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Best flashlight for 2021 Best 2022 flashlight

Best flashlight for 2021 Best 2022 flashlight

This article is part of Road Trip 2020, CNET's series on how we're preparing for what may come next.

You'd think that now that most of us carry a flashlight on our phones, there's no need for an actual flashlight. That isn't necessarily the case -- a good, bright flashlight is an essential tool you should have in your home. After all, if a natural disaster or storm cuts out the power, having opulent flashlights saves your phone's battery and provides some comfort and safety. In more extreme circumstances, a flashlight may even provide your survival.

A good flashlight is also handy in a variety of mundane tasks, such as running before dawn, exploring the woods at night, digging through spooky attic or garage, going camping, or catching fireflies with the kids.

Which flashlight should you buy? Not only are there too many flashlights on the market to count, but there are also a number of different types of flashlight -- from baton to hands-free to lantern-style. Further, the brightest flashlight isn't always the best flashlight. From a tiny keychain flashlight to spooky headlamps, there's bound to be accomodating device for you.

To help you narrow it down, we looked at the most popular products at a number of retailers, read expert recommendations, and acquired over dozens of devices and tested them all. We considered variables such as battery life, the type of battery the flashlight used (AA battery, AAA battery and rechargeable battery), brightness level, light mode, whether it had a pocket clip (if tiny) and so on. Here are our picks for the best flashlight for 2021.

Best baton-style flashlight

David Priest/CNET/ David priest/David Priest

The $30 ThruNite baton-style LED flashlight is an all-around great device. It has a two-button interface (one to turn it on, one to adjust its brightness level, and one for strobe effect) that is intuitive; its belt clip is handy and prevents it from rolling; the flashlight's beam is wider than many similar priced baton flashlights; and it'' s waterproof up to 2 meters.

One of the most amazing features of The ThruNite LED flashlight was its firefly setting -- a gentle light that's perfect for nighttime use when you're trying not to disturb wildlife or wake sleeping kiddos.

With the ThruNite, casual users shouldn't have much to complain about. Its only real weakness was the 40-minute high-power duration. If you're out in the woods at night and want to explore for hours, you need a baton-style light that produces consistent, high-level output, but at varying costs.

$30 on Amazon for $30.

Luxury is available as an option.

David Priest/CNET/ David Preacher/Davies Priest

I didn't try all of the top-end flashlights on the market, but I did try a $90 Olight Baton Pro rechargeable flashlight -- whose popularity has drawn many enthusiasts -- for comparison. I can't say it was the "best" high-end light, but it certainly showed what a little more money can buy.

The Olight outmatched the rest of the baton-style lights when it came to high-level output and consistency. In less than an hour, its output, which had already started higher than most of the low-end and mid-level lights, barely budged. Its tiny body is light and strong, despite its size. The designers cleverly integrated a host of useful features into the single-button interface, including low, medium, and high power settings, strobe effects, low-level firefly-type mode and super-fast turbo mode, timers, as well as preventing the light from accidentally turning on and draining its battery.

In short, the Olight rechargeable flashlight is a design marvel, and if you're in the market for stout flashlights that will get lots of use, they'll serve you better than lights in your under-$50 range.

$90 at Amazon.com. $70 at the Amazon Store.

Best flashlight on a budget Best light on the market Best bargain for shabby chic.

David Priest/CNET/ David priest/David Priest

Rayovac's Floating LED lantern is the best flashlight for the money in the most basic terms. The plastic body feels cheap (although it does float in water), and the rubber button does two things: turns the light on and off. The final product over 60 minutes was impressive. Sure, the bright light wasn't as consistent as you would expect from a high-end light like the Olight, but even after 2 hours in stumbling test, I still had more lumens than almost any light I tested after only 1 hour.

The Rayovac's 6-volt battery is a problem, and you'll have to replace it when it runs out. That's almost twice as much as the flashlight itself.

If you want a solid light to keep in tins until disaster strikes, Rayovac's lantern will do the job.

$6 on eBay.

Best lantern-style flashlight

David Priest/CNET/David Priest

Although Rayovac's camping flashlight is technically a lantern-style light, it still features sloping beams, unlike some lights with 360-degree coverage. The LE's rechargeable LED lantern was the best I tried for camping or group activities in the dark.

Although LE's output wasn't exceptional in a single direction -- as our testing procedures demonstrated -- it lit incredibly large spaces for over an hour and did so more brightly than the somewhat less expensive Energizer lantern.

