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Whether you’re fumbling your way through a power outage or searching for small toy that your child lost beneath the couch, there are plenty of situations in which a flashlight comes in handy.
If you think all flashlights are created equally, though, you’re in for a surprise. There are several factors that determine a flashlight’s performance and usefulness. You should choose a flashlight with the right material, size, type of bulb, and modes to fit your specific needs. But with so many flashlights on the market, how do you find the one for you?
At BestReviews, we can help. We do the research, ask the experts, and interview real-life customers, so you can make educated shopping decisions. And because we always buy our own products and never accept free perks from manufacturers, our reviews are not only thorough but honest and unbiased as well.
If you’re ready to buy a flashlight, take a look at the matrix above for our top five picks.
But if you want all the info on choosing a flashlight before you buy, just keep reading.
Utility flashlights are the most common type and are usually used in homes as general-purpose flashlights. Typically lightweight in feel, they provide a modest amount of light. They’re usually inexpensive and only last a few years.
Industrial flashlights are heavy-duty models that are often used in homes and garages. They have a heavy feel and are typically large, so they can’t be carried in a pocket. Industrial flashlights provide a significant amount of light and range in price from modest to fairly expensive.
If you don’t have access to batteries or electricity for recharging, you’ll still be able to light your way with a hand-crank flashlight.
Tactical flashlights not only to provide light but act as self-defense tools as well. They are usually small in size but made of heavy material that can do significant damage. Tactical flashlights also have extremely powerful lights that are bright enough to temporarily blind an intruder or attacker. Because of their power, they are usually expensive.
Emergency flashlights don’t run on batteries. They are powered by a hand crank or solar power. Because they don’t need batteries, they are very effective at providing light during natural disasters and other emergencies.
Campers, hunters, and other outdoor enthusiasts should invest in water-resistant flashlights.
Flashlights are typically made of two materials: plastic or aluminum. Plastic models are usually lightweight and not as durable as metal flashlights, unless the plastic is high-grade. Aluminum flashlights are extremely durable and tend to have a heavier feel.
For the most versatile flashlight, you’ll want one with multiple modes. With high and low settings for the light, you won’t use any more battery power than necessary. Some higher-end models have up to three or four brightness modes.
Aluminum flashlights have a tendency to get very hot or cold when exposed to extreme temperatures.
The size of a flashlight doesn’t affect its overall performance, but it is a factor in terms of what you’re using the light for and what you’re comfortable with. If you plan to carry a flashlight with you every day, a small keychain style is the best option. For a utility or industrial flashlight, a length of 5 to 14 inches usually works well. For a tactical flashlight, look for a model that’s 3 to 7 inches in size.
Incandescent Bulbs: The more traditional option, incandescent bulbs tend to provide a softer light. They can break easily when dropped, though, and they run through battery power more quickly.
LED Bulbs: LED bulbs are highly durable, can last up to 100,000 hours, and use only a quarter of the energy that a traditional bulb does. However, you’ll likely pay more for an LED flashlight.
LED bulbs are the most popular choice for flashlights in recent years.
Standard alkaline or lithium batteries are disposable. You’ll usually need AA, AAA, C, D, or 9V batteries for flashlights. The drawback to disposable batteries is that they must be replaced. However, in an emergency, you can throw in a new pair without waiting for the batteries to recharge.
Available in a variety of shapes and sizes, rechargeable batteries are usually lithium ion or nickel metal hydride. They can simply be recharged once they run out of power. You won’t have to purchase replacement batteries, which will save you money, but you could wind up with uncharged batteries in an emergency.
Outside of North America, flashlights are often known as “torches.”
Push-button click switches are usually located on the side or bottom of the flashlight. They are easy to use with one hand and can be rubberized for water resistance.
A slide switch is a piece of plastic that slides back and forth to turn the flashlight on and off. They’re usually found on inexpensive models and can’t be waterproofed.
Membrane Press Switch
A plastic membrane covers the switch and you simply press it to turn the flashlight on and off. It can be used with one hand.
Bezel Twist Controls
With these controls, you twist the front or end of the flashlight to turn it on and off. Bezel twist controls usually require two hands.
Some tactical flashlights have a strobe mode to disorient attackers or signal an emergency.
You can find flashlights at a variety of price points, but normally they range from $20 to $200.
For a basic flashlight that may not be as durable or run as long, you can expect to pay $20 to $50.
For an extremely durable model with multiple settings, an LED bulb, and other special features, you’ll likely pay $60 to $150.
A lumen is a unit of measure for a flashlight’s total light output. A flashlight may have as little as one lumen or more than 100. Lights with 1,000+ lumens are typically used in search-and-rescue operations.
It’s a good idea to have flashlights in a couple spots in your home. That way you don’t have to go hunting for one if the power goes out. Keep one in the kitchen or living room, one in the basement, and one in the garage.
Be sure to replace the batteries in a traditional flashlight every three to four months if you haven’t used it for a while. This will prevent battery leakage and corrosion.
Don’t keep your flashlight in a hot or damp location, which can cause your flashlight bulb to break down or the batteries to leak.
You may want to add a hand-crank flashlight to your home in case of an emergency, as it requires no batteries or electricity for recharging.
A water-resistance rating of IPX8 means that a flashlight can withstand submersion in water for up to four hours at the depth that is specified.
Q. What does it mean if a flashlight promises high lumens?
A. Lumens refer to a flashlight’s light output. With traditional bulbs, lumens measure the entire output of the bulb. For an LED flashlight, lumens measure the light inside the beam angle. Keep in mind that high-lumen flashlights may not necessarily look any brighter to the naked eye, and they can drain batteries very quickly.
Q. Is it necessary to get a water-resistant flashlight?
A. A water-resistant flashlight is important if you plan to use it outdoors where it could be exposed to rain and/or bodies of water. Water resistance is rated with the IP system. A rating of IPX4 means the flashlight is splash-resistant from all angles, while a IPX7 rating means the flashlight can be submerged in water for up to 30 minutes at a depth of one meter.
Q. What features should I look for in a tactical flashlight?
A. In addition to an extremely bright, focused light beam that can temporarily blind an intruder, look for a push-button on/off switch on the tail end. That way you can hold the flashlight defensively and still turn it on with your thumb.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.