So I must admit: I love flashlights. Being able to bring illumination where there is none, simply with a click or a twist, is comforting 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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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!
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