There are so many options on the market (hell, even your phone can do a job in a pinch) that it can be overwhelming and confusing to know what flashlight is suitable for you. This ultimate flashlight buyer's guide is here to shed light on everything you need to know to make the right flashlight purchase.
You may be surprised at what contributes to a successful flashlight purchase - these days, you can pick up a bright flashlight at the gas station, but can it operate in the rain? How often does it need to be recharged? Will it stop working after the first drop?
Flashlight Performance Ratings
Let's begin with the ANSI FL1 Standards, which are determined by the testing and rating of the flashlight. The introduction of these flashlight standards provided clear guidelines for manufacturer testing and uniform ratings for customers. Previously, testing was performed to differing standards by each manufacturer and marketing terms that were meaningless (“high-LUX LED”) just confused consumers.
Flashlight manufacturers, like UWK, adopted the standards and provide clear labeling on packages that help consumers make more informed choices.
The key ANSI FL1 Standards include:
The light output or brightness of a flashlight is measured in lumens; the higher the number, the brighter the light. The lumens rating will be the highest level of brightness that the flashlight can emit with new batteries - i.e. the best-case scenario. Some flashlights may have different lumens ratings for the flashlight’s different light settings.
Here are some real-world references to help you understand how many lumens are required to reach certain brightness levels:
- 1 lumen = the light of a full moon
- 13 lumens = candlelight
- 50 lumens = a smartphone flashlight
- 450 lumens = a 40 watt lightbulb
- 1,200 lumens = your car's high beams
- 75,000 lumens = a lighthouse
To see what lumens you need for specific flashlight use cases, check out our Flashlight Lumens Guide.
|don't just look for the highest lumen count. A high lumen count may be more than you need and there are many factors that determine what makes a quality flashlight. Read on to learn more.
A flashlight's beam distance is measured in meters and determines how far light projects. In the case of this rating, the figure captures the distance the light travels before it reaches 1 lumen - the light of a full moon. When working up close, like a mechanic or a plumber would do, you don't want a high beam distance. Whereas if you're in search and rescue, you're going to want a bright light that can travel.
Durability is essential for any flashlight, but especially when working in industrial settings. The impact resistance rating is also measured in meters. It determines the height from which the flashlight can be dropped and expected to work still.
If a flashlight still functions well after six drops onto concrete from the specified height, then that is the rating - if it fails the test, then the previous successful height becomes the rating.
While this certainly underlines durability, it isn't all-encompassing. For example, crushing is not considered in the test. Nor how aluminum flashlights pick up dents that can damage the flashlight's outer shell - for this reason we recommend hard plastic enclosures. Read more about the difference between aluminum and plastic flashlights in our complete guide here.
A splash-resistant flashlight is a good idea no matter your need. Still, serious water resistance becomes essential when working in specific industries such as oil rig, search and rescue, plumbing, etc.
Luckily, you can gauge how water-resistant a flashlight is from the rating on the packing. These are determined by a rating system called IPX, which stands for “Ingress Protection”.
IPX water ratings are as follows:
- IPX-0 - no protection against water
- IPX-1 - protection from dripping water from above for at least 10 minutes
- IPX-2 - protection from dripping water when the flashlight is rotated 15° any direction from vertical for at least 10 minutes
- IPX-3 - protection from a spray of water in any direction when the flashlight is rotated up to 60° any direction from vertical for at least 5 minutes
- IPX-4 - protection from a splash of water in any direction for at least 5 minutes
- IPX-5 - protection from a 6.3mm spray of water (12.5 liters per minute) in any direction for at least 3 minutes
- IPX-6 - protection from a 12.5mm spray of water (100 liters per minute) in any direction for at least 3 minutes
- IPX-7 -protection from complete water submersion up to 1 meter deep for at least 30 minutes
- IPX-8 - protection over and above IPX-7, defined by the manufacturer
At UWK, we have developed scuba diving lights for decades. Our industrial flashlights are built on the foundations of our waterproof designs and are typically rated IP67.
The battery run time rating is based on the duration (on new batteries) before the light output drops to 10%. The speed of the drop-off in light output is based on the type and quality of the battery, the output, and the size of the model.
Other Flashlight Features
Beyond the ratings found on the packaging, many other factors will determine a good flashlight for your needs.
Traditional flashlight bulbs are incandescent - they are known for a warm color output, running very hot, and eventually, the metal filament burning out. You can still find incandescent bulbs in older flashlights, but we wouldn't recommend them.
LED (Light Emitting Diodes) bulbs changed the game and became the standard thanks to their light output, no moving parts (more durable - lasting up to 100,000 hours), and less current (longer run time). An LED flashlight is superior in almost every way.
