I like to reassess gear choice on a regular basis, making sure the reasons I chose a particular piece of camping gear are still relevant. Obviously I can only draw on my own needs and wants, so I’m going to list the top features and benefits I was looking for in a flashlight, followed by a brief explanation as to why they were, and still are, important to me.
Do I Need Another Flashlight
Decades ago I discounted battery powered lights as a waste of space and weight when it came to portable outdoor use; however, with today’s LED and circuitry performance, I find the usefulness to weight ratio of modern lights drastically improved over their incandescent counterparts.
Until a few years ago, I’d been using a Princeton Tec LED flashlight. It ran on four AA batteries and had a run time of approximately 150 hrs, and though much better than handheld incandescent C and D cell lights, I still found I wasn’t always packing it due to size and weight – so when I made the decision to purchase a top tier light, I had to do so within the context of my usage needs and behaviour. Following are the six most important factors that influenced my decision.
Handheld and Compact
I wanted a general purpose camping light that I could take anywhere, be it a month long backcountry trek or a day outing. It had to be convenient to carry, whether in a pack, belt pouch, shirt pocket or jacket sleeve pocket – a headlamp was therefore discounted in favour of a small handheld tube style light, for this, and a few other reasons stated below.
AA batteries as a power source was a must have for me. They are available almost everywhere around the world in both urban and rural areas – try finding 123A batteries in rural Mexico, you might, but I didn’t on one occasion and ended up carrying a non-functioning piece of gear. AAs are also compatible with many of my other devices such as GPS, camera, UV water purifier, etc., simplifying my choice as to how many to pack, as well as allowing me to swap batteries from one piece of gear to another if needed, depending on which item is receiving the most use during that particular trip.
If used for a variety of tasks, variable light levels are convenient. I seldom night hike and wanted a low low for reading, finding the water bottle that rolled away from me in the night and for taking a quick trip out of tent. A low setting would allow me to retain my night vision, as well as preserve battery life while doing tasks that don’t require a hand held lighthouse. But at the same time – it’s nice to have the option of a retina melting search beam.
Long Burn Time
This has always been important for me, and in the past I sacrificed light weight and brightness for duration. Thankfully this trade-off is no longer necessary.
I live in British Columbia; most parts of the province have plenty of lakes, rivers and rain. I wanted a light that was rated at IPX-8, meaning at minimum it should withstand continual immersion to a depth greater than 1m, specifics will vary by manufacturer.
Quality Construction / Durability
This is self explanatory; outdoor activities can often be hard on equipment. Things get dropped, banged and abused, at least by me. I needed a flashlight that wouldn’t break the first, or the tenth, time I dropped it.
After a lot of online and hands-on research I narrowed my choices down to a few candidates, but in the end I bought the Quark AA2 (non-tactical version). At 92 grams and running on two AAs, it had everything I was looking for and more. Along with a very bright and a very low mode, it also had beacon, strobe and SOS modes. The low modes have run times measured in days and weeks. It also came with a pouch, integrated belt clip, rubber hand strap, lanyard, batteries and spare O-rings. And compared to similar lights, it was very reasonably priced.
After numerous trips, including three fall outings that saw a lot of miserable weather, I’m very pleased with my upgrade and have no complaints. It’s nice to be able to change my opinion regarding a piece of gear, and as a result, this flashlight has a permanent place in my pack until a reassessment finds something new and better suited, or I change my way of doing things.