Hiking Flashlight Buying Guide
A good flashlight can save your life. For such a useful tool, it’s inexcusable for any hiker to leave one off their equipment list. Yet as the American Hiking Society points out, all too many hikers find themselves without this basic, sensible navigational aid.
A flashlight is a tool applicable to a host of situations including survival. It can keep you safe if you decide to navigate a trail at night or explore a cave. It can help with setting up camp if sunset creeps up faster than expected, common in the evenings toward the end of the year or in mountain country. It can even be used as a signalling device to draw the attention of rescuers if you find yourself in a rough situation.
Let us repeat our earlier injunction, there is no excuse not to include a flashlight in your gear.
So what is there to consider when selecting a hiking flashlight?
Our Top List: Best Hiking Flashlights
- Best Flashlight for Hiking: Bengoo Zoomable Waterproof Flashlight
- Best Flashlight for Camping: HeroBeam LED Lantern
- Best Flashlight for Long Distance Hikes: Xtreme Bright Pro Series X55
- Best Flashlight for Backpacking: Lifemounts Backpack Light
Scroll down to read our detailed reviews on each of these items, but you can check out the current prices and read customer reviews on Amazon by clicking the links above.
Types of Flashlights
Most people think of the common “cylinder” flashlight when hiking lights are discussed. They’re simple, use common batteries, and with the widespread adoption of LEDs, provide both long battery life and solid illumination without adding a lot of bulk.
It’s also easy to find models that are at least partially water and impact resistant, so they have a degree of durability when hiking in rough terrain. They tend to be compact, easily fitting into various pockets.
Another use is as an improvised lamp; purchase a model with a wrist strap, and hang it from a low-hanging branch, and you have top-down illumination ready to go.
All that said, the limiting factor is that they usually have to be actively carried in one hand. For short excursions, such as checking on your surroundings at night, this isn’t a problem, but it makes things uncomfortable over long distance hikes, and does tie up a hand.
As such, these are best as a backup device; store one in your hiking kit in case your primary light is damaged, or in case you find a hiking companion has forgotten theirs.
Headlamps are a fairly straightforward adaptation of the basic flashlight concept into a hands-free form. A basic headband and over-head strap puts the flashlight either directly on the forehead, providing forward illumination and leaving the hands entirely free.
Once again, LEDs have obviated the problem that headlamps had to be quite large to project the same light as a flashlight and carry enough battery to do so. They are extremely compact and while not exactly enjoyable to wear for long hours, are still convenient.
Many models come with a hinge arrangement, allowing the wearer to adjust the angle of the light from straightforward to straight down.
The main considerations are to make sure that the headband is designed for extended wear. No matter how well-secured a band seems, sweat and the usual motions of someone’s head when hiking put stress on elastics.
A “working” headlamp such as those found in car repair kits may not stand up as well to these motions as one designed explicitly for long-term wear. Additionally, long-term use will inevitably wear out any band, so be sure yours is in acceptable condition and keeps the light steady when you’re hiking, before you head out.
Backpack Clip On Lights
There are also a number of “backpack” lights which clip a flashlight to the shoulder, with some drawing power via a coiled cord running to a battery pack. Requiring a bit more planning and arrangement than headlamp or hand flashlights, they do leave the hands free, and don’t require space on your forehead if you don’t want anything up there.
These work well on backpacking hikes when you are going to spend a lot of time hiking at dark. These clip on lights come at a cost of added weight mostly due to the battery pack.
Lantern Style Lights
The last general “type” of light one should consider is a lantern-style light. Designed to light a broader area than a small headlamp or flashlight, they aren’t strictly ideal for long or even short hiking distances. What they are good for is for hiking excursions with a camping component. Using a flashlight in one’s own camp is an inefficient use of battery and lighting; the broader illumination of a lamp or lantern makes it easier to spot things, to work on camp setup, and to keep light-shy creatures away.
Considerations for a good lantern depend on how you intend to approach your campsite. If you plan on driving there, setting up, and then doing your hiking, a larger lamp is a simple matter to pack. If you intend to hike to the campsite, a more compact model that won’t add undue weight is probably preferable.
After considering the type of light, it’s important to consider the light’s features that it offers.
Size and Weight
When looking for the best hiking flashlight, one of the biggest components is the size and weight. Hikers are typically looking for smaller and lighter. There are options from handheld size all the way down to keychains. The size you end up buying will be dependent on what you are looking for.
Your flashlight will inevitably get wet. Whether you get caught in a pop-up shower or end up dropping your flashlight into a puddle, it’s unavoidable. Flashlight water resistant levels are measured using IP Codes.
