- Buyer's Guide
Best EDC Flashlights in 2021
Discover best-in-class EDC flashlights to elevate your EDC…
Write, Light, Slice – these make up the three pillars of the modern EDC kit, distilling everyday carry down to the basic tools that will cover most needs on a typical day. For me, the “light” portion is probably my most reached-for tool. Having a proper lighting setup means added safety when walking at night or on an early morning run. It means being able to read a map on a trail, cook dinner at camp, or repair your car on the side of the road.
EDC flashlights are something that many used to take for granted. Many of us grew up with a large black torch in the kitchen drawer, with an output that never quite matched its size and heft; it was more of a blunt tool rather than an illumination device. But with the large advancements in LED’s, battery technology, and drivers, today’s EDC flashlights are true pocket rockets.
What to Consider in EDC Flashlights
When deciding on EDC flashlights, there are a few considerations to keep in mind. You want something you are comfortable with carrying, that has the power and runtime you need including having plenty of juice on standby, and has the output and quality of light for the environments you’ll find yourself in.
Size and Material
If an EDC flashlight isn’t a comfortable size and weight, it’s going to be left behind. A light that’s in your toolbox or cabinet won’t be useful when you’re out in the field. Most EDC flashlights are below 5 inches, with the majority below 4 inches. As you can imagine, the primary factor that affects both the length and diameter of a light is the battery powering it. However, choice of tail switch, reflect/optic and driver/LED stack can all play a large role as well.
You’ll want EDC flashlights that are comfortable to hold in your preferred grip. I like to hold lights in my palm and wrap my fingers around it. This means there’s a lower bound to how short a light can be before my hand is covering the business end of the torch. But that is not to say that smaller lights don’t have their place. For AAA-sized lights, switching to a “cigar-grip” can be very effective.
Most EDC flashlights used to be made of aluminum and while that is still the most popular material, many enthusiast EDC flashlights are now offered in stainless steel, titanium, copper, brass, and other materials. The three key factors here are price, weight, and heat conductivity. Keep in mind that while materials like copper and brass make great heatsinks, they are also very heavy (more than twice an equivalent aluminum light), and will tarnish (or “patina”, if you prefer).
Power Source and Charging
In the past twenty years, there have been large advances in battery technology and this has led to even more powerful EDC flashlights, in smaller packages. Up until the early 2000s, almost all lights were using disposable alkaline batteries. These did not offer great energy density and most were just 1.5 volts. Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries were rechargeable but I’d argue an equally compelling advantage was they didn’t leak when stored in a light for long periods. Next came primary (read: not rechargeable) lithium batteries but these were usually found in the form of a CR123 at 3V. That all leads us to today where lithium-ion (Li-Ion) batteries are what’s mainly used. These batteries have the same chemistry used in your smartphone, laptop, and even electric car if you own one.
Flashlight batteries are referred to by a number, which is simply a combination of its diameter by length. So what you might call a AA is referred to as 14500 because it’s 14mm in diameter and 500mm long. Other popular sizes are 10440 (AAA), 18650, 18350 and 16340 (aka CR123). What’s important here is the battery size will greatly dictate the size (and weight) of your light and it’ll also affect how long your light can run since, naturally, the larger the battery the more energy it can hold.
Once you figure out your power source, you need a way to charge it. With disposable alkaline batteries, we traded the environment for convenience. And quite frankly, primary cells have other weaknesses as well. The most convenient option is to purchase a charger that can handle different types of battery chemistries and sizes. But, if that seems like too much of a commitment, there are plenty of flashlights that can be recharged simply by plugging in a USB cable, or by utilizing an included magnetic charger!
Output and Color Temperature
Pull up an old ’90s police show and pause it when they are chasing a suspect through an alley. Remember those big flashlights cops used to carry? The beams were neither bright nor beautiful. Light output can be measured in many ways but the industry has mostly settled on lumens, which is a measurement of the total energy output (or total visible light) from a light source. The more lumens, the brighter a light is. Keep in mind that the human eye perceives brightness logarithmically so you need a doubling of brightness for your eyes to see it as a “significant” change.
The darker an area or scene is, the less light you need. In many applications, having just enough light to light an area is preferable to having a very bright light. For example, 5 to 10 lumens is enough for someone to navigate a pitch dark house. 100 to 300 lumens is a very useful range for EDC use.
Lastly, LED’s have a color temperature measured in Kelvin. The sun at high noon is about 5000K – 5500K while incandescent light bulbs are around 2700K (warmer). This, combined with CRI (color rendering index) affects how things you are lighting up with your flashlight are perceived.
Now that you know about flashlight size, material, batteries, and light quality, let’s take a look at some EDC flashlights that we recommend.
We’re kicking things off with somewhat of a specialty item but one I’m sure you’ll agree deserves a place in your EDC kit. The NU07 LE by Nitecore is a rechargeable signal light. As the name implies, the LE version is specially designed for Law Enforcement which means it has multiple mounting options on operators’ gear, as well as different flashing patterns for quick identification of team members. Luckily, those features serve civilians just as well.
