How to Choose a Great Flashlight
A flashlight is arguably one of the most important pieces of gear that any prepper can have. The need for light is immense, and being caught without a light source when you need it can spell disaster–potentially death in the worst of situations. In fact, the flashlight is so important it is one of the pieces of gear that you should probably double up on just to make sure you are never without a light source.
However, figuring out which flashlight you should choose can be fairly difficult–especially considering how many different options and variations are available. That is why we have put together a fairly exhaustive analysis about the different types of flashlights available, the different qualities and features, and which qualities and features are the most important.
What are the ANSI FL1 standards?
At its essence, the ANSI FL1 are a group of potential qualifications that various type of lights on portable bodies use to try and distinguish themselves from one another in terms of quality. To be fair, if a flashlight meets any of these standards there is a fairly good chance that it is at least above average–though this should not be taken to mean either a flashlight which meets various ANSI FL1 standards in automatically good or the flashlight that meets the highest and most ANSI FL1 standards is the best. Simply, these standards can help you understand what separates one quality flashlight from another.
The first ANSI FL1 standard is light output. This quality is measured in lumens which essentially tells you how many photons are ejected from a light bulb. Keep in mind, this does not necessarily tell you how bright or intense those photons are, simply how many there are. As such, this can provide valuable information but is arguably one of the less important standards relating to the light itself.
Instead, the standards which focus on the beam of the light are a bit of a better indicator of the quality of the flashlight. For instance, another ANSI FL1 standard is the beam distance which is measured in lux and starts at 0.25 (with 0 being darkness). This rates how far away the light remains useful for seeing purposes and its base rating of 0.25 lux is equivalent to the light of a full moon.
Similarly, the ANSI FL1 standards also have a rating for the peak intensity of the beam which is measured in candela. This rating used to be measured in candlepower but has since been standardized a bit–though the candela is fairly close to candlepower in terms of intensity equalling a little bit more than 1 candle. Keep in mind, this rating has a bit more to do with how bright the beam is and measures the saturation of the beam with photons as well as their relative intensity.
Other qualities of the ANSI FL1 standards are a bit more mundane in that they rate the flashlight on qualities that, while vitally important–especially for a survival or tactical flashlight, actually have very little to do with the quality of the light that is produced. Instead, these qualities are more closely related to the pragmatic applications of the flashlight and provide a general sense of the build quality and circuitry.
For instance, the runtime of a flashlight grades the tool in terms of how energy efficient it is. This might arguably be one of the most important qualities for a survival flashlight as the premise of this device is that it is used when resources are scarce. Since batteries would soon become rare during a global survival scenario, the runtime of a survival flashlight is nigh-paramount. Similarly, the impact resistance of the flashlight, as rated in meters, is also important for survival scenarios since there is a fair likelihood that the flashlight will be put in situations where it might otherwise be dropped.
The final measurement on the ANSI FL1 standard scale is how well the flashlight responds to water. Since survival and tactical flashlights will likely need to be used in less than ideal circumstances, this can be a valuable qualification to be met–though it is by no means a dealbreaker nor should it sway your decision when compared to other ANSI FL1 standards. This quality can be represented as either water resistant, which is designated IPX4, or waterproof, which is IPX7.
Tips to Choose a Good flashlight
Choosing a good flashlight will likely come down to more than simply finding the flashlight that has the best ratings in every meaningful category. Granted, if you simply want the peace of mind or the bragging rights, there is nothing stopping you from simply finding a flashlight that stands head and shoulders above its competitors in virtually every meaningful aspect. In fairness, taking that approach, you are almost certainly going to end up with a high-end, quality survival flashlight.
However, there is also an almost certainty that you will end up overpaying for a product that either far exceeds what your real life has a need for or comes with a host of features that you will simply never use. Keep in mind, this is not to say that no one will have a use for a survival flashlight that provides the best features and ratings, but chances are you will not and it will simply increase additional expenses that could otherwise be used on other important parts of your bug out plans.
