Complete Guide to Buying Flashlights

Whether you’re diving into the deep or scaling the highest mountains, we’ve learned that there’s one trusty tool you’ll always need by your side: a flashlight. 

Flashlights come in many different shapes and forms, each of which offers different strengths by your side. In this article, we’ll share everything we’ve learned about different types of flashlights from our years traveling the world. 

Flashlight Types and Their Primary Uses

The world of flashlights is actually pretty diverse! Let’s break them down:

Traditional Handheld Flashlights: These flashlights are the classics. These flashlights are versatile, great for general purposes, and come in various sizes.

Headlamps: These are perfect for when you need to use both hands. Whether you’re setting up camp or spelunking, these are a favorite because of how simple they are. 

Lanterns: For those nights under the stars when you want a soft glow around the campsite, lanterns are a must. They can be carried easily and often offer more of a broad glow than a true flashlight beam. 

Tactical Flashlights: Tactical flashlights are strong, durable, and often have a brighter beam. They’re ideal for emergency situations or more intense adventures.

Penlights: Medical professionals or technicians swear by these. They’re slim and perfect for precision. They also fit easily in your pocket or in a small area of your backpack when you’re low on space. 

Keychain Flashlights: Tiny but mighty. Great for everyday use and always within reach. Attach easily to any backpack or belt buckle. 

Spotlights: Need to light up a large area? Spotlights have got your back. These are great for large camping sites with lots of people or areas where you need to see far ahead while you hike or climb. 

Key Factors to Consider When Buying a Flashlight

Brightness & Lumens 

Think of lumens as the measure of “light power.” The higher the lumens, the brighter your flashlight. 

However, brighter doesn’t always mean better. For reading a book in the tent, a gentle glow is perfect. But for night treks, you’d want a much more powerful beam. Assess your needs to help you pick the right lumen count. 

Here’s a reference guide to help you:

Low (1-20 Lumens): Ideal for close-up tasks. Keychain and some pocket flashlights tend to fall into this range.

Medium (20-150 Lumens): Suitable for everyday tasks. Bright enough to light up a room during a power outage or for a walk in the dark.

High (150-500 Lumens): Bright enough for most outdoor activities. Suitable for hiking or in a workshop.

Very High (500-2000 Lumens): For specialized tasks. This could be for search and rescue operations, caving, or nighttime biking.

Ultra-High (2000+ Lumens): Extremely bright, often found in spotlights or high-end professional flashlights. Can light up large areas or long distances.

flashlight in purple sky

Battery Life & Type

Flashlights with longer battery life are much more convenient than those that tend to die out quickly on you. Keep the type of battery your flashlight uses in mind when making a purchase. Here are the types you may see:

Rechargeable: These batteries are very convenient for regular use. You get to simply recharge them using a USB port rather than tossing them and getting new ones, which saves you money over time too. 

Non-Rechargeable: Great for sporadic users or folks who like stocking up on batteries. Nice when you’re in a pinch and need to quickly put new batteries in.

Alkaline vs. Lithium: Alkaline batteries are reliable and commonly used. Lithium batteries, however, are stronger and much more durable in extreme temperatures. 


When you’re on the hunt for a flashlight, what it’s made of matters a lot. Here are some of the most common materials you may find in a flashlight:


Aluminum is pretty common in flashlights. This metal is strong enough to handle a few drops but light enough to not weigh you down. It’s also good at keeping your flashlight cool by spreading out the heat. However, it can scratch easy and can be a bit expensive. 

Plastic or Polymer

Plastic flashlights tend to be the cheapest and most versatile. However, they aren’t as long-lasting as metal flashlights as they aren’t as durable. You need to be careful when dropping a plastic flashlight, but they’re great if you want a budget option. 

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is an excellent option for flashlights as it’s strong and doesn’t rust. Though more durable than aluminum, it is heavier so larger flashlights may weigh you down. They also tend to cost more. 


Titanium is like a blend of the best bits of other metals. It’s strong, doesn’t corrode, and is lighter than steel. However, it does tend to be more expensive because of all of these perks. Some of the best flashlights are built with titanium.


You’ll often find rubber on your flashlight in an outer coating. This layer provides some grip, insulation, and protection against drops due to shock resistance. However, over time, rubber can wear out, especially if it’s left in harsh conditions.

Shock, Water, and Weather Resistance

If you’re a tad clumsy like some of us, or trekking through challenging terrains, you’ll appreciate a flashlight that can take a tumble and bounce back. Typically, flashlights with thicker rubber tend to be more protective when it comes to this. 

Ever got caught in an unexpected downpour? Yup, us too. So you’ll also want to look at weather resistance when picking a flashlight. To do this, you can look at the IPX rating system. 

Understanding the IPX Rating System

The “IP” in IPX stands for “Ingress Protection.” It’s a standard that tells you how resistant an electronic device, like a flashlight, is to both solid objects (like dust) and liquids (like water).

There are usually two numbers after “IP.” The first number (0-6) indicates resistance to solid objects, and the second number (0-9K) indicates resistance to liquids. 

With flashlights, you’ll most commonly see “IPX” followed by just one number, which focuses on liquid resistance.

Here’s a breakdown of the IPX liquid resistance ratings:

IPX0: No protection against water. Your flashlight isn’t designed to handle moisture.