Product animated above: UK 3AA Lighthouse Single/Dual Beam Right Angle LED Light
If you’re seeking a brighter light output, Xenon bulbs, which light up the gas instead of the metal filament, offer the best battery power efficiency and the most light output. The average Xenon bulb will last up to 20,000 hours.
For regular carry and everyday use, rechargeable batteries such as lithium-ion (Li-ion) or nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) are highly recommended as they will save you a lot of money in the long run compared to disposable batteries. Lithium batteries perform better, particularly in cold weather.
On the photo: Class 1 Div 2 certified Nitex® eLED Rechargeable flashlight
Some flashlights will recharge the batteries while inside the flashlight, whereas others will need to be removed from the device to charge it.
Another type of rechargeable battery is renewable, found in hand crank or solar panel charging flashlights, which are a good backup option for an emergency kit.
There are three primary beam types, which determine the beam width.
- Spot Beam - a single beam that is focused into a spotlight that can travel a long distance.
- Flood Beam - a single unfocused beam that provides a wide dispersion of light to illuminate the nearby area.
- Adjustable Beam - allows the user to adjust between spot and flood for versatility.
On the photo: UK 4AA ELED ZOOM 2 with our patented zoom technology which creates a consistent beam that can be focused from wide to narrow by twisting the bezel.
Speaking of versatility, nobody wants to carry two or more flashlights to cover all their needs. That's why modern flashlights typically have several modes that you can easily switch between. The most common modes switch between brightness levels. Higher lumen outputs reduce run time while lower settings boost run time.
There is a feeling that the bigger the flashlight, the more durable and longer-lasting it is. For average consumer needs, this is probably more accurate than not. However, flashlights designed for specialized use cases may surprise you with their combination of durability and convenience.
When working with a flashlight for an extended time, it’s important to have a reliable flashlight that is lightweight and convenient to use. Hands-free operation becomes a necessity when your job requires both hands.
Here are some examples of different sized flashlights.
Penlight - as lightweight and compact as it gets, used for close up inspection. For example, the UK 2AAA ELED PENLIGHT (see the photo below)..
Pocket Flashlight - clips to clothing, belts, hats for hands-free convenience - a must for jobs that require both hands. For example, the UK 2AAA XENON MINI POCKET LIGHT (see the photo below).
Headlamp - another hands-free solution, but one that can deliver greater lumen output. Ideal for mechanics, oil rig workers, construction workers, and more. For example, the UK 3AAA Vizion I Headlamp.
Handheld Flashlight - the standard cylindrical shaped flashlight comes with wide range of options, from the run-of-the-mill general-purpose flashlight from the store to a multi-mode, intrinsically safe, professional flashlight like the UK 4AA SUREFOOT ELED.
Cylindrical shapes are the most common for flashlights. Still, you may want to look for an anti-rolling design to prevent annoyance and potential damage to the light.
Aluminum alloy and plastic are the most common materials for the flashlight body. Aluminum may get dented when dropped and is not a good option for high heat conditions, like that of a firefighter. UWK flashlights use durable plastic such as the high impact ABS, LEXAN® of our GATORLITE.
To learn more about the pros and cons of these materials, be sure to check out our guide: plastic vs aluminum flashlights.
If your flashlight is part of your job, how you carry it is important. Some flashlights come with a lanyard or a gator clip to attach to your pocket or belt. For construction and other hard hat/helmet uses, a strap or a clip to attach the flashlight is a great value add.
Easy-to-use flashlight controls are most important in fields where speed is necessary (such as law enforcement) or when conditions are challenging, such as working with heavy gloves.
Taking off your gloves every time you want to change a mode may not be practical or even safe. Try to find a flashlight designed to address these needs. Slider controls and push buttons (if you wear gloves, the bigger the better) are two common control solutions to look out for.
As a U.S. based manufacturer, we encourage everyone to seek out flashlights made at home. Support local manufacturers and avoid supply chain issues from Asian imports.
High-performance flashlights for everyday carry, specialized jobs will sometimes have extra features. Here are some found in UWK flashlights and headlamps.
- Thermal Recovery System - recycles heat from the LED bulb to warm batteries for improved performance in low temperatures.
- Certified Intrinsically Safe - ensures that the flashlight cannot spark when working in combustible or hazardous environments.
- Chemical Resistance - resists chemical erosion - see our Herculite collection.
- Compound Path Optics (CPO) - a proprietary design that enables high efficiency and a compact size.
- Focused Bright Spot - that produces little peripheral light to prevent blinding people nearby.
As you can tell, there is a lot that goes into making a flashlight purchase. If anything is unclear, or you have some questions - please do drop us a line anytime.