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Flashlight Reviews

By: Angela Stringfellow on August 04, 2017

Editor's Note:
MagLite battery-powered flashlights can survive abuse and keep on lighting the way for years and years. If you want a rechargeable flashlight instead, the Anker L90 easily outperforms its value price. If you've taken a shine to a tactical flashlight, Protac is the ticket. And if you just want a cheap flashlight that you know will be ready when needed, we name an Eveready rechargeable flashlight that's tough to beat.

MagLite LED 3-Cell D Flashlight Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Brightness -- 168 lumens Length -- 12 11/32" Weight -- 30 oz. (with batteries)

Best flashlight

The MagLite LED 3-Cell D Flashlight is the muscle car of flashlights: big, strong and made in the U.S.A. It's not fancy -- just impeccably well-made, with a super-bright LED beam (which easily adjusts from floodlight to spotlight) and anodized-aluminum body so tough that proud owners trade war stories about incredible disasters their trusty MagLites have survived. It can run 80 hours on three D batteries, and it's warranted for the life of the original owner.

Buy for $25.94
Mini MagLite Pro Review
Runners Up
Specs that Matter Brightness -- 272 lumens Length – 6.6" Weight – 4.15 oz. (with batteries)

Best mini flashlight

It's just as tough and reliable as the bigger MagLite LED 3-Cell D Flashlight (Est. $25), but it's small size and light weight make the Mini MagLite Pro much easier to tote around in a pocket or handbag. Its brilliant twist-to-focus LED beam reaches 163 meters (more than 175 yards) into the distance. It can shine for two and a half hours on two AA batteries; the MagLite Mini Pro+ (Est. $25) is similar, but adds a low setting that lasts 27 hours.

Buy for $18.74
Streamlight Protac 2L Tactical Flashlight Review
Runners Up
Specs that Matter Brightness -- 350 lumens Length – 4.77" Weight – 2.8 oz. (with batteries)

Tactical flashlight

Military-style tactical flashlights can cost hundreds of dollars, but the budget-friendlier Streamlight Protac 2L Tactical Flashlight earns plenty of respect from reviewers. Its blinding LED beam and strobe setting can disorient attackers, and its toothed bezel and tailpiece make this palm-sized flashlight a serious striking weapon. It's waterproof and can survive a 2-meter drop -- and it can also shine for 35 hours on low, when you simply need an ordinary flashlight.

Buy for $49.89
Anker Bolder LC90 LED Flashlight Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Brightness -- 900 lumens Length – 6.2" Weight – 6.2 oz. (without battery)

Best rechargeable flashlight

The Anker Bolder LC90 LED Flashlight may be small, but it's mighty, thanks to its 900-lumen Cree LED bulb that can send out a beam over an impressive distance of about 660 feet (200 meters). It lasts about 6 hours on a single charge, but takes about 6 hours to recharge. Still, with five modes of operation: low, medium, high, strobe and emergency SOS, it's an excellent survival tool for just about any situation save an extended power outage.

Buy for $55.00
Energizer Weather Ready LED Light
Runners Up
Specs that Matter Brightness -- 25 lumens Length – 5" Weight -- 3.6 oz. (with batteries)

Cheap rechargeable flashlight

Cheap flashlights are usually disappointingly dim and flimsy, but owners rave about the Energizer Weather Ready Compact Rechargeable LED Light. This pint-sized flashlight plugs directly into the wall, shines for 3.5 hours on high (longer on low), lights up automatically when the power goes out and never needs batteries. It's not as bright as the MagLite MagCharger LED RL1019 (Est. $85), but owners say that it's more than bright enough for most household uses.

Buy for $11.92

Flashlights that won't leave you in the dark

Flashlights need to do two simple things: Turn on, and be bright.

So when a flashlight lets us down -- well, let's just say it's frustrating. Especially when we desperately grab it during an emergency (blackout, flat tire at night, etc.) ... and realize it has sucked all of its batteries dry, just dozing on the shelf since the last blackout.

