What makes a durable and dependable LED flashlight?

Woods Walker

The Wood is cut, The Bacon is cooked, Now it’s tim
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What makes a durable and dependable LED flashlight?. Is it mass? Is is run times? Is it based on a brand name? Is it listed specs? Is it quality control? Is it how much you paid? User serviceable at home or in the field? Battery type? To be honest I don't know on a scientific and statistical level what characteristics makes one light more durable and dependable than another. Durability IMHO isn't totally interchangeable with dependability. I had lights which looked perfect. The construction seemed robust just die for no good reason. The best anodizing and robust build doesn't always translate into dependablity. By the same token a dependable flashlight, one which works every time might not be the most durable in terms of drop, crush and water resistance.


I am going is post some of my most durable and dependable lights starting this one then over time will update this thread with more. I welcome the readers to contribute what they believe are their most durable and dependable LED flashlights.


One of my most durable and dependable flashlights IMHO.


Pre-lockout tailcap G2 and M60LL.





Each part is user serviceable. It can use a wide voltage range so 2x CR123, 1X lithium ion are good (never tried 3 XCR123 OR 2X lithium ion but should be good underload), here I have some older CR123 primaries. This battery type has both pros and a cons. Very expensive to purchase in most supermarkets and drug stores but are UL, extremely cold resistant and have a long shelf life. Cheaper when acquired online and lithium ion offers guilt free lumens.





Ok so the body is plastic but has a metal tube liner and it's very low mass. Low mass means less drop impact IMHO however less heat sink for the LED and maybe less crush resistance. Odds are drops not elephants are more probably.





Let's take a look at the engine. The M60LL is aging in terms of technology with its XRE Q5 emitter and single mode. No question the LED is older but to me the single mode means less things to go wrong. Also Malkoffs are fairly efficient with a good regulated runtime followed by a long taper as the batteries run down. I guess this is around 60+ lumens regulated for 8-10 hours with long taper. Again not the brightest or most modern but that's not really the topic. The lower output of the LL helps mitigate the heat transfer issues of a plastic body. The same applies today with the more modern M61LL.





Potted electronics for increased drop resistance. Also that spring means there is a spring on both ends of the battery. No expert but think that offers some shock absorption in case of a drop or if mounted on a weapon. No battery smacking directly on the board. Just speculation on my part as never did any drop tests etc though this light has been dropped over the years. The heavy brass construction of the drop-in should offer a good heat sink for the LED though aluminum is probably better at heat transfer. What's more important? More mass right next to the LED or a less massive metal with better thermal transfer properties? Don't know but it works and never failed. That's what we are talking about. Working beats failure.





But here is the biggest pro of this older engine. That's right. It's totally sealed and waterproof. So not only are the electronics themselves protected from drops but waterproof in their own right, never mind the flashlight o-rings and window.





That means the light can run flooded as shown here in a video of M60 operating flooded underwater. Not the same light but the drop-in is of the same type. This person actually used the flashlight o-rings to trap the water in. LOL! So we clearly have water resistance wrapped up. As of this date that same maker has some of the older sealed Malkoff M60s still available. Is aging technology worth the cost given what's available today? Hard to say but the engine is waterproof and if ye don't tell the dark it's being beaten back by an older LED it won't get angry.





Moving on to the window. I believe these are Lexan.





It will get scratched easier than glass but this is my second window in over 10 years. They're easily replaceable and could do this in the field. To be honest the first one I replaced was done for cosmetic reasons as really didn't notice an increase in output once the Lexan window was replaced which took all of 30 seconds. I don't think it would easily shatter not that this ever happened to my glass windows on other SF lights. Those also got scratched up with use so what the heck. LOL! Keep in mind the window is really redundant given the engine has it's own. Not sure which is overall more durable. Plastic or glass? Then again which is worse? Dropping a plastic soda bottle or jar of pickles on a rock?


Yup. A person can see through clear plastic.





The tail cap is a twisty. Here are all the parts removed. In fact they just fall out if the tail is removed. This could be both a pro and con in terms of durability and dependablity.





