The Best Flashlights
After consulting flashlight experts and testing the 16 most popular lights inside and out, we learned that most tactical and everyday carry flashlights are pretty similar. Nearly all the lights we tested are bright enough to be seen from across a football field, durable enough to survive a nasty fall, and reliable enough to last for hours. Our top picks are the ones that were the easiest to operate and the most comfortable to hold.
How We Chose the Best Flashlight
We wanted to compare lights of different styles and sizes, so we sampled a mix of the two most common varieties — tactical and everyday carry (EDC). EDC lights are typically small and portable, while tactical flashlights boast bigger lumen and beam distance stats ideal for hunting or combat situations.
That said, flashlight brands have a lot of models. Nitecore, for example, makes 17 different series with up to 13 models each. We wanted to compare the most universally loved and recognizable lights, so we picked the 16 most popular flashlights from Amazon, hardware stores like Home Depot and Lowes, and specialty flashlight sites and forums.
Ease of Use
We could compare stats on lumens all day long, but we wanted to know what those numbers really looked like in the dark. Mostly, we noticed bright was bright. The difference between 900 lumens and 1,100 was barely detectable. The dimmer settings, however, were more distinct. The 0.2 lumen “firefly” mode of the ThruNite was undetectable in the daylight, unlike the Streamlight’s “low” mode of 35. For the most part, our contenders were versatile flashlights with modes bright enough to illuminate your campground, and dim enough to read by.
So we focused on how easy it was to cycle between those modes — a process that sometimes required a complicated combination of side buttons and half-clicks to select and then lock the desired mode. Our testers preferred lights with separate on/off and mode buttons, or lights that could remember the last mode we used.
Most of the flashlights we tested had a heat warning icon on the bezel (the riveted raised edges on the head of a flashlight). We wanted to know if any of our lights could get too hot to hold comfortably, so we left them on their brightest setting. The power of some flashlights meant that they became so hot we thought they might burn our hands, so we prioritized those that stayed cooler. Regardless, every flashlight will gradually become hotter, so stick to the dimmer settings when you’re just hanging out at the campsite.
While we focused on battery life at first, we learned it has more to do with the flashlight’s size and battery type. The Maglite 3D LED, for example, boasts a whopping 80-hour runtime. The downside? It’s huge. It takes three D batteries and felt like a baseball bat. Our top picks are much smaller, but they can still run for nearly a month straight on the lowest setting and approximately two hours on their highest.
The 4 Best Flashlights
Nitecore P12 Flashlight
Easiest to Use
The best range in brightness, from 1,000 to 1 lumens, in a comfortably compact tube
Why we chose it
Easy to Use
We liked the Nitecore’s separate, dedicated side button that cycles through modes — you won’t have to learn and remember a complicated pattern of clicks every time you want to switch. After hours swapping between various lumen intensities, strobe lights, and S.O.S. patterns on other flashlights, we loved that the Nitecore kept things simple without blasting us with the strobe as we toggled through modes. It was also one of the most comfortable flashlights we tested, with a big button on the tail switch and a textured grip that’s comfortable, not abrasive.
Whether you’re going camping, need an emergency light for your glove compartment, or want a simple tool for your hunting trip, the Nitecore P12 offers a range of brightness settings to keep you covered. You get four power modes in total: two high-power options that offer 1000 and 240 lumens, and low-power modes of 70 and 1 lumen that work best in tight spaces, whether that’s under the kitchen sink or in a tent.
The Nitecore comes with strobe lights and S.O.S patterns in the case of an emergency. The strobe function requires you to push and hold the mode button, so it’s easy to avoid if you’re just trying to dim your light, but still one click away in an emergency.
A blinking indicator light under the side button will let you know when you’re about 30 minutes from running out of light at maximum output, though you’ll still have hours of low power left. We appreciated this thoughtful inclusion, which ensures that you won’t be left in the dark.
Points to consider
Requires Special Batteries
The only drawback of the Nitecore is that It takes CR123 or 18650 lithium ion batteries. While these are easily available online or at hardware stores, they might not be available at, say, your local Walgreens. However, it’s easy enough to stock up on CR123s when you first purchase the light, especially because these batteries have a shelf life of 10-15 years.
ThruNite Archer 2A V3
Dimmer than the Nitecore and stays cool enough for prolonged use
Why we chose it
Good for Home use
If you tend use your flashlight at a close range or indoors, the ThruNite Archer 2A V3 is a more practical choice than other high-brightness flashlights. Its range is dimmer than the Nitecore, and its 0.2 lumen “firefly mode” is nearly undetectable. For general use at home — especially homes with pets or children — the dimmer light is actually a benefit.
