fenix PD35 flashlight turned on, resting on wood

The Best Flashlights of 2021

Modern flashlights offer long battery life, powerful LEDs, and excellent color rendering. These are the best flashlights you can buy now.

If you want a powerful, versatile lighting solution, flashlights still offer advantages over headlamps in some scenarios. For one, they point wherever you want, not just where your head is pointing.

Also, due to fewer weight constraints, they tend to have more powerful, longer-lasting batteries and incredible power for modest-size devices.

And to be honest, I’m a flashlight buff. Yes, I also use headlamps a lot in the outdoors. But more often than not, I grab a small flashlight from my truck center console and, if I need two hands for a project, clasp it in my teeth. I just love having the ability to point it wherever I want without having to crane my neck in a specific direction.

So if you love torches, read on for what we’ve determined to be the best flashlights you can buy. Because we’re focused on the outdoors, we rated these based on weight, size, battery life, color rendering, and lighting versatility.

Note: This isn’t a list of “light cannons,” as you’ll rarely need 1 million candlepower. But we did include one monster in case superpowered lighting is your jam!

Feel free to scroll through and check all of our recommended buys, or to jump to the category you’re looking for:

The Best Flashlights of 2021

Best Overall Flashlight for the Outdoors: Fenix PD36R

Fenix PD36R Flashlight

Our team of testers loved the PD35 V2.0. But Fenix recently updated its line, replacing it with the new PD36R ($100). And after a couple of months of testing, we are pleased to discover that the new PD36R is an upgrade over our previous top pick for the best flashlight. The PD36R is equal to, or superior to, its predecessor in several ways.

First, the runtime is phenomenal. With the new PD36R in eco mode, you can achieve an incredible 115 hours of runtime at a very usable 30 lumens. While this is less total runtime than its predecessor, it comes at a significantly higher, more useful output.

For casual users (occasional camping trips and short bursts of high-output modes), that should amount to months between charges. Our tester has gone more than 2 months without recharging the PD36R with regular usage.

Speaking of modes, the PD36R ranges from a low-end 30 lumens up to a searingly bright 1,600 lumens. At that 1,600-lumen turbo mode, you can easily see objects at 928 feet. That’s more than enough for most use cases for recreation in the outdoors. And impressively, the PD36R can maintain that brightness for 2.9 hours.

With an IP68 waterproof rating, it can withstand being underwater up to 6.5 feet for 30 minutes. It’s also dustproof and shock-resistant. One feature that we love is that you can easily manipulate between tactical (and strobe-enabling) functions and standard use with a small button near the front.

Beyond the specs, this is a perfect hand-size flashlight (5.3 inches long, 1.04 inches in diameter) with very user-friendly functions. Turn it on and off at the tail switch, tap the small button near the front to adjust power, and check the LED on the button when turning the light on for a battery-level indication.

One change in the new model that raised our eyebrows is that the PD36R recharges with a USB-C fast-charging cord. The old model used a micro-USB cord, which we liked because it seemed ubiquitous at the time.

However, Fenix notes that USB-C is faster charging and is rapidly becoming a standard charger. We hope to see more standardization in the near future to limit the number of cords needed to keep gear charged up.

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Best Flashlight Value: ThruNite Archer 2A V3 Cool White

ThruNite Archer 2A V3 flashlight with clip

While the ThruNite Archer lacks a few of the higher-end features of the Fenix, it hits an absolutely excellent price of just $30. For that, you get a quality CREE XP-L V6 LED light source with a maximum power of 500 lumens.

And while that number may not look impressive, it’s way more than enough for most uses. And, using two AAs, it has a runtime of up to 4 days on firefly mode and 11 hours on medium (75 lumens).

Yes, this flashlight does use AA batteries. That certainly brings down the price compared with high-end rechargeables and costs money to operate. But it makes them extremely easy to repower on backcountry trips — just bring a couple of extras.

At $30, the ThruNite Archer has earned a remarkable 4.5 stars with more than 1,800 ratings on Amazon.

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Most Versatile Flashlight: NITECORE i4000R

NiteCore NT3E flashlight, USB charger, and batteries

A strong contender for the best overall flashlight, the NITECORE i4000R ($120) is one of the absolutely best flashlights on the market in terms of overall performance. But it’s significantly larger than our 2021 winner from Fenix, so it’s less suitable for hikers, hunters, or others who value light weight and small size.

If you don’t care as much about size (it weighs 4.76 ounces and is just 6.26 inches long), it should be high on your list for performance alone. The i4000R punches through the darkness with 4,400 lumens on turbo mode. That’s enough to light up objects 250 yards away.

But more importantly, it has five modes, ranging all the way down to the 2-lumen ultralow mode that provides light for up to 380 hours.

It runs on a rechargeable battery that powers four CREE XP-L2 V6 LEDs. This setup provides exceptional versatility for everyone from campers and hunters to search-and-rescue and tactical uses.

The user interface is great, providing easy access to toggle between modes (like its turbo output and strobe mode) through a dedicated button separate from the momentary-on rear tail switch.

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Best Flashlight With High Output: OLIGHT Warrior X Pro

OLight warrior x pro 2250 and rechargeable battery

With a maximum output of 2,250 lumens (and the ability to project it a whopping 500 m), the Warrior X Pro packs a heck of a punch. And for most people, that level of output is overkill. But for those who need to sweep large expanses of nighttime (like search-and-rescue personnel), this kind of power can come in handy.

