Flashlight Buying Guide

We know that there are a huge amount of choices out there when you are looking to buy a new flashlight and that some of the different features and jargon used can be confusing.  We have put together some handy tips on what to look for in a good torch but also a rundown on the advantages to be had with some of these features.

Purpose

First of all, you will have to identify the purpose of the torch you intend to buy.  Different uses call for different features to meet the needs of the user. 

  • If you are only going to be using the torch around the house, for walking the dog at night or close-up work, a lower lumen headlamp or more compact pocket-sized model may be a good option.
  • For security or law enforcement a higher lumen model with flood type beam (to light up a wide area) with tactical features such a forward-clicky switch and strobe may be best.
  • Hunters will be looking for a tighter beam with good distance, possibly with coloured beam options and a tape switch but also a fairly lightweight body so that it doesn’t throw off the balance when mounted on a rifle.

Size/Weight

The overall size of your flashlight is major consideration.  If you only need something that is used occasionally whilst camping or everyday use at work, a headlamp or more compact model that fits in your pocket may be enough.  As mentioned earlier, you don’t want to go too heavy or over-sized when mounting on a rifle either (even though the temptation is to go for more power) as this may affect your shot.  Beware of headlamps with external battery packs also, as these can be cumbersome and uncomfortable because of the extra weight.

Beam

The two types of beam you generally find in torches are spot and flood. 

  • Spot beams are much tighter and will push the light out much further distances. You will usually find flashlights with this type of beam to have a smaller LED and a large, smooth reflector.
  • Flood beams are good for lighting up wider areas more evenly but do not obtain the longer distances that spot beams do. Floodier lights will have a dimpled “orange-peel” reflector and bigger LED.
  • Good quality parabolic reflectors will produce a hybrid beam with a bright hotspot in the centre and a dimmer halo (referred to as spill) around this hotspot. This gives the combination of the distance in the hotspot of the beam and the flood of the spill outside.

Batteries

As handy as alkaline batteries seem, they are an incredibly expensive and environmentally harmful option if you are going to be using your flashlight on a regular basis.  These are usually used to power cheaper, low-end torches as they do not perform that well in high-drain applications.  Most Cree LEDs require at least 3.2 volts to work and you will find it will take a minimum of 3 alkaline AA/AAA cells to power a reasonable flashlight.  Alkalines also hate winter and discharge very quickly in cold temperatures.  Of the rechargeable options, the lithium-ion battery is king.  Li-ion hold charge remarkably well when not in use (still having 70%+ charge after 6 months), usually last up to 500 charging cycles, work better in colder temperatures than alkaline, have much higher output (3.7v) and have greater capacity for size (leading to more compact flashlights with brighter beams).

Regulation

You probably know from past experiences that flashlights traditionally get dimmer as the batteries run down.  Good quality, modern LED flashlights come equipped with circuitry that delivers a constant current to the chip meaning that you get a beam with fixed brightness through the life of the battery.  Some of these “regulated” torches also have the ability to dim the beam manually to any brightness level you require, releasing you from the restriction of preset modes.

Lens

The lens is often forgotten about when choosing a new torch but it can greatly affect the performance if you aren’t careful.  Make sure you choose a model with a high quality tempered or sapphire glass lens as this will be stronger and more scratch resistant to regular glass lenses.  Also, look for a lens with an anti-reflective coating as this will allow the maximum light transference through the lens.  It is a good idea to steer clear of plastic lenses all together as they scratch very easily and this results in imperfections in the beam called artefacts. 

Some manufacturers have models that feature an aspherical or TIR lens.  These will allow the user to adjust the focus of the beam from flood to spot.  A good aspherical model will also have a flat lens to protect from dust and scratches.  If choosing to go with this design, keep in mind that there are high quality resin models available that will be much lighter than those with glass asphericals.

Waterproofing

The waterproof ratings you see on flashlights follow the international ingress protection (IP) code (for more info - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IP_Code).  Most of the models you will find available will be rated as one of the below –

  • IPX4 – this is essentially only rain/weather proof. This will be fine for general purpose use.  If you rely on your flashlight in life or death situations or in remote, back country areas then you may want to go for a model with better protection.  Note that a large percentage of focusing torches will only be IPX4 rated (even expensive LED Lensers).
  • IPX7 – If you require a higher degree of protection, these models are rated as being submersible to a depth of 1 metre (for a minimum 30 minute duration). This will give you better peace of mind if there is any likelihood of dropping your flashlight in the water.
  • IPX8 – This means your flashlight will withstand continuous submersion in depths greater than 1 metre.  

Body

The construction of the body and barrel of the flashlight is another important consideration.  A cheaply made rolled steel barrel is not going to have the strength to weight ratio, durability and structural integrity of a barrel that has been machined out of a solid piece of aerospace grade aluminium alloy.  A high quality anodising will prevent the finish from scratching easily.  If you are primarily using your torch for hunting, remember that most torches that use a single 18650 Li-ion battery or CR123A batteries will have a 25mm diameter barrel and will be easier to mount on a rifle.

Bezel

The bezel is the protective ring around the head of the torch that is designed to prevent damage to the lens.  Many bezels are crenellated or scalloped along the edge. This allows light to be seen if the torch is placed head down on a flat surface, reducing the chance of you leaving it switched on.  It can also double as a glass breaker or strike weapon in some cases.

Tail

The tail cap of a flashlight is often not a major consideration when purchasing a torch but there are a few things that can make a difference.  If the switch is recessed inside the tail cap, it will allow the torch to stand on its end (i.e. tail stand) and protect the switch from accidentally being turned on and wasting your batteries.  Some flashlights will have a gap in the tail cap’s bezel to make it easier to press the switch with your thumb (especially when wearing gloves).