Untitled design (2)

The Best Hiking Flashlight: 5 Great Options For Wildlife Enthusiasts

look to the best flashlight manufacturers if you want the best hiking flashlight

My absolute favourite thing to do in the world is head out into the night in remote areas looking for critters, particularly reptiles and amphibians. I’ve been all over the world, from the Amazon to Borneo and I’ve seen some amazing stuff (as well as got myself unlost a couple of times) all thanks to my flashlight.

I’ve owned and used a lot of different flashlights, and I only use and recommend top brands (Olight, Fenix, Petzl etc), and I would consider myself quite well-versed in what’s out there. With that said, I’ve put together a guide to the best hiking flashlight(s) on the market right now.

I refuse to cover any of the many “scam” flashlights you see out there. There are myriad cheap backpacking flashlights all over the online retailers that claim insane lumen output (100,000) for 20 bucks. It’s a crock. You need to spend a bit of money on a hiking flashlight to get something decent, but you can get something name brand that will last a long time for not a lot of money.

One important thing to keep in mind is that all of the best backpacking flashlights use LED lightbulbs and high-intensity, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.


The Best Hiking Flashlight Overall: Streamlight Protac HL5-X 3500 Lumen

Specs

Lumens (total):
3500
Battery included:
Yes
Length/Weight
9.53 inches/1.22 lbs
Peak Beam Distance: 
452 meters
Waterproof rating: 
IPX7 (submersible in up to 1 meters of water for 30 minutes)
Battery type:
18650 Lithium-Ion 
Runtime @ different power modes:
High (USB): 3,500 lumens, 1.25 hours; High (CR123A): 2,500 lumens, 1.5 hours.Medium: 1,000 lumens, 2.5 hours (CR123A); runs 3 hours (USB).Low: 250 lumens, runs 10.5 hours (CR123A); runs 11.5 hours (USB)
Light colour:
Doesn’t specify

Streamlight is another of the top 4-5 best backpacking flashlight manufacturers out there and their Protac HL5-X 3500 Lumen is my pick for best hiking flashlight overall. It’s compact, powerful, a joy to hold, easy to use, and includes 2 18650 Li-Ion batteries which is definitely an important consideration when buying a good quality light. 

It’s made from durable anodized aluminium, which is what you would expect from a good quality backpacking flashlight, shock resistant, and can be used with either the 2 included 18650 batteries or four 3-volt CR123A Li-Ion batteries. 

Demerits

I think the biggest downside with this light is that it doesn’t notify you when you’re about to run out of battery.

The reason you always need to travel with extra Li-Ion batteries is that you burn through them quickly (especially at high power) and a lot of new flashlights have a red/green light warning system that lets you know when you’re getting down to the bottom. The HL5-X doesn’t, but I still think it deserves its place at the top of the best hiking flashlight list. 


Other Great Options

While the Streamlight Protac HL5-X is definitely my top pick for the best hiking flashlight, there are a lot of other great hiking and backpacking flashlight options out there from respected manufacturers using Lithium-Ion batteries, good quality LEDs, and that offer impressive power-to-weight dynamics that make for perfect hiking, backpacking and camping gear.

They are: 


Best Hiking Flashlight for Personal Protection: Fenix TK16 v2.0 Tactical Flashlight, 3100 Lumen Long Throw

Specs

Lumens (total)
3100
Battery includedYes
Length/Weight
5.63 inches/3.95 Ounces
Peak Beam Distance:
415 yards
Waterproof rating:
IP68 (submersible in up to 2 meters of water for 30 minutes)
Battery type:
5000mAh Lithium-Ion 
Runtime @ different power modes:
Turbo (3100 lumens) 2 hr 40 min; High (1000 lumens) 2 hrs 50 min; Mid (350 lumens) 8 hrs 20 min; Low (150 lumens) 19 hrs 10 min; Eco (30 lumens ) 43 hours 20 min; Strobe 3100 lumens
Light colour:
Doesn’t specify

When you’re out hiking, especially in remote areas, and even more so when there are potentially dangerous animals about, you really should be armed (and ideally not alone) at the very least with a flashlight. The Fenix V.20 TK16 is the best hiking flashlight for personal protection while in the wild, hands down. 

A flashlight, especially a powerful flashlight like the 2nd gen Fenix TK16, and even more so on its disorienting strobe setting, can help ward off nocturnal predators that have taken an interest in you.

I’ve been walking trails alone at night in the Colombian Amazon and knowing that I’m in possession of a powerful disorienting light makes all the little cracks and occasional screams in the darkness easier to deal with psychologically. 

