For camping, power outages, and peering into dark corners, a reliable flashlight is the essential tool. We take a look at options to see which types illuminate best for the price.
Flashlights come in a variety of different sizes and are traditionally encased in either metal or plastic.
The flashlight’s power source makes a difference to the quality of light you’ll get:
Battery-operated: the larger the battery (e.g. C or D), the brighter the light and the longer the flashlight will last. However, larger batteries also make the flashlight heavier.
Battery-free: powered by a hand crank, these flashlights are generally not as strong as battery flashlights, but they save you money. Battery-free can also be a bit inconvenient if it requires a lot of cranking to keep it lit for any amount of time.
The type of bulb also contributes to the quality of light:
Incandescent halogen bulbs produce a yellow light that can be extremely bright. Halogen burns hotter than standard incandescent bulbs, and require more battery power than LED. High-quality halogen bulbs use krypton or xenon, which produce a much brighter light and are more efficient.
LED (light emitting diode) bulbs don’t have a filament that can burn out and produce a blue-white light with little heat or energy. The light isn’t as direct or bright as incandescent, and works better to light a wide area rather than for pinpointing an object in the dark.
If your flashlight has a clear reflector in front of the bulb, you’ll get more distance. However, it also creates dark spots. Textured reflectors don’t reach quite as far but they have more even beams of light, so fewer dark spots.
Bigger usually is brighter, but requires bigger (heavier) batteries. Smaller flashlights with xenon bulbs throw a pretty strong beam and are easier to carry.
A waterproof flashlight keeps shining even when it is totally soaked. A water resistant one can only take a splash or drip.
For the ultimate durable flashlight, look for anodized aluminum, which comes with a higher price tag. Harder polymer plastics are pretty tough too.
- Be careful with the switch: if it slides and water gets in, you may be left in the dark.
We tested these flashlights in the lab and in a dark forest:
- Eveready (incandescent): $8.94
- Maglite (incandescent): $26.77
- Garrity (LED): $19.97
- Dynalite (incandescent, hand-crank): $7.99
Our physicist tested each flashlight to measure its brightness using a spectrometer.
- The Eveready and the Maglite were definitely the brightest.
- The Eveready was slightly brighter than the rest, but probably not noticeable without using his fancy machine.
We intentionally dropped each flashlight five times onto some rocks to see which one held up the best:
- The Dynalite casing cracked.
- The other 3 took our abuse without fail.
We used each flashlight to search in the dark woods for a hidden treasure.
- The Eveready and the Maglite definitely did the best job at lighting our path with the brightest beams and fewest dark spots.
- We liked the battery-free hand crank Dynalite, but it could have been brighter.
- The Maglite had an intense and bright beam and if you, don’t mind the price and the weight, it probably won’t let you down.
OUR TOP PICK
For a general use flashlight, we chose the Eveready for its price, versatility, and brightness.