The 500 lumen max also means the ThruNite doesn’t get as hot as other flashlights we tested. Even when we left it on for over five minutes straight, only the top felt warm — we could easily keep it on high if we had to wait out a power outage. It also operates on AA batteries, which means you can feel confident that you’ll likely have replacements available.
Points to consider
Less Comfortable Handle
The ThruNite’s skinnier shape calls for a softer grip. While the Nitecore is reminiscent of a lightsaber hilt, the ThruNite is more wand-like — it’s not thick enough to really clench it without your fingernails digging into your palm. It’s long enough that you wouldn’t drop it, but that length also made it a little harder to flip from an on switch grip to a mode switch grip.
Olight S1 Baton
A thumb-sized powerhouse with every hands-free feature you can think of
Why we chose it
The Olight S1 Baton is our favorite for when you’re “on the go.” It’s no bigger than a tube of lip balm, but it can pack a punch — its five modes range from 0.5 to 500 lumens. It’s the most versatile flashlight we tested, too: You can attach it to your car’s hood with the magnet, clip to your hat for a makeshift headlamp, or prop it up on your dresser when the power goes out. Compared to all the flashlights we tested, the Olight was the easiest to carry around.
Points to Consider
The mode toggling is a bit more complicated. In addition to the three basic modes (low, medium, and high) there are also “sub-level” modes. On each of those basic levels you double press to get a higher high, lower medium, and super low setting. If that sounds confusing, that’s because it is. The tap frequency takes some getting used to, and sometimes these double taps just initiated the strobe. That said, we’d be happy with the three basic modes alone.
Zebralight SC600 Mk II L2 18650 XM-L2
A bigger EDC with advanced sub-level modes and soft grip
Why we chose it
If you prefer something that’s small enough to fit in the palm of your hand but big enough that you won’t misplace it, check out the Zebralight. Our testers loved its shape. The flashlight rests firmly between your palm and thumb, and its beveled edges and recessed power button makes it easy to grip. One tester liked how natural it felt to hold at her side while the light points downward — ideal for a late-night walk home.
It also comes with a timer feature. When the light is on you can double tap it to initiate a three-minute timer. You’ll see one flash to confirm it’s on, and can double tap again to extend the timer to nine minutes. One tester said this feature would be extra handy when camping: “You could clip it to the tent and get settled into your sleeping bag, without having to reach back out to turn the light off.”
Points to Consider
While the portable size has its benefits, it also has a drawback. There’s only one button on the flashlight, and its small size made it harder to press than our other picks. So while it won’t turn on accidentally, it’s a little more difficult to change modes using that same button.
Guide to Flashlights
How to Find the Right Flashlights
Aim for LED
Not too long ago, flashlights were powered by a halogen light bulb — LED was a high-tech, luxury option. Nowadays, LED is the standard for any good flashlight. Basically, for the same price you get double the lumens and 50 times more battery life. They’re also less fragile (more shock resistant) and can be different colors.
Consider Your Use Case
While it’s tempting to purchase the brightest flashlight available, we found that lower lumen modes are just as valuable if you don’t want to wake the whole camp as you’re getting up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, need to illuminate something small and close range, or want to maintain your natural night vision. That said, bright flashlights have their place and our testers agreed it’s better to have the option of high brightness modes just in case.
Use Caution With Brightness Settings
Nick Selby, a Dallas-area police detective, told us some flashlights are designed to be so bright that they stun or disorient: useful when trying to apprehend a suspect, but dangerous in everyday situations. It only takes around 60–100 lumens of direct beam to cause temporary blindness. So be careful if you’re using flashlights with high brightness settings around other people.
How long do batteries last?
Most flashlights have impressive battery lives and can last as long as 2 months at their lowest setting and hours on their highest. Even so, if you’re putting a tactical flashlight in an emergency kit, make sure to include spare batteries in the kit, and to periodically check that they haven’t expired.
If you want to take your preparedness to the next level (or if your flashlight requires particularly expensive batteries), Police Detective Nick Selby recommends investing in a storage case that offers a watertight, chemically neutral environment. Contamination can cause leaks, rust, or corrosion of the batteries, shortening their life. And batteries that touch each other or short-out in your bag can start a fire.
What are the benefits of a tactical flashlight?
Tactical flashlights can refer to lights designed for weapon mounting and hunting, but they also have features meant for combat. A flashlight, even the smaller ones, can be a convenient and effective tool in self-defense situations.
Michael of BTFlashlights explained: “Would you want to be holding your cell phone that can only light 20ft in front of you, and would probably drop if somebody actually confronted you — or a small light that fits in your fist that will help you hit more effectively? It would be bright enough to temporarily blind somebody and see all the way across the parking lot.”
The Best Flashlights: Summed Up