The USB-C rechargeable light can be mounted in a variety of ways: on the ARC rails of a helmet, attached to hook & loop areas of packs and clothing, and clipped to MOLLE or 1″ straps. It uses a single button interface to access 11 modes with 5 light sources including red, green, yellow, white, blue, and red/blue flashing modes. It has a maximum run time of 50 hours which makes it perfect to attach to packs on nighttime hikes, or to the collar of your pooch to keep track of it. Lastly, it’s able to operate with an external battery pack attached for an even longer runtime.
In recent years, the high-powered keychain flashlight crown has switched companies a few times. In my opinion, RovyVon is killing it right now with their Aurora series. What it lacks in a practical naming scheme, it makes up for with an array of options; there’s something for everyone.
Although RovyVon makes the small EDC flashlights in a variety of materials including copper and titanium, my favorite still remains their polymer series. The A5x in particular is available in both CREE XP-G3 and Nichia 219C with White/UV or White/Red side emitters. The body is a clear polycarbonate that glows in the dark for easy locating. It weighs a mere 14.8 grams and also sports an electronic side switch with an easy-to-remember UI, a 330mAh battery that recharges over micro-USB for a maximum runtime of 90 minutes. I’ve been carrying a variation of this on my minimalist keychain for the past 2.5 years and it’s come in handy more times than I can remember.
This is the most fun light on this list and I couldn’t not include it. It comes in just one configuration – a single Osram CSLNM1.TG Flat White emitter, powered by a 10180 cell outputting 450 lumens. If you’re not familiar with how small the battery is, you should know the GT Nano measures 52.5 mm x 24 mm and weighs just 17 grams without the cell. Despite being so small, the fit and finish of the light are great; it truly looks like a miniature version of a full-sized flashlight, complete with a lanyard hole, deep reflector, and electronic switch.
Somehow Lumintop was able to squeeze in an actual enthusiast driver, including Narsil firmware. This means this tiny wonder can ramp, has quick access to turbo, momentary, and lock-out modes, and even temperature checks. Since the battery is probably too small for most bay chargers, the GT Nano comes with a little charging cap you screw over the battery and allows you to charge with a micro USB cable.
In 2017, a community of flashlight enthusiasts on BudgetLightForum conceptualized an ideal EDC flashlight. Two years later, in 2019, they partnered with a manufacturing partner, Lumintop, and brought the world the FW3A. That was an 18650 light barely larger than the cell itself. Since then, there have been numerous iterations with different materials and emitter types but this year, Lumintop brings us the FWAA which is the AA version of the light. What you get is the same design language, a body that is barely larger (in diameter and height) of a AA cell, and the reliable Anduril 2 firmware. The light measures approximately 20.5 mm at the head x 70.9 mm in length and weighs 30.5 grams without a battery.
The version I tested has a Nichia 219C (4000K) emitter which provides a nice, not-too-cool glow and a high CRI. The electronic switch is super easy to operate, akin to clicking a mouse button, and it has one of my favorite features – smooth ramping! A 14500 unprotected Li-Ion cell is recommended and if you choose the Cree XP-G3 version, you’re looking at 1400 lumens out the business end. This is truly a pocket rocket! Protip: Lumintop just released the FWAA in titanium with three finishes and a special version with a copper ring acting as a heatsink. Gorgeous!
Skilhunt has been gaining popularity with the EDC flashlights community for a while now and their offerings have become more and more refined. I’ll be primarily talking about the M150 which is the 14500 version of the light while the M200 is powered by a 18650 cell but they are pretty much the same light, and you should pick based on the size and output you’re looking for.
The M150 I tested came with a Samsung LHD351D HIgh CRI emitter outputting a maximum 750 lumens. It sits in the center of a medium-depth orange peel reflector which gives it a good amount of throw and a beautiful beam with a sizeable hotspot and uniform spill. It comes with an 800mAh 14500 cell and like the Olight, can be charged with a magnetic USB charger. Using a small AA battery, the light measures just 3.3 inches long with a head diameter of 0.82 inches and weighs just 1.2 oz without a battery; so very pocketable and a set-and-forget style light that you can store in your pack or easily carry in a pocket.
The light is operated by a single electronic side switch with LED indicator and you can choose between two mode groups which you can easily switch between by holding the switch for 5 seconds. The light can run on both 1.5V cells as well as 3.7V cells giving it a lot of versatility but be forewarned that if you decided to use NiMH batteries, the output is greatly reduced.
Ever since Jason Hui took the helm at FourSevens, he’s been keeping to the adage of keep doing what works and only adding tweaks where it’s needed. The Preon P1 MKIII is a AAA-powered light and in this third generation, it’s rocking a new interface. The UI has six selectable configuration modes which means you can tailor it to your needs. If you know you only want the light to come on in one mode (HIGH) all the time, you can do that. If you want to go through the full cycle between low and high, strobe, and SOS – that’s an option as well.
The light measures 3.4 inches in length and 0.57 inches in diameter. Unlike many new lights, the P1 was designed for NiMH batteries, not their lithium siblings. With a quality battery, you’re looking at 100 lumens output through the Nichia 219C emitter with a 92+ high CRI. It can get down as low as 1 lumen and in that moonlight mode, it’ll last you almost 2 days continuously.
