There are a staggering number of flashlights to pick from and quality and functionality can vary widely. The best flashlight will depend on what size you want and what situation you’ll be using it in. We compared lumens (amount of visible light emitted), beam profile (throw/flood), effective range, efficiency, consistency, interface and features, battery type, weight, water resistance and the quality and durability of the materials used.
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Most people don’t realize it, but flashlight technology has changed a lot. The best flashlights today are designed with LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs that are smaller, use less power, and are more reliable than traditional bulbs. LED bulbs have better shock and impact resistance because they do not have glass or filament, and depending on the quality, they can last anywhere between 10,000 to 120,000 hours. They are also about 15 times more efficient than incandescent bulbs, and output almost the same amount of light (if you are interested, here’s a great article on the increasing efficiency and progression of LEDs: The amazing progress of LEDs, in one chart). In the long run, you’ll save on the cost of batteries and you’ll no longer have to rely on those clunky C or D batteries!
We’ve chosen LED flashlights that run on CR123A, AA or AAA batteries because they allow flashlight designs to be more compact and lighter. These batteries are also very common and easy to find during emergencies or when travelling. Knowing the situation you’ll be using your flashlight in will determine the appropriate size of flashlight that you need. Larger flashlights will utilize more batteries so they are able to output more light (lumens) compared to their smaller counterparts. CR123A batteries are practical because during emergencies most people will be running to buy other types of batteries. Keychain flashlights are tiny and incredibly useful and always with you but will emit a much smaller amount of light. A slightly larger, but still small everyday carry (EDC) flashlight will generally take a single AA or CR123A battery. For greater output, throw and range the next step is either a 2xAA, 4xAA, 6xAA or 8xAA battery powered LED flashlight. If possible, we highly recommend using rechargeable NiMH batteries that will last longer and are less likely to leak over long periods of times. They are designed to maintain an unused charge so you can keep your flashlight sitting in your drawer for longer periods of time compared to standard AA batteries. We’ve found the Panasonic Eneloop Rechargeable Batteries to be the best rechargeable NiMH batteries currently on the market.
Best micro keychain flashlights
Keychain lights are incredibly useful and one of the best everyday carry (EDC) purchases we’ve made this year. The number of times I’ve reached for my little flashlight in the dark has surprised me and I wish I had bought one years ago. You might think a keychain flashlight would be annoying to always carry with you, but they are so light and inconspicuous that you forget you have one until you realize you need it. That being said, it’s important that a keychain flashlight is durable and reliable since it will be rattling around in your pocket with your keys and other pointy objects. We recommend the Nano Light by Streamlight. It is very cheap but really great at what it does. Its LED pumps out 10 lumens which is bright enough to look around your car or light up your walking path in the dark. It doesn’t have an off/off button but lights up by simply twisting the top part. Machined from aluminum and weatherproof, the Nano Light is one of the best deals for a keychain light currently on the market. The Nano Light also comes in a 12 pack if you’re looking to give some away as gifts!
Wait a second? Did we say ‘one of’ the best deals? Yes, its true, there’s actually another fantastic keychain flashlight. Our runner-up is the Photon II Micro-Light which has a max output of 4.5 lumens and is also extremely light weighing in at only 5.5 grams. The Photon II is great because it has a really simple hold and press mode so you’re not fumbling in the dark trying to turn it on. There is also a tiny switch near the top for a ‘constant on’ mode, although you’ll need to use your fingernail to turn it on and off. It also comes with a quick release ring to attach to a keychain or lanyard. The Photon II is made from polyurethane which can easily withstand daily abuse. It takes 2x CR2016 batteries which gives about 12-14 hours of light. Be careful when changing batteries because it can be difficult to reassemble the light correctly.
Honorable mentions: The BrightForce Pico Light
Best 1xAAA keychain flashlights
So what’s after this? If you’re looking for a slightly more powerful everyday carry (EDC) flashlight there are small keychain flashlights that take single AAA batteries. The biggest difference is that with the larger battery they can emit more light. They are also waterproof rather than simply water resistant, and they usually have a few more features than the simple micro keychain flashlights. The best 1xAAA flashlight we found is the Fenix E01 LED flashlight. It is a simple but reliable flashlight that’s able to generate 13 lumens for 21 hours. It has a very stable output with a nice bluish and floody beam with a range of about 15 feet. This flashlight has been a staple in the flashlight community for quite a while, and even though it won’t generate a huge amount of output, it will last a very long time on a single AAA battery when you need it. Great for those who don’t want anything too complicated while providing the best value for your dollar.
If you can afford a bit more, we the next recommended step up is the updated ThruNite Ti3 mini key chain flashlight that can stay as low as 0.04 lumens or go up to as much as 140 lumens. This new version (not the older Ti2) beats out competitors such as the iTP A3 and the Olight i3 Cree.
In the next price range, the Foursevens Preon 1 is only 2.95 inches long and 0.6 inches in diameter with a Cree XP-G2 LED. Powered by 1xAAA battery, it has a standard twisty interface for low (1.8 lumens), medium (8.5 lumens) and high (70 lumens). It has a really great and simple design, although sometimes the super smooth finish can make it harder than it should be to twist it on and off. However, it is still extremely well constructed and the materials are top notch.
