Well I am finally completing the couplet that started back in April, but I waited for good reason—lots of lights were rumored or in the offing that would impact this list and now all of them have been released, so let’s get to it. As usual, the article will be divided into two parts: a state of the union and a list of the Best Lights. Here is last year’s article, so you can see broad two-year trends in the flashlight industry.
State of the Union
The flashlight market tends to follow the knife market, but trails by a year or so. When the first huge wave of purchases for custom knives happened, the wave of purchases for custom lights followed by a year. When the custom wave ended, the flashlight wave ended as well. But this trend undersells one major aspect of the process—the light market is not as robust as the knife market. There are just more folks out there interested in enthusiast-grade knives than lights. So the light market is slower to respond to a boom and its highs are never quite as high, while its lows are significantly lower. After that first boom, it seemed like the high end flashlight market might die forever. Fortunately, it didn’t.
Like with knives, the custom market not only drives collectors it also drives innovation. And now for the first time in years, we see a crop of extremely competent production lights. Its strange to look at the causes because they are so idiosyncratic, but it is hard to deny them.
One big leap in innovation, quality, and design comes form the fact that Jason Hui bought FourSeven and that we are just now seeing the fruits of his labor. Prior to the purchase FourSevens had lost its way as a innovator, venturing off into weird lights like their app-based torch that no one asked for (and apparently no one bought) and the design dumpster fire that was the Paladin. After Hui’s purchase, we see the brand reinvigorated. And this time FourSevens is not just an innovator doomed to be leap frogged by another brand at any minute, but a true design powerhouse with lights that have cutting edge tech AND great design. That is a formula that can resist the massive pressures of arms race that is the production flashlight market. The new Minis and Preons are huge upgrades in the EDC space and it is clear that Jason has more in the tank for FourSevens. This is a very good thing for those of us that like torches.
The other factor that has improved the quality of production torches is the fact that companies are really listening to enthusiasts. The Lumintop Fw3a is one of the best lights on the market, hands down, and it was basically a completely crowd sourced design. The Jetbeam RRT-01 Raptor v2 is not a completely crowdsourced design, but Jetbeam listened to complaints about the great but flawed original and released the v2 with every single problem fixed.
The third reason production lights are better is not so idiosyncratic. Instead it is a classic source of improvement—technology. Right now we are on the edge of a huge revolution in battery tech and that revolution has finally reached serious torches. Built in rechargeable batteries have improved their lifespan, power capacity, and charge time to the point where they are very real competitors to traditional user-swappable batteries. I predict in a year or two we will have a strict divide between torches with built-ins and those without. Surefire’s Stiletto is proof that great production lights can run on built-ins and can gain a huge benefit from doing so.
The production torch world is, for the first time in years, chocked full of excellent lights. And the custom world is thriving as well.
While some of the old guard seem to have retired (McGizmo, Cool Fall), a new generation of makers has carried the mantle forward. Muyshondt, in my mind, still makes some of the finest torches, though I strongly prefer his smaller stuff to his larger stuff. He updated the Aeon Mk 3 recently with internal tweaks and it is still one of the best EDC torches ever made. TorchLab is also making great stuff with the BOSS line still going strong. In the past year TorchLab dropped a full zirc version of the light for what is probably a record price, around $2,500. If you want state of the art performance and max bling that is your target. But there are tons of other makers too. Barrel Flashlight has been cruising, which is nice to see because their initial offering, a Kickstarter version of their light but in a 1xAA format, failed. Not everyone should launch a Kickstarter. Sinner has been making some cool torches. OKLuma has done the same, even offering his standard deal in with a new battery format (18650). Dawson Metalcraft is putting out insane stuff with a great sense of style. Ben over at Frelux has been making some of the most unusual and exciting high end torches on the market and his stuff is quite reasonably priced. A few makers are taking up Photon Fanatic’s route of producing extremely high end stuff in very small numbers. Jeff Hanko is making machining marvels as is Tim Miklos of TM Fabrication and Strong Lights. I have also been very impressed with the torches from CWF Flashlights. Their pocket clip design looks excellent. FocusWorks has a lot of nice stuff too. And as if to prove he has lapped the field, Jason Hui released a new custom light under his Prometheus brand, the Delta. It looks amazing, but availability has been limited. Lastly, no round up of custom lights would be complete without a mention of Lux RC. Part of the team behind TorchLab, Lux RC is making the most advanced flashlights in the world and releases them in very small numbers. They look universally excellent, but they are pricey. A mule from Lux RC starts at around $400. His one of a kind lights from the Artifact line comes in much, much higher.
