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We’ve posted about dozens of ’em ranging from single LED bulb-replacement upgrades to multi-LED monsters, and we’ve heard arguments for and against from friends and neighbors.  But we want to hear from you, our fellow Toolmongers.

What do you think of LED flashlights?  Is it time to stop buying bulb-lit lights and tools, or should we stick with the tried-and-true?  Let us know in comments.


46 Responses to Hot or Not? LED Flashlights

  1. Mel E. says:

    I have been using only LED lights for 5yrs now and haven’t looked back. I switched primarily for battery life and lack of broken bulbs. My flashlights take quite a beating rolling around in my truck and on jobsites, and all perform without fail. My first was a Streamlight that I found on sale on Amazon for 24 bucks 5yrs ago. Still have it, still love it, and bought 2 more like it.

  2. Fred says:

    The multi LED types are great.

  3. l_bilyk says:

    Hot… but they don’t seem to be as bright

  4. Dan Lyke says:

    We’ve got a cheapie wind-up LED flashlight that’s… well… okay, but we’ve also got an LED bicycle light that runs off of AA batteries (we use NiMh rechargeables) that’s awesome.

    Give that that works far better than any incandescent flashlight I’ve ever had, and has a nice runtime, I’m a fan of good LED lighting systems. Bad ones… well… bad tools are bad tools, regardless of the technology, but the good ones are well worth the extra, and the run-time of LEDs make ’em worth the premium.

  5. Erik Hovland says:

    If your real requirement for a flashlight is to have enough heft to fracture skulls in only one or two blows, then an LED flashlight is not for you. Otherwise, definitely HOT. I have LED headlights, flashlights and keychain lights and I love them all.

  6. bbot says:

    Erik: LED lights are much better for skull bashing since the bulb in an incandescent light will give out after one or two thwacks, while a LED is close to shatterproof. Get the MagLight 3 watt 6 D-cell light, and you have the best of both worlds.

    As for the lights themselves, I’ve been using LED exclusively for a couple years now, since the Luxeon 3 watts came out. Personally, I use the 4AA propolymer lights. (http://streamlight.com/product/product.aspx?pid=25) Beautiful, white light, and lots of it. Easily equivalent to a 4D cell incan Maglight, but with a much more even spot, equal run time, and much much smaller and lighter.

  7. Eric says:

    Quote: If your real requirement for a flashlight is to have enough heft to fracture skulls in only one or two blows, then an LED flashlight is not for you.

    What are you talking about, you can buy the maglite led kit, it will just drop right in to any of the large maglites and you can bash skulls all day. And it won’t break the LED. That’s the only reason I switched to LED’s in my maglites, they take big falls a lot and I was tired of replacing bulbs.

    My biggest gripe with LED’s is the color. 4600*K looks horrible. But that’s probably just the theatrical lighting part of me that wants every fixtures color to match perfectly.

  8. Jon says:

    Super Hot

    For reliability and efficiency. Love ’em and can’t wait for residential LED bulbs to become affordable.

  9. Henry says:

    Hot! Hot! Hot!

    I’ve commented on previous LED flashlight posts, and just yesterday, I bought another LED flashlight…

    At this time, I think flashlights are the best use for bright white leds… they are just a great match.

    My surefire was brighter than hell but on the third set of batteries, the xenon bulb blew… that’s less than three hours of use before boom! a 60 dollar flashlight is rendered useless because the 17 dollar bulb is burnt. Sure, it had a beautiful beam and great color temperature, but also lousy bulb and battery life.

    LED lights are cheap these days… give one a try.

  10. Mike R says:

    LED flashlights are incredibly hot, you just got to get the right ones.

    The typical multi-led lights are old news. There are single LED flashlights that will blow them out of the water. Look for any of the flashlights with the latest LEDs by Cree or SSC/Seoul for a serious LED flashlight.

    You can get really inexpensive Cree or SSC lights here:


    For about $50 a light you can get much nicer ones here:


    Any of the Cree LED lights will kick out more light than a typical Surefire that costs 3-10x as much. Surefire is switching to these new LEDs later this year.

    I can show you a keychain flashlight with one of these new LEDs that is the size of an AAA battery that will kick out more light than any Maglite ever made. Plus it’s got multiple user programmable levels. LEDs are definitley hot.

