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The Best Flashlight

After spending three weeks in the New Hampshire woods with 23 flashlights, draining almost 80 batteries, researching the topic for over 50 hours, reading through countless threads at a number of flashlight enthusiast forums, and speaking to a man who has personally reviewed almost 200 flashlights, the best one for most people is the ThruNite Archer 2A V3.

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Our pick
ThruNite Archer 2A V3
The ThruNite offers high-end features at an entry-level price, with a wide range of brightness settings, an easy and versatile two-button interface, and an overall satisfying design.

Our pick is a high-end flashlight at an entry-level price, and it shares a lot of the features you find on competitors that are far more expensive. The ThruNite has the widest range of brightness settings of any light we tested, including a very dim and very useful firefly mode, and a bright setting that illuminated trees 500 feet away. Like many of the best flashlights, the light has a two-button interface that makes toggling through the brightness levels one-handed easy. The blinding strobe mode is useful in an emergency—but the ThruNite’s design makes it easy to avoid activating the strobe during regular use, an advantage over most competitors. The ThruNite (available in cool white or neutral white) shares a number of other features found on more-expensive lights: It doesn’t roll on a flat surface, it stands upright on its rear end, it can survive a 1½-meter drop or full immersion in water, and it has a memory function as well as a momentary-on feature that turns the light on and off with a half-press of the rear button. Its two-AA-powered beam pattern produces such good overall visibility that, even after trying all the other lights, we reached for this first when we headed into the woods.

Manker E12
The Manker has almost all the same features as the ThruNite, but the low setting isn’t as low, and its price is usually slightly higher than our pick’s.

If the ThruNite is not available, we also like the Manker E12. This light is very similar to the ThruNite down to the two-button interface and the four brightness levels. It also shares the nice wide-angle beam, the momentary-on, the memory feature, the antiroll body design, and the full waterproof rating. The only significant difference is that the Manker’s lowest setting is brighter than the ThruNite’s, and we really preferred our pick’s ability to go very dim. Plus, the Manker usually costs a few dollars more than our pick.

Budget pick
Mini Maglite Pro
The Mini Maglite has nothing in the way of features and a slightly awkward interface, but it covers the basics better than other models at this price.

If you’re interested in getting a quality light for as little an investment as possible, we like the Mini Maglite Pro. It’s a very simple light with one brightness setting (and no strobe). It turns on with the twist of the head, which is a little awkward, especially after we got used to the two button style on the ThruNite. It doesn’t project light as far as the ThruNite and the beam isn’t as wide, but it’s enough for general use. The Maglite is also not waterproof and it seemed ready to roll off every surface we put it on. It usually costs around $20, which is as low as we would recommend for a flashlight—any cheaper, and you get into a product category that’s difficult to recommend due to inconsistency and other issues. We really feel the upgrade to the ThruNite is worth it, but if you just want a basic no-frills flashlight at a lower cost, this Maglite is a simpler alternative.

Table of contents

Why you should trust us

We spent about 25 hours combing through the online forums of flashlight enthusiasts (who call themselves “flashaholics”). Chief among these sites is CandlePowerForums, but we also read through threads at BudgetLightForum, The Flashlight Forum, and FlashlightNews. These forums are filled with people who are really into flashlights, and it’s not uncommon for them to own 20 or 30 (or more) flashlights.

We spent about 25 hours combing through the online forums of flashlight enthusiasts (who call themselves “flashaholics”).

One of our most valuable sources was Dave Wise of Layman’s Flashlight Reviews, a website dedicated to flashlights. Wise has reviewed flashlights since 2007, and in that time has taken a hands-on look at nearly 200 different models. With this extensive experience, he told us he “probably [has] at least a little idea of what works and what doesn’t.”

We also spent a lot of time reading through the impressive work of Selfbuilt, an independent flashlight reviewer who puts together incredibly comprehensive flashlight reviews (see here for a taste). We used his site as a reference point for some of the more technical questions we pursued, and tried to conduct an interview, but scheduling didn’t work out.

As for me, I’m a daily flashlight user with nightly trips to the woodshed and chicken coop as well as regular walks in the woods at night. I also take a very hands-on approach with my home and seem to always be using one of my half dozen flashlights to look behind the water heater, into the crawl space, or to be able to see my boiler control. In addition, I have three small children and find myself constantly looking under the couch for lost toys.

