One modern miracle that we take for granted is light on demand. Everywhere we go, there are headlights, streetlights, and overhead lights to illuminate the world around us—until there isn't. Sudden, unexpected darkness can be caused by a factor as mundane as a blown-out lightbulb or as a severe as a power outage caused by a natural disaster. When you least expect it, you'll need a flashlight.
With the advent of mobile phones, we don't think much about everyday-carry (EDC) flashlights—like our favorite, the Olight S2 Baton(available at Amazon)—these days, but there are plenty of scenarios where you'll want to save your phone’s battery life for something else.
In Reviewed’s lab, we have spent the better part of a month researching and testing the best flashlights on the market, from keychain to pen lights and more. Our process focused on luminance, durability, and ease of use to determine which flashlights would best serve the most people.
These are the best flashlights we tested ranked, in order:
Olight S2 Baton
SOG Dark Energy DE-03
Fenix PD35 Tac
Streamlite Stylus Pro
Photon Freedom Micro
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Light facts: Made in China, uses 2 CR123A or 18650, 950 lumens, High/Medium/Strobe/Signal models, TIR Optics
We picked the Olight S2 Baton as the overall best flashlight. Tipping the scales at just three ounces, the S2 impresses us with all its features. It has a magnetized bottom so it's perfect for amateur mechanics and builders, as it sticks onto hoods and can hold loose nails.
The S2 also proves itself outside the home. Its aluminum body survived being submerged in 28°F water, having a 20-pound weight dropped on it, and falling from a four-foot drop.
Functioning purely as a flashlight, the Baton punches above its price point. The Total Internal Reflection (TIR) lens ensures that there are no dark spots on any subject you shine the light on. During testing, that more complete illumination allowed us to light up a 10-foot circle on a wall at a 21-foot distance.
All this in a 4-inch-long package means you can keep the Olight S2 Baton stashed away in a drawer for emergencies or clipped in your pocket at all times.
Light Facts: Made in China, comes with a 18650 battery, 400 lumens, rechargeable.
Whether it sits in the glove compartment or on a shelf in the garage, the Anker Bolder LC40 offers superior value. You'll be hard-pressed to find a flashlight that covers as many bases for the money.
Anker has designed the Bolder to handle a wide variety of situations. The scalloped bezel allows you to strike with this flashlight without risking the bulb. This can be used for self-defense or getting out of a sinking vehicle.
What sets the Bolder apart from the rest is the rechargeable 18650 battery (with USB cable) that's included. Normally at the sub-$20 price point, you're dealing with AA and AAA batteries. A 18650 battery offers more power and longer uptime.
Hello, I'm Jon Chan, the senior lab technician at Reviewed. Over the past six years, I've tested everything from shop vacs to space heaters. When it came to testing flashlights, I wanted to mirror the testing philosophies I used for pocket knives and multitools. It all comes down to which is the most useful in the most number of situations.
We divided the testing into three sections: luminance, durability, and ease of use.
To test luminance— relative illumination—between the flashlights, we used a camera's ISO adjustment in a dark room. We also measured beam distance by observing how large a solid circle each flashlight could make on a wall 21 feet away.
For durability, we dropped, struck, and dunked each flashlight into a bath of ice water to see if it was water-resistant.
We evaluated special features like strobe and SOS modes.
Finally, for ease of use, we just took each flashlight and used it for a day. We did everything from inspect water pipes to search for that fallen potato chip. All along the way, we made notes about weight, feel, and access to features.
What You Should Know About Flashlights
CR123A: Also known simply as 123's, CR123A's are a mainstay of devices that require more power. They are more expensive than store-bought AA batteries, but are typically more powerful. They also work better in freezing-cold temperatures.
18650: In the past, only laptops contained 18650 batteries, but today, many powerful flashlights enjoy the extra juice from a rechargeable battery. If you can't find a 18650 for sale, in some cases, you can substitute with two CR123A's.
AA & AAA: These are the batteries that everyone grew up with. They come in a wide range of voltages from 1.5 to 3.6. No matter what kind you get, they hold less charge than CR123A or 18650, but are cheaper.
Other Flashlights We Tested
SOG Dark Energy DE-O3
Light facts: Made in China, uses AA batteries, 128 lumens, extremely tough.
If we had to choose a flashlight to bring into the apocalypse, it'd be the SOG Dark Energy DE-03. While it isn't the most powerful of the flashlights we tested, it is one of the toughest.
It survived an attempt to dig through a concrete wall, a major tumble, and, if you ever drop it in a river, it will be fine. Not that you'd ever lose your grip on it, since the exterior is highly textured.
Combine all this with a sturdy clip and a weight of fewer than four ounces, and the perfect everyday carry flashlight emerges.
This flashlight can only produce 128 lumens, but we like the way it throws light. It has a hotspot in the center, and is able to produce an 8-foot circle of light on a wall from 21 feet away.