The 3 most common levels that are seen in flashlights are the following:
- IPX4 – The flashlight can get slashed or dripped on, but won’t handle being submerged.
- IPX7 – An IPX7 flashlight can sustain being at 1 meter deep of water for 30 minutes without damage.
- IPX8 – IPX8 is the highest level of waterproofing available for consumer level flashlights. These flashlights can be submersed in a meter of water for up to four hours.
There are three main material that flashlights are made out of each with their own benefits and drawbacks.
- Titanium – Titanium is the strongest and lightest housing material available, but it is also the highest in price.
- Stainless Steel – Stainless steel is durable, doesn’t rust, and is relatively inexpensive. But it is on the heavier side.
Typically, the larger flashlights are capable of holding batteries that have a longer lifespan. So you’ll have to find a flashlight with the right balance of size and battery life.
Most flashlights use batteries found in everyone’s house (AA, AAA, C, D, etc). These are typically the most economical when considering both cost and weight.
Other types of batteries available are rechargeable battery packs and integrated batteries. Rechargeable battery packs are usually heavier and are only used with backpack clip on lights.
Integrated batteries are built into the flashlight and are not replaceable. The are recharged by plugging directly to the flashlight. These typically aren’t practical with hiking flashlights as once the batteries die, you need to plug them in rather than just swap out some batteries.
Lastly, consider that a good light is going to require a good investment. While higher cost does not equate to better performance, inexpensive flashlights are usually also the most fragile. Put in the money for a good device.
Best Flashlight for Hiking
The Bengoo Zoomable Waterproof Flashlight is a reasonable choice for a basic hiking or backup flashlight as discussed above.
This affordable light comes with an adjustable beam ranging from 250 – 2000 lumens, basic water resistance, and the ever-useful wrist strap. At 6.35 ounces and less than 6 inches when collapsed, it’s easily stored in a pocket or backpack.
The big drawbacks are in the five “push modes”, which can be tedious to sort through, and awkward to manage in an emergency, as well as the choice of AAA, when most people tend to rely on AA batteries instead.
In short, this is a good choice of flashlight for any hiker. It’s light enough to be carried on short hikes without too much trouble, or stored as a backup if you’re planning on taking a longer hike. The odd choice of battery and push-mode clumsiness aren’t deal breaking problems.
Best Flashlight for Camping
The HeroBeam LED Lantern is a good example of how a camping lantern should work.
This lamp is waterproof to IPX4 standard, collapses to a compact 5.5″ long and 3.5″ wide, and only weighs 1.4 pounds. You can also move the handle to the side of the device and convert it to a flashlight by collapsing it. It even comes with a 5 year warranty, which is reassuring. This device fulfills the multi-function requirement and then some.
Once again this device uses AAA batteries, which while inexpensive are not the first choice of most devices. As ever, make sure to carry spares. There may be some small concern that the hand grip could be misplaced when transitioning between modes.
Even with these minor quibbles, this is a very good choice of multi purpose camping light. A 300 lumen light rating will more than suffice for most campside lighting needs you have.
Best Flashlight for Long Distance Hiking
The Xtreme Bright Pro Series X55 might have a hefty name, but it has features to back it up.
The lamp is 300 lumens, and will illuminate a path up to 500 feet ahead, is adjustable both in position and zoom, and has a 25 hour battery life using standard AA batteries. The headband is substantial and adjustable, making it a good choice for a variety of heads. It’s also waterproof, aluminum bodied, and quite durable.
One drawback is the weight; at 1.05 pounds, it will not be the most comfortable device in the world. Consider fitting it over a cap or hat to reduce chafing.
Comparable to many other models, this is a very good and still quite affordable choice for long-distance hikers who want to keep their hands free by way of using a headlamp. This model is worth some serious consideration, especially given the unconditional lifetime guarantee.
Best Flashlight for Backpacking
A backpacker might well consider the Lifemounts Backpack Light as their choice of hiking illumination.
An adaptable velcro rig holds the light securely in place on the shoulder strap of a hiking backpack, and the maker claims it is compatible with all major backpacking brands. The device uses a single AA battery for power, and provides a 300 lumen light to a distance of 200 feet.
The drawbacks are primarily in the velcro; velcro wears out over time, and is obnoxious to replace, even under warranty.
Essentially, it’s a good choice for a backpack light, as it leaves the hands and head both free, though the mounting choice does leave something to be desired. It is also priced affordably, meaning it can be tried out for relatively low risk, and even if you don’t prefer it, you can retain the light itself as a backup.