If you could carry one single, solitary piece of equipment for survival or self-defense, what would it be? I’d argue it should be a flashlight. Not a pistol, not even a knife, but a good, reliable and bright flashlight. Light is so essential for success in any instance of low or no light, the thought of going without it seems insane.
Humans do not have good night vision. We rely on light, and our reliance on it is even greater considering how many threats lurk in the dark places, and how many attacks take place in hours of darkness. Even in broad daylight, one only needs to enter a place where the lights go out, or do not work, and you’ll be quickly swallowed by darkness and all that entails.
A powerful and handy EDC flashlight serves many purposes and not all of them are defense related. A flashlight can help you navigate with sure-footing when it is too dark to see well, identify and disorient a sketchy person who may be a potential threat, light up ambush points, find something you dropped and signal distant interests.
Our sight is our most important sense, and so darkness is our most primal weakness. A flashlight is the best tools for obviating that weakness. In this article, I’ll be discussing the characteristics of modern EDC flashlights and presenting a list of my favorite lights on the market going into 2019. No matter what your specific requirements are, I am sure you’ll find one that will be just right for you.
What is an “EDC” Flashlight?
An EDC (everyday carry) flashlight is a light that will handily fit in a pocket or small pouch on your belt. All lights in this category, at least as I classify them, are able to be carried and concealed on or about your person easily, and need not be stowed in a pack or hung from a gear belt . This means that large lanterns and whoppers like your classic D-cell Maglite are out.
Sure, those big boys may be carried daily by some folks, professional or otherwise, but they do not fit the spirit of a light that can very literally go with you everywhere.
What’s more, modern handheld lights from good companies are nothing short of astonishingly powerful for their size, cranking out a ton of light on just two batteries, sometimes even one. For all but the most specialized jobs, honking-huge and heavy lights are just a waste of space and weight.
All of the lights I’ll present later are small, light and very handy.
EDC Flashlight Characteristics
Without exception, any flashlight you should consider should utilize an LED versus an incandescent bulb. LEDs produce more light for less power, ounce for ounce, and their far greater durability and longevity is always of interest when assessing a light’s viability for heavy-duty or survival use.
Incandescent lights have not gone the way of the dodo, but they are definitely making the ‘endangered’ list; incandescent lights retain only a few advantages compared to LEDs, the two chief ones being their more natural color spectrum compared to an LED’s harsh, bluish light, and their somewhat greater efficacy at busting through fog, smoke and mist. Other than that, LED’s have far more advantage.
You’ll also want a flashlight that utilizes a common battery, whatever it is, or even a rechargeable power cell. For most high-performance lights, 123A lithium batteries are by far the most common. These guys are pricey if you don’t by them in bulk, so make sure you do that so you don’t overpay.
Several good lights today actually use AA batteries, both in classic alkaline and lithium fuel types, much to the rejoicing of the frugal and those who worry about sourcing 123’s. AA’s are one of the most common in the world, and greatly ease concerns of both finding and stocking enough to feed your favorite torch.
Another feature you’ll see more and more in my prediction is built-in batteries with rechargeable capability.
While the need to be tethered to an AC power source would have in days past been anathema to most preppers and proponents of self-sufficiency, this is increasingly less of a deal-breaker: all kinds of survival and camping tech exists to provide you with self-contained off-grid power generation, from solar cells and power banks to thermo-electric stoves that will charge your devices while you cook dinner or boil water.
These lights do not offer the easy quick-swap power-up of batteries, but their longevity and convenience, as well as relative freedom from a consumable resource make them attractive.
One might make a great case that there is room for both in your inventory, a light that can run on batteries and one that is rechargeable. All bases covered.
Whichever type you learn more toward, be assured that there are plenty of both types that have all the other features you want: intelligent switching, long runtime and great brightness.
The Lumen Question
There are two schools of thought concerning EDC flashlights, and each illustrates what is often more important to the adherents thereof. The first school believes in power absolute, the more lumens the better. Brighter, as they say, is better. The second wants output that is more modest, or at least variable, the better to conserve precious fuel and better select the lighting solution appropriate to the task.
Which is more appropriate? It depends. For self-defense purposes, more lumens are always better. Greater power lets you see clearer farther, overcome “barriers” such as intervening mist, smoke, fog or other light sources better, and it also has an even more deleterious effect on an attacker’s vision.
