Thursday, January 26, 2012

Tech Column: The Best Flashlights on the Planet

Photo by Jeff Simonson
by Bill Adler

I have fond memories of summer camp in Maine. Some of my best memories revolve around nighttime activities: walking in the woods, playing games in my bunk, sitting around the campfire and then walking back to our cabin, reading under the blanket. These activities all involved a fixture of summer camps: the flashlight.

Unfortunately, the flashlight of my youth was a pathetic thing that ran on heavy D batteries and could barely illuminate a Superman comic book for more than 20 minutes.

Today's flashlights are like supernovas in comparison. They're also much smaller and lighter, use virtually indestructible LED bulbs that last just about forever, and are energized by lithium batteries that power the lights for a very long time. There's a computer chip to regulate the power to the bulb, maximizing the brightness and keeping the illumination level steady even as the battery's power fades.

What can you do with a high-tech LED flashlight that you can't do with a regular flashlight? They're great for searching for lost pets at night and for tracking down where in the parking lot you dropped your car keys. You can use them to illuminate the woods when you're camping, or to find your way home when Pepco has yet another power outage. They're water resistant or even waterproof, so you can use your flashlight outdoors when it's raining buckets.  Most advanced flashlights use lithium batteries that have a shelf life of ten years, so when you want the light to work, it will work.

Advanced LED flashlights can also be used for self defense in two ways: You can momentarily blind somebody (some of these lights also have strobes which are very disorienting); they're also good, solid things to hit with. If you look at pictures in the links to each of the three flashlights described in this column, you'll see that the front of the light looks like it could be used as an effective weapon. That's because it was indeed designed that way, with what's called a "strike bezel." Here's a short video on how a flashlight can be used for self defense:

Surefire is the Mercedes of flashlight manufacturers. I carry the Surefire E2D LED Defender just about everywhere, At $189, it's also priced like the Mercedes of flashlights, but this flashlight definitely falls into the category of "the last flashlight you'll ever need." Constructed of virtually indestructible metal, sealed with an o-ring and weather resistant, the E2D's 200 lumen output will light up the night. The strike bezel turns this flashlight into a self defense tool.

The Fenix PD-31 is even brighter than the E2D, and at $70, considerably less expensive: (I have one, too.) The PD-31, which has a maximum output of 304 lumens, also has a strobe mode, which will temporarily disorient anyone who looks at the light. Constructed of metal and waterproof, this flashlight will, like the E2D, last just about forever.

If you'd like to get the brand of LED flashlight talked about in the YouTube video, Brite Strike, click here: I don't have any personal experience with Brite Strike, but it's a solid-looking light, also with a strike bezel. The Brite Strike, which costs $205, uses a rechargeable battery.

Buy any of these lights you'll never be afraid of the dark again.


Bill Adler is the co-publisher of the Cleveland Park Listserv, You can follow him on Twitter at

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