O.k., let’s get something out of the way before moving on. The U2 Ultra, a 6-inch metal flashlight from SureFire LLC, has a retail price tag of $279.
Yep, $279. For a flashlight.
But, lo, this is no workaday torch. The U2 Ultra, indeed, has luminosity enough to rival the surface of the sun. The United States Military uses it during battle. Cops wield this beam to spot creeping criminals in dark alleys. Some Web sites actually classify it as a weapon, the flashlight’s bright white beacon capable of temporarily blinding and discombobulating a perpetrator.
SureFire LLC, based in Fountain Valley, Calif., is a company with roots in weaponry. Its first markets, before entering into the outdoors stream, were military, police, S.W.A.T. forces and the like. Red-dot laser gun sights and handgun-mounted flashlights were among the company’s (www.surefire.com) product offerings.
Today, parlaying perhaps on a kinder and gentler image, and trying to grab a bigger market share no doubt, SureFire is marketing its line of lights to the masses. The company went first after the hunting crowd, introducing its products to recreational gun totters more than five years ago. Then, about two years back, SureFire started to reach out to the broader outdoors market by introducing its lights to backpackers, campers and other wilderness exploration types.
I met with the company in January at the Outdoor Retailer trade show, where a marketing rep loaned me two flashlights to test.
In addition to the U2 Ultra, SureFire set me up with its E2L Outdoorsman, a 5.25-inch light that costs $129. Like many SureFire products, the E2L uses an L.E.D. (light-emitting diode) to generate light instead of a bulb. Also like most other SureFire products the E2L puts out an amazingly solid white beam of light that illuminates dark woodsy trails or creepy basements with aplomb.
The company rates the E2L’s max brightness at 30 lumens. Its beam is comparable to the light output of much larger and bulkier flashlights from other companies. The E2L, which weighs a scant 3.5 ounces, makes most of my headlamps seem dull and silly.
A step up in brightness and performance, the $279 U2 Ultra can generate 80 lumens of light. It is slightly larger and bulkier than the E2L, though at 6 inches long and 5.7 ounces it is still quite small and portable considering its brightness. The U2 Ultra also has six selectable levels of light output; the company says its batteries will last more than 40 hours when the U2 Ultra is kept on its lowest light setting.
Both lights burn through batteries while putting out their brightest beams. The E2L is rated to produce its brightest light for only three hours. Most SureFire models run for less than five hours before needing new batteries.
The company’s line of flashlights includes more than a dozen models, with prices starting at $36. The brightest, most expensive flashlight, appropriately named The Beast, can shoot a 2,000-lumen beacon several hundred feet through the dark. It costs an astonishing $4,800 and is currently available only by special order.
The middle-of-the-line lights, like the E2L, are best for the outdoors.
On the trail and in the outdoors, I found SureFire flashlights to be best used as ancillary light sources. As a primary, always-on light source, the blaze was too much. But for spotting an orienteering flag in the dark, shining a beam on a cliff face during a mountain descent, or chasing off a prowling bear, the bright burst of a SureFire flashlight works like nothing else.