Picking a Light

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When people who have studied up on flashlights go to flashaholics and ask them what kind of flashlight they should buy, the flashaholic has no idea how to make a recommendation. That's because flashaholics have tons of flashlights for all kinds of different situations and preferences. So immediately the flashaholic will start asking all kinds of questions that you may not have thought about completely, but they are important.

CandlePower Forums actually has a form that they ask people to fill out when they ask for a recommendation. It goes into a ton of detail and tries to accommodate every situation, which may be overkill, but there are still some pretty critical questions on there.

Don't want to read all of this? Try the quick picks page.

Store or Online
There aren't many stores that have high end flashlights, so you really open things up if you're willing to go online. It also matters where you are as to what your options are.
There are cheap lights like you get for a couple of dollars at a hardware store. Then there are budget lights that typically cost between $5 and $25, including Maglites, Rayovac Indestructible / Varta Indestructible flashlights, and lights you can get shipped directly from China. Then there is kind of a dead zone up to about $50 after which you can start getting a high-end light. Then there is stuff that is over $100 and even more. For really powerful lights, you have to spend a lot of money in order to get a larger light to hold more batteries, with enough mass to transfer heat, and a reflector large enough to focus a beam.
This is key. Do you want something to go on your keychain, or do you want something that can be used as a night-stick? Or do you want something in between that might fit in a pocket or a little bigger that might go in a holster or coat pocket.
Some of this relates to how you will use the light, but also your preference for a type of battery. If you don't want to buy a battery charger, then you need to use disposable batteries (called primaries please not alkaline since they can leak). If you already have NiMH rechargeable batteries, you can use those. Or you can go to lithium-ion batteries which opens a whole new world of possibilities. If you use the light a lot, you probably want rechargeable batteries. If the light is for emergencies, you can go with lithium primaries which have a long shelf life (10 years) and won't leak. They are available in AAA or AA size (Energizer Ultimate or Advanced) or CR123A (lots of brands). If you want maximum performance, lithium-ion batteries are the way to go.
Light Output
How much light do you need for your task?
Throw or Flood
What are you trying to see? Things far away, or things fairly close? Indoors you usually want flood, but outdoors, you may want to lean towards more throw to illuminate distant objects.
How long does the light need to last on a set of batteries? High performance lights don't usually run for more than an hour. But if you set them to a lower level, they can last for days sometimes.
Switch location/type
The classic flashlight has a switch on the side, but most higher end lights have a switch on the tail. It can be reverse or forward. Some lights do away with a clicky switch and are activated by twisting the head or tail.
User interface
Simple 1-mode on/off or multi-mode. Sometimes twisting the head will change modes. There are also more complicated lights that give you more control over modes or light levels by being programmable or having variable brightness controls. How low do you want Low to be? Even 10 lumens can be too bright for reading up close. Some lights go down to a fraction of a lumen.

See also