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A flashlight is not simply some toy for the holidays; a “what if” accessory for an emergency kit; or a tool for telling ghost stories around the campfire during a weenie roast with the kids. Men gravitate towards these as Father’s Day, birthday, and Christmas gifts because a flashlight is a practical item we use all the time at work, during recreation, or as part of our voluntary occupations such as Neighborhood Watch or checking bags for drugs at our teenager’s prom. The brightest LED flashlight provide a powerful glow but with a low heat rating, are extremely durable in tough conditions, but remain compact and light. As an employer looking for gear your crew of night watchmen or police officers can rely on, it’s important to find the best and brightest just as you did when hiring staff.
How have flashlights changed recently? Most American consumers are familiar with the Maglite, flashlight. For decades, Maglites were the paradigm handheld torch, carried in civilian cars and by police officers. Large and heavy like a weapon, the original Maglites cost between $40 and $50 and, depending on the amount of cells available, these incandescent “side arms” may produce close to 150 lumens in brightness. For its time and price point, this was the biggest, baddest and brightest flashlight on the market.
Since then, the move from incandescent light sources to LED light sources has spurred a market-wide evolution, reinventing every lamp, lantern and flashlight. This mass departure from the incandescent bulb has changed flashlights more than one would initially suggest. LED lights don’t burn out as quickly as incandescents, they require less power, the components in the bulbs themselves are smaller and lighter, but despite all these, they produce significantly more light. What are the best and brightest flashlights of today that are as affordable as the Maglite?
The Best and Brightest of 2016
As you approach fishing, hunting, hiking, or camping season in your part of the US or as part of a holiday, remember to pack your flashlight along with other safety gear. It’s as essential as your foil blanket and dehydrated beef stew; way more important than the beer, although small enough so you can take the six-pack and your flashlight. Consider the following when making your purchase or asking for a gift: how good is the battery; is the flashlight portable; and what’s its light output measured in lumens? Price is not a good way to gauge anything, but cheap purchases tend to be what you expect: short-lasting with inconsistent light emission. Also, think about where you plan to take this thing: is it going to get wet? If you drop it, what are the chances the fall will be short and the landing soft? How far will the beam travel? All of the flashlights listed below (aside from the one from Wicked Lasers) are priced under $120 and potentially less than $60 with online discounts.
1. Wicked Lasers: Bright, but Not LED
This Asian company advertises their flashlight/lasers as the brightest in the world. There probably isn’t anything else as powerful as the Torch by Wicked Lasers which provides over 4,000 lumens, making the light not only very bright but intensely hot. They say on their website you can start a fire or cook an egg with the Torch, so it is more than a way to break up darkness but an emergency source of cooking heat and a way to start fires without matches. They use only the best materials such as anodized, military-grade aluminum for a light finish that handles a heavy load for applications such as intense hiking and camping trips, hunting, fishing, patrolling, and even deployment with the armed services.
This is not an LED light, however, but a Halogen one so it costs three or four times as much as the best LED flashlights and doesn’t belong on this list except to say that Wicked Lasers asserts theirs are the brightest flashlights around. If you don’t have your heart set on high-efficient, cool-burning LED lights then the Torch by Wicked Lasers is a multi-function tool costing about $200 and for adults only; a present for your son when he graduates — from college.
Shop the Laserdock, Nano, and Flash Torch: www.WickedLasers.com
2. UltraFire CREE XM-L T6
This is a 3800-lumen flashlight made from aircraft-grade aluminum, a superior material that’s both light and sturdy. As the name implies, airplanes are made from it, so what more do you want? As far as brightness goes, this one is nearly as bright as the Halogen flashlight above which is why it takes top spot on this list. The switch is bottom mounted and there are five modes: low, medium high, strobe, and SOS. Expect the LED lights to last tens of thousands of hours the way LED bulbs generally do. CREE also makes chipsets for other flashlights. Check the review video we found for the CREE, which compares the UltraFire CREE XM-L T6 to a lesser strength light, the Pelican StealthLite 2400.
The most interesting part of the video (IMHO) is at around 5 minutes where the narrator begins to show us the actual lights at work in the dark. I honestly have to say I was very impressed by the CREE’s performance, and I think you will be too. I truly could not get over how that thing completely lit up the entire area. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so if you do nothing else, PLEASE check the video – especially the actual demo at around 5 minutes.
(Now please note that the video is from 2013, and there is a newer model of the Pelican StealthLite – the 2410 Recoil, available at ChiefSupply.com HERE if you are interested.) Anyway, our article continues below the video!
Head to Amazon to Check out the Best Prices for the UltraFire CREE XM-L T6: www.amazon.com-UltraFire CREE light
3. SOLARAY PRO ZX-1 Professional Series
Solaray refers to this model as their “Best and Brightest LED Tactical Flashlight” supplying 1200 lumens, a rechargeable battery, and a zoom lens. It is water-resistant so you can splash it, but don’t immerse the flashlight in water. The PRO ZX-1 is made from silicon carbide. Many people are familiar with aircraft-grade aluminum and its properties, but what about this material used by Solaray? Silicone carbide is light, strong, stable, and shock-resistant which is why it is used to make components found in turbines, seals, valves, and heat exchangers among other things. This super-bright flashlight uses a protected battery and features five modes, the same as you find in a CREE XM-L T6. A zoom-lens changes light coverage from a wide light to a longer beam for distance so you can either get people’s attention or focus a search on the ground nearest you. It’s a light, portable, and affordable item.
