I have a lot of flashlights. I camp, hike, and climb, and I like to be prepared for whatever happens in everyday life, too, whether I’m out in the backwoods or home during a power outage. Some I’ve bought myself, others I’ve received as gifts, and still more came as part of emergency prep or tool kits. I mention all of this partially to establish my bona fides as a flashlight-review guy, but also to explain why there are, by a quick estimate, at least 15 flashlights in my house. I’m not counting headlamps or lanterns — we’d be well past two dozen in that case.
In some ways, all flashlights are similar. They all shine a beam of light. They’re all portable. But in many other ways, flashlights can be quite different, when you consider beam intensity, battery life, distance they can “throw” light. My absolute five favorites are not only high-quality pieces of hardware, but each also represents a distinct type of flashlight. These are the five best for nearly every situation.
If you had to get one flashlight
This is the flashlight I keep by the front door and also the flashlight I keep in the family’s emergency prep kit. The crazy-bright 1,000-lumen light can illuminate an entire room or a large swath of outdoor area, but its beam can also be collapsed down to create a patch of bright, focused light that measures only a couple feet across, even at 75 feet of distance. Whether I’m sweeping back and forth across the driveway in search of dropped keys, looking for someone in the gloom, or trying to make out the details of some faraway object, the Yifeng has me covered. And in the event of an emergency, it has three different strobe functions: It can flash rapidly, slowly, or in an unmistakable SOS pattern. Running on three AAA batteries, it’s surprisingly cheap given its quality, too.
Best flashlight for camping or outdoor activities
If you’re settling in at Yosemite and want to shine a light on something that’s a quarter mile away, you need the Rugged Camp spotlight. Its pistol grip makes it easy to maneuver, and its built-in tripod makes it even easier not to have to. It also doesn’t require batteries, as it charges via an electrical outlet. When you don’t need to see hundreds of yards into the darkness, you can use its side-panel light (you can see it with its orange cap in the photo above) to fill a room, tent, or outdoor area with work light. (It also has an emergency strobe setting.) It also has a nifty USB output to charge small devices.
Best inspection flashlight
Inspection flashlights are unique devices that are essential for some purposes, but ineffective for others. I would not use an inspection light while on a hiking trail, for instance, nor would I use one to fill a tent with light. But if I’m taking a close look under the hood of the car or poking around in the air ducts (or plumbing or circuitry) around the house, the Coast is the ideal tool. It’s slender and lightweight (really the size of a pen), but it sends bright, hyperfocused light more than 60 feet in most conditions, reaching even farther in true darkness. Recharging the A9R couldn’t be simpler: You just slip on a charging cap that connects to a wall outlet. I keep mine in my messenger bag not because I need a flashlight while going to meetings, but because it’s so small that there’s no reason not to bring it along, just in case.
Best waterproof flashlight
Lots of flashlights call themselves waterproof, but when you research them closely, they’re actually just water-resistant — rated for splashes or moisture rather than a true soaking. The Dorcy, though, can be dropped into water and left to bob around, working just fine when you fish it out hours later. That makes it a great choice for the boater or fisherman (or anyone who resides near water), but I also like it for roadside tire changes. I’ve changed tires with plenty of light, and it’s no big deal. I also once changed a tire along a busy highway (I-395 outside Washington, D.C., for the record) without any illumination save the headlights of passing cars, and it was miserable. With this waterproof flashlight, I know that even in a downpour I’ll be able to shine light where I need it.
Flashlight with the best battery life
The classic Maglite has an 80-hour working life each time you put in new batteries, that amazing run time (more than three full days of running nonstop) is the reason I still appreciate mine, even though it weighs significantly more than many flashlights that are notably brighter. It will also outlast most flashlights, period. Backed by a lifetime warranty, these things are built to last. So, yes, Malites are big and heavy and bulky, but they’re nothing if not dependable. And if you ever need to bonk a mugger over the head, a Maglite makes a great blunt-force instrument.
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