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November 10, 2017

The best LED flashlights for the trail, glovebox, or that general eureka moment

by John_A

We all know the sheer convenience of flashlight apps in a quick pinch. While your iPhone’s native utility may prove itself worthy when you’re fumbling in the dark in search of light, they’re far from convenient when it comes to power and efficiency. Thankfully, dedicated LED (light-emitting diode) flashlights excel in terms of size, longevity, and overall brightness, serving as the perfect companion for hitting the trail or exploring the darkest corners of your basement.

Though they can be relatively expensive, most LED flashlights boast a shelf life of more than 25,000 hours, easily surpassing that of their conventional counterparts while producing less light pollution and using a mere 85 percent of the power. However, LED flashlights aren’t the most visually attractive — unless you want to drop a whopping $300 on something like the Orbita Lighthouse — but they will give you the most bang for your buck, whether you prefer a traditional cylindrical torch or a modern headlamp.

We’ve tested some gnarly flashlights over the years, including a halogen model powerful enough to literally fry an egg and start a fire, however, (all liabilities and general awesomeness aside) a real-world lightsaber isn’t all that practical for most situations. Nonetheless, here are our top picks for the best LED flashlights around. I guess it’s time to load up on those D cells.

We recently unveiled our 2017 Digital Trends Outdoor Awards highlighting the best outdoor cooking options, most innovative camping gear, and more.

The best overall — MAGLITE ML300LX ($49)

Per Maglite’s mission statement, the company uses the African proverb of the Lion and the Gazelle as a source of inspiration when designing its products. In essence, the proverb states that regardless of whether you’re a lion or a gazelle, it’s imperative that with the rising of the sun, you must run — and run faster than you did yesterday, or you will die.

“What does any of that have to do with flashlights?” you ask. Everything.

Maglite introduced its first flashlight in 1979 and over the next 40 years, the company has hung its hat on a durable lineup of LED flashlights. The ML300LX has five lighting settings (Momentary, Full Power, Low Power, ECO, and Strobe) to aptly handle the job at hand. At full power, the unit emits 625 lumens of light up to 1,300 feet (in optimal conditions) or as few as 58 lumens when just a little light is needed. With a sturdy aluminum build, the ML300LX is also one of the most rugged LED flashlights on the market — drop it, kick it, run it over, you’ll be hard-pressed to bust this beast. That said, at nearly two pounds, it isn’t the most portable or convenient option for certain tasks but this brute is handy if you need to bludgeon a bear on the fly.

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The best portable LED flashlight for your pack — Fenix PD35 TAC ($73)

Every ounce and sliver of space counts when you’re packing for an extended trip and while any handheld flashlight is technically “portable,” not all models stow and travel as easily as others. With these parameters in mind, the Fenix PD35 TAC LED Flashlight is our pick for best portable without sacrificing lumen output.

The PD35 TAC is equipped with two lighting modes: Tactical and Outdoor Operation. The Tactical setting is activated via the tail switch and allows you to emit up to 1,000 lumens of light. A double-tap of this button emits the same lumen output for one second for short powerful bursts when a quick glance will suffice. The Outdoor mode adds a little more versatility, offering six different lighting modes ranging from 1,000 to just eight lumens.

The exterior side-mounted clip is ideal for belts, pant pockets, and the semi-recessed tail switch minimizes the risk of the unit powering on even in a brimming overnight camping bag. This model boasts a waterproof IPX8 rating for added durability on soggier outdoor stints. Measuring in at just 5.5 inches in length and tipping the scales at a mere three ounces, the PD35 Tac is a powerful pint-sized tool for individuals looking to travel light.

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The best LED flashlight for versatility — Goal Zero Torch 250 ($80)

We all could use a device that lights our way with something other than D cell batteries. Thankfully, not only does the Goal Zero Torch 250 feature an internal lithium battery that’s rechargeable via an equipped USB port but it also touts a built-in hand crank and solar panel for charging the battery when conventional methods aren’t available. One minute of hand cranking even supplies you with 10 minutes of light, which is a better return than most investments in life.

Similarly, if you need a little extra juice on extended outings, we’ve also compiled roundups of some solid portable solar chargers and also backup battery packs.

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The best LED flashlight headlamp model — Ledlenser MH10 — ($80)

While many prefer a traditional, handheld LED flashlight, there are times when it’s convenient to have a hands-free option. That said, we recently tested a regular panoply of headlamps and the Ledlenser MH10 topped our list. The Adjustable Focus System allows you to easily switch between the Spot or Flood lighting settings with a twist of the bezel lens. The rechargeable MH10 is capable of dishing out up to 600 lumens of light on high, which is more than adequate for most situations.

For a little extra peace of mind, this headlamp also has a lock switch to prevent the model from inadvertently powering on in tow. When setting up camp or starting the fire for the evening, a headlamp is a great hands-free way to add a little light to the situation. This model certainly has use outside of camping trips and those who enjoy early morning or nighttime jogs and bike rides will appreciate the built-in taillight.

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The best budget LED flashlight — Coast HX5 — ($23)

Look, sometimes you don’t need hundreds of lumens or solar capability to get the job done. No, sometimes you simply need a solid LED option for the junk drawer or the glovebox. The compact Coast HX5 produces 130 lumens and the Pure Beam Focusing allows you to switch between Spot or Flood with one hand. At two ounces and just four inches in length, the HX5 fits easily in your pocket and the two-way clip conveniently fastens to your belt between uses. If you need a higher lumen output or a wide field of light when setting up the campsite, you’ll need to look elsewhere, however, when it comes to a powerful handheld option under $25, the HX5 fits the bill without breaking the bank.

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Editors’ Recommendations

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  • Save 50 percent or more on top-notch tech products this weekend

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