The Top Five Flashlights Reviewed
Whether your camping or hiking in the outdoors or crawling around in the dark corners of your house making repairs, a flashlight is an indispensable tool. A good flashlight is there for you in an emergency, and combines sturdiness, powerful brightness and a long-lasting charge.
This review will highlight five excellent flashlights and their pros and cons, before selecting the best flashlight for all-purpose use.
1 (Editor's Choice)
Attributes to Look for in a Flashlight
While on the surface it may seem simple to choose a flashlight, there are a number of attributes to consider in choosing the best flashlight for your needs. Oftentimes, you’ll need to weigh one attribute against another and make tradeoffs depending on how you expect to use your flashlight.
Some flashlights are well-rounded, while others sacrifice one attribute for excellence in another area. The following are the things you’ll want to consider when choosing the flashlight right for you.
Light Output and Light Settings
First and foremost, the function of a flashlight is to create light. All flashlights do it, but there’s a wide range of options in terms of how much light and how it’s directed. In considering this aspect of a flashlight, you’ll want to focus on light output, beam distance and possibly any special light settings the flashlight provides.
Light output is measured in lumens, and is a measure of the intensity of the light shining from the flashlight. For any flashlight, the lumens measure is assumed to be measuring its highest brightness setting with a full charge powered by new batteries. Lumens are one of the best indicators of overall light output, but it doesn’t always tell the full story.
Another factor in brightness is beam distance. Beam distance is defined as how far a flashlight will shine before the brightness is reduced to the equivalent of light from the full moon. It’s possible for a flashlight to have a high lumens value but a diffuse, wide area of focus, resulting in a lower beam distance than another flashlight with lower lumens but a more focused area of illumination.
Depending on what you’re going to be using the flashlight for, you’ll want to consider not just overall lumens power, but also beam distance. If you need to see in the dark a long way – like in the outdoors – beam distance is most critical. If you’re anticipating using the flashlight at close quarters – for home repair, for instance – then lumens value probably trumps beam distance.
The final consideration in terms of light output are any special light settings a flashlight offers. The basic flashlight simply turns on and off, but many of the better flashlights give you a range of other options. Some flashlights have different brightness modes, which can be useful when you don’t need to shine at full brightness at all times. Others allow you to shine a blinking light, which can be useful to draw a person’s attention in an emergency situation.
Many flashlights also offer adjustable beam types. A flashlight like this can allow you the best of both worlds, with both a beam type that maximizes beam distance and a beam type that spreads out over a wider area. Different custom settings can give you flexibility and more ways to use a flashlight.
Additionally, a number of tactical flashlights offer settings like Strobe and SOS, which give you added functionality. These settings can both act as a distress beacon or attention getter and as a way to disorient a potential attacker in a combat or self defense situation.
Durability, Size and Weight
If you want a flashlight capable of pumping out a blinding lumen value, you can get it, but it’s probably going to be a large, heavy flashlight. Conversely, if you want something that can fit easily in your pants pocket, that too can be obtainable, but it won’t match up power-wise with some larger flashlights.
This is where you really need to decide what you’re going to be using your flashlight for, or what situations you might need to be prepared for in the future. If you want to carry a flashlight around with you on a day-to-day basis at all times, you’ll want something light and small. If you’re going to be operating in tight quarters, a long flashlight will be unsuitable.
On the other hand, sometimes a little bit of weight and length is a good thing. A number of tactical flashlights are designed with personal defense as a secondary function. Not only are these flashlights a source of light, but they double as a weapon for self-defense.
Another point is that in many cases, heavier flashlights are heavy because of additional batteries. So it’s possible that you’re going to trade off lightness for battery life.
This area is where tradeoffs come into play. How bright and long lasting do you need your flashlight to be, and how much portability are you willing to sacrifice for it?
Another factor in evaluating a flashlight is durability. Especially if you’re using a flashlight in outdoor or rough conditions, it’s inevitable that it’s going to get banged up from time to time. Another consideration is whether a flashlight is water resistant or not. If you’re going to be camping or spending a lot of time outdoors, a durable, water resistant flashlight might be your number one priority.
Charge and Battery Life
Finally, a flashlight is no good if it’s dead, so it’s worth considering a battery’s charge life and the ways in which it’s powered. Flashlights are rated for runtime, which measures how many hours a flashlight can produce light at 10% or more versus the light it produces at full batteries. Some flashlights drop off steadily as battery life decreases, while others stay constant until nearly out of juice.
