Selecting the Right Hiking Flashlight

A Hiking Flashlight can be one of the most important pieces of equipment in your backpack.  These items can not only help you set up camp after sunset or in a dark rainstorm, but can also assist in breaking down camp before sunrise.  They are invaluable for nighttime around-the-camp jaunts and, of course, that every popular one a.m. pit stop.  If you can’t see, you can’t get around or find anything.  Safety becomes a factor.  A bad trip or fall can put an end to your hiking trip.  So, what are your hiking flashlight options?

Types of Lamps:

  • LED:  (Light Emitting Diodes)

    o   Advantages:

    • The bulb can last a long time.  (10,000 hours or more)
    • Very resistant to shocks and impacts
    • As the battery life goes down, the amount of light does decrease, but the color of light stays the same.
    • They “sip” batteries, thus they last longer.
    o   Disadvantages:

    • They don’t “throw” the light as far as Incandescent lamps.
    • Brightness can be an issue, but this type has improved over the years.
    • Their cost can also be higher than an incandescent bulb, although, because of their longer life, the upfront higher cost can be made up over time.
  • Incandescent:

    o   Advantages:

    • Light is “thrown” farther from an incandescent hiking flashlight.
    • Lower initial cost.
    o   Disadvantages:

    • The light will tend toward yellow as the battery dies.
    • The lamp life is shorter than an LED.
    • Not as energy efficient.  They tend to go through batteries faster

Types of Batteries: (More Power)

  • Alkaline: These are the cheaper batteries, but they don’t last as long as lithium.  They are also a heavier battery (every ounce counts when backpacking).
  • Lithium: These last a lot longer than Alkaline.  They are lighter weight and are not as effected by cold weather as alkaline.  They are more expensive than alkaline, but if you are replacing them less often, the higher cost is justified.

What about battery styles and/or sizes?

When you are hiking or backpacking, weight does matter.  Your hiking flashlight should be as light as possible, but still function properly during your trip.  There are models today that operate on only one AAA battery and weigh less than 1/2 an ounce, but they only last for 3 hours.  Others use 2 AA and have a longer life.  Every ounce counts when packing your backpack, but if you have to carry 20 extra AAA batteries instead of 6 AA, then you are probably not saving any weight.   Look at the average length of battery life from one set of batteries.  Also, as shown above, I prefer the Lithium over Alkaline.

Headlamp vs. Handheld: (and in this corner, the contender..)

  • Headlamp: If you haven’t seen these, they are flashlights attached to a headband.  There is another style that clips to the brim of your hat.   The main advantage of a headlamp is its hands free configuration.  Wherever you look, that is where the light goes.  This is a great help when setting up a tent or cooking dinner.  Clenching a handheld in your teeth gets tiresome very quickly.
  • Handheld: These are the old standard.  At least the old 6V, small car battery flashlight of your father’s is gone.  The new handhelds are a great option to have.  If you are walking along the trail, it is better to have your light source closer to the ground to create longer shadows from obstacles in the path.  Also, the convenience of just picking it up and turning it on.  No fumbling trying to put it on your head in the middle of the night.

Other options:

  • Waterproof: A necessity for your hiking flashlight.
  • Durability: This is a personal preference.  In most cases, the more durability, the heavier the light.
  • Keychain LED: These are a great backup light source if anything were to happen to your main flashlight.  This is also a good item to just clip to the outside of your pack.  It is lightweight and can serve in case of an emergency.

I cannot stress enough how important a flashlight is on any hike.  Just because you are going on a short day hike, doesn’t mean that you can forgo any emergency light source.  What if you break your ankle on the trail that is rarely used by other hikers and are stuck there all night?  What if you get lost?  You may say, this will never happen to me, but isn’t better to be safe than sorry?

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