  11. Absolutely hot, but avoid the unregulated cheapies. If a light asks for 3 alkaline batteries, that should be your first warning sign: It probably just uses a current-limiting resistor to keep the LEDs from burning out, but since the resistor is sized for the “worst case” highest output from fresh batteries, as soon as the batteries sag a little bit, you’re getting reduced output. Just like an incandescent.

    With a regulator circuit to feed the right amount of current to the LEDs regardless of the battery state, you get steady output, at a brightness level that an unregulated flashlight only achieves for the first few seconds after turn-on.

    This is why I’m so enamored of the single-cell LED lights: They must have some sort of voltage-booster circuit to make the LED light up at all, and such a circuit incorporates current-limiting functionality, so even the cheapest single-cell LED lights are, essentially by definition, regulated.

    There are some real stinkers out there, too. I picked up a TerraLux TS-18 upgrade kit, intended to replace the bulb in your 18-volt tool light. It’s equipped with a resistor and nothing else, and the output is less than stellar. I’ll try to find time for a full writeup next week.

  12. false_cause says:

    LEDs are great stuff, though I have to admit that when I have my upper-body jammed into some duct work and I’m trying to see 50 feet down in the dark, I prefer the incandescent. The LEDs are amazingly bright right in front of you, which is great if you’re working on something within 6 or 8 feet. After that, I find that the foreground is too brightly lighted and seeing something at a distance is tougher than with an old fashioned bulb.

  13. false_cause says:

    I should add that this experience is with multi-led lights. I imagine that single LED lights would benefit from lenses and a more focused beam. Either way, LED lights are hot for most situations.

  14. BJN says:

    Luxeon single LED lights do indeed allow for reach with focused beams. But above 1 watt, heat becomes an LED issue and I don’t see as much benefit from LEDs in terms of efficiency. And the more powerful LED flashlights are pretty spendy for their performance. I absolutely prefer LED headlamps to incandescent models due to LED’s longer life and relatively even close-up illumination.

  15. Quentin says:


    You can get one that is as bright (or brighter) than regular flashlights if it’s a multi LED and you shouldn’t need to worry about batteries (unless you use it all the time). Perfect for an emergency flashlight!

  16. Rob says:

    Hot! 100,000 hr bulb life, longer battery life, small size..what else do you need (except maybe a price drop)

  17. Michael W. says:

    Hot, much easier on the batteries.

  18. Brau says:

    What most don’t realize is that LEDs use less current mainly because they don’t emit the full spectrum of light as incandescents do. IE: A blue LED only emits blue light, and a white one only emits white light etc. I would say LED lights suffice for 99% of what people regularly use them for, are unbreakable and save $$ on batteries, so they are HOT indeed. I have both types on hand at all times.

  19. smee says:

    There are a number of flashlight-related forums on the web – for example, http://www.candlepowerforums.com.

    I’m definitely a fan of LED flashlights – I’ve usually always got one with me (a Fenix P2D as of yesterday (replacing an L1T with CR123A body)). I have/use both LED and incandescent lights. For shear throw and amount of output, it’s hard to beat a good incandescent (I’m partial to Wolf Eyes these days) but for day-to-day convenience LEDs are great.

    Also, the Streamlight Propolymer Luxeon 4AA mentioned previously is a great LED light and rivals many incandescents.

  20. Mike R says:

    You definitely don’t need optics to see a long way with an LED. The person that posted about Luxeons LEDs is right, but the new ones (Cree/SSC) are even better. They are nearly twice as bright, twice as efficient and don’t get as hot. I have a Cree light with a reflector that will light up a building a city block away:


    Check out the link that smee posted for info on the current generation of LEDs.

  21. John Eisenhower says:

    I have the LED Maglite and it is HOT. I still havent changed bulb or batteries and I’ve had it for a while now. I think it is brighter and travels farther. My brother-in-law still has an incandesant MagLite and we compared the two’s distances the light traveled. The LED beat it by about 50 yards.

  22. G1ZM0 says:

    LED flashlights are great. I always carried a mini-mag so my first LED was an mini-mag upgrade. It’ a great place to start and it won’t cost much. From there I got an inova X5. It’ a great light and a nice step up from the mini-mag.

    Later I picked up a Photon micro Freedom. I think little lights is where LED’s really shine. It’ bright has a good battery life and I’m never without a light. Another neat use for LED’s is the Clip on for baseball caps. I bought my Dad one for christmas and he uses it ever night when he walks the dog.

