Oh, and I have been looking for a good LED flashlight. What should I be looking for in terms of brightness, how do I even know? I am looking for something for work to look into crawl spaces, attics and such. I am also wanting something for camping and general useI felt it only responsible to answer with a full post on flashlights.
First I would like to express my love for headlamps. A previous gear review post lists my favorites and why. Since I also know what TBC does for a living I think that a good headlamp might be a wise investment as the hands-free aspect would benefit his crawling around. But the lights in my gear review are not strong enough for some of his work and if going with a head lamp I would recommend something with a strong battery pack and wattage, such the Princeton Tec Apex Pro with a 3 watt LED and 4 smaller LEDs.
Hands free does have its price though and for about half the money you can invest in decent torch style flashlights.
When discussing brightness there is so many ways to go. I did a small rant in the middle of a post last year on the subject of watt v. lumen v. arbitrary wording. The bottom line is that the brighter the output of light, the faster the batteries will drain. I have very impressive lights that drain $10 in batteries in 20 minutes. Its not a light I would use in an emergency situation or outdoors for camping.
The cheapest and what has been found to be very nice is a replacement LED bulb for the standard bulb 2AA mag-lite flashlights that almost every household has. Walmart sells the LED replacement kit for around $5 and and a bit more for a kit that has a tail switch for on/off. The LED is not blinding level but its a serviceable and cheap fix.
I work on the thought any light is better than no light when you need it and highly recommend the little LED key lights made by Photon or other quality manufacturers. Some of these put out impressive amounts of light for their size.
When moving into the $20 range and above for flashlights you begin working the cost to benefit analysis of size versus power output.
For everyday use and enjoyment, I follow the principle of size and then power. I am much more likely to carry something small and have what I need than something long and bulky that always sits at home.
I mentioned yesterday that I just purchased the Gerber Infinity Ultra. I bought this for my EDC (Everyday Carry). So far this light has been great in that when I needed a light in a hurry it was already on me. This is a service light which will throw a beam about 20 feet but lets be honest most of this work will be from a couple feet away looking for things that have fallen or to maneuver around objects in close proximity to me in a darkened area. The battery output on this 1 LED bulb is around ten hours till 50% brightness. I am sacrificing brightness for size and longevity. Also it takes on AA battery which can be replaced cheaply anywhere.
My favorite set of lights lately and I own just about one of each level is Inova. Inova has created a series of lights from micro to modest size that are beautifully crafted and exceptionally well built. The XO series is not one I have tried yet but based on word of mouth the word is good and at 4 or 5 watts of output is impressive. That is enough to blind some across the room or easily illuminate a wide outdoor area. These lights do not have a tremendous amount of 'spill' off the sides which means its a very focused and tight beam. What Inova did in their marketing was pretty slick. They started packaging their lights so you could turn them on and see how bright they are through an angled mirror. The middle of the round X5 is probably a 2 watt light or around 50 lumens.
The greatest recommendation for a light is one I would buy for someone as a gift. I would say the flashlight I have purchased the most for my friends the last few years is the Inova X5. I personally one two versions of this light in blue and white beams and constantly have to stop myself from buying more. For me they are perfect combination of fit, form and function.
Moving up the cost ladder is the SureFire and Fenix series lights. There is surely more but these are two I am interested in. I own a couple of SureFire lights and the 6P is truly a gentlemen's flashlight. It's spendy at around $60 but with the 125 lumen LED bulb I can completely illuminate the tops of 100 foot trees and hit cars and objects 200 feet away. As I said the burn rate on batteries is pretty high with this light so it is not so much an emergency light as it is something I take with me for formal affairs and get the OMG factor out of people.
I have never used Fenix lights but the reviews have been building and all have been favorable. I wouldn't mind trying one out but they do not seem to be widely sold in the outdoor stores and gun shops I frequent.
Lastly and its not sexy but I highly recommend it, Walmart and Target sell a large battery (6 volt) work lantern for around $6. At Walmart you can find them in the checkout aisles. These are awesome home lights especially if you need something for emergencies or doing some late walking around the neighborhood. They last several hours and for the price can be tossed when done. I have several around the house and in vehicles. If you do not have a true lantern, gas or battery operated, this is the light to have for camping and urban group use.
To get slightly specific I would be remiss I didn't mention another of my latest favorites. The firefly bottle lamp. This nifty little guy replaces the standard lid to a nalogene bottle with a very bright LED waterproof flashlight. For adding just a bit more weight to the bottle you now have a superb lantern that also holds your water. The light also dims so that you can adjust the light down when sharing a tent or all the way up for glowing up a larger area. I generally have one of these lights with me as well since I always carry water with me and I generally enjoy carrying it in my green nalogene bottle.
In summary, to answer TBC I would say, "For work and general purpose start with the Inova X5 and go up from there in price and brightness." I generally recommend everyone have a little microlight from Inova, Photon or Princeton Tec on their keychain or in their purse.