Clearly there isn't much to it and within this topic less is often more. But as stated entropy is the enemy and it's conceivable to accidentally drop this part into the leaf litter or snow if doing a battery change under stress. That wouldn't happen with the lockout tail caps or most clicky switches. However there is no retaining ring etc etc to shift during use. No little parts to magically break. No mystery electronic switch UI to screw up either. What if somehow the guts should vanish or break.


A tail cap bypass is an easy test to see if the switch is part of the problem with lights which have failed the dependablity factor however this trick also allows for an easy fix. I often carry aluminum foil as part of my kit for various reasons this being one. Yes it is flaky, no question about that but does work. Loose then tailcap and often it will go out, tighten the light goes back on. A little shake is sometimes required but not always needed. Clearly I would remove the foil plug when the light wasn't in immediate use plus duct tape could replace the outer cap if that was MIA. Field and home serviceability.





On.








A bit of twisting it goes off. Again it's not perfect but the field expedient fix took all of 3 seconds to do. I don't know if there are any dangers to doing this. There are other ways to do the tail cap bypass as well but this is a tail cap temporary replacement. Basically if your light somehow catches fire don't complain to me.

Off.





That's my first light which I believe is both durable and dependable. Will add more and hope to see yours!
 

bykfixer

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Well put WW.

I'd say the Malkoff MD2 would be one I'd put out front in this thread as it too is servicable with simple tools, has an oversize chassis for flex fuel and a versatile emitter that don't mind said flex fuel.

Now it has a clicky but the parts are the best parts known and very reliable. The tailcap allows tail standing and also aids in preventing accidental activation.

The lens is a polycarbonate that is durable, lightweight and inexpensive to replace.

Would I dive with it? Well no, but there's no concern regarding the light taking an accidental plunge.

The shape and size allow for easy carry in most circumstances and the texture although far from aggressive is still reasonably grippy.

And with the high/low resistor you get useable light for extremly long durations using the highest lumen emitter available. Speaking of emitters, you've already covered that WW. I will add though that the blend of spot vs spill in the 61 series is remarkable.

Good thread sir.
 
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CelticCross74

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glad you are happy with your Malkoff/SF. As for what makes a durable and dependable LED light in my experience it comes down to just a few simple things. First is competently designed electronics doesnt matter if its a cheap direct drive Coast or the latest Zebralight. Second is build quality of said electronics. Hearty and robust quality wiring and solid and strong soldering are a must. Third would be quality control. It doesnt matter how expensive a light is if the maker does not have competent QC like Armytek then that could easily ruin ones day and ruin the experience with such an expensive light. For example a couple months ago I bought a new Viking Pro. When it showed up in the mail the emitter was 2mm off center which resulted in pretty poor performance the beam was just trashed because of it. Luckily I bought it from a state side retailer and not the AT website. Got the light replace and the replacement Viking Pro is dead on perfect the performance is stellar. Lastly battery type plays a crucial role. I no longer buy lights that only take CR123's. Despite the CR123's ability to hold its charge for freaking ever and its ability to easily withstand temperature extremes they just buckle under voltage sag after a minute or two. Armyteks new lights on the high end take 4 cell types. Value is a huge factor as well. Even though my new ZL MkIII HI was $100 it is still a stellar value everything about it is cutting edge and of the highest quality...
 

ingineer

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3P my 3rd or fourth one, i've learned never to let someone borrow.
one was just lost. it has been through several emitters some because of preference.
this one about 12 years old
the aviation green is now being replaced.
Lithium 123s last darn near forever in storage
works both twisty and clicky
simple to operate
parts avalible


 

