The importance and usefulness of a good flashlight cannot be understated. A flashlight is a key element of any sort of disaster or emergency preparedness kit. Flashlights should be stored around the house, taken with you when walking in the dark, brought on camping trips, kept in your vehicle, and in a variety of other situations. Flashlights come in handy in unexpected situations. If you wind up in a perilous situation, you certainly don’t want to be stuck without one. Ever tried changing a flat tire using your cellphone as a flashlight? How about trying to go down the basement steps to reset the breaker when you’ve blown a fuse using a candle to light your way. Let’s just say it doesn’t work too well.
Perhaps the flashlights you own are outdated. Gone are the days of ineffective, incandescent flashlights. If you’ve ever had to shake the body of a flashlight to get it to work properly, with the batteries jostling around on the inside, you know exactly the type of clunky flashlight. Now, the field is dominated by sleek, compact, powerful LED flashlights. Many of them are literally pen-sized, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand or carry around in your pocket.
Not all flashlights are created equal. Some only provide a weak stream of dim light. Others flicker off and on, requiring constant attention. Then, there are flashlights that go through batteries extremely quickly, requiring a constant supply of new batteries to be of any use. Previously, buying a reliable, high-quality flashlight meant spending a considerable amount of money.
However, that is not the case today. Now, well-made, reliable, powerful and long-lasting flashlights are affordable. This is fortunate, considering that it is important to have a good flashlight available in a multitude of situations, as mentioned above. In fact, high-quality flashlights can be purchased for under $50. This is hugely positive in terms of disaster preparedness. It’s not practical to own one decent flashlight; you need to have several at your disposal. Fortunately, if you do a little research, you’ll find that you can inexpensively purchase several flashlights for a small sum that will keep you safe should the power go out.
Five of the best flashlights available for $50 are reviewed in this buying guide. The major benefits of each are outlined, as well as a few of the positive and negative aspects worth mentioning. All five flashlights are excellent choices; the ultimate decision depends on what you are looking for.
In a Rush? The Winner after 19 hours of testing is:
1 J5 Tactical V1-PRO Flashlight
The J5 is incredibly long-lasting and ultra-bright. It’s bright enough to illuminate an entire room. You can also use it as a spotlight on objects that are over 600 feet away. It is 10 times more powerful than a typical incandescent bulb.
The flashlight can be adjusted to high, low and strobe modes. Additionally, the focus is adjustable. You can choose from a wide beam to a narrow spotlight to focus on an object, even hundreds of feet away.
The J5 is compact and convenient. It’s perfect for dog walking, doing chores around the house, camping, fishing, or hunting. You can comfortably carry it in your purse, pocket or backpack.
Cost and Value
The J5 is priced to sell; it is well below the $50 mark. It’s an excellent selection in terms of quality, features, power, and performance. It’s a very good value for a reasonable price.
2 Fenix E12 Flashlight
The Fenix is incredibly bright and pocket-sized. With a maximum 130-lumen output, this pen-sized flashlight is quite powerful. The lumen output can be adjusted for optimum efficiency, extending the battery life exponentially.
Different Lumen Output
You can adjust the lumen output to meet your needs. At the 8-lumen output, the light lasts for approximately 40 hours, 50-lumen output lasts for 6.5 hours, and full 130-lumen output lasts for about one hour.
The Fenix is IPX8 water-resistant, or waterproof. Different IPX ratings signify water resistance, and IPX8 indicates a fully functional, waterproof device.
Cost and Value
The Fenix is also well under the $50 mark. With its advanced features, excellent performance, superior design and quality materials, it’s a great return on your investment and a smart purchase.
3 Foursevens Preon P1 MKIII Flashlight
Foursevens advertises the Preon P1 MKIII as being bright enough to virtually turn night into day. The flashlight delivers specialized 92+ CRI lighting, meant to simulate natural lighting. The light is in stark contrast to the fluorescent, hospital-like lighting that other flashlights output.
As mentioned, the Preon offers 92+ CRI lighting. This simulates and resembles natural daylight. It is a pleasing alternative to artificial, harsh, fluorescent light.
