Many consumers are inundated with options when trying to choose the best lightweight flashlight for hiking into unknown territories. Having the right light on you when needed can mean the difference between life and death in extreme situations, and much more comfort in many other situations.
A tactical flashlight may not be something you’ll use every single day, but they’re pretty handy when you require a good strong beam. The right flashlight can illuminate the trail with ease, or spot that critter crossing the path. It can help you change a blown-out tire on your bicycle, or it can blind someone who’s trying to mess with you, giving you enough time to run to safety.
Not all flashlights are created equal, though. There are a few criteria you’ll want to look at when choosing the best hiking flashlight; the most essential ones are the shape and overall build, the kind of battery it uses, and the brightness.
What it should look like
If you want a flashlight that you can use for pretty much anything, stick with the basics. Get something with a lightweight but sturdy exterior (aluminum or tactical-grade rubber are good choices), a shatter-proof lens, and a textured or ergonomic grip. In addition to the shape, consider the weight as well – you wouldn’t want to bring a heavy flashlight when you’re already hiking with a full backpack, for instance.
The best type of battery in a flashlight
The typical flashlight is powered by standard alkaline batteries; you could also buy a flashlight with rechargeable batteries or those that require a 18650 IMR battery. Usually you’d need to plug the flashlight into an outlet to recharge, but some of them use solar power instead. You could even check out faraday flashlights, which get their charge as they’re shaken back and forth.
The type of battery that’s best for you depends on how you’ll be using the flashlight. If you live in New Mexico and you want a flashlight to take on camping trips, a solar-powered option could be the perfect fit. For someone who already has a backup power source, or who probably won’t need their flashlight for hours at a time, a rechargeable flashlight could be perfect.
The strengths of each of these flashlights should be pretty obvious; here are the main weaknesses of each type of battery.
Alkaline batteries – They can run out without warning, and if you don’t have replacements, you’ll have to wait to use the flashlight until you get more. The solution is pretty simple though: just make a habit of keeping extras around.
Rechargeable (via electrical outlet) – If you ever have to use this flashlight during a power outage, you might be left to guess if the battery will last until the power is restored. You’d also be taking a bit of a risk if you were camping or hiking with one of these flashlights, unless you knew that the campsite would have electricity.
Rechargeable (via solar power) – In some places you can depend on consistent sunlight, but in most places you can’t, especially during winter months. If the flashlight runs out of battery while you’re experiencing a storm, for instance, you might have to wait for hours, or even days before you can recharge the flashlight.
Linear induction (faraday flashlights) – You’ll have to pause every so often to shake up the flashlight and generate more power. For most faraday flashlights this will be every five minutes, but some of them last up to 20 minutes or more. If you need light for several hours, this can end up being a real pain.
In most cases, people choose a flashlight with alkaline batteries. Except for faraday flashlights, every flashlight will need power from an external source eventually, and a few spare batteries are easier to depend on than the sun shining when you need it, or having access to electricity.
The ideal brightness
Unless you’re going to use your flashlight to signal Batman, choose one with a brightness that’s under 1,000 lumens – about 300 lumens is a good starting point. Also, remember that the brighter the flashlight, the faster the battery will run out. When it comes to a flashlight’s lumen count, bigger isn’t always better. The 300-500 lumen range is already pretty bright, and you won’t feel like you’re missing out if you stay on the lower end of the ideal range.
Once you know you’ve gotten the basics right, look into some of the handy extra features that flashlights can have. There are flashlights with emergency whistles, bottle openers, and all kinds of light settings from SOS signals to strobe lights. Some flashlights are made for more extreme conditions, and come with tools that can break glass or ice with enough force. A lot of tactical flashlights are made to be shock-proof, scratch-proof, or water-resistant; if you plan on taking your flashlight anywhere, these could be great features to have.
A flashlight that touches all the bases
The E300 EDC Tactical Flashlight is a 300-lumen flashlight that runs on alkaline batteries, the most popular choice for flashlights. It’s dependable, with a lens and aluminum housing that are built to be shock-proof and water-resistant. You can use the high, low, or strobe modes, as well as the zoom lens which makes this flashlight suitable for all kinds of situations. It even offers a textured grip for easy use under any conditions.
There are some flashlights out there with literal bells and whistles, but sometimes it’s good to stick to the basics. In any case, once you get the right tactical flashlight, you’ll never want to get caught without one.