Remember the days of D-cell MagLites that doubled as batons? I doubt many carried one of those everyday, save Law Enforcement or utility workers. Most sat in a glovebox or toolbox until a flat tire on a rainy night provided them some attention.
Thankfully, this bustling free market economy of ours generates outstanding innovation. For a Jackson or two (or three) you can purchase a pocket-sized flashlight that will illuminate Mars. Here are some of my favorites:
1. O-Light S1R – The Ruger LCP II option
The low-threat environment or ultralight hiking model
O-Light is stubborn about maintaining their on/off button on the side of the bezel. This limits defensive use options, such as gripping the light as a striking weapon or integrating into a two-hand hold on a handgun. However, it still throws gobs of light and plays to O-Light’s now-classic minimalist footprint.
O-Light’s pocket clip design is one of the best, providing a deep and secure carry inside the pocket while not wearing on the pants pocket fabric. For travel or camping, one of the most useful features is the ‘moonlight’ mode, generating a measly 0.5L. It’s like a nightlight, providing guidance to the bathroom or to the tent’s exit without disturbing others in the middle of the night.
The S-1R is the flashlight version of the Ruger LCP II…the tiny pocket model that’s probably more than you’ll ever need, but you internalize moderate guilt knowing you should buck up and pack a real caliber. And yet, you keep carrying it because it’s perfectly convenient. The S1R is my home carry, hiking, and church-carry option; anywhere I will mostly be in daylight anyway, or with more tactical options available off-body.
Battery type/qty: 1xCR123A or RCR-123A (micro-USB rechargeable)
Output/runtime: 600L/0.9h, 300L/1hr, 60L/6h, 15L/30h, 0.5L/15 days!
Note: S1R II model offers 1000L/1.5 minutes, then 300L/0.7h, $65
# of brightness settings: 5
2. StreamLight ProTac 1L-AA Dual Fuel – The GLOCK 19 option
The true EDC general purpose model
The ProTac 1L-AA serves as a jack of all trades. It mostly fills the hand and features a lightly crenelated bezel, providing a striking tool option. The tailcap switch offers momentary on, or click-on with a firmer push. The default brightness is always full blast, unless you fiddle with StreamLight’s TEN-TAP functionality and change the operating mode (I never have).
Those 350 lumens are plenty to melt an attacker’s face or illuminate a long hallway, and 40 lumens is a gentler setting for routine light throw. The dual-facing pocket clip is excellent and keeps the knurled tailcap away from fabric.
The coolest feature of the “Dual Fuel” is the ability to accept 1xAA or 1xCR-123A battery. StreamLight incorporated two sets of threads on the flashlight’s cylindrical body, allowing a wide range of movement to accommodate the different lengths of the two batteries. Max brightness and run time suffer with AA batteries, but if your CR-123A burns out while on the road, even the dingiest gas station should have AA’s laying around.
StreamLight has never been a lumen powerhouse. They’re the Toyota Tacoma of the flashlight community; incremental improvements undergird highly reliable circuitry and excellent QA. Oh wait, that was supposed to be a GLOCK 19 analogy.
If I had to sell off every flashlight I own, the ProTac would be the last to go.
Battery type/qty: 1xCR-123A or 1xAA
Output/Run-time, using CR-123A: 350L/1.5h, 40L/16h
# of brightness settings: 2 (strobe programmable)
3. O-Light I3T EOS – The NAA Pug option
Quite possibly the best budget buy on this list.
The I3T is the only model on this list I’ve never handled, but the specifications intrigue me. The I3T may convince the world that everyone has room on their person for a decent flashlight at a respectable price point. 180 lumens would work for self-defense, yet most folks would only ever need the 5 lumens setting to illuminate a lock, cabinet, or basic movements in familiar territory during a power outage.
Battery type/qty: 1xAAA (alkaline only)
Output/Run-time: 180L/0.3h, 5L/16h
# of brightness settings: 2
4. StreamLight PolyTac X Series – The FN509 option
A duty light for a rough and tumble life.
Speaking with a few LEO buddies of mine, this is the perfect type of light for their use. It’s lightweight for its size and output, and every ounce adds up on a duty belt. 600L can light up a long alleyway or sear retinas. The size offers up a strike option, though the polymer bezel wouldn’t hit as hard as aluminum. In a drastic scenario, such as long-term power outages following a natural disaster, 34 hours of 50L output would enable the officer to execute search and rescue operations for three nights without a recharge. Polymer is ‘warmer’ to the touch than aluminum, a feature that folks in colder climates will appreciate if using a bare hand to grip the light.
The PolyTac accepts either CR-123A or 18650 (rechargeable) batteries. If your 18650 dies and you can’t find a USB port to charge it, a supply of expendable CR-123A’s will keep you running. If mushroom clouds start appearing on the horizon, I’ll be grabbing this light to keep on my person at all times…the same as my FN 509.
Battery type/qty: 2xCR-123A or 1×18650 (higher output/run time)
Output/Run-time, CR-123A: 600L/2.75h, 260L/5.5h, 50L/34h
Note: 18650 adds run-time to these outputs, up to 2h extra at 50L
# of brightness settings: 3
Street price: $37
5. An ode to the H&K line of flashlights
The theme of this list has been $60-or-less flashlights, most of which I’ve used and abused and trust to function as advertised. Notice a glaring omission from the list? Yep…SureFire, the gold standard of hard-use, tactical illumination.
I’ve owned, used, and somehow lost enough SureFire models along the way, at $80-$250 a pop to learn that lesson. I’ll likely purchase a Stiletto model soon ($100), given its slim design and outstanding features (650L/4.8oz/$100/control interface), but I can’t ignore the overwhelming budget-friendly nature of a $40 light that throws as many Lumens and functions as reliably as a Surefire.
6. Honorable Mentions
CrimsonTrace CWL-300: Included as a freebie in a LaserSaddle purchase, the CWL-300 has performed admirably in a classic EDC role. I’ve yet to experience an issue, but online reviews are mixed. At $40, look for a longer track record of reliability before experimenting with CrimsonTrace’s foray into handheld lights.
Fenix PD35, NiteCore P10GT, and similar models: Chunky, 18650-cavernous aluminum bodies, and Hulk-like output embody these modern-day MagLite C-cell nightsticks. If size and weight aren’t a factor, these models can double as Bat signals in Gotham. Some models in this class only accept 18650 batteries, requiring a recharging ability you may or may not have in dire times.
With so many excellent EDC flashlight options available today, selecting a reliable and practical option is positively overwhelming. Start with a basic idea of your expected use, narrow it down by the footprint you can reliably carry at all times, stick to reputable manufacturers, and don’t venture into too exotic of a realm on battery types. When in doubt, select a AA, AAA, or CR-123A, use lithium batteries regardless (when able), and just as with you do with your EDC gun, carry, carry, carry.