High performance handheld lights are a major improvement over conventional flashlights.
By Gibbs Milliken
The best new lights have tiny bulbs that are long-lived and more durable with smoother beam patterns that provide amazingly bright illumination. Some models, designed for use on firearms, can endure serious trauma — the shock of muzzle blasts, immersion in water or even full-on collision with hard surfaces — and still keep on shining.
One of the finest personal lights is the thin, lightweight Surefire A2 Aviator powered by two lithium batteries and a housing milled from solid aerospace-grade aluminum that is hard-anodized and deeply textured for a positive grip. Multiple O-ring seals inhibit the entry of moisture, and its small, 5 1/2-inch size is an easy carry on a neck lanyard or clipped in a pocket or pack. This model has a digitally controlled dual system of bulbs. Three solid state LEDs provide a soft three lumens of energy-saving general lighting for 15 to 30 hours, but the unit can be switched instantly to an intense, long-range beam of evenly focused 50 lumens of bright halogen light. ($185, Surefire A2, (800) 828-8809, <www.surefire.com>)
A more powerful light using four lithium cells is the Surefire M4 Devastator. Designed as a combat and hunting light, this lamp puts out a remarkable 225 lumens for one hour of continuous burn or, by changing bulbs, can produce an amazing 350 lumens for a shorter period. It is ideal for hunting feral hogs or varmints at night when used with a red filter, an optional accessory that clips on the reflector head. These M-Series Surefire lights can be mounted on rifles, shotguns or bows with special rail attachments. ($330, M4 Devastator, $56, FM25Red Filter, Surefire)
Another quality light is the rechargeable Streamlight Strion that uses a 116-lumen Xenon gas-filled bulb. It will run 70 minutes on one charge, but can be replenished with a 12-volt car or boat accessory plug and comes with a charger/holder that can be surface mounted in a handy location. The light is activated by a rear cap pushbutton or by twisting to a continuous ‘on’ position. It has no lanyard attachments, but its 5 1/4-inch length fits easily into most pockets. ($134.95, Strion with DC charger, Streamlight, (800) 523-7488, <www.streamlight.com>)
The longest lasting are LED lamps that are less likely to fail due to their solid-state construction. One of the most powerful of this type is the Coast LED Lenser V2 five-watt using five alkaline C-cells with a 120-lumen output for 40 hours. Supplied with a ballistic cloth cover, transparent front shield and belt clip, it has a long and heavy stainless steel body and most certainly could serve as a defense baton. ($185, V2 Light #7458, Coast Cutlery, (800) 426-5858, <www.coastcutlery.com>)
In a class by themselves, the most powerful and far-reaching lamps are handheld spotlights with large housings and heavy-duty rechargeable batteries. They are powered by 12-volt systems from car or boat batteries. Some are independent with their own power supplies, such as the LSI Nite Tracker that can produce up to a full 2-million candlepower beam. This is like having an aircraft search light in your hands and is perfect for boaters looking for the way in or out of a dark harbor, hunters tracking game and road emergencies. In continuous operation, it is best to have the unit hooked into a 12-volt recharging system, since the running time on its internal battery is only 15-20 minutes. The maker claims it is among the most powerful and reliable cordless handheld spotlights available. ($89.95, Nite Tracker #RC3800, Koehler-Bright Star, (800) 631-3814, <www.flashlight.com>)
Every high-energy light source is a tradeoff of weight and output compared to the length of burn-time, and this is a concern in the field. It is always a good idea to have a backup of fresh batteries or a second light handy for unexpected and unforeseen situations.