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T.C Product Review:
LED Flashlights

Copyright (C) 2007 by Steve Litt -- Disclaimer



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Why Only LED Flashlights?

You might wonder why I review only LED flashlights. After all, as this is being written in 2007, the cheapest flashlights don't use LED "bulbs". The brightest flashlights aren't LED either.

Personally, I buy only LED flashlights. You see,  I live in Central Florida. Hurricane Country. In a 6 week period in 2004 we were nailed by hurricanes Charley, Frances and Jeanne. Charley and Frances knocked out our electricity for three days each. We were lucky -- some in Central Florida were dark for over a week.

Incandescent flashlights go about 2 hours on a set of batteries. LED flashlights go 10 to 20 hours on the same set. Assuming 6 hours of use per day in a darkened house, you'd need 3 to 4 sets of batteries (6 to 8 batteries) to survive a week of poweroutage. An incandescent flashlight would require 21 sets (42 batteries). In a one week's power outage, you've more than recouped the premium paid for the LED flashlight.

More to the point, do you really want to store 42 batteries for each flashlight your household uses? Probably not. Remember, after a disaster you won't be able to buy batteries for several days, within a radius of 50 miles or more.

A big part of our family's disaster preparedness is flashlights. In a protracted disaster, only LED flashlights make sense. 

Factors in Purchasing an LED Flashlight

Here are the major factors in purchasing an LED flashlight. You'll notice that many of these factors are at cross purposes, creating tradeoffs. Especially if you live in disaster prone areas, buying multiple flashlights is a good idea.


All other things being equal, most of the time brighter is better. With an extremely bright light (the MAG-LITE 2 D cell light, for instance), you can quickly scan a room and find something you need. With a dim flashlight such as the Dorcy single AAA cell, you must walk around the room and hunt. Brighter lights are also more reassuring during hard times, like when the lights have been off for two days and the roof has a hole in it and you hear something funny walking around your house.

Most LED flashlights are dimmer than incandescent, but the MAG-LITE double D cell is brighter than its incandescent brethern.

Sometimes dimmer is better. You don't want to wake everyone just to find your way to the bathroom. Even the dimmest of flashlights give enough light to navigate even a moderately earthquaked house.

Color of Light

LEDs for instrumentation have been around for decades, but LED for lighting is in its infancy. Most LED flashlight beams are not white, but instead are a sort of whitish violet or bluish white. This color is sufficient for navigation and locating obvious items, but can make color differentiation difficult. The other problem with these off color lights is subjective -- they lend a kind of spooky feel to things. Spooky is a good thing if you're a teenager playing hide and go seek in the graveyard, but in the aftermath of a 6.7 earthquake you might want more reassuring coloration.

The Dorcy single AAA cell has the most "off" color, being a darkish violet. At a distance of 10 feet in a darkened room, this flashlight gives only the grossest color discernment. The Coast single AA cell gives a much whiter light, which when combined with its greater luminescence, makes for excellent color discernment at 10 feet and decent discernment at 20 feet.

Special recognition goes to the MAG-LITE 2 D cell LED flashlight. This light has a creamy white beam just like an incandescent flashlight, and similar to the sun. Combined with its extreme luminousity and its highly focused beam, color discernment is excellent at 50 feet. However, outside the highly focused beam, it's just a little better than the Dorcy single AAA cell.

Beam Pattern

Beam pattern is a tradeoff between wide viewing and use at a distance. For instance, a battery operated laser might be visible at 1000 feet, but is useless for seeing something even a couple degrees off from the beam. On the other hand, one might have a reflectorless light visible at 360 degrees, but lacking concentration, it can illuminate only a few feet.

LED flashlights handle this tradeoff with reflectors and lenses. Some, such as the Coast single AA cell, have a bright center slowly darkening as you go out. To me this is the ideal. Others have a very bright center and a dimmer periperal. Still others have bands of darker and lighter. To me these banded types don't do as good a job, and all other things being equal, should be avoided.
Incandescent flashlights all use a parabolic reflector to create a beam. LED flashlights use parabolic reflectors, but many also use other techniques. Many use convex lenses to further focus the beam. The Coast single AA cell uses a cloverleaf shaped reflector.

The vast majority of incandescent flashlights use a single bulb, but many LED flashlights use multiple LEDs. This often makes for more difficult focusing, but it also yields the opportunity for various power levels (and therefore various battery conservation settings).

