggie! Because the best led flashlight, might only run on ONE battery. In general, lights either use alkaline, NiMH rechargeable, or lithium (Li-ion) rechargeable cells as the power source. Important: Alkaline (and NiMH) based lights will seldom offer as many lumens as lithium based lights. This is because alkaline and NiMH batteries operate at a lower voltage than Li-ion cells – 1.5 & 1.2 volts, vs. 3.0 & 3.7 volts. Higher voltages produce higher lumens.
AA and AAA alkaline is the old standby. They last a fair amount of time, are available everywhere, but must be tossed when depleted. Rechargeable AA cells [NiMH] (when full) won’t provide on demand power for as long (at a stretch) as alkalines, but will save money since they can be recharged hundreds of times.
Rechargeable Lithium-ion batteries are available all over the internet. Popular brands such as Energizer, make lithium cells in AA form…but they are not rechargeable! CR123 size is lithium based. They too are 100% disposable. These are better known as camera batteries. They’re short and stubby and can be bought at major retailers but are usually quite expensive…about $5 per cell. The rechargeable version, known as 16340 (aka “RCR123” size) can be bought online for as little as $1 each!
Popular Li-ion battery sizes are 18650, 16340, and 14500. The latter looks EXACTLY like a AA, and is rechargeable. A 18650 cell is the size of two 16340’s stacked end to end. The very smallest lights which I referenced earlier will always use either ONE ‘123’ or ONE AA-size cell.
The best led flashlight will give you all the features you’ll need within a price point that’s comfortable for your budget. This would include any that utilize either TWO CR123’s (or related rechargeable) ONE 18650, or even AA cells.
HOW MUCH TO SPEND?
Generally for a well made (*name brand) Li-ion based light, expect to pay $50 and up. Upwards of that $50 tag, you can get an exceptional light. It’ll be completely waterproof and virtually indestructible! This would actually be considered military-grade and be ideal for any situation including search and rescue missions. *This article discusses reasons to be wary about buying lower cost lights. If the price mentioned above is too much, there are a multitude of AA size lights as well. They’ll also span a large price range. As a example, the Jetbeam AA light pictured at the top of this page is very reasonably priced.
Are You Choosing the Right LED Flashlight?
When it comes to flashlights, LEDs are far superior to the older style bulbs. LEDs stand out from the older styles because they are a lot brighter than traditional bulbs, but even better is the fact that they have a longer life. With an LED flashlight you won’t have to worry about keeping spare bulbs around because LEDs last for years. However, you will want to keep spare batteries handy, especially with the more powerful lights. LEDs might use less power than a traditional light, but that doesn’t mean the batteries will last as long as the light does.
Flashlights are an important tool that you always want to have around. With how useful flashlights can be you want to make sure you are choosing the right LED for you. The problem is not very many of us now how to choose the right one. So, how do you choose the right LED you ask? Luckily, we have a few basic steps that you can follow.
You need to figure out why you need the LED in the first place. When deciding why you need it, you need to basically ask yourself what you plan on doing with the light. You need to figure out where you are going to be using it the most, as well as what you are going to be using it for. Once you figure out what you will be using the LED for you can find one that is the appropriate size and weight for the task at hand.
Now you need to set some kind of budget for your LED. If you have started researching LED flashlights at all, you have probably noticed the wide price range. You can find some cheap ones, but you can also find some pretty expensive ones. You need to bear in mind that you often get what you pay for, so you want to avoid the cheap LEDs, but you also don’t have to spend $100 to find a high quality one.
You need to figure out just how bright you need your LED to be. When it comes to determining brightness, which is measured in lumens, what you are going to use your LED for is going to play a big role. If you are going to be using it around the house, you are not going to need the LED to be as bright as if you were going to be using it outside. Not only is brightness a factor, but so is distance. When looking at LEDs you need to figure out just how far ahead of you the light will need to illuminate. Both brightness and distance specifications can be found on the product specification page.
You want to look carefully at the LED to determine how many LEDs it actually uses. Majority of your cheaper lights feature multiple LEDS, which more doesn’t mean brighter. Multiple LEDs are often not very bright, but they also don’t provide a focused beam. High quality lights feature a single LED, which also offers a focused beam of light. You want to physically test the LED by turning it on and looking at the shape the beam projects. You want something that projects a round, even light. The way the LED is mounted is also an important feature to look at. You can easily tell the quality of the work involved just by looking at how well or poorly the LED is mounted. You also want to look at the connections, switches, and wiring to make sure the construction is sound.