Woods Walker

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glad you are happy with your Malkoff/SF. As for what makes a durable and dependable LED light in my experience it comes down to just a few simple things. First is competently designed electronics doesnt matter if its a cheap direct drive Coast or the latest Zebralight. Second is build quality of said electronics. Hearty and robust quality wiring and solid and strong soldering are a must. Third would be quality control. It doesnt matter how expensive a light is if the maker does not have competent QC like Armytek then that could easily ruin ones day and ruin the experience with such an expensive light. For example a couple months ago I bought a new Viking Pro. When it showed up in the mail the emitter was 2mm off center which resulted in pretty poor performance the beam was just trashed because of it. Luckily I bought it from a state side retailer and not the AT website. Got the light replace and the replacement Viking Pro is dead on perfect the performance is stellar. Lastly battery type plays a crucial role. I no longer buy lights that only take CR123's. Despite the CR123's ability to hold its charge for freaking ever and its ability to easily withstand temperature extremes they just buckle under voltage sag after a minute or two. Armyteks new lights on the high end take 4 cell types. Value is a huge factor as well. Even though my new ZL MkIII HI was $100 it is still a stellar value everything about it is cutting edge and of the highest quality...

I think for some the AT falls into the durable but maybe not dependable classification for some. I now have 5 of them and the build is outstanding in terms of durability. Double o-rings on the tail and head, square cut threads which were properly lubricated, nice anodizing and massive tail spring. There is a lego ability as well. If my A2 goes down I could use the C1 or A1 head, body or tail so long as the voltage taken into account. Can use the Prime tailcap on the Tiara. In fact switched them here as had no need for a magnetic headlamp tailcap.

AT Prime standard tailcap on AT Tiara Pro body and the Tiara magnetic tailcap on the Prime.



But the switch on my Viking was bad so is 1 out of 6 good? No longer own that light. The Tiara did pass my submerging test in the HL50 vs. Tiara A1 pro smackdown. But the UI is complex with potential issues. For example it's possible to totally kill the light if running primaries by cycling through the UI then clicking once then doing a double click. Sounds difficult to do by mistake but I did it. After all a double click is how one advances out of the T1 firefly grouping in certain circumstances so it is an easier mistake than one might. Ok it's nice to have the ability to set for running naked (not protected lithium ion) but maybe the standard versions of their product are more dependable. A dead light is still a dead light and it takes a lithium ion or 2 primaries/NiMH with a tail cap bypass to restart it. A big problem if you don't have that. There is no voltage indicator to be inaccurate either. No strobe mode to just vanish. Less can be more. You are 100% correct about quality control. Without proper execution nothing else matters. I almost considered adding the above Prime A1 Standard in the near future as it's body is so thick and it just looks so robust, even more so than the C1 which has the same tube just the AA is thicker to reduce rattle. However without enough experience using the gear item (just a few outings under it's belt) it would have been irresponsible given the current climate in regard to this maker. No offense to them but it will take a longer period of personal field use with these lights and a dramatic reduction of reported user issues before I would classify them as both durable and dependable however others might disagree with some or all of this.

Well put WW.

I'd say the Malkoff MD2 would be one I'd put out front in this thread as it too is servicable with simple tools, has an oversize chassis for flex fuel and a versatile emitter that don't mind said flex fuel.

Now it has a clicky but the parts are the best parts known and very reliable. The tailcap allows tail standing and also aids in preventing accidental activation.

The lens is a polycarbonate that is durable, lightweight and inexpensive to replace.

Would I dive with it? Well no, but there's no concern regarding the light taking an accidental plunge.

The shape and size allow for easy carry in most circumstances and the texture although far from aggressive is still reasonably grippy.

And with the high/low resistor you get useable light for extremly long durations using the highest lumen emitter available. Speaking of emitters, you've already covered that WW. I will add though that the blend of spot vs spill in the 61 series is remarkable.

Good thread sir.

Thanks. Also the MD2 has the same potted goodness of any Malkoff drop-in be it M60 or M61! I have an MD2 in the mail from Gene so will have fun with that. I bet the hi/lo ring could be a very durable and dependable method of having a multi mode light.

Yes the beam of the M61 is fantastic.

M61NL in a SF G2Z. No question IMHO this is a durable and dependable light.



 
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jorn

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It needs well buildt electronics. And it needs to be waterproof so the electronics cant get wet. And it need to be designed so the driver is well protected against shock/impact. Thats about it.
I have killed a lot of lights, and its always the driver that dies, always. The tube can be as thick as it want, but when you drop the light, its the driverboard that breaks, never the body :)
 

Woods Walker

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Fenix E01. Durability and dependability need not cost much money. The Fenix E01 comes to mind.





