When Is a Flashlight Not Just a Flashlight?

When you need light in the darkness, a flashlight is your go-to tool, right? Flashlights are one of the many things we take for granted these days.

But it wasn’t always this way. When people needed light before electricity, they used torches.

Those torches were followed eventually by candles, oil lamps, and kerosene lamps. Each involved a flame that had to be carried. So there was always the possibility of danger.

The incandescent light bulb and the dry battery were invented near the end of the 19th century.

Early flashlights needed rest

The flashlight was created in 1899. And there’s a good reason the word “flash” was used in the name. The small, incandescent electric light bulb was powered by batteries, with a contact switch turning the light on and off.

But these “flash lights” could not emit light for very long. They ran on zinc-carbon batteries that could not provide constant current for extended periods of time.

The user had to give these flashlights frequent rests.

Over time, as batteries improved and tungsten replaced carbon filaments, the flashlight became more dependable and popular.

Most of today’s flashlights run on disposable or rechargeable batteries. They use incandescent light bulbs or LEDs (light-emitting diodes). Incandescent bulbs have a tungsten filament. LEDs are semiconductors that emit light.

Standard flashlights still basically the same

Today, there are two basic types of flashlights: standard and tactical. We’ve all probably used a standard flashlight at one time or another.

Many continue to require big batteries. And they still turn on the same way as they used to and weigh about the same.

These basic everyday flashlights are handy when you’re looking for something under a couch. Or when you’re trying to find something in a dark closet. And, of course, when the power goes out in your home.

Standard flashlights are usually constructed from inexpensive aluminum or cheap plastic and low-grade steel. Many don’t last too long.

A variety of devices

Among the variety of flashlights we see today are incandescent bulb flashlights, LED flashlights and high-intensity discharge flashlights. Plus pressurized gas flashlights, solar-powered flashlights and headlamp flashlights.

As well as shake flashlights, USB-charging flashlights and utility flashlights. And heavy-duty flashlights and work flashlights.

They all have their place, and some are more effective than others. A high-intensity discharge flashlight, for example, can deliver a very bright light. That’s due to an electrical current that runs through a ball of ionized gas.

A shake flashlight turns on by shaking it. It’s powered by magnets that cause a reaction to produce light. A headlamp flashlight is ideal if you need to shine light on something you’re using both hands to work on.

Tactical flashlights are the best

Tactical flashlights are far superior to standard flashlights. So why settle for anything less?

Tactical flashlights look and feel much different. They’re more durable and weather-resistant. And they feature a variety of settings, such as strobe and SOS. Once you get used to a tactical flashlight, you’ll probably never use a standard flashlight again.

Most tactical flashlights are made with a higher grade of aluminum and are armor-coated. Normally they are lighter in weight than basic flashlights. And they can resist shocks, corrosion and whatever the weather throws at them.

The average standard flashlight gives you about 10 feet of brightness. That’s approximately 100 lumens. Tactical flashlights provide brightness to about 50 feet. And they give you visibility up to about 100 yards.

What to look for

Here’s what I look for in a tactical flashlight:

  • Ultra-bright LED flashlight
  • Solar panel
  • Power bank
  • SOS light and strobe
  • Work light
  • Seatbelt/rope splitter
  • Glass-breaking hammer
  • Compass
  • Magnet
  • Lightweight
  • Anti-slip handle
  • Adjustable wrist strap

It’s a life-saving tool

A tactical flashlight is not only superior to a regular flashlight. It could also save your life. Here are six ways that could happen.

Spotting danger in the darkness. If you find yourself walking in a dark area – due to a power outage or if you’re camping in the woods – a flashlight is a big help for finding your way and avoiding pitfalls. You might even spot a human with bad intent or an animal looking for its next meal. Seeing either of them before you get too close could save your life.

Escaping from a hazard zone. If there were a chemical spill near where you live and the power were knocked out, a flashlight might be the only tool at your disposal to help you get out of the region as quickly and safely as possible. The same thing would be true if you were dealing with a fire, flood, earthquake or other disaster that would require you to get away quickly.

Signaling for help. If you get lost in the wilderness, whether during an escape from a bad situation or just a camping trip, or are stranded somewhere, a flashlight could be used to signal for help. Especially if your flashlight has a built-in SOS component or a strobe function to it. Light carries a long distance in a short amount of time – something like 186,000 miles per second – and it will attract attention if someone is able to observe it.

Self-defense from an attacker. There are weapons that would be more useful than a flashlight if you’re attacked. A gun comes to mind first, of course. But most of us don’t have immediate access to that type of weapon when we’re out and about. And there are usually restrictions on how and when they can be carried. A flashlight can temporarily blind an attacker to allow an escape, while its barrel can be used for a counterattack.

A vehicle breakdown. If you have to get out of your vehicle after pulling off to the side of the road, your hazard lights should help other drivers see your car. But they won’t help you see what’s going on under the hood. A flashlight will come in very handy in this situation, as it would if you were changing a tire. And if you have to abandon the car and walk somewhere in the dark, it will help light your way.

Charging a cellphone for an emergency call. If your cellphone is dead and you need to make a call for help, some tactical flashlights will enable you to charge it. That phone call could allow you to escape a very dangerous situation.

Everybody needs a flashlight. And several of them are much better than having just one. But make sure you have tactical flashlights because they can do so much more.


  • J Johnson - March 17, 2022


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