Since a flashlight’s primary job is to light your way in the dark, the various ratings of the light’s actual quality should be considered some of, if not, the most important features for determining not only what is a good flashlight but which one is right for you. However, as we alluded to earlier in our examination of the ANSI FL1 standards, not all of these ratings should be weighed equally in terms of importance for real-world application.
For instance, if you are familiar with a variety of other situations and type of lights, then you are almost certainly already cued into the lumen scale as a meaningful representation of a given light’s quality. The most likely situation where you have seen this as a meaningful indicator is with headlights for a motor vehicle. While this can actually be true for a wide variety of lights, it does not really apply as strongly for flashlights.
This is because lumens are most important where you need a flood of light. However, flashlights are designed to project a beam, not simply flood a given area. The exception to this dichotomy is spotlights, but those too are fairly unique in terms of their application and their construction. Regardless, the other qualities of a flashlight’s light are more relevant than the total amount of photons ejected.
Here, you will want to look for the intensity of the light as well as the distance of the beam. The latter should be fairly obvious as a meaningful quality considering you will likely want the flashlight to illuminate areas that are not always directly in front of you. The former quality, the intensity of the beam, will actually best determine how bright the light is when you shine in in a given direction and how well it provides illumination.
Outside of the flashlight’s light beam qualities, the overall durability of the flashlight will be the next set of most important features. Remember, if you are bugging out, chances are you are staying off of the beaten path. This could very well entail traipsing through the woods to avoid contact with other people who might otherwise present an unnecessary risk.
Without a paved road, your footing is far less stable leaving you more prone to trip or fall down. Should that occur at night where your visibility is diminished–regardless the flashlight you own–you will want a flashlight that can handle a fall just as well or better than you. While flashlights are rated in terms of the number of meters they can fall without damage, that does not tell us what allows flashlights to withstand those falls.
While you may be thinking that the material the flashlight is made of determines how resistant and resilient to falls it is, that is only half of the truth. This is because the flashlight is actually a set of circuits, bulb, and power source. If the body of the flashlight is incredibly durable, but the components are not held in place properly, a drop might leave the body unscathed but trash the more meaningful components held within.
How Much Light Output Do You Need?
Though we have briefly covered what some of the different light ratings mean and even assigned them some loose rankings in terms of importance, it is a good idea to understand how these different ratings actually affect your experience in the field, so to speak. This is because not everyone will need a survival flashlight for the same reasons, and there are even circumstances when the aforementioned rules may not apply–or, at least, they may not remain as rigid as has been suggested for most general purposes.
For instance, the lumen might have been relegated to a lower tier on our list, but there are plenty of situations where this quality could very well be more important than the other aspects of a flashlight’s light beam. A good example of this would be once you have already reached your bug out shelter. In this situation, you are less likely to need a concentrated beam to guide your way and would do better with a bit more of a flood effect to illuminate a larger area as part of a searching task.
This task could be related to self-defense when trying to find an intruder–especially if you have set up noise traps or alarms that were triggered–or it could help you with a variety of different tasks. A good example of this would be if you have livestock and some of them have escaped their pens. For a search and rescue scenario, having an incredibly focused beam will take a backseat to flooding an area with light to see as much area as possible to find your missing livestock.
Of course, the number of lumens you need will differ depending on the type of flashlight and its use. An everyday carry or EDC flashlight will not need quite nearly the same number of lumens to perform its expected tasks than a tactical or survival flashlight. For an EDC flashlight which you will generally use for simple tasks located directly in front of you while stationary, 25 lumens should be more than sufficient.
A survival flashlight, on the other hand, will call for more lumens since this flashlight is likely used to help you find your way in the dark when in an unfamiliar location. Here, you will want more light to provide a larger flood, but not so much that you will unnecessarily give your position away. Anything over 50 lumens but under 100 should cover you–though the 60 to 75-lumen range is the sweet spot in terms of light provided that you need without carrying so far that others can easily identify it.
