Flashlights that won't leave you in the dark
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.
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).
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
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 (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
Every size MagLite earns equally
stellar ratings. For those that want something smaller, the (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 (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 (Est. $45) earns the most
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
In the Streamlight ProTac series,
another model also frequently mentioned in reviews is the (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 (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
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 (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 (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 (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.