The Cult of the Flashlight

For the record, I’m not a member.

I’ve been aware for a long time of a prepper subculture wrapped entirely around flashlights. Even for those of us who don’t wish to live and breathe flashlights there are trends and fads: spiky bits that stick out in front, bright flashing modes*, weird shapes, exotic materials. There are, out there on the Intertubes, a miriad of fora devoted to all things flashlight.

I’m not here to mock any of that. Really. Hell, I catch myself fetishizing…um…okay, nothing really comes to mind but in one period I did own and repeatedly read all the Patrick O’Brian Aubrey/Maturin novels, and if that doesn’t count as weird I don’t know what does. Harm no innocent soul and do as thou wilt, that’s what I say. You really like flashlights. I think that’s…fine.

But I do use flashlights every single day. Every single day. Repeatedly, as a rule, and as such I probably count as a serious user if not an actual enthusiast. Flashlights, to me, are as ubiquitous as boots and about that exotic.

So let me show you my current stable**, and compare what I’m used to with the new arrival…
Here’s a very old-school Minimag, the one-LED/one-battery Gerber I’ve carried for the past couple of years, and the new guy. Behind them is a Coleman spotlight I use only for checking out things that go bump in the night. It hangs on the wall and occasionally soaks up house current, but it is sometimes useful.

The Minimag ruled pocket flashlights for many years before the boom in fancier fare. I was never without one for decades. It’s not very bright but bright enough to work by, lasts a long time on 2 AA’s, and fits easily in your mouth when you’re doing something that needs both hands. Also it’s got one feature you may never have noticed, that’s a godsend when low-budget camping…

Your $800 Fenix can't do this.

Your $800 Fenix can’t do this.

Minimags have since gone to LED, and since I’ve never had one I can’t offer an opinion. They don’t wear out, and so they don’t require a replacement. But they’re probably a lot like my little Gerber…
I like this little flashlight. Fits easily in a pocket so it’s always there. It actually fits inside the open bolt of long-action .30 caliber rifles for bore inspection, but I didn’t know that when I bought it. It’s not very bright, but again bright enough for working. Clips easily to a cap brim, and is light enough not to pull the cap down over your eyes. It does only one thing, but it does it very well. I freely concede there have been plenty of times I’ve wished it could make more light. Turns on and off by twisting the endcap. At as I recall $35, this is the most expensive flashlight I ever bought except for one Streamlight many years ago which soured me for all time on certain flashlight-related matters***.

And there you have it. I’m a simple guy. I like simple clothes, simple guns and simple flashlights. And then, into my home strode the new guy. The first thing I knew about it was that it was rechargeable. I call that a plus. I immediately removed the battery, put it on the charger, and learned it was already fully charged. Okay – put it back together, click the end cap…

And odd things began happening. This flashlight has seven brightness settings and four separate operating modes. I looked it up on Amazon…

Holy crap, I don’t even deserve this flashlight! Almost timorously, I clicked the end cap again. Positively alarming things happened. I looked at the enclosed instructions…

Documentation Guy went off his meds today...

Documentation Guy went off his meds today…

Okay, that was no help. Did I mention this thing has seven brightness settings? From ‘Moon’ to ‘Turbo.’ Seven. Important number. Prime number.

But the most important thing is that grungy old Uncle Joel must learn to tap the end cap, not click it. Because this flashlight contains sophisticated electronics. When you click the end cap repeatedly, alarming things happen. Not always predictably. It may have a self-destruct mode in there somewhere.

Probably this will all become instinctive with practice. Thing is, in my heart I like simple tools that do simple things. I don’t want learning curves unless I’m, I dunno, flying a jet or something.

Still it’s an expensive flashlight which someone generously gave me for free, and I will strive to be worthy. For now, let’s figure out the more prosaic matter of how I’m going to carry it.

It will fit in a pocket, but it’s just big and heavy enough to make itself felt. It has a belt clip…
But. Hm. I wish somebody had stopped programming the FET – or whatevering the whatever – long enough to give that clip a little more thought. Maybe a little more metal. On my old-school thick leather belt…
Even with forcing, it won’t go on my old-school thick leather belt. Not securely.