The P1 features a secure, ergonomic clip. This allows you to securely affix the flashlight to your belt, your bag, your pocket and so forth. Even if you take the flashlight for a bumpy ride, full of bumps and dips, the clip stays safely in place. The clip is also corrosion and rust-resistant, even when exposed to the elements.
Cost and Value
The Preon is on the upper limit of the $50 mark. That said, it is still quite affordable and a high-quality model. From its high-end construction, natural lighting, impressive performance, overall durability and energy efficiency, it’s a very good value and well worth the money.
4 5.11 Tactical Station 4AA Flashlight
5.11 is extremely powerful. It offers maximum 508-lumen output and can reach distances of up to 119 meters. Its Candela intensity is 3523 (Candela, or cd, is the measurement of luminous or radiant intensity). It is efficient and ergonomic.
The 5.11 is small, compact and incredibly powerful, with maximum 256-lumen output. The light beam can reach an impressive distance of 119 meters. With 3523 cd, its radiant intensity is quite strong. Of course, the flashlight’s lumen output can be adjusted to increase the light’s efficiency and burn time.
The 5.11 has a comfortable, ergonomic, no-slip grip. The grip is reinforced and anodized for superior strength. The flashlight also features a removable bezel/clip crown.
Cost and Value
The flashlight reaches the upper limit of the $50 mark. The extra cost is absolutely justified, from the tactical design to the ergonomic grip and the exceptional output.
5 ThorFire Mini-flashlight
The ThorFire is by far the brightest, most powerful flashlight reviewed here. It boasts an incredible maximum 500-lumen output. Considering that the ThorFire is a mini-flashlight, it truly is small but mighty.
The 500-lumen maximum output is utterly transformative, instantly illuminating an area that was previously cloaked in complete, total darkness. Even in sheer blackness, the ThorFire is like having an industrial-strength spotlight at your disposal.
Incredibly Light, Incredible Light
The headlight weighs in at an incredible ounce excluding the battery, and just over three ounces with the battery. This makes it suitable EDC flashlight, every day carry. It’s ideal for your pocket, your purse, your backpack, your car, or any drawer in your home. It’s unobtrusive and compact. Yet, paradoxically, it’s the most powerful flashlight reviewed here.
Cost and Value
This is one of the least expensive and most affordable flashlights reviewed here. It is far below the $50 limit, making it buyer and budget-friendly. It is surprisingly powerful yet efficient. Overall, it’s an excellent value.
Battery life has a large part in determining a flashlight’s overall power. Typically, the greater the lumen output or brightness, the greater the strain on the battery. Therefore, flashlights that are extremely bright use a lot of power and go through batteries quickly. However, this is not always the case. In fact, power and energy efficiency are not mutually exclusive. This may have been the case years ago, but today, it’s simply not the case. With smart technology, a flashlight can still be powerful without draining the batteries rapidly.
It is important to note that several of the flashlights reviewed here can be powered with either regular AA or AAA batteries or, alternatively, a rechargeable 14500 flat-top battery. The 14500 battery and charger have to be purchased separately. That said, in the long run, it is a sound investment.
When determining a flashlight’s potency, you’re looking at its power. Power doesn’t just refer to its brightness or ability to illuminate a dark field. It also refers to the potency of the batteries. Some flashlights include strong, powerful, rechargeable batteries. Others require a specific kind, or brand, of battery. A powerful flashlight typically requires a potent power source.
A flashlight with a 100-lumen output is extremely powerful. It’s bright enough to light up a dark room or to focus on an object that’s far away using the zoom feature. Some flashlights have a maximum lumen output that exceeds 300. While that’s an insanely powerful flashlight, it may not be the most practical option. Flashlights that burn that bright tend to run out of battery power very quickly. Lumen output of that size can really only be done in short bursts.
A flashlight’s efficacy is largely determined by several factors.
Questions to consider are:
- Where will I be keeping the flashlight? In my home, my car, on my person, on my keychain, etc.?
- How bright is the flashlight? What is the lumen output?
