Compact Flashlight Comparison

So I must admit: I love flashlights.  Being able to bring illumination where there is none, simply with a click or a twist, is IMG_1837comforting to me. Dark into light. I have lots of them, from rechargeable to battery fed to crank-powered. White lights, krypton, xenon, LED. I have them scattered around the house and my vehicles like a kid scatters toys. I have batteries for them stockpiled up so I can keep that comfort rolling in a lights-out situation for quite some time. I like my flashlights rugged and I don’t mind spending a few bucks to get one that can take a bit of a beating. I’ve had some of those el cheapo by-the-register LED flashlights from a 7-11, and they simply suck.

By Drew, a contributing author of SHTFBlog & Survival Cache

Multiple LEDs fade or stop working altogether, you have to bang them to get them to work, switches stop functioning….just a whole lot of headache to save a couple bucks. So, here, I’d like to show you a few of my favorites, ones that travel around with me in my vehicles, stay on the bed stand, clip on my pocket for constant illumination service. Did I mention I love flashlights?

 

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From top to bottom: Maglite Mini-maglite, Streamlight Strion rechargeable, Streamlight Polytac LED, Streamlight MicroStream AAA.

I have lots of hands-on experience with all of the above flashlights, save the Streamlight Polytac LED, which I just purchased to pair with my VTAC light mount for my AR-15. They are all compact  (from the 3 1/2″ long MicroStream to the 5 3/4″ long Mini-maglite), throw a useful amount of light, and are tough as nails. Let’s run them down:

Maglite Mini-Maglite AA

The Maglite Mini-Maglite  is kind of a standard flashlight, a common higher-end light that many people own. This light that I own is an older, standard Krypton bulb model that runs on two AA batteries. This flashlight can be picked up anywhere for a very reasonable amount of money (usually less than $15 for the light with two bulbs [one stored in the tail of the light], a belt holster, and two batteries) at Wal-Mart, hardware stores, even auto parts places. They are made of knurled aluminum, and have rubber O-ring gaskets to keep things watertight to a few feet of immersion. They can also take a drop on a solid surface from over 3 feet.

Here’s the illumination from my personal Mini-Maglite with fresh batteries at about 20 feet. The beam is adjustable from floodlight to spotlight, and it is really a great feature. You can also unscrew the head of the flashlight to expose the bare bulb, which throws quite a bit of light in the manner of a lantern.

AA Mini-maglite Krypton

AA Mini-maglite Krypton

Maglite now offers an LED version of this light, which is much brighter and preserves batteries via two brightness settings. At high brightness, it stays on for over 10 hours, and on the 25% power setting, over 30 hours. I haven’t bought one yet, because quite frankly, the one I have still works awesome after about 2 years of riding around in my truck glovebox. I’ve used these out fishing, hunting, and camping since I was a small boy, and they never disappoint. Maglite  makes a huge assortment of lights, and I would have 100% trust in any of them were I to buy one on the future. Can’t go wrong with this light. Buy tons at bargain prices, keep them scattered about, and rest assured you have a simple, tough, and reliable light that you can depend on when the chips are down. Just be sure to stock up on batteries and extra bulbs, which are dirt cheap and easy to find as well!

Streamlight Strion Rechargeable

Next up is my personal favorite, the Streamlight Strion. Again, this is an older model that I’ve had for probably 10-plus years. The Strion is great because it is rechargeable high-performance flashlight that out-performs pretty much any other compact flashlight I’ve held it up against. The only thing I have to beef about with this flashlight is that the battery does indeed peter out, as with any other battery, and doesn’t hold as much of a charge as when it was new.  New, this bugger threw over 80 lumens of light whenever I needed it with a simple push of a tail-cap button.  Now, over 10 years later, it still is quite bright, MUCH brighter than a AA Maglite, but still just a shade of its former self. It still does, however, keep the charge for the same amount of time: 45 minutes to an hour of continuous-on time, and with a couple hours of charging on one of the two supplied chargers (one home, one auto) it comes right back to its full illuminating glory. However, thankfully Streamlight still offers the same batteries, and I have a new one in the mail on its way to me via eBay to bring this old friend back into fighting trim.

The Strion is made of anodized aluminum, and only weighs 4.6 ounces (the heaviest of the four here). It reportedly can be recharged over 1,000 times on the same battery, and can sit on the plugged-in charger ready and waiting, indefinitely. The beam can be focused like the Maglite, from a floodlight to a spotlight, and it also comes with a spare bulb, which I still have not needed.

