Laz's 2011 flashlight buyers guide



* Warning this guide is aimed at first time buyers of quality LED lights. Those looking for $5 lights look elsewhere.

* Caution to experts. There will be simplification, technical heresy, summarization, cpf blasphemy and general boiling down of information. Not for the faint hearted.

During the last 6 months I've embarked on a quest to overhaul my extremely outdated flashlights. Especially looking for better lights in my BOB.

The amount of information out there is almost overwhelming. Although I have to admit I love researching I did wish there was a simple summary of the best lights.

For the most part the internet information came in two varieties. Nice simple formats where the information was just wrong, buy 9 LED dorcys SUPER BRIGHT!!!" Or incredibly informative but highly technical reviews aimed at the hobbyist.

This guide attempts to point buyer's straight too high value lights in defined categories. I consider high value to be the price point in which more money does not create significantly more reliability and performance. For flashlights high value tends to live in the $40-60 dollar range. With company names like Fenix, 4Sevens, iTP, and Nitecore to name a few.

First what not to buy

- Ordering from DealExtreme or similar site. Most of these lights will not live up to expectations.

- Multi-emitter showerhead lights. Old technology they simply do not perform like modern Cree lights. Don't buy them.

- All lights in your local store. Like Nancy Reagan said just say no.

Battery Brush-up

General Purpose/ Heavy Duty / Super Heavy Duty – These are cheap batteries made from zinc. They are incredibly weak never buy them. Half the price of alkaline with about a quarter of the capacity.

Alkaline – Standard disposable battery. $0.25-$1 a cell. While Duracell leads the pack in performance most tests find very little difference in capacity between brands. So don't fret which to buy. Good everyday batteries.

Oxyride – Fancy alkalines with slightly better performance. Marketed currently as the Panasonic evolta. Don't bother.

Lithium – High end disposable batteries. Four times the cost of alkaline but they last almost twice as long. Store for 15 years vs. 5 for alkaline's. Also weigh 1/3 less and work better in cold weather. Good for emergency lights, smoke detectors, BOBs.

NiCad – Old rechargeable batteries. Think super heavy duty of the rechargeable world. Don't buy them.

NiMH – Nickel metal hydride rechargeable battery. Cell capacity can be 50% more than alkaline. Lower voltage (1.2V) however they maintain their voltage better over time, dropping off sharply at end of charge. Very cost effective vs. using a lot of alkalines. Most lose their charge within a year (Eneloop's however hold 70% of their charge after a year).

Li-ion – All the above batteries live in the ~1.5V range and work in standard devices. Lithium Ion is different although some may share the size and fit they operate at 3.7V and are not useable in most devices calling for normal batteries. They are rechargeable. Often referred to by their size (10440=AAA, 14500=AA) using diameter in micrometers.

CR123 – Refers to a battery size which is shorter and fatter than a normal AA. Comes in Lithium and Li-ion variety. The 123 nomenclature identifies that it is 2/3rds the size of an A battery.

General way to relate to lumens.

The Eveready flashlight you had as a kid - 5 lumens

Cheap triple AAA 9LED lights – 20 lumens

Your dad's 3D cell incandescent maglight - 30 lumens

New 4D cell LED maglights – 60 lumens

First surefires - 80 lumens

Laz's 2011 Flashlight Buyers Guide

Single AAA keychain - ITP A3 EOS. Output 80 lumens, Size 2 ½ inches (0.32 ounces), Interface twisty, modes 1 (high) or 3 (low, med, high), Price $20. Incredibly small, very bright output equivalent to lights twice its cost. This light is the undisputed leader of the single AAA class. If I could have only one light off this list it would be the ITP A3.

Double AAA penlight - Preon 2 by 4Sevens Output 160 lumens Size 5 inches (0.8 ounces), Interface tail switch, modes 7 (low, med, high, SOS, strobe, beacon low, beacon high) Price $45. Beautiful beam, best output in the double AAA class.

Single CR123 pocket light – Quark Mini CR123 by 4Sevens. Output 190 lumens. Size 2 ½ inches (0.62 ounces), Interface twisty, modes 7 (low, med, high, Strobe, SOS, beacon low, beacon high), Price $41. Very small for a 123 and easily EDCable. Good price point.

Single AA pocket light - Zebralight SC51. Output 200 lumens, Size 3 inches (1.3 ounces), Interface side switch, modes 7 (2 low, 2 med, 2 high, strobe), Price $69. Fantastic user interface you can get to any mode without cycling through the other modes. Best output in the AA class.

Double AA belt carry light - Fenix LD20. Output 180 lumens, Size 6 inches (2 ounces), Interface tail switch + bezel to access turbo and strobe, modes 5 (low, med, high, turbo, strobe), Price $59. Solid, reliable, great output, consistently highest rated light in its class.

Double AA glove box or house light - Fenix E21. Output 150 lumens, Size 6 ½ inches (3 ounces), Interface tail switch + bezel, modes 2 (low, high). Price $35. Much like the LD20 except with a 2 mode interface. Rugged, simple, bright at a great price.

+500 Lumen Class - Fenix TK45. Output 760 lumens, batteries 8 AA, Size 8 inches (12 ounces). Interface two side switches. Modes 7 (low, med, high, turbo, strobe, SOS, warning flash), Price $149. Puts out a wall of light, interface hides strobe modes from accidental turn on, highest lumens of any flashlight on common AA batteries.

*all weights are without batteries