This is the best year in lights in a long time. Both sides of the coin are firing on all cylinders (how is that for mixed metaphors?). The state of the flashlight union is exceedingly good. Let’s get to the entries.
It has been years since I could recommend a production light for general EDC use without a caveat. The Surefire Titan is great, but the clip and the inability to tailstand are critical issues (both of which I fixed in modding my own Titan Plus). The Fenix and oLight side switch lights are good, but they can turn on accidentally and both have squashed beams because of size constraints on the optics. This light, which is an update to a five year old light that was already quite good, is simply great in every way. All of the flaws of the original, of which there were a few, have been fixed. The UI is the best on the market. The beam is legit. Over and over again, this is a light that kills it. If you EDC a torch, or want to, and you don’t have gajillions to drop on this item, the Raptor v2 is an easy rec to just about everyone.
See Also: FourSevens Mini Turbo Mk3: See more below
If you are still chasing lumens, turn in your membership card to the Smart Buyers Club and go join the Flat Earth Society. If, instead, you relish good design, simple operation, and runtimes that are measured in the lifespan of emitters on the cutting edge, then the Aeon is your jam. Obviously I like lumens too but not at the expense of anything else. I like clicky UIs over twisties, which is why the Aeon beats the Maus, so in terms of EDC there is probably no better light out there, price no object. Of course you can also pay for bling, but that would require you to relinquish your Smart Buyer Club membership as well. Remember—these are tools not jewelry.
See also: Frelux Synergy I: While nowhere near as expensive, the Synergy I offers excellent runtimes, a great form factor, and a nice clicky interface.
If You Need Bleeding Edge Tech` in a Production Light: Lumintop Fw3a (purchase)
With a roaring 2800 lumen output and a size not much bigger than the Raptor above, the Lumintop F3aw is probably the most tech you will find crammed into a production light. With the Anduril UI the light can do everything, short of your taxes. It even has a simple mode known as “Muggle Mode.” The triple emitter can go super dim (though not as dim as the Raptor) or blindingly bright and nothing is more than two clicks away. There are lots of concessions to the bleeding edge performance—the light runs on non-button unprotected 18650 cells only (which are a daunting challenge to find cheaply) and well, it can be rendered functionless if you lose your nubbin, whatever the heck that is. Still, you won’t find this much raw lighting power in anything this cheap or this size. The body tube and clip are also excellent, so this is a light that will be good even when its emitters are no longer cutting edge.
See also: JetBeam RRT-01 v2: its not as bright but its host of features is hard to beat in terms of technological edge.
Still the King and while not as insanely bright out of the box as other lights, you can program it to be brighter (read: dangerous). Honestly, we are right at the limit of what these emitters and body tubes can handle and I feel like a few of these overclocked lights are just small explosives that happen to produce light when they are not in explode mode. No need to fret about lumens, this light will be useful forever thanks to a great body tube and ultra easy to use programming mode, which still has that gee whiz effect on me.
See Also: Lux RC Artifact: In case you are either: a) not married; or b) a billionaire that thinks the BOSS 35 is just too chintzy and cheap.
When a thoughtful approach is used, just about anything can be achieved, even making a friction fit pocket clip worthwhile. Over and over again I liked the Mini Turbo despite not generally liking these kinds of lights. The twisty UI, which I normally hate, worked even thought it wasn’t a staged twisty. The light’s form factor was excellent. Everything about this torch is just good. And the new styling is just right as well.
