Torches (as we call flashlights in South Africa) are a central component of everyday carry (EDC). We rely on torches to help us navigate, search, and identify in dark and low light conditions. The human eye takes about 20 minutes to develop night vision, and it isn’t exactly great. So a piece of equipment to illuminate our surroundings (and what’s within it) significantly enhances our personal safety.
My torch is the only part of my EDC setup that I use several times daily. And unless you have a very exciting and complex lifestyle, chances are it will be the same for you. For this article, I am not going to discuss weapon-mounted lights (WMLs). They are supplementary to, and not a replacement for, handheld lights.
Good torches are vitally important pieces of kit. And, depending upon brand and model, can either be relatively inexpensive or astronomically expensive. Therefore it is worth spending some time assessing your constraints and requirements before choosing one. You don’t necessarily need to drop R3000 on a high-end brand to have a decent enough light. And in our present economic circumstances, consumers are understandably highly price-sensitive.
But there are criteria you must bear in mind to make a good and educated consumer decision. So let us take a quick dive into what you need to look for in an EDC torch.
Reliability and Durability
When it comes to items we consider centrally important to our personal preparedness, reliability is at the top of the criteria list. You want a torch that will reliably turn on and off every time you press the ON/OFF button. And if it comes with various modes, will reliably cycle through those modes consistently.
What you don’t want is erratic and intermittent functionality. You need to be able to trust that the torch will turn on when you need it most. And with the correct brightness, focus, and throw.
This is exactly why reading long-term user reviews is so useful. A publication that got a free torch to review may put it through its paces for a month but isn’t going to be able to give you feedback about the product a year or two down the line.
Because durability is so closely related to reliability, I decided to group the two criteria. The more durable a torch is, the more likely it is to retain its reliability with heavy use.
When looking for durability, here are some benchmarks to consider:
- Impact resistant and can handle a drop from a 1-metre height
- Waterproof to 1-metre submersion for 15 minutes
- Switches won’t wear out with normal use
Bear in mind that you aren’t going to use the light for diving, and as a habitual impact weapon or prying tool. But you don’t want a torch that’s going to stop working because it got dropped a couple of times and received a few bumps. You also don’t want one that’s going to short out because you dropped it in some shallow water or it got rained on. These things happen, and your light must be able to handle them.
Ergonomic to Your Lifestyle
Like all defensive and personal safety tools, your EDC torch must be ergonomic to your lifestyle. It must be the right size and weight for you to have on your person throughout the day. There is no point in buying the brightest, toughest, and most expensive torch on the market…and then leaving it in your car or on your desk at home because it’s too uncomfortable to carry.
If the torch isn’t on you when you need it, then it is utterly useless to you. Rather get a torch that is small enough for you to carry on your person (even if it isn’t super bright – more on this later), and that has a switch or button configuration that suits you.
There is a bit of tail cap versus head-mounted switch debate in the EDC community. This is in my opinion much of a muchness and comes down to personal preference. I have used both types during night shoot and low light training, and there are highly effective techniques for employing either. I personally prefer tail cap lights, but that’s just me.
If the torch has different modes, the mode switching must be intuitive. Some torches use a half or one-quarter depression of the ON/OFF switch to cycle modes. Others have a separate switch or button. Regardless of which type your light has, you must preferably be able to operate it with one hand. Lights requiring you to twist the head to cycle modes aren’t great.
Size, shape, and weight are again matters of personal preference. What works for me may not necessarily work for you. But be realistic about your requirements and constraints when you are out there shopping.
We can have a massive technical discussion about brightness, focus, and throw. But I’m going to keep it simple. For an EDC light that you are going to use for personal safety and defence, you need at least 50 lumens and/or 600 to 1600 candela. That’s it. Regarding throw distance, if your torch gives you at least 50 metres you are essentially good to go. Of course, brighter is better. But that’s your lower limit right there.