Finally I rummaged around in my junk drawer and found the holster to my old Leatherman flash…
It’s a loose fit, but the clip secures it well enough I can turn it upside down and shake without it falling out. I do hope it won’t be embarrassed by my grubby expedient, but if I’m to learn to use it I must first be able to carry it.

Okay! Old cedar rat, meet new high-tech. Thus armed, we sally forth.

Expect updates.

*If anyone out there has ever actually used the flashing mode on a ‘tactical’ flashlight in anything remotely resembling real life, please do pipe up and describe the circumstance because I just…can’t…

**There’s also a 3-LED Leatherman up in the loft, but I was too lazy to go get it. It also does one thing rather well, but I found it too big for everyday carry. Plus freebies stashed in drawers, of course.

***I will never allow another device bearing a CR123 battery in my home. Never. I don’t want to discuss it further.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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29 Responses to The Cult of the Flashlight

  1. I can speak to the LED update of the Maglite, at least the Solitaire 1-AAA version. I have both incandescent and LED versions of the Solitaire; the LED version uses less battery and is *much* brighter; on the down side, I had to replace the first LED Solitaire I bought, as the threads on the battery compartment locked up and would not release, even with pliers assisting. Also the twist-to-turn-on feature isn’t reliable; you sometimes have to smack the light against your palm to make it come on. That might be a result of the light residing on my key chain and getting slammed around a lot – – throwing the keys onto the kitchen table, into my messenger bag, etc.

  2. coloradohermit says:

    I love flashlights and can never resist the temptation to buy different ones. I couldn’t tell you how many I have. Big ones, little ones, keychain ones, tripod one, led ones, clip on one, shake to charge one, magnetic back and hanger led one, plug in the wall to charge one with a radio, headlamps, even a sillyass little Duck Dynasty one that has 24 little led bulbs and hangs on the refrig by a magnet on it’s back. If DH doesn’t know anything else, he knows he’ll get some kind of flashlight for Christmas.

    I’m sure I wouldn’t fit in at any dedicated forum, since my only criteria in purchasing a new one is “Well, isn’t that cool!”

    Can’t wait to hear how your new one is working out and the various occaisions/situations when Turbo is called for. Enjoy.

  3. Bear says:

    Flash Mode: As best I can figure, that’s meant for hiking urbanites when tnhey get lost in the woods, because the flash will draw the eye. But I can’t swear to that since I never managed to get lost in the woods.

    Oh, and 2 year-olds are fascinated by it, to judge by my nephew. Which may say something about flashlight fetishists.

  4. M J R says:

    Like you I am one who likes the simple things. I find the more convoluted something is the easier it is to break. While I was still working I carried a Fenix with several settings including the SOS blinky one. I found the only setting I used was low power. The damned thing ran on a pair of cr123 batteries so runtime was a priority.

    These days I keep the Fennix with my power out kit. The damn cr123 are just to expensive to replace. The normal EDC flashlight that is in my pocket is a LED maglight solitaire. It’s cheap to buy and run using a single AAA battery, its simple with the only settings being on or off and throws enough light for me.

  5. Paul Bonneau says:

    I have used the 2-AA minimags. Too big, and I consider anything incandescent as unusable stone-age devices anyway.

    My current go-everywhere light is the 2-AAA LED Minimag. It is cheap and reliable and very bright for its size. I use rechargables and it works with those; some LED lights don’t work very well with the lower voltage of the rechargable batteries but the Minimag is not one of them. Best of all it just slips in a jeans pocket and you don’t know it is there. Also the pencil-slim shape just “handles” well.

    I have one of those short LED 3-AAA lights I like pretty well, the kind with the batteries together rather than in line. It’s got a red led mode that is nice for not messing with night-adapted vision. However the buttons are too prominent and I end up walking around with it lighted in my pocket all the time. Also it is too fat and does not disappear in the pocket like the minimag does.

    I don’t know why, but it seems my LED lights eventually peter out, or maybe my batteries are at end of life and I need some new ones. They get flakey anyway. I have a few of these not-quite-dead lights sitting in desk drawers.

