Gear Guy

What’s the brightest flashlight?

I desperately trying to find a bright hand torch that does what the manufacturers claim—I've bought three torches this year all because they told me they were bright, only to discover, to my disgust, that they were hopelessly poor. Can you recommend a very bright hand torch that doesn't take six batteries like the Maglite and doesn't weigh a ton? Kevin England, United Kingdom

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First, North American readers will need to know that a “torch” in Great Britain is the same thing as a “flashlight” here. But then, maybe you figured that outB

In any event, Kevin, you do have to contend with certain laws of physics here: a small battery and small bulb can generate only so much light. Hence the six-battery Maglites—with that kind of electrical oomph, they’re able to produce a pretty bright beam of light. But, as you note, they’re heavy, and with six ‘C’ or ‘D’ batteries on board, kind of bulky.

What to do? Fortunately, the march of technology does mean that today’s flashlights can sometimes be both bright and lightweight. Available here in the U.S., Pelican’s Sabrelight ($28) produces a lot of light from two ‘C’ batteries through its use of a Xenon bulb. It’s very bright for its size, and tough too. Waterproof to 500 feet, not that I think you’ll be diving that deep if you drop it in the ocean. In a compact flashlight, the Princeton Tec Impact II ($25) uses a new-generation LED bulb and four AA batteries to produce a remarkably bright beam from a small package. And because LEDs are very efficient, the batteries last about 75 hours.

In fact, I’d say that LEDs are the future of flashlights. A new light from a company called Action Electronics is the Lightwave 4000, which uses ten LEDs to put out an amazingly bright, white light. It’s not tiny, requiring three ‘D’ batteries, but it’s tough and a real light cannon. This costs $60 here in the U.S.