I believe that everyone should carry a flashlight. If not on your person, you can carry one in your tool pouch, briefcase, pocket book, or stash it in an office desk or even in your car. LED flashlights are so compact and discrete these days that the they’re too bulky to carry excuse just isn’t valid anymore.
But they’re so expensive! No, they’re not. Here are our top picks for penlights, mini-penlights and keychain-sized micro-lights. You can easily find reliable and bright LED flashlights suitable for everyday and even casual professional use for under $20.
Fenix E01 Compact Flashlight
Although twice the price of a Maglite Solitaire, the Fenix E01 is compact, reasonably bright, and is available in a number of stylish colors. Output for the 1xAAA keychain-sized light is at 10 lumens with a total runtime of about 21 hours. The E01 is waterproof as well, to IPX8 (what’s that?) standards.
Check prices or purchase via Amazon (also available in black) Avg. price is $13-16
Streamlight MicroStream Mini-Penlight
Even before Streamlight upgraded their MicroStream flashlight with a new brighter LED module, the tiny 1xAAA flashlight was one of our favorite pocket-friendly mini penlights. The new version outputs 28 lumens and has a runtime of about 2.25 hours. Water resistant to IPX4 standards, the MicroStream can modestly handle the elements.
Check prices or purchase via Amazon Avg. price is $17
Fenix E05 R2 Compact Flashlight
Brighter than the E01 and a little pricier than the MicroStream, the 1XAAA Fenix E05 R2 outputs 27 lumens and has a runtime of about 2 hours 50 minutes. Like the E01, the E05 is waterproof to IPX8 standards.
Check price of purchase via Amazon Avg. price is $20
Streamlight Stylus Pro Penlight
We’ve mentioned the Streamlight Stylus Pro a number of times, and for good reason – they’re fantastic penlights. I carry one clipped to my pocket or inside my bag most days, and more than once it has saved the day.
As with the MicroStream, Streamlight recently upgraded the 2xAAA Stylus Pro with a new, brighter LED module. The aluminum-bodied flashlights are available with several color options, and are rated to IPX4 standards. LED output is rated at 48 lumens, and runtime is about 6.25 hours.
Check price or purchase via Amazon (Also available in black) Avg. price is $20
Inova & Photon Keychain Micro-Lights
Okay, so maybe a penlight, even a miniature one, is too large for you to carry. Smaller than a modern car’s key fob, these Inova and Photon keychain LED micro-lights are about as discrete and compact as they come. If the $5-10 pricing is a bit much for your budget, 10-packs of non-branded lookalikes are about $5 direct from China if you shop around.
Inova Micro-Light, Photo Micro-Light Avg. price $8
If you know of any other great quality and inexpensive LED flashlights, penlights, or mini-lights that you would like to recommend, let us know via a comment!
I do not have much experience with the other lights, but the Streamlight Stylus Pro Penlight is one of the BEST lights I have ever had.
I think that I own 6 of them. I use it at work all day long, I carry one on me at all times. There is one in each of my cars, and I have a few back ups.
Its almost indestructible.
I have and have had TONS of small lights, and its by far the BEST
I’d highly recommend the ITP Light A3 EOS Version 3: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B003BM5GQ2
It’s $24 after shipping (make sure you buy version 2 or 3). It’s a single AAA LED. It boasts three modes: 80 lumens/55minutes, 18 lumens/4 hours, 1.5 lumens/50 hours. You switch modes by turning it on and off. It starts at 18 lumens, then next time its turned on its 1.5 lumens, then next time 80 lumens…repeat sequence.
I’ve owned it for half a year and once you get used to the screwy mode switching, it is awesome. It really does suck the batteries down when it’s on max power though, it’s like having an an old incandescent flashlight again. The beam is slightly blueish, but I can cook with it. I used to have a dual mode (LED/incandescent) flashlight especially for camping so I could actually see when food was browned, but now all I carry is the ITP.
I also like the clip, it is reversible so you can clip it to a pocket or flip it around and clip it to a brim of a hat. The only negative is the lanyard. I just threw it away.
BTW: http://flashlight-wiki.com/Main_Page is a good source of info on flashlights.
The ITP A3 was on the short list, but without personal experience with it, I was not sure if I could recommend it just yet. But I do look forward to trying it out at one point.
I picked up the ITP A3 (“upgraded” version) about two months ago. I love it! I’m amazed at how much light a single AAA can produce. It’s also small enough that I hardly notice it on my keychain.
@Benjamin, That looks like a pretty good light. I will check around and try to find one at a store.
I like the lights that are about a pen size. I am a VW mechanic, and I keep them in my shirt pocket.
I actually have some of the small stream lights too. Its just as great as the other one. Keep the good reviews coming!
The Streamlight MicroStream Mini-Penlight is superb.
In my case I carry it daily to peer into tightly packed equipment racks. Between carrying my cell phone, 2way radio, keys, pens, etc. I really need to keep the light small.
I probably have tried 4 other lights before I found this to be a good match for my needs.
MAG 2AA LED…awesome but to big and requires two hands to operate.