- How well does the flashlight light up an area that’s completely devoid of light?
- How far from an area do I need to be able to see in front of me?
- Does the flashlight work in the rain, snow and fog?
- Will the flashlight still work properly if exposed to moisture?
The size of a flashlight really depends on you. Some flashlights are heavy enough to double as a respectable self-defense weapon. While it’s not as convenient as carrying a compact and lightweight flashlight with you, you may opt to carry a heavy flashlight with you when you go jogging alone at night or walk your dogs in the dark. Even keeping a small flashlight on your keychain is an extra safety measure that can help keep you safe from harm.
Advanced features can be what truly draws you to a specific flashlight. Some advanced features include:
- Light focusing and zooming
- Lumen output adjustment
- High performance LED lights
- Varied color output
- Night mode/day mode
- SOS/emergency flickering
- Rechargeable batteries
- Hands-free operation
- IPX rated water resistance
- Water submersion rating
- Fog-proof lens
- Rated impact resistance
- Multiple running modes
- Lens filter
- Toggle controls
- Zoom options
- Running modes
- Memory modes
- Anodized aluminum body (corrosion and rust-resistant)
- Sturdy clips for convenient carrying
- Tactical features (serrated edge, etc.)
- Glow in the dark top for easy location in the dark
- Carrying case
- Rechargeable batteries
- Automatic shutoff
- Heat dissemination
- Lanyard hole
- Magnetic rings
- Swiveling head
- Floodlight functionality
- SOS alarms (audible alarms)
- Torch mode
- Lights on both ends
Answer these questions before buying them.
Approach flashlight shopping with careful consideration.
Ask the following:
- How heavy is the flashlight?
- Can the flashlight withstand accidental water submersion?
- What does the grip feel like?
- Can I carry the flashlight comfortably in my hand?
- Do I need to use tools to change the batteries?
- Can the flashlight be accidentally switched on while it’s in my bag?
Once you’ve answered the above questions with as much specificity as possible, you can help narrow down your search and choose the headlamp that best meets your particular needs.
Don’t be tempted by the lowest price tag.
Almost everyone is on a budget these days, and there’s nothing wrong with being frugal and looking for a good bargain. However, do not waste your money on a lesser flashlight when there are plenty of affordable, well-made, durable and reliable flashlights available. A little research goes a long way. Take a careful look at the flashlight’s specs.
- What is the lumen output?
- How many different modes are there?
- How long will the flashlight last during normal, medium-light output use?
- What kind of batteries does the flashlight need?
- What is the IPX rating?
- Is it shatter-resistant if it’s accidentally dropped?
- Is it rust and corrosion-resistant?
- Is there a clip for easy carrying?
- Is the bulb LED?
- Is the flashlight lightweight and compact for easy storage?
- Does it have any tactical attributes?
- Is it worth buying several at once?
Of course, conversely, there is no reason to believe that the most expensive flashlight is the best. Sure, there is some appeal to buying an incredibly high-tech flashlight with lots of cool-sounding extra features. However, putting the bells and whistles aside, really think about what you need a flashlight for. While it might be cool to have a handmade flashlight made of carbon steel with a built-in compass that charges wirelessly, you may not necessarily need it. Remember, it’s still a flashlight that you’re interested in buying, so spend your money wisely.
Once you’ve answered the above questions, you should know whether a flashlight is truly a good deal. That way, you can buy a high-quality, affordable flashlight, instead of getting stuck with a flashlight that is cheap in both quality and price, and an extremely overpriced flashlight that is undeniably cool, but full of features that you don’t really want or need, and most certainly will never use.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How far of a distance do most flashlights illuminate?
A: Some beams can focus on objects over 600 feet away. It depends on how you adjust the beam.
Q: What is the typical lumen output for a decent flashlight?
A: 10-lumen output and under is considered dim. The 50-lumen output is considered adequate brightness. The 100-lumen output is considered quite bright. Some of the models reviewed here exceed 300-lumen output, making the beam powerful enough to reach long distances or to completely light up entire rooms.
Q: How long should my flashlight last on battery power if it is considered an energy-efficient model?