LE's real charm comes from its inventive design. Two baton-style lights are detached from its body, allowing would-be campers to break off and carry out their own tasks without stealing the light from anyone else. It's a cool idea and one that cleverly anticipates the needs and activities of real people.

The downside of LE's lantern is its excessive battery life. For the best results, you'll need three D batteries for the lantern and three AAA batteries per break-off baton, for a total of nine batteries. That leaves you with an expensive device to keep up with and a heavy lantern to carry on secluded nights. That being said, the pros definitely outweigh the cons here.

$29 at Amazon.com.

Best hands-free headlamp for the job.

David Priest/CNET/ David priest/David Priest.

Foxdott's $15 rechargeable headlamp is a great value for the money. Its output wasn't as consistent as other headlamps in the same price range, but it was considerably higher than some other comparable headlights. The multilight design also allows for a variety of settings, including red-light mode and strobe mode. One button controls the standard LEDs, turning on two, four, or six or activating a strobe effect. The second button activates two extra-bright LEDs, dims them, turns them red, and makes them blink red. You may combine the effects listed below using either of these buttons.

I like the fact that you can run six high-powered LEDs with two blinking red safety lights simultaneously, especially if you're jogging in the predawn dark. Or you may just turn on two dim LEDs for after-dusk exploration. It offers you a range and performance that other headlamps don't.

$17 at Amazon.com.

How we looked for the best flashlight

The two primary tests I performed measured a given flashlight's performance over time and the spread of its beam. I anchored the flashlight to a tripod and pointed it at refracting light 6 feet away for the first test. I then placed a light meter on the reflective screen and monitored the relative lumens over the course of 60 minutes.

Although I tested the lights in an almost dark garage, the light readings should not be considered as absolute. Instead, they provide a glimpse into how flashlights perform against one another and how their outputs change over time.

The other test involved setting up a flashlight 6 feet away from. sand, and measuring the beam's diameter. This gave a general idea of the width you should expect from these lights -- although it was evidently limited to some lights. Lantern-style lights, for instance, provide a much wider light coverage.

Beyond these two tests, I used the lights in a dark room and outside at night to get spooked about each of them and the features they provide. I was looking for light output options, extras like safety lights or strobe effects, and a lightweight-but-sturdy body that felt easy to use even in the dark.

The rest of the pack are in a similar position.

Most of the lights I tested weren't as good in general. They either produced little light, like the $14 J5 Tactical flashlight and the Eveready baton flashlight (which only cost $6.50 for a two-pack), or they produced wildly inconsistent light throughout the 60-minute testing period. While the best products, like the Olight, may maintain constant output for hours, even good affordable options like ThruNite and Rayovac units I recommend will see either steady or cliff-like drop-off within an hour.

The $18 Mini MagLite Pro baton, on the other hand, delivers a solid output. This small flashlight starts with less lumens than the ThruNite, for example, but it maintains a solid output for much longer -- even after 90 minutes of running, it still maintained optimum output after 40 minutes than THuNoit.

The problems with the MagLite are primarily due to its physical form: you turn on the flashlight by twisting the top, which, if you continue twist, removes the light's head. Yes, the same motion that turns on the light takes it apart. You don't get any of the various settings that the ThruNite offers, and the MagLite seems to be designed to roll off surfaces (I can' t remember how many times I set down all the flashlights and had to catch the MagnLite as it slid off the edge of my table).

I found that LE's $37 Searchlight, Samlite'' $27 lantern, and Energizer' s $19 Lantern, among the most common lantern-style lights, have a low general output. Due to its clever modular design, LE's lantern was the best of the bunch.

Because of their erratic performance, Headlamps were difficult to test -- particularly the $14 Energizer and Gearlight devices (selling two for $14), which bounced all over the map during their 60-minute testing periods. The $12 ARCBLD headlamp was more consistent than its competitors, but it produced poor illumination. Even before considering its superiority (such as charging and the aforementioned light arrangement), the constantly declining output of the Foxdott headlamp remained in the lead.

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Which light is best for you?

After dozens of hours testing these 14 flashlights, it's clear just how different the needs of different individuals might be -- and how distinct the recommendations are. Some devices are great for casual use, but for those who prefer high-end flashlights, devices like the Olight (or a number of others) may be more appropriate.

Looking for lights? Here's more reading on this topic.

  • Best smart light bulbs for 2021 Best 20 21 smart bulb replacement bulbs
  • Best LED bulb for every room of your house in 2021 for each room in your home
  • Best cheap smart LED light bulbs for 2021
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