How we picked

A phone flashlight works great for a quick light around the house or a short walk to the car, but in most other cases, it’s better to have a dedicated flashlight. A stand-alone tool gives you far more power, versatility, stamina, ergonomics, and durability—if you drop a good flashlight on the street or in a puddle, it has a much better chance of survival than a smartphone.

In talking to flashlight expert Wise about the best features found in general-use flashlights, we decided to seek out models that use two AA batteries; have a nice, wide beam; and provide a good selection of brightness levels, including the very low “moonlight” setting (also called, “firefly” in some models). He recommended that the flashlight can have a strobe feature, for emergency use, but stressed that it needs to be separate from the regular brightness levels. Our research turned up a few other good features to have: A flashlight should be waterproof and designed so that it doesn’t easily roll. Also, in order to be reliable, a good flashlight should be able to hold a constant level of brightness (something that only the better ones can do).

LED flashlights with two AA batteries offer the best combination of brightness, run time, and convenience. Wise said that for the non-enthusiast “AA are definitely the place to look these days.” Selfbuilt, another prominent flashlight reviewer, discusses two-AA lights on his recommendations page, and writes, “With the much greater efficiency of modern LEDs, you don’t need to rely on clunky 2xD or 2xC cell incandescent lights any more (which were never very reliable to start with).” We also avoided atypical sizes such as the CR123A, which give many high-end flashlights superior performance. Instead, we wanted something inexpensive and widely available. For the absolute best performance, experts recommend rechargeable AAs, although we also liked that these lights could take any basic AAs in an emergency (or an extended power outage).

Through our research it was clear that the two-AA setup has a better balance of power and run time than a single-AA or any of the AAA configurations you often find with lights on the lower end of the quality scale.1 AAA lights tend to have a lot more bulk and can’t be rotated in a hand as easily. The two-AA battery configuration still makes the flashlights a little large for a pants pocket—a lot of enthusiasts value compact everyday carry (EDC) designs, but to balance power, run time, and price, we didn’t make an EDC size a priority.

Four flashlights outdoors on top of greenery.

Typical sizes of the different battery configurations (left to right): single AA, two AA, three AAA, four AAA.

Flashlights have either a reflector or a zoom lens. This dictates the light’s beam pattern—basically, how the light looks as it projects from the flashlight—and we prefer reflectors over zoom lenses. Generally speaking, a reflector gives you a better view of what you want to see. It’s a shiny metal cone around the LED emitter, often with an orange-peel texture that evens out the spread of the beam. Reflectors produce both a center hot spot of concentrated light and a lesser wide diameter light around it (called the spill beam). The zoom design is a lens in front of the LED that concentrates the light like a magnifying glass concentrates a sunbeam. These lenses usually slide forward and back, giving the option of a small focused spotlight (the forward position) or a wider diffused area light (the back position). Unlike a reflector, the zoom can’t show both the concentrated hotspot and spill beam at the same time.

Enthusiasts tend to refer to zoom-style flashlights with the somewhat disparaging name “zoomies.”

Comparing the two designs, Wise favored reflectors, saying that most people will “grow to appreciate a flood light far more than one with tight focus.” He explained, “Everyone starts off wanting to light up trees at the far end of a field [with a zoom lens], but eventually people just want to use the light to check the oil after dark, or set up the tent when they got to the campground too late, or just take the dog for a walk through the woods at night. These are all tasks better served by seeing everything around you as equally as possible.”

Two flashlights outdoors on top of greenery.

The ThruNite Archer 2A V3 (left) has a reflector, characterized by the orange peel texture, while the Craftsman has a zoom lens. Reflectors create a wider, more uniform beam that generally shows you more of what you want to see.

Last, the zoom lens is almost never seen on high-end lights, which “says something about how useful it really is,” Wise added. This is not an unusual opinion within the flashlight world. In looking over the threads at CandlePowerForum, we noticed that many enthusiasts tend to refer to zoom-style flashlights with the somewhat disparaging name “zoomies.” Reflector lights also typically have a higher degree of water resistance, and some can survive full submersion—with more moving parts, zoom lights can’t take it.

An animation showing different beam settings.

This image compares a reflector light with a zoom lens light. The reflector offers a better wide angle beam and simultaneously projects a bright spotlight. The lens throws a spotlight further, but has a much weaker wide beam. The reflector light is the better choice to quickly and easily view your surroundings.