The TK16 has a very impressive 415-yard throw, so you can see far in front of you, features a durable all-metal construction, and the framing around the LED is serrated (on purpose) in the event you need to use the flashlight as a stabbing implement. It’s not going to do much of anything against a bear or a cat, but there are people you might not want to run into in wild places as well. 

Demerits

There is no charge level indicator on this flashlight and, as with most Fenix products, you have to remove the battery from the flashlight to charge it, which is not ideal.

I travel with 5-6 spare batteries, and I can burn through 4 batteries in a night, so I need to be able to charge multiple at the same time. I actually prefer taking the batteries out and putting them into a li-ion battery charger with power level indicators, so I know how far along each cell is.


Best Hiking Flashlight Cost-Value: Fenix E35 V3.0 3000 Lumens

Specs

Lumens (total)
3000
Battery included
Yes
Length/Weight
4.7 inches/2.36 Oz
Peak Beam Distance:
262 yards
Waterproof rating:
IP68 (submersible in up to 2 meters of water for 30 minutes)
Battery type:
5000mAh Lithium-Ion 
Runtime @ different power modes:
Turbo: 3000 lumen / 1 hr 15 min; High: 1200 lumen / 2 hr 40 min; Med: 450 lumen / 7 hr; Low: 150 lumen / 20 hr; Eco: 50 lumen / 50 hr
Light colour:
Cool white

Fenix is definitely one of the most universally loved brands among nature and wildlife enthusiasts. I’ve used both Fenix headlamps and flashlights and the 3rd generation E35 is, for my money, the best hiking flashlight from a value-cost ratio

The E35 features 3000 lumens of brightness and comes with Fenix’s USB-rechargeable, 5000mAh new generation 21700 Lithium Ion battery, which is great because standalone Li-Ion batteries (especially the next gen branded ones) usually cost at least $20 bucks. 

That said, it’s always a good idea to have spares (at the very least one). The useful lifespan of the SST70 LED is around 50,000 hours, which amounts to around 5.7 years of use. I’ve used the everliving sh*t out of all my Fenix backpacking flashlights and headlamps, and they are still going strong. 

Demerits

3000 lumens is a lot of light, and light means heat. I’ve found that my Fenix lights tend to get quite warm (not so hot that you can’t hold it or anything like that), but I’ve never had that problem with Olight or Streamlight, for example. It can be a bit worrying when you first notice it, but it’s normal.

The light is also cool white which, in my experience, is not as good as a warmer light at spotting critters in the foliage. 


Best Hiking Flashlight for Spotting and Floodlight: Fenix LR40R 12000 Lumen

Specs

Lumens (total):
12000
Battery included:
Yes
Length/Weight
6.06 inches/2.49 lbs
Peak Beam Distance:
845 yards
Waterproof rating:
IP68 (submersible in up to 2 meters of water for 30 minutes)
Battery type:
4 x 18650 lithium-ion
Runtime @ different power modes:
Too big to fit in the table, see below screenshot
Light colour:
Cool white

When I go out into the forest, desert, or up-river at night on a boat, I always have two flashlights (or a flashlight and a headlamp with me): one for close-up scanning when I’m looking for snakes, frogs, spiders, insects and sleeping lizards and another for spotting

When it comes to the latter, the best hiking flashlight for spotting and flooding I’ve used is the Fenix LR40R 12000 Lumen. If you know your flashlights and the flashlight market, the sight of “12000” lumen should make you suspicious, given all the ludicrous offers out there of 100,000+ lumens. But the LR40R is the real deal. Check out the YouTube video down below to see what I mean.

With an 845-yard throw, this is the best hiking flashlight for spotting nocturnal mammals high up in the foliage or drinking at watering holes, roosting bats and birds, sleeping snakes, animals wading across rivers and oxbow lakes and potential hazards up ahead. (Please be careful when shining this light on animals, it’s incredibly powerful!)

Another reason I’ve chosen this particular bundle as the best hiking flashlight for spotting is that the price includes the batteries. The power demands of a flashlight like this are EXPENSIVE (it takes a bundled cell of 4 18650 Li-Ion batteries). Those 4 batteries alone would cost you around 80 bucks (maybe cheaper if you go the generic route). 

Demerits

The fact that this is so powerful means that it can get quite warm if left on high power for too long. Typically, you wouldn’t need this on high power for more than a few minutes at a time (even lower outputs are still crazy powerful), but it would be nice if there was some heat-resistant material built into this flashlight.

Still, an awesome piece of gear and definitely the best flashlight for spotting out there (comparable to, but more powerful than the OLIGHT Javelot Turbo 1300 Lumens.