See also: Fenix E16: Sideswitches save footprint but increase the likelihood of hot pocket, so this comes in second to the Mini Turbo Mk. III.
350 lumens, Hi CRI output, tailstanding, rechargeable, around $40, and oh yeah, its half the size of your thumb. This is the best keychain light ever and a solid choice for a great EDC. I paired mine with a PS4 using a small split ring and it is an unbeatable pair in terms of functionality. Rovy Von is a company to watch and the A8 shows you why.
See also: Surefire Stiletto: Our attachment to body tubes is coming to an end sooner or later and the Stiletto is so good I moved up my timetable by five years.
The Preon’s look and clip are amazing, but the piano finish black model is absolutely stunning. This is the light to grab if you want something that is simple, works well, and looks nice but don’t need absolutely retina-searing outputs. Its also pretty cheap for an enthusiast light at around $50.
See also: Prometheus Beta QR: The light that started the hipster light trend is still a great choice here.
Even more than half decade after its release there is no light that comes close to being as tough as thing booger. Its probably not the best pocket companion, given its size and weight, and it is relatively low high makes it less efficient from a lumens to ounces perspective, but with a full potted head and a bezel that looks like something from a medieval weapon, this is a light that can take a beating and still throw some lumens.
See also: Sorry, nothing comes close.
One of the things I like about flashlights better than knives is the fact that you can still get great deals on custom and small batch stuff. The Frelux Synergy is a perfect example of that. This also means that you can get great weird torches for a reasonable price and again the Synergy is emblematic of those kinds of things. With its strange form factor and heavy emphasis on runtimes, it was bound to be a torch I like, but every time I carry it, I like it a bit more. If they are in stock and your space bucks account allows for it, you should really snag one of these, they are superb.
See also: Like with the HDS, nothing matches the Synergy1’s combination of unique design and high value.
Your Emergency/Bugout Bag/Kitchen Draw/Power Outage Torch: Streamlight Protac 1L (purchase)
Most multi-battery torches are a gimmick (see: Gerber Omnivore) where they are a crappy torch that is still crappy even when powered by different batteries. The Streamlight Protac 1L happens to be a decent light first and a variable cell torch second. Streamlight has started to make a few more enthusiast grade torches and they work on an excellent foundation—a good reflector that helps older emitters punch above their weight. You’ll be stunned at the useful light you get out of the 1L given its lumens rating. The fact that you can choose between a high power density cell or a commonly available one means that in an emergency you will probably never be without light. And that is the point, right? Two small things I’d change. This light REALLY needs to be able to tailstand and second, the default mode should be the secondary mode and vice versa. All non-tactical lights should start in low. I know that Streamlight is a tactical light company first, but this is really not a tactical option given the other lights in their line up.
Also Consider: Um…well…um…not the Gerber Omnivore.
Best Tent Light: Luci Base Light (purchase)
One weird light in every Best Of…The Luci Base Light is just strange. It is a solar powered inflatable light. But it is incredibly useful. It can provide a soft blossom of light, act as a beacon, and some models can even charge your iPhone. It is also not that expensive, is quite light, and highly packable. This is a great light to take camping. It sounds like a joke, but this is really an inflatable, solar powered flashlight and that is cool.
Also consider: Still waiting for a legit solar power bank....
Your Flashlight Overlord: Jason Hui
There are about nine different ways I could have organized this list and any one of those nine ways would have included Jason and his torches a few times, some more than this version of the list. His upgrades and design tweaks of the FourSevens line are great. His pocket clips are the best clips for flashlights ever made. His custom stuff is incredible. Any way you look at it, Jason is THE driving force in flashlights today, whether you want to spend $50 or $500. Its unusual to see one person have this big an influence over one thing, especially in 2019 when everyone and their mother is making lights. Heck even Custom Knife Factory released a light. But Jason is a unique talent with a great design sense and the machining and engineering prowess to match.