Ever Needed assistance finding your way back to your campsite, or maybe you needed to find a missing tool under your car, or perhaps needed to illuminate your path when the lights go out, or maybe scarring off a possible attacker? There are a few tools as essential and hardy as a flashlight. And there are few tools that come as handy as the latest iteration of the ancient need to carry fire in one's hand.
If I learned one thing in life, is to everyday carry (EDC) a flashlight! I carry a Nitecore MH20 in my pocket every day and as the world evolved from burning branches to battery-powered light tubes, the number of handheld, pocket-able flashlights has multiplied. The average human may think that all flashlights are created equal but they would be mistaken. There's so much more to know about flashlights than one could imagine. Below, are a few of the basics that every man and women should know and should consider when purchasing a flashlight.
Keychain / EDC
These flashlights are the most common and should be an essential part of one's EDC (EveryDay Carry) kit. Typically 3" or less in length, their small size allows you to carry them in your pocket, stash them in various bags, or of course, on a key-chain. With their typically low lumins, they're only intention is for backup or in a case of emergency but not to be mistaken as a primary use. The variety often runs on button cell batteries, similar to what you would find in a watch or some cases, like the Nitecore TIP for example are a bit more high tech and come with rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and surprisingly powerful outputs.
Utility flashlights are generally what you'll find in most households. They are somewhat durable and get the job done. If for any reason, you happen to experience a power outage or had an emergency occur in your home, a utility flashlight would definitely come in handy.
Generally, tactical flashlights are between 3-7" in length, and are intended to be carried on oneself and can be used as a self defense tool. Some are small but pack a lot of lumens. It's simply a flashlight that's been created for tactical use, like the ones police or military use. Many tactical flashlights have been designed to be mounted on a weapon for low-light shooting. Compared to the average flashlight, tactical are typically small but emit much more light. They are also made of aircraft-grade aluminum for maximum durability. Even though tactical flashlights are designed primarily for military and police; the higher portability ones can be really handy for EDC and as a personal defense tool for the average civilian.
Heavy Duty or Industrial:
Heavy duty flashlights are generally heavy aluminum flashlights that you have in your garage or in your work-site typically for extended use. Because they're heavy duty, many citizens will carry them as a personal defense weapon as well. They usually give out a lot of power but retain their handy size as most are between 5-14" long. Furthermore, they are still handheld but too big for pockets.
Typically, these are hand-cranked or solar powered and they don't rely on batteries; they're sometimes included with emergency kits. While they typically lack the output and sophistication of the others, they can operate in situations the others can't. And can always be counted on to light up when you need them most.
What type of battery will your flashlight run on? Most will run on either AA or AAA batteries, but your'll also notice that some may run on C, D, or 9-volt batteries. Also common, are lithium batteries, which are perfect for cold operating conditions, higher output levels, long-term storage and rechargeablility.
Generally, many flashlight that have multi level brightness settings, have longer run times. No matter which light you choose, you'll want plenty of battery life on hand. It's a good idea to keep a few batteries close by where you store each flashlight in your home or in your EDC kit. Another important factor is assuring the ease of changing the batteries out. The easier you can access the battery(s), the more use you'll get out of the flashlight. So make sure you stock up on some extra batteries.
Typically, there are two different types of materials that are used for flashlights, Aluminum and plastic. Aluminum is known to have a greater durability but they're usually a bit heavier than plastic models. Few may even have stainless steel in the head for greater impact resistance. This is simply user preference, but unless it's a high-grade plastic material, aluminum will be the smarter way to go.
LED's have become the ruler of the flashlight market. With the bulb lasting up too 100,000 hours, it makes the flashlight incredibly durable, it uses 20-25% of the energy that an incandescent bulb uses and it generally provides higher light output levels. Incandescent bulbs generally have softer light, in which some people may prefer and also are inexpensive. With that said, they are a bit more fragile, and have the reputation of breaking easily if they slip out of your hand. They also have a much shorter shelf life, not just because of the bulb, but because they eat up battery much quicker as well.
Reflectors and Lenses
The reflector is parabolic in shape and organizes the light from the bulb into a focal point. Narrow and deep reflectors will have a concentrated beam over a long distance, also known as a "throw beam". Wide and shallow reflectors (similar to a floodlight) will give a wider, less concentrated beam also known as a "flood beam".
Lenses are usually flat, and made of glass or plastic. Plastic will get scratched and tends to get discolored over time similar to cars headlights. Also, the heat emitted from the bulb can melt or disfigure the plastic lens. As far as scratches and impact resistance, it just depends on the build quality of the plastic or glass. Both materials can last for many years if they're high quality materials. Few lights will have adjustable lenses that allows you to switch between a wide flood beam and a throw beam. They can serve dual roles.
