Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Why Carry a Flashlight

And now I shall preach to the choir....

A reader sent me an email letting me know that his Maratac flashlight had recently come in handy.  Apparently, the reader and a family member, his Dad I think, were flying in a small private aircraft when the overhead lights went off.  They were close to home and it was still a little light out, so they decided to try to make it home.  Then the main instrument panel lights went out.  Fortunately, the reader had his tiny little light on him, powered it up and they made it home safe.

Its not everyday that your flashlight comes to your rescue.  But when you need one, boy are they nice.  There is a logic that some use to govern their EDC:

I'd rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it. 

I am not in that camp because I think that could be used to justify anything.  If taken literally, we should all carry snake anti-venom because there is no better definition of "need and not have it than anti-venom."  Instead I look at it in a more practical way:

What do I regularly use once a week when out on the go?

I came to this practical approach when I was early in my gear collecting mania.  I bought a very nice lighter, nicer than a Zippo.  I don't smoke but this was in my completist phase.  I wanted a backpack with gear that could get me through anything, including a massive Nor Easter.  I wanted to have it with me all of the time.  I never used the bag nor did I use about 95% of its contents.  It was expensive to assemble and I realized at some point it was just a security blanket for an adult.  I am not saying these bags never work and I still have something like it set up and ready to go at home, but I don't carry it with me everyday (it is a car companion when it snows in the winter though).  In the end I broke up most of the contents of the bag and sold some stuff and kept some.

The flashlight survived the purge.

The way I determined what to keep was uber nerdy and very rational (to me at least).  I kept a list of everything I carried and for one month I documented what I used each day.  At the end of the month all of the things used were tallied and the things that averaged out to once a week use were kept.  There were exceptions--my AAA card, for example, but that was part of the wallet so it was not tallied the same way.  Like I said, UBER-NERDY.  But if you do it once, you'll quickly see what you use and what don't.  I even published a week of usage of my EDC here.  That is basically what the list looked like.  

It hit me a few weeks ago why it is handy to carry a flashlight now.  It is always been handy to have a light source with you, but it has not always been practical to do so.  Anyone carry a torch around (insert British incorrectly using American words joke here and then British joke about Americans thinking they invented English here)?   Anyone want to carry around a massive 2 cell plastic POS?  No and no. 

But the flashlight has undergone a revolution, much in the same way that cellphones have.  30 years ago no one had a cellphone.  Some people had a car phone.  I remember them being called that.  "Oh, well Herb has a carphone" someone would say in a Thurston Howell III voice.  That was as mobile as you could get because even though it was smaller than a home phone it was not exactly what you'd think of when someone says the word "portable." 

Then there was Motorola brick phone.

Oh, isn't HE busy?  Again, not exactly what I would describe as portable either.  But then they shrank and got cheaper and cheaper and cheaper.  Then they started being able to do more and stay powered up longer.  While all of the technology was changing and getting more portable designs were catching up too.  And suddenly, bam, you get the iPhone--a small, convenient, and imminently portable device.  Nowadays I feel weird leaving the house without a cellphone.

Flashlights have changed in the same way.  They can do more with less for longer.  They are designed for everyday use and carry.  And when something is this small:


is there any excuse not to carry it?  Ten years ago the 40DD would have blown away any light not used by a top secret government agency.  It would have been, comparatively speaking, incredibly bright, small, and incredibly long running.  The infinite variable brightness would have probably had folks losing their mind.

But this still doesn't really answer the question of why carry at all.  It is really a matter of opportunity cost.  With lights being so small, cheap, and capable you really can't complain about carrying and owning one.  When the next best alternative ranges from "oh darn where is my favorite pen" to "oh shit the plane's lights all went off" there is a good justification for carrying a small capable light.  Furthermore, this test seems to draw the boundaries on a lot of things.  The lighter was small but not terribly cheap or easy to carry.  Finding butane is not that easy.  It can't be carried into secure locations.  It can cause problems if there is a leak.  And the chances that I am stuck in the wilderness with an acute need for a fire are VASTLY smaller than running into darkness, which seems to happen, predictably, about once a day.

The list of things I carry for pure utility is pretty small: an iPhone, a light, a knife/multitool, a watch, a wallet, and an insulated water bottle (which I like but is probably not STRICTLY a need; giving up soda is a really healthy thing to do and icy cold ice water is a great alternative).  All of them pass the use it once a week test.  And with the 40DD and the BushidoMosquito Custom Rambler the gear part of the kit weighs in around 1.7 ounces.  What else can you carry that weighs so little but does so much?  Okay a credit card, but other than that, what else?


  1. Man that 40DD looks like a great light but I can't figure out how to buy one or what kind of charger I'd need for those batteries. Hope it someday becomes a less niche, more consumer-friendly product.

  2. Great article Tony, I loved the economic approach to a flashlight - so true. Case in point I went to a Preon 2 after carrying a double AA light for over a year - a few months later and I could never go back to a AA2 light for my daily routine, way too bulky given the marginal increase in output. I like the 40DD but am not sure if I could really do a light without a clip (haven't been able to yet), plus I tend to lose stuff that small - at any rate I will stay tuned and see what you turn up. If the price is right I may be writing in 6 months how I will never go back to a AAA2 light. ;)

    Confession time - I probably use my light as much or more than my knife on a daily basis. I find it so handy - even if it's just to get around the house at night. My blades get used, but I find I carry them not only for utility, but for personal enjoyment - so I'm often willing to take a less practical approach to knife selection.

    As for your question the only other piece of gear that gets a ton of use for me is a handkerchief. Between allergies and it being eternally warm down here I absolutely cannot be without one.

  3. Great article. Despite explaining similar reasoning to friends who have asked why I always have a flashlight with me, the usual response is either, "I'd never pay that much for a light" or "If I need a light I just use my phone." Both responses make me roll my eyes because they come from people who have no problem spending several hundred dollars on Apple products (me included) or whatever, yet can't see the logic behind an item that would come in handy so often and can, with the available options, disappear in the pocket.

  4. Thanks for this article!
    I do not go out without carrying a flashlight with me. At the moment it is the Niteye EYE10 and a Lummi Wee Ti on my Car Key.

  5. Hey sweet site, just wondering what flashlight you would recommend for use as a tactical/self defense type tool. Strike bevel and blinding lumens, in or around 100 dollars, less if possible!!

    1. I do not believe that a flashlight makes a good self-defense tool, other than light up stuff to avoid and shine light on a rustle in the bushes. The idea that you could stop an intruder with a flashlight is a little far fetched. To blind someone in a way that would debilitate them would take something more than what we have available now. Even car headlights do little more than momentarily stun people and they run at around 1000-2000 lumens.

      I also think that strike bezels are the epitome of Mall Ninja design. I just can't think of a situation in which I would ever have to or want to use one.

      There are way better force multiplying tools out there than a flashlight and flashlights make poor replacements for those tools.

      As a side note I DO like scalloped bezels as they allow you to see light leaking out in the even that you put a light down head first.

      If you REALLY want a light that can be used as you want, go get a Surefire Defender of some sort. They make quite a few lights with the defender designation and all have strike bezels, dumb as they are. It should be around $100 or so.

    2. Tony, while I do generally agree with your opinion that a light makes a poor weapon, it is a great force multiplier when used *with* a weapon. My nightstand light is a 4Sevens Maelstrom X7 (they just changed the named to something else) and I leave it set to strobe. I've tested it before on friends with dark-adapted eyes, and even when they knew what was coming they always closed their eyes and flinched for a few tenths of a second. That may not sound like much compared with SureFire's exaggerated claims of being able to "stun" a target, but it is more than enough time to sidestep off the X and fire at least one shot from a pistol or other firearm. In this case, every lumen counts. At 480 lumens, the X7 is bright enough to leave an intensely burned-in afterimage that severly impairs night vision. The strobe multiplies this effect, and prolonged exposure to the strobe in a dark room does in fact cause disorientation (though most confrontations are over far too quickly for that to be a useful factor). Anything in that output range would be similarly effective, but a 100-200 lumen EDC pocket light likely would not.

  6. First, thanks for this site. The reviews are wonderfully thoughtful and I appreciate you taking the time to share your experience.

    Every time I've had a related question I've found the answer here, including "is a flashlight really a practical EDC?" Personally I still can't justify it. One, because I don't want one more thing cluttering my pockets. Two, I tend to be in situations where I'm simply illuminating small areas in dark rooms (I have two kids under 5yo) and my iPhone suffices for that.

    Most of the time I'll just turn it on and use the screen, but the newer flashlight apps instead turn on the flash LED in a persistent mode. It's said to be about 45 lumens, decently bright for most situations. This one is free, works well, and has no ads:

    I also like one less device to power, since I'm already charging the iPhone every night anyway.

  7. It is magnificent how you contrived to completely uncover the topic which you have selected for this exact entry. BTW did you use any other articles as a source of knowledge to be able to complete the whole situation that you have published in your blog post?

  8. No other articles just my experience and observations