We live in a forest, and we have dogs. We need to take the dogs for walks every night. We’re pretty comfortable walking in darkness but there are plenty of times we use a flashlight (often a headlamp, as that’s my preference). Beyond dog walking, if you live in a place where it regularly gets profoundly dark, you’re going to need flashlights.
So we’ve had a long series of flashlights over the past 20 years, ranging from quite tiny keychain lights to honkin’ big 3 D cell Maglite style monsters. Over that 20 years, the technology has moved from halogen bulbs being the gold standard to LED being the gold standard, and away from non-rechargeable batteries in the standard sizes (AAA, AA, C, D) to a wide variety of rechargeable batteries using a wide variety of battery chemistries (NiCd, NiMH, LiON, LiPO, LiFePO4, etc.) This has meant that the demand on the batteries has diminished at the same time that battery energy density and capacity have made rapid progress. The result is that the peerie light that I carry in my pocket 24/7/365 throws considerably more light than the massive 3 D cell powered baseball bat Maglite we started with back in the early 2000’s (60 lumens versus 45, for 7 hours versus 10 hours for the honking big Maglite).
Indeed, the progress in the world of flashlights has been so rapid and dramatic that I now consider every flashlight I buy to be a consumable item. By the time it starts acting dodgy, it will be time to replace it just because its performance is so low compared to current offerings I’d be considering replacing it anyway.
This does not mean that the world of flashlight purchasing is all sweetness and light.
In particular, flashlight development is seemingly driven by two factors:
Beyond the problems introduced by those two metrics driving design, the list of vexing flashlight ‘features’ seems endless:
How much light output you actually need depends on your situation and task. Some examples:
All of those will have different illumination needs, so it’s good to have some idea of what situations you expect a flashlight to be used, as that informs most of the tradeoffs.
In general you want to know: