Spoiler Alert: Conquerwild named the Olight S1R II as the best backpacking flashlight for hikers!!
Let’s take the time to shine a light on one of the most important, yet overlooked pieces of equipment that every backpacker should own: a good flashlight. Though the question is: what exactly makes a “good” flashlight?
There are tons of products on the market that are compact, powerful, durable and great for hiking/camping. Here are my top recommendations of flashlights that are actually worth your money:
What We’ll Be Reviewing:
Olight S1R II – Top Pick Overall
No other flashlight checks off all the boxes like the Olight S1R II. This is an absolute killer of a product condensed into a super compact, lightweight and durable package.
The Olight possesses an impressive 6 total modes and offers lots of customization. Those modes range from 0.5 lumens, all the way up to 1,000. When on its lowest setting, this thing can run for an insane 8 days straight! Hopefully, you wouldn’t find yourself in a situation where you’d need that… Regardless, the option is there!
The true beauty in this product seems to be in the details. With a carefully balanced hotspot, the Olight’s intense, sharp beams go easy on the eyes- even in pitch darkness. A lithium-ion battery and magnetic charging cable (both included) allow for charge after charge for (potentially) years to come. However, in my opinion, the best feature of this flashlight is its color coded battery indicator on the bottom of the handle. This means that you’re never caught off guard when you run out of battery, making for a super unique and incredibly efficient product.
- With a waterproof rating of IPX-8, this flashlight can be submerged in up to 2 meters of water.
- The light has a maximum throw of 474 feet.
- The grip has a small, squared texture, allowing for a sturdy hold.
- The magnetic tail cap means that you can attach this flashlight to any metallic surface for hands-free usage.
- It has a pocket clip.
- It’s less than 3 inches long and weighs only 1.8 ounces, making it extremely compact!
- It’s a bit on the expensive side.
- For people with big hands, it may feel too small.
Lumintop Tool Mini EDC Flashlight – Most Lightweight Backpacking Flashlight
The Lumintop Tool Mini EDC Flashlight is a pretty hardcore product that does a great job of combining convenience with durability. For something that can pretty much survive a drop off of Mount Everest’s highest peak (don’t take that literally), this flashlight is reasonably priced. It’s highly impact resistant, weather resistant and waterproof.
The convenience of this product comes from its ridiculously small size. While it’s not the tiniest flashlight on this list, it’s the lightest, weighing in at only 0.5 ounces! Thanks to the keychain that comes with this product, you’ll be able to carry it around with you everywhere you go without even noticing it’s there.
When it comes to brightness, the Lumintop isn’t exactly at the front of the pack, but 130 lumens is enough for the average flashlight user. On its lowest of 3 modes (5 lumens), this lightweight LED flashlight can last for up to 36 hours! The bottom line is that this is a wildly efficient, attractive and sturdy keychain flashlight that easily earns my recommendation.
- It comes with a reversible hiking clip, which allows you to attach it to practically anything.
- It can be submerged in up to 2 meters of water and it can function in temperatures from -4F to 131F.
- The beam pattern is described by Lumintop as a “smooth globe of white light.”
- It comes with a glow-in-the-dark diffuser which will help you locate this flashlight in the dark.
- It has both a tail switch, and a twistable head for operation.
- It’s the most lightweight flashlight on this list.
- Its maximum output (130 Lumens) isn’t nearly as bright as any of the other products on this list.
- It doesn’t have a strobe or SOS feature.
- The 1 AAA battery required is not included.
Lumintop EDC318 3Cree – Most Customizable Backpacking Flashlight
The Lumintop EDC18 3Cree is not a product for the faint of heart. This is what we call a true heavy-duty flashlight. With a maximum potential of 2,800 Lumens (yes, that’s 2 zeros), this super light flashlight is just about powerful enough to burn a hole through the clouds. Luckily, there’s a nice set of cooling fins to help diffuse the intense heat that’s created when this gadget’s cranked up to its highest setting.
This LED light’s insane capabilities come with equally insane levels of customization. It only has one button, but there are tons of user interfaces and modes. From a smooth ramping option which allows you to gradually increase the light’s intensity, to electronic lockout mode which keeps you from burning a hole in your pants. The total of 6 interfaces can be a bit intense at times, but there’s no better option in terms of customization.
On top of a slew of interfaces, this flashlight provides you with 8 other functions: sunset, party strobe, tactical strobe, bike flasher, beacon, candlelight and lightning storm. An aluminum alloy outer casing also means that this flashlight is waterproof, dust proof, skid-proof and abrasion resistant. There’s practically nothing that the creators of this ultralight flashlight didn’t think of, and it shows in the sheer quality of this product.
- There are 6 user interfaces, including smooth ramping, stepped ramping, muggle mode, momentary mode and electronic lockout.
- It has a maximum throw distance of 660 feet.
- It’s super compact and ultra lightweight (3.7 inches long and 2.7 ounces).
- It’s IPX-8 waterproof rated, meaning it can be submerged in up to 2 meters of water for 30 minutes.
- It comes with a glow-in-the-dark diffuser.
- It comes with a stainless steel clip and a magnetic tail cap.
- It’s not the most user-friendly flashlight. The multiple user interfaces and settings can get to be a bit confusing. If not for this, the Lumintop EDC318 would be my top pick!
- The button is pretty firm and some people find it hard to push.
- It doesn’t come with a battery charger.
What To Look For When Buying A Backpacking Flashlight
There’s a wide world of backpacking flashlights out there. If you’re not already an expert on all things flashlights, I welcome you to a short and elementary lesson.
In my eyes, there are a few aspects that can make or break a backpacking flashlight. Here’s a list of what to keep an eye out for:
- Lighting capabilities
- Battery performance
- Size & weight
- Carrying accessories
- Special features
Let’s dive into each of these key aspects… Shall we?
There’s obviously one main reason that 99% of people buy a hiking flashlight, and it’s not for the looks. It’s the light! The truth is that, regardless of other factors, not every flashlight possesses the came lighting capability.
There are some terms and units of measurement you should familiarize yourself with so that you know which product will work best for you.
Lumens (lm) is the most commonly used unit of measurement when it comes to lighting power. The more lumens a light produces, the brighter it will be. The average flashlight reaches about 100 lumens, but if you’re backpacking at night, you may need more than that. Most modern flashlights have multiple modes (or settings), each producing a different amount of lumens. These modes can range from low (0.5 – 10 lumens) all the way up into the several thousand lumens territory!
Lux is defined as the amount of light that falls onto a surface. A lux measurement depends on how far away the light source is, so it’s not as cut-and-dry as lumens. For this reason, not every product lists lux units in their descriptions. I didn’t included any in my camping flashlight reviews, either.
Candela is sometimes referred to as “candle power.” This represents the maximum distance from which you will be able to see a light. This measurement is mostly important when referring to survival flashlights.
Throw is the length that a beam of light can travel. This is an important measurement for flashlights. Throw distance is measured from the tip of your flashlight, to the point at which the beam becomes about as bright as the light from a full moon.
Wide Or Narrow Focus?
Depending on what you’ll be using it for, it’s important to know what type of focus your backpack flashlight has. Some products emit light with a narrow focus. This will usually result in a longer throw distance. The downfall to this is that the light probably won’t cover your peripherals. You’ll have to point the flashlight directly at what you want to look at.
Flashlights with a wider focus, also known as flood beams, are better for full spectrum illumination. These do a better job of brightening larger areas. If you want the best of both worlds, look for a flashlight that comes with adjustable focus. These usually have a twistable ring around either the head or tail of the flashlight.
Beam color also has an impact on your flashlight’s performance. Depending on your preference and visual abilities, you may want to be careful with your choice of color.
White light is pretty much standard for walking flashlights. If a product doesn’t advertise a specific color, it’s probably white. This color of light does a great job of piercing through darkness, but it can be a bit harsh on the eyes. If you don’t aim the light directly at your face, then this shouldn’t be a problem.
Green light is also quite common for flashlights, but it’s less harsh on the eyes than white. This type of light won’t scare animals away and it won’t attract bugs.
