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. It could be something as mundane as a blown-out lightbulb or as a severe as a natural disaster, but at some point, you'll probably need a flashlight.
Nowadays we don't think much about flashlights–like our favorite, the Olight S2 Baton(available at Amazon for $38.97)–because every mobile phone has one, but there are plenty of scenarios where you'll want to save that battery for something else.
We spent the better part of a month researching and testing nine well-regarded flashlights. Everything from keychain to pen lights got put through their paces in Reviewed's labs. During testing, we 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
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 impressed us with all its features. It has a magnetized bottom so it's perfect for amateur mechanics and builders, sticking onto hoods and holding loose nails.
The S2 also proved 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. That more complete illumination allowed us to light up a 10-foot well-lit 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 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.
The Reviewed testing team, Kyle Hamilton, Julia MacDougall, and I, decided to divide the testing into three sections: Luminance, Durability, and Ease of Use.
To test relative illumination between the flashlights, we used a camera's ISO adjustment in a dark room. We also measured 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.
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. These types of batteries offer two major advantages: ability to recharge and more power. 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 chose 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 loose your grip on it, since the exterior is highly textured. Combine that with a sturdy clip and a weight of less than four ounces, the perfect everyday carry flashlight emerges.
We did have some concerns that it could only produce 128 lumens. However, we liked the way this flashlight threw light. It has a hotspot in the center and was able to produce an 8-foot circle of light on a wall from 21 feet away.
Light facts: Made in China, 1300 lumens, High/Medium/Low/Strobe modes, comes with a 18650 battery,
The Zebralight SC63 has a lot in common with the Olight S2 Baton. It has the same basic design, but with a lot more juice. However, it lacks the same ease of use. You can swivel the S2's clip to any position, while the SC63's is fixed. We also found the SC63 less pleasant to hold. While gripping it, the clip dug into our palm and the body's stature is just little too short to make us feel like we have a good purchase on it.
That being said, the SC63 stands leagues above most ordinary flashlights. Among all the flashlights we tested, the SC63 proved to be the most powerful. The beam that it throws has no dark spots. We found this especially important in the low-light mode, making reading maps and notebooks a lot easier at night.
Light facts: Made in China, 200 lumens, knurled body, pocket friendly
If you want a flashlight that can discretely hide in your pocket, the Eagletac D25A tops our list. After we took the clip off, everything was smooth sailing. Well, not all smooth sailing, as the body of the D25A is covered in a pleasant knurl texture.
However, don't mistake a 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 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. The XL50 does the storied brand proud. When you first pick it up, you'll notice the heft. This American-made flashlight felt 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 roundup. However, its brightness does not match its size. Also, while it uses easily obtainable AAA batteries, it needs three of them to operate. As an in-the-drawer flashlight, the XL50 is a solid American choice, but not for everyday use.
Light facts: Made in China, 130 lumens, knurled body, pocket friendly
As far as pocket flashlights go, the Fenix E12 is competent competitor. We found the 130 lumen bulb a little weak, and the lack of a pocket clip annoying. However, the sub-$30 price is hard to beat.
For that affordable price, you get a knurled body made from hard-anodized aluminum. The durable body can survive in water down to a depth of 6.5 feet. When you combine these two specs, you get a flashlight that's perfect to keep in your pack while camping.
Light facts: Made in China, 90 lumens, uses 2 AAA batteries, has a lantern mode
The Streamlight Stylus Pro 360° proved itself to be the strangest of the flashlights we tested. The 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, and momentary reading.
That actually brings up an important limitation with the Stylus Pro–it's easy to turn on momentarily, but hard to switch it to continuous mode. It was impossible to get the Stylus to stay on with just our thumbs; we needed to switch to either our index finger or other hand. We'd recommend getting the Stylus Pro 360° if you do outdoor inspectional work, where a quick spot light is needed often, but not 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 was only one of two flashlights small enough to mount on a keychain. However, it was the only one that used a twist method to operate. Honestly, the twist method caused a bit of frustration. 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 the United States, ~12 lumens, uses CR2016 batteries, keychain ready
The final flashlight we tested was the LRI Photon Freedom Micro. Ready to be placed on a keychain or lanyard right out of the box, the Freedom Micro is the most mobile of the flashlights in our roundup. While it was 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 the perfect stocking stuffer.
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.