Weather it's a push button, a slider, or a rotating bezel that turns the light on or off, it's definitely an important decisions to consider before purchasing your EDC flashlight. Sadly, it's over looked almost every-time. Think how will you be using your flashlight? If you decide on a rotating bezel, it will most likely require two hands to power on & off. A push button may be easier to handle with just one, in any given case you might have your second hand occupied. There are few lights that perhaps have a push-button with instant-beam. It turns on the light by depressing the button, and instant off when releasing the pressure off the button. This could come in handy when complete silence is paramount or when you just need a quick flash of light. This feature permits easy emergency signaling giving that you don't have to fully push the power button while giving the S.O.S. Tactical flashlights often have a push button on the tail-end, making them easy to hold similar to a weapon and operate with just a thumb.
A unit of measure of the light's total output. It can be anywhere from one lumen similar to a key-chain light or multiple thousands like a search light. A flood light could have 1,000 lumens, but the light would spread widely over any given area which would make it less intense. A throw beam could possibly have 1,000 lumens but have a narrow focus into a 1 foot area. Therefore, the throw beam would have a much greater candela reading. Keep in mind that the higher the lumens, the shorter the battery life in most cases. The first thing people generally consider when buying flashlights is the lumens. It's sort of the deciding factor. Once you've determined the amount of light you'll need, then you can proceed into the specification of distance and intensity.
It's tempting to want 4000-lumen flashlight. If you are going to have the tool, why not have the best and most powerful tool? The reality is that majority of people won't need more than 1000 lumens. With tactical and heavy-duty lights going above and beyond, it is said that 80 lumens will temporarily blind an assailant. If you are unsure of what you need, variable brightness lights works great. Possibly one with multi levels of brightness. Let's look at a few cases that you can determine what's best for you:
1-20 Lumens: finding keyholes, close-range use, walking and reading in the dark.
10-25 Lumens: typically for household use and when the lights go out.
35-60 Lumens: generally for outdoor uses, car repairs, hiking / camping
100+ Lumens: tactical lights, security purposes, work duties (police, firemen, construction).
1000+ Lumens: used for search and rescue, caving, heavy-duty outdoor use, or performing work related inspections.
A smooth, plastic flashlight is at higher risk of slipping out of your hands when working in wet conditions, or if your hands happen to be sweaty. Confirm you can firmly grip the flashlight even in a common occurrence when you're nervous or find yourself in a stressful situation.
Water Resistance (IP ratings)
Many lights will be rated for water and impact resistance. Water resistance is rated using the IP (intrusion prevention) rating systems. This would be useful if you use your flashlight outdoors, camping or if you live in a rainy city. The following are the three rating that are used for flashlights:
IPX4- Splash resistant from all angles, after the impact test (see below) has been applied.
IPX7- Temporary immersion of up to 30 minutes at a depth of 1 meter.
IPX8- Submersion up to 4 hours at the specified depth.
Impact Resistance (meters)
This is tested by dropping the light onto a concrete surface at the rated distance with all bulbs, lenses, batteries, etc. The light will still function after being dropped from this height. As you would with any electronics device, always treat it nicely. The test is performed primarily just to ensure it will remain functional after an accidental drop.
Keep in mind, this is a voluntary standardization, not all manufacturers abide by them. If your in the market for a flashlight, you'll recognize the terms used and they should be the same.
For the average Joe-the guy who's not going to turn into a flash-aholic there are a few things to consider:
Keychain flashlights can be very handy and you should consider making one your EDC. You'll never know when one will be needed and you don't want to find yourself stuck without one. A huge percentage of people will use their smartphone's light for emergency situations when their in a pinch. That's alright but just remember that if you ever need to make an emergency phone call in a dark place or keep the light pointed on an attacker, your putting yourself in a situation and now you have a choice to make. Also, the flashlight on a smartphone takes a few seconds to activate and it will drain the battery really quick. A light on a key-chain can be activated in mil-seconds and can be much more effective, reliable, and extremely durable.
Try considering having one or two tactical flashlights handy. Use one as a personal defense tool, and the other can be a bedroom nightstand, in the car, or possibly where you store your weapon in a safe place at home.
For home use, a few heavy-duty aluminum flashlights or floodlights should be just fine. It's a great idea to have one always handy in a central meeting place in your home, for example the kitchen just in case of any given emergency.
All households should also have an emergency hand crank flashlight. Having a solar power just isn't as practical or reliable for all giving emergency's. Many models available today come with built-in radio, clocks, and even a USB-charger.
Everyone will have their own opinion regarding flashlights, but take a moment to consider all your options. You shouldn't just relay on a smartphone when a light is needed. Which is what I've noticed the common Joe's do this days. Every man and woman should carry a torch in hand, and with the current advancement in flashlight technology, there should be no reason to be without one; and now we've provided the necessary information to make an informed decision for you and your family's convenience and safety.