I like Milwaukee’s RedLithium USB rechargeable LED flashlights, and have said as much on several occasions. Most recently: 5 Reasons Milwaukee RedLithium USB LED Flashlights are Awesome.
I have heard some of your comments, criticisms, and suggestions, and allowed myself to broaden my horizons.
Part of the reason I’ve been hesitant to do so is because EDC-type tool and gear explorations tends to drain my wallet deeply and quickly, but the main reason is because there’s a learning curve. Buying a rechargeable flashlight ranges the full spread from easy and effortless to requiring much research.
Olight helped to kick off my efforts with a rechargeable S1R Baton II flashlight, and I think that’s wonderful entry into things.
It’s simplistic, requiring minimal research efforts. The rechargeable Li-ion battery goes inside the flashlight, and a magnetic USB cable attaches to the tailcap. You use a USB charger you already have, and the charger light goes from red to green once the battery is charged.
But, this is new territory for me, and so I’m digging into ToolGuyd’s review sample budget and seeking to explore a couple of different brands and models, mainly ones I’ve had my eyes on for a while.
Basic flashlights take batteries you can find at the supermarket checkout counter. The next step up, higher power and better features require CR123 lithium batteries or rechargeable Ni-MH AA batteries. After that, you have the next level of flashlights that come with “don’t make me think about it” batteries and chargers.
Then, you have the mix-and-match enthusiast and demanding user lights which require some thought and consideration when matching devices with appropriate Li-ion batteries and chargers – that’s the territory I’m currently trying to navigate.
Here’s where things start to get complicated.
What battery size? RC123 and IMR 16340, or 18650? 14500? 21700? There are other sizes and standards as well, but these tend to be the most popular.
Then, each brand has differently rated cells. Do you need a 16340 Li-ion cell with 1A max discharge current, or 2.5A? High drain cells seem to have different max charging rates than others.
How are you going to charge those Li-ion battery cells?
I’ve read about some chargers smoking up as they don’t properly measure cell voltages and thus don’t know when to turn off.
I looked into a model that some of you recommended, and find that they offer a couple of chargers, some looking to be successors to prior generations. They’re available, but with backorder lead times at some suppliers, and mention of “EU” or “USA” versions at others.
And then, charging batteries isn’t just plug-and-play, you have different rates based on battery position, and for some there different rates depending on the USB charger.
With the ambitious idea to try a couple of brands and models at the same time, there are several factors to juggle, lest I be left with a confusing mess of mis-matched options that I have to remember to sort out every time I want to load out a particular flashlight.
Oh, and there’s the aspect of protected vs. unprotected cells. Flashlights with built-in protections sometimes recommend unprotected cells, as protected cells might have slightly larger dimensions. Many of the models I’ve seen do recommend protected cells though.
Some batteries now have built-in USB charging capabilities.
Some flashlights, like the Olight shown above, have built-in battery charging capabilities, either magnetic or in the form of a USB port.
This is exactly how and where the convenience of Milwaukee RedLithium USB LED flashlights and worklights shine through, of course ignoring for a moment that their illumination properties are also specially tailored towards contractors, technicians, and other pro users.
I do enjoy the thoughtfree process of being given a battery and charger with a rechargeable flashlight.
But, different brands do employ different charging methods and what if you already have a battery and charger?
Where some might see a headache in struggling through choices, others see options and the freedom to create a customized solution that works best for them.
I have known this all along, and have been highly resistant to push past the initial battery and charger selection process.
As an aside, here’s a quick story that added to that frustration:
After being majorly frustrated by several instances of Rayovac alkaline batteries leaking in tools, products, and even plastic clamshell packaging, I sought to switch over to rechargeable Ni-MH batteries almost exclusively. I resisted that too, but many of you inspired and prompted me to do so. Conveniently – or rather inconveniently – I also had to throw away some Durecall batteries that leaked well before before their expiration and even before being loaded into any device.
So, after a big investment in Eneloop and Ikea-branded rechargeable AA and AAA batteries, I tried to steer away from alkaline batteries, at least when possible.
We got some Nerf blasters for the family. Some took AA batteries, others took C-cell. Okay, so I ordered some Eneloop C-cell shells, basically size adapters that allow AA batteries to work in C-sized battery holders. Guess what – they didn’t fit, they were too long. I tried all of the different varieties of rechargeable AA batteries I had. They fit the C-cell adapters, but not into the toys’ battery trays. I tried the batteries by themselves, and they didn’t fit – they were too long.
It seems that the Eneloop and other batteries are slightly longer than alkaline AA standards. The difference is of imperceivable and negligible difference in battery trays where batteries are arranged side by side, and also in flashlights or other products which might have larger springs or have been designed to accept a wider range of cell heights.
But in the toys where there there was to be a row of 4 cells, the Ni-MH batteries more than bottomed-out the springs. So, the adapters went back. I bought Energizer C-sized batteries, and they’ve been working perfectly for a few months now. Supposedly Energizer batteries won’t leak, but although that doesn’t seem to extend to C and D batteries (as of the last time I checked), I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
All this is to say that standard sizes aren’t necessarily standard sizes.
Even in the realm of 18650 and other standard battery cells, there are variations that you need to learn and be mindful of.
But, it seems to be worth it, to learn the ins and outs, at least if you’ve got your mind set on particular flashlight models.
It’s a headache, and right now I’m not going to recommend it for most people. Then again, anyone who starts this path usually knows what they’re in for. Plus, there are many more options now, where brands hold your hand a bit, giving you Li-ion-powered flashlights bundled with a battery and charger or charging methods. This doesn’t eliminate the work involved in choosing a system or its components, but it’ll make it easy for most users who are stepping rather than leaping into the world of higher performance LED flashlights.
To be fair, sorting through power system options wouldn’t be as big a deal if it weren’t for the other aspects that need to be sorted through.
What LED emitter do you want? First, there’s brightness to consider. Then, illumination color temperature and CRI, or color accuracy. There are also different properties to different emitter types. What about optics, or the type of reflector – if any – which determines the shape of the beam? Lastly, there are user interface considerations. On top of all this there are a number of minor but still meaningful factors, such as carrying options and body materials.
I guess it’s kind of like choosing a good EDC pocket knife, where there’s a world of things to learn and deliberate about beyond department store and sporting good offerings.
And yes, I know there are plenty of turn-key LED flashlights, headlamps, and worklights out there, but where’s the fun in that?
I’m in the process of ordering a couple of flashlights to explore and review. Not that I’m in a proper position yet, but please let me know what questions you might have! Requests? Suggestions?