Let’s talk about flashlights

January 28, 2021 4 min read 1 Comment

Blog post by Matt Corlett

In a previous post, I framed EDC in terms of utility, preparedness, and fun. Flashlights happily live in all three categories. They’re useful every day, you’re going to want one (or more) in any sort of emergency situation, and they can be a whole lot of fun - remember flashlight wars as a kid?

I’m a big believer in always carrying a flashlight - and I don’t mean your cell phone! There are a lot of situations that become easier, safer, and less stressful with the simple introduction of light. And a flashlight in your pocket means you always have that option readily available. Whether it’s finding something you dropped under the table at a restaurant, seeing what’s down that alley you have to pass on the way back to the car, or rummaging in your trunk at night, a dedicated flashlight comes in handy.

I’ve carried a small flashlight since the early 1990s. For many years, that was a 2-AA MiniMag flashlight (then and now, made in the USA!) worn in a handy-dandy belt holster. Over the years, I’ve used lights by Streamlight, Pelican, MagLite, Surefire, Olight and others.

So why not just use your cellphone? That may be sufficient for your day to day needs, but let’s examine the downsides of that approach. Does your flashlight app drain your battery quickly? I’m betting yep! Can you imagine a scenario where you want both a flashlight and a phone (stuck in an elevator, talking to your kids while walking to your car, etc.)? In this case, it’s more useful to have two separate devices. Though we also celebrate all-in-one solutions, they aren’t always better.

One of the deficiencies of cell phones as flashlights is that they are awkward to hold, activate, and cannot be used hands-free. There are excellent flashlights that fit easily in a pocket. They don’t cost much, and last virtually forever. To me, there’s just no downside to carrying a flashlight all the time.

For pocket or belt carry, I like flashlights that use AAA or AA batteries (available at any store and easy to carry spares in a backpack, car, etc). Affordable, high-quality examples include the Streamlight Microstream and the Solitaire LED, Mini Maglite, or XL200 from MagLite. These can easily be held between your lips for an improvised handsfree solution. For me, this versatility - handheld or handsfree, illuminating directly in front of me or obliquely, etc. - is ideal for EDC.

Don’t discount flashlights with unusual battery types, though. CR123 lithium primary cells pack a lot of power and are highly reliable. Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries like 18650s and 14500s are amazingly capable. However, do your research on both products and procedures. There are some very low quality cells out there, and if not properly charged, stored, and used, lithium ion cells can be dangerous - as in spontaneous ignition!

Flashlight reviews often get focused on lumens and beam distance. In my experience, I mostly need a little bit of light at a fairly close distance. Most of the time, the thing I need to see is less than 20 feet away. I prefer lights that have 2-3 output levels and start at the lowest setting. That way, I can get a bit of light when I just need to look inside the closet, and a lot of light if I’m trying to see what the dog is doing at the far side of the yard. Your needs may be different and you may prefer getting maximum illumination on the first click. Thankfully, there are a lot of options so you can get what works best for you. Be sure you know how the modes work on any flashlight you’re considering.

Many lights have SOS or strobe functions. These can be wonderful or maddening, depending on how you use the light and how those functions are activated. Again, consider your application and whether these would be beneficial.

With flashlights, like most other gear, it’s easy to get caught up in the big numbers and cool features that aren’t that useful day-to-day. If you’re adding to the fun part of your EDC kit, have at it! If you’re looking to improve your preparedness, I encourage you to focus on reliability and battery availability, as well as battery shelf life, over cool performance figures. And if you want a true EDC light to help you conquer the fear and challenges of the dark, don’t get hung up on the flashlight world’s version of Ford vs. Chevy. Look for lights that have provided reliable service for years. Key considerations should include: modes (i.e., brightness levels, strobe/SOS, etc.), how those modes operation (i.e., starts low and gets brighter, starts bright and you toggle to low modes, etc.), switch design (rotary, tailcap switch, dual switches, etc.), battery type, and size. Yep, that’s a lot to think about, so don’t get caught up in the lumens and candela and throw distances! If you’re like many of us, you’ll eventually have quite a few flashlights for different situations.

Post your thoughts and questions in the comments. I look forward to the conversations!


1 Response

Christopher Corlett
Christopher Corlett

February 23, 2021

So as I consider all the EDC options and especially those featured by R66 and blogger Matt, I am thinking I need a utility belt like Batman wore. There was so much to enjoy in that corny 1960’s television show and I always wanted my version of the utility belt. Instead of shark repellent and insta-fog and who remembers what else, a compartment for everything and everything in its compartment. My ZIPPO, my Flashlight, my hanky, my Field Notes and Space Pen and even a space for my keys! Enjoying this series of articles and hope that they keep coming!

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