Flashlights are not unlike other tools such as hammers, screwdrivers, and wrenches. All are great tools, but only one is great for driving nails. Choosing the right light for the job is no different. Flashlights come in many shapes, sizes, and configurations, each designed for and exceling in a particular area.
I should start by saying I don’t think any single flashlight, regardless of its features, is all a household needs. Houses need multiple lights in case of an emergency or power outage. It is also important to have a flashlight in every vehicle and a small light you can carry with you at all times, such as a pocket, purse, or keychain light. A lantern and headlight are great to have in case of emergency as well.
With so many models to choose from, each with a dizzying array of features and options, making a choice can appear difficult. Fortunately, Dorcy uses the ANSI FS1 Flashlight Standards to make it easy to compare the most critical aspects of flashlight design in order to help you choose the best light for your situation. These standards are represented in easy to see and understand icons on the product’s packaging. These include lumens, run time, beam distance, water resistance, and more. If you’re not familiar with the ANSI FS1 Standards and icons, we have a short article which explains them in detail.
There are so many questions to ask when choosing the right light. Will the light be used for work or general home use? Will you need a rugged light that can withstand punishment or will you use the light around the house when needed? Do you need something powerful with a beam that reaches hundreds of meters or will you use the light to see only a few meters in front of you? Will it be exposed to the elements such as rain and water? Do you want a small light you can carry in your purse or pocket, or are you looking for something larger?
I would love to be able to say, this is the best light for sportsmen, this is the best light for safety, or this is the best light for home/general use. But the truth is it’s not that simple. Everyone’s needs are different. Instead of telling you what to buy, it seems more effective to educate you on important flashlight features and allow you to make the decision for yourself. After all, no one knows your needs better than you.
“I would love to be able to say, this is the best light for sportsmen, this is the best light for safety, or this is the best light for home/general use. But the truth is it’s not that simple. Everyone’s needs are different."
“Instead of telling you what to buy, it seems more effective to educate you on important flashlight features and allow you to make the decision for yourself. After all, no one knows your needs better than you.”
The following lists some of the most important features to look for in a flashlight and explains what those features mean.
Type of Beam
Most flashlights offer either a flood (fixed) beam, a spot (focused) beam, or an adjustable (focusing) beam that allows you to focus the light to your specific need, be it a flood, spot, or any point in between. Which you choose depends on whether you want a focused beam, a wider beam, or the ability to have both. If you want maximum versatility an adjustable beam might work best.
Physical Size and Weight
Flashlights range from over a foot in length to no more than a couple of inches. Advances in technology have made smaller lights more powerful than ever before. Just because a light is small doesn’t at all mean it doesn’t have power. Advances in technology have also made weight less of an issue, even with the largest lights.
Lumens are the measure of the intensity of the light. If the light has multiple brightness levels, you may see, for example, lumens listed for high, medium, and low. Lights with 80-100 lumens are more than enough for general use. You may, however, require more power and want a light that is brighter and has a longer, more powerful beam. In this case, choosing a higher lumen flashlight might be a better option.
LED lights are often made from anodized aluminum, aircraft aluminum, rubber, ABS plastic, or other materials. Which you choose depends on the level of durability you require, as well as the look and feel you prefer.
This is important to discuss, especially because it’s an aspect of flashlight design that many people overlook. If you’re going to be using your light for industrial or heavy duty work, make sure you buy an industrial flashlight. No matter how good the light is, if it’s not designed for the level of durability you require in your work, you are going to be disappointed, and more than likely, you’ll be returning for a new light before long. After a couple of times, you will have spent more money than a durable industrial light would have cost in the first place. If you need a durable light, look at the construction materials as well as the impact resistance rating. If the light has been drop tested you will see an impact resistance rating icon which shows the distance the light was drop tested, it could be one meter, two meters, or many more.
On the other hand, if you plan to use your lights for basic, everyday home use, it may not be necessary to purchase a light than can survive being run over by a 2 ton truck. Again, choose the right light for your specific needs.
Battery Type – Rechargeable vs Battery Powered
Rechargeable lights are convenient, and although usually more expensive, the extra expense is made up quickly in saved batteries. You should keep in mind, however, that rechargeable lights only work when charged and you must have access to power to recharge them. I love rechargeable lights and wouldn’t want to be without them. However, I do recommend having a regular battery powered light as well, in case you are in an emergency/power outage and can’t recharge your light.
Lights which are weatherproof or waterproof will have ratings of IPX4-IPX8. If you would like to learn more about IP ratings. Weatherproof means the light can withstand water splashing on it from all sides. This means the light will be OK if exposed to rain or if water gets splashed on it. Lights with this rating have IPX4 through IPX6 ratings, with the higher ratings being able to withstand higher water pressure.
Waterproof means the light has been tested to not be affected by 30 minutes of submersion in one meter of water. Waterproof is signified by the IPX7 rating. Finally, some lights are designed to be submersible up to a certain depth. The icon on the flashlight package will show you this. These lights are designated by the IPX8 rating. The light might be designed to be submersible up to a few meters or 100 meters, depending on the design. This feature is found in a lot of dive lights.
Some of our lights even float. If you’re into boating, fishing, or other water activities, a floating flashlight might be perfect for you.
Beam Distance and Peak Beam Intensity
Beam distance refers to the distance of the beam until the light equals that of a full moon on a clear night. An icon on the packaging will show the beam distance of the particular light, making it easy to compare with other models. Beam distances range from several meters to hundreds of meters, depending on your need. Peak Beam Intensity is measured in candelas and is a measurement of the intensity at the center of the flashlight beam. Look at both of these, as well as lumens, when evaluating the beam of a particular light.
Run time is defined as the amount of time it takes for the flashlight to reach 10% of the rated output on new batteries. Run time tests are conducted with either the batteries that come with the light or the batteries recommended to be used with the light. As a general rule, the more lumens and the longer the beam distance, the more batteries are used, or the shorter the run time. The importance of run time depends on your needs. For example, my Dorcy Widebeam flashlight doesn’t have an incredibly long run time. But it has 220 degrees of light and a very long beam distance, which is exactly what I want from that flashlight. For what I use that light for I don’t mind a shorter run time. On the other hand, for safety, I would prefer a longer run time over longer beam distance and lumen output. As a safety light, I use a 2D flashlight with over 20 hours of run time. In a power outage, you’re probably going to be more concerned with how long the batteries last than with how long the beam projects.
You’ll find many lights with additional features you may or may not need. These include multiple brightness levels, the ability to dim the light, multiple beam colors, battery power indicators, flash, strobe, and many other options. Carefully review the additional features of each light and decide whether or not they are something you need. Also review the price difference. If you’re getting additional features and not paying much more, then by all means go for it. If on the other hand, you find yourself paying a lot more for features you don’t require, it might be better to choose a different light.
Many lights come with batteries, a lanyard, holster, clips, and more. Some even come with magnets, hands free attachments, and glow in the dark components. A list of included accessories will be included on the flashlight’s packaging.
I hope this have given you much to consider when purchasing a flashlight. With the knowledge you’ve gained, and your understanding of the ANSI Flashlight Standards Icons, you will be able to easily compare and contrast features across multiple brands. Remember that the only right light is the light that’s right for you.