Shining a Light on Picking a Flashlight
Oh, the flashlight. Nothing else screams camping trip, camp fires and summer like your trusty flashlight getting put into your gear bag. There is a good chance that you have been confused by terms like 25,000 lumens or even 1 million candle power. If you are like us here at No Trace Outdoor Gear, you probably asked yourself what the heck is a lumen and how can anybody know how bright 1 million candles are? Then it gets even more complicated as you continue to research a laundry list of things such as light modes, Color Rendering Index, water resistance, or rechargeable batteries. To help you find the perfect flashlight, our expert team at No Trace Outdoor Gear has done the research and will peel back the layers and help you avoid the pitfalls of buying the wrong flashlight.
If you check out our site, the first thing you will probably notice is that flashlights can range from $12 to over $1000. For most people, the idea of spending $1000 on a flashlight is very foreign. Trust us, we were shocked too. But like most products there is a high-end category that has specialized functions and provides the user a unique experience that is worth the price.
Let’s be honest. Most of us will never buy a $1300 flashlight, but if you are not like most of us, we have what you are looking for here. For everybody else, we need to take a look at the factors that will make the biggest impact on your flashlight in both functionality and cost.
Flashlight Output & Performance
Most flashlights today will have a rating based on the ANSI/FL1 Standard which was developed in 2009 as a way to help consumers understand flashlight output and performance. These guidelines will give you information about each flashlight and are based on the following criteria for ranking.
- Light Output – Measured in Lumens, which we found out is a measurement of energy.
- Beam Distance – Sometimes referred to as Meter and it is measured as the distance from the light that is the same brightness as a full moon.
- Beam Intensity – Sometimes referred to as Candela and it is intensity of the light from the center of the beam.
- Run Time – Rounded to the nearest 15 minutes, run time is the amount of time the flashlight can run before its light output or lumens drop below 10% of its capacity.
- Impact Resistance – Measured in meters and it is the distance the light can fall onto a concrete surface and keep its functionality.
- Water Resistance – Sometimes referred to as IPX Rating and it is given one of three ratings.
- IPX4 – Means it is water resistance, but not submersible.
- IPX7 – The flashlight can be submerged for at least 30 minutes at a depth of about 3 feet.
- IPX8 – These flashlights are fully submersible to a specific depth for at least 4 hours. These lights are typically reserved for diving.
The purpose of the ANSI FL1 Standard is to help consumers break through the plethora of marketing terms that are meant to distract and confuse the buyer, and make a uniform comparison between different lights. Today most manufacturers that are producing solid flashlights are using the FL1 Standard.
Pro-Tips on Flashlight
Now that we understand what the different ratings measure, the No Trace Outdoor Gear team put pencil to paper to make recommendations on what really matters for the average buyer.
Light Output – How Much You Actually Need
As we said above, you can find all kinds of outrageous claims about the lumens on their flashlight. Many of these numbers are unrealistic and simple marketing ploys to get you to buy an overpriced flashlight. An adequate number of lumens is 800 to 1200 at the flashlights highest output. The brightest mode of a flashlight is rarely used by most consumers, and unless you are a professional search and rescue team, anything more is a waste of your hard-earned dollar.
Water & Impact Resistance
Impact Resistance is a big deal for our team at No Trace Outdoor Gear. Nobody wants to drop any amount of money on a light that breaks when dropped on the roadside or in the garage. After looking around at different impact ratings, anything above 1.5-2 meters seemed unnecessary to our team. How often are you going to use a flashlight or let alone drop it from any higher than six feet? Because of that we found that 1.5-2 meters was a sufficient rating. This rating is also inexact. The lights are dropped several times from each height before being moved to a greater height during testing. A light rated for 1.5 meters could survive a higher fall.
Water Resistance was also an intriguing rating for our team. It sounds really cool to have a flashlight that is fully submersible, but then we realized that we won’t likely be diving with a flashlight anytime soon. It is important at this point to ask yourself what you are going to do with your light? If you do a lot of kayaking, canoeing or boating, a rating of IPX7 or higher would be recommended in case your expensive light fell overboard. If you are like us and do a lot of camping and hiking, a rating of IPX4 provides enough water resistance for rain, mud puddles, spills etc.
Lastly, our team looked at the build of each flashlight we tested. Our team preferred lights with more mechanical heavy switches and buttons. These torches provided the best durability, simplicity and style that we liked in a flashlight.
Pro-Tip: Electronic switches slowly bleed your battery even if the light is not in use. This leads to lower runtime.
Before we make our selections, we need to first talk bulbs. It is 2021, and nobody wants to be carrying around batteries or trying to charge their flashlight a million times. Because of that, you have to get an LED flashlight. You can still find incandescent and krypton bulbs on the market, but let’s be real and get the LED. Not only is it better for our planet, but it also is more durable, energy efficient and impact resistant than other products.
There are essentially three types of batteries that our experts at No Trace Outdoor Gear would recommend when selecting your flashlight.
Rechargeable Batteries: These bad boys are top of the line. Get yourself a flashlight with a built-in lithium-ion battery that can be recharged over and over again. Quality rechargeable batteries can be recharged around 500 times and at the end of the day are friendly to mother nature because they can be recycled and reduce waste compared to disposable batteries. These types of flashlights are more expensive upfront, but the ongoing maintenance cost makes up for it.
Our top choice for all flashlights, because of its versatility. This thing comes with disposable for when you just can't charge and a rechargeable lithium-ion. We present the StreamLight Protac HL-X 1000 Lumen Flashlight.
Renewable Batteries: Batteries with built in hand cranks or solar panels are cool, and essential for an emergency/survival kit, but realistically you want the reliability of a rechargeable battery when you’re just chilling at your campsite or in your tent.
For a great flashlight for your emergency kit check out this stud.
Disposable Batteries: This is the cheapest and most common flashlights on the market. If you are like our team, none of us can ever remember to get AA batteries at the store before we leave and so we would prefer to go with the rechargeable flashlight. Also, the idea of constantly replacing batteries does not vibe with our team, but these are highly reliable and come at a low cost.
Our choice flashlight with disposable batteries is the StreamLight Dualie 3AA. Check out how sweet this thing is in this video.
Pro-tip: Be sure to only use the type of batteries the manufacturer lists on your torch. The wrong batteries can ruin your light, become hot and start fires.
The No Trace Outdoor Gear team nerds out when it comes to light modes on our flashlights. Single setting flashlights are great for a small pocket flashlight or for kids. They are easy to use, reliable and often small. As we stated, we have a few nerds that enjoy light modes and one of our favorites is the SOS feature which we have actually used while fixing the adventure wagon on the side of the road. The last one that gets us excited is the red light setting that preserves your night vision for stargazing. This came in handy in Bryce Canyon during our adventure when we got to see some beautiful stars.
*We will have a blog soon on how and when to find the best stargazing sites, but for now check out our friends over at American Traveler Press. They produce some amazing Easy Field Guides for star gazing, identifying wildlife and plant life and more.
Pro-tip: We love low-light modes on a flashlight. A light that provides between 100-200 lumens is perfect for a ton of work around the campsite and in the tent or even walking a trail. Using low-light settings will increase your run time by a ton of hours.
GEAR UP & GET OUT
Still confused about flashlights? Check out other resources from top spots like the team over at Gear Junkie for their reviews on all the best gear, or hit up our team using the chat function on our webpage or shoot us an email to email@example.com.
Be sure to check out our great selection of flashlights, headlamps, area lights and batteries and chargers at NoTraceOutdoorGear.com and use the promo code “TORCH” by April 20, 2021 to receive 10% off your order!
Gear Up & Get Out!