Everyone needs high-quality flashlights in home and vehicle kits. Flashlights should always be ready to use. Always have spare batteries. Choosing a flashlight can be challenging and some stores stock 20 or more types of flashlights. There are different lights for different purposes. Walking into a store and asking for the “best flashlight” would be like walking onto an auto dealership and asking for the “best vehicle.”
Flashlights are divided into two major categories: (1) tactical flashlights, and (2) non-tactical flashlights.
- Tactical flashlights are bright, extremely durable, and can be used as a self defense striking weapon. These lights have an intense beam, high-speed strobe mode designed to disorient and disable an attacker, durable case (usually machined aircraft aluminum), and uneven strike bezel to concentrate force. Do NOT use these lights as a striking weapon unless you have been trained. A tactical flashlight should fit comfortably in the palm of your hand with both striking surfaces extending past the palm of your hand. The very small tactical lights may be useful for generating a blinding light but are much less effective as a striking weapon.
- Non-tactical flashlight are designed primarily to provide illumination. These should be durable, water resistant or waterproof, use readily available batteries, and are easy to hold.
When selecting a flashlight decide how much light that you need and then consider the type of beam required. This article on Lumens & Candelas describes light intensity and beam patterns for flashlights. I recommend light output of at least 200 lumens for tactical flashlights and at least 70 lumens for non-tactical flashlights. There are different types of beams and I created a scale to describe the beam patterns:
- A Floodlight bean is relatively even and about 35° or wider. This beam illuminates a wider area but does not provide a more intense light for long distances. A floodlight can produce an even beam or a hybrid beam with a more intense light in the center (hotspot) and less light away from the center.
- An Even Beam produces uniform light across the entire diameter of the beam. An even beam works very well for flashlights used for inspections. If you haul loads or are buying a house an even beam flashlight can be a tremendously good tool to have.
- A Tactical Beam is generally 15°-30° with a concentrated center “hotspot” surrounded by a less intense peripheral beam. This gives you a relatively wide-angle general beam with a brighter center beam that illuminates to a longer distance.
- A Spotlight bean is focused, intense, and normally less than 15°.
- Adjustable Beam lights allow you to vary the beam pattern from wider to more focused. Some adjustable beam lights have an even beam and other have a hybrid beam with more intense center hotspot.
Lumens measure the total output of a light. How would lights that each generated 500 lumens compare? The 500 lumen Floodlight would provide a very wide and relatively even beam. The beam would not project as far as the other lights but it would spread over a much wider area. The 500 lumen Tactical light would provide an intense center beam that would extend for a much greater distance and also provide some peripheral light around the hotspot. A 500 lumen spotlight would provide the longest and most narrow beam.
Most of the high-powered flashlights use the CR123 batteries. Some use the rechargeable 18650 battery and some can use either the 18650 or CR123 batteries. The CR123 batteries are more expensive than AA or AAA batteries and offer higher voltage output. Some flashlights have rechargeable batteries and some include USB charging. Carefully consider whether to use disposable for rechargeable batteries (details). Shop around when purchasing CR123 batteries. A local drug store sold 2 CR123 batteries for $19 ($9.50 each) while Cabela’s sold 6 CR123s for $16 ($2.67 each).
Rechargeable AA, AAA, C, and D batteries are generally lower voltage than their alkaline counterparts and should work safely in your flashlight. Many high-powered flashlights use CR123 batteries and the rechargeable version of these batteries normally output a higher voltage. This higher voltage could damage flashlights that were not designed to use them. Only use rechargeable 123 batteries with flashlights designed to use them.
If you care new to flashlights it can be difficult to decide which to buy. There are many different flashlights and they have different specifications and functions. Many people have asked me which is the best flashlight. I normally respond that asking for the “best flashlight” is like going to a car dealer and saying that you want to buy the “best vehicle.” The best one for you might not be the best for the next person and it depends on your needs and how you intent to use it. These are the flashlight steps that I generally recommend:
- Start with a Tactical EDC (EveryDay Carry) flashlight. This light should be small enough to carry and conceal and have a very bright beam that could blind an attacker. When held in your palm it should protrude from both sides of your hand. I use the Streamlight ProTac 1L-1AA and I normally carry it with me everywhere. I recommend a minimum of 275 lumens and 6,000 candelas
- Next, I recommend some general purpose utility flashlights. You can purchase 3 or 4-packs of Duracell 350 lights for about $20. I keep a light in each vehicle and at least one in the house. You can also get good, general purpose lights from home and department stores. Do NOT use cheap, low-power lights. Get a light that is at least 90 lumens (preferably more). Another favorite is the Streamlight Stylus Pro because it is small, uses AAA batteries, has a long runtime of 6.5 hours, and is about the size of a highlighter pen.
- Next, I recommend a very high-power tactical flashlight such as the Streamlight HL-X. I have the older HL model and the HL-X is about 25% stronger. I carry this light when I go downtown or are in unfamiliar areas. I have this light at the ready. The highly intense beam with strobe would blind attackers and the larger size and strike bezels could be used as a weapon.
Be sure to have an adequate supply of spare batteries in your home and vehicle.
- Tony’s non-exhaustive Flashlight Reviews
- Article: Tactical Flashlights
- Article: Non-Tactical Flashlights
- Article: Lumens and Candelas
- My wish list for the ultimate flashlight
- Be sure to celebrate National Flashlight Day