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Updated Apr 18, 2022 5:03 PM

In the mountains of northwest Montana, the rains of spring are washing away memories of fresh-powder skiing and days spent snowshoeing under clear blue skies as winter slowly releases its grip on Flathead Valley. While the peaks of the Lewis range will remain crowned with snow for many months, it’s time to begin making plans for summer. The anticipation of days spent camping in the backcountry steadily grows as sunlight lingers a bit longer each passing day.

The seasoned adventurer will make good use of the remaining days of spring to carefully review, maintain, and if appropriate, upgrade their kit to ensure maximum enjoyment in the field.  Despite the longer days and warmer nights, a key piece of gear for any camping endeavor is the humble, but essential, flashlight.

In this article, we will cover in depth the best camping flashlights. To facilitate the discussion and narrow the field of possibilities to a more manageable size, we will consider only vehicle-dependent camping scenarios, which presumes that weight is not a major consideration and external power sources are available to some degree.

Methodology

From illuminating things that go bump in the night to telling ghost stories by the fire, the camping flashlight must fulfill many roles. While it may be tempting to buy something inexpensive and expedient at the nearest big box store, we will take a more measured approach, and define five key requirements for the best camping flashlight.

  1. LED illumination: There is simply no reason to purchase a flashlight with an incandescent bulb anymore. LEDs are brighter, more efficient, and will last thousands of hours longer than any other bulb design.
  1. Variable output: A light that can produce 1,000, 2,000, or even more lumens at full power is certainly impressive; however, many situations such as reading a good book under the stars or answering the call of nature at 2 a.m. warrant a much lower level of illumination. Accordingly, we will focus on flashlights that provide multiple brightness settings, ideally ones that offer three orders of magnitude in brightness range (e.g., 1,000 lumens to one lumen).
  1. Field-rechargeable: Non-rechargeable batteries are expensive and environmentally wasteful, and carrying spare batteries takes up unnecessary space. We will focus on flashlights that use Li-ion which can be recharged using a standard USB-A connector.  Our vehicle-dependent camping scenario ensures that the flashlight can be recharged via a USB port within the vehicle itself or using a standalone battery pack of the type used to charge smartphones and other mobile devices.
  1. Rugged construction: Whether rattling around in an empty ammo can or being dropped on granite, camping flashlights can really take a beating. We will focus on lights made from durable materials such as aircraft grade aluminum or rugged polymers.
  1. Ingress protection (IP): Protection against dust, mud, rain, snow, and the occasional drop in an alpine lake is a key requirement. We’ll stop short of going into dive light territory, but ingress protection is essential.

Satisfying all of these requirements will mean a focus on the higher end of the price range for flashlights, but based on our experience here at Task & Purpose, it is generally preferred to “buy once, cry once” by purchasing a quality product that lasts for many years of vigorous use.

Best Overall

In 1927, the American Ever-Ready Company introduced the #2697 Official Boy Scout flashlight, which was the very first outdoor flashlight on the market with a right-angle head. A few years later, the U.S. military adopted this light as the model TL-122. Since then, the right-angle flashlight has become a staple piece of kit for scouts, warfighters, firefighters, industrial workers, and just about anyone else who needs to work in the field at night.

The Fenix HM61R can trace its lineage directly back to these early predecessors and inherits the flexibility of the original design. The HM61R can be clipped to a belt, MOLLE webbing, or harness. It can also be worn as a headlamp using the included headband or attached to any convenient metallic surface via the magnetic end cap. At less than four ounces in weight and four inches in length, the HM61R is compact and reliable with a durable aluminum chassis and an IP68 dust and water resistance rating.

The SST40 white LED can provide as much as 1,200 lumens of light on the highest setting for two hours or as little as five lumens for up to 400 hours. Additionally, the HM61R has an auxiliary red LED that is exceptionally useful for preserving the user’s nightvision. Unfortunately, the shallow reflector depth of the right-angle head does reduce the peak beam intensity compared to more conventional designs and, as such, the HM61R has the shortest peak beam distance at only 145 meters of all the lights we evaluated.

Recharging the 3500 mAh Li-ion 18650 battery is a simple matter of attaching one end of the provided magnetic charging cable to the waterproof port on the light’s exterior and the other end to a standard USB-A port. This allows the HM61R to be recharged using any portable power bank of the type used to recharge cell phones and other mobile devices.

For its proven design, adaptability, ease of charging, range of illumination, and multi-color output modes, we consider the HM61R to be the best overall flashlight for camping.

