Transcript : Author – David
Topic : Flashlight Battery Types
Flashlight Battery Types
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An important thing to think about when you’re looking at flashlights or when you’re just planning any kind of outdoor excursion is what kind of batteries are you going to depend on? Now, a lot of people think that batteries are basically all the same and this couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s actually many different kinds of battery chemistries, which yield different advantages and disadvantages, but for flashlights there’s only a handful of really significant contenders and those are the ones we’re going to be talking about right now.
First, I’m going to be talking about the CR123 class of battery. Now, the CR123 is the smallest, about half the size of the other batteries I’m talking about so anytime that you need to use these batteries you’re using double the number as the others. This makes it sound like it’s more expensive or something, but in fact it’s the opposite. Each of these batteries costs one or two dollars on its own so you could buy yourself a $15 or $20 battery or you could buy two little versions for about $4.
Why not get the CR123 batteries for your best tactical flashlight? I think that the big reason for me is that their capacity is just so low. Don’t get me wrong. It could be nice to have some CR123s as backup batteries, but for one thing their capacity is just not very good. They’re just not going to last as long as other batteries. Part of the reason that they’re so cheap is that they are not rechargeable. Once you’ve used up the charge in a CR123, that’s it. Throw that away. Well, don’t actually throw it away. Take it to a battery disposal facility.
Once you’ve completely used up that battery, now you’ve got to buy more batteries. That’s something that can be frustrating. I think we all have enough errands to run and enough small chores to do without also having to worry about picking up new batteries each month. Unless you’re planning to use your flashlight very little, to the point where you can justify running down the batteries only a few times in the course of the entire duration of your ownership of the light, then I would say that the CR123 battery is probably not what you’re looking for.
Like I said, good replacement battery, good for having some cheap spares sitting around in case you’re on a camping trip or something and your batteries run out and you don’t have any place you can go to charge them. In that case, having some CR123s handy just to get you through, that could be nice. That’s a good reason then to pick some up and have some cheap spares ready to go for those emergency situations, just for situations where you ended up needing to use more battery power than you thought you would in a place where it’s not convenient to recharge. As far as using them as your main source of power for flashlights that you regularly use, I wouldn’t recommend it because it looks cheaper at the beginning, but over time the cost of repeatedly buying those batteries is going to add up.
That brings us to our actual two main classes of batteries and I think the one that most people are familiar with is the AA. A lot of flashlights actually still use AAs, especially American made lights and there’s nothing wrong with that. The AA battery is still a very solid battery. Many of them are rechargeable these days and that’s really cool. The only issue there is that they are heavier. It’s more mass for less energy. A AA battery is about the same size as an 18650 battery, a little smaller, but it’s about the same size and it’s heavier and it doesn’t have as much charge to it. Even if it’s rechargeable, you do end up recharging more often.
Add to that, that you’re just not going to get the same drain from it. There’s high drain 18650 batteries that are going to give you a lot of light out of any flashlight and the AAs are probably not going to be able to match and that’s why the AAs are typically reserved for lesser power flashlights. If you have a flashlight that is able to run both, I mean there’s no reason not to have some AAs around if you need that for spare batteries. You probably want to consider using 18650 batteries for your main one.
Now, in my opinion the best tactical flashlights use Lithium Ion 18650 batteries. Any flashlight that uses 18650 batteries will also be compatible, first of all, with CR123 batteries. You know that you’re going to be able to pick up some cheap [inaudible 00:05:40] the battery chemistry is more or less the same. What’s great about an 18650 flashlight as opposed to a flashlight that depends on traditional AAs is that the 18650 flashlight, those batteries are going to last longer. I mean, we’re repeating ourselves here, but the 18650 Lithium Ion battery just has the ability to hold more charge than an Alkaline AA.
This really matters because a lot of these tactical flashlights are very high lumen. Just a few years ago it was impressive to have 3 or 400 lumens and now you have flashlights, they’re coming out with 1,000 lumens and 1,50 lumens and 2,000 lumens, and 3,000 lumens. The brightness on a lot of these high-end flashlights is getting insane. To achieve that brightness, you’re going to need one of those higher drain 1860 batteries. They’re just the best battery in mass production for the job.
Add to that the fact that they are rechargeable. This is extremely convenient when you’ve got your high powered flashlight, you’re using it regularly. Eventually you’re going to run down whatever battery you use. Having a rechargeable battery in there is a big deal. I have friends who use flashlights at home and they’re rechargeable and that’s super convenient. You’re doing your thing with the flashlight up until light starts to dim and then you plug it in for a couple of hours and we’re good to go again for another few weeks.
Batteries that rechargeable is a must for me. I think that to get the full potential out of any flashlight that you get, you want to include that rechargeable function and 18650 batteries do that better. Add to that, that not only are 18650 batteries more powerful than AAs and yield more light, some 18650s are so powerful they’re more powerful than other 18650s.
Talking about these really bright flashlights, part of that issue is that to get that really high level of brightness, a regular 18650 won’t even be enough. You’re going to need a very powerful high drain 18650. For a 2000 lumen flashlight, they’re just the upper limit right now of what an 18650 battery can do, you’re going to need a high drain version of that battery. If brightness is important to you, then you definitely need to pay attention what kind of battery a flashlight uses because that’s a big indicator of how powerful the light is going to be.
Another great thing about Lithium Ion batteries, just to cap this off, is that they are a little bit more resistant to temperature change. Alkaline batteries have a stricter spectrum in which they will work. Lithium Ion batteries can work in a much wider range of temperatures. If you’re camping and it’s somewhere really cold it’s probably going to be more dependable than if you brought some AAs. If you’re camping and it’s really hot it’s the same story. This is especially important, again, when we’re talking about these higher brightness level flashlights because a lot of them can get very hot.
They’re getting better and better about venting them, about building in temperature sensors, doing everything they can to control the heat, but the truth is that if you’re generating a lot of light, you’re generating a lot of heat. The flashlight itself is going to heat up and you want a battery that you know is going to be able to stand up to that, not just for economical reasons because you want the battery to survive, but even for safety ones. That is a property of Lithium Ion battery chemistry is that it is better at holding up to higher temperatures.
If you’re looking for the best tactical flashlight, look at the battery because if it’s using a Lithium Ion 18650 battery, then that is in the right tier of flashlight for you. It’s going to be one of the tough bright flashlights because they felt it needed a tough and powerful battery. AAs are okay. CR123s are nice as spares, but if you’re looking to get the brightest tactical flashlight you can, then it’s almost certainly going to be using, if not 18650s, which is the most common size of Lithium Ion battery, it will definitely be using some battery with Lithium Ion chemistry.