A: It depends on how often you use the flashlight and for how long. If a flashlight is used at its highest power continuously, it will usually burn for about eight hours. If it’s used on a lower setting, it can last for several days on the same battery.
Q: Why is it important to keep several flashlights in an emergency kit?
A: In an emergency, it is common to lose power. Power can be lost for several days. Flashlights provide a safe, reliable light source. Candles, kerosene heaters and other light sources can be hazardous. Flashlights are convenient and more portable than emergency lanterns, making it easier to maneuver inside or outside a house. They are also powerful tools for alerting rescuers to your presence. This is particularly true with flashlights that have emergency strobe SOS features. In the last 50 years, there have been several record-breaking blackouts and power outages. The most recent mass power outages have been due to extreme weather. For example, Superstorm Sandy and Storm Alfred both battered the Northeast, causing billions of dollars worth of damage and knocking out power for several weeks, respectively. In both instances, the storms were unexpected. Sandy veered off of its projected path, hitting New York and New Jersey the hardest with flooding, wind and rain. Alfred was a late October snowstorm that hit Connecticut while there were still leaves on the trees. The weight of the snow toppled thousands of trees, taking down power lines with them. No one was prepared for either Sandy or Alfred. When the power went out, millions of people were left in the dark in extremely perilous situations. Now, we know the importance of having emergency supply kits ready, including having plenty of reliable flashlights and extra batteries. Extreme weather cannot always be predicted, but preparedness is up to us.
Q: What is the difference between a tactical flashlight and a regular flashlight?
A: Typically, tactical flashlights serve additional purposes beyond just acting as a flashlight. A tactical flashlight can be used for self-defense purposes and, if need be, as a weapon. Tactical flashlights tend to be dense, yet still lightweight enough to be carried comfortably and without user fatigue. This largely depends on the materials used to make the flashlight, such as reinforced, anodized aluminum alloy. A tactical flashlight must also be completely reliable, as they are relied upon in emergency situations. That is why flashlights are key components of survival and emergency preparedness kits. They must be corrosion and rust-resistant, weather-resistant, moisture resistant, and rated to withstand a drop of at least one meter without breaking or cracking. Tactical flashlights also tend to be brighter than utility flashlights. As a rule of thumb, a utility flashlight should have a maximum lumen output of no less than 200 lumens. This is adequate light to illuminate a football field, and to see an object at a distance of 50 feet away with perfect clarity. Also, tactical flashlights serve other purposes. For example, many have serrated edges. This allows you to dig with the flashlight, use it as a multi-tool, shatter a windshield or window, or hit an attacker. If you do intend to use a tactical flashlight as a self-defense tool, there are some advantages to doing so. It is not considered a lethal weapon. It is legal to carry a tactical flashlight in all 50 states. The serrated edge is extremely helpful if you are the victim of an attack. While this is certainly not the primary purpose of a flashlight, in an emergency, it can be your first line of defense against an attack.
Q: Can my regular batteries be swapped out with rechargeable ones?
A: With some models, AA or AAA batteries can be swapped out with rechargeable 14500 flat-top batteries. However, you have to check with the manufacturer’s specifications. The 14500 batteries are typically not included with purchase and must be bought separately, along with the battery charger.
Q: Where are some helpful places to store my flashlight that I might not have already thought of?
A: Common uses and smart places to store flashlights include the following:
- In police cars, ambulances and firetrucks used by emergency responders in the normal course of duty
- In vehicles for emergencies, including signaling for help and seeing under the hood in the dark
- For walking pets at night
- For camping expeditions, in your tent or cabin
- In your trailer, when on long trips
- For cave exploring
- For reading
- On boats for marine-related uses
- In planes for use by pilots and passengers
- General use around the house, especially in dimly lit areas like the basement and attic
- Riding a bicycle at night
- In the garage
- Strategically placed around the house in the event of a power outage in easy-to-find places
- In hospitals for medical applications
- For climbing
- For traveling
- For fishing
- For walking in unfamiliar areas
- For diving
- For hunting
- For self-defense