Best Hiking Flashlight Bundle: OLIGHT S2R II 1150 Lumens and OLIGHT Baton3 1200 Lumens Ultra-Compact

Specs

Lumens (total):
1150/1200
Battery included:
No/no
Length/Weight
2.48  inches/1.87oz and  
Peak Beam Distance (max throw):
135m/166m
Waterproof rating:
IP68/IP68
Battery type:
18650/IMR16340 battery
Runtime @ different power modes:
Too much info to fit in the table, see Olight product links below
Light colour:
Doesn’t specify/doesn’t specify

S2R II: https://olightworld.com/product/s2r2

Baton3: https://olightworld.com/product/baton_3_premium

The flashlight manufacturers (especially Olight) will often pair two flashlights together giving you two great products at a pretty big discount. Both the S2R and the Baton3 are great backpacking flashlights (or EDC/car flashlights) and the best hiking flashlight bundle out there. 

I tend to like something a little more powerful for wildlife spotting because you never really get to enjoy the lumens advertised in the title (you’re usually using a percentage of that for a longer period of time as opposed to the flashlight’s max output for a few minutes). 

Even still, each of these provides more than enough illumination to make for a reliable and adequate backpacking flashlight.

The Baton3 is particularly useful because of how small it is. This is the ideal flashlight to keep in a sling pack or attach to your pants using the very strong and reliable side clip (both the S2R and the Baton3 feature the side clip). 

Demerits

As I mentioned, if the goal is wildlife spotting at night (especially for long-distance) I wouldn’t go with this bundle.

I’m also not the biggest fan of Olight’s charging technology. They use a magnetized system that I have always found quite flimsy ,and prone to malfunctioning and not fully charging your devices over time (especially if you travel with it).


For that reason (among others) I prefer using a good third-party external lithium-ion battery charger. This one here can charge 4 at once and has level indicators to let you know how far along you are. Also, the batteries aren’t included with this bundle (surprise). Olight wants you to purchase two batteries from them.


What Went Into My Selection Process for the Best Hiking Flashlight

As I stated earlier, I’m only interested in the best backpacking flashlights from respected manufacturers that use high-intensity lithium-ion rechargeable batteries, solid LEDs, durable metal construction and waterproof materials.

To that end, I skipped over the vast majority of what’s on offer on places like Amazon. Anytime you see a $20 flashlight promising you thousands of lumens of power, it’s just not true. 

Since 2015 I have been traveling the world looking for and photographing animals, mostly at night. I’ve spent many hundreds of hours with flashlight in hand looking for wildlife. I am intimately familiar with the specs of this piece of gear, how it works, what makes for the best backpacking flashlight and therefore why it is or isn’t a contender for best hiking flashlight. 

I also spent many hours reading reviews, talking to wildlife guides and nature enthusiasts I know all over the world, and watching videos and demonstrations.


Main Evaluation Criteria to Choose the Best Hiking Flashlight 

Most of the reputable manufacturers out there making the best backpacking flashlights do several things that set them apart from the riff-raff trying to trick you into buying crap. When choosing a hiking flashlight, pay attention to the following.

Switch Type

The switch type refers to how you operate the flashlight. Generally speaking, there are 3 types of switches you will find on a good tactical/hiking flashlight: 

  • Twist. I don’t like the twist switch because they tend to be easy to turn on accidentally (while in your pocket or in a bag on a flight, for example). None of the gear in my best hiking flashlight list uses this style. 
  • Push-Button. This is the most common type of flashlight switch. There are two ways these generally work. You either push it once to turn the flashlight on and then hold it down to cycle through power modes or you hold it down to turn it on and then push it semi-auto style to cycle through power modes. 
  • Slide. The slide is just the simple up and down (up is on, down is off) setup that you find on hardware store flashlights. The tactical, Li-Ion flashlights that this article is dedicated to don’t feature this kind of switch because you need a button to be able to cycle through power and beam modes.

Weight

A good backpacking flashlight (especially something you are planning on traveling with) should weigh no more than a couple of pounds max. The whole point of the high-intensity lithium-ion cells and LED flashlights on the above list is that you are paying for engineering that packs a lot of punch in a small package. 

I used to travel with big Maglite before migrating over to the superior Li-Ion/LED technology, and the thing took 4 D-cell batteries, was over a foot long and looked like a club.

The best hiking flashlight is going to fit neatly in a daypack, on your hip or clipped to your belt or waistband without being a burden or noticeable. I can’t wait to see where the battery cell technology is heading (definitely smaller and more powerful).

Shock and Waterproof

If you’re going out into the wild (especially somewhere wet) then the best backpacking flashlight is going to be both shockproof and waterproof. 

You might have noticed throughout the above list that I have included an IP (Ingression Protection) rating for each flashlight. Harsh Environment Connectors and Wire harnessing company DSM&T has put together a handy IP chart that breaks down what each IP rating means in terms of waterproofness. 