Product Specs
  • Settings: Turbo, high, medium, low, eco (white) and medium, low, flash (red)
  • Brightness (lumens): 1,200 / 400 / 150 / 50 / 5 (white) or 5 / 1 / 1 (red)
  • Runtimes (hours): 2 / 4 / 12 / 38 / 400 (white) or 80 / 400 / 160 (red)
  • Peak beam intensity (candela): 5287
  • Peak beam distance (meters): 145
  • Battery: 18650 @ 3400 mAh
  • Ingress protection (IP) rating: IP68 (2 meters for 30 minutes)
  • Length: 3.98 inches
  • Diameter: 1.81 inches
  • Weight: 3.51 ounces (w/o battery)
PROS

Proven, flexible right-angle design

Both white and red output

Magnetic recharging port

CONS

Less runtime than lights with a larger battery

Low peak beam intensity compared to other lights

Best Value

The Nitecore MH11 is a capable entry-level light that offers great value to campers on a limited budget. With a feature set that would have been considered top-of-the line in years past, the MH11 provides four brightness settings ranging from 1,000 to three lumens via a single CREE XP-L2 V6 LED powered by a 2,600 mAh 18,650 Li-ion battery. The MH11 can also use two CR123A or RCR123 batteries as well, offering “dual fuel” flexibility, although the light cannot recharge either of these types of batteries.

At the highest setting, the MH11 can illuminate objects up to 190 meters away for over two hours. At the lowest setting, the MH11 provides just three lumens of output for more than 250 hours, making it ideal to perform many mundane camp tasks such as working inside a shelter or vehicle without compromising the user’s night vision.

The chassis is aerospace-grade aluminum with an anodized finish and provides an IP68 dust and water resistance rating thanks to O-ring seals and a cover over the USB-C recharging port. The estimated recharging time is 2.25 hours with a 5V / 2A USB-A power source.

Unlike other designs, the MH11 has a single tailcap switch that allows access to all brightness settings. Fully depress the switch to activate the last used setting, or half-press the switch to cycle through each of the four brightness levels in turn.

Affordable, flexible, and easy to operate, the MH11 is a solid contender for anyone in search of a reliable camping flashlight.

Product Specs
  • Settings: Turbo, high, medium, low
  • Brightness (lumens): 1,000 / 230 / 50 / 3
  • Runtimes (hours): 2.25 / 4.25 / 20.75 / 250
  • Peak beam intensity (candela): 9,150
  • Peak beam distance (meters): 190
  • Battery: 18650 @ 2600 mAh
  • Ingress protection (IP) rating: IP68 (2 meters for 30 minutes)
  • Length: 5.1 inches
  • Diameter: 0.9 inches
  • Weight: 2.1 ounces (w/o battery)
PROS

Excellent performance to value

Good output range for a variety of tasks

Multiple battery options

CONS

Lower-capacity battery

Editor’s Choice

The PD40R V2.0 is the latest iteration in the Fenix “Professional Duty” line of flashlights. Powered by a single 5000 mAh 21700 battery, the PD40R has five brightness settings ranging from 3,000 lumens at the highest level to 30 lumens on low, as well as a 2,500 lumen strobe option. The excellent design of the Luminus SST70 LED and reflector is capable of illuminating objects over 400 meters away at full output under optimal conditions.

As with all Fenix lights, the chassis is made of A6061 T-6 aerospace-grade aluminum with a Type III hard anodized finish to ensure a lifetime of dependable service. A USB-C recharging port is built into the body of the flashlight and is protected by a rubber dust cover to prevent dust and water ingress.

The standout feature of the PD40R is the control ring interface, which allows the user to select the operating mode by rotating a ring located on the head of the flashlight. This can be accomplished while wearing gloves, although the knurling on the control ring may not be sufficiently aggressive enough to consistently select the desired setting on the first attempt.

If a tailcap switch isn’t a key feature or you anticipate frequently operating your light while wearing gloves, then the PD40R is a great choice for a rechargeable camping light.

