A staple for the modern outdoorsman, the flashlight is truly the embodiment of the doctrine “you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.” Meaning, you never realize how much your flashlight is worth until you’re caught with a bad one in a crucial situation.
Nevertheless, shopping for the right flashlight is much more difficult than it seems. Often, you’re bombarded with inscrutable numbers and difficult-to-process terms like bezel, spill, and knurling.
We’ve cut through the noise and boiled it down to a few essential factors that you should consider when purchasing the right flashlight:
Size and Weight: Some flashlights fit on a keychain, and some high-powered flashlights can be as bulky as a tube of Pringles. How important is it to you that your flashlight to fit in your pocket?
Power: One piece of jargon you do need to know – lumens, or the amount of visible light the flashlight produces. Generally, more lumens mean more power.
Function: For our purposes, there are two main classes of flashlights – Every Day Carry flashlights and Outdoor (non-EDC) flashlights. An EDC flashlight is one that you’ll carry with you everywhere you go, ready for use in any situation you may come across. An outdoor flashlight will only accompany you on camping trips and outdoor excursions.
Though it’s not comprehensive, this list provides an overview of what’s out there and can help you hone in on your ideal torch.
The Best Flashlights Under $50
The Bargains ($5-$20)
Though not military grade, these flashlights provide plenty of punch for the price, and can be a great entry-point for someone looking for his or her first EDC flashlight. These flashlights likely won’t boast as many features as their more expensive counterparts, but usually deliver from a purely functional standpoint.
J5 Tactical V1-PRO Flashlight
Weight: 3 ounces (without the battery)
This is a cool little light that is reasonably priced and portable, making it a perfect first EDC purchase. On high power, the V1-Pro produces 300 lumens, which puts it right up there with all but the most tactical, army-grade flashlights.
For a reference, J5 claims that the V1-Pro should be able to illuminate the length of two football fields on a relatively cloudless night, although this may be a stretch.
The V1-Pro’s Achilles heel – and the factor that likely keeps it from costing much more – is its lack of water resistance. Though it is “water resistant,” the V1-Pro isn’t “waterproof,” meaning it can’t be expected to survive an unforeseen downpour or a deep dive.
Overall, the V1-Pro is an ideal grab-and-go torch. It runs off a single AA battery and is extremely durable by all accounts. It’s been used on search and rescue missions in Afghanistan, and it gets three weeks to a month of battery life presuming intermittent daily use, so you know it’s the real deal.
Midrange Flashlights ($20 – $40)
The midrange lights usually provide a step up from the bargain options in the features department – in this particular case, glow-in-the-dark and keychain/clip capabilities. Though in general don’t provide extra lumens, it’s worth considering if the features they offer will be essential to what you’re looking to do with them.
Olight Mini EDC Keychain AAA Flashlight
Weight: 0.93 ounces
The Olight Mini EDC Keychain light is built around two central selling points – it fits on a keychain, and it runs on a single AAA battery. Its sleekness and portability are at the center of its design, which promises safe falls from up to 1.5 meters and water resistance up to 2 meters deep.
At 180 lumens, it serves as more of a floodlight than a truly powerful beam. It’s not as powerful as the V1-Pro, so if you value pure performance over portability and convenience, the Olight isn’t the best option. However, if you just want to toss your torch on a keychain and never have to worry about it until the situation arises, this is your pick.
LLBean Moonbeam 5-Day LED Flashlight
Weight: 5.6 ounces (without the battery)
A household brand that resonates with everyday consumers, LL Bean has a certain resonance with a certain type of person – it’s almost the Calvin Klein of outdoors products. Here, LL Bean has crafted a sleek “designer” flashlight that looks good and works extremely well.
The main draw here is the torch’s glow-in-the-dark capabilities, but it manages 300 lumens on high power and purports to avoid the hot spots, blind spots, and uneven dark areas that plague other lights. An ergonomic design allows for a strong grip, and the battery lasts 5 days if you keep the power on low.
A few flaws – the light is much bulkier than EDC lights, and you won’t be able to keep it on your person at all times. It also starts on max power mode when you click it on, so it can be a bit of a hassle if you want to use it around the house.
The Cream of the Crop ($40-$50)
The name says it all. These lights are the most expensive, but will also consistently provide the best performance.
Olympia AD200 LED Flashlight
Weight: 2.4 ounces (without the battery)
An ideal outdoor light, the AD200 can be used in all outdoors situations as well as around the house. Its aircraft-grade finish ensures durability, and it’s perhaps the most versatile light in this article – its five settings (high, middle, low, strobe, and SOS) make it a viable option in virtually any situation life could throw at you. Illuminating objects up to 113 meters away, its range is truly impressive as well.
Unfortunately, while the Olympia is water resistant up to 2 meters, it’s not super waterproof, and can be a pretty penny to pay for a torch that struggles with water.
ArmyTek Prime C1 Flashlight
If pure performance is all that you’re looking for, you can’t do better than this army-grade torch. At 500 lumens, its brightness is incomparable. It can illuminate objects up to 111 meters away, and its battery life is astounding – if you leave it off, one set of batteries can last for 25 years.
The C1’s durability further separates it from the pack – it can handle falls from up to 10 meters, and it resists water (up to 10 meters deep), dirt, and dust.
The only issue with the C1 is it’s price — it’s pretty steep for any flashlight, no matter how powerful. Nevertheless, if you want pure power and durability, this is one of the best best flashlights under $50 you can get.