A good compact light should have some, if not all, of the following qualities: a manageable size, long-lasting bulb, robust housing, some degree of water and shock resistance, multiple modes, momentary beam, and beam adjustment. Portable lights can run from $10 to well over $100, so knowing what’s important to you is key.
If you value self-defense, go with something larger but not unwieldy. Putting it in your pocket? Look for a light with a clip. Out in the elements? Find one with sealed O-rings to keep the wet stuff at bay. Hitting the trail? Opt for a hands-free flashlight (a.k.a. a headlamp). Worried about running out of juice while you’re on an adventure? Check out a lantern with a charge-out port so you can charge your devices.
Here are eight excellent options, all under $100, that will show you the path after the sun goes down.
Prometheus Lights/Foursevens Mini MKIII
When your website url is darksucks.com, chances are you know a thing or two about flashlights. Sure enough, the Mini MKIII is the latest and greatest rendition of a classic EDC essential: this short, squat, barrel of a flashlight is constructed from hard-anodized 6061-T6 aluminum, equipped with a rechargeable, Li-ion, high-discharge battery, and fine-tuned with the precision of a NASA space shuttle. The pocket-sized flashlight can burn for days on end on its ultra-dim mode of 1.5 lumens or blast a beam 120 meters on its full-strength 900-lumen burst mode for fifty minutes. Headed into the wilderness? You’ll be happy to know it can be configured to flash an “SOS” message in Morse code.
Modes: strobe, SOS, beacon
Weight: 1.6 oz
Length: 2.17 inches
Battery Type: RCR123A High Discharge Battery or built-in lithium ion
Max Burn Time: 90 hours
Photon Micro-Light II LED Keychain Flashlight
For some EDC fiends, size is the ultimate deciding factor. The Photon Micro Light is aptly named — the waterproof mini flashlight isn’t the brightest tool in the shed, but it is definitely the smallest. It’s approximately the size of a quadruple stack of quarters, weighs next to nothing, and is hardly noticeable on your keychain or in your pocket. The best aspect of the Micro Light, however, is its durability. The protruding lightbulb seems to be a liability, but Photon calls it unbreakable — a claim we put to the test by repeatedly hurling this keyring bling against a wall. Result? The Micro Light is still tiny, still mighty and still working like a charm.
Modes: momentary squeeze button, plus mechanical on/off switch for continuous use.
Weight: 0.23 oz
Length: 1.57 inches
Battery Type: lithium ion
Max Burn Time: 12+ hours
Nite Ize Radiant 100 Keychain
The Nite Ize Radiant 100 might look like a cute toy, but this miniature flashlight is remarkably handy and a welcome addition on any keychain. The slim aluminum tube is only marginally wider and longer than a AAA battery — on which the flashlight runs — and the grooved head of the Radiant 100 twists smoothly to switch between three modes: high, low and off. Nite-Ize, of course, is known not just for their lumen acumen, but their gizmos and gadgets as well. The included S-Biner Microlock is one such thingamajig, and it enables you to clip and unclip the Radiant 100 from your keychain with ease.
Modes: high, low
Weight: 0.92 oz
Length: 2.76 inches
Battery Type: AAA
Max Battery Life: 5.5 hours
While the LED Lenser P5R is both bigger and more expensive than many of the flashlights in this guide, you certainly get what you pay for. The intelligently designed P5R has a bit of heft — the metal casing feels solid in hand — but it’s lightweight and compact enough that you can slip the flashlight into a pocket and forget it’s even there. When duty calls, the rechargeable P5R clicks through low, high and strobe settings. Our favorite feature, aside from the slick red dots that wrap around the flashlight head like glowing gems in a gunmetal crown, is the adjustable beam: on the fly, with a flick of a thumb, you can focus the beam into a jet of light or dial it back into a wide cone.
Modes: 3 levels, one-handed rapid-focus system
Weight: 2.6 oz
Length: 4.6 inches
Battery Type: 14500 3.7V
Max Battery Life: 15 hours
BioLite HeadLamp 200
BioLite’s Headlamp 200 is mind-bogglingly slim and lightweight, making it a preferred option for backcountry skiers and backpackers. And this featherweight lamp packs a punch; the pivoting front bezel dispenses a 50-meter beam that’s sufficient for late-night trail runs and early morning skins. Many headlamps bobble cumbersomely when tackling technical trails at speed, but the 200’s svelte profile and stretchy headband combine for jolt-free jogs. The rechargeable 200-lumen lamp toggles through both dimmable white and red flood modes, as well as both white and red strobe modes.
Modes: white + dim , red + dim, white strobe, red strobe
Weight: 1.75 oz
Battery Type: USB-rechargeable
Max Battery Life: 40 hours
5.11 Response XR1 Headlamp
The good folks at 5.11 Tactical supply everything from uniforms to breaching tools to law enforcement, so you know they are not messing around when it comes to EDC. The 5.11 XR1 is a heavy-duty, no-holds-barred, water-resistant headlamp that’s built to withstand the rigors of military operations and civilian adventures alike. The spot and flood lights can be operated separately to meet individual needs, or they can join forces, like two mighty tributaries unifying into a 1,000-lumen river of brilliance. Best of all, the XR1 can snap free from its headlamp holster and be used as a standalone flashlight. And if a headlamp isn’t your cup of tea, 5.11 offers the same construction in a standard flashlight build.
Modes: flood, Red COB light element for night vision
Weight: 6.3 oz
Battery Type: CR123 or 18650
Max Battery Life: 6 hours
Black Diamond Volt Lantern
Whether you’re surfing the subway on your morning commute or pitching a tent underneath a starlit sky, Black Diamond’s Volt lantern is endlessly useful. Not only does the 200-lumen lantern cast a bright, warm glow that’s surprisingly easy on the eyes, but the Volt also possesses the miraculous ability to keep your phone topped off and resuscitate dead tech. The compact, aesthetically on-point Volt is available in both a battery-powered version that runs on three AAs or a rechargeable lithium option that’s our go-to for everyday use.
Modes: dim, lock, strobe
Weight: 7.9 oz
Length: 2.25 inches
Battery Type: AA or built-in lithium ion
Max Burn Time: 20 hours
VSSL Camp Mini
VSSL’s Mini Cache is more than just a 200-lumen flashlight. The compact gadget is crafted from military-grade aluminum, so you can clip the handy carabiner end cap (which also sports an oil-filled precision compass) to the outside of your pack without stressing durability. Like VSSL’s larger flagship adventure kit, the six-inch-long, two-inch-wide Mini’s main draw is a central hollow chamber, which, in the Mini’s case, fits three of VSSL’s camp supply tins.
You can purchase a standard mini, packed with a firestarter kit, a bare bones first aid kit (sufficient for minor cuts), a rope and razor kit and a tiny sewing kit. Or if customize your Mini, you can opt for an empty cache and mix and match from VSSL’s refill tins, which include survival provisions like zip ties, fishing tackle and water purification tablets, plus campfire extravagances like a collapsible shot glass and drinking dice.
Modes: bright, dim, red, SOS
Weight: 7.5 oz
Length: 6 inches
Battery Type: N-type (generic name) or E90 (Energizer) batteries
Max Battery Life: 40 hours
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