    I too use my flashlight every day. It’s an old man thing. Eyes not what they used to be…

  6. doubletrouble says:

    Hi, my name is dt, & I’m a flashlight addict.
    I like to have the big brighties on hand, but find most common usage is just ‘a little more’ light where needed.
    That said, the most used & useful one I own is a lowly Streamlight Microstream. One setting (on), w/a momentary tail switch. No tacticool blinder, but bright enough. One aaa battery. Pocket & hat clip. Just over 1oz. w/battery. Less than $20.
    Nope, I don’t sell them, but I’d send you one if I could figger out how to do so.

  7. Joat says:

    It’s not a terribly expensive light, the Amazon price is a bit inflated, The light can be had for $25. Joel if it don’t work for you I’m not going to be offended, it isn’t the simplest user interface ever but it does grow on you.

    I can’t see a use for ‘tactical’ strobes on most lights this one included,if it was going to be any use it would have to be the first or only mode on the light, I have a light setup like this but I’ve never used it on anyone so I don’t know if it will work any better that just a really bright light.

    I might have an issue with that cult thing. My current carry light is more or less the same except for being a bit heavier, somewhat brighter with a more complicated UI and a bit of a fire hazard. I like having a light that will light where I’m walking about as well as the full moon, light up a football field like game night, strobe at a variety of frequencies to entertain children* or light paper on fire.

    BTW you missed one enthusiast forum

    *Yes I’m including myself as a child. 🙂

  8. Joel says:

    Really I was just funnin’, and hoped at the time I wasn’t hurting your feelings. For the time, at least, it has joined my belt gear.

  9. Up here (southern Alaska) we do have a bit more need of handheld light than most folks, at least in winter. But I’ve long been an “I like light” sorta guy anyway; during my heavy-travel days, I used to get comments on my openly-carried SureFire 6P all the time.

    I do like a light with both a blinder setting and a low-light-long-runtime setting. The LED revolution has made that possible and even affordable, and in general that makes me happy. I’m with you on the damn switch technology, though…jeez, what’s wrong with a simple pushbutton tailcap that you simply press lightly for low-beam and a little harder for max power? If I’m reading things right, there are a lot of “tactical lights” out there which use buttons which are “push once for low, and twice for high”, or “push and hold for high”, or something even more complex. WTF? (If I’m thinking of the light as a potential defensive tool, that makes absolutely no sense to me. I never need low-beam in a hurry, but on the other hand, as a momentary-blindness tool, I’d very specifically want to go from zero to more-than-you-can-handle in no time flat.)

    The light I carry with me most often now is a Fenix that I was given as a gift, and it sounds a lot like yours with the five or seven brightness settings or whatever it is. I like it in spite of the switchery because it has proven itself handy in both low and high output modes. The blinder setting is truly amazing, against that first “performance light” 6P I got all those years ago (and which is still going strong despite a lot of abuse), although honestly I suspect the 6P’s original 65-lumen output–hot stuff in its early days–is still probably “enough” to serve the disorientation purpose. And it’s compact–not so much so that I can’t use it with gloves (important up here), but distinctly friendlier than either the 6P or an old 2AA Maglite.

    On the incandescent vs. LED question, I’m a bit torn. LEDs are the clear winners in battery life and theoretically they are tougher, but I know what my 6P has been through, and its original bulb is certainly “tough enough” for my definition. Also, I find incandescent light easier on the eyes when used to work by.

    And personally, I love the CR123 batteries, if only for their cold-weather performance–which is no joke. I am warming (so to speak) to other options for something I carry on my body at all times, or something like a headlamp, since that’s never going to get really cold, but the handheld lights that live in the car, or anywhere else that might see a lot of subzero–yeah, those will run 123s, because I know they’ll light when I need ’em.

  10. Nosmo says:

    I’ve carried a tube of dark repellant for years, both as a necessary tool of the trade and merely as a useful convenience. One day when a main breaker failed at (secure location redacted) it turned out I was the only one present with the capability to supply a sufficient number of photons to allow egress through pitchblack halls and stairways. (You’d think that would be an object lesson, but….)