Tactical flashlights have an altogether different purpose than the prior 2 which can be similar in application. For tactical flashlights, you are looking to gain an advantage over an opponent in a conflict. Whether this is used offensively or defensively, the goal remains the same: temporarily blind the person to either allow your escape or provide an easier target. For this purpose, 100 lumens should be seen as a minimum, but anything above that up to a few hundred lumens will provide a greater effect without requiring too much additional size, weight, or cost.
In terms of the bulb of a flashlight, there are 3 primary types: incandescent, LED, and HID. That said, incandescent can be enhanced with the inclusion of non-reactive gases which will allow it to burn brighter and last longer, but this still pales in comparison to LEDs and HIDs. LEDs are arguably the best bulbs for flashlights as they provide plenty of bright light, have a long lifespan, and are extremely energy efficient. That said, HIDs are better in almost every way but can be prohibitively expensive too.
When it comes to beams, flashlights fall into 2 broad categories that have innumerable permutations between them. The two main categories are spotlights and flood beams. The spotlights are the more common type that focuses the beam and throws it long distances. Flood beams use more diffuse reflectors and spread the light over a wider area. This gives more light to a shorter range.
Still, for the most common type of flashlight beam, the spotlight, it is important to know the beam distance and peak beam intensity. The beam distance is simply the furthest the beam will still provide meaningful illumination–though the light will continue to travel further, you simply will not receive enough reflection to note it. The beam distance begins with the number of lumens measured at distance squared–this is also the peak beam intensity and is measured in candelas. That rating can be converted into a single meter by multiplying the first solution by 4. You then get the beam distance by finding the square root of that entire solution.
Other Flashlight Performance Considerations
While the quality of the light and beam is vitally important for a survival flashlight, the overall construction and general quality of the build is just as important. A flashlight that puts out amazing light quality in a tight, long beam is meaningless if it sucks batteries dry in short order and is liable to stop working if bumped a bit roughly.
As such, the mundane qualities of a flashlight that have little or nothing to do with its light quality are just as important when choosing a survival flashlight. Some of the more important qualities that we covered with the ANSI-FL1 standards are the runtime, the impact resistance, and the water resistance. The runtime and impact resistance are likely the most important of the 3, though you will not want to be caught in a rainstorm without a flashlight that also has some kind of meaningful water resistance.
The runtime of a flashlight is just as simple as it sounds: this is the amount of time that a flashlight can shine continuously on a single set of batteries–though this consideration can be muddied a bit if you are using a shake flashlight or a light powered by some other source. Though, your best bet is to go with a flashlight that uses some type of consumable source as these are both reliable and more convenient for portability purposes.
Still, a number of different factors will influence the runtime of a flashlight, but it will mostly boil down to the bulb. Unfortunately, this ends up being a bit of a push-pull situation where the better bulbs that generate the best light and throw the best beams will ultimately require more energy to power them. This will inherently reduce that flashlight’s runtime when compared to other flashlights with all other things being equal.
Of course, with so many different options available, all other things about one flashlight when compared to another are not liable to be equal. For instance, the type and arrangement of the flashlight’s reflectors can vastly improve the beam without negatively impacting the runtime. Likewise, the type of battery used will affect the quality of the light regardless the type of bulb used.
Of the 3 main types of flashlights, EDC, survival, and tactical, the tactical can do with the shortest runtime followed closely by the EDC flashlight. This is because both of these flashlights are generally used in particular circumstances for shorter periods of time in a given instance–though the EDC flashlight is liable to see more use in general, hence why its runtime should be longer. The survival flashlight, on the other hand, is liable to be used for hours at a time and should easily have the longest runtime.
When it comes to impact resistance, your setting will play a more important role than most other factors. This quality is measured in terms of meters dropped and starts at a single meter. That said, you will likely want to opt for a flashlight with at least a 1 ½” meter impact resistance and preferable 2–though there are plenty of situations where a greater impact resistance may be indicated. For example, if your bug out shelter is located around the mountains or rocky hills, you will likely want to go with a flashlight with a greater impact resistance than if your bug out shelter is located among soft fields with low lying meadows.