Product Specs
  • Settings: Turbo, high, medium, low, strobe
  • Brightness (lumens): 3,000 / 1,000 / 350 / 30 / 2,500
  • Runtimes (hours): 2.4 / 3.1 / 8.3 / 88.1 / not specified
  • Peak beam intensity (candela): 40576
  • Peak beam distance (meters): 400
  • Battery: 21700 @ 5000 mAh (each)
  • Ingress protection (IP) rating: IP68 (2 meters for 30 minutes)
  • Length: 5.4 inches
  • Diameter: 1.3 inches
  • Weight: 4.1 ounces (w/o battery)
PROS

Outstanding peak beam intensity and distance

Innovative control ring design

Operable while wearing gloves

CONS

Strobe mode easily activated

No lock-out option

Most Powerful

Many common outdoor activities require a flashlight. For some activities though, nothing less than a photon cannon will suffice. If your outdoor pursuits involve search and rescue, waterborne navigation, or wrangling an entire scout troop, then the Fenix LR35R is the proper tool.

The LR35R packs twin 21700 Li-ion batteries rated at 4000 mAh each to drive six SST40 LEDs that produce a combined 10,000 lumens of output capable of illuminating objects up to 500 meters away. All of this power is contained in a rugged A6061-T6 Type III hard-anodized housing that is extremely compact at an overall length of 5.5 inches and and just two inches in diameter at the bezel.

The power pack can be fully recharged in only 3.5 hours via an external USB-C port and the provided USB-C to USB-A cable; however, an external power adapter (not included) rated at 5V/3A is required to charge at the full rate.

With six brightness settings ranging from full power to only 50 lumens, the LR35R is flexible enough for a variety of camp and field chores, although it’s unlikely to be the best choice for reading a good book by the campfire. Setting selection is performed using a single switch on the side of the light which also doubles as the battery charge indicator. A lockout feature is also provided to prevent accidental activation when the light is carried or stored in a pack.

If harnessing the power of a star is your primary requirement for a camping flashlight, the Fenix LR35R will not disappoint.

Product Specs
  • Settings: Turbo, high, medium, low, eco, strobe
  • Brightness (lumens): 10,000 / 3,000 / 1,200 / 450 / 50 / 10,000
  • Runtimes (hours): 1.4 / 1.6 / 3.25 / 8.3 / 80 / not specified
  • Peak beam intensity (candela): 63200
  • Peak beam distance (meters): 500
  • Battery: Two 21700 @ 4000 mAh (each)
  • Ingress protection (IP) rating: IP68 (2 meters for 30 minutes)
  • Length: 5.5 inches
  • Diameter: 2.0 inches
  • Weight: 8.4 ounces (w/o battery)
PROS

Excellent brightness and output range

Compact form factor

CONS

Low-power mode is too bright

Expensive

Best Tail Switch

The Thrunite TT20 is a quality handheld light capable of generating over 2,500 lumens of brightness with a peak beam distance of more than 250 meters at the highest setting, to just 0.5 lumens in firefly mode. The aluminum T6061-T6 chassis is finished with a Type III hard anodized coating and is rated IPX8 for water resistance. Interestingly, of all the flashlights we evaluated, only the TT20 is not rated for dust resistance.

The 5000 mAh 21700 battery cell provides competitive runtimes compared to other flashlights in this category; however, the battery uses a proprietary design for the positive terminal which will likely preclude the use of third-party batteries with this light. Relying on a sole-source supplier for the TT20’s battery may be a significant concern for some users.

The TT20 can be operated using either the tactical tail switch or a selector switch on the side of the light which also serves as a battery charge indicator. To change brightness settings, hold the selector switch and the light will smoothly cycle from infinity high to infinity low. Turbo mode is accessed by double-clicking the side switch or pressing the tail switch. The strobe mode is activated by triple-clicking the side switch. A long press of the selector switch will activate the firefly setting, and holding the selector switch will activate a lockout mode to prevent accidental battery discharge.

A USB-C charging port with protective cover is located on the side of the light. Charging is accomplished using the provided USB-C to USB-A cable and any USB power source.

Product Specs
  • Settings: Turbo, infinity high, infinity low, firefly, strobe
  • Brightness (lumens): 2,526 / 1,468 / 31 / 0.54 / 1,294
  • Runtimes (hours): 4 / 4 / 90 / 1536 / 6.5
  • Peak beam intensity (candela): 16,650
  • Peak beam distance (meters): 258
  • Battery: 21700 @ 5000 mAh
  • Ingress protection (IP) rating: IPX8 (2 meters for 30 minutes)
  • Length: 5.35 inches
  • Diameter: 1.2 inches
  • Weight: 3.5 ounces (w/o battery)
PROS

Easy access to firefly setting

CONS

Proprietary battery

Not rated for dust resistance

Best Tactical Practical

The Nitecore P20iX is a tactical flashlight with a secondary user profile that makes it a viable choice for civilian applications such as camping and field craft. With a choice of six brightness settings ranging from 4,000 lumens to just two lumens, the P20iX is exceptionally versatile; however, beam intensity suffers due to a reflector design which incorporates four separate CREE XP-L2 V6 LED’s instead of a single larger LED and deeper reflector. As such, the P20iX can only illuminate objects up to 220 meters at the maximum brightness setting.

