As I recently posted about, I am jumping into the world of rechargeable LED flashlights, beyond Milwaukee’s RedLithium USB platform. This has proven to be a very research-intensive and pricey adventure, and I don’t regret putting it off for so long.
I’m not limiting my current exploration to rechargeable battery lights, although that is the main focus at the moment.
You guys offered a lot of excellent flashlight recommendations, and many of the models I’ve been buying for review are referenced in some of your comments.
There are some flashlight brands and models that I am specifically avoiding for review, such as Emisar’s D4V2. I briefly considered the Noctigon KR1 as well, but lights like that, the KR4, and D4V2 are much too high-powered for everyday use. They are said to use unprotected Li-ion cells exclusively, and are so bright they can burn your leg or start fires. Such enthusiast lights have their place, but I consider them a bit too impractical for personal use or ToolGuyd review.
The hard part is in figuring out what types of flashlights best suit my needs.
Slim 1xAAA LED flashlights work well on keychains or when you want as small a light as possible without sacrificing practicality.
1xAA lights are a little larger, but deliver more brightness and runtime.
1xCR123 lights, also RCR123 and 16340, are compact, like the Olight S1R Baton II shown above, but bright.
2xCR123 lights are larger and brighter. Some 2xCR123 lights also fit 18650 batteries.
Then you have 18650-based flashlights, 21700 flashlights, and other Li-ion sizes such as 26650.
Do you want floodlight illumination, longer throw, or a does-everything in the middle kind of light?
Pocket clip? Headlamp? Pouch or holster carry?
On/off button or multi-modes? Separate on/off and mode selection buttons?
The options get dizzying really fast.
I don’t think I’ve ever used strobe or SOS modes, but a strobe mode can be useful to have in emergency situations.
Some lights are programmable, such as Streamlight models equipped with “Ten-Tap.” But is the programmable so complex that you’ll forget how to do it without consulting the user manual or looking for help on the internet?
Things get easier if you narrow down the criteria a bit.
Last year, a friend was looking for a new flashlight that’s bright, affordable, and without unnecessary output modes.
Based on that criteria, a couple of good ideas came to mind.
Now, for my personal use, I think I’ve been honing in on the following criteria:
- 2xCR123 compatibility (or 18650) for heavier use
- 1xCR123 (or 16340) for casual use
- 1xAA or AAA for convenience
- 2xAAA penlights I already own
I have been steering away from 2xAA lights, due to their size. 2xCR123 flashlights are thicker, but shorter, and more comfortable for pocket carry.
1xCR123, RCR123, and 16340-based LED flashlights are in a tough spot. Li-ion batteries provide greater voltage than CR123 primary cells, but you get less runtime. This a great size for pocket carry, but the lights tend to be on the small side, where 2xCR123 is much more of a “full-size” flashlight.
I have a couple of D-cell Maglites – at least one with working batteries in the garage – and a large Husky flashlight in the basement.
My older 3xAA Maglites haven’t been used in years, and I really don’t know if I’ll refresh the batteries in my Maglite once it starts to dim. I did take my Maglite under the deck with me last Fall when I had some low and muddy work to do, but nearly every one of my other flashlights are brighter and some are even more durable and resilient.
I like to think that my large D-cell flashlights will be easy to find and grab in a pinch, but I also have magnetic-backed flashlights I an stick to steel cabinets or doors. My Pelican has a lanyard loop and glows in the dark.
ToolGuyd encourages me to “try them all,” at least until the credit card bill comes in, and that certainly helps with honing in on preferences. How do you know what you prefer if you aren’t exposed to different options?
I like to think that I’m putting myself through this experience and selection process so that you don’t have to.
If I had to narrow things down and make hard decisions, it would be:
- D-cell consumer flashlight for shared household use
- AAA flashlight for keychain carry
- 1xCR123 or 1x 16340 flashlight for casual use
- 1xAA as a second choice
- 2xCR123 or 18650 flashlight for general use
It might not seem that I did much narrowing down, but I can tell you that 2xAA and 3xAAA lights lost my favor, and I don’t like flashlights with built-in rechargeable batteries.
Some AA lights can be equipped with 14500 Li-ion batteries for a boost in brightness.
Oh, and there are also 3xAAA flashlights with battery trays, for greater power or longer runtime in a stubby flashlight form factor. In a grand comparison, such lights are more cumbersome, and for the cost to power them with lithium (primary) or rechargeable NiMH batteries, you might as well upgrade to a CR123 or 18650 light.
Some 2xCR123 lights can’t work with 18650 battery cells, most AA lights won’t work with 14500 battery cells, most 18650 lights only work with button-top cells, some 18650 lights only work with unprotected batteries… things get complicated when you dive into this world of options.
Once you settle on a battery size and style, things get easier. Sorry, that was a lie. Enthusiast-level lights give you options, usually in regard to illumination color temperature (such as warm, neutral white, or cool). I tend to like neutral and cool white in that order.
Some brands even give you choices as to the LED emitter, and that requires research for the unfamiliar. Reading about the different options will either drive you deeper into LED flashlights as an interest, or push you towards buying whatever.
You might even be able to choose from different reflector styles, tailcap switches, or user modes, with such customizations often carrying a premium. In this territory, you can almost break everything down into parts and swap them to your heart’s delight.
This absolutely makes me appreciate the simplicity of Milwaukee’s RedLithium USB system even more, but you do get many more options once you step beyond their proprietary battery form factor.
But, other brands also do have their own “customized” batteries, such as to enable in-body charging. Oh, and good luck matching chargers to batteries if you don’t know what you’re doing. Some protected batteries are too tall for certain chargers, most older chargers aren’t compatible with 21700 cells, you have to be careful about charging rates for smaller 16340 cells…
There are so many options to sort through, but ultimately there’s bound to be something for everyone.
If you want something beyond what you can find at the home center, you’re going to have to do some homework. Or, ask questions, and if there’s something I can’t answer, I know there are readers who can.
Do you have any particular EDC LED flashlight preferences?