The best backpacking flashlights are going to be rated either IP67 or IP68. This makes them resistant to water from powerful jets (and definitely rain), as well as temporary submersion up to a meter. 

Bear in mind that these flashlights are not made to be waterproof in the same way that an underwater camera for snorkeling or dive flashlight is made to be. The latter are manufactured to withstand water pressure at depths of many metres and for much longer periods of time. Your best bet is to avoid full submersion whenever possible. 

Power

The best hiking flashlights, in my view, have over 1000 lumens. This is because, as previously mentioned, you don’t really get to use the max output all that often. The max output is designed for emergency use–in some cases, to be able to start a fire: 

Typically, you will be using the medium to high power modes, which give you a percentage of the max power, but more run time. 

I use 1000 as my benchmark because anything under, for me, is not sufficient for serious outdoor use. You want good illumination in the wilderness because you can turn an ankle, miss a trail or, depending on where you are, miss a venomous snake coiled up in the middle of a footpath–or worse, hanging from a branch at face level.

This beautiful Small-eyed toad-head pitviper (Bothrocophias microphthalmus) was waiting in ambush on a log I was planning on walking over one night at the Isla Escondida Nature Reserve and Birding Lodge in Putumayo, Colombia. Thanks, flashlight!

Beam/Light Types

Beam types refer to the different settings you can choose. Some hiking and backpacking flashlights have red lights (to preserve your night vision and stop your pupils from contracting). They might also have a strobe or signalling mode (for safety). 

Light type refers to the colour of the light. Different manufacturers and models have different light types. Generally speaking, your options are either cool white or a warmer yellow. 

Warm light has a low colour temperature and a longer wavelength which allows it better penetration in rainy and foggy weather. Because I spend so much time looking for critters in humid jungles, my anecdotal evidence suggests warm light is better for spotting creatures in these environments. 

White light, however, is brighter. It illuminates more, and I think it’s, therefore, better for spotting things at distance. If you can get as close to neutral as possible, that is the best way to maximize both colour rending and penetration. 

Finish

Refers to the material that you see and hold on the exterior of the flashlight. All of the best biking flashlights use some combination of stainless steel and aluminium alloys, making them durable and sturdy. 

Plastic is just not going to cut it if you’re looking for the best backpacking flashlight.


Flashlight Terminology and Specs 

Throughout this guide I’ve referred to a bunch of common flashlight terminology assuming that you are fully familiar with everything. If anything was confusing, here’s a brief breakdown of the common terms: 

  • Lumens (lm). Lumens measures the total amount of visible light from any light source. It is the illumination capacity of a flashlight. 
  • Throw. Throw refers to how far light travels. It is based on how powerful the LED and battery combo is and it is measured in yards, feet, or meters. 
  • Lithium-ion. A rechargeable battery that uses lithium ions as the main component of its electrochemistry. These are currently the cutting edge of battery tech and are used in everything from high-tech flashlights to electric vehicles. 
  • mAh. A milliampere hour is a measurement of how much energy charge a battery can hold and translates into how long your flashlight will run before the battery needs recharging. 
  • Run time. Run time refers to the amount of time (in hours) you can use your flashlight, typically broken down by power setting. E.g., on high power (1200 lumens), the battery has a 2-hour run time.

Reasons To Bring A Flashlight While Hiking and Traveling

As I stated at the outset of this article, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have a flashlight with you every time you head out into the wilderness. You never know when a planned couple-hour day hike will turn into an overnighter. 


If a mobile phone flashlight can save your life, think of how much more secure you are with a cutting-edge lithium-ion LED hiking flashlight. They are necessary for spotting wildlife at night, getting up to take a pee while camping, finding your way in a dark forest when you get turned around, keeping you safe in caves and are just all-around useful pieces of EDC gear. 


Looking After Your Hiking Flashlight 

Flashlight care is pretty simple: 

  • Don’t let your batteries drain completely. 
  • Don’t store your flashlight in overly hot or cold environments (although they are made to stand up to the elements). 
  • Ideally, you should keep it in a protective case
  • The batteries should definitely be in a protected case and kept out of extreme temperatures
  • Don’t bend the charging cords
  • Don’t travel with your lithium-ion batteries in your checked luggage (air authorities don’t allow it)

Why Investing in a Good Quality Hiking Flashlight Makes Sense

A good quality flashlight (or two) is something that any hiker, outdoorsman or nature enthusiast should have. They make spotting nocturnal wildlife possible, they are a key piece of safety equipment while hiking or moving through the wilderness at night and, if treated right, will last you a long time. 

As is evident from the above list, you don’t need to invest an arm and a leg to get something great. I hope this guide will help you choose the best hiking flashlight for your needs and budget.

Related Reviews