Yellow light isn’t quite as common as white or green, but it does a great job of cutting through fog. For this reason, it’s also a common color for emergency signals.
Red light is one of the easiest colors on the eyes, but it’s not the best for illuminating large areas. Red light is commonly used for SOS signals or other types of emergency alerts. Many flashlights have flashing red lights as a secondary mode.
The color you choose should depend on what you’ll be using your flashlight for.
In modern times, the bulb type of your flashlight isn’t quite as significant as it used to be. Most efficient flashlights today use LED lights. This is great, because they’re energy efficient, long-lasting and low heat. All of the backpacking lights that I’ve recommended use LED lights.
Flashlights used to use incandescent bulbs, but these were actually super inefficient. They had poor battery life and a short lifespan.
When it comes to flashlights, you can’t have light without the power. A battery is the beating heart that allows your light to do what it needs to do.
All of the hiking flashlights I’ve listed above are battery operated. However, not every product utilizes and manages its power in the same way. Consider the following areas when purchasing a camping light.
Disposable Or Rechargeable Batteries?
The choice between disposable and rechargeable batteries is highly dependent on your specific circumstances.
Disposable alkaline batteries (usually AAA) are great for hikers who are planning on being away from a power source. You can always pack extra with you in case your flashlight dies. They’re also pretty cheap to replace. Unfortunately, disposable batteries aren’t great for the environment.
Rechargeable lithium batteries are super convenient if you have a power source readily available. Many lithium-powered flashlights can be charged with a USB, and you likely won’t ever have to change the battery. This will wind up saving you money in the long run. If you have a portable charger: I’d 100% recommend going the rechargeable route.
Runtime is essentially the amount of time that your flashlight takes to go from 100% battery life to 10%.
Most flashlights have several modes which allow you to alternate between lumen levels or brightness (high, medium, low, etc.). Using a higher setting is going to make your flashlight die more quickly, as it requires the battery to output a large amount of energy.
When you use a low setting or nightlight/moonlight mode, your battery will be outputting less energy and it will last longer. Some of the products on my list, such as the Lumintop Tool EDC Mini EDC Flashlight can run for up to 36 hours straight on low mode!
It’s always a good idea to choose a product with a longer runtime, especially if you don’t have a backup power source with you.
Be aware that outside temperature can also affect battery life.
Any piece of gear that we take along with us on hiking/backpacking/camping expeditions must be durable. Your flashlight is no exception. The type of metal used in a product has a huge impact on durability. Here are some of the most common options:
- Aluminum Alloy – A mixture of aluminum and other metals that’s lightweight, affordable and very durable. Most of the flashlights in my recommendations are made with aluminum alloy.
- Stainless steel – Another commonly used metal for flashlights, stainless steel is scratch, rust and corrosion resistant. On the down side, it’s heavier than aluminum alloy.
- Titanium – More expensive metal than aluminum alloy and stainless steel, titanium is great because it’s lightweight and super durable.
It’s a good idea to find a flashlight that’s shock resistant. This means that it’ll be able to survive a drop or two (or 100) to the ground. Many of the products above have been impact tested (I love it when a company includes video proof of a drop test).
Also, keep your eyes out for products that are “skid” and “abrasion” resistant.
If you’re really in need of a heavy duty flashlight, look for a product that’s “tactical.” This means that it was designed specifically to take a real beating.
It’s no secret that water and electronic devices don’t always mix. You should always take waterproofing into consideration when choosing a flashlight.
Here’s something that actually may be a secret to some: just because a product advertises itself as being “waterproof,” doesn’t mean that it’s completely waterproof. This is where IPX (Ingress Protection) ratings come into play. This is the international standard that allows us to know exactly how waterproof a product is. The IPX rating system may seem a bit confusing at first, but we’ll break it down for you here:
- IPX-1 – I-PX3: Barely resistant to water. Products within this range might be able to handle some misting or light drops, but nothing heavy duty.
- IPX-4: Can handle splashing water from any angle, but no submersion. This type of product will be fine in rain for a limited amount of time.