Some flashlights have advanced features to help you identify a low battery on the verge of running out. These flashlights sometimes blink when low on batteries, or switch into a power saving mode when low. Others even have sophisticated change gauges that let you know how close they are to expiring.
There are three basic types of flashlights in terms of power: Flashlights with disposable batteries, flashlights with renewable batteries, and flashlights that charge themselves in some other way. Generally, you’ll pay a bit more up front for renewable batteries, but then reduce expense and waste over the long term. And flashlights powered by solar panels or a hand crank are ideal for emergency kits or similar situations, as they can create light indefinitely.
While crank or solar powered flashlights have their place, they generally trade too much in terms of power and other factors for them to stack up with battery powered and electrically charged flashlights.
If you’d like a summary in audiovisual form of some of the things to consider when choosing a flashlight, please see the linked video.
1 (Editor's Choice)
Here are the Top 5 flashlights:
The Anker LC90 is a tactical flashlight that offers supreme flexibility in terms of how you can manipulate its light source. This is probably the number one reason that the LC90 is at the top of the list. However, the LC90 has a number of quality features that make it a great all-around flashlight.
Let’s start with the light output: The LC90 puts out 900 lumens, competitive with the other flashlights in the list. The LC90 gives you the ability to widen and narrow the field of illumination on a sliding scale, meaning that you can make the beam illuminate a large area shallowly or a tight area at great distance. The beam distance the LC90 is capable of reaches nearly 1,000 meters at its most extreme.
The LC90 offers high, medium and low settings, as well as strobe and SOS. These settings combine with the zoomable widening and narrowing feature to allow you to infinitely customize the LC90’s field of light. Trying to light up something in the distance? Set the field to narrow and mode to high. Wanting to create some dimmer light in close range? Set the field to wide and the mode to low. And anything in-between.
The LC90 is in the middle as far as length and weight go, coming in at around 6 inches in length and 8 ounces in weight. It’s not quite as light as some of the other flashlights on the list, but it’s by no means overly bulky, either.
It uses lithium ion rechargeable batteries as a power source, and has a solid battery life. The LC90 can shine continuously for up to 6 hours before needing a re-charge.
- Excellent Customization Options for Light Field
- Solid Battery Life
- Not as Light as Some Other Flashlights
The Fenix PD35 Tactical flashlight is a small tactical flashlight that is extremely well rounded. While it’s maybe fair to say that it doesn’t particularly stand out as top of the class in any one attribute, it’s also true that it doesn’t have any notable weaknesses. The PD35 can be used in almost any conceivable situation where you’d want a flashlight.
The PD35 produces 1000 lumens of power and has a beam distance of over 200 yards, meaning you can use it for both close up work and long distance viewing.
The PD35 is extremely portable, with a length of about 5 inches and a weight of just over 3 ounces. You can stash the PD35 just about anywhere you need to, or carry it on your person with no strain or discomfort over time. Despite being so light, the PD35 is extremely durable, being made of aluminum at military standard.
The PD35 features a number of different modes, allowing you to increase or decrease the area being illuminated, and also to adjust the brightness levels. The PD35 has a power saver mode that decreases the power of the flashlight when the battery starts to get low, and on its lowest brightness levels it flashes on and off as a reminder that the batteries are drained and it’s time to charge them again.
The PD35 uses rechargeable lithium batteries, and also can take disposable batteries if you need to use those instead. It should be noted that the PD35 has a protection system for situations where you inadvertently insert the batteries backward. The circuitry will not be damaged thanks to the protective system.
The downside to the PD35, if one exists, is that its battery life isn’t amazing and it has a tendency to run hot at the bulb end.
- Outstanding All-Around Flashlight
- Extremely Portable and Light
- Battery Life Worse than Some Comparable Flashlights
If you’re looking for a flashlight with a little more heft and substance to it, the Streamlight Stinger Rechargeable flashlight might be the flashlight you’re looking for. The Streamlight Stinger is rechargeable and puts out a powerful light, and is a favorite of law enforcement.
At 6400 lumens on high, the Streamlight Stinger doesn’t quite reach the 1,000 plus lumens of some of the other flashlights on this list. However, it’s still got plenty of power for functional situations, and its beam distance is over 300 yards. If you’re looking for a flashlight that can project to great distances, the Streamlight Stinger is a solid pick.
The Streamlight Stinger is heavier than many of the other flashlights on the list, coming in at about 12 ounces. It’s longer as well, at just over 8 inches. That extra weight may make the Stinger a bit less portable than some of the other options, but it also makes it a better tool of self defense in situations that require it.
