For casual use around the house -- to light up the back of a cupboard or find the camping lanterns during a power outage -- experts say an ordinary inexpensive flashlight (that uses an incandescent bulb) will do the job just fine. As long as you have spare batteries and ideally, a spare bulb or two, there's no need to pay more than a few dollars for a flashlight. Energizer, MagLite and Dorcy are well-recommended brands. Flashlights with Xenon bulbs (filled with xenon gas) are a little brighter than regular incandescents.
For an "everyday carry flashlight" -- to keep in the glove compartment, purse or pocket, or to hang on a key ring -- experts recommend picking a good-quality flashlight with an LED instead of an incandescent bulb. Incandescent flashlight bulbs are apt to burn out suddenly or break if the flashlight is dropped, so reviews recommend LED flashlights for possible emergency use. LED bulbs don't have breakable parts and last for 10,000 or more hours of use.
White LEDs (which are really blue LEDs with a special phosphor coating) show colors best -- important for reading a colored map. If you want to preserve night vision for stargazing or night hikes, experts recommend a red LED flashlight, as long as it's dim enough that the light it casts doesn't actually look red. However, for an everyday flashlight for a purse, backpack or belt holster, experts suggest sticking with white.
The LEDs in cheap flashlights aren't as bright and are more liable to be shaped or colored oddly. Reviews say even good-quality LEDs vary enough that even within the same flashlight model, the color of the light could vary somewhat, from slightly yellowish to slightly blue or purple. This is just the current state of the technology. If you really hate the color of the light a new flashlight produces, you may have better luck if you exchange it for another of the same model.
For everyday use, your best in an LED flashlight depends primarily on the size and weight you want to carry, as well as the brightness you need. (Note that most -- but not all -- flashlight specifications for weight include the batteries.)
Key-ring flashlights weigh less than an ounce and can also fit easily in a pocket -- fine for finding a keyhole or reading a map. Most are just barely bright enough to light your path, and get much dimmer long before the LED bulb gives up.
Pocket flashlights are still small enough to carry in a pocket, ideal for a glove compartment or backpack. The best pocket flashlights boost and regulate voltage so that as the battery loses charge, the light stays bright.
Glove-compartment flashlights are too big for a pocket, but take only a little space in a glove compartment. The best glove-compartment flashlights provide long runtime plus adjustable light levels, so you can read a map at one level, but get brighter light to change a tire.
Emergency crank flashlights are still small enough to fit in a glove compartment and need no batteries at all. The best run 30 to 60 minutes after one minute of cranking, and one model can also charge a cell phone.
Household flashlights are larger and often heavy, but they're fine for general household tasks such as rooting around in the attic or finding your way in a power outage. A high-quality plastic case is best if you might use the flashlight to work around wiring.
Rechargeable flashlights are usually limited to situations where an AC outlet is handy for recharging the battery, or where the sun shines enough to make solar recharging reliable
If you think you might get into a really dangerous situation -- facing a bear, a human assailant or a hazardous path at night -- reviews recommend relatively small, light, tactical flashlights (*Est. $65 to $200) . These can throw light far ahead or temporarily blind an attacker, but the best models let you adjust the brightness to lower levels as well. Tactical flashlights are designed primarily for police, military, firefighting and hunting use, so we cover them only briefly in this report (see the Alternative Considerations section below). Tactical flashlights are so bright that they should be kept out of reach of children, so one child doesn't accidentally blind a sibling temporarily.
Some LED flashlights can run on alkaline batteries, others use only more expensive lithium-ion batteries, and some run on a whole range of batteries (including rechargeable NiMH). Expert flashlight reviews recommend lithium-ion-powered flashlights for use in very cold weather, for flashlights stored in a disaster shelter or for when you need the brightest light and longest runtime. Longer runtime makes lithium-ion batteries ideal for hikes or long trips. (ConsumerSearch has a separate report on batteries.)