A wide variety of brightness levels is another feature to look for in a light. Wise told us, “the brighter lights get, the more I appreciate lower output modes.” There are a number of benefits here. “The lower you go, the less damage is done to your night vision, and the longer, sometimes exponentially longer, your battery lasts. A light that lasts for an hour or two running 500+ lumens may last for more than a day at 5-10 lumens, and some have crazy low Moon modes that can last upwards of a month.” For Wise, these low modes are not just for specialized use. “Being a father of small children, I find I use the super low modes literally every day, generally more than any other feature. This is usually to get dressed for work every morning without waking people, or to check on sleeping children at night.” If you use flashlights in winter, the reflection off the snow is intense enough to destroy night vision in the brighter modes. The bottom line on all of this is that we didn’t put a premium on mega-high lumen counts.

“The brighter lights get, the more I appreciate lower output modes.”
—Dave Wise, Layman’s Flashlight Reviews

Another crucial factor of choosing a light, perhaps the most crucial, is how the strobe setting is handled. The majority of flashlights in the price range we looked at offer a strobe setting and, in some cases, an additional SOS setting (which blinks out the distress signal in Morse code). We feel that strobe is a great feature to have—useful during roadside emergencies, running at night, or even self-defense2—but it’s not something you want to deal with during normal use. Wise said, “If you have to cycle through them all the time, then they get really annoying.” To explain: In most of the tested lights (and nearly all of the inexpensive ones), the strobe is positioned as just another brightness setting, so the light toggle goes: high, medium, low, strobe, SOS. This means that in order to go from high to low and back to high, you need to cycle through the strobe and the SOS settings. It’s blinding, it’s annoying, and after it happens two or three times, you’ll want to throw the flashlight deep, deep into the woods. It’s such a frustrating design that it became a simple pass/fail test for us. If the strobe was handled in this way, we simply couldn’t recommend the flashlight.

Flashlights can get very expensive, so for cost, we set a price limit of about $40. There is an enormous world of flashlights that cost more, but at this price level, we knew we could find an entry-level version of an enthusiast light that offered some of the most important features standard on the higher-end lights. Unfortunately, our cutoff excludes many manufacturers that are favorites of the flashlight crowd (as well as among policemen, firefighters, and others in public safety), notably Fenix, Elzetta, SureFire, Foursevens, and Olight.

After our research, we chose a wide variety of lights to test, focusing most of our attention on two-AA models. We also tested a number of outliers; some four-AAA lights and some one-AA lights in order to see if there were situations where they would be an adequate choice. Our selection included models from Maglite, Coast, Brightex, ThruNite, Nitecore, Manker, and Streamlight.

Many different flashlights and batteries.

We tested a lot of lights … and drained a lot of batteries.

Also, knowing that people often want to purchase a lot of flashlights at a very low cost—to load one each in the glove box, basement, garage, and toolbox—we examined a large selection of inexpensive flashlights (under $20), all with very high levels of customer reviews, and some even sold in packages of two or three. These were all “zoomies” taking either single A or three AAA batteries. Here’s why we couldn’t recommend any of them.

How we tested

We spent night after night after night wandering around the dark New Hampshire woods (and more than once caught the reflection of animal eyes looking back at us).

To look at battery drain over time and comparative light output, we set up a simple “bounce test.” Using an Extech LT45 LED Light Meter and flashlights loaded with new Energizer Max batteries,3 we positioned each light inside a large sealed box with the flashlight at one end shining across the box onto its opposite wall. We placed the light meter behind the flashlight, so it registered only the bounced illumination, and not the direct beam. We took readings at the 30-second mark, the five-minute mark, and the 10-minute mark, and then in 10-minute increments after that, up to 90 minutes (if the battery lasted that long). During this test, the flashlights were all set to the highest brightness, and the zoom lights were set to their wide beam mode.

The purpose of this test was simply comparative, and not to prove or dispute manufacturer brightness claims, which are tested in a very specific lab setting (according to ANSI/NEMA FL1 [PDF]). What we got was an idea of how battery drain affects performance—with the better models, it’s not linear—and a sense of how flashlights with the same battery configuration compare with one another with regard to general brightness levels and speed of battery drain.

We had other ideas for structured tests, but we took a step back and decided on a more holistic approach to our testing. Instead of taking more meter readings in a sealed lab-like dark room, we spent night after night after night wandering around the dark New Hampshire woods (and more than once caught the reflection of animal eyes looking back at us). We tested in the weeks surrounding a new moon and in an area with zero light pollution. We felt this unstructured testing gave us the most useful gauge of overall usability, beam spread, and beam distance, and it really helped us understand what each light had to offer from a practical standpoint.