If you haven't bought a new flashlight lately (or you've been relying on 99-cent bargain-bin cheapies), you might be surprised to learn that modern technology has actually built a better flashlight. A big improvement found in our top-flashlights is the use of LED bulbs. LED bulbs shine exponentially brighter and gobble far fewer batteries than old-fashioned incandescent bulbs. And these days, any decent LED flashlight shines a pleasant, white light (not the garish, blue-tinged glare you'll suffer with "bargain" flashlights).

Types of Flashlights

Battery-Powered Flashlights

Traditional replaceable-battery flashlights need no recharge time -- just slip in some fresh batteries and keep going. For emergency use, for obvious reasons, battery powered flashlights are the only reasonable choice. Tactical flashlights, which were originally developed for the military and police but are becoming increasing popular with civilians, are mostly battery powered, too.

Rechargeable Flashlights

Rechargeable flashlights eliminate battery hassles (dead batteries, weak batteries, expired batteries, forgot to buy batteries, etc.). Keep one in a wall charger, and it's always ready when you need it. However, they only have a limited run time even when fully charged, so you should also keep a battery-powered flashlight on hand for emergencies -- such as a prolonged power outage.

MagLite makes the best battery-powered flashlights, big or small

When in doubt, buy a MagLite. That's the consensus of owners at nearly every retail website we checked. Thousands of state troopers, paramedics, and just everyday people have written reviews of MagLite flashlights -- and very few of them can find any flaws.

You can buy MagLite flashlights in any size, from tiny keychain lights to arm-length-long monsters that swallow six D batteries. But for most reviewers, the MagLite LED 3-Cell D Flashlight (Est. $25) hits the sweet spot. This flashlight can cast its beam over a quarter-mile (412 meters), and it can run 80 hours on one set of three D batteries.

MagLite says it can withstand a 1-meter drop, and it's also water-resistant, able to withstand five minutes of rain or splashing -- but reviews say that's understating its ruggedness. In Popular Mechanics' testing, the MagLite's casing sustains only minor dents after being used to pound 12 iron tent stakes into the ground, and it performs perfectly after being submerged in water for seven hours. After a 25-foot drop onto concrete, it suffers a large dent in the barrel but still functions. What's more, after being run over with a 1973 MGB in Popular Mechanics' crush test, it suffers only minor scrapes.

Users are no gentler. MagLites have been dropped in toilets, campfires, down cliffs and more, and all still worked perfectly, their owners report at Amazon.com.

The MagLite LED 3-Cell blasts 168 lumens. Twist the head, and the beam narrows from floodlight to long-range spotlight. Plenty of LED flashlights boast more lumens, but reviews say they tend to start dimming immediately, gobble a set of batteries every couple of hours or just can't out-tough the MagLite. MagLite backs all of its flashlights with a lifetime warranty against defects in parts and workmanship for the life of the original owner. MagLites are made in the U.S.A., too, which reviewers appreciate.

Every size MagLite earns equally stellar ratings. For those that want something smaller, the Mini MagLite Pro (Est. $20) actually shines brighter than the MagLite LED 3-Cell (272 lumens), amazing owners at every retail website we checked. It's built just as tough, too, owners report, with the same twist-to-focus LED beam. At 6.6 inches long and 4.2 ounces, it's easy to slip into a pocket or bag.

The tradeoff? The Mini Pro can't shine quite as far as the bigger MagLite (although still 163 meters -- more than a football field and a half), and it'll drain a set of two AA batteries in two and a half hours. For just a dollar or two more, the MagLite Mini Pro+ (Est. $25) adds a Low setting that can sip on one set of batteries for 27 hours -- good for situations where you don't particularly need or want a blindingly bright light. However, the Pro+ has a slightly shorter beam distance of 150 meters.

Tactical flashlights: Tiny but tough

Tactical flashlights are palm-sized, rugged and dazzlingly bright -- enough to temporarily blind an enemy -- with a thumb-operated switch on the tail end. When you grip a tactical flashlight in your fist, the head and tail (which often have toothed edges) will stick out past your hand, so it makes an effective striking weapon.