  • IPX1: Can handle light rain or dripping water, but it’s not suitable for heavy rain or submersion.
  • IPX2: Offers protection when tilted at 15 degrees. Useful for very light rain or when moisture isn’t a significant concern.
  • IPX3: Can withstand spraying water, like a light mist or a short burst of rain.
  • IPX4: Splash-resistant from any direction. It’ll survive a splash or two or light rain, but don’t dunk it underwater.
  • IPX5: Can withstand a sustained, low-pressure water jet spray. It’s more robust against rain and splashes but still isn’t designed for submersion.
  • IPX6: Can handle high-pressure, heavy sprays of water. It’ll be okay during a heavy storm or if it gets sprayed by a hose, but it’s still not for submerging.
  • IPX7: Now we’re talking about short-term submersion. This rating means your flashlight can be submerged up to 1 meter in water for about 30 minutes. Great for accidental drops in a puddle or stream!
  • IPX8: Suitable for submersion deeper than 1 meter. The exact depth and duration will be specified by the manufacturer. If you’re near water bodies or anticipate prolonged exposure, this is the rating to look for.

Remember, while the IPX rating gives a good indication of water resistance, it’s still essential to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for use and care. 

Keep in mind that even with high IPX ratings, prolonged exposure to water or extreme conditions can still impact the flashlight’s lifespan or performance.

person holding black flashlight on palm

Flashlight Size

Flashlights come in all different shapes and sizes. These are the relative sizes of each of the different flashlight types:

Keychain Flashlights:

  • Size: Typically between 1.5 to 3 inches in length.
  • Weight: Ranging from 0.5 to 1.5 ounces.


  • Size: Approximately 4 to 6 inches in length.
  • Weight: Around 1 to 2 ounces.

EDC (Everyday Carry) Flashlights:

  • Size: Roughly 3 to 5 inches in length.
  • Weight: Can vary widely, usually between 2 to 5 ounces.

Tactical Flashlights:

  • Size: Typically around 4 to 7 inches in length.
  • Weight: Varies, but often between 4 to 10 ounces.

Handheld Searchlights:

  • Size: Generally 6 to 12 inches or more.
  • Weight: Can range from 10 ounces to several pounds.

Lantern-style Flashlights:

  • Size: Size varies significantly, but many are between 6 to 12 inches tall.
  • Weight: Typically between 1 to 4 pounds, depending on battery type and construction.

Beam Type & Modes

A flashlight can offer more than just one kind of light show. Do you want a focused spotlight or a broad floodlight?

Always check out the type of beam a flashlight has to offer, as well as any specific modes they have. SOS modes can flash to alert nearby individuals that you need help, while adjustable lighting can make your flashlight more versatile. 

exploring in a cave

Switch Type & Location

Nobody ever really thinks about the switch on your flashlight, but we think you should! It’s a tiny detail that really matters. 

Flashlights can have buttons on the bottom or side, or can have a twist-action to turn on. Buttons are easier to turn on, but can also accidentally turn on in your bag if squished. It’s really up to your personal preference which you choose. 

Cost vs. Quality

Balancing budget with quality can be a challenge. While splurging might get you a flashlight with all the bells and whistles, sometimes a simple, reliable model without the hefty price tag does the trick. It’s all about what feels right for you.

Budget Flashlights ($1-$20): Often made of plastic and might have fewer features. Suitable for basic tasks.

Mid-Range ($20-$100): You’ll find a variety of materials, from plastic to metals. These often have better brightness options and battery life.

High-End ($100 and up): Typically designed for professionals or enthusiasts. They’re durable, bright, and come with many features. Materials like titanium or aircraft-grade aluminum are common, and they might include advanced technology like programmable modes.

Additional Features

Some flashlights come with fun extras—a clip to attach it to your hat, maybe a magnetic base to stick it to your car, or even a colored lens to change beam color. Think about the little things that might make your adventure brighter and more convenient.

Safety Precautions & Maintenance

Your flashlight will serve you well if you treat it right. Store it properly, avoid extreme temperatures, and remember to clean it now and then. Your cleaning methods will change depending on the material of your flashlight, but keeping the button and battery pack free of debris will help it last longer.

Remember to always be aware of your surroundings, too. Using a super-bright spotlight near flammable materials, for example, might not be the best idea. You also want to make sure you don’t shine your light in anyone’s eyes, and that any clips you use are tight and secure to prevent your flashlight from falling. 

Recommendations & Top Picks for Different Adventures

Every adventure is unique. So, we’ve compiled some top picks for flashlights based on the type of adventure you’re going on. This list isn’t exclusive, so ultimately go with what’s best for you. 

Camping: Look for lanterns or adjustable beam flashlights.

Hiking/Backpacking: Compact, long battery life, and lightweight models are perfect.

Mountaineering: Durability and brightness are essential. Consider tactical flashlights.

Diving: Dive lights with high IPX ratings are a must.

Emergency Situations: Flashlights with SOS or strobe modes can be life savers.

Urban Adventures: Penlights or keychain flashlights are nifty and convenient.

Final Thoughts

The world of flashlights is vast and varied. But with the right information and a clear understanding of your needs, finding the perfect companion for your adventures becomes a breeze. 

If you’re on the hunt for a new one, check out our article on Best Flashlights for Camping


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