The MAG-LITE double D cell has a focusing system just like an incandescent flashlight -- a large parabolic reflector. This flashlight has an adjustment so you can, to some degree, sharpen or broaden the beam. However, this adjustability has limitations because if you broaden it too much you get a dark spot right in the beam's middle -- exactly where you DON'T want a dark spot. What's nice about the MAG-LITE double D is that you can sharpen the beam to the point where you can clearly see 100 feet down the road, and reflective surfaces shine back at you from several hundred feet.

Even at its sharpest, the MAG-LITE double D cell also casts a very broad (I'd say 120 degree) peripheral glow that's good for navigation. You quickly see something in the peripheral glow, and if it's of interest you completely illuminate it with the bright beam. However, the peripheral glow isn't bright enough to discern color well, and beyond 20 feet it's almost useless.

The Coast single AA cell uses a cloverleaf shaped reflector for a great result. This light has a bright interior, gradually dimming as you go out from the center. Unlike most other lights, it has no sharp increases or decreases, making it easy to use in general purpose conditions.

The Dorcy single AAA casts a single uniform beam about 20 degrees, with a very faint peripheral light out to about 150 degrees. The peripheral light helps with slow walking-speed navigation in the darkest of circumstances, but for any other purpose you'll need to shine the main beam on the subject of interest.


The MAG-LITE double D cell is 10 inches long, 13/8 inches diameter at the handle (over 2 inches diameter at the lense) and weighs a pound or so fully loaded with batteries. This flashlight entirely consumes one hand, whether you're using it or just carrying it. You would NOT want to take this flashlight up on the roof for a little midnight tarp work.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Dorcy single AAA cell is 33/8 inches long, a half inch in diameter at the handle, and weighs an ounce or so fully loaded with batteries. This flashlight can slip unobtrusively in your pocket. It can be carried and shined in one hand along with other items. In a pinch, it can be held between the lips (WARNING: Risk of dental damage).

The Coast single AA cell is 53/8 inches long, a half inch in diameter at the handle, and weighs a few ounces fully loaded with batteries. It can be slipped inside a man's hip pocket, although its presence will be easily felt there.

For the ultimate of hands-free operation, consider an LED light that straps to your forehead. It won't shine far, but for close up work it gives you two good hands to work with.

Battery Efficiency

If it weren't for battery efficiency, we'd all be using incandescent LEDs. There are actually different categories of battery efficiency:
On a per-battery basis, the cheapest batteries I've bought are AA cells. I get 48 of them for about ten bucks at Costco. AA batteries outlast AAA batteries in identical applications, so AA batteries are more efficient in terms of cost. C and D batteries cost about the same, but D batteries outlast C batteries in identical applications, so once again D batteries are more efficient costwise.

Personally, I try to get flashlights using either D or AA cells. When flashlight portability is a priority I'll sometimes go AAA, but try to find something that uses AA. I try never to get any appliance using C batteries -- to me that's just a waste.

In addition, different flashlights use different numbers of batteries. The Coast single AA cell and Dorcy single AAA cell use a single battery, so they cut battery usage in half. Some other flashlights use three or even four batteries -- you can really go through batteries fast that way. Particularly irking are those flashlights using an odd number of batteries (higher than 1). Batteries are packaged in even numbers. Nobody wants an odd battery left over.

D cells are big and take up a lot of room. C cells also take a fair amount of room, and of course are uneconomical. AA and AAA batteries, properly packaged, take up very little room. In an era of LED flashlights this is more or less moot because you could store enough batteries to run three MAG-LITE double D cell flashlights for a week in a box 1 foot by 1 foot by 18 inches.

Your mileage may vary, but I've found that all the flashlights reviewed in this document can go a minimum of three days of heavy useage between battery changes. My experience is that the Dorcy single AAA cell runs down the quickest, but given that it uses only one cheap battery, that's not a bad thing.

The Coast single AA cell is phenominal. It uses a single battery that lasts for a long time, yet provides bright light.


Go to the store and look at the LED flashlights. Most will tell you the LED bulb will last 100,000 hours, which is almost 30 years at 10 hours a day. While this may be true, it's very misleading. I doubt that the flashlight's switch will last anywhere near that time. Lenses and cases crack. Connections oxidize. Many of these flashlights have electronic elements whose solder connections can go bad. And of course, flashlights get lost, but that's beyond the scope of this document.