And as for light output, every single one of these lights is pretty impressive. Of the tested flashlights, there were very few that couldn’t shed at least a little light on the trees at the far end of a field, over 500 feet away. So oddly enough, brightness ended up being a factor, but not the biggest one. Plus, to paraphrase Wise, the brightest beam that throws light the farthest might not be all that practical for regular use.

Our pick

A flashlight outdoors on top of greenery.

The ThruNite Archer 2A V3, the best flashlight for most people.

Our pick
ThruNite Archer 2A V3
The ThruNite offers high-end features at an entry-level price, with a wide range of brightness settings, an easy and versatile two-button interface, and an overall satisfying design.

The ThruNite Archer 2A V3 is in many ways like a high-end flashlight at an affordable price. Taken individually, its features aren’t unique, but the ThruNite combines the best of what we saw among all of the lights in this price range. It has a two-button interface that makes quickly cycling through the four brightness levels easy—one of which is the very useful, very low firefly mode. The strobe setting is not part of the brightness toggle so it doesn’t get in the way of regular use. Like most of the better lights we found, the beam simultaneously projects a long-distance hot spot and a dimmer wide-angle light, which gives a great view of the surroundings. For durability, it has a high-quality fit and finish and can handle full submersion in water and a 1½-meter drop. We also like that the body is designed so that it won’t roll. After we finished most of our testing, the ThruNite was what we kept reaching for when we headed into the woods.

The ThruNite has an interesting two-button interface. At the rear of the light is a button that turns it on and off (often called a “tail switch”). Once the light is on, the brightness levels are controlled by a second button up at the head of the light. Prior to testing we had never used a two-button light, but we soon realized how convenient it is. Holding the light with a thumb on top and fingers cradling the bottom, we could toggle through the brightness levels quickly and one-handed with just a few taps of the thumb. (This also works holding it in a pencil grip.) Many of the other lights have the on-off and brightness levels all controlled at the tail switch, which makes you reorient the light in your hands, or use a second hand to change the setting. Of the tested lights, only our runner-up, the Manker E12, has a similar two-button setup.

A man’s hand holding a flashlight outdoors.

Holding the ThruNite in a natural way puts the brightness toggle button right at the thumb for quick mode changes.

The ThruNite also has what’s called “momentary on,” which means that the light activates with a half press of the tail switch and stays on for as long as the switch is held. This feature, found on some of the other high-end lights we tested, is convenient for quickly turning the light on and off without fully engaging it. In addition, the light has a memory, so it always turns on at the brightness setting that was last used. The nicer lights, including our runner-up, have this feature, but the others (under $30) usually default to the brightest setting, which is often too bright and blinding, especially if you know you’re looking for the lowest setting.

After we finished most of our testing, the ThruNite was what we kept reaching for when we headed into the woods.

The ThruNite has four brightness levels: high, medium, low, and firefly. With the high, we were able to make out the trees at the end of a 500-foot-long field. At the low end, the firefly felt barely brighter than a full moon, so it was perfect for reading a map or checking on a sleeping child. It’s so low that we could hardly see a wall 10 or 15 feet in front of us, but we could still make our way around in the dark. When we initially heard about these über-low levels often found on high-end flashlights, we rolled our eyes thinking it was a gimmick, but when we got the light in our hands, we ended up using it all the time. Of the tested lights, the ThruNite offered the lowest of these low settings, which we feel is a very nice feature.

An animation showing different beam settings.

The high, medium, and low levels of the ThruNite Archer 2A V3 (the firefly mode was too low for the camera to pick up). The fence is 25 feet away, the forsythia (center bush, middle) is 65 feet away, and the maples are over 150 feet away. Even on low, the 25 foot mark is illuminated, and a little light reaches 65 feet.

Not surprisingly, the brightness levels dictate battery drain. According to ThruNite’s website, the high setting has a run time of 96 minutes and the firefly mode can last a staggering 28 days. These numbers were taken with Eneloop Pro 2550 mAh batteries (NiMh), which offer better performance than the more common alkaline batteries. In our tests with Energizer Max batteries, which are alkaline, the high mode lasted around 45 minutes, so a little less than half the output with the NiMh batteries. According to ThruNite, the low setting lasts 14 days, so with an alkaline we assume that translates to around six or seven days, which is still a considerable amount of time.