The final category when gauging the overall build quality of a flashlight is its water protection rating. This rating can start at the lower end of IPX4, which offers protection from a continuous splash of water from any direction for up to five minutes, all the way to IPX7 which is the first stage of being “waterproof.” However, waterproof in this context actually means that it can handle being submerged in 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes. Beyond IPX7 is IPX8, but this has no real standard and is instead defined by the manufacturer, so it can vary greatly–though they will all be superior to IPX7.
For the purposes of a survival flashlight, IPX4 should be sufficient for light rainstorms but will not be able to stand for extended use in a torrential downpour. Likewise, an IPX7 rating will be more than sufficient for pretty much every meaningful survival scenario but is likely overkill for all but the most extreme. To be honest, an IPX6 rating is likely the best sweet spot in terms of need and cost.
Some of our Buyer’s Guides
Considering that runtime is by far one of the most important qualities of a great flashlight, it should come as little surprise that the type of batteries used to power the flashlight will play an outsize role in determining that quality. While the type of bulb used will also play an important role, we are assuming that you will opt for either an LED, HID, or Xenon/Halogen bulb. These bulbs do not differ significantly from one another in terms of power consumption–especially compared to basic incandescent bulbs–so the battery will end being more relevant to runtime.
Beyond the different sizes and types of batteries, one of the first things you will have to determine is what substance you want holding the battery’s charge. The two most common materials used for batteries that power flashlights are alkaline, which uses zinc and magnesium as a base, and lithium. While there are some areas where alkaline holds the advantage, those are few an far between.
For all applicable purposes, lithium batteries are the superior type–especially when it comes to a survival flashlight or bug out bag gear. First, lithium batteries offer far more power reserves than alkaline batteries. On top of that, lithium batteries can achieve this while also being lighter than alkaline batteries. This type of battery is also better suited for extreme temperatures and have a longer shelf life than alkaline batteries.
In fact, the only real advantage that alkaline batteries have over lithium batteries is that they are less expensive. You could consider availability as a potential advantage, but it is not like lithium batteries are rare or difficult to find–you simply have to pay more for them once you do find them. One disadvantage both batteries have is they do not offer rechargeable options in the AA and AAA sizes.
This is not a consideration to brush off lightly as the size of the battery will be just as important as what it is made out of. Aside from the obvious fact that larger batteries can hold more power reserves than smaller ones of the same make, the design of the battery can also hold other implications–specifically the voltage.
While most flashlight and devices that used batteries will require 1.5V, there are plenty of high-end flashlights and other electronics that will need a greater voltage to operate a peak performance. In this instance, regardless the material component, an AA, and an AAA will both only be able to provide a 1.5V charge. This is where some of the less well-known battery types come into play.
The most popular battery for flashlights that require greater than 1.5V is the CR123A battery. This is a lithium-based battery that is able to provide 3.0V. For high-powered flashlights, this means that the bulb and beam will both perform much better than that of a flashlight using 1.5V batteries–though there are, of course, design features which can nudge one up and the other down.
Of course, the CR123A does not just have the increased voltage and greater power storage as its only advantage. Like other lithium batteries, the CR123A is able to withstand greater temperature ranges than most and is arguably the most resilient in this regard when it comes to common flashlight batteries. Even better, this battery also has the best shelf life out of the common flashlight batteries at up to 10 years.
Another option for flashlight batteries is rechargeable batteries. While this may or may not make sense in a bug out situation, there is no denying that rechargeable batteries offer a great value in terms of cost since it is far less expensive to recharge batteries than it is to replace them. For high-end flashlights, you are likely going to want to go with the 18650 batteries.
The 18650 battery is similar to the CR123A battery in that both are lithium-based which means they will provide more power than an alkaline battery. That said, the 18650 battery is somewhat less stable than the CR123A battery and is prone to overcharging or over-discharging when in use–especially at the end of its lifespan. Even better, these rechargeable batteries have a voltage range between 2.5 to 4.2 volts making it the best option for flashlights that need higher voltages to push their bulbs.
