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Published Aug. 11, 2021

There are many times when hands-free illumination is essential outdoors. But there are other times when only the brightest flashlight will do. No matter if you’re looking to add a fully waterproof flashlight to your fishing gear or a long run-time model to your camping equipment, we can help illuminate your path to finding the best flashlights on the market. 

Note: These aren’t cheaply made models you see for sale in convenience stores. These are heavy-duty models designed for rugged use in the outdoors. Many are lightweight. All are at least water-resistant, if not waterproof. And all are excellent.

What to consider when shopping for the best flashlights 

From lumen output to the life of the battery, there are many factors to consider when shopping for the best flashlights. We’ve spotlighted some of the most important. 

How bright is it? 

Brightness is expressed in lumens, which measure the intensity of light that’s capable of being produced. The best tactical flashlights produce roughly 1,000 to 2,000 lumens. That’s 10 times the amount produced by the basic flashlight you keep in your junk drawer, and twice as much as many of the best headlamps

Can it throw light far? 

A bright light is key, but so is being able to see far away. A flashlight’s lumen output certainly factors into a flashlight’s beam distance, but candela counts count for a lot, too. Candelas describe how well a flashlight can focus its beam. The best flashlights to add to your outdoor gear have candela powers in the tens of thousands, and they are capable of throwing beams more than five football fields away. For reference, beam distance is how far a light will shine until it fades to the point where it is no brighter than light cast by a full moon. 

How long will it last? 

A flashlight’s runtime is the amount of time it can operate before the battery drains. If you plan on long camping trips or overnight hunting stands, runtimes that stretch to more than 30 hours are a huge help. But pay attention: those long runtimes will only come when the it is operated on the lowest power mode. Switching into high gear will drop even the best flashlights’ runtime from days to hours. 

Is it well protected? 

Some of the best flashlights have IP68 protection ratings that mean they can work underwater, won’t be bothered by dust, and can survive the impact of a big fall. But many others have lower ratings that mean anything more than a few drops of rain could send it to its demise. If you’re looking for a flashlight for your fishing gear, a spot that’s watertight is no doubt essential. But if you’re a fair-weather camper, an IPX4 rating may be all you need.  

Is it too big?

You don’t want outdoor gear that’ll weigh you down. While you may have to add some pounds and size for extra brightness, you should weigh whether that extra space in your pack is worth it. You can find models that weigh as little as three envelopes.

Spotlighting the best flashlights 

Whether you’re on the water or in the woods or mountains, these are some of the best flashlights you can use:

Best Flashlight for Camping: Fenix PD36R Tactical Flashlight 

This 3 ounce tactical flashlight can run for 115 hours. Fenix

Any camping equipment that’s compact and durable is likely a worthy investment. This Fenix flashlight can run up to 115 hours on the eco mode, which puts out 30 lumens—good for using inside a tent or around a campsite. The high-powered 1,600 lumen mode will throw a beam up to 309 yards, when you need it. It all fits into a 3 ounce package that measures just 5.35 inches long. Despite its size, this model is tough, with an IP68 waterproof rating that means it can survive being submerged in more than a meter of water. The 3 ounce device runs on two USB-C rechargeable lithium ion batteries.

Best Flashlight for Hunting: SureFire G2X Tactical Flashlight  

This SureFire flashlight hardly needs a moment’s notice. SureFire

With a tailcap click switch, this Surefire flashlight goes on instantly—but only for a moment—letting you see what’s in front of you without being too conspicuous. That makes it ideal for checking trail markers as you make your way to your stand. Press it again and you’ll turn it on completely, taking full advantage of the 600 lumen output this tactical flashlight provides. A precision reflector creates a controlled beam that can stretch 187 meters (204 yards). At 6.8 inches long and 4.4 ounces in weight, this is a compact piece of hunting gear that can also fit any 1-inch shotgun mount, making it ideal for a home defense shotgun. And the Nitrolon plymar body is plenty durable, with an IPX7 waterproof rating that can withstand being submerged up to a meter deep. It’s powered by two CR 123A batteries.

Best Flashlight for Long Distance: Streamlight UltraStinger LED Flashlight 

This LED flashlight can throw a beam more than 500 meters. Streamlight

Capable of producing 1,100 lumens and 65,000 candelas, this is one of the brightest flashlights you can find, letting you see objects more than five football fields away. At its highest power, this LED flashlight will drain the battery in an hour and a half, but you can drop the lumens down to 90 and run it for 16 hours. There is also a strobe feature. Plus, the rechargeable flashlight can reclaim all its power in 10 hours. At more than 2 pounds and nearly a foot long, it’s bulkier than some of the other best flashlights on this list. But it’s built to last—more than 50,000 hours, to be exact—thanks in part to sturdy aluminum construction rated at an IPX4 water resistance and a polycarbonate lens that’s deemed unbreakable.  It runs on a rechargeable NiMH battery and weighs 2.2 pounds.

Best Flashlight for Fishing: Nitecore P10i Tactical Flashlight

A tactical flashlight that’s watertight. Nitecore

With an IP68 rating, this tactical flashlight can be used underwater—in fact, you can even power-up this rechargeable flashlight while it’s submerged. That water-resistance alone qualifies this as one of the best flashlights for fishing. It produces 1,800 lumens and can cast a beam 317 yards, making it ideal for signalling or searching for obstructions while underway on the water. It features three brightness settings, with an additional strobe mode. Power is provided by one lithium ion battery, and the it weighs less than 3 ounces.

Best Heavy Duty Flashlight for the Money: Nebo Redline Blast 

This Nebo flashlight is equipped and affordable. NEBO

For less than $50, you can get an LED flashlight capable of producing 1,400 lumens and tossing a beam more than 260 meters. What’s more, the battery will last 2.5 hours on high and 30 hours on low, plus it offers 4x zooming and IPX7 protection against shallow water and impact. It’s 7.25 inches long, weighs .85-pound, and is powered by six AA batteries.

FAQs

Q: What is the longest lasting flashlight? 

The longest lasting flashlights can be operated for several days straight. But runtime is deceiving. The best flashlights feature different brightness settings, which drain the battery at varying rates. While a flashlight can be listed as lasting for more than 30 hours, that’ll be on its lowest setting. Operating at the highest setting is likely to drain the battery in under 3 hours, and maybe even faster than that. 

Q: How many lumens should a good flashlight have? 

While basic flashlights give off about 100 lumens, the best flashlights for your outdoor gear can produce more than 10 times that amount. The brightest flashlight on the market emits 100,000 lumens, but the best tactical flashlights are capable of producing more like 1,000 to 2,000 lumens. Something with variable settings will let you use less battery power when you don’t need it.

Q: What brand of flashlights do police use? 

Police use tactical flashlights made by different brands. Streamlight flashlights and Fenix flashlights are popular choices. 

The final word on shopping for the best flashlights 

The best flashlights under the stars are the ones that balance the features you need. If you’re looking for a long-distance light, you may have to take on a little extra length in the body. But if you’re a backpacker, you may require something that won’t take up too much room in your camping gear—you’ve already got your backpacking tent to worry about. No matter what, finding the best flashlights for you is a matter of focusing on the right bright spots. 

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