    I now carry a Cabela’s Alaskan Guide Flashlight. It’ a knock off of a Surfire Aviator. It’ has 3 LED’s and Xenon bulb. Best of both worlds. LED for long life and Xenon when you need a lot of light.

    Check out http://www.lighthound.com/ for some really neat stuff.

  23. Aaron Baca says:

    Definitely hot.
    I’ve had a few over the years and none have ever disappointed, with the possible exception of one of those shake-lights. Currently, I have a 3-watt Luxeon model powered by a rechargeable CR-123 lithium. Battery life is less than stellar, but I can recharge in about 2 hours.
    I get 4-D Maglight output out of a light the size of a roll of nickels that I can carry all the time.
    Some day I hope to get my hands on one of the mil-spec LED Surefires.

  24. Brau, could you reconcile your “don’t emit the full spectrum” and “emits only white light” statements? It’s technically possible to define your way out of that mess, but it involves using some terms in very specific scientific meanings, not their usual English meanings.

    Anyway, as human visual acuity goes, it’s much more efficient to emit only a few narrow spectral bands that happen to be centered on the sensitivity peaks of our three types of cones. Visit http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/ligcon.html and explore for a while.

    One theory about why LEDs don’t seem as bright at a distance, even though they’re putting out more light than equivalent incandescents, is the color: Incans tend to be very yellow, while the high-color-temperature output of most LEDs blends in more easily with moonlight, so it doesn’t jump out at you like the big orange-yellow spot from a tungsten lamp.

  25. Will says:

    LED flashlights are great! When camping at night, an LED headlamp really helps with keeping your hands free. I started using my LED headlamp for working on home projects too, especially electrical work when I have to pull the breaker for a room.

  26. MikeSac says:

    My dumpster-diving light was a $10 cheapie I got from Walmart around ’98, and it ran on two AAs for over two years without any decrease in brightness.

  27. Tom says:

    Totally hot. For a super flood light I have a 4AA Princeton Tech light, but for most everything else its LED. I want one of the combo Surefire A2 Aviators that have 3 LED and xenon bulb, I just can’t justify the almost $200 they want for it.


  28. Leslie Wong says:

    Hot. I think the Luxeons are better than the multi-led lights.

    Before Maglite had their own LEDs, I bought the TerraLux MiniStar2 TLE-5 for my AA Maglite. It came with it’s own reflector so it will still focus. At $25, not cheap, but I wouldn’t go back to halogen bulbs

    I also bought the Maglite LED 3 CELL C or D Module for use in a D cell Maglite. No complaints, though $20.

    Another good flashlight website is Flashlight Reviews

  29. Mike R says:

    This will be the LED light to own when it is finally released:


  30. Douglas Kwan says:

    definately hot. stick with led lights that use high power luxeons or cree leds no 5mm muli led lights. i got an inova T1 its great and small to boot

  31. Aaron Baca says:

    Mike R Says:

    April 24th, 2007 at 4:40 pm
    This will be the LED light to own when it is finally released:


    Mike, can you tell us something about that flashlight? The site has no info.

  32. Crashin says:


  33. Dan says:


    Note: there’s now three generations of emitters out there.

    Old: standard round-ended 20000mcd LEDs

    Last: Luxeon. Much brighter than the previous ones, but..

    New: Cree/Seoul Semiconductors — 2x brighter than Luxeons.

    I’ve got a 2×123-powered Seoul Semi. flashlight ($30ish from dealextreme) and it’s stupid bright.

    On the other hand, for poking around inside things, rather than illuminating distant objects the 9x20kmcd ones (dealextreme again) can be more useful — beam is wider and more even.

  34. ambush27 says:

    I tend to divide them into two classes, the ones that boost or regulate the voltage and the ones that don’t. The ones that don’t get dimmer and dimmer until they don’t work like traditional bulb lights. The ones that do, however will just turn off one day but they will be very bright up until the end. I like the latter if just for the consistency.

  35. O'Bunny says:

    I have a mini-Maglite LED, and like it okay, except for 1) the retail packaging, and 2) the included holster.

    1) It came in one of those stupid large plastic clamshell packages, and I managed to cut myself on the packaging trying to get the light out of it. I emailed the company, and got back an unsympathetic letter saying that they “are not always able to control the type of package we use as we are basically at the mercy of our customers”.