Some of our Buyer’s Guides
Materials and Weight
Every prepper understands the importance of weight when it comes to packing, but this also must be balanced against the value of the object. Considering it is intended to provide a reliable source of light in the dark, a flashlight is arguably one of the few pieces of gear that could conceivably get away with being heavier than desired. Of course, if you can avoid that, then all the better.
For an EDC flashlight, you are going to want to get the smallest, lightest flashlight that you can which also provides the necessary requisite light. Since this is not intended to help guide your way or be used tactically, it does not need the additional qualities that might otherwise increase its weight. Similarly, a tactical flashlight should also be fairly lightweight. This is because the tactical flashlight will need to be extremely mobile as well as potentially in use while wielding a firearm.
For survival flashlights, you can accept a bit more weight than you should be comfortable with from the other types. This is because a survival flashlight will likely have better runtime due to more or better batteries as a power source. On top of that, a survival flashlight should have the best beam distance and peak beam intensity–both of which often require specialized arrangements of their build. That said, this flashlight should weight no more than one pound with the EDC and tactical flashlights weighing half that.
Beyond the battery capacity, one of the most important qualities that will impact the flashlight’s weight is the material of its body. There is a wide range of materials that each offer different advantages and disadvantages, but there is also a clear winner for most of the applicable considerations: titanium. This material checks off too many boxes. It is by far the strongest and most durable material used for flashlights while still being extremely light. That said, this is also an incredibly expensive material and will significantly increase the cost of the flashlight.
After titanium, your next best bet will either be anodized aluminum or stainless steel. Both of these materials are excellent options for flashlights, but which you choose will definitely depend on your bug out bag as well as the potential uses for the flashlight. Of course, the cost of these materials can also play a big role in the selection, and stainless steel is generally cheaper than anodized aluminum.
Still, in terms of application, the two materials differ greatly. Anodized aluminum is definitely the lighter of the too and makes an excellent body for a tactical flashlight. However, the added weight of a stainless steel survival flashlight can serve well as an improvised club should you need it. In fact, steel is significantly stronger than anodized aluminum and will generally provide a superior impact resistance.
The final material is plastic which has some benefits but should ultimately be seen as an inferior material. The primary benefits of plastic are cost and weight. Plastic is by far the least expensive material used for a flashlight’s body, and it also has the distinction of being the lightest as well. That said, it is nowhere near as durable as any of the metals and should be reserved for smaller EDC flashlights only.
Beyond the flashlight itself, there are a number of accessories which you can purpose to either provide a more effective solution in particular situations, to offer additional versatility and specialization, and to generally make using or carrying the flashlight more convenient. That said, most of these accessories are used only in specific circumstances and should not be considered necessary pieces of gear.
Weapons mounts are probably the most popular type of flashlight accessory, but they are also the least likely to be used. Consider, a weapon mount will generally only be useful in a situation where you must defend yourself and party from an intruder or animal threat at night. On top of the fact that this accessory is likely used less than the others, it is generally designed to be used exclusively with tactical flashlights as well. That said, it is not a terrible idea to keep a weapons mount on hand–just realize that it is not as vital an accessory as it might at first seem. Even personnel that use weapon mounts are just as capable of holding the flashlight and accurately firing their weapon if trained.
Light filters are likely some of the most valuable accessories you can get for a flashlight specifically because the open up the specialization of a flashlight to new heights. Generally, light filters are used to color the light projected so that either the illuminated area will make certain features stand out more or so potential observers will not be as aware of what is going on. For instance, a green filter will not disturb animals which makes it ideal for night hunting.
Red light filters have the advantage of not affecting your night-adjusted vision. This is actually the same reason that taillights are red. Essentially, a red light filter will allow you to use the light at close-range distances without then having to allow your eyes to readjust to a dimmer ambiance once the beam is projected further away.