Those are pretty wild specs for a flashlight that weighs just 8.43 ounces and measures less than 6 inches in length. It runs on a 5,000mAh rechargeable battery. You can recharge it anywhere you have a 12-volt USB outlet or recharger. And, it comes in 3 additional colors.

While the OLIGHT Warrior X Pro ($120) does give you excellent high-power performance, it’s weaker in the runtime category. That’s because its lowest power output is 300 lumens — more power than you usually need around a campsite. So for people looking for better runtime with lower outputs, there are better choices.

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Best Durable Flashlight: Coast Polysteel 600R

Coast PolySteel durable flashlightIf your work puts your flashlight through a lot of abuse, the Polysteel 600R ($30-40) should be high on your list. We literally tested one by shooting it with a shotgun at about 10 yards. We may have been a little too close, but it’s the only thing that ultimately destroyed this flashlight after months of abuse.

The Polysteel 600R cranks out up to 530 lumens to a distance of 685 feet on high. We found that the adjustable zoom works great to move from a tightly focused beam to a broad floodlight for versatility. On low, it has a runtime of 35 hours while still giving you a useful 42 lumens.

The only downside of this affordable flashlight is its weight. At 12 ounces, it’s probably too heavy for serious backpacking or other endeavors where weight is a factor.

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Amazon’s Bestseller: GearLight LED Tactical Flashlight S1000, 2-Pack

GearLight Box and two GearLight tactical flashlights

Two flashlights for $18? How the heck can they be any good? We’re not sure, but 10,000 reviews can’t be all that wrong. Amazon’s bestseller has a 4.6-star rating.

The best-crowdsourced flashlight you can get (at about $8 apiece), the GearLight LED Tactical Flashlight S1000 runs on three AAA batteries. And while the light is extremely vague on its specs (it has “high lumens”), it claims to have a throw out to 1,000 feet and has high, medium, and low settings.

While this light sits squarely in the realm of budget gear, consumers rave about its performance. For example, Jude1000 writes on Amazon:

“I needed a flashlight on the farm. Sometimes, I need to go out in the fields at night to check cows and I like to see what I’m getting into. I spotted a possum over 1,000 ft. I would recommend these. I bought a set for all my children and parents.”

For $18, that’s a heck of a testimonial. Toss a couple in your truck or cabinets with some batteries close at hand and always have a backup flashlight that performs.

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For Mechanics: Blackfire Magnetic Base Flashlight

Blackfire Flashlight With Twisting Head and Magnetic Base

This flashlight packs a lot of utility into a small and affordable package. The head moves a full 90 degrees so you can easily spotlight in tight spaces. Pair that with a magnetic base and this has quickly become our favorite flashlight for tinkering on the truck.

It’s a 250-lumen LED light, and we’ve found it bright enough for all manner of household chores. It has five modes: high, low, strobe, green, and red. Simply cycle through with the push button to your desired mode.

This flashlight isn’t overly fancy, and that’s what we like. It’s priced right at $17 and reliably gets the job done.

Check Price at Amazon

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Flashlight

There are a few important specs to consider when choosing a flashlight — size and weight, max power output (usually noted in lumens), minimum power output, runtime (especially in lower modes), durability, and waterproofness.

Lumens: Max Output

For most campers, anything over 1,000 lumens is overkill. You’ll often find yourself using much lower settings, especially around camp. However, those big numbers can be nice, especially if you need to see faraway objects.

Battery Life

Another important consideration is if the flashlight uses its own rechargeable battery or if it runs on disposable batteries. Most people will get more value out of a flashlight that offers long runtimes and is easy to recharge.

However, it’s convenient to quickly change batteries and refresh your flashlight in the field. Both are valid options, but consider how you’ll use the light (and if you mind constantly buying new batteries).

Quality and Output

Modern LED flashlights vary in the quality of their color rendering, meaning that you can see color better with some higher-end lights. Better-quality lights also tend to have more efficient LEDs. Some even have “regulators” that electronically manage the power output, resulting in very consistent lighting.

polysteel 600 flashlight resting on wet rock next to hardhat
Photo/Coast Portland

FAQ

What Does 'Lumen' Mean?

A lumen is the basic unit of measurement for how bright a light is. The brighter the light, the more lumens it produces.

Do LED Flashlights Get Hot?

Yes, LED flashlights do get warm if they’re pushed hard enough. For many flashlights, this is a sign that the heat sink is working, moving heat away from the delicate electronics inside.

What Flashlight Has the Highest Lumens?

The highest lumen flashlight currently on the market is the Imalent MS18, which shines at a jaw-dropping 100,000 lumens.

What Does 'EDC Flashlight' Mean?

EDC is an acronym for “everyday carry.” It refers to the items that you carry around with you on an ongoing basis. As a philosophy, EDC is built on utility and being prepared for anything. In this case, it means a flashlight that you carry every day with you in case you ever need light in a dark environment.

What Is the Best EDC Flashlight?

First and foremost, you’ll want a small flashlight that’ll fit in your pocket, clip to your belt, or fit in your daypack. After that, look for a flashlight with good brightness, long battery life, and easy operation. And 1,000 to 2,000 lumens is plenty bright for an EDC. That should give you enough juice to see objects 200 to 300 yards away.


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