Flashlights, like my previous adventures with backpacks and pocket knives, are a deep rabbit hole. You can get some really good lighting for really cheap, or you can spend hundreds of dollars on one light. It is a nightmare for people, like me, who want to find the best in categories.
As with pocket knives, size and materials matter, but there are a few more factors with flashlights to consider. So before we move on, some ground work needs to be laid to get everyone on the same page:
- Use: different flashlights are meant to be used for different purposes. For example a small flashlight you keep in your pocket won’t also be good for search and rescue. Better than nothing, but you need to know what you want a light for.
- Construction: how well is the light itself made, and will it keep working when it gets wet, or dropped.
- Power cell: what kind of battery does it use? Common batteries are AA and AAA, but more specialized lights can use 18650 (rechargeable lithium) or CR123 (disposable lithium). Each power cell has advantages, while the AA and AAA varieties are cheap and easy to find, they don’t offer nearly the power of others. 18650 are huge and heavy, rechargeable, and offer great power to longevity ratios. CR123s are expensive, and very powerful, but have much shorter lifespans. There are also considerations to be had for which type is best for keeping a battery installed in a light, to avoid corrosion.
- Light Power: how bright is the light? This is measured in lumens, and I’ll be damned if I can explain to you lumens in a sentence. So for the purposes of this article, if you do not already understand lumens, anything over 130 is likely going to seem bright to you. 300-500 lumens is probably the most an average person needs. 1,000 lumens is just really cool to see.
- CRI: basically this is how well the light reproduces accurate color. A bright light is great, but it may also make everything look unnatural. Which is why knowing your use is important.
- Throw: how far is the light projected? A bright light which only travels 10 feet but lights up the entire room is an altogether different light than one that goes 100 feet, but struggles to light up a much smaller room. Think spot light versus flood light.
- Runtime: how long will the light run at that brightness(s). It’s great to have a 1000 lumen light, but what if that light only lasts 2 minutes at that output?
- Variable output: can you control how bright the light is. This is often called “UI” for flashlight nerds and is a method for switching between brightness on a light.
Ok, those are the basics, and as you can see there are a lot of things. I’ll try my best to spell this all out in layman terms over the course of these articles.
Why Carry a Light
As with pocket knives, a lot of people struggle to see why you want to carry a flashlight. So I’ll run through a few scenarios for you, but like with pocket knives you never truly see the value until you carry one — then you are amazed how much you use these things. Welcome to the rabbit hole.
- Real Estate Days: inspecting buildings, or looking for leaks or intruders. I used a flashlight almost everyday I worked in property management and it was when I started to get a little nerdy about flashlights.
- Travel / Backpacks: I use a light when I travel to make sure I leave nothing behind in a hotel room. I also keep one in my backpack to help me find things in the backpack, or around where I am sitting. You feel silly until you find what you were looking for with ease. Or a red eye flight, a nice low light can be awesome for not disturbing those who sit next to you while you look for your chocolate stash.
- Kids: my kids love to drop things in the car, right where I can’t get to those things. I mean, honestly, how many times are you using the flashlight on your phone already? Yeah. I like to know if that’s just an old Cheerio, or if it is the thing which is currently the most important thing to my kid.
- Safety: I don’t go on walks with my kids without a flashlight. You don’t want to be caught out at dusk or in the dark without a good light to allow others to see you and you to see them. Also: your house is dark at night and a flashlight is way easier than finding a light switch. If you have the right light, it can also blind the crap out of someone you want to get away from, or get a head start on defending yourself from.
But you have your iPhone flashlight, right? Yeah, but it sucks. It sucks a lot. If you even use that a few times a week, let me show you how much better your life can be. Every time you use the light on your phone, you are putting your phone at risk to be dropped, and scraped doing something stupid. A phone is a great camera and computer, but a shitty flashlight.
For this little journey into flashlight land, I am specifically looking for three different types of lights:
- My life depends on it.
- Carry with me always
- This light is cool as shit
In other words: beastly, tiny, and flashy.1
My Life Depends On This
For me there is only one brand here: Surefire. A lot of flashlight nerds just think these lights are overpriced and will quickly recommend Armytek lights as a cheaper and just as good (if not better) option. I’ve not used Armytek yet, but I can tell you from personal experience it’ll be hard to get me to trust a light more than the three Surefire lights I own.
They are bright enough, and built like a tank. To me, they are the GORUCK of flashlights. Expensive? Sure. Insanely well built? Hell yes.
So you go pick whatever other brand you want, but the light that stays in my car is a Surefire, and the light that is in my bug out bag is a Surefire. I won’t have it any other way.
My lights are old, being the 6PX Pro, and the (I think P2X) Fury. The newest versions I believe are the 6PX Pro and the P2X Fury, what I don’t know is if there have been any updates to these lights since I bought my models bearing the same name.
You will notice the Fury is much brighter than the 6P, but I have to tell you, you don’t always need that brightness. These are both two stage lights, meaning you are either getting: not that bright, or blind me bright. So choose wisely. (I keep the Fury in my bug out bag, and my 6PX Pro in my car, for what it is worth.)
Both lights are CR123 powered and both take two CR123s. They both tend to skew more blue and both light up a massive area. I used mine to light up empty and dark 40,000+ square foot spaces — they worked well for that and had some fire fighters asking what light I had. The difference between the two is runtime and lumens. Which is why the longer running 6PX Pro is the one in my car as I want light for longer if I am walking for gas, or changing a tire.
There are two other lights I would consider for this situation. The first is the Hexbright, which is no longer made and is a roughly 500 lumen flashlight running on an 18650 rechargeable battery. The UI is awesome, with three brightness modes, and a strobe mode. It’s also programmable, but I have no clue what that actually means. It’s a badass light, and I only found out they shut down when I went to buy another. It’s really too bad as it feels great in your hand. But I do want to note, if you find one for sale, you should consider getting it.
(Top to bottom: Surefire Z2 Combatlight, Surefire Fury, Surefire 6PX Pro, Hexbright)
Lastly, and this is what seems to be the consensus for people looking at this type of light, is to get the Armytek lights. The Wizard Pro is highly regarded as a fantastic flashlight with comparable build quality as the Surefire (which can double as a headlamp). Or the Armytek Partner C2, again I’ve never used these lights, but I hear fantastic things about them and they are less than half the price of the Surefire lights. I have the Wizard Pro on my list. Do note: these are 90° heads.
So my advice to you: if money is no object you should get a Surefire and their sealed battery holder. Fill it with their branded batteries and be confident you have a rock solid and awesome light. If budget is a concern, grab an Armytek.
Don’t be fooled with Lumen counts, when you want something which will work, you’ll likely care more about having light than about how much light you have. Not only have my Surefire lights been dropped off two story buildings, and plunged into disgusting water, they have had batteries left in them for ages with no issues at all. They worked every time I needed them.
For this category of light, I don’t care much about features on the light, it’s all about durability.
Next up, a carry with me everywhere light — soon…
DO YOU SEE WHAT I DID THERE? ↩