By far the most failure prone part of an LED flashlight is the switch. I've had two Brinkmann double D cell LED flashlights develop bad switches so that I had to throw them out. I dropped a Coast single AA cell onto a tile floor from waist level, and from that moment on its switch would not work. One of my MAG-LITE double D cell flashlights has rarely shown intermittent flickering which might be the switch (or might have simply been a partially unscrewed battery compartment cap).

Bad switches on dollar incandescents is no big deal -- it goes bad you spend another buck. If you spent $30.00 on a MAG-LITE or $20.00 on a Brinkmann double D, it's a disappointment. Unfortunately I know of no way to know ahead of time which flashlights have durable switches and which don't.

A special durability award goes out to the Dorcy single AAA cell flashlight. It has no switch at all. You simply partially unscrew the battery compartment cap to turn it off, and screw it all the way in to turn it on. This sounds hokie, but in fact it gives this light much more durability.

Lenses break. The Coast single AA has no lense, so that's a good thing. The Dorcy's single AAA is so small, and the flashlight so light, that lense breakage is unlikely. The others are heavier, with bigger lenses, so I'd imagine their lenses are more subject to breakage. However, as a practical matter, in my 3+ years of heavy LED flashlight usage, I've never broken a lense, although I had one Brinkmann double D cell lense assembly crumble apart over time.

The bottom line is this: Don't expect your flashlight to last 30 years just because its LED element would have.


If these flashlights lasted 30 years, then the price difference between a thirty dollar MAG-LITE double D cell and a six dollar Dorcy single AAA would be immaterial. Unfortunately, I've found that within 2 to 5 years flashlight either break or get lost, so price is an issue. Also, better flashlights come out all the time, so obsolescence limits the time over which to spread the purchase price.

The cheapest practical LED flashlight I've found is the Dorcy single AAA cell for just under $6.00. At this price, this is the flashlight you give your kids when you and your spouse cruise the darkened house with your MAG-LITE double D's. The Dorcy single AAA is priced like a toy so it can be used like a toy. Just to reiterate, the Dorcy single AAA is actually a durable light, so excluding loss or abuse, it will stick around a long time.

There's a cluster of LED flashlights priced in the high teens and low twenties. Most appear to be good lights, and quite a few combine portability with bright beams. Some of these are full sized double D cells, but most are smaller. The Coast single AA cell is an excellent representative of this price range. There is also a twenty dollar double AA cell, from MAG-LITE, with a three watt LED bulb and a detachable reflector so that it can be used as a "candle".

Up the price scale are the big D cell MAG-LITE flashlights. The double D cell costs just under $30.00, while the triple D cell costs a little more. As far as I know they both have 3 watt LED elements, so I personally see no reason to get the bigger flashlight.

Ease of Finding in the Dark

You could find your flashlight if only you had a flashlight, and you'd have a flashlight if only you could find your flashlight. Catch22. Buried shovel.

White, yellow or bright silver are the easiest to find in the dark. Black would obviously be the hardest. One of my MAG-LITE double D cells is black, the other is dull silver. Dull silver is easier to find, but black is more macho. Of course, real men get their macho at midnight, on their roof, tacking down tarps in 45 MPH winds, with their wives begging them to be careful.

The Darcy single AAA comes in metalic blue, metalic red, and silver. Get silver. The Coast single AA comes in bright silver for great visibility. The Energizer quadruple AA comes in gray for so-so visibility.

In all cases, it might be prudent to put some reflective tape on your flashlight. But by far the best advice I can give you is to develop a habit, at least with your flashlight, to REMEMBER where you put it down, so you can easily pick it up again.

Use in Electronic Repair

Ever had to solder where you can't see? Or fish pulley belts in a dark, obscure corner of a machine? Or insert a cable or daughtercard into its slot inside a computer resembling midnight in Calcutta? A flashlight can help, but which flashlight?

The Coast single AA cell would be ideal for size and brightness, but its metalic surface would short out components if it fell in. Covering its metal skin with electrical tape would make it useful in electronic repair.

At many hardware stores you can get an LED flashlight in which the batteries are in a box shaped clip on, and the LED bulb goes on a gooseneck that can be adjusted to shine in exactly the right position. These are the best.

