Get it in Gear: EDC flashlights

George Thwaites • May 5, 2013 at 7:18 PM

The term "EDC" is a popular abbreviation for "everyday carry." It’s a term used by those of us who geek out on pocket knives but also those of us who geek out on pocket illumination.Yes, there are flashlight geeks. Visit an online site like CandlePowerForums.com and you’ll see what I mean. Even if you’re mystified by much the technical jargon, you can learn a lot concerning the pros and cons of various high-performance LED flashlights. Or not. You don’t need to be a flashlight geek to understand the importance of having an EDC flashlight. All you need to be is somebody caught in a power outage when and where it’s unexpected or extremely inconvenient. Has that happened to anyone lately?The EDC flashlight usually clipped into my pocket these days is the TerraLUX LightStar 80 LED pen light. It carries an MSRP of $29.99 but if you shop around, you can find it for less It is frequently touted as a competitor to the highly popular Streamlight Stylus Pro, another aluminum-bodied LED pen light that operates on a pair of AAA batteries. This half-inch diameter flashlight is 5½ inches long (mine is anodized orange), weighs 2.1 ounces with batteries and it has that “tacticool” rubber tailcap switch for both momentary and constant on and off. It doesn’t have any digital bells and whistles, but it is electronically regulated to provide steady light output through the life of the batteries. It also has two features that seem to set it apart from other penlights in its price range.One is the LED emitter’s high Color Rendering Index (CRI). Short of going into a physics lesson I’m unqualified to provide, this means the light does not “wash out” the true colors of what is being illuminated. If you’re an electrician or an MI6 agent defusing a thermonuclear bomb, knowing the exact colors of individual strands of wire is a rather big deal.The other LightStar 80 feature is a rubber “bite grip” toward the rear of the barrel. Mom always scolded about things like this, but sometimes a guy needs to hold a flashlight in his mouth to keep both hands free. The rubber bite grip is more secure and easier on your teeth. That’s using your noggin, TerraLUX. The LightStar 80 is advertised as having an 80-lumen output. Some gear testers claim that it isn’t that bright. All I know is that I keep mine at the ready and it has sufficient output for anything I’ve needed from it so far. It’s not a tactical light. But if you flash that thing into your eyes at point-blank range, it will take some time to recover decent night vision. (Don’t ask.) The downside? It only has one level of intensity: on. If you need something more flexible or are looking to light up the night with a flashlight in more tactical mold, a friend and co-worker showed me an EDC flashlight that is even cooler — and more expensive. The 4Sevens Quark 123² is a compact tactical flashlight that can throw a max 230 lumens (for 1.8 hours) at the high end or dial all the way down to a low-key 0.2 lumen in “moonlight” mode (up to 30 days’ battery life).Powered by two CR123A batteries, the Quark 123² Tactical features five programmable regulated output levels and three flash modes (strobe, SOS, beacon). This is cool stuff. It is 4 inches long and nearly an inch in diameter, weighing 1.8 ounces. The body is made of tough, aircraft-grade aluminum and the lens is impact-resistant glass. You’d expect a $50 to $75 flashlight (depending on variant) to be water and shock resistant. It is. But it isn’t loss proof. These are great tools, but still small and light enough to easily misplace if you don’t train yourself to stow it the same way every day. If it walks away for good, it will sting.One way to ensure that some kind of flashlight will always be on your person is to keep one on your primary key ring. A small light beats the heck out of complete darkness. The Maglite Solitaire Key Ring Flashlight (under $10) isn’t going to help you clear a subway tunnel of zombies. The tiny little incandescent krypton bulbs that were a revelation in Maglite’s heyday don’t have that scintillating blast of photons that you get from some of the smaller LED keychain models out there. In comparison, the Solitaire’s 2-lumen output seems downright feeble. But the Solitaire retains some of the virtues that keep the Maglite krypton line selling despite the technology’s supposed obsolescence. It is a tough little watertight package that can jangle around on a key ring for years without failing to function. Some owners report they can even survive an accidental trip through the washing machine.The Solitaire is powered by a single AAA battery (nearly as ubiquitous as the AA) and each one comes with a replacement krypton bulb stored in the butt cap. You can even take the lens cap off and use the Solitaire in “candle” mode much like you can the larger models. The average run time is 3 hours, 45 minutes. If bombproof isn’t as important as versatility, the Inova Microlight earns kudos as an inexpensive key-ring alternative. This little gem is programmable (high, low, strobe and emergency signal) and puts out 6 lumens to 50 meters compared to the Solitaire’s comparably feeble 2 lumens to 20 meters.Two 2016 coin cell lithium batteries provide up to 22 hours of low beam illumination and 10 hours on high. The polycarbonate body is ergonomic but won’t likely survive the abuse (or immersion) that the Solitaire can endure. The Inova Microlight not only comes in white light, but also blue, red, green and — dig this — UV versions. Lastly, elite gearheads may turn up their noses at flashlights you can pick up in a supermarket, but for around $5 the little Eveready LED 2-AA model has, in my experience, proved to be a very good buy. While not as slim, bright, durable or versatile as the aforementioned aluminum models, these compact and lightweight plastic-bodied torches are inexpensive enough to keep multiples on hand as backups.The 10-lumen output isn’t dazzling, but it’s usually adequate for navigating dark interiors. Battery life has proved decent, whether it reaches the advertised 40 hours. They’re powered by two AA batteries (supplied), which are easy enough to locate when replacement is required.

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