A source of light is extremely desirable, if not absolutely essential, when darkness falls and you need to move around. It should be dependable, bright enough to see well, long lasting, robust, and lightweight.
For decades, the choice was the handy flashlight with a filament bulb. From multi-celled "D" cell torches to Mini-MagLites and smaller. All had the disadvantage of a relatively fragile bulb, short cell life and weight. Bulbs can shatter or filaments break when dropped. Cells last at most a few to several hours; frugal use of light is a necessity. Spare cells take room and add weight to your pack.
With the advent of the white LED (light emitting diode), a new generation of flashlights appeared. LEDs typically last 10,000 to 100,000 hours (400 to 4000 days of constant burning), are immune to shock and basically indestructible in normal use. Moreover, LEDs use less than one tenth of the power of bulbs. A four-cell AAA three LED flashlight weighs 2.5 ounces, provides adequate light for camp use and will last up to 150 hours. At 5 hours of use a day, it would last one MONTH. A two cell D flashlight would not last even ONE DAY of 5 hour usage.
What this means is that you never have to bring extra bulbs or cells on even the most extended backpack or camping trip unless you intend to hike the AT or PCT.
Similar improvements have also been made to headlamps, a major benefit to hands-free camp work and night hiking.
As of August 2002, the most promising products are the:
Princeton Tec Attitude 4 AAA LED flashlight - 2.5 oz - $20 [click for photo]
Petzl Tikka 3 AAA headlamp 2.4 oz -$34 [click for photo]
The advent of the Luxeon 1 watt and 5 watt LEDs and flashlights that use them provide light equal to or greater than even the xenon and halogen bulbs. If you prefer a much brighter light, consider Luxeon LEDs.
However, for a low level, long lasting light and battery life, the original recommendations are still valid. At present there are many, many more LED flashlights on the market and the choice is almost overwhelming. In an emergency situation, a dimmer, longer lasting light is often preferable to a bright, quickly exhausted light. Look for 10-20 hours of battery life, assuming 5 hours maximum use of a light per day for four days.
For a FAQ on Advances in LED flashlight Technology, click here.
Jim Yuen , January 2006
Updates: July 2006, May 2008
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