Recommendations for a reliable flashlight
August 10, 2018 7:08 AM   Subscribe

I would like to buy a small or medium-sized flashlight that will work reliably for years.

Every flashlight that I have ever owned has suffered from the same problem. It works fine for a few months, maybe a year – but then it develops some kind of loose connection whereby you have to keep slapping it against your open palm in order to get it to light-up. Eventually, the slapping trick doesn't work anymore, and the flashlight becomes completely non-functional.

When LED flashlights came out, I was excited, because they looked more robust and durable than the old-fashioned incandescent ones. But I was disappointed, because the LED ones seem to have the same flaw as the older ones.

I currently have at least three broken LED flashlights (one of which is this GearLight model that's very highly rated on Amazon). They're metal and look heavy-duty, and they're also relatively new, but no amount of fiddling with them (replacing batteries, assembling-and-disassembling, tapping them against a hard surface, etc.) will bring them back to life.

I'm looking for something fairly small – not those giant, heavy ones that cops use.
posted by alex1965 to Technology (25 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Mag lights are the go to for pretty much everyone I know.

We have three. One I bought when in 1994. I just replace the batteries and it goes.
posted by Ftsqg at 7:12 AM on August 10, 2018 [9 favorites]

My husband did super crazy exhaustive research on this and ended up with the Fenix PD35. I was flummoxed over why anyone would spend $70 on a flash light but I have to admit, it's pretty awesome.
posted by something something at 7:15 AM on August 10, 2018

I bought something similar to these 5 years ago at Kohl's and keep them everywhere. I have never had an issue and they last for ages. Super cheap and extremely reliable.
posted by XtineHutch at 7:20 AM on August 10, 2018

Before you go out and buy anything, if you're keeping batteries in the flashlight (and especially if you're not using the flashlight frequently) it's possible that the battery contacts are corroding and causing the issue you're describing. Banging the light would cause the battery to move against the contact and scrape at it a little bit, removing some of the build up. Try taking a little bit of steel wool to the contacts to remove any crud and see if that fixes the problem.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:33 AM on August 10, 2018 [7 favorites]

Maglite. Full stop.
posted by Dashy at 7:53 AM on August 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

I have some of those cheapass aluminum ones that have lasted very well. They're cheap enough to have in the kitchen, furnace room, car, and the unlit storage area. Hang one from a nail, and leave it there. I have a generic LED cigaret lighter flashlight in my car - always charged - and it is incredibly useful; I routinely give these as gifts. My Ozark headlamp from Walmart is performing well.

I buy cheapish flashlights because they get borrowed and never returned. I am lazy about removing batteries and they corrode, ruining flashlights. Several people I know who have Cree flashlights proselytize and now I want this USB chargeable one, and the headlamp.

If you live someplace where power outages are a thing, an emergency flashlight/ radio is excellent to have.
posted by theora55 at 7:56 AM on August 10, 2018

Fenix makes wonderful gear. So does Nitecore. There are a bunch of good manufacturers, but you are going to pay like $35 to $85 for a nice, long-lived, well-supported item. (Or you can pay $19 for the inevitable Chinese knock-offs of these originals.)

I have a Nitecore EX10 from maybe ten years ago that still works perfectly. It cost $50 then, and uses weirdo CR123 lithium batteries -- but I still happily carry it when I am out and about because I know it will work every time. I also have a cheap-and-cheerful light like the one you linked to for walks after dark: it was $4.99 at Aldi, and I don't entirely trust it.