In addition to being a defense tool in a pinch, the Streamline Stinger is extremely durable, being manufactured from airplane standard aluminum with a rubber molded grip.
The Streamlight Stinger has a handful of light modes, allowing you to cycle from high to low, and also has a strobe mode. The battery life of the Streamlight Stinger is excellent, as it can operate continuously for 3 hours on high and more than 7 hours on its lowest setting.
Fully rechargeable, the Streamlight Stinger comes with a variety of chargers for house and car, meaning you should be able to keep it charged in a number of settings.
- Solid and Durable Flashlight
- Strong Battery Life
- Not as Portable as Some Other Options
The Nitecore Tactical LED flashlight is a small tactical flashlight whose special strength is its excellent battery life. However, there are a number of positive attributes to this flashlight.
The Nitecore flashlight clocks in at 1000 lumens, which is very respectable in almost any situation where you’d need a flashlight. Its beam distance comes in at 252 yards, making it useful at both close quarters and in long distance situations. Its different modes allow you to modulate the brightness to the situation when you don’t need quite that much light output.
The Nitecore is at the smaller end of tactical flashlights, coming in at 5.5 inches long with a weight of 3 ounces. This makes the Nitecore extremely portable and easy to carry and stow in a variety of places. If you’re looking for a flashlight that can easily be packed in a kit or luggage, or even carried on your person, the Nitecore fits the bill.
The Nitecore excels when it comes to its charge: A Nitecore flashlight can carry a charge for up to a month, and it has a power status indicator to let you know the battery level and when you need to recharge the battery. If you’re worried about going through batteries or about having a flashlight that dies when you need it most, the Nitecore’s long charge would certainly be an asset.
There have been some reports of the Nitecore’s charger having some issues, and people needing to buy a third party charger to keep it charged. In addition, some people have found that the Nitecore can break down after six months to a year of heavy use. Because of this, the Nitecore may not be the top pick if durability is your number one concern with a flashlight.
- Outstanding Charge Duration
- No Need to Buy Batteries
- Compact and Portable
- Has Some Durability Issues
The Supernova Guardian 1300XL is a tactical flashlight that can be used in nearly any setting you could imagine. It’s on the small end for a tactical flashlight, at 6.2 inches in length, and weighs about 5 ounces. It’s a bit bulky at the head, which is by design since it’s a tactical flashlight.
It’s made from aluminum alloy, which is scratch resistant and shock proof. The 1300XL would be a good choice if you’re planning to use a flashlight in harsh or outdoor conditions. In addition, the aluminum exterior has a smooth finish which is aesthetically pleasing.
One of the strongest features of the 1300XL is its many different operating modes, which allow you to use the flashlight in a variety of ways. The modes are full, medium, low, SOS, and strobe. SOS mode is a disorienting strobe which can be used to either draw attention to your position or confuse a potential attacker.
The 1300XL produces 1300 lumens, which puts it right up there with most high-end flashlights. At its Full Mode, the 1300XL puts out a light that’s almost blinding at close quarters, and its medium and low modes allow you to modulate this as necessary.
Its battery life is quite strong, as it’s capable of producing at least four hours of non-stop usage at its highest brightness setting, after which it switches into power saver mode. In this mode, you should be able to get another four or so hours.
The 1300XL uses lithium rechargeable batteries, meaning that if you charge them judiciously you won’t have to buy any batteries for the flashlight in the future. However, it does work with AAA batteries if you are unable to use its rechargeable batteries.
- Fully Functional Tactical Flashlight
- Excellent Battery Life
- Compact and Portable
- Not as Large as Some Tactical Flashlights
Any of these five flashlights would be a great pick, depending on your circumstances and what you plan to use it for. However, for the majority of people, the Anker LC90 is the clear choice.
What it comes down to is flexibility, and the LC90 gives you the greatest ability to customize the width and intensity of the light to suit your individual needs. With the LC90, you’re most likely to be able to adjust the flashlight to give you exactly the field of light that fits what you’re using the flashlight to illuminate.
With that said, it’s not 100% certain that the LC90 is for you. If your number one need is for a flashlight to be light and portable, you’re probably better off going with the Nitecore or the Fenix PD35. If you want a tactical flashlight that packs major heft, the Streamlight Stinger might be the best choice. If raw lumens is what you want, the Supernova Guardian 1300XL is top of the line.
However, for the majority of flashlight users, the LC90 gives you the best combination of features and abilities. It checks all the boxes in terms of light output and light settings. It has a nice middle ground of size and weight, and is durable and tough. And it has above average battery life and a rechargeable battery.