One flashlight may not be as good as another when you’re a professional driver.
In order to find the one that best meets your needs, first consider your needs, such as where you think you’ll use it most often and how.
Many years ago, we had a situation that happened to us in the course of our work as professional drivers that made us realize just how important this issue is…
Our Flashlight Story
We graduated from truck driver training school in late 1992, went through separate training periods with driver trainers and were then sent out as a team in February 1993.
Being from the southeastern part of the USA, we were not used to dealing with, let alone driving in, a lot of snow.
So, the weather itself came as a real eye-opener that first winter driving season.
We had a load that needed to be hauled across I-80 west to east.
However, the snow was so bad that we’d heard that the authorities either had or were going to close down the interstate in Wyoming.
In our naïveté, we thought that since I-70 was a lower numbered interstate(!) the possibility of snow would be less and the mountain ranges not as high as on I-80.
So, we drove south only to be greeted with the need to chain up (put chains on our truck’s tires). (This would be the first and only time we ever chained up.)
Anyway, while we were parked on the shoulder on the west side of the mountain range facing east, the snow was coming down and the daylight was quickly fading.
Even as trucking newbies, we had had the foresight to pack a flashlight with us.
Unfortunately, we had not had the foresight to pack extra batteries.
So, the longer our “torch” burned, the dimmer and dimmer our light became.
We believe that the Lord sent an angel along in the form of another trucker who saw our predicament and offered to shine his flashlight under our truck the whole rest of the time while Mike finished putting on the chains. (Whoever you are, thank you for your kindness!)
That situation was a wake-up call for us.
We realized that you can never predict when situations will call for needing additional light — if not for your own situation, then perhaps to help out someone else.
But not all flashlights are equal.
How to Choose the Best Flashlight
Here are some questions to help you determine which one is right for you:
- How much light do you need (in terms of lumens)?
- How big of an area do you need to light (for reading a map book at night or lighting the way before you as you walk in an unlighted area)?
- How do you want or need to carry it or hold it?
- If the flashlight you want has a handle, which aspects are more important that others, such as:
- Will the design of the handle on the flashlight cause user fatigue?
- Should the handle be detachable?
- Where should the handle be located on the device?
- Should the handle have another function, such as a hook (from above) or a prop (on a solid surface)?
- Should you be able to use it in a hands-free way (such as mounted on your head or placed on a surface and angled such that the light shines where you need it)?
- Should it be configured such that it could be hung up (like a lantern)?
- What size or weight restrictions do you have? For example:
- Will you need it to fit down into something, like a pen light down into a shirt pocket?
- Will it easily fit into your truck’s sidebox?
- What is your spending limit?
- What power source should it have (including any battery/batteries, recharger or crank handle)?
- If it is battery-powered, what type of battery/batteries does it take and how expensive are they?
- Can the batteries be recharged and if so, how? (You may want to read our experience with a certain mini-flashlight and how it could not handle rechargeable batteries.)
- What type of bulb(s) do you prefer? How easily and inexpensive will it be to replace the lightbulb(s)?
- What kind of on/off switch should it have? Can you easily press or slide the switch in cold weather wearing gloves?
- Should there be any auxiliary functions built in (such as a radio, weather radio, flashing feature, red lens, etc.)?
- Must it be water resistant or waterproof?
- Is the manufacturer a specialist in flashlight manufacturing or does that matter?
- How rugged is it? Can it withstand the use you’ll give it? Can it withstand being dropped (maybe even multiple times)?
- What sort of warranty does it have?
This photo here shows various types of batteries.
Pen lights usually take “AA” batteries.
Many smaller flashlights use “C” and “D” dry cell batteries.
A “D” dry cell battery is shown at the very bottom.
Then there are also big, heavy lantern batteries, like the one shown here (not to scale).
Heavy duty lantern batteries are quite heavy compared to the other batteries shown here.
You will need to determine if the extra weight is worth it.
The flashlight shown here has a crank handle by which the user can turn or wind the handle to recharge it.
Many lights these days are re-chargeable, simply by plugging their custom adapter them into an A/C electrical outlet.
The most convenient method for recharging Mike’s flashlight was by inverter connected to his truck’s batteries.
There may also be some lights that are recharged by solar power, but we’ve never seen them for sale.
Additional Functions Besides Light
This flashlight has both a crank handle and a radio built in.
Note the antenna.
If you are in an emergency situation, having a radio could come in handy.
However, bear in mind that this is not a two-way radio like a CB.
The Heart of the Device: The Bulb
This is the type of single bulb that you used to find in just about all flashlights.
If your bulb burned out, you were out of light.
Sometimes, you could find replacements in department stores, but not always.
Many torches are now being designed where the single bulb is being replaced by multiple LED bulbs.
This photo shows 9 LED bulbs lit up on a flashlight.
Even if one burns out, you still have 8 as a back up.
Ease of