As noted in the beginning, this is a field where new products eclipse existing ones in rapid fashion. Today's top products may well be tomorrow's runner-ups.
In the affordable (relative) category of multi-LED flashlights, the seven-LED Tektite 300 / C. Crane CC Expedition provides generally better than adequate light levels for most general purpose uses, the C-cells are easy to find and cheap, it has excellent battery life for the light output, and a rugged, well designed body. The combination results in a solid performer and a reasonable value. This light will suffice for almost any flashlight chores, except the long-range stuff, a perfectly adequate replacement for the typical two D-Cell flashlight. This one is a keeper.
Unless you need the extreme waterproof capabilities, we recommend the C. Crane version with its easier functioning switch. The only significant item on our wish list (for all the Tektite Expeditions) is a shield to prevent stray light emissions from the sides, as offered on the smaller Trek lights.
The 14 and 19 LED Tektite lights, the Expedition 1400 and 1900 (C. Crane Expedition Dive Vesion), are the hands down performance winners if maximum light output from an LED flashlight is your desire. The 1400's battery life is adequate given the illumination levels, while the light output is nearly as much as the 1900, making the Expedition 1400 our favorite full-sized LED flashlight. You do pay a price for that performance, but we've spent more on tactical style high-performance conventional incandescent flashlights. I'm not giving this one back. If you need the brightest, the Expedition 1900 is your choice--this week.
You cannot fail to be impressed with the quality, precision construction and ruggedness of the HDS Systems Action Light. While it is no longer the ultimate performance winner, the form factor is its big negative for general-purpose use. Of course the price is another matter altogether. It would be easier to swallow if they were to address the form factor issue, but it's still a lot of money. Its overall performance, both brightness and battery life, combined with the variable intensity switch makes it an excellent choice for the survivor who has the money to spend on their survival kit. In terms of value, it's hard to rationalize it.
The best value of the bunch has to be the Lightwave 2000. Useable brightness and excellent beam quality, easy to find AA-cells, and moderately waterproof, a nice combination of features at a price that won't stick in your throat. The only failing was the temperamental switching mechanism.
For an extra $15, or nearly twice the price, Tektite's Trek 4 is slightly brighter, but beam quality isn't quite as good. We prefer having the LEDs protected from damage behind Tektite's clear lens and the elastic lanyard works better and doesn't rattle.
The Tektite two-LED Trek flashlights aren't quite as bright as the 4-LED models and don't have the same beam quality. They are a bit more expensive than others in their class, but construction is superior and these units are much more waterproof. We like the convenient size of the smaller Trek models and the triple AAA-cell Mini offers easy to find batteries to go along with the clip and bite tab features. Any of these Trek lights would be a good choice for an abandon ship bag, and you'll now find one in ours.
Streamlight's Batonlight proved to offer a nice combination of moderate size and good brightness from its triple LEDs. It's also rugged as an anvil. As simply an LED flashlight, it stands on its own, though it's awfully expensive if judged solely as a flashlight. As a less-than-lethal self-defense weapon, it makes perfect sense to combine the light and baton into a single unit.
The Technology Associates eternaLight Ergo series has some nice features, as well as some annoying gee-whiz gimmicks we could do without. We especially like the Model 3M Ergo Marine that has a bright yellow body, floats and has the lithium batteries. Once you figure out all the modes, they offer unsurpassed control. The new switching cover addresses the most serious concerns we have with the pressure switches. They offer superior performance, the best of the AA-cell models--though at a premium price.
Of the dual color models, the RW with red LEDs is a good choice for anyone desiring that light's capabilities along with night vision protection. We'd forget the green LED version of all these lights; green LEDs just don't provide the same quality of light.
Both Rigel Systems' Skylite models get a big thumbs-up from us for the thumb wheel controlled variable intensity capability. If you're looking for a general-purpose cockpit light with both colored and white light, this one is far superior to the conventional types we've used over the years. Battery life isn't great, but still much longer than a conventional flashlight.
We also tried some three-LED replacement "bulbs" from LEDtronics and Holly Solar designed for use in two D-cell Maglites and similar size flashlights. They didn't seem worth the effort.
LEDs offer many advantages over conventional flashlights for many uses and we've come to appreciate those a good deal as we've lived with these lights. There are still some areas where we don't expect LEDs to compete anytime soon, such as tactical lights. And, incandescent lights still offer more light per dollar initial investment in most cases.
The development of LED flashlights, especially those with white LEDs, is in its infancy. You can expect to see brighter white LEDs in the future and even more entrants into the market. Many new products are in development; we've seen some prototypes and pre-production units that are very interesting. This is definitely a product category that's going to see fairly rapid evolution over the next few years, though most everyone we spoke with doesn't expect costs to come down too much for a while.
For more information, check Craig Johnson's LED Museum
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Publisher and Editor: Doug Ritter
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First Published: June 7, 2001
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