ARC AA and AA LED…great build quality but again the two handed twist operation. AA light was a bit too large for my tastes.
Inova 1AA..nice but not quite bright enough and a little to large.
MAG XL100 3AAA…very nice light, great features, too large for.
The micro stream, being a single AAA light it’s the perfect size to slip into your pocket.
The light output is a perfect fit for this task. The light is well made, the clip is sturdy the clicker/momentary on-off switch is great and battery life is fantastic!
If MAGLITE made a single AAA LED with similar features I would go for it but for now the Streamlight micro stream is best pocket sized flashlight I’ve used.
The Photon/Photon II is an excellent little light and with winter holidays coming up they’re great a stocking stuffer sort of smaller gift for loved ones. I highly suggest these as I’ve carried one in my pocket for the last 10 years. It’s always worked and the casing is pretty resistant to basic damage from keys and accidentally being stepped on after dropping my car keys (I believe that the Photon II is made of fibreglass reinforced nylon and the Photon out of PVC). They come in many colours as well as in infrared and UV varieties—in case you have to illuminate something while wearing night vision/using a night mode video camera or to help verify hand stamps or IDs. Plus, some companies will just give these away with their company logo as a sticker on the back as a bonus for ordering or at some conferences/conventions.
The Inova is super bright (bigger than the Photon/Photon II, but a tangibly brighter as well) and offers various brightness modes as it actually has a simple microprocessor brightness regulator in it (like the ones in bigger lights). They also offer a wide variety of colours. However, there are two caveats to its design. The microprocessor switch defaults to a click to turn on mode, but can be changed to default to a momentary on mode. Though somehow it always seems to end up back on the other mode and turned on in my pocket. The second caveat is that the casing is damage resistant, but isn’t particularly tough. The casing near the clip will eventually break after a couple of years (or less if you’re rougher than I was) and the rubber coating over the switch will begin to shred around the same time. I owned and carried one of these for about 4 years until it snapped off of the clip. and was subsequently lost somewhere.
I have to add my 2 cents here and state that, unless you need a tiny keychain light, AAA power flashlights are a crime against nature. AAA cells cost the same as AA cells, but have about 1/3 the capacity. I refuse to buy general purpose flashlights (or anything else) that use AAAs.
I have standardized my entire battery powered arsenal on AAs, and use Eneloop low-self-discharge NiMH cells. I have not had to buy an alkaline cell in 2 years.
2AA flashlights are generally much bigger than 2AAA models – just look at the Fenix LD20 or Maglite 2AA vs the Streamlight Stylus Pro.
For casual use, I’m okay with AAAs and they last a while on a single set of alkaline batteries or single NiMH charge. But you’re right – for heavier use, AA models often provide greater brightness and much greater runtime.
AAAA flashlights… now those I have a big problem with.
Since you assert your point so strongly, I have to point out that it is flawed. You talk about AAA’s being the same cost as AA batteries but having only a third the charge, which is valid, but then you say you have switched to NiMH cells, which pretty much nullifies your argument about cost, since you buy the cells once and charge them for (practically) free.
If you want to argue about capacity alone, anybody would be a fool not to use a car battery to power their flashlight. 😛 I like AAA flashlights because an AAA is the smallest cell you can buy everywhere. You can get flashlights that use smaller button or N cells, but good luck finding replacements in a pinch. My ITP flashlight lives in the watch pocket of my jeans so it’s always right where it’s supposed to be, not mixed in with keys and change and whatever else happens to be in my pocket. It’s light enough so that I don’t notice it when I have it on the brim of my hat when I’m walking my dog at night. I don’t think an AA cell based flashlight would fit in my watch pocket, but I’ll concede one might be light enough to be comfortable on my hat.
Now, I did a little experimenting:
AAA battery = 10g
AA battery = 24g
AAA NiMh = 11g
AA NiMH = 27g
my ITP flashlight with AAA = 22g
(I included NiMH batteries because they always seem to feel so much more dense than Alkaline cells and I was curious)
My AAA ITP flash light with battery weighs less than a single AA, even with a rechargeable.
Mind you I can see the advantage of standardizing on one size cell, it really isn’t much more of a bother to add AAA. For instance I use eneloop AAA’s in all my remotes, I don’t have a single remote that uses AA batteries.
That said in my experience, even though the eneloops don’t self discharge as badly as Alkaline cells, they still discharge faster than alkaline cells, and I really don’t trust them in critical devices flashlights.
What really would be cool is if they could standardize on a few different sizes of Li-ion cells. Imaging increasing the charge density of an AA by more than 25% in a similar volume and halving the cost of a NiMH.
Alkalines may take longer to discharge than nimhs but you can bet they will eventually leak into your nice light.
Just recently purchased a streamlight stylus pro based on recommendations here on this site. Its a great light especially for the cost.
Interesting read – but this article could use an update!
E.g. I’d recommend an Olight I3E. $10 on Amazon (in the black color), about the size of the smallest light on this list and pumping out 90 lumens (e.g. almost twice as much as the highest listed here).
2 best lights under $20 are the convoy s2+ and the BLF A6. Both are 18650.