Having the multiple levels of brightness and understanding how much each one offers in terms of battery life, left us with a feeling of control over the flashlight. On single-setting flashlights, all you get is a set amount of time and that’s it. ThruNite allows you to only use the amount of light that’s necessary. As Wise mentioned, we found ourselves operating in the lower modes most of the time, with only the occasional jump to the high level. Walking around a house during a power outage, there is really no reason to go above the low setting.

And exactly how the battery drains on the ThruNite is another one of its high points. The ThruNite has what is called circuit regulation, so the battery feeds a constant amount of power to the LED. This means that on the highest setting, the ThruNite maintains a consistent level of brightness for about 45 minutes.4 At that point the high setting kicks out and only the lower settings work. This stepping down continues for about 20 to 25 minutes. We saw similar results from the other two-AA lights from the high-end manufacturers we tested (Manker, Nitecore, and Streamlight), but other lights like the Craftsman and all of the AAA lights we looked at had a more linear battery drain. As the chart shows, they start out bright and slowly and consistently fade down to nothing.

The ThruNite also has a high-quality beam pattern. Around the LED is a reflector with an orange-peel texture, which provides a focused hot spot and a not-as-bright spill beam surrounding it. In the woods, we could clearly make out tree branches over 300 feet away and at the same time, the area directly around us was lit for full visibility. As a reflector light, the beam pattern on the ThruNite was pretty comparable with that of the other similar designs we tried.

As for the strobe setting, the ThruNite mercifully tucks it away from the regular brightness settings, yet keeps it fully accessible for when needed. The strobe activates with a long press of the brightness button. It’s an ideal setup, and given that it’s a feature that may be used in an emergency, this simple activation is conceivable in a high-stress, high-adrenaline situation. We consider this separation between strobe and the standard brightness settings to be an essential design element, and very few lights in the under $40 range do it successfully. The Manker E12, our runner-up, has the same setup, but in most of the other tested lights, the strobe is just one of the toggle settings. This is not only annoying in regular circumstances, but we consider having to cycle through settings to find the strobe a potential risk in an emergency.

The ThruNite is about the size of a big marker; a shape typical of the two-AA lights we tested. It’s a comfortable size to handle and it’s easy to flip it around in the fingers depending on how we wanted to hold it. A nice knurled pattern around the body offers a little extra grip, which was useful when the light got wet. It also has a hex shape up at the lens end, so it won’t roll off a rock or any other sloped surface. The light is also small enough to hold between our teeth, which was useful for quick instances when both of our hands were occupied, such as during a quick electrical fix in the basement.

It also has a slightly crenelated bezel designed for self-defense. This is a small series of ridges that project from around the lens of the flashlight. We’re a little skeptical that it’s going to give much of an advantage over a non-crenelated light in terms of self-defense, but we do like that it recesses the lens a bit, giving it more protection if the light is dropped right on the nose.

Speaking of a drop, the ThruNite is rated for a 1½-meter fall. Many flashlights we tested also came with an IPX rating, which is the standard for protection against water intrusion. The ThruNite has the highest rating of eight, meaning it can be completely submerged in water over 1½ meters deep (which we did a number of times to no ill effect). Both of these ratings were found on the tested lights from Manker and Nitecore.

Two flashlights submerged in an outdoor stream.

The ThruNite and our runner-up, the Manker E12 are protected from full submersion in water.

The ThruNite comes with a lanyard, a pocket clip, a replacement cap for the tail switch, and two additional O-rings for the battery compartment. Minor but nice finish details make it feel like a high-quality tool—the threading on the battery compartment cap is smoother and cleaner-feeling than the rough threads on cheaper lights, and a knurled texture on the grip helps keep it secure when it’s wet. The light is available in cool white and neutral white, which are hard to distinguish side by side. The cool white has a bluish tint and the neutral white has a more yellow tint, as this video explains. We tested the cool white and thought it was one of the warmer lights we saw.

Last, the ThruNite’s warranty is a little nicer than average. It has a two-year free replacement if “problems develop with normal use.” Beyond that is a lifetime limited maintenance policy, with the owner of the light paying for only shipping and parts. Of the tested lights, only the Nitecore had a longer warranty, stretching to a full five years, followed by a limited lifetime warranty.