- IPX-5 – IPX-6: Can handle streams of water from any angle, but still no submersion. A product that’s IPX5 or IPX6 rated should be fine in the rain for extended periods of time.
- IPX-7: Can handle submersion in up to a meter of water for 30 minutes.
- IPX-8: Can handle submersion in water deeper than 1 meter. This is what I’d consider truly waterproof.
Size And Weight
Backpacking flashlights are meant to be light and somewhat compact. In my reviews, I tried to include only products that were tiny and ultralight.
I’d always recommend finding something that weighs less than a pound. Anything more than that would just be a burden to carry around. Many flashlights out there, like the Lumintop Tool Mini EDC Flashlight, weigh under an ounce!
The smaller your hiking light is, the easier it’ll be to transport. Some of the products I’ve listed above are about the length of a tube of chapstick! Pick something that you can drop in your pocket or plop into your backpack without taking up too much space.
There are people out there who prefer flashlights that are less compact. If your hands are larger than average, a tiny, ultralight product may be uncomfortable to hold.
Most flashlights are pretty simple to operate, but not all products are controlled in the same way. The location of the on/off button can be important, depending on what you feel most comfortable using.
Many people like a side switch on the shaft of the flashlight. This is common in most products.
I have larger hands, so I prefer a tail switch on the butt of the flashlight. This feels a bit more natural to me and I can easily activate it with my thumb.
Some flashlights have a twist switch. These are great because they usually allow for more control over brightness, but they can be difficult to use with one hand.
How Many Modes Are There?
Modes on a flashlight are basically light settings. Some old fashioned lights have only two modes: on and off. In modern times, most quality backpacking flashlights have at least 3: high, medium and low.
Some additional flashlight modes include strobe, SOS (for emergency signaling), nightlight/moonlight (for a super dimmed light) and more.
It’s also important to assess how your flashlight cycles through these modes. Is there multi-switch control? Or is there only one button which you have to press multiple times to cycle through the modes? Choose a flashlight that features the method you’re most comfortable with.
If you want tons of customization, then the Lumintop EDC318 3Cree will be great for you.
Many hiking flashlights come with attachments that make them easier to carry around. Some of the more lightweight products come with a lanyard or wrist strap. These can be a lifesaver if you almost drop your light.
If your flashlight comes with a clip, you’ll be able to fasten it to almost anything. This means leaving it securely on your belt, attaching it to the side of your backpack, or even clipping it to the brim of your hat and using it as a head lamp.
Some flashlights have a magnetic tail cap, which will allow you to stick it virtually anywhere you want.
Your flashlight will likely be spending a lot of time in your hand. This means that the grip should feel both comfortable and secure in your palm. Try to look for a grip that has some sort of anti-slip texture.
Flashlight Special Features
If you’re not satisfied with a simple “switch on, switch off” flashlight, then you should turn to some of the products with extra special features.
Some of the more pricey camping flashlights have color-coded battery indicators, which will let you know how much power you have left. The Olight S1R II is a great example of this.
Glow in the dark diffusers are also a somewhat common feature. These will help reduce the intensity of your light. Since they glow in the dark, they’ll also make it easier to find your flashlight if you’ve misplaced it.
Some flashlights have a memory feature which allows you to return to the mode you used last.
At the end of the day, choosing a quality flashlight for your next backpacking trip is going to take some good thought. It’s not wise to purchase a product without doing your homework.
Once you decide on the size, weight, lighting capability, level of durability and special features you’re looking for, it’ll be much easier to hone in on the product you need. As long as you know what your top priorities are, you should be golden.
Our Top Pick Is….
The Olight S1R II!!
It’s pretty rare for me to choose the most expensive product as my top pick, but the sheer quality of the Olight leaves me with no other choice. Its compact size mixed with a 1,000 lumen capability and 6 modes of operation would be enough to make this a stand out product. When you throw in an IPX-8 waterproof rating and a color-coded battery indicator, this product becomes unbeatable. Overall: an absolute rockstar of a backpacking flashlight.
If you’re looking to save a couple bucks, then the Lumintop Tool Mini EDC Flashlight is another great choice.