Finally, a blue light filter could be seen almost as the opposite of a red light filter while serving the same purpose. Specifically, both blue and red light filters are often used to look at a map. The difference is that while blue light filters will interrupt your eye’s low-light adjustment, it will also make the dark lines against white paper on a map stand out in far starker contrast.
Diffusers can be seen as a kind of light filter, but they serve such a distinctive purpose that they deserve their own appraisal. Basically, a diffuser will take the beam of your flashlight and scatter the light so that it fills a more compact area radiantly. This has the effect of turning your flashlight into a lantern for all intents and purposes and is a great way to illuminate an entire area–like a room or tent.
Holsters and clips are used primarily to make carrying a flashlight easier when not in use. That said, there are also clips that are designed to fasten the flashlight to a helmet, hat, or headband to serve as an impromptu headlamp. Still, the majority of holsters and clips are meant to either be threaded through your belt or connect at the waistband of your pants. While these can be convenient, they can also be made irrelevant if your flashlight has either a lanyard clip attached or a loop where one could go.
The different types of flashlight modes generally fall into one of two camps: beam adjustment and situational. For the situational modes, it should be fairly obvious that they will hinge more on what is going on around you and will likely be used only very infrequently–if at all. That said, having the situational modes of a flashlight can be a literal lifesaver when the situation arises.
The beam adjustment modes of a flashlight are likely to get significantly more use–though they too are technically situation dependent. That said, the situations that will determine which beam mode you use will all involve what you are trying to light and why. The true situational flashlight modes rarely involve actually adjusting them to specialize what you are looking for and how.
The most common type of situational modes are strobe and SOS. The latter of the two, SOS, basically uses the flashlight to send an SOS message in Morse code. While this is somewhat dependent on the viewer knowing morse code, it can still be an effective signaling method for your party. Still, this mode is liable to find more use and meaning in a situation where you are not bugging out and search parties are likely still a thing. This mode can often be found on both tactical and survival flashlights.
The strobe effect generally only comes with tactical flashlights due to its intended purpose, but it can be used beyond those initial intentions. Basically, a strobe effect on a tactical flashlight is designed to distract and confuse a potential assailant. While this can be a legitimate use of the strobe effect, it is unlikely to be significantly better than a tactical beam that temporarily blinds your opponent–though it does make it more difficult for them to positively identify where the light originates from. Still, the strobe effect is better served as a defensive measure than an offensive one.
The more meaningful modes on a flashlight involve affecting the beam. Keep in mind, many flashlights might offer the ability to adjust the beam somewhat, but unless the flashlight can provide a quality beam of both types, you are better off including the additional weight of two specialized beams that accomplish their tasks exceptionally well rather than a single flashlight that is only okay with either one or both of the standard beam settings.
The two primary beam settings are the same the two primary types of flashlight beams in the first place: spot and flood. Basically, flashlights with these modes generally have a twisting action that alters the reflector-housed behind the light bulb. Depending on the arrangement of this reflector, the beam will either focus into a narrow shaft of light thrown long distances in a concentrated area or it will be diffused and spread out to cover as much area over a significantly shorter distance as possible.
Some flashlights also come with either a “low” or an energy saving mode. As the name implies, this mode will provide the least amount of light available, but it will also increase the flashlight’s total runtime–sometimes significantly. That said, this mode is arguably the least important as the overwhelming majority of situations that would call for a flashlight will need more than the dim illumination most low or energy saving modes offer.
As we can see, choosing a great flashlight involves far more than simply looking at a list of specs on the packaging and going with the bigger numbers. The type of bulb, body material, and even the battery type used can all play major roles in distinguishing one flashlight from another. On top of that, there are many flashlights which serve specialized purposes.
We recommend that you get one of each major type of flashlight: EDC, survival, and tactical. The tactical should have the most intense beam and be the best candidate for situational modes. The survival flashlight should offer the most beam adjustments and be the most durable as well as have the longest runtime. The EDC flashlight should offer a good mix of features, but it does not need additional modes and should favor light weight and small size over everything else.