Flashlight reviewer JohnnyMac (founder of TheFlashlightForum), tried the ThruNite Archer 2A V3 and wrote, “If you are looking for a small, reliable, well built light on a budget from a quality manufacturer then the Archer series of lights deserve your consideration.” Specifically, he noted the “excellent build quality,” and the “great output levels and battery versatility” and wrote that, “it’s hard to beat them for the price of $30 just each.” At another prominent review site, reviewer Selfbuilt names the ThruNite Archer 2A V2 (the previous version) as one of the few budget lights he recommends (the ThruNite Archer is seen as a budget model among flashlight aficionados).

Flaws but not dealbreakers

The ThruNite is an excellent flashlight, but we did have a few very minor quibbles with it.

One of the high points of the light, the dimness of the firefly mode, also creates a problem. In any kind of daylight, it’s almost impossible to notice that it’s even on. On more than one occasion, we used it in a dark room and then put it down in a lit room and forgot it was on. The good news here is that in firefly mode, the battery drain is so minimal that it would take weeks for it to empty a full battery, giving ample time to notice the error. Still, it’s something to keep an eye on if you become reliant on the lowest mode like we have.

Also, the belt clip is a bit underwhelming. It works fine, but it feels a little on the flimsy side, especially compared with the one on our runner-up, the Manker E12, which is much more robust.

Similar design, slightly limited

A flashlight outdoors on top of greenery.

The Manker E12, very similar to our main pick.

Manker E12
The Manker has almost all the same features as the ThruNite, but the low setting isn’t as low, and its price is usually slightly higher than our pick’s.

If the ThruNite is not available, we recommend the Manker E12. Almost everything we like about the ThruNite is present in the Manker, and in fact it has a few minor aspects to it that we even liked a little better. But we felt that the wider range of brightness levels found in the ThruNite offers more flexibility both in use and managing battery drain. These are fairly minor points noticed only with the lights side by side, so we’re convinced that anyone ending up with the Manker will be wholly satisfied in their flashlight.

The Manker has the same two-button interface with the four brightness levels and the hidden strobe function. It has a memory like the ThruNite and the same momentary-on feature. It also has a similar high-quality look and feel, including the knurled body, the antiroll design and the ability to tailstand. We liked that the Manker is about ½-inch shorter than the ThruNite and the pocket clip has a little more heft to it. According to the manufacturer specs, the Manker also has a slightly deeper waterproof ability, going to 2 meters, instead of 1½ like the ThruNite.

The highest setting on the Manker and the ThruNite are basically identical. The official stats of the lights have the Manker as brighter, but we spent about 30 minutes switching back and forth between them in a variety of settings and if there’s a difference, it’s so minor we couldn’t see it. At the other end of the light scale, the Manker’s lowest moon mode is visibly brighter than the ThruNite’s. Because we found ourselves constantly in this ultralow mode, the ThruNite is our preference. The lower that setting gets, the better.

Two flashlights outdoors on top of greenery.

There isn’t a lot that sets the Manker E12 (top) apart from the ThruNite Archer 2A V3.

There is also no crenelated bezel on the Manker. We’re not concerned about this in terms of self-defense, but without the crenelations, the lens is a little less protected in case the flashlight is dropped straight on its nose. Also, the forward button of the Manker is rubber, and the one on the ThruNite is a more durable metal.

The Manker is typically just a bit more expensive than the ThruNite, but not by much, usually only four or five dollars. Pricing does fluctuate, but still, the manufacturer base pricing of the ThruNite is lower. Given how similar the lights are, the fact that the ThruNite has a lower price tag is yet another reason to choose it.

A basic flashlight for about $25

A flashlight outdoors on top of greenery.

The Mini Maglite Pro, less expensive than our pick, but it doesn’t put out as much light and only has one brightness level.

Budget pick
Mini Maglite Pro
The Mini Maglite has nothing in the way of features and a slightly awkward interface, but it covers the basics better than other models at this price.

If the ThruNite and Manker are priced too high, or if you just want a no-frills, regular old flashlight, we recommend the Mini Maglite Pro, which typically sells for around $20 (but sometimes creeps up toward $25). This two-AA light has a reflector so it provides the wide beam with the center spot that we like. Compared with the ThruNite, the Maglite is not nearly as bright, and it lacks much of what we like about our main pick—it doesn’t have multiple brightness settings, nor a two-button interface, and it has fewer features overall. So though it offers a price break, we really feel that the additional $10 to $15 investment for the ThruNite or the Manker is well worth it.