MAG-LITE Double D Cell

This light is king of the hill. It's the biggest, brightest, most powerful, best colored, most focused of all the flashlights I've tried. Colors are easily distinguished from 50 feet, and within the focused beam you can see and identify objects. This ten inch long giant takes two D cells, sports a single 3 watt LED and adjustable focus for a thin, bright beam with useable peripheral lighting to about 150 degrees. In my opinion, if attached to a bicycle, this would make a wonderful bicycle headlight, visible a half a mile away, with peripheral light sufficient for 15 to 20 feet on a dark road, and a main beam illuminating the road for up to 100 yards.

In the house, this bright and naturally colored flashlight makes searches quick and sure. It's bright enough to help people with middle age vision perform intricate tasks easily. Although using two expensive D cells, it lasts so long between battery changes that it's economical. Its sole downsides are portability -- it's big and heavy, and price -- it's close to $30.00. As previously mentioned, if this flashlight is kept for a few years the price becomes immaterial.

Coast Single AA Cell

If I were stranded on a dark desert island with only one flashlight, this would be it. Running on a single dirt-cheap AA cell, this small workhorse can easily put out 12 to 20 hours of bright light. Sporting three LED bulbs and a unique cloverleaf shaped reflector, with no lens to break, this light has the best beam pattern for working within a room or attic. The beam is bright in the center, continuously darkening throughout its 60 degree beam.

This flashlight is light and easily carried in one hand, and does not prevent that hand from being used for other tasks. Its 53/8 inches length and half inch in diameter enable it to be pocketed in a deep pocket. At $20.00 it's not cheap, but a long battery life using only one battery of the cheapest kind quickly recoups a lot of that money.

Darcy Single AAA Cell

We live in an age of minaturization. A high power desktop computer can be purchased for $700.00. A notebook computer of the same specifications costs $1000.00. We often accept RAM and hard disk space on notebooks that we'd declare skimpy on desktop computers.

At 33/8 inches long, half inch diameter, and about an ounce, the Darcy Single AAA Cell flashlight is as portable as they get. When it's in your pocket you don't even know it's there -- it blends in with the keys and change, and if there's a cellphone in your pocket, the flashlight is overwhelmed.

A single AAA cell powers the unit 6-10 hours continuous, so you're getting some really good battery economics.

All this for less than six bucks.

This is not a bright flashlight. At ten feet you'll barely discern colors. This is not the flashlight to look for water damage or dripping on a darkened ceiling. This should not be your primary flashlight in a disaster, but makes a great personal flashlight for navigating an earthquake strewn house.

With its low price, it's a great personal flashlight for the kids, so they'll keep their hands off your powerhouse flashlight. You can buy five of these flashlights for the price of one MAG-LITE double D cell. Equip the whole family.

Energizer Quadruple AA Cell

At about ten dollars, this is a cheap flashlight suitable for kids. Its much brighter than the Darcy single AAA, but not as bright as the Coast single AA. The specifications I read on Amazon say it runs for 100 hours on a set of batteries. If true, that would make it quite battery efficient, but I tend to doubt that claim. I do like the fact that it uses AA rather than AAA batteries -- it was made with user economy in mind.

The beam coloration has a lot of violet, so color discernment is not the best. Also, the beam pattern is somewhat disturbing, with maybe a 4 degree central bright beam, about a 12 degree lesser beam around that, a 30 degree dark spot around that, and then a 90 degree peripheral light around that, the dark spot is confusing and disturbing. However, with time I've gotten used to it.

Unlike most LED flashlights, this one has a slide switch that moves a large contact up and down, like in cheaper incandescent flashlights. However, I own several of these flashlights and none has had switch problems.

The AA batteries are kept in an assembly that must be put in correctly, or the light won't light correctly. If you lose the directions (and who doesn't after a couple weeks), you'll need to experiment to get it right.

As thick as a D cell flashlight, this won't comfortably fit in a pocket, but it's short and light so it's not tiring to lug around.  One really nice feature are a couple raised parts near the lens, creating a tripod with the handle bottom, preventing rolling on mildly slanted surfaces. This doesn't prevent rolling when placed sideways on a roof, but on a roof you can confidently place it on the raised parts, pointing up the roof, and it will stay put. Or you can place it on a car hood in just about any orientation and confidently leave it go. Good luck doing that with the MAG-LITE, Coast or Darcy units.

This light meets a certain tradeoff of price point and visibility. I don't see it as an outstanding light, but if you need something relatively cheap and see this flashlight on the shelf, you can use it with confidence.

