After centuries of using candles and holders to light their way in the dark, humans had the bright idea to use stored energy and light bulbs to get around at night—a breakthrough that’s been further improved not only across the past century, but in the past few years.
Huge advancements have led to the development of all different kinds of flashlights, which now range in size, weight, durability, and luminescence. When choosing a flashlight, you'll first need to determine exactly what you'll be using it for, as one type may be great for certain activities but not for others.
One thing goes for all activities though: when the sun goes down, we need light. And you don't want to be caught on a backpacking trip, or any other outdoor adventure, without it.
As with any other piece of hiking or camping gear, your flashlight needs to take the inevitable beating that comes with the territory. The best flashlights for rugged outdoor use are often made of space-age aluminum and tough graphite that can be used in harsh conditions for years without wear and tear. Some flashlights are constructed from a single block of aluminum—the same kind used on airplanes—and are completely compression sealed.
Choosing a light with such construction ensures that it’s shockproof, crushproof, and even water resistant, which doesn’t mean waterproof. While a water-resistant flashlight will suit you just fine in rain and snow, don't go taking it on an underwater dive with you.
Size and Weight
Different sizes of flashlights are used for different purposes. You may need a light the size of a pen cap that fits on your keychain, or you may prefer a large aluminum clublike light most associated with security guards and police officers. The most common-size light for camping and hiking, however, is anywhere between four and six inches, which is an ideal measurement that fits your hand but won't stick out too far on either side.
If you’ll be using it for backpacking and hiking, the lighter, the better. The best weight for rugged camping is about four ounces, but lighter options are also available.
The best camping flashlights will feature LED lighting, which have tremendously long lives compared to traditional incandescent lights. A typical LED bulb can last for as long as 50,000 hours, and is powered either by alkaline batteries or a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery.
When looking for a flashlight, the best ones for outdoor use have multiple modes that offer different levels of lumens, or the total amount of visible light the flashlight gives off. Flashlights can provide as few as six lumens of light and grow from there, with simpler bulbs maxing out at around 50 lumens. For the brightest handheld flashlights, which can be seen from as far as 120 meters away, go with a flashlight that provides between 150 and 160 lumens when operating on its high-power setting.
Remember that when using your flashlight's high beams, so to speak, it significantly lowers its usage time. This can mean the difference between two and more than 10 hours of light. In some cases, a low setting gives you as many as 40 hours of run time.
The best camping flashlights feature LED lighting, which has a tremendously long life compared to traditional incandescent lighting. A typical LED bulb can last for as long as 50,000 hours and is powered by either alkaline batteries or a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery.
Be sure to play around with the adjustable focus found on most flashlights to see exactly how pinpointed the beam can get. This feature gives you the freedom to use a flashlight as a broad source of light for around the campfire or for a uniform spot with a flood beam pattern. With the right focus beam, a flashlight can be seen from well over a mile away.
Preparation is the key to safety and convenience when in the wild. Even on a short day hike, the unknown is always possible, whether it’s a storm you need to take shelter from, a twisted ankle, or a few hours of confusion trying to find the trail. Any of these could set you back enough for the sun to set before you make it safely to the trailhead, so having the right flashlight is essential to making sure you do.
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