The Maglite is a very basic flashlight. Its modes consist of on and off, with a single brightness level and no strobe feature (which is fine; we feel not having a strobe is better than having a poorly configured one). It’s also missing a pocket clip, the antiroll design, and the consistency of the light output (our tests showed a steady fading of the light). For durability, it has only a 1-meter drop rating and it’s not waterproof.

An animation showing different beam settings.

The Mini MagLite isn’t as bright as the ThruNite.

The Maglite is a very basic flashlight. Its modes consist of on and off.

Compared with the ThruNite, the Mini MagLite’s interface is a little awkward. It has no buttons, so it activates with the twist of the head, as if you’re unscrewing the front of the light, which, in effect, you are. It’s an awkward motion and can be done with one hand after a little practice, but it’s done more easily with two. Because there is very little knurling at the head, it’s tough to do with gloves on. If you continue to unscrew the head, five rotations later, the entire head comes off the flashlight. Another flaw of this design is that the light would constantly turn on while in our pocket.

Maglite offers a limited lifetime warranty that covers parts and service for the original owner (registration is required), but Maglite does not cover shipping, so it requires $7 to cover that.

If the price jumps above $25—so far, in its price history, it hasn’t—we’d strongly recommend upgrading to the ThruNite or the Manker. With the Mini MagLite’s stripped-down features and a less-versatile light output than the pick and runner-up, we don’t feel it’s worth more than $25.

Why we can’t recommend a cheaper flashlight

We tested 12 inexpensive flashlights in the under-$20 range, all easily found at Amazon, and all with a high number of positive reviews. For the most part they’re a generic bunch, and we found many identical models sold under a variety of names. These lights are either one-AA or three-AAA, and there’s no question they’re bright enough to help someone get around in the dark. But they do have issues. For one, they all have the single-button interface with the strobe feature as part of the brightness cycle, which is a major flaw. But even worse is that the quality is completely unreliable.

A comparison of three pairs of flashlights.

Cheap flashlights appear under different names, but they’re are all the same.

Flashlight reviewer Selfbuilt writes that he no longer reviews budget lights because they can “be incredibly inconsistent from batch to batch.” He continues, “The reason for this seems to be that many of the budget ‘brands’ are actually often only a loose set of model standards manufactured by more than one plant. Copying and counterfeiting is also rampant, especially for perceived ‘popular’ budget models.” He also tells of how he once gave a positive review to a budget light and when he saw negative feedback of the same light, he, “bought a new sample from the same dealer, and discovered a completely different light (with a different body thickness, screw threads, switch—and most importantly, circuit). In every measurable way, the newer version was inferior to the previous one I had tested.”

Wise had similar things to say about inexpensive flashlights. He told us that “the biggest pitfalls are the reliability aspect. Most of those lower priced lights come with much poorer electronics that just don’t hold up to use.” He added, “My Grandpa taught me that I’m too poor to buy cheap tools.”

We had our own experience with this lack of quality control (or possibly counterfeiting). Two of the budget lights we tested were from a company called “UltraFire,” but on one of the lights, the logo was misspelled, “UltruFire.” Not exactly reassuring.

A close-up of two flashlights showing naming differences.

UltruFire? UltraFire? The quality control on cheap flashlights is less than stellar.

The bottom line is that we agree with Selfbuilt when he writes, “As a reviewer, I can’t justify reviewing a light where there is no reasonable assurance of consistent quality of manufacture.” Likewise, we can’t recommend any specific ones, because if the products themselves are inconsistent, we can’t even be sure exactly what we’d be telling you to buy. If you’re looking for an inexpensive way to load up on flashlights, say for the glovebox or the toolbox and garage, these lights are certainly an option, but just know what you’re getting yourself into. Caveat emptor.

The competition

The Nitecore MT2A has the same high-quality look and feel as our picks, and it has a unique interface that works toward avoiding strobe (and the additional SOS setting), but this workaround is simply not as successful or easy to use. The MT2A has two modes: a turbo, which is the light’s highest setting, and a user-defined mode, which you get to by slightly untwisting the head of the light. The user-defined mode cycles through the settings: high, medium, low, SOS and strobe. Once that brightness level is chosen, you can use the light as a two-setting light—turbo and whatever the user-defined mode is. The problem is, we still occasionally would have to cycle through the modes and deal with strobe and SOS.