Powered by a 5000 mAh 21700 battery, the P20iX has comparable runtimes to other lights in this category, but can also use 2x CR123A batteries with an included adapter. A USB-C charging port with a protective cover is located on the side of the light and the entire light is rated at IP68 for dust and water resistance.

A key feature of the P20iX is the incorporation of two tail cap switches in lieu of the more common tail cap and side switch seen on most competitors’ products. A large offset tail cap switch is used to turn the light on and off, with a half-press providing momentary on and a full press activating constant on. In “daily” (i.e., non-tactical) mode, the P20iX will default to the last brightness setting used. Pressing the second, crescent-shaped tail cap switch changes the brightness settings (one level per click) or immediately activates the 4,000 lumen turbo setting (press and hold).

As part of its tactical pedigree, the P20iX includes a stainless steel crenelated strike bezel with three embedded silicon nitride ceramic beads for use when breaking glass. The light is also available with a range of accessories such as a holster, Picatinny rail mount, and a remote pressure pad; however, if these capabilities are needed during your camping trip, we recommend relocating to a different campground.

Product Specs
  • Settings: Turbo, higher, high, mid, low, ultralow, strobe
  • Brightness (lumens): 4,000 / 1,700 / 850 / 300 / 50 / 2 / 4,000
  • Runtimes (hours): 0.5 / 2 / 2.5 / 7.25 / 38 / 350 / not specified
  • Peak beam intensity (candela): 12200
  • Peak beam distance (meters): 220
  • Battery: 21700 @ 5000 mAh (each)
  • Ingress protection (IP) rating: IP68 (2 meters for 30 minutes)
  • Length: 5.57 inches
  • Diameter: 1.25 inches
  • Weight: 4.1 ounces (w/o battery)
PROS

Dual user profiles for both tactical and traditional use

Dual tail cap switch allows easy access to all settings

CONS

Low beam intensity despite 4000 lumen brightness

No lock-out mode

Our verdict on camping flashlights

While many of us at Task & Purpose have fond memories of camping with just a plastic D-cell flashlight from K-mart, it’s safe to say that flashlight technology has advanced significantly since those halcyon days of yesteryear. Efficient LED emitters, computer-designed reflectors, and high-capacity batteries have created a revolution in lighting technology. Our top three picks, the Fenix HM61R, Nitecore MH11, and Fenix PD40R represent the most versatile, best value, and editor’s choice, respectively, and cover a multitude of use cases.  

The Fenix HM61R was selected for extreme versatility in both methods of use and modes of illumination. The author uses a light of similar design in nearly all outdoor pursuits for this very reason.

The Nitecore MH11 is a solid, middle-of-the-road contender for budget-conscious buyers at roughly half the price of all the other lights that we reviewed.

The Fenix PD40R won our editor’s choice selection for design efficiency both in terms of ease of operation and the performance of the LED, reflector, lens, and power regulator, which combined, convert 3,000 lumens of potential brightness to a peak beam intensity of over 40,000 candela, the second highest rating of all the lights that we reviewed. For more details on this, please refer to the section on luminous flux versus luminous intensity below.  

As always, we welcome feedback from each of you, our valued readers and fellow outdoor enthusiasts. Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts with us.

What to consider when buying a camping flashlight

In addition to the requirements outlined above, it’s important to keep the following factors in mind when selecting a camping flashlight.

Luminous flux vs luminous intensity

Most flashlights are marketed based on their advertised brightness in lumens; however, this is misleading, usually intentionally. A lumen is the International System of Units (SI unit) for luminous flux, which is a measure of the total amount of light radiated by a source, but without consideration for angle or distance. 

Consider a point isotropic light source like a candle radiating “x” lumens in all directions. If we place that same candle in front of an ideal reflector, then the brightness of the light perceived by a target in front of the reflector will be considerably higher than before. This characteristic is called luminous intensity, informally called peak beam intensity by manufacturers, and is measured in candela. 