A slick little flashlight thats a bit different is the Foursevens Atom A0 which is an ultra-small 1xAAA flashlight, formerly known as the Preon P0, and is now part of Foursevens’ new Atom series. This is a really cool little flashlight that has a red LED to help preserve nightvision. It is waterproof, glows in the dark, has a magnetic tail for hands free use, and has a “floody” style beam which gives a smooth, wide viewing angle. It doesn’t haven any reviews on Amazon but it is on sale for $20. The Atom A0 is well constructed with a bead-blasted stainless steel which gives it a very smooth feel, and turns on and off by simply turning the bezel. You can also switch between high output (25 lumens with a runtime up to 2 hours) and low output (0.24 lumens with a runtime up to 120 hours).
Are you looking for a heavy duty 1xAAA flashlight? Well you got it. Take a look at the Klarus MiX6 Ti titanium keychain flashlight. This flashlight uses a powerful XP-G R5 LED and its beam is impressive for its size. The titanium construction makes it extremely light, durable and corrosion resistant. We would only consider the Klarus MiX6 Ti if you really need a tiny and very tough flashlight, otherwise we would stick with one of the other above options for better value.
Best 1xAA flashlights
The Sunwayman V11R is the best 1xAA flashlight due to its combination of a high quality design and build, great output and it’s amazing fully variable light adjustment. It has a control ring interface that allows you to turn it from ultra-low 1 lumen up to 216 lumens and allows for adjustment before you even turn the flashlight on. Due to this, it does have a slightly higher price than other 1xAA flashlights. With fantastic runtime, 10-130 meter range, fully waterproof, tail stand, and a great size and weight. The only issue we have with this flashlight is that it takes both 1xCR123A or 1xAA, but to use AA batteries you need to purchase the optional AA extender. Currently the best deal we’ve found is a combo that includes the Sunwayman V11R with AA Extender and well as two excellent high output batteries from EdisonBright. The Sunwayman V11R originally had issues with the metal clicker on the back but this has been resolved in newer versions and it now comes with a rubber button that doesn’t get stuck. CR123A batteries are still great because not as many flashlights use them and they’re less likely to be out of stock if everyone is in a rush to buy batteries.
Our runner-up choices are based on personal preference and the current prices for the flashlights. For the majority of people, something simple like the Foursevens Quark Tactical QTA (formerly knowns as 4Sevens QAA) or the ThruNite Archer 1A are great, reliable and bright flashlights. The popular Zebralight Sc52 Neutral White or the Zebralight Sc52 Cool White are incredibly efficient on single AA batteries and can generate a ton of light.
Another fantastic, rugged option is the Olight S15 which comes with a 2xAA extender and 4 EdisonBright batteries. The extender allows you to use the Olight S15 in its 2xAA form for even better results. For a stainless steel option we recommend the ThruNite T10S.
Best 2xAA flashlights
For 2xAA flashlights, we prefer simple, reliable and powerful flashlights. Our top pick is the Streamlight 88033 Protac Tactical Flashlight.
We recommend the Olight S15 with extender which we also recommended as an excellent 1xAA flashlight, but it also comes with an extender allowing you to use 2xAA batteries for greater performance. Next up we have the FourSevens Quark QP2A. The Eagletac D25A2 is another comparable flashlight, as well as the Fenix LD22.
What about something a little different? See Nitecore’s EA2 Explorer which has a distinctive 2-button interface that allows anyone to pick it up and use it. Many single button interfaces can be complicated to use.. At 280 lumens and five brightness levels this is a great easy to use choice. Note: some individuals with larger fingers had difficulties
Best 4xAA flashlights
Our top pick in this category is the 4xAA Sunwayman D40A flashlight. Excellent build quality combined with a simple two-button interface with an overall solid feel and good size in your hand. It has an effective range of 315 meters, is tail stand capable (can be used as a candle), anti-roll ring on the body, and has multiple outputs ranging from 30 to 980 lumens. For simple usage its great, press the buttons and it will switch from turbo>high>mid>low. The hidden modes such as strobe and moon mode take a bit of practice but once you get its quite easy to use. The moon mode is great for indoor usage and inside tents. Sunwayman is also known for their excellent HA-III coatings on their flashlights, which allows them to be tougher and more resistant to scratches, salt and other chemicals. The D40A comes with a holster that can be attached with its velcro strap or looped through a belt. The Sunwayman D40A costs a bit more than some of its competitors, but its overall design, build quality and nice clean beam are worth the price.
Our runner-ups include the 3xAA EagleTac GX25A3 and the 4xAA JETBeam SRA-40. Both are high quality, well made flashlights with great beams. For the price, however, we suggest stick with our top recommendation or going for something more powerful, depending on your needs. If you’re looking for a budget option there is the Nitecore EA4 which is a essentially a basic version of the Sunwayman D40A. The beam is not as clean, it has a single-button design and its missing a few other features such as moonlight mode, but nevertheless its a good quality budget choice.
Best 8xAA flashlights
For greater performance, we can look at some of these flashlights’ siblings. With Nitecore, we have the powerful 8xAA EA8 Caveman flashlight that can go up to 900 lumens (2 hours) or as low as 2 lumens (800 hours). With EagleTac we have the 6xAA SX25A6 Flashlight. The SX25A6 also has great options for diffusers and filters if you’re into that. Both of these flashlights maintain excellent efficiency and output on standard alkaline batteries and are comparable to their Li-ion siblings.