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Streamlight Strion beam (old battery) at 20 feet

Why do I love this flashlight so much? Because it’s really, really, REALLY tough. You can probably see all the scratches and dings in the case of the light in the picture above. This flashlight has ridden in packs, pockets, taped to a shotgun during a pesky raccoon-in-the-trash episode, dropped down cliffs, dropped in a river, and once, while deer hunting in West Virginia, I dropped the light on a trail on the last day we were there. I didn’t realize it until a couple days later, when I was looking for it for some illumination duty. Long story short, it stayed there in the WV mountains for a YEAR until I made it back down there the following hunting season, and I found it on the trail, right about where I’d figured it’d fallen out. It was dead, but everything still worked and operated fine… with a couple hours’ of charging, baddabing, baddaboom! It worked like the day I bought it. Ladies and gentlemen, that is quality, and the reason all the flashlights I buy from now on are Streamlights. 

The downside to this magnificent flashlight? As you may imagine, it’s pricey. I spent over $80 when I bought it way back when, and to replace it today would be about $75 for the updated model. However, I would spend that again in a heartbeat for the same light if I had to. This is quality, and I can’t recommend it enough. Money well spent, and I figure I’ve saved that much in batteries alone.

Streamlight MicroStream

The next flashlight is another favorite, the Streamlight MicroStream.  This little bugger is tiny, about the smallest you could possibly make an effective flashlight that’s wrapped around a AAA battery. It is only rated at 20 lumens, but the bright white LED light it shoots belies its small size, and seems brighter than it really is.

Streamlight MicroStream beam at 20 feet

Streamlight MicroStream beam at 20 feet

This flashlight is fabricated from rugged aircraft aluminum, with a polymer interior lining and shock-proof switch housing that let this thing be bounced around with no worries. The packaging comes with a spare tail-cap button (I guess it’s meant to last long enough to wear it out!), an Energizer AAA battery, and a lanyard so you can keep it around your neck, or tied to a pack. It also has a nicely innovative clip on the barrel of the light that allows clipping in two directions: in your pocket like a clip-on pocketknife, or it can clip on the brim of a baseball cap or hat to give you illumination hands-free, wherever you look. It’s rated to drop over 6 feet with no issues, and its bulb is designed to last 30,000 hours, with the battery run life over an hour. I keep one of these with me wherever I go, clipped on my pocket opposite my H&K folding knife. It is definitely on my “don’t leave home without it” list, and it is absolutely indispensable. They retail for between $20-25, and you can find them on Amazon or Cabela’s. I just ordered two more, making a total of three. These little guys ROCK.

Streamlight Polytac LED

Last up is the newest light in the fold, but the most impressive so far. I bought a Streamlight Polytac LED a little while ago based on lots of positive recommendations for a high-quality, affordable light that I could use in a tactical application. I’ve only had it for a couple weeks, but it is quickly rising in the ranks of my favorites.

The body of the flashlight is polymer, very similar to the rugged stuff that Glock frames are made of, and it is 100% shock-proof and waterproof to 3 meters for up to 1 hour. Its 50,000-hour rated C4 white LED light throws a toast-making 130 lumens of blinding light for three hours of continuous run time on two CR123 batteries. When I say this sucker is unbelievably bright, trust me. I know there are other lights out there that throw far more, but this light is bright enough to be very disorienting and even slightly painful when shone in the eyes. It easily out-performs the other three flashlights shown here, and at a VERY reasonable $36 price on Amazon for the brighter 88850 model, which is the one I own. The 88800 model has a 72-lumen xenon bulb that doesn’t have the long life an LED has, but the price, $25, reflects that. For my money, the Polytac LED is a HUGE bang for the buck, even with the relative weakness of having to use harder- to find CR123 batteries…however, most CR123 batteries have a 10 year shelf life. I buy them in bulk via eBay and stow them. I’m gonna get more, that’s for sure! Chances are excellent a few will end up in X-mas stockings this year…

Streamlight Polytac LED beam at 20 feet

Streamlight Polytac LED beam at 20 feet

 

Polytac mounted on AR-15 with Viking Tactics light mount

Polytac mounted on AR-15 with Viking Tactics light mount

I tried to line all four lights up for a relative comparison to show you how they stack up. The results were mediocre at best, but I’ll post it here anyway for yuks ‘n’ giggles. Sorry about the small font; the lights are, from left to right: MicroStream, Polytac LED, Mini-Maglite, Strion.