Luminous flux is a characteristic of the source (an LED in the case of camping flashlights) while the ability to convert the light into a focused beam — the luminous intensity — is a function of the reflector design, lens efficiency, and other parameters such as the user’s preference for flood versus spot output.

The table below shows the luminous flux (aka brightness) and luminous intensity (aka peak beam intensity) for all of the lights we reviewed. In the case of the Nitecore P20iX, even though the LED produces 4,000 lumens of output, the target perceives only 12,200 candela, and the light can only illuminate objects 200 meters distant. In contrast, the Fenix PD40R generates only 3,000 lumens of output but is capable of converting that raw light into 40,576 candela, a 230 percent increase with 25 percent less power.

HM61RMH11LR35RPD40RTT20P20iX
Brightness (lumens)11200100010000300025264000
Peak Beam Intensity (cd)5287915063200405761665012200
Peak Beam Distance (m)145190500400258200
Note: The manufacturer’s term “brightness” is more correctly labeled luminous flux

Thermal protection

All of the flashlights we reviewed employ a thermal protection circuit to prevent damage to the LED due to overheating. This is generally a consideration at the higher brightness setting, although prolonged use at medium levels can also activate the circuit. In all cases, the maximum brightness values for each light are specified before the thermal protection circuit begins to ramp down the light output. This generally occurs within 30 seconds to a few minutes depending on the power output, power regulator, and radiator efficiency. The ramp-down curve of the thermal protection circuit for each light can usually be found in the user manual for each light.  

Recharging options

All of the lights we reviewed use either a USB-C port or a sealed magnetic port (as in the case of the Fenix HM61R) for charging. We intentionally excluded flashlights that have legacy USB micro connectors due to the likely near-term obsolescence of these connectors and their slower recharge rates.

Camping flashlight pricing

As with many gear choices, you get what you pay for when it comes to selecting a camping flashlight. That said, due to the rate of change in technology, the budget flashlights of today often have many of the flagship features of just five years ago.

Budget

A quality camping flashlight in this category like the Nitecore MH11 will generally run around $50 at the time of writing. At that price point, buyers can expect to receive an older-generation LED with a brightness of around 1,000 lumens powered by an 18,650 Li-ion battery of 2,500 to 3,500 mAh of capacity. There is generally little correlation between the number of brightness settings and price with all lights offering some form of high-output “turbo” and between two and four dimmer options.

Mid-range

Flashlights in this category will generally feature either flexible form factors and user options like the Fenix HM61R and/or brighter LED’s, better reflectors, and larger 21700 series batteries with longer runtimes. The Fenix PD40R V2.0 is a good example in this category with 3,000 lumens of brightness and a peak beam distance of 400 meters. These lights will generally cost around $100.

Premium

A premium-grade flashlight is generally defined by dramatically higher brightness owing to multiple or improved LEDs with superior reflector designs and multiple 21700 series batteries.  The Fenix LR35R with 10,000 lumens of brightness and a peak beam distance of 500 meters is representative of the premium level in camping flashlights. These lights will generally cost upwards of $200. Even though this article is written for vehicle-dependent camping, it’s worth noting that some users may find the size of such flashlights unwieldy depending on the overall form factor chosen by the designers.

How we choose our top picks 

Our selections for this article are based on field experience with comparable products along with extensive research including reviews of manufacturer specifications, professional publications, product videos, and other sources.   

FAQs on camping flashlights

Q: Why do you need a flashlight for camping?

A: There are a variety of reasons including night hiking, setting up camp, cooking, searching for gear in the dark, and, of course, the ever-popular snipe hunt.

Q: How many lumens do I need for a camping flashlight?

A: While lumens do not directly correlate to peak beam intensity, we recommend at least 1,000 lumens for a camping flashlight.  

Q: How far will 1,000 lumens shine?

A: Lumens do not directly correlate to peak beam intensity; therefore, we recommend looking at the peak beam distance rating for each light and selecting one that can illuminate objects at least 100 meters away.

Q: Why didn’t you review ____ brand?

A: As part of our review process, we carefully reviewed product recalls and safety issues from each manufacturer. Any manufacturers with recent quality issues, especially those related to the thermal protection circuit, were excluded from consideration.

Task & Purpose and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. We independently evaluate gear by putting products in the hands of subject matter experts. The products we test may be purchased by Task & Purpose, our staff, or provided for review by a manufacturer. No matter the source, our testing procedures and our assessments remain free from third-party influence. Learn more about our product review process.

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