Chances are, if you’re a camper – and even if you’re not – you’ve got a drawer or two or three full of them.
Flashlights seem to breed that way.
That’s not surprising, especially among the outdoor crowd. National surveys show that that, consistently year to year, flashlights are the most-commonly-purchased item among campers, and especially first-timers.
It’s not that campers rank flashlights as the most essential piece of gear on any trip. Tents, sleeping bags, bug spray, and coolers all come in ahead of them on the importance list.
But flashlights are what people buy most often.
Arming children with a flashlight adds to the adventure of outdoor outings.
Apparently, we can’t find the “right” one, not in our own either blinded or unseeing eyes, anyway.
So just how do you pick the one best one off a store shelf or internet shop full of them?
That comes down, in part, to personal preference. But there are some considerations that can help you make your choice.
First, consider brightness, measured in lumens, and how you expect to use your light. If you like to read at night right before bed, something in the 30 lumen range is fine. But if you want to light up your campsite, to highlight the eyes of raccoons waiting on the fringes for you to go to sleep and leave unattended any campfire scraps, you’ll want something brighter, measuring in the hundreds of lumens.
And if your goal is to scorch the earth, spotlighting every critter on two legs or four for hundreds of yards around, pick something that offers 1,000 lumens or more.
Next, think about the shape of that beam of light. Some lights feature powerful, but narrow, beams of light. Others are more “candle” like in that they produce wider, softer displays. Many flashlights allow you to go back and forth between the two options.
Think about how you expect to use your light and pick the beam style that best suits that.
Pay some attention to durability, too. Flashlights are, by virtue of when and where they’re used, often abused. They inevitably get knocked off picnic tables, dropped on rocks and roots and even stepped on.
A flashlight with an aluminum body, for example, likely handles that better than one made of cheap plastic.
And what about water?
Good flashlights will be at least water resistant, meaning they’ll still function in your typical rain or snow. But that doesn’t mean they’re waterproof.
If you canoe or kayak camp, and will be on or around water when using your light, a floating and/or waterproof model might be the best choice.
Another consideration is power.
Some flashlights are rechargeable. Others run on disposable batteries. Which is better?
Rechargables have the advantage of being always ready to go – so long as you keep them charged. If you don’t, there’s no going back.
Batteries die, too, of course, but throwing a new set in gets you back in the game right away.
With either type, examine whether it’s possible to dim the flashlight, running it on less than full power. That extends battery life in all cases.
Finally, think about weight and size.
A baton-sized flashlight that runs on three or four D batteries might be great for car camping. But you may regret taking it on a backpacking trip. There, where every ounce counts, smaller and lighter – perhaps pocket-sized — is better.
You don’t want something too big or too small, either. That’s especially true if you’re camping with children.
Let them have their own light: it will be a source of fun while letting them feel grown up and independent. But make sure it actually works and is suitable for small hands.
Now, no matter what, is your next flashlight your last one?
Let’s be honest, it’s probably not. But you can make sure that every flashlight you buy has a purpose and fills a niche.
And then there’s no excuse not to get outdoors, no matter how dark the nights.
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