In an incredibly saturated market, it can be intimidating to choose a flashlight that stands out from the pack. Luckily for you, we've established the criteria and done the testing to make these determinations. If you're looking for the all-around best flashlight available today, we recommend the OLight Baton 3 Pro. Its compact frame, strong measurables and feature density were enough to stand out against a loaded field.
Now, admittedly, the rise of the smartphone has changed the world for the humble flashlight. Still, despite the fact that everybody has one in their pocket these days, dedicated flashlights offer enough advantages and features to remain a must-have tool in modern life. A real flashlight will be brighter, more durable and can cast either a longer or wider beam of light, depending on your needs. Additionally, in an emergency, the last thing you'll want to spend your smartphone's precious battery life on is the flashlight function.
High quality flashlights are designed for any number of everyday life scenarios. Whether you're camping, far from civilization or simply walking around the neighborhood with the dog, investigating noises in the night or just digging through a dark basement -- there's a flashlight out there for you.
To help you navigate this decision, we've spent hours researching the most popular styles and brands at both physical and online retailers, read recommendations from the experts, and gotten our hands on over a dozen different options for our rigorous testing process. Our recommendations are based on factors such as light output, battery life and type, available modes of operation (Strobe, IR, brightness options), durability, heat management, and general ergonomics. Keep reading for our picks for the best flashlights of 2023:
Coming in at $70, the Olight Baton 3 Pro might outprice the cheaper options, but it more than makes up for it with impressive performance across the board. Not only does it sport impressive light output out of the gate, but that output remained incredibly consistent across a full hour of testing. At just 4 inches long and weighing less than a quarter of a pound, it can go anywhere you do, and that small package comes loaded with features. The Olight boasts 5 separate power settings ranging from a dim "firefly" mode to the ultra-bright turbo mode, a lock to prevent accidental activation, a strobe effect, IPX8 (2 meter) water protection, and even a magnetic wall holster. Taken together, it's no wonder the Olight Baton 3 Pro takes our top spot.
The ThruNite Archer is a popular flashlight, and our testing certainly showed why. Frankly, there is not better value for the money than this narrow, baton style flashlight. Its compact aluminum frame feels natural to hold and belies its impressive light output for up to 30 minutes before falling to lower lumen values. The two-button control scheme will feel familiar as soon as you pick it up, with an on/off button and a brightness selector. Factoring in the removable belt clip and IPX8 waterproof rating, you can't go wrong for just $30.
If you're planning to spend some time camping out in the wilderness, chances are you're looking for a little more from your equipment. While you could certainly take a standard flashlight, a flashlight like the LE rechargeable camping lantern offers far greater utility. To start, its wider beam and longer throw allow illumination of a much larger area, while the sidelight modes allow a softer light for use inside a tent, for example. In case of emergencies, it also includes a power bank to fully charge your smartphone.
Sitting comfortably atop the field, the Fenix PD36R Pro simply outperformed everything else we tested. With eye popping light output, 42+ hour battery life and IP68 water and dust proof certification, there isn't an application where this bad boy won't excel. It is compact enough to carry every day, has the longevity to accompany you even on long trips away from civilization, and includes the easiest access to a strobe feature of any light we tested, making it ideal for self-defense. If you can stomach the $120 price tag, you'll walk away with one of the most impressive flashlights on the market today.
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How we tested for the best flashlight
My testing of these flashlights consists of three phases: first gathering basic specs such as dimension, weight, material and any special features, followed by light level intensity tests and finally beam width measurements. Light level intensity tests were conducted by setting up the flashlight with a tripod 6 feet from a reflective screen in a pitch-black room. Using a specially calibrated LED light meter (LED light is measured differently than fluorescent or incandescent light), flashlight output was measured in Lux over the course of an hour to give an idea of brightness, consistency and battery life.
It should be noted that despite testing in near complete darkness, with products loaded with brand new batteries and/or a full charge, that these aren't absolute measurements of each product's output. Instead, the data paints a much better picture of each flashlight's performance relative to each other. As with light bulbs, you'll see a dip in output as the flashlight heats up, followed by a precipitous fall as the battery runs out of juice. You can see a visual of this on the graph of normalized outputs expressed as a percentage of initial output below. Understanding this helps to explain the plethora of choices you have when choosing a flashlight. Do you prefer very high initial brightness that drops off quickly over time or a lower initial output that remains very steady over time?
Beam width tests are much simpler. With the flashlight again set up 6 feet from a wall, a simple diameter measurement was taken of the beam of light. While useful for most of the units tested, the Lantern style lights are designed to throw their light across a much wider area and as such are excluded from this testing.
Finally, the team at the lab spent time with each flashlight and discussed impressions of each. What special features do they include? How do they feel to hold or to carry with you for a while? What about operating them in the dark? Are they liable to roll off a table if set down carelessly? Particular attention was paid to the Ingress Protection, or "IPXX" ratings of each unit. These ratings, governed by the International Standard IEC 60529, dictate the particle and waterproof ratings of the flashlights. Issues encountered during testing such as flicker or heat buildup were noted carefully, since it doesn't matter how bright a flashlight is if it's too hot to hold onto during operation.
The rest of the pack
A relative blessing in the broad sea of available flashlights is that they are generally accurately priced based on what you can expect from them in terms of performance. While all flashlights saw some decline over the course of the testing, output, consistency and longevity all increased proportional to the pricing of the units.
At the other end of the spectrum, the $120 Olight Warrior X Pro was the only flashlight to challenge the Fenix's impressive performance, even surpassing it in some categories. However, despite its first-rate numbers, this flashlight grew unreasonably hot within minutes of activation and quickly reached a point where it would be unrealistic to operate it without a thick pair of gloves.
Another interesting option is the Maglite ML300LX LED 3 Cell. At a foot long and weighing nearly a full pound, this flashlight is reminiscent of the type you'd see a police officer pull out of his trunk in an old movie. With strong light output and very impressive consistency over the full hour of testing, this is an excellent flashlight if you prefer a bulkier option. Similarly, the Infinity X1 2500 and 1500 flashlights fell into a comparable testing pattern. They offer both rechargeable or replaceable battery packs, which is certainly a perk, but the price tags associated with their outputs simply don't measure up.
Of the smaller, baton-style lights I tested, the Streamlight ProTac 2L-X was just OK, with a decent initial output but a drop to effectively zero after just 20 minutes. The larger Alifa Rechargeable LEDhad better output and consistency and an adjustable beam but weighs more than any other non-lantern light we tested, at 1.3 pounds. It also includes promotional material claiming an output of 200,000 lumens -- an exceedingly unlikely number. Just 4,000 would be enough to claim the crown for highest output we tested.
Which kind of flashlight is right for me?
First, you'll want to think about the category that works best for your application. Small, baton style flashlights are easy to fit in a pocket or purse and are available any time the need arises. They'll also never leave you with your hands full -- making them easy to bring along on tasks that require other equipment. On the other hand, a lantern style flashlight will trade economy of size for a wider beam and extra features, such as a built-in power bank or alternate lighting modes. There are also tiny key chain flashlights, headlamp flashlights and heavy-duty flashlights focused on durability.