All of those are attributes you definitely want on your self-defense light. Some ill-informed souls want less lumens, not more for self-defense by way of a misguided belief that reflected light, especially in a building, be it off a white wall or a mirrored surface will “blind” the person wielding the light.
Understandable how they reach that conclusion, but the issue is one of technique and skill in searching with the light, not power of the light itself. High output is also vitally important for visibility at a distance. Keep that in mind if you intend to use your light for signaling.
For utility purposes, a light that has twice as much runtime but half as much power as a dedicated defensive light may very well be worthwhile.
The ability to stretch limited resources as far and as efficiently as possible is a watchword among students of self-sufficiency, and a light that will last longer on one “tank of gas” or can be dialed down to conserve fuel is a great way to accomplish those ends. If push comes to shove, the light should still be useful for self defense, but not to the degree a dedicated “tactical” light is.
Of course, you can have both in some units. Some lights utilize programmable switching that allows you to select from “high only” or “high-medium-low” functions to optimize your light for its current role.
This could mean you keep the light in “high only” when carrying about town and switch it on the fly into an output selectable mode should SHTF and you go on the lam. Not all lights offer this functionality, but we are seeing it more and more from more makers.
In short, if you want a light optimally configured for self-defense or signaling, you want lumens and lots of them. If you want a light optimized for useable runtime for more pedestrian tasks, look for one with lower output for its battery or one that has selectable power.
Switching, aka Switchology
You may not think that the configuration and activation of a flashlight’s switch could make much difference in its overall performance, but you’d be wrong.
Especially on a defensive light, the combination of the switch’s location and the actions it performs when pressed (together referred to as switchology) make a big difference in how it will be handled and how easy it is to use. There is no “correct” answer, as all of this depends on what you are using the light for.
The most common and desirable switch locations will be side-mounted and tail-mounted, commonly called a tail switch. Either is adequate for our purposes, though tail switches are better all around on a defensive flashlight owing to their compatibility with techniques for employing the light with a pistol.
Some lights have dual switches, one on the side and the tail. Think carefully before choosing any light on which the bezel or tail cap has to be twisted to turn the light on or activate other functions as these are very difficult to use with only one hand.
What the switch does when depressed, and how it is depressed, are important considerations also. For defensive use, simple switching is a must, as you do not want to be fiddling with multiple modes like low, strobe or anything else when you really just need light and a whole lot of it. A switch may be click-on, click-off, momentary only or both. Modes are often controlled by the number of rapid presses, or sometimes a separate switch.
For utility lights, anything is acceptable when it comes to mode selection, as they will typically not be employed under any kind of immediate and life threatening stress. Even so, take care that your chosen light does not require too-deft movements or combinations of presses to get it on the mode you want. You don’t ever want to fight your equipment; simple is often best.
The 10 Best EDC Lights of 2019
Our Top Pick: the Surefire Stiletto
Without question the most talked about EDC light release in recent memory, Surefire’s Stiletto took lessons from their inspired but questionably executed Guardian light and improved on the concept vastly. Specifically designed as a rechargeable do-all utility and defensive light, the Stiletto packs in a feature set that should please all but the most demanding users.
The design of the Stiletto is intended to ride clipped in the pocket as you might a knife. Its teardrop shape and flat sides make it easy to grip and easy to draw. The real interesting features are the switches, of which the Stiletto boasts three, two for activation and one for programming of lighting preferences.
The tail switch, which Surefire dubs the tactical switch, activates the high beam at 650 lumens of flood lighting, ideal for lighting up a wide area at closer range. Depending on your program, the tactical switch will also activate strobe at your preference.
The side-located switch, called the primary switch, will activate high beam, medium at 250 lumens and 2 hours of runtime or low at 5 lumens and 30 whopping hours of runtime. Rounding out all of the above is a viewable fuel gauge that can show you how much charge you have remaining or left to go when recharging.
All of this functionality in a flyweight 2.8 ounce package makes it a perfect all-purpose light, its only weakness being its lack of intense hotspot if you desire long range capability and total reliance on recharging. Barring that, the Stiletto may very well be the ideal EDC light.
Made specifically for tactical use with a handgun, Surefire’s G2ZX combines features from their best-selling and modestly priced Nitrolon series with the grip ring from legacy combat lights and a new 600-lumen head to produce a high performance defensive light within reach of most folks budgets.