Still works. LOL!



1XAAA battery is common. In this case I am using a lithium primary for cold resistance and long storage life. Storage life is a good thing as it takes a long time to totally rundown an E01. This thing sucks the life of batteries. Had it fire on batteries that wouldn't work on other lights. Only one mode, well actually two if you count the moonlight vampire thing. It's small but feels solid.



Has a bit of thickness to the body with an ok spring.



There is no window to break. The 5MM LED and electronics seem impervious to water. Not sure how that's done? Potted electronics? Press fitted? Don't know but it works and again that's everything. The 8 year old o-ring also worked . It takes a drop rather well.

 
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mcnair55

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This should prove to be an interesting post.As part of my day job serving the automotive trade with a 16,000 line catalog one product I am not keen on selling is Led lights as most are really abused and many do not pass the 12-month warranty we give and I am forever sending the expensive large handhelds back for replacement/repair.The strange thing is the pocket-sized lights fail very little and the risk of dropping is far higher as the large lights are generally magnetic.I find it is the charge system that fails.
 

CelticCross74

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glad there are other people out there that can relate on the spotty AT QC. I was going to go for the new Barracuda but after my experience with the Viking Pro along with all the other AT owners here that have posted similar experiences I will stick to the 3 I have for a good while. All 3 work perfectly I am just going to consider myself lucky and keep it at that. mcnair55 what are the common LED light brands you sell? I can easily understand that the larger lights get dropped a lot by mechanics. The smaller lights not so much.
 

mcnair55

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glad there are other people out there that can relate on the spotty AT QC. I was going to go for the new Barracuda but after my experience with the Viking Pro along with all the other AT owners here that have posted similar experiences, I will stick to the 3 I have for a good while. All 3 work perfectly I am just going to consider myself lucky and keep it at that. mcnair55 what are the common LED light brands you sell? I can easily understand that the larger lights get dropped a lot by mechanics. The smaller lights not so much.

As we are a worldwide company all are lights are branded with the company logo and generally made in Scandanavia by a specialist automotive light maker,however after saying that I notice that Germany sells some Led Lenser.
 

Woods Walker

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It needs well buildt electronics. And it needs to be waterproof so the electronics cant get wet. And it need to be designed so the driver is well protected against shock/impact. Thats about it.
I have killed a lot of lights, and its always the driver that dies, always. The tube can be as thick as it want, but when you drop the light, its the driverboard that breaks, never the body :)

Plus one. I think the majority just go :poof:
 

bykfixer

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I'll add to my previous statement:

The mere fact that it's an LED light makes it more likely to be more dependable than previous technology.

I've said a few times here "even a bad light aint bad these days". That is a statement based on decades of using unreliable lights, bulbs and batteries.

I suppose it's why I don't generally talk much in topics centered around 'tint wars' 'lumen wars' or 'battery wars'. I mean that's all well n good but where I came from a simple Mag Light is a million times more reliable than a lot of lights I've used over the years.
So I still marvel that when I drop my under powered, alkaleak fueled blue beam Dorcy into a puddle from the roof of my pickup truck... and it still works?

A recent poll of when folks became a flashaholic seems to be leaning heavily into the what I call 'modern era' of LED's.
That's great. But going from incan cheapies through the growing pains of LED's and now to 400+ lumens from a single 123... Well I'll leave it there....
Even a bad light aint bad.
 
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jabe1

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Durability is inversely proportional to complexity.

A fully potted, single mode, single cell twisty , or mechanical momentary switched light should be the most durable.

I have a Peak Kilimanjaro single LED in Stainless steel that i consider my most durable and dependable. Second is the venerable cockroach of lights, the E01.
 