    2) the cordura holster that the light comes with is fine, as long as you con’t sit down with it on your belt. If you do, the light rides up in the holster and eventually falls out. A snap or velcro fastened flap would have solved that problem.

    The light itself is fine, but I’m unlikely to buy another Maglite. I feel I paid a premium price for a mediocre product and indifferent support.

  36. Mike R says:


    The original version of the Novatac was made by HDS (Novatac bought HDS). Details on that are here:


    The Novatac light is expected to be an improvement on the HDS design. The current HDS is built like a tank. Here is a picture of one thrown repeatedly at a concrete floor and continued to function:


    The HDS has multiple user programmable levels and various other programmable features along with a great interface to access that stuff. For example, mine has the locater beacon set, and it will give a quick flash every couple of seconds when off so that if I dropped it at night I’d be able to find it easier. Current lights have Luxeon LEDs, but the new ones will have the next gen stuff, probably an SSC. They run off of the same type of batteries that Surefires use, but these lights can use rechargeables.

    A Minimag is maybe 10 lumens, the current HDS is 60 and the new Novatc is rumored to be 150. I’ve heard rumors that the new light will be USB programmable. If you’re not used to premium flashlights there will probably be some sticker shock – it’s rumored that the Novatac will cost around $150, if we are lucky. HDS models sold new for $250+

  37. Leslie says:

    I’m glad to find this – I’ve been looking at the LED flashlights but didn’t know anyone who actually had one.

  38. John says:

    I bought a 95-LED flashlight from Kragen Auto parts store for about $20. It was brighter than a 4-cell maglite, I really like it.

  39. Amy says:

    Hi Everyone,

    The company that I work for specializes in LED Technology and don’t worry LEDs will be lighting up your home in no time! Our flashlights are big sellers on our site. Please take a look http://www.LEDLightTech.com. We are constantly working on new products so please save us in your favorites and check us out occasionally!


    Amy Falzone

  40. Stuey says:

    $90 for a floodlight? That’s not going to work for me, especially since it outputs less than a CFL. Arguments over a broken CFL’s mercury hazard isn’t strong since 5mg is fairly easy to clean up and one should be more concerned about the broken glass shards.

    Still, the flashlights do look good, and I’m interested in seeing how they hold up against other LED flashlights from Maglite and Inova in that price range.

  41. I’m a huge fan of LED flashlights – as long as they are good quality. I know SureFire makes some powerful LED’s and I’ve recently heard about Streamlight. Any one familiar with Streamlight LED’s? I’ve never tested one of these flashlights myself. Thanks!

  42. Stuey says:

    I may be mistaken, but I remember reading about several police depts. using rechargeable Streamlights. This was the first I heard of that company as well. Unfortunately, I can’t relocate the information about the police usage.

  43. perruptor says:

    Mike R mentions HDS systems. Henry Schneiker started that company to sell his Action Light (http://www.flashlightmuseum.com/flashlight_view.cfm?item_number=HD00001).
    I have one of those 24-LED pieces of history. Cost $300 new. It was an improvement on existing bulb headlamps, but really heavy, because of the big battery and bulletproof aluminum case. Nowadays, a $10 plastic thing from dealextreme makes it look pitiful.

    LEDs are advancing in huge surges, and when they start putting the really bright ones in household lamp bulbs, it will mean the end for fluorescents.

  44. Stan says:

    Comments on BIG multi-LED flashlights, headband LED flashlights, Garrity 9 LED flashlights and the 2 AAA “slim jim” River Rock Led flashlight.

    LED is the only way to go – incandescent flashlights are totally obsolete.

    Google “95 LED Flashlight” using the advanced feature and enter “Stanley” and “Wilmar”

    Gordon 95 LED Flashlight – Harbor Freight $16.99

    ‘Big Kahuna’ AMAZING 95 LED Aluminum Flashlight – Jack’s Tool Shed $32.99

    The Wilmar light seems to have a light gauge plastic housing.

    These lights are AMAZING. Lights up the world with a bright, absolutely uniform beam. The head is hefty, 4 times the weight of a Maglight if you’re into skull cracking. The alternate action push button switches are easy to turn on accidentally, not being slightly recessed like Maglight switches.

    I have a Kahuna 95 LED and I was disappointed when a couple of the LEDs went slight dimmer after maybe 2 hours use. It has o-rings but they don’t seal it effectively against water.