4. EcoGear FX Tactical LED Flashlight
Every firm says their flashlight is the brightest, but ratings are tested in lumens, so the 1200-lumen EcoGear FX isn’t top of the heap, not even among LED flashlights. The CREE item rated Number One is more than three times brighter.This is a good investment, though with those five standard modes as featured above (low, medium, high, strobe, and SOS) and a zoom mode to change the nature of how this flashlight emits light: wide or far. The FX Tactical flashlight would be considered a professional-grade machine, suitable for many situations like military, private security, or police patrols. Use it under pressure-free situations such as fishing or camping.
Turn it to good use scaring vandals away from the park. Turn it into a weapon if you are under assault. Utilize SOS mode and emit a bright light to help rescuers find you in a gully where a fall has left you with broken bones and no way out except by helicopter. Aircraft-grade aluminum, as you already know, creates a tough, portable chassis. Internally, this is a CREE device using the CREE T6 chipset for LED flashlights as seen above. The EcoGear FX is resistant to shock, abrasion, and water though not an underwater flashlight per se. If you want a diving flashlight, that’s another matter.
Buy It: www.amazon.com – EcoGear FX
Maglite ML300L 3-Cell D LED
How unexpected, Maglite makes a huge flashlight that not only serves as a club in cases of dangerous encounters, but is also highly functional, brighter and longer-lasting than all competition. After the last 30 years crowning the same flashlight king, who would have expected a Maglite to blow away the competition? Yes, everyone is the correct answer, but it had to be said that for the money, despite the differences in size, Maglite still makes a brighter flashlight. At $70.50, this 625-lumen torch is the brightest on the market under $100.
There may only be a few settings, but the high setting runs for 16 hours straight at such insane brightness and the Eco mode goes strong for 117 hours putting out 53 lumens. Needless to say, whether shopping for a weapon or a flashlight, long-lasting or brightest on the market, the number one seller of the last 3 decades is running strong with the pack, pushing the upper end of performance, while doing so in its own affordable Maglite way.
Sunwayman V11R $75
Up second to last, weighing in at $75, is the Sunwayman V11R. As far as ultra bright is concerned, the V11R leaves almost all opposition in the dust, boasting a Turbo setting that gives life to a 570-lumen bright source of temporary blindness. Although the duration of usability with Turbo is a shorter-than-expected 5 minutes, with a front-end that bright, it would be a miracle if the item was not piping hot after 5 minutes. The other two settings are High and Moonlight, which speak for themselves, while the 1.7-ounce weight does the same. This little guy may seem like not much to think about when clipped on someone’s belt, but it is capable of doing so much more with less than the competition, leaving a clear runner up for brightest and best flashlight.
Moving into a podium position the bronze medalist of LED flashlights is priced within $50 of both the runner up and winner. The Zebralight H502 slides into third place bridging the high and low prices of the last two competitors, at roughly $70.00. What makes the Zebralight H502 special? Not only is it a flashlight — it’s a head light, so for the professional who uses their hands a lot at night, this little gem is special. At 2.7 inches long and 1 ounce by itself, this is the smallest and lightest option in this countdown. It also has 3 main power settings (high, mid and low), each with 2 sub-levels. The second sub-level of each also has further settings, leaving more functionality than could ever be assumed upon. The High setting fires a light that is 278 lumens bright, leaving little more to be desired.
Number 4 on the list is the Fenix PD22, cutting the previous item’s price in half at an impressive $51.95 and shining a brighter light on tight-budgets producing 210 lumens on its highest setting, Turbo. The Fenix light also prevails over the SOG on number of settings, containing 6 different lighting options in total. Turbo: 210 lumens will run for 2 hours, High: 105 lumens will run for 5 hours, Mid: 45 lumens will run for 12.5 hours, Low: 3 lumens will run for a mind-blowing 120 hours and the SOS Setting signals on High mode and the Strobe Setting signals on Turbo.
The Fenix PD22 is also easily concealed, measuring 3.5 inches and weighing a negligible 1.6 ounces. That’s 1/10th of a pound, for perspective. Bright, inexpensive and more than earning a spot in the top 5 best flashlights, the PD22 needs no further introduction.
SOG Dark Energy 214
Coming in at a whopping $105, the SOG Dark Energy 214 is at the bottom of the field not only because it’s the most expensive of these options, but also because it is the least bright, producing up to 188 lumens on the highest setting. Although it comes in last in the top 5, the Dark Energy 214 is clearly no slouch. It may cost a pretty penny, but this handheld light does put out close to 40 more lumens than the traditional Maglite on the High setting, and there are options to run it at 40% power, reading light power (approximately 5%), or a constant strobe.
At close to 4 inches and 3 ounces, the SOG light is one of the biggest and heaviest, but the fixed belt clip is still plenty strong to hold this tiny powerhouse. This may be the most costly of the count, but it is plenty bright, has quite a few luxury features, fits seamlessly in a pocket and it is built to last.