    Joel, I’ll agree with you on the R123A batteries, but unfortunately with certain equipment it’s the only option. One thing I learned early about LEDs – incandescent lights slowly go dim, LEDs go dark instantly – and stay dark – once battery voltage drops below LED driver threshold. Change batteries on schedule and carry spares.

    I can’t fathom the multitude of lighting options on some flashlights; I don’t want to take an engineering course, I want to press a button and have bright $@#ing light. Too many expensive high end flashlights have too many options, and not enough have a shit-simple “on/off” pushbutton (Surefire, this means you…).

  11. Anonymous says:

    I like the 9 volt battery PAL flashlight. The LED is not very bright, but the locate beacon (always a faint light to show its location) has just enough light to do tasks even when not turned on (walking a dim path for example). A single Dura-Cell will last approximately 2 years, but I don’t use it daily like you do. Its small size finds it a home in my hunting bag. I have other flashlights, but that one is often enough.

  12. abnormalist says:

    I’ve always referred to the strobe mode as the “Piss off the wife and give her a migraine” mode.

    Useless for anything except for whats described above

  13. Joat says:

    No hurt feeling Joel, it’s already been more useful there than sitting on my desk here. How does it compare to the Coleman spotlight?

  14. Joel says:

    Well, the Coleman is a big clunky spotlight, so the center of the beam is very bright indeed. If I superimpose the beams of the two lights you can clearly see the three spots in the center of the Coleman beam. But the wider, outer part of the beam, which probably has some very specific name I don’t know, disappears completely when the BLM is on its brightest setting.

    If you keep the BLM on ‘Turbo’ for a minute or more, though, you can feel that battery getting hot through the case. It doesn’t seem happy with a steady diet of ‘Turbo.’

  15. howard says:

    I have known people who put a headlamp with a flasher on their dogs collar when walking it at night so the snowmachines on the side of the road can see it . I”m still carrying a two cell minimag on my belt but use led headlamps all the time for winter chores and even for reading in bed. When I lived in Delta Junction, Alaska and had a recreational dog team we used headlamps with four D cells in a case inside your coat with a wire running to the lamp. (I have seen minus 65 in delta but didn’t go mushing then.)

  16. Dave says:

    Used the flashing mode on my flashlight once to signal another boat when the boat we were on was dead in the water a mile from shore. Sure I could have just used the steady beam, or made the beam flash with my hand in front of it.

  17. joat says:

    The term for light not in the spot is spill, for a bright spot a big reflector is hard to beat. On turbo it should step down to a lower mode before it melts, as long as it isn’t too hot to hold it is fine. It will also step down as the battery drains it should give you lots of warning before going completely dark.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Hmmm. I have never considered myself to have a flashlight addiction. Tho I sometimes look at the display and buy one that I do not really need. But I like to have them handy if the lights go out so I have them laying around all over the place. Guns and flashlights. My wife is tolerant.

    My personal favorite go to light is a UK4AAAled that my work gave me.

    Nice of them as I would never spend that much on a flashlight.

  19. jed says:

    I don’t consider myself a flashlight junkie. If I were a flashlight junkie, I’d at least have an account at Candlepower Forums. Which I don’t. That said, last I counted, I came up with 13 flashlights, and then later remembered some I’d missed, so I estimate I have at least 15, but almost certainly fewer than 20. Only one of them is a 500 lumen job, and that’s the brightest one. Most of them are very utilitarian. I have more Maglights than anything else, with Fenix a close 2nd. And yes, my Fenix lights will tail-stand.

    I spent a lot of time reading reviews and pondering the “operating system” of various lights, before I bought the Nightcore SRT-3. Yes, they refer to the various clicky / rotate / press-hold combinations as an operating system. I won’t go into the various other virtues of the SRT-3, because it’d bore almost everyone to tears, but by my yardstick, it has a very high value/money ratio. And I think it put whatever flashlight lust I was harboring into remission. I’m not pondering any more purchases, except 1 or 2 or 3 weapon lights, but not in any hurry on #2 and #3.