With a body and tail cap made from nearly indestructible and weatherproof polymer, and an anodized aluminum alloy bezel, the G2zx is as tough as any light bearing the surefire name. This light’s signature feature is a reduced diameter midsection that also sports a distinctive ring to allow easier manipulation of the light when employing it with various light techniques for use with a handgun, especially the “syringe” grip.
The tail switch is standard on all Surefire Nitrolon series lights: momentary only at full power, or twist-on for constant to prevent inadvertent activation and potential mishap if the light is dropped in a tactical situation. Runtime is appx. 1 ½ hours with two 123A lithium batteries.
Surefire Fury DFT
Surefire’s Fury made a big splash a few years back when it was first introduced for its very high output in what was essentially the “just right” size envelope of the classic 6P. Then they upped the ante with a 1,000 lumen Fury not long after that. Finally we come to the latest in the Fury family, the Fury DFT, or Dual Fuel Tactical.
The DFT variant of the Fury is notable for its user-installable choice of batteries- either two 123As or one larger 18650 rechargeable- as well as its even higher output of 1,200 lumens on 123As or, when using the rechargeable battery, a blistering 1,500 lumens. A famously intense hotspot and modest corona make the Fury now as always a great choice for extended range applications. Surefire boasts a 300 meter effective range.
The standard tail cap is momentary or click-on for full power only, as is expected for a tactical light when you want max brightness at once with no fiddling or mistakes. The solid aluminum construction makes this light as famously tough as all Surefire products.
Sometimes you want something really small. Maybe you have limited space to use, maybe you need a tiny item for an emergency kit or as a backup. Surefire’s Sidekick delivers on that front while packing in a completely surprising 300 lumens in a tiny package, completely at odds with its appearance.
Ultra compact, measuring less than three inches long and only a hair over one ounce, the Sidekick will not win any awards for being super-tactified or sexy, but it more than makes up for it in convenience.
With 300, 60 and 5 lumen output modes accessed sequentially by clicking through the side mounted switch, the Sidekick is always there when you need utility light, and you could do far worse pressing this into service as an impromptu tactical flashlight.
Easily stowed in gear, hung from a zipper pull or attached to a key ring, the Sidekick’s greatest strength is how easy it makes itself to keep with you. This mighty mite relies on a built in rechargeable battery, and is refueled via micro USB. A great backup light, especially if you are keen to use rechargeables as your primaries.
Streamlight PROTAC 1L-1AA
This svelte, high performance light from Streamlight sports what might be the ideal feature set for most preppers: compact size, flexible switching, and very good performance with either of two compatible batteries. The PROTAC 1L-1AA can be fueled with either a single 123A lithium or single AA battery, either alkaline or lithium. No adjustments, no parts to change, just load and light.
While highest output is attained with a 123A, as expected, its performance with an AA is nothing to sneeze at. Either battery allows the use of high, low and strobe modes, and the light features 3 programs for activation easily changed via 10 sequential clicks of the tail switch, allowing you to optimize for your task depending on your supplies or needs, while all but eliminating the chance of an inadvertent mode-switch while the light is stowed in a pack or pocket.
With a 123A battery, the light will crank out a maximum of 350 lumens on high and 40 lumens on low. With an AA, you get 150 lumens on high, 40 on low, so less than half on high compared to a 123A but till more than enough for utility tasks and close range identification.
This lights small size, all around adaptability and solid performance make it a great EDC option for those who like to run lean and not rely on recharging.
Streamlight PROTAC 2AA
Sometimes you want to bug-out on a budget. Even bought in bulk, 123A lithiums get damn expensive, especially when you can get 2 or three times as many AA’s for the same money. If you get sticker shock feeding your hungry-hungry high performance flashlights, take a look at the PROTAC 2AA. This slim light offers ample output in a light, slender and handy package and uses bog-standard AA’s as its only fuel source.
A respectable 250 lumens is not cutting-edge by any measure today, but what this light lacks in raw output it makes up for in runtime and cheap replacement batteries that you can get, very literally, all over the world in nearly endless supply. This light also shares Ten Tap programming with the other PROTAC lights so you can choose from a switching solution to suit your needs, be it on demand full power, or variable output for more utilitarian tasks.
If you are willing to sacrifice retina-roasting power for easy and inexpensive refueling, the PROTAC 2AA will serve you well.
