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SHOT Show 2006 Report - LED Flashlights
ETS Contributing Editor Kathy Jackson

SHOT Show 2006 Report logo LED technology is growing up. No longer a dimly-lit corner of the flashlight marketplace or confined to enthusiasts, LEDs are grabbing a higher percentage of flashlight sales than ever before. Continuing the trend from the past several years, the lights we saw at SHOT Show this year were far brighter than last year’s offerings, with run times also increasing. Next year promises to be even better, with several potential technological breakthroughs on the near horizon.

Despite huge strides in the past year, the industry is still in a state of major flux. We can expect significant efficiency increases and price drops in the next few years. This is good news for savvy consumers, but a bit hard on the fellows running the show. Some consumers might figure there’s no point spending top dollar on today's latest and greatest only to have it eclipsed in a year by the next offering. On the other hand, that's been the story with computers for over a decade now and that hasn't done anything to dampen demand.

The LED field, already crowded, has also become glutted with little black tactical lights made in China and other low cost of production areas as the technology has improved to the point where LED tac lights are truly viable. We can probably expect this trend to continue for awhile yet before it levels off. After all, the shock-proof and drop-proof durability that LEDs excel at seems tailor-made for the weapons light market.

Flexibility was the name of the game for the lights at the upper end of the price range at the SHOT Show this year. Seems like every company is trying to find a special niche. LED lights are increasingly both more generalized and more specialized, with features designed to appeal to very particular segments of the buying public.

Versatility was another watchword, especially for high-end lights. It’s no longer enough to have a simple light that turns on and off with a click. We’re seeing more lights that designed to be all things to all people – lights that go dimmer, brighter, blink complex patterns, illumine multiple colors of the visible spectrum, and sometimes even provide light into the infrared or ultraviolet.

This year saw the introduction of USB-programmable flashlights into commercial production and sales. While it is unlikely that a flashlight priced at the extreme high end of the cost curve will appeal to more than just a tiny percentage of consumers, it is quite likely that the technology purchased by the affluent at premium prices today will be available to the rest of us tomorrow at a more reasonable cost.

At the lower end of the spectrum, more products than ever before are designed around the lowly alkaline battery. Alkalines, after all, are inexpensive and widely available. Lithium batteries provide better performance, especially for survival purposes, but the prices for lithiums haven’t come down nearly as much as many consumers once hoped. While most ETS readers know that lithiums are far less expensive when purchased online, cheap alkaline batteries are available at any corner store, and the general consumers’ demand for cheap and convenient power is a driving force for the flashlight market.

At all levels of the market, it continues to be difficult to compare the performance of products from one company with products from another. Several companies made efforts this year to provide more information about how they measure the performance of their products. However, without a standard means of measurement, presentation and independent testing, the end user is still left in the dark, so to speak.

The non-profit Equipped To Survive Foundation believes there is a need for industry-wide standards that can be used to objectively measure the output parameters of portable directed lighting devices such as flashlights and headlamps and present that information to the end user in a useful manner. The ETS Foundation has started soliciting stakeholder interest in the development of such standards and is proposing that a committee be set up under ASTM International for development of consensus standards suitable for these purposes. If you are involved in this industry or are an institutional, military, government or non-governmental organization user of these lights who would benefit from such standards, please click here to email Doug Ritter for more information about these activites.

The LED lights covered here are those that are appropriate for survival or general utility use or which otherwise captured our imagination or attention. This is not an all-inclusive coverage of every LED light introduced at the show.

We have provided the specifications we received from the manufacturers for the most part. Some are much better than others in what they provide, so blame them if you are missing some spec you'd have liked to have seen.

Prices quoted are manufacturer's suggested retail price as of February, 2006 (we don't waste bytes, or your intelligence, on 95 cents, we just round up). Most can be purchased at significantly discounted prices from those quoted. In some cases, items will not be available until much later this year. When we have been given an expected production date, we have included it, but manufacturers often miss such targets.

Assembling this SHOT Show Report is a major undertaking. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Equipped To Survive Foundation if you find this report to be of value to you. The Equipped To Survive Foundation is a tax-exempt non-profit corporation that supports the continued operation and expansion of Equipped To Survive® and which allows me to attend shows such as this and report to you on the latest and greatest gear. In many cases Equipped To Survive® has been first by months to publicize new and exciting survival and preparedness gear. Again, donations are fully tax-deductible. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation or to find out more. Thanks very much for your support and consideration.

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Contributing Editor: Kathy Jackson
Email: Kathy Jackson
Publisher and Editor: Doug Ritter
Email: Doug Ritter
First Published: February 26, 2006
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