You could spend hundreds of dollars on a tactical flashlight, but reviews say that's not necessary. The reasonably priced Streamlight Protac 2L Tactical Flashlight (Est. $45) earns the most consistent praise.

Firearms and tactical trainer Mike Seeklander recommends it at ArtOfManliness.com, noting that it's both affordable and functional, with enough power to blind a would-be attacker, giving you enough time to escape.

The Protac 2L is less than 5 inches long and weighs less than 3 ounces, so it's easy to pocket. It shoots out a powerful 350-lumen LED beam, which lasts for more than three hours on a set of two small batteries (CR123A lithium cells, which are included). You can switch to strobe (to disorient attackers) for 6 hours, or low (when you just want to use it as a flashlight, without blinding anybody) for 35 hours.

Streamlight offers several similar tactical flashlights in its ProTac lineup. Reviews for the ProTac tactical flashlights are lumped together on sites like Amazon.com and Cabelas.com, so it can be difficult to determine which specific model reviewers are referring to. That said, the overall sentiment surrounding Streamlight's ProTac line is overwhelmingly positive.

In the Streamlight ProTac series, another model also frequently mentioned in reviews is the Streamlight ProTac 1L (Est. $35). The 4.25-inch Streamlight ProTac 1L is as bright as the Protac 2L, shining with a 350-lumen beam, and lasts for 1.5 hours on high with a CR123A lithium battery. Like the ProTac 2L, it has three modes: low, high and strobe. It can also be powered by a single AA alkaline or lithium battery, with varying degrees of brightness (40 to 350 lumens, with a maximum of 150 lumens using AA alkaline or lithium batteries) and run time (1 hour and 20 minutes to 14 hours). It weighs just 2.5 ounces with a CR123A battery, 2.8 ounces with an AA alkaline battery and 2.4 ounces with an AA lithium battery.

The Protac's anodized aluminum body can survive being submerged in 1 meter of water for 30 minutes and a 2-meter fall. It has an impact-resistant tempered glass lens, and its head and tailpiece have crenellated edges. Plus, Streamlight's Solid State power regulation ensures maximum light output throughout the life of the batteries. Streamlight backs its ProTac series with a lifetime warranty against defects (batteries and bulbs, abuse and normal wear excluded).

Rechargeable flashlights: Bye-bye, batteries

Among rechargeable flashlights, the Anker Bolder LC90 LED Flashlight (Est. $30) gets more positive feedback than most others we spotted, earning hundreds of reviews from satisfied users at Amazon.com. It's incredibly bright, users say, with a 900-lumen Cree LED bulb that brightly illuminates a distance of about 660 feet (200 meters) -- the length of about two football fields.

The Anker Bolder LC90 has five modes: high, medium, low, strobe and emergency SOS, making it suitable for just about any situation. It stands independently on its end for use as an emergency lamp. Adjusting the mode is as simple as clicking the on/off switch repeatedly until you get your desired mode -- wait longer than 2 seconds between clicks, and it remembers the previous mode used. Plus, it's fully zoomable, enabling you to adjust from broad-coverage illumination to a focused spotlight with ease.

It's heavy, users say, at 8.2 ounces, but the weight is concentrated mostly in the handle (where the battery is), making it feel well-balanced and easy to carry. It measures 6.2 inches long -- slightly longer than a Sharpie permanent marker, but just the right size to carry in your pocket. Users also say they like the wrist strap, which comes pre-attached.

The Anker Bolder LC90 is also water-resistant, capable of withstanding heavy rain exposure, and its shock-resistant, heavy-duty aluminum casing is meant to withstand abuse. It's powered by a 3,350mAh rechargeable battery (included), and its Cree LED bulb boasts an impressive 50,000-hour lifespan. A single charge lasts about 6 hours, and it takes about 6 hours to recharge the battery fully with the included MicroUSB cable. The Anker Bolder LC90 is backed by an 18-month warranty.