Light facts: Made in China, 1000 lumens, Turbo/High/Medium/Low/Strobe modes, comes with two CR123A batteries
The Fenix PD35 TAC is a favorite among outdoor enthusiasts for its rugged exterior and high water resistance at a depth of two meters for 30 minutes. It’s also one of the more versatile models that we tested. It has holes for a lanyard on the back, as well as an adjustable clip.
While using the PD35, we like its feel in our hand. However, after prolonged usage, the flashlight gets really hot, so if you’re going to use it for more than 10 minutes, keep it off the Tubro and High settings.
Light facts: Made in China, 200 lumens, knurled body, pocket friendly
If you want a flashlight that discreetly hides in your pocket, the Eagletac D25A tops our list. After we took its clip off, it’s a smooth fit, although the body of the D25A itself is covered in a pleasant knurl texture.
Don't mistake its pleasant handling experience for a dainty flashlight. Eagletac constructed the D25A out of stainless steel, a tougher material than the aluminum that our top picks are made of. While this does increase its weight, this flashlight's small stature keeps the total mass under two ounces.
Light facts: Made in the United States, 139 lumens, uses 3 AAA batteries, High/Low/Strobe modes
We've all heard of Maglite, and the XL50 does the storied brand proud. When you first pick it up, you'll notice the heft. This American-made flashlight feels solid in our grip.
The reason the XL50 isn't one of our top picks is because of its fence sitting. Its 5-inch length makes it one of the larger flashlights in our EDC roundup.
However, its brightness does not match its size—in that it doesn’t create an effective level of light given how much space it takes up. Additionally, it uses AAA batteries for power, but it needs three of them to operate. As an in-the-drawer flashlight, the XL50 is a solid American choice, but it's design does not lend itself to being carried in your pocket. Also, it’s lightly textured grip made it difficult to grip during wet weather conditions.
Light facts: Made in China, 90 lumens, uses 2 AAA batteries, has a lantern mode
The Streamlight Stylus Pro 360° has proven itself to be the strangest of all the flashlights we tested. Its design contains elements from a lantern, a flashlight, and a signal light. If you pull on the front end, you'll reveal the built-in lantern attachment. It basically creates a small circle of even light that's ideal for signaling people behind you, as well as momentary reading.
There is an important limitation with the Stylus Pro–it's easy to turn on for a moment, but hard to switch it to continuous mode. It is impossible to get the Stylus to stay on using just a thumb; during testing, we needed to switch to either our index finger or other hand.
We recommend getting the Stylus Pro 360° if you do outdoor inspectional work, where a quick spotlight is often needed. We don’t recommend using one for an extended period of time.
Light facts: Made in China, 130 lumens, good for keychains, uses 1 AAA battery
Of all the flashlights we tested, the Thrunite Ti3 is only one of two flashlights small enough to mount on a keychain. And, it is the only one that uses a twist method to operate.
Honestly, the twist method caused a bit of frustration during testing. You have to twist left to turn on, but twist right then left again to switch between low-light and strobe modes. However, for all its quirks, the 21-gram Ti3 delivered the most amount of light for the least amount of weight.
Light facts: Made in China, 650 lumens, good for keychains, built-in battery
The RovyVon A1 650 is a rechargeable keychain flashlight. Measuring only two inches in length, the A1 makes a solid choice for an EDC tool.
This little flashlight surprised us with its 650-lumen output, more than enough to illuminate the inside of a car or under a couch. The A1 is also water-resistant; during testing, we dunked in water several times, and it continued to work.
While we like the A1, the fact that you can’t replace the battery keeps it from breaking into our top ranks.
Light facts: Made in China, 100 lumens, good for keychains, runs on three LR44 batteries
The Slughaus Bull3t has an eye-catching design and is one of the most powerful micro flashlights.
After testing it, we think it’s more of a geeky gift than a tactical one. When it’s wet, the Bull3t is difficult to grip and hard to operate when you are wearing thick gloves.
However, it has a coolness factor, with cases made of gunmetal aluminum, black aluminum, and titanium. Our testing shows that the Bull3t is durable and bright, it just does not have the utility that we’re looking for in an EDC flashlight.
Light facts: Made in the United States, ~12 lumens, uses CR2016 batteries, keychain ready
Ready to be placed on a keychain or lanyard right out of the box, the LRI Photon Freedom Micro is the most mobile of the flashlights in our roundup.
While it is the weakest of the flashlights we tested—barely able to make a faint circle on a wall at 21 feet—the Freedom Micro charmed us with its lightweight design. Easily found for under $20, it makes for a good stocking stuffer, when you’re in a jam.
Jonathan Chan currently serves as the Lab Manager at Reviewed. If you clean with it, it's likely that Jon oversees its testing. Since joining the Reviewed in 2012, Jon has helped launch the company's efforts in reviewing laptops, vacuums, and outdoor gear. He thinks he's a pretty big deal. In the pursuit of data, he's plunged his hands into freezing cold water, consented to be literally dragged through the mud, and watched paint dry. Jon demands you have a nice day.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.