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I'm no engineer but it does seem that the first part to fail is the board/driver, then the switch. Obviously with a really crappy light any part can fail. It does seem that potting with thermal epoxy is a huge plus in making a light reliable. My experience with fully potted lights is relatively short, time-wise, but I have not yet seen one fail. Having a spring on both ends of the battery compartment does indeed seem to increase durability of a light. So far none of my double-sprung lights has failed, either.
 

snowlover91

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Potting definitely helps with durability and soldering is key for many lights too. All it takes is one weak solder joint and a decent drop with the light on can cause it to pop loose. A few years ago I know Nitecore had a big issue with cold solder joints that would cause some of their lights to lose power when dropped and it was weak solder joints that turned out to be the problem.

For me the test of a durable light is whether it can stand up to my job at work. In a warehouse environment my lights get dropped on concrete floors, knocked against things and beat up frequently. My current EDC light has held up after ~1 year of use in this environment! :thumbsup:
 

Woods Walker

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Durability is inversely proportional to complexity.

A fully potted, single mode, single cell twisty , or mechanical momentary switched light should be the most durable.

I have a Peak Kilimanjaro single LED in Stainless steel that i consider my most durable and dependable. Second is the venerable cockroach of lights, the E01.

For years I avoided them because of the web site but it looks easier to navigate now.

http://www.peakledsolutions.net/index.html

The stats look like something that could take a beating.


  • Cree XPG white LED with three different white tint outputs: Cool White, Neutral White, and High CRI.
  • Electronics are exclusively potted in Thermal Epoxy for reliability, shock and water resistance.
  • Two different standard beam patterns: Medium angle optic for general lighting needs or Narrow angle optic for longer range use.
  • All openings are O-Ring sealed for water resistance.
  • Protective windows are made of unbreakable polycarbonate scratch resistant material.
  • Positive battery contacts are made of solid brass.
  • Simple twist on/off mechanism for ease of use.
  • Battery compartment comes in two options: Pocket and Key Chain.
  • Reliable momentary tail switch available as an additional option with Key Chain battery compartment ONLY.
  • All Peak electronics and flashlights are Designed, Manufactured and Assembled in the USA
 
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Peaks do seem pretty bulletproof. I have an El Capitan with the QTC and momentary switch. It's super nicely made but I haven't had it long enough nor abused it enough to say how it will hold up. But I like it enough that I'll probably pick up an Eiger down the road to go with.:cool:
 

bykfixer

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Thus far thermal management has not been looked at. But as the nuclear bomb of brightness has begun to find it's way into smaller and smaller hosts this is an item folks should keep in mind.
In the incan days it was very often built into designs but these days... not always.

I have what I consider very reliable baby cop lights that are over 700 lumens yet after 30 minutes are relatively cool to the touch. I ask myself "is that module inside an ez bake oven?"

Yet a PK and a Powertac of similar output feel warm within a minute or two. Neither require oven mitts to comfortably carry. However I do feel that those lights that get warm on the outside will be less prone to a slow bake of internal items, which in time may cause items to become 'brittle' ... leading to stuff breaking if/when a drop occurs.

The PK FL2 reportedly gets to 130° F on the outside over time and my Powertac Warrior 850 has cooling fins over top of the emitter. Those two things helped lead to the decision to place them in my reliable category of edc rotation while leaving a couple of quality products at various locations in my home to serve short duration duties.


Note the stealth cooling fins on the Warrior 850 and the Streamlight ProTac HL.
The fins are directly over the emitter on the Powertac. They are forward of the emitter on the Streamlight.

PK took another approach. Cooling fins, yes. But disguised as burlyness...


The PK Warrior II at 1000 lumens has a pair of gigantic radiators. Gigantic in terms vs the typical cooling fins.


Note the similar radiators he put into play on his FL2.

Something left over from his SureFire days?


Was that a simple anti roll? Or was PK already thinking about the days of 700+ lumens from an LED when deciding on placement of said anti roll when the "P" version of the fabled "6" was redesigned? Hmmmm
 
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RobertMM

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Pardon me for asking WoodsWalker, but is your pre-lockout tailcap on your G2 waterproof?

Part of me thinks that the seal around the tailcap button creates gaps everytime the button is pressed.
 
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