Pay close attention to the housing material. Plastic is a popular choice because of how lightweight it is, but that doesn’t mean it is the best choice. What you need to remember about plastic is that it is also cheap and it is not going to stand up to time. Plastic is not your most durable choice, it will not stand up to accidental drops and cannot be used on LEDs that can also double as a weapon. If you want something durable your best option is to look for LEDs made from aircraft grade aluminum.
What kind of batteries the light takes is the last and perhaps most important thing to look at when choosing the right LED. Most LEDS sold at big box stores simply use disposable batteries, although you can opt for NiMH batteries, which are the rechargeable ones big box stores sell along with the disposables. However, the only way those batteries can work is in a LED that requires AA. Online retailers carry LEDs that require lithium batteries, which lithium batteries can be disposable (most expensive) or rechargeable. Your other option is to be a rechargeable LED, which are commonly used by law enforcement officers.
Top LED Flashlights
Per Maglite’s mission statement, the company uses the African proverb of the Lion and the Gazelle as a source of inspiration when designing its products. In essence, the proverb states that regardless of whether you’re a lion or a gazelle, it’s imperative that with the rising of the sun, you must run — and run faster than you did yesterday, or you will die.
“What does any of that have to do with flashlights?” you ask. Everything.
Maglite introduced its first flashlight in 1979 and over the next 40 years, the company has hung its hat on a durable lineup of LED flashlights.
The ML300LX has five lighting settings (Momentary, Full Power, Low Power, ECO, and Strobe) to aptly handle the job at hand. At full power, the unit emits 625 lumens of light up to 1,300 feet (in optimal conditions) or as few as 58 lumens when just a little light is needed. With a sturdy aluminum build, the ML300LX is also one of the most rugged LED flashlights on the market — drop it, kick it, run it over, you’ll be hard-pressed to bust this beast. That said, at nearly two pounds, it isn’t the most portable or convenient option for certain tasks but this brute is handy if you need to bludgeon a bear on the fly.
FENIX PD35 TAC
Every ounce and sliver of space counts when you’re packing for an extended trip and while any handheld flashlight is technically “portable,” not all models stow and travel as easily as others. With these parameters in mind, the Fenix PD35 TAC LED Flashlight is our pick for best portable without sacrificing lumen output.
The PD35 TAC is equipped with two lighting modes: Tactical and Outdoor Operation. The Tactical setting is activated via the tail switch and allows you to emit up to 1,000 lumens of light. A double-tap of this button emits the same lumen output for one second for short powerful bursts when a quick glance will suffice. The Outdoor mode adds a little more versatility, offering six different lighting modes ranging from 1,000 to just eight lumens.
The exterior side-mounted clip is ideal for belts, pant pockets, and the semi-recessed tail switch minimizes the risk of the unit powering on even in a brimming overnight camping bag. This model boasts a waterproof IPX8 rating for added durability on soggier outdoor stints. Measuring in at just 5.5 inches in length and tipping the scales at a mere three ounces, the PD35 Tac is a powerful pint-sized tool for individuals looking to travel light.
POWER PRACTICAL SPARKR
Aside from being a completely sensational flashlight, Power Practical’s Sparkr also works as a lantern and a windproof lighter. All three functions are easy to use and remarkably efficient. Let’s start with the lighter: On the back end of the shaft is a small cap that once removed, unveils a gray pincer-shaped back end with a small wire poking out from each side. Simply clicking the bottom button three times emits a glowing purple arc, which is a fully-windproof electric plasma flame capable of starting campfires, burning kindling, or lighting stoves. It’s virtually impossible to blow out, too, making it a fantastic tool for starting fires on windy, stormy days. The three-click activation is an intentional safety design to prevent accidental triggering and unwanted fires.
The flashlight features three brightness settings that go up to 400 lumens. It’s built with sturdy anodized aluminum capable of taking a heavy beating while still feeling lightweight. The Sparkr is water-resistant and boasts a rechargeable battery that offers a whopping 12 hours of light (or 100 fire starts). You can use the cap from the lighter as a diffuser to transform the flashlight into a glowing lantern — its included plastic utility tie even allows it to be hung anywhere while in lantern mode.
Scosche GoBat 2600
This useful 3-in-1 device offers a bright LED flashlight, a 12-volt car charger, and a portable power bank. Featuring dual LEDs, the flashlight casts a bright penlight-style glow which illuminates small areas, making it easier to search for things on the ground, in your car, or inside a bag or purse. Its function doesn’t stop at the flashlight, however. You can also use the device to charge your phone in a 12V socket while you drive, juicing it up while you run errands or commute to work. Best of all, when you arrive at your destination, just pop the flashlight device out of the car charger and bring it with you. It continues charging your phone wherever you go.
These are all of the information that you need for you to be able to find the best LED flashlight in the market today. Start using the tips above for you to get nothing but the best when it comes to LED flashlights.