Other rechargeable flashlights earn positive owner feedback as well, particularly among emergency services and law enforcement professionals, but are pricier. The MagLite MagCharger LED RL1019 (Est. $85), for instance, is issued as standard equipment by some police departments. It's every bit as potent as its battery-powered brother, the Best Reviewed MagLite LED 3-Cell D Flashlight. Same rugged, anodized-aluminum body that can survive water and abuse. Same reassuring heft (about a foot long and nearly 2 pounds – 28 ounces with batteries). Same mega-bright beam (643 lumens) that can pierce a quarter-mile of darkness, and that can adjust from a spotlight to a floodlight with a twist of the wrist. Same lifetime warranty.

But the MagCharger has some big advantages, reviewers say. Since you can keep it in its charging cradle, it'll always be fully powered and ready when you grab it (bonus: You'll always know where it is, too). You'll never have to buy batteries. And the MagCharger has three special modes -- Outdoor, Law Enforcement and Military -- that let you instantly fire up strobe or momentary beams with the click of a button.

However, while regular full-size MagLites can run for days on a set of D batteries, the MagCharger's run time is more limited. Still, the MagCharger will shine its brightest for 4 hours on a charge, plus, it'll run 17 hours on low (which is still quite bright, at 148 lumens) and 37 hours on eco (66 lumens).That's plenty for most uses, though you'll also want to keep a battery-powered flashlight around for emergencies, such as an extended power outage.

Owners -- firefighters, farmers, tow truck drivers -- report that they've relied on the MagCharger for years and it never fails them. The MagCharger is particularly easy to use, thanks to its powered cradle. The cradle plugs into the wall or car charger, so you never have to fiddle with the plug again -- just slip the entire flashlight in and out of the cradle. A cheaper rechargeable MagLite, the MagLite ML125 (Est. $70) gets good feedback, too, but reviews say it's less convenient because you have to take the battery out and charge it separately. One plus, however, is that in a pinch -- such as a power outage, the ML125 can also be run off of 3 standard alkaline C cells.

If these Anker Bolder and MagLite rechargeable flashlights are too tall an order for your budget, for about $10, the diminutive Energizer Weather Ready Compact Rechargeable LED Light (Est. $10) is worth considering. It can't match the power of the Anker Bolder LC90 or the robustness of the MagCharger -- but owners say it's just about the handiest little flashlight around.

Cheap flashlights are usually dim, flimsy battery hogs. But the Energizer shines long and bright, survives being dropped and just generally seems to last forever, owners say. Convenience-wise, Energizer has thought of everything: The little flashlight has a flip-out plug that sticks directly into an ordinary wall socket (without blocking the other socket), so it'll always be charged up, and you'll always know where to find it. If the power goes out, the Energizer lights up automatically. It'll run for 3.5 hours on High, or longer on Low, with a light output of up to 25 lumens.

The Energizer won't light up your entire backyard, like the Anker Bolder LC90 and MagCharger will, but it's certainly bright enough for ordinary household use, offering a beam distance of 30 meters. It's also impact-resistant, capable of withstanding one-meter drops. In fact, some owners say that although they own more powerful flashlights, the handy little Energizer is the one they grab most often.

Expert & User Review Sources

To find the toughest flashlight, Popular Mechanics thoroughly abuses four popular flashlights (a MagLite, a cheap Rayovac and two flashy $300 models) and unmasks one as a surprising wimp. Editors at TheSweethome.com spent three weeks in the woods testing 23 flashlights and spent more than 50 hours researching, naming three flashlights as winners, and a professional firearms and tactical trainer names his preferred tactical flashlights at ArtOfManliness.com. But otherwise, "expert" flashlight reviews are few and far between -- except for the police officers, firefighters, and others for whom a good flashlight is literally a lifesaver (plus thousands of everyday owners) who post candid reviews at retail websites including Amazon.com, HomeDepot.com, Lowes.com, Cabelas.com and BHPhotoVideo.com.

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