It's more common now for higher-end lights to use the piston design that was new when it was inside that Nitecore, in which batteries are held firmly inside a piston that moves up and down inside the light body (as opposed to a AA battery rattling loose inside a cheaper light). Often they use newer battery designs, too, like those CR123s, which last longer in storage, or the 18650 form factor lithium rechargeables.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:01 AM on August 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

You could avoid the problem of contacts and springs failing by getting a flashlight with no contacts or springs. USB rechargeable flashlights with hardwired batteries won't ever have that problem. For bonus functionality, you could get a USB rechargeable headlamp or bike light, either of which can be used as a handheld flashlight as well. Just avoid cheap, random brands. Petzl for headlamps and NiteRider for bike lights (among others) are well-known, for example.
posted by whatnotever at 8:02 AM on August 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

Here are two items that should work great:

Fenix E12, tiny, $26

Fenix PD35 which is scarcely bigger and which can throw 1000 lumens of brightness at almost 300 yards in case you want to set trees on fire at the far end of the block or something, $80.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:11 AM on August 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

Came here to recommend Fenix also. In my experience, they are really good value, and are well built.

I have a Maglite that I bought probably around 1988, and it still works. These days though, there are much better lights out there.

To get the most out of your new flashlight, I would suggest you also get some Low Self Discharge (LSD) Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH )rechargeable batteries and a decent charger for them. Eneloop is the "gold standard" of LSD AAs.

Modern LED lights like to pull a lot of current and the NiMH batteries do better at that than your old school alkaline (disposable) batteries. The LSD technology means that the batteries won't drain themselves like older rechargeables were notorious for. Having rechargables, means you can always have a set of known good batteries around. When you use the light and you have any doubt about how much charge you have left, just swap the batteries out for a set that is charged, and pop the used ones in the charger.

If you want to go wayyyyy down the rabbit hole (bring a flashlight!) then check out:
Candlepower Forums and Budget Light Forum
posted by snoboy at 9:15 AM on August 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

Umpteenthing Mag-Lite. Freaking indestructible. I've had two for close to 20 years.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:25 AM on August 10, 2018

I bought a Fenix PD35 a couple years ago. It often rides in an exterior pocket of my motorcycle luggage and has probably gone like 50000km exposed to the elements, and seen just about every kind of weather, been dropped countless times, and I don’t think I’ve even had to change the battery yet.
posted by rodlymight at 10:03 AM on August 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

I bought these 5 or 6 years ago and they're still working perfectly despite TONS of use and abuse by children -- a visiting toddler even dropped one in a glass of water once and it's still going strong! HIGHLY recommend.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:09 AM on August 10, 2018

Oh and there's a long list of things that I love about the Eco-lite flashlights: they're lightweight, easy to put into and take out of the charging cradles, have night light functionality (they have sensors so they're off during the day and on at night) and they come on automatically if the power goes out so you have emergency lighting.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:16 AM on August 10, 2018

You want a Streamlite. In our LEO family, we have replaced all the Maglites in the house with these (except the one my Dad keeps by the bed to use as a club because seriously those 6 D-cells are heavy).
We keep the Stinger two-to-a-charger and regularly swap them so there's always two charged. The batteries and bulbs last a very long time.
We have Dualies in every car and emergency kit, and a couple of the headlamps, too. Really great quality.
posted by ApathyGirl at 10:23 AM on August 10, 2018

Flashlight nerds assemble!

Thrunite Archer V2 family of flashlights are well regarded - it's the choice at the Wirecutter and gear nerds as well. You have several choices in that line of Thrunite Archer lights, the one wirecutter suggests uses 2 regular batteries and runs about $30 and does everything a light should. Fewer batteries just mean shorter run time.

However, I would argue that you want to go up a model to one that uses a 18650 rechargeable battery, which will help eliminate some* of the long term durability issues, and that flashlight class is probably the ideal for most folks who can afford them. The Nutron 2c is ~50$ or the ThruNite TC12 V2 which has the two button interface for controlling modes at a 10$ premium over the nutron - which is just like the Archer line. Both use usb to charge (slowly), both can be had in different hues (cool is more blue vs natural doesn't wash out color) and both come with a battery. Flashlights like these are the amazing flashlights you had anticipated.

I have a variety of lights including several mag lights, and will be replacing/upgrading with that TC12 V2 model in natural, and love to overthink simple things like this.