Streamlight NANO Light
For ultra-compact and emergency kit use, look no further than the NANO Light. On the surface, this light has almost nothing to commend it; a puny 10 lumen output, tiny alkaline “hearing aid” batteries and nothing even approximating a tactical feature set.
What it does have, is an unrivalled tiny form factor; barely one inch long, and scarcely wider than a Sharpie. The NANO will fit, literally, anywhere and is cheap enough to be staged anywhere. Use them as zipper pulls. Attach them to supplementary pouches.
In pocket kits. On key rings. Knife lanyards, you name it. 10 lumens at eight hours is plenty to keep you from breaking an ankle in the pitch black woods or helping you rifle through your bag to find batteries to refuel your primary light when it suddenly goes out in an underground service tunnel.
As a primary light, they are laughable. As a supplementary emergency and contingency light, they are terrific, and far more reliable than many cheapie lights that so often occupy this niche as little more than novelties, at best.
Elzetta Alpha Series Light
Elzetta took the “Have It Your Way” philosophy of pleasing the customer to heart, offering their primary lights in a broad made-to-order fashion. Their Alpha series lights are notable for offering a potent 415 lumens on a single 123A battery, and affording a wide variety of lens, bezel and switching options to please any EDC fanatic.
You can get a spot or flood lens, smooth or crenellated (read “spiky”) bezel for in-the-field DNA collection from wayward dirtbags, and a plethora of switching options, to include variable output, click-on, momentary or selectable output models.
All of this adds up to a compact light with great output that can function precisely as you intend, and in a sturdy anodized aluminum package to boot. Greatly adored for their modest pricing, versatility, no-frills design and high output in a small package, the Elzetta Alpha modular light can always be the right light for the job.
Fenix LD15R Right Angle
Fenix is popular among personal lighting enthusiasts for their innovative and aggressive approach to maximizing both performance and convenience features at modest prices. Their LD15R exemplifies that approach by adapting the right angle lens design of the old U.S. military crook-neck flashlight to modern tastes.
With a white and red LED onboard to cover any situational concerns, the LD15R pushes a respectable 500 lumens on a battery-guzzling turbo mode or a more sedate 150 lumens on high. Minimalist lighting is achieved via use of medium or low modes at 30 and 3 lumens respectively.
With the highest available output draining batteries in a little more than an hour, good thing the LD15R is rechargeable with a replaceable 16340 battery or can optionally run a standard 123A battery with a small decrease in output.
This light makes use of a convenient top mounted switch for easy and ergonomic activation, reversible clip for pocket carry or attachment to gear, and a magnetic rail to keep it in place if you need to stick it to a ferrous metal surface. This light also happens to be quite compact, making it a cinch to carry in your pocket or attached elsewhere on your body or gear.
While the switching and lens arrangement limit your options on employment with a handgun, it is easily adapted to something approximating a conventional two-handed hold on the gun, allowing you to easily maintain the beam of light coaxially with the bore.
Adaptable, capable and truly handy, this Fenix is one that is worthy of consideration.
If you want a less-expensive backup light or are simply on a budget, consider the Coast PX1. Coast makes a huge selection of flashlights, but the PX1 is, in my opinion, the one that brings the most to the table for your EDC bucks.
Pushing a solid 315 lumens at 2 hours off of three common AAA batteries, the PX1 also features a low mode of 25 lumens to conserve power, and affords you a very respectable 40 hours at that level.
A removable pocket clip is included, and also a rare feature among LED flashlights today; adjustable focus. With a twist of the bezel you can go from a wide, even flood beam to a sharp, long range spot beam and back with ease. Tail cap switching as standard is easily actuated in all kinds of situations and allows you to cycle from high to low and back.
A sturdy, good performing light that covers most of your bases, and featuring good output, runtime and a strong feature set in its class. The Coast PX1 is not made to the same standard as a Streamlight or Surefire, but are good lights in their price category, and generally dependable. If you are strapped for cash or just want an inexpensive backup light, you are much better off going with Coast instead of some unknown gas station light.
Flashlights are one of the most important EDC and emergency tools we have, and you should never, ever be without at least one.
Choosing a light that suits your needs is half the battle, and knowing what’s what when it comes to technology and switching is important to ensure you get the right tool for the job. The above list of flashlights is sure to furnish you with at least one model that will keep the shadows at bay.