The main application of your EDC torch is essentially three things:
You need a light with a beam bright enough and thrown far enough for you to observe your environment and who and what is in it in the dark. Whether that’s your backyard in the suburbs, your outside area on a farm or smallholding, the interior of a flat, or the length of a dark city street – there are numerous applications with very different requirements.
Hence you need to understand your personal requirements and where you are going to use the torch for illumination (and what for). This isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of discussion, and again what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for you.
Most EDC torches these days give upwards of 300 lumens on high mode. This is a massive change from ten years ago when 200 lumens was considered “super bright”. Back then that was also the recommended brightness for defensive use, and it’s still more than bright enough today. Even Energizer are building small, bright torches these days – so the acceptable norm of what is considered “standard” brightness has shifted upwards.
And this is why I put brightness third on the criteria list: most torches are quite bright in 2022. Chances are that you will have no problem finding something that fits your needs in this regard. But you need to thoroughly understand exactly what your needs are, and make your purchase accordingly.
There are of course other elements to deciding on an EDC torch to consider. One is warranty. Most quality torches (even the inexpensive ones) cost some money. You want to be sure that if yours turns out to be a dud (or something goes wrong), the warranty will be honoured by the place you purchased it from.
Depending on where you live, the battery type is also a significant consideration. The current trend is towards rechargeable batteries of various stripes. The problem with this is that if you live in the sticks and you need to replace a fairly specialised battery like a CR123 or rechargeable 18650, you may run into problems. In such cases, it may be best to stick to torches that use common battery types that you can get at your local petrol station convenience store. Again, you are best placed to make this decision.
So What Should I Get?
There are enough brands of torch on the market to make anyone’s head spin. I don’t have experience with all of them, so I can only speak of what I know. My personal EDC torch is a Streamlight HL-X. I have been carrying it every day for over a year, and it’s taken a fair number of knocks and falls – more than enough to start ruining the finish and putting dents in it. It’s been on numerous night shooting and low light courses with me and sees regular heavy use. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve recharged the battery. It works just as well as when I first got it and likely will continue to for many years.
It suits my needs perfectly and is my favourite torch out of all the ones I’ve owned. But bear in mind it may not be suitable for you: it’s quite chunky and not exactly small.
I also own several SureFire lights, and they have been boringly reliable. They are high-quality products, but I do personally think they are quite overpriced for what you get. If you can pick one up for a bargain (or are happy to drop the money on a full-price one), you can’t go wrong with them.
Maglite also has some great torches to choose from, and after spending time with it I developed a lot of love for the Mag-Tac rechargeable light. It’s a very ergonomic and durable product, and properly bright. Definitely not your dad’s Maglite from the 1990s.
Lastly, I am somewhat of a fan of LED Lenser. What I like about them is that they normally use common battery types and give a very decent output. They are also ergonomic and reliable. I have read criticism that they are “soft” and can’t handle too much rough use, which may be true. My backup LED Lenser has served me well for the past 7 years, so I cannot corroborate that particular complaint. They are generally slightly more affordable than the abovementioned brands, and that is a definite plus.
Beware Internet Advice
As my parting shot to you, I want to advise you to not become too brand-focused when making your choice. People can become very emotional about their chosen brand of torch, which is exactly why asking online forums and Facebook groups for advice is an exercise fraught with peril. Equally, there are people with vested interests in pushing particular brands, and they definitely aren’t going to give you unbiased input.
Instead, think carefully about where and when you would use your torch – what its primary purpose is – and when you would need it most. And then take those realistic requirements and go look for a product that best satisfies them. If it is for personal safety and defence, I recommend budgeting properly for it and treating the exercise as an investment. You can get some decent cheap torches, but it’s always advisable to pay more for a good product.
I’ve seen enough folks with cheap lights on night shooting courses where the lights fail when they are most needed. So don’t sell yourself short in this regard. But also do your research so you don’t end up spending a lot of money on something that doesn’t work for you. Or blows up.
Written by Gideon Joubert.
Gideon is the owner and editor of Paratus.