    However, I am, in general, a gadget freak. Fortunately, I can’t afford to really feed that. But I expect the flashlight bug to bite again some day.

    Part of my reason for having lots of them is, 1 in the car, two in my day bag, another in the med kit, one on my dresser, etc. I’ll say one thing, I never have to look for a flashlight.

  20. Who...Me? says:

    Ya jed I do not like to have to look far for one either…or a gun.

  21. Joat says:

    Jed you aren’t a junkie yet, I stopped counting at 15 in reach here that doesn’t count the two in my pockets, or the 4 or 5 in my laptop bag, and there are more around. I’m far enough gone that I build my own lights and program the interface for my use.

  22. abnormalist says:

    The part about that this that makes me feel like a junkie is that this morning my daily carry light (Rayovac sportsmans 3 mode cr123 x2) suffered battery death. I keep the spare batteries in the garage and didnt want to go out there this morning. I reached into the flashlight cupboard to grab the spare (cheap chinese ultrafire 7w cree light) to find that it was missing. Dang kids.

    Had to grab the much older energizer 3w 2xAA light I got as one of my first nicer LED flashlights years ago…

    then I come back here, and realize “Crap, I really do have a flashlight cupboard”

    sure, the most expensive one in there was like $30, but still, theres a pile of photon blasters in there ranging from things for the kids to play with to melt your freaking eyes…

  23. Geodkyt says:

    The flashing mode makes sense for two, and only two, purposes.

    1. Signalling. It really draws the eye, especially if you’re being searched for by air.

    2. To disorient and blind an opponent while giving you enough light to shoot by, if it flashes brighty enough, fast enough. I’ve used it in force on force, and it *does* work really well. But it’s better saved for a dedicated and mounted weapons light, it needs to be the default setting (or at least set so it is the default, not something you have to “click through” or “double cluth” the switch to get to), and it needs to be on a momentary switch. But it does absolutely ruin the night vision of whoever it is pointed at (and their eyes *instinctively* go to the flashy thing – see “Signaling”, above, but doesn’t adversely affect the guy *behind* the light. 😉 ). Unfortunately, almost all weapon lights that have a flash mode have a secret handshake you have to go through to get the flash mode.

  24. Geodkyt says:

    Sorry for the typos – typing on a phone, the font size is between “micro” and “nano”… LOL

  25. Joat says:

    Geodkyt, that’s why building lights where you can control the driver and software is useful, I can build a single mode blinky light, I’ve got one on my desk here that has a forward clicky switch (it comes on before it goes click) I could swap it for a momentary switch, it starts in fast disorientating strobe, if you tap the button from off you can get steady high mid and low, but you have to do it intonationally, if you just hit the button you get strobe. I should make or buy a shot gun mount for that light. If I ever get a carry pistol with a rail I’ll have to build a little rail light that works the same.

  26. jed says:

    Someone, Klarus? Olight? has a light with both a tail switch and a side button, and IIRC, one or the other engages the strobe without needing to cycle through settings. Olight, I think.

  27. ToyKeeper says:

    “Documentation Guy went off his meds today…”

    LOL. Documentation Girl, actually. I made the code and docs for the BLF-A6. Thanks for the funny and entertaining post. 🙂

    I found this page because I looked up “flashlight cult”. I can’t say I’m terribly surprised that the first hit took me to an article about something I made. ;P

  28. Joel says:

    Hi, ToyKeeper! Hope my bit’o’fun didn’t offend you. For the record that flash is still on my belt (that belt clip really was useless and very soon flew off, but I wrapped some Gorilla Tape around the light to fit the pouch) and it’s one of my favorite things. Never found a purpose for any of those flashy modes, though…

    Also for the record I wrote an apology for the mockery just the next morning.

  29. ToyKeeper says:

    No apology needed. I thought it was a funny post. 🙂 … and people assuming I’m a guy is unfortunately common when I’m doing tech stuff. 🙁

    Anyway, I appreciate it when people are playful. Don’t lose that. And, yeah, the A6 clip was a disappointment. Nearly everything about the A6 got downgraded when it went to full production.

To the stake with the heretic!