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Having a high-quality flashlight that you KNOW will work no matter what is more comforting than you might think. Spending $80 on a flashlight might seem ridiculous, but being sure I’ll have illumination that will work when I need to get to the generator in the middle of the night, or changing a tire on a lightless country road, or identifying whatever went “bump” in the night is priceless to me, so I buy the best I can and make sure my family has the best, too.

How about you guys? Do you go high-end on stuff like this? What’s your illumination plan? Stay safe!

TRW

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8 comments… add one
  • BD November 13, 2013, 9:35 am

    I haven’t been able to drop the cash for one of the high end lights yet. I did give this little guy a chance though…

    http://luxproflashlights.com/products/lp600c-luxpro-extreme-tac-600/

    For 20 bucks it will throw a beam all the way across my yard and into the neighbors yard. I have about 320′ of fence line down the front of my property…and it will make it almost all the way to the end. I can easily light up anything I need to see in my front or back yard in the middle of the night.

    I had a car run through my fence one night…and this little baby helped get the livestock rounded up and into a temporary holding area. I love a good flashlight….so I bought one for dad and have been keeping my eyes open for some more (or something comparable).

    The downside…I don’t know if it can safely be mounted on a rifle or shotgun.

    I love the looks of the polytac. At that price, it may be a good alternative. I’ve also seen some CREE that do pretty well.

    Reply
    • Road Warrior November 13, 2013, 9:54 am

      320 Lumens? Yee-haw! I think I’ll grab one and give it a workout! Thanks for the heads up!

      Reply
  • Templar November 13, 2013, 9:51 am

    I carry two, both from 4Sevens: a Quark AA, because of its form factor– it’s short, and always available at my left hand on my belt (right next to my spare magazine), and a Preon P2. The latter is penlight-shaped, and is carried in a sleeve side pocket. The Preon is a bit brighter than the Quark and has a slightly wider beam dispersion. Both use garden-variety alkaline cells.

    Reply
  • Firestar November 13, 2013, 10:31 am

    Maglite
    They used to make a 3 battery Maglite which was outstanding. I bought three of them and used them quite a lot. Maglite has an
    outstanding policy that if the batteries corrode and destroy the
    flashlight Maglite will replace the light free of charge. The catch
    is that the batteries have to be a national, recognized brand.
    Other than that all you have to pay for is the postage to get the
    corroded flashlight to one of their service centers.

    Reply
  • BM November 13, 2013, 1:00 pm

    Check out dx.com
    They have heaps of bright LED flashlights. I havent had any of the (many) that I bought from them fail yet.

    Reply
  • smokechecktim November 13, 2013, 4:12 pm

    I carry a Ledlenser M5 in my back pocket. A Pelican 2410 in the kitchen. My truck has two heavy duty Streamlight 45301 mounted on either side of the cab and my favorite the 511-p3 mounted between the two front seats. The 511 has no batteries just caps. It will light for about an hour and takes less then two minutes to fully recharge. There’s also a variety of no name led lites scatter about.

    Reply
  • ThatguyinCA November 13, 2013, 5:12 pm

    I’m EXTREMELY partial to the Techlite Lumen Master. You can buy them in packs of three at Costco for less than $25. I bought 3 packs several years ago (back when it had the beveled edge). They are pretty damn bright, compact and well built for being so inexpensive. I also like that they take AAA batteries (not the more expensive battery types). It’s got Hi/Low/Strobe. My only complaint is the brightest setting isn’t the first setting, it’s the second setting. But that’s not a deal breaker considering it was about $7 per flashlight. I’ve been carrying the same one from the first batch. I never go ANYWHERE without it. No problems (i’ve read that it’s hit or miss, but all 6 from the two packs I’ve opened are still ticking as well). I’ve actually used it in self defense a few times, one time even striking with it (on the back of the guys hand). I’ve also got a couple of maglites and headlamps around the house and in the cars. But really I can’t say enough how impressed I am with those Techlites. Best bargain ever.

    Reply
  • irishdutchuncle November 14, 2013, 4:28 am

    I’ll probably buy one, something “tacticool” that weighs less than my
    4D-cell Maglite. (plus one for the wife, and one for the kid)
    the remainder of my flashlight dollars will probably be spent on headband types, because they’re just so useful.

    Reply

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