    These are cheap Chinese manufactured flashlights and I cannot attest to their long term durability but at the price they are absolutely unbeatable.

    Headband LED Flashlights

    The Energizer HDL33A2 – Target about $16
    This is their 6 LED model, don’t bother with the cheaper (about $8) 3 LED headband lamp (1 red, 2 white) it will only disappoint you. The 6 LED one has 2 white LEDs behind lenses for a spotlight effect, 2 white LEDs w/o lenses for a wider beam, and two red LEDs also w/o lenses for night vision. My standard light for working around my wilderness cabin at night (I use about 24 AAAs a month). I only use the spot mode, the hard edge of the beam annoys me, when crossing the 2 mile stretch of ocean between the mainland and the island I live on. Then the sharper bean doesn’t splash so much light inside my small outboard motor boat. Around the cabin I use the wider beam all the time. One of the switch positions turns on all 4 white LEDs, not much more light and half the battery life – I never use it. The red light position is good for astronomical star parties, that is the only time I use it. It makes a great work light, throw out your Stanley Snake light and use this. Lay it down facing up, pivot up the LEDs to the angle you need and rotate the whole light to illuminate what you want to see. Great under the kitchen sink with a basin nut wrench.

    Energizer 1 Watt Headband Flashlight – Target (I got it on sale for about $17)
    Ridiculously heavy and bulk,it weighs about twice as much as the HD33 for no good reason. Also, instead of keeping the 3 AAA batteries against your forehead the are part of the pivoting LED assembly. This moves the weight forward of the pivot so the sharp bottom edge of the flashlight presses uncomfortably uncomfortably against your brow. This also means you can’t use it as a work light, tilted even a bit from vertical it falls over. BUT the light from the single 1 watt white LED is remarkable. This LED is in a reflector that produces a narrow spotlight beam, much brighter than a Maglight 3D incandescent’s beam, AND a wonderful 90 degree splash of light surrounding that narrow beam. Around my cabin it’s my choice when looking for something. The wide splash of light really makes a difference because it illuminates as brightly as either of the white beams from the HD33 but over a much wider area. It is also excellent for walking or bicycling, the wide splash of light makes it unnecessary to continually move your head to direct the light where you need to see. If they would just mount that powerful LED in the basic design of the HD33 Energizer would have a real winner.

    Garrity 9 LED Flashlights – Fry’s, Internet – for about $6
    The flashlight that converted me to LED flashlights. The earlier models had a design fault, the bump at the positive end of the 3 AAA battery holder would bend the disk it contacted if dropped head down, then the light would be maddeningly intermittent. Also, the small springs at the minus end of the AAA batteries where poorly secured and could be lost when replacing batteries. Both these faults were corrected in later models. But still I experience some intermittent failures, switching parts around between two of them hasn’t helped me locate the source of the problem. The o-rings are for show only, these flashlights are not waterproof. The switch is an alternate action push button at the rear, moderately protected against accidental turn on. They come in yellow, black and red, I prefer the yellow as it is easier to find, but the internet stores don’t give you any choice of color. All in all a good light at a low price. I have given many as gifts.

    “Slim Jim” (just my name for it) River Rock 2 AAA LED Flashlight – Target about $9
    My replacement for the 2 AAA MiniMaglite. With 2 AAAs it must be voltage regulated, the only light of this type in this list. Brilliant white beam (the HD33’s beam is slightly yellow in comparison) and easily twice as bright as the either of the HD33’s white beams. The switch is at the back – push for a momentary light, tighten the back for a steady light. A good design to avoid accidentally turning it on in your pocket and running the batteries down. Just immersed mine for 30 seconds in water, no leakage – so at least moderately waterproof. A real winner in a carry-all-the-time flashlight category

  45. Stan says:

    I didn’t do the brightness of the cheap 95 LED flashlights justice. They light up the world as brightly as the big pistol grip tungsten-halogen torches with sealed rechargeable batteries but with a MUCH wider beam. And the light is blazingly WHITE. You must try one!

  46. Molly Taylor says:

    this is the internal electronics temperature, different to the outside heat sink temperature. Done properly, a bulb design can keep the electronics temperature at least 10°C-30°C lower (18°F-54°F lower) than the heat sink temperature.
    So an LED bulb with a heat sink temperature of even 90°C (194°F) could comfortably have an electronics temperature of 60°C-80°C (140°F-176°F), both well under the temperature rating for the electronics components.

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