The Streamlight ProTac 2AA also has a strobe workaround, but here, the option is to let users program it to eliminate strobe from the toggling cycle. Then, it becomes inaccessible in the case of an emergency (unless you spend the time reprogramming the light). This light also has no moonlight/firefly mode.

The Craftsman 93660 is a very inexpensive flashlight with the lowest brightness level of the tested flashlights. It turns on with a twist of the tail cap, and it’s small and has a nice rubber grip along the body. But due to the weaker light output, it’s just not as useful as the others.

The Coast HX5, a single-AA light, was much brighter than the other single-AA lights we tested for close-range tasks, but out in the woods it didn’t have the same throw as the others. The HX5 is a zoom light, but its lens mimics the look of a reflector light. Overall, we wish Coast made a larger two-AA version that would better compete with the light output of the others.

We tested two lights from Brightex, the XR 700 and the slightly smaller FL11. Both are very bright (the XR 700 was the brightest flashlight we looked at), both have a zoom lens and three brightness levels. Each puts strobe and SOS alongside the rest of the modes, and had a quick and steady battery drain while in high mode. They use AAAs, and are compatible with 26650 batteries, which replace the AAA carriage and offer more run time.

The Coast HP7 was also very bright, although a step down from the Brightex XR 700. It uses four AAAs, and had a fast and consistent battery drain. Like the smaller Coast, the HP7 has a nice beam pattern, similar to what we saw on the reflector lights.

We dismissed a number of lights without testing. Many of these were out because they have the strobe setting as part of the brightness toggle. These included the Nebo 5557 and LuxPro 290C. Other lights, like the Dorcy Z-Drive, had only two settings and no moon mode.

We looked at a lot of inexpensive generic lights, which didn’t compare with the other tested models. Due to the inconsistencies mentioned above, we can’t recommend any of them. For single-AA lights, we tested the J5 Tactical V1 Pro, the UltraFire 7W, the Hausbell 7W, and the LTE Super Bright. The three-AAA models were the J5 Tactical Hyper V, the Captink T6, the UltraFire A100, the Refun E6, the LE Adjustable Focus, the LuxPower V1000, the Vansky T6, and the BYB Adjustable Focus.

ThruNite offers an Archer 1A V3 that takes a single AA battery. It’s not as bright and doesn’t have the run time of the company’s two-AA version, but it does have the same versatile two-button interface. It’s typically priced within about $5 of the two-AA version, and we feel the larger model is the better option.

Again, in our opinion, over $40 is just too much to pay for a basic around-the-house flashlight, and this cutoff excluded many well-respected flashlight manufacturers. If you have the interest and the budget, we strongly recommend Wise’s Layman’s Flashlight Reviews and Selfbuilt’s Flashlight Reviews in addition to registering at CandlePowerForums.

Why rechargeable batteries are better for flashlights

A flashlight may go months between use, so it’s important to understand the risk of using alkaline batteries. Wise put it bluntly, “Don’t ever use alkaline AA or AAA cells in high power devices like flashlights. It’s almost a guarantee that they’ll leak and destroy your investment.” Instead, he recommends using “a good set of Ni-MH rechargeable cells. Preferably pre-charged ones like Eneloops. If the light will sit in a drawer forever between emergency uses, splurge on lithium cells. They’re good for 10+ years and won’t leak.” For our rechargeable battery recommendation, see our guide to the best rechargeable AA batteries.

(Photos by Doug Mahoney.)


1. To paraphrase Wise on why so many cheap flashlights take three AAA batteries: Most LEDs require around 3 to 3.5 volts to run properly, but three AAA cells produce about 4.5 volts. An inexpensive way to step it down is with a simple resistor. But that doesn’t produce a steady power level, and as the AAAs die, the light gets constantly dimmer. In contrast, a quality AA flashlight’s electronics can offer consistent fade-free light. Jump back.

2. Curious about the self-defense abilities of the strobe feature, I turned a strobing flashlight onto my face and the effect was nauseating, painful to the eyes, disorienting, and, needless to say, blinding. Jump back.

3. Extech is a division of Flir, one of the leaders in the test and measurement category. Jump back.

4. This is a bit of a simplification. When the light is first turned on with fresh batteries, it spikes at a high level and then within the first few minutes it drops down to the level that it consistently holds. This is hard to detect by eye; it was only with the light meter that we noticed this initial spike and drop. Jump back.

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Originally published: March 24, 2017

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