In this post I want to look at one of the main tools on a keychain--the keychain flashlight. You can get a light for free (a punny named Fauxton) in a dozen different places or rack up a huge bill going custom. There are so many options, though, that instead of looking at them one at time, I am going to outline the major points I have discovered in my long search for a great keychain light.
As I have tinkered with my keychain the series of tiny flashlights I have had on it has grown considerably. Here is the list so far:
1. Mag Solitaire (yes, everyone started here before the flashlight revolution)
2. Arc AAA-P (for a long time, like 6 years)
3. Streamlight Nanostream
4. Preon I
5. Photon Micro
I also have a Muyshondt Aeon, but more on that later.
Over time I realized that anything longer than a AAA is too long and anything fatter than a CR123 is too fat. This leaves you with a bunch of tiny lights. Here is a great round up of AAA lights. Here is a round up of even tinier lights. This gentleperson's reviews are outstanding and his or her home page is worth a bookmark.
There are a ton of options out there, but the fall into two categories for me: lightweight and heavyweight.
The lightweight options are all button cell lights--they use watch or hearing aid batteries, usually in series, to get enough juice to make a bright light. These lights tend to be things like the Nanostream or the Photon. They can hit about 10-12 lumens for a while, never more than an hour. In most scenarios this is enough light to do regular tasks--take out the garbage at night, run to the car at night, peek under your desk at work for a missing quarter, check under a restaurant table for your dropped wallet--stuff like that. They usually have absolutely no throw whatsoever as most lack any form of a reflector or optics. It is usually a bare bulb.
Then you can step up and get a more substantial light, something with more output, more runtime, and sometimes multiple outputs. There are a few production options and some custom ones in this class of keychain lights. Production-wise you are looking at 4sevens Mini or a Preon or something of their ilk. They are more expensive, but with outputs around 70-80 lumens for the Preon or 210 lumens for the MiniX, these can serve as your keychain light AND your EDC light. Not a bad option, especially for the weight and size.
One "heavyweight" light that warrants special mention is the Arc AAA-P. I separate it out because it is something of legend among flashaholics. Its design is remarkably simple--no spring to lose, chemakote interior, no lens, reflector, or optics, and a HAIII battery tube that practically bullies your keys around. It is a single mode light. It hits no more than 10.5 lumens, but it works. It is the Stanley Sweetheart 9 1/2 block plane of the flashlight world--a timeless, simple design that always works (NOTE: Stanley recently brought this 1840s design back into production in response to demand from woodworkers). Mine never failed to turn on. It sipped battery power. And it lived on my keychain developing a satin sheen as the HAIII coating mellowed over the years. Ultimately it was too big and a bit heavy, but it is a great, great light. Seeing one on another person's keychain deserves a knowing nod: "Yep, great tool."
Then there are the custom or semi-custom options, some of which use readily available batteries and some of which do not. I personally love the Muyshondt Aeon. Here is my review for EDCF.
It is all that the Arc AAA-P is with RIDICULOUS runtimes and BLINDING output. And it is the size of a AA battery. The trick is it uses a specially designed emitter--the XLAMP--and the CR2 battery (same power density as the 123a, but smaller size). The combination is great. But there are a bunch of lights here that work well. I like the 38DD, which uses a rechargeable only 10180 cell, seen here (love the soap opera in the background):
I love the design of the Lummi lights, but after a nightmare ordering from Rob, I have to warn against them. Maybe he has gotten better, but I doubt it based on the feedback from around the internet. Great designs, TERRIBLE business plan.
I chose to go with size and weight over anything else, knowing that 9 times out of 10 I'll be carrying a more powerful light in my pocket as a supplement for my keychain light. One other consideration is that often times I have to leave my keychain somewhere because I can't take it into a prison, for example. As such, I wanted a low cost light, just in case someone has Crazy Glue on their fingers. The Photon Micro has been very good. Plenty bright for the spot uses and light enough and small enough to vanish in my pocket. The plastic is durable and absorbs the abuse from other keychain dwellers well. If I needed to I could swap in the Aeon, but usually I leave him in the coin pocket of my jeans. If I was starting over I'd probably go with a Preon package that includes both the one cell and two cell body tubes as it is a great value. If had to pick only one light to carry that could fit on a keychain it would be the Aeon.
Again, this is a great time to be a lumens fan and a good keychain light is a great place to start.