Brinkmann Double D Cell

Earlier this document discussed obsolescence. Here's an example. In August 2004, one of these units kept our family seeing, on a single set of D cells, for the three days Hurricane Charley knocked out our power. By the time Hurricane Frances hit four weeks later, we had three of these flashlights.  These were my first reasonably bright LED flashlights, and their perserverence on one pair of batteries blew my mind.

In the three years that followed, one of these flashlights crumbled at the lense, and two more had switch trouble. Even without the switch trouble, the beam that seemed so bright in 2004 pales next to the Coast single AA cell or especially the MAG-LITE double D. These units sold for twenty dollars at Walmart. In 2004 that was a spectacular deal. Today it's a yawn.

Please keep in mind that I bought my last one of these in 2005, so it's entirely possible that Brinkmann has fixed all the original design flaws.

This is a four LED flashlight with two switches. The push-button switch turns the light on and off as you'd normally see on any quality flashlight. Then you can twist the lense to switch between four LEDs for brightness and two for economy. Unfortunately, my experience is that this two to four switch tends to go intermittent over the years.

The central beam is violetish white, not particularly bright. It's surrounded by about 45 degrees of lesser light, then a band of darkness, with about 140 degrees of peripheral light.

Let's hope that Brinkmann has corrected the design flaws and made it brighter. All I can say is the Brinkman double D cell flashlights I bought in 2004 and 2005 were wonderful by the standards of that day, but are substandard by 2007 standards.

This is the Tip of the Iceberg

First, let me state that MAG-LITE, Coast, Darcy, Eveready/Energizer, Brinkmann and many other manufacturers all have wonderful products in their lineup. The specific flashlights I've reviewed are the ones I've owned. There's a world of LED flashlights out there, and I think this document's given you the tools to evaluate them for your purposes.

Where to Buy Batteries

Costco. If you want great batteries for a great price, you buy your batteries at Costco. For about ten bucks you can get 12 Duracell D cells, or 12 Duracell C cells, or 24 Duracell AAA cells, or 48 Kirkland AA cells. These are all high quality alkaline batteries that will run your flashlight a good, long time.

What if there's no Costco around you or if you're not a Costco member? Then find a retailer selling Rayovac batteries. Rayovac batteries cost less for the same battery. I used them as a kid -- they're VERY good. They're sold at Walmart, Sams Club, Ace Hardware, Lowes, Home Depot, Sears, Target, Batteries Plus, and many other outlets.

Where to Buy Flashlights

I buy mine at Walmart. Huge variety and cheap.

You might refuse to shop at Walmart. Walmart has helped the middle class with four dollar prescriptions, hurt the middle class by moving manufacturing offshore, paying inferior wages and dumping workers onto state medicaid rolls. They save you gasoline by providing one stop shopping at low prices, and mess up neighborhoods with the traffic they bring in. They make it impossible to survive as a small retailer.

Whether you love Walmart or hate them (I both love them and hate them), I understand your position. If you're boycotting Walmart, consider Target or other discount stores. Don't forget Costco -- their selection is limited but their values outstanding. If Costco happens to be selling the right LED flashlight when you're looking, you can get the best value there. Also, there are places you can buy flashlights online.

I saw my first LED flashlight in early 2003 from a guy who got it from a customer. By mid 2004 I'd bought (and lost) one from Costco and a Darcy single AAA and Brinkmann double D from Walmart. By the end of 2005 I'd gotten some inexpensive Energizer quadruple AA flashlights and a couple other types. In 2006 a variety became available, at Walmart and other places, including the Coast single AA and the MAG-LITE double D. Within a couple years the choices in LED flashlights will be endless, lumens will have increased andprices will have decreased. I predict that within 5 to 10 years LED flashlights will completely displace incandescent flashlights because nobody wants to spend extra money on batteries.

In other words, as time goes on, finding the exact LED flashlight to meet your needs will become easier and easier.

Here's a list of flashlight manufacturer sites:

MAG-LITE LED flashlights
Coast LED flashlights
Darcy flashlights Not found
Energizer flashlights
Brinkmann LED flashlights

Note that the preceding URLs appear not to list all the flashlights available from these manufacturers. Coast has so many LED flashlights available that it's hard to find the one you want amongst the myriad of selections. Beyond these URLs, you can search the web for lots more.

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Copyright (C)2007 by Steve Litt. -- Legal