*as previously noted it's likely your old batteries at the root of the issue.
posted by zenon at 11:27 AM on August 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have the lumintop aaa 3 modes, 1 aaa battery -$19 amazon

If I were to get one now, i would go for the nitecore usb rechardable flashlight 85 lumesn, red and white led . great value for $19 amazon link

Thrunite, Olight , fenix,seven are great companies . Do not buy a maglite, there are much better powerful lights for same or lower price and they will last you longer. If you really want a nerd forum to discuss flashlights and see comparions - candlepower forums
posted by radsqd at 11:37 AM on August 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've got a minuscule (1 × AAA) Fenix that lives on my keychain. I've had it since 2007. The threads that secure the head to the body are getting a little loose, but it still works fine. Obviously it gets banged around a lot.

When I need something with more throw, I use a Zebralight headlamp, which is popular with spelunkers.
posted by adamrice at 12:39 PM on August 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

First, just because I have not seen it mentioned, you want an LED flashlight. Maybe flashlights with incandescent bulbs aren't even sold anymore, because why would want one.

That said, you need to consider features: of/off switch or twist, waterproof or not. Clip to attached to pocket or bag. One feature that I like is a case that designed so the flashlight won't roll if you put it down. I have one that wobbles for a while, and it's annoying.

I also have a flashlight that I bought for my boat which is actually too bright for ordinary indoor use. IF you were to use it outside, you'd want to be very careful to not shine it anyone's eyes because it would destroy their night vision for a while. A quick look here has flashlight from 25 lumens to 1000 lumens or more.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:10 PM on August 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have one of the Ryobi flashlights that runs off the same Li-Ion packs as their power tools. It's a few years old now and still working fine.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 2:24 PM on August 10, 2018

Amazon is full of cheap LED flashlights with tons of 5-star reviews (most of them likely gamed--flashlights are a category of items where I wouldn't trust most Amazon reviews at all) that are generic junk, all similar looking but under various branding.

A lot of these cheap flashlights will run off of either 18650 Li-Ion batteries (good, but not 100% safe) or three AAA batteries in a holder (which will die fast and the holder is an extra point of failure). Li-Ion batteries are a bit of a rabbit hole, and I'd caution anyone against buying generic-looking 18650 batteries, especially off of Amazon, and that also goes for the chargers for them. On the other hand, a USB-rechargeable light from say, Fenix or Olight will come with quality batteries and will charge without needing to take them out of the flashlight itself, but those are a little spendy.

I have a completely unnecessary and ridiculous amount of not-cheap flashlights (it's a problem, actually), and I agree that the Fenix, Olight, Zebralight, Streamlite, and Nitecore brands already mentioned are all good, well-established, albeit pricey options. ThruNite is a little newer, but decent and cheaper (I'd also throw out Manker as another option on the budget-side).

The ThruNite Archer 1A or 2A (up to Version 3 now actually) mentioned by zenon are good, not dirt cheap but not-insanely priced options if you just want to use one to two AA-sized batteries (preferably Ni-MH rechargeable Eneloops). I have one of them in my car (opinion: neutral white light looks way better than cool white--a little more natural, less harsh/bluish). The 1A version (one AA battery) is fine too.
posted by Pryde at 8:26 PM on August 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

I bought 3 of this specific Streamlight model--one for each room I might need an emergency flashlight in--over 11 years ago and they're still going strong. While they're spendier than most people might want to spend on flashlights, they're still less than half the price of many other well-reviewed flashlights.

These were the best beloved flashlights among people who nerd out about flashlights when I bought them. These days flashlight nerds seem to love the Fenixes as well.
posted by rhiannonstone at 11:03 PM on August 10, 2018

Ok... so a potentially left field suggestion: Ikea's wind up flashlight is highly recommended if you just need shortish bursts of light. My kid has had it for years and still uses it nightly.
posted by apcmwh at 12:04 PM on August 11, 2018

Response by poster: Thanks. I bought a ThruNite T10 from Amazon for $20. So far, so good.
posted by alex1965 at 11:54 AM on August 30, 2018

Thanks for the update!
posted by zenon at 12:57 PM on September 4, 2018

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