The Flashlight Revolution — A Dummy's Guide

Still using your trusty old MagLite? What if I was to tell you that I could put a flashlight on your keychain that's smaller, brighter, lasts longer, costs less and you'd never have to change the bulb? The flashlight world has changed, here's how you benefit.

You're all probably familiar with LED flashlights by now. Home Depot sells them, you'll find them in cheesy little button-cell keychain lights, etc. The thing is, most of those are just absolute junk.

Here's a quick test to tell if a LED flashlight is a piece of crap: Does it have multiple "bulbs?" If yes, it's garbage. No exceptions, this rule is absolute. Don't waste your money. If it's a single LED housed in nice reflector? You may be onto something.

This is the part no one tells you about: the established names in the business aren't selling you the good stuff. Maglite? Complete and utter crap. Rayovac? Garbage. Even the supposedly "heavy duty" work lights sold at Home Depot (sorry to pick on them, but I shop there) from brands like Dewalt and Ryobi totally scew the price-to-lumen/battery life ratio that this new generation of lights is capable of. You'll need to shop online for the good stuff.

The Flashlight Revolution — A Dummy's Guide

On my keychain, I carry a Maratac AAA. Here it is on Wiley's collar for a gratuitous puppy shot. Awwww, etc. In "high" mode, it puts out 138 lumens and can do so for 70 minutes continuously on a single AAA battery. Lumens are sorta the horsepower of flashlights, it's how bright they are. I guess that makes the standard, three D-Cell Maglite the wheezing old malaise-era landyacht of flashlights; while it's huge bulk is great for beating up civilians, it only manages to put out 77 lumens. In 2013, that's a joke.

If you want a keychain light, buy that one. You don't need to read the rest of the article. The Maratac AAA is incredibly rugged, completely waterproof, fits on your keychain and is pretty much all the light most people will ever need, even for camping or other outdoors stuff. Order yours from Huckberry, CountyComm's service and shipping just sucks.

Want a light just to take with you camping, keep around the house or in your car? I just bought one of these for $3.65 with free shipping. Again, it's brighter than that silly MagLite, in a much smaller package. It develops nothing like the claimed 300 lumens, but I'd guesstimate actual output to be around 150. That's still exceptionally bright for something that fits inside your closed fist, runs on a single AA battery and can light up stuff 200 yards away. The beam pattern isn't super clean, but who cares? It's cheap and bright. 99.9999% of you will find all the flashlight you'll ever need right there. Buy 10 of them and stick them in your car/purse/desk drawer/bug out bag/etc. The only downside is it takes three weeks to arrive.

Want something nicer? Then you'll want to check out Fenix or FourSevens. The former is a Chinese company that sells really nice lights. The latter is an American company that makes it lights in China and manages a little more impressive quality. Both will blow your mind. The brightest AA FourSevens light puts out 280 lumens and can last for up to 360 hours on just one load of two batteries. Both companies sell brighter lights and ones that last longer, but they run on less common batteries, which makes them a) a pain in the ass b) expensive to use.

On the subject of batteries, there's some fancy stuff out there. CR123A's are incredibly powerful and very compact, but cost $2.40 a piece and can be difficult to find. CR2s are incredibly small, but again expensive and specialized. There's even fancier batteries out there, even some so powerful that they'r pretty dangerous. Unless you're a committed flashaholic, don't bother. 280 lumens is more than you'll ever need and trying to find fancy batteries at some random gas station in Hicksville, USA is, well...it's just not going to happen, city boy.

Also on the subject of batteries, try and use a decent lithium battery like Energizer Advanced Lithiums. Order in bulk online and they're crazy cheap. Your light will be brighter, battery life grows hugely, they work in the cold and they have a 10-year shelf life, so that cheap Chinese torch you stashed in your Bug Out Bag will still work when The Big One hits. In a pinch, you can still use regular old NiMH batteries, they just won't perform quite as well.

Want to wear your light on your head without resorting to one of those cheesy multi-bulb headlamps that again skew the price-to-brightness/longevity ratio in the wrong direction? I stick my Maratac AAA into a Fenix Headlamp Band (takes a little duct tape on the flashlight body). Heard that Surefire makes great lights? They don't; they're crazy expensive and not as bright, as up-to-date or as well made as FourSevens. Don't bother with the crazier looking lights, they'll just end up being a pain. You want something with a nice, floody beam (for lighting up large areas) and that will actually fit in a pocket. That's about it, welcome the exciting world of being able to turn night into day.