The aluminum version weighs just 1 oz and the copper version I tested is 2 oz. It’s also available in Satin Nickel and if you pay attention, you might notice a Titanium version as well. They were very limited and as of this article, no longer being made (though I’d suggest keeping your eyes peeled for any developments…)
This is the option when you want ‘hands free.’ BioLite, the brand perhaps most known for their stoves which bring a safe way to cook and provide lighting in developing countries, has made incredible strides in their personal lighting products. In the follow-up to their successful HeadLamp 330, the 750 model offers twice the amount of output (750 lumens), has dimmable red, white, strobe, and burst modes, and a dimmable rear red visibility light for easy tracking and following. The 3000 mAh battery recharges via micro USB and can be supplemented with a BYO battery pack in “Run Forever Mode” which allows the light to work with pass-thru charging. The light weighs only 150 grams and paired with the 3D SlimFit Construction means a comfortable, non-slip fit, for extended periods.
For 2021, Olight has released a follow-up to their popular Warrior Mini. In v2, Olight has improved the light in a few areas, notably the output. The Mini 2 now has a maximum output of a staggering 1,750 lumens with 220 meters of max throw. This is achieved with a proprietary 3500mAh 18650 battery which can be refreshed in a normal bay-style charger, but Olight would really like you to use their magnetic charger. The included puck plugs into a standard USB-A port and attaches to the tail cap and can charge up to 2A. The light measures 4.65 inches long with a body diameter of 0.91 inches. It weighs 4.35 oz with the battery and pocket clip.
While not a lightweight light, it’s not heavy by any means and is very comfortable to hold, thanks to the reasonable diameter and knurling over much of the body. The light operates via two switches, each meant for a different scenario. The side switch has a rubber cover that provides good tactical feedback and actuation. This is the primary way most users will use to operate the light and allows you to cycle through brightness levels, with quick access to turbo mode. There is also a color LED below the switch to give you a quick indication of battery level and if the Mini 2 is in lock-out mode.
On the rear of the light, you’ll find a large two-stage tactical switch. This is primarily used for times when you need maximum output in a short amount of time. It comes on in high, then turbo with a firm press. The tail-cap is recessed in a tripod-like set of three points, which allows it to tailstand – a nice touch.
One concern with very powerful lights like the Mini 2 is the risk of it accidentally activating and causing burns in your pocket or pack. There are a few ways Olight has addressed this. First, like many lights, the Mini 2 can easily be locked out by simply holding the side switch for a second. However, the “killer feature” of the light is the proximity sensor in the head. The way it works is if you point the light close to an object or if the end of the torch is blocked in any way, it will automatically step down brightness down to about 200 lumens, preventing burns.
There have been many changes at Okluma. Since releasing his first light, the TinyDC, Jeff Sapp moved his shop from Oklahoma to its new home in Colorado, purchased new machinery, started prototyping a bike light, and of course, released the DC0. Unlike the DC1 (the successor to the TinyDC), which is a 18350-powered triple, the DC1 is powered by a AA battery and has a single emitter. It has a simple 3-mode driver with memory. The light is available in aluminum and titanium, measures 102.55 mm long, with a diameter of 18.46 mm and weighs just 39 grams without a cell. It has a sapphire lens and the Nichia 219c 4000k LED puts out 350 lumens through an optic.
The DC0 is as close to a perfect EDC light as I could pick. The size is ideal – it’s the right length to get a good grip with your palm, it’s not too heavy, and it’s not too narrow. It has usable modes (including moonlight) and a UI that is dead-simple (no double or triple taps here), and the switch is a joy to use. It puts out plenty of light on the high end and the light quality is beautiful as well.
If there ever was a flashlight maker or company steeped in lore, it would have to be HDS. There are urban legends of the sole proprietor Henry and his obsessive pursuit of perfection. While there are a number of models and configurations, not to mention special editions, the EDC Rotary is undoubtedly the flagship model. The Rotary is a 250 lumen, single-emitter flashlight. It’s powered by a single CR123 lithium primary but there are readily available tubes to support 18650 and 2xAA as well. Compared to other single 123 lights, the Rotary is surprisingly large. It measures 94mm x 25.4 mm and weighs 102 grams with a battery. However, this does not mean the light is a large light. The size is ideal for comfortable handling and interaction with the controls.
Speaking of control, as the name implies, the star of the show is the rotary control. The knob, combined with the clicky switch, allows for some really interesting and precise control scenarios. You can choose from 24 internal brightness levels that are logarithmically spaced, which means your eyes can actually see the difference between them. You can set the dial at your favorite level and the light will always come on in that mode. There are also four presets and you can set any of them to completely ignore the rotary knob if you’d like.
The stock light comes with a Cree XP-G2 that produces a calibrated 250 lumens. Compared to some other lights on the list, this might sound anemic, but trust me when I say it’s plenty for most users in an everyday carry situation. If you are not happy with the CRI or color temperature, there are plenty of customization options including high CRI, warmer color temperatures, and even UV and forensic models. The HDS EDC Rotary is truly a buy-once light that will give you a lifetime of service.