Image
(Photo: Wes Siler)
Indefinitely Wild

Make Your Next Flashlight Flat

Sure, everyone has a light on their phone, but preparedness nerds, we need something more

Image
Image

Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.

They fit in your pocket better. That one sentence sums up the appeal of the new generation squared-off flashlights, and that simple selling point adds up to some appealing products that genuinely expand the utility you can fit in your pocket.

Why Do I Need a Pocket Flashlight?

We all have a flashlight function on our smartphones, which we already carry everywhere. But the lights incorporated into those aren’t really capable of lighting up a large area, drain your already precariously low phone battery even faster, and using a phone in dark, awkward places isn’t exactly a masterclass in ergonomics.

So, preparedness nerds like me need something more. Is that something more a headlamp? Those don’t really fit in a pocket, and they can be a hassle to scrounge around for, strap to your noggin, then switch on, if you’re just trying to illuminate a dark pathway for a few seconds.

Enter typical tubular flashlights. They’re usually way more powerful than a headlamp, but tubes aren’t exactly pocket friendly. Slim, AAA battery-based lights might slide right in there, but we’re back to that limited performance problem with those batteries’ limited outputs.

Keychain lights? They sure are small, and while the little Olight i1R 2 I carry alongside my keys may be bright, it runs out of juice in just 15 minutes.

What many of us need to bridge the gap between performance and, let’s call it carryability, is a large light that carries like a small one.

Being large isn’t just about output. It’s also about run time. The performance of flashlights has increased exponentially in recent years. Those old D-cell Maglites cops used to rely on only made 45 lumens and the batteries lasted for about ten hours of total use. These days, you can buy a Chinese LED light that puts out 100 times that, for days on end, in a package that’s around the same size. Aside from the LEDs, obviously, that’s thanks to battery technology. The latest lithium rechargeable batteries hold way more juice than the disposables of yore.

And those rechargeable cells don’t require the old cylindrical form factor. So achieving a more ergonomic form factor for flashlights, in hindsight, seems like it was inevitable.

Enter this new generation of flat flashlights.

Like most Surefire products, performance is behind cheaper competitors, with only 650 lumens. And also like most Surefire products, appealing aesthetics appear to have not been considered. (Photo: Surefire)

The Best Flat Flashlights

There are three main contenders on the market. The first was the Surefire Stiletto ($149), which came out in 2018. That was followed by the Streamlight Wedge (from $99) in 2021. And now the Olight Arkfeld ($90), which was released late last year.

All three feature slim, rectangular bodies rather than typical round tubes, along with sleek pocket clips, and controls positioned up front, so you can hold and operate the lights like a TV remote.

The Streamlight Wedge makes 1,000 lumens and appears to be very pocket friendly, not only because of its shape, but also the knife-like clip. (Photo: Streamlight)

That progression in product releases, and the relevant merits of each one, will come as no surprise to flashlight nerds like me. Surefire is an American company that produces extremely high quality products onshore, typically targeting military, law enforcement, or LARPing consumers. Streamlight is an American company that produces most of its products overseas, enabling it to undercut Surefire’s prices in the same market, while taking advantage of newer technologies. Olight is a Chinese company that takes already-existing features, then refines them into slick, high performance, general consumer-focussed lights that typically cost a lot less.

The Arkfeld is available in a variety of attractive colors, and wouldn’t look out of place in an Apple store. (Photo: Olight)

I bought the $90 Arkfeld. Not only is the cheapest of the three, but it replaces the tactical pretensions of its competitors with a smooth form factor and fun colors. In all my decades of being over-prepared, I’ve needed to light up dark spaces a bunch of times, but have never once needed to jab a villain in the temple with a compliance tool.

Ergonomics are reminiscent of a TV remote. The button requires a nice firm push. So far, I’ve never once had it accidentally turn on in my pocket. (Photo: Olight)

To build the Arkfeld, Olight machines a solid block of aluminum into a slim little rectangle about the size of an Apple TV remote, but a little thicker. A hollowed out interior makes room for said cells, while a thickened base provides space for the same magnetic charger used by most of the brand’s other lights. That magnetic base also allows you to stick the light to ferrous objects, like a steel car hood. The controls are all packed into a single button right where your thumb falls. The Arkfeld is capable of operating in moonlight, low, medium, and high modes, and also includes a toggle to activate a laser pointer. But I just double click the button to immediately access the full 1,000 lumens. Little LEDs behind the button tell you how much battery you have left.

The pocket clip is robust, and slides over the lip of a pocket just right. (Photo: Olight)

I’ve been carrying the Arkfeld in my right pocket, in front of my pocket knife, and also inside my right butt pocket. I don’t really notice it’s there. Walking the dogs late one night around my cabin, I was able to immediately find it when they indicated wildlife ahead, then illuminate the entire 100 yard driveway to verify that it was a squirrel, not a mountain lion.

But all that’s a lot of fluff. The light rides in a normal pocket, in my everyday jeans, just as well as a pocket knife does. And it provides all the illumination I could ever want, a notable milestone in the continuing evolution of the flashlight.

Lead Photo: Wes Siler

promo logo
sms