A flashlight is an absolute must-have in the garage, in the toolbox, and around the house, but which one is worth your hard earned dollars? We debated that same question and decided to take matters into our own hands. With help from an aerospace engineer, we tested each light for overall brightness, focal beam from 50 feet, if it was truly waterproof, we dropped them from 8 feet onto a hard shop floor, and we even drove over them with an SUV. Really, we did. Our curriculum was simple: Each flashlight had to be readily available at popular stores, it had to be have an LED bulb, and it had to cost less than $50. After each test, the results were recorded and the final notes tallied. Here is how they faired.
*Test note: Each flashlight came with batteries unless otherwise noted, and came with a manufacturer's lifetime warranty against defects.
7. Outback Big Stick
Available at many hardware stores, the salesman behind the counter swore by this light telling us it was “Super bright, tough, and better than a MagLite.” We swallowed the bait and gave it a shot. Receiving high marks for its knurled aluminum body, easy push-button operation, and overall sturdy weight, the Big Stick lived up to its name. Pushing the power switch unleashes one of the brightest LEDs in the test with 120 lumens on tap; however, the beam cannot be focused. Soaring through our tests, the $48.50 Big Stick ran into a roadblock when the head of the light bent after our 8-foot drop test. We were able to fix it, but that breakage was enough of a hit to drop it into last place.
6. Icon Rogue 2
Rated at 100 lumens, we had high expectations for the $49.99 (available at homedepot.com) light, however, it rated near the bottom of brightness, beam dispersion, and value. Made out of high-strength aluminum, the exterior is actually a pentagon shape and several testers found it uncomfortable to hold. There are two power outputs available by clicking the tailcap switch, but the beam cannot by adjusted. With only 2 AA batteries sending power to the LED light, the Rogue wasn't tough enough to finish anywhere but sixth.
5. 5.11 ATAC A1 511
We've had great success with 511 products in the past, and we were surprised when the ATAC A1 didn't place higher. The small A1 is a tough light made out of aluminum, has a convenient clip, and features a safety strobe feature. Problem is, only one AA battery powers the LED bulb producing 103 lumens. Passing all of our durability tests with flying colors, the A1 simply lacked the broad, long-range punch of the larger lights. For $49.99 (available at basspro.com), it's a great pocket light, but not the best flashlight for under $50.
4. Energizer Lithium LED ELMCL21L
This is where things start to get interesting, as all of the lights from here on are exceptional lights. For only $37.49 (available at target.com), the Lithium LED packed quite a punch with advanced features like auto shutoff, shatterproof lens, and adjustable light output via the push-button switch. The comfortable rubber grip was nice to handle, though it does get dirty easily, and the included clip was a nice addition. Powered by a CREE XRE LED with 110 lumens, the Energizer is extremely bright, but testers felt its slim construction felt more like a penlight than an everyday flashlight. A solid choice for a home light, the Lithium LED placed fourth overall in our test.
3. Coast LED Lenser TT7438CP
The mighty mouse of the group, the 5.5-inch Coast light was über-powerful thanks to the unique lens system and high-intensity LED producing 105 lumens. Focusing the beam was as easy as twisting the head, and at $44.87 (available at lowes.com), the Coast wasn't the most expensive light in our test. Despite its small size, it easily passed the drive-over test, drop test, and the 3-minute dip under water. What it lacked in size, it made up for with light output and features, but there were two lights that it couldn't top.
2. Rayovac Industrial DIY3C-B
Listed as (virtually) indestructible on the packaging, the $24.99 Rayovac flashlight (available at homedepot.com) proved it is very much industrial grade. With rubber caps on each end, the light literally bounced when we performed the drop test, didn't even have a scuff on it after the drive-over test, and scored high marks for its aluminum titanium body. Rated at 140 lumens, with a high/low setting, the light was impressive and bright, but there is no focal adjustability. Looking at the test results, the Rayovac scored near the top in every category, but despite its solid design, one light was superior.
1. MagLite 3-Cell D LED
Each tester was very familiar with a D battery MagLite, as they've been around for years, however, we were curious to see the output from MagLite's new LED bulb. Our questions were quickly answered once the push-button was depressed and all 131 lumens lit up our test lab like an airplane coming in for landing. Going from spot to flood beam was as simple as twisting the light's head, and the beam earned top marks in the 50-foot dispersion test, overall bulb brightness, subjective test, and at $19.99 (available darn-near everywhere), it was the value leader, though batteries aren't included and typically cost an extra $5.99 for good ones. A tried and true rugged design, along with the addition of a super-bright LED bulb, made it the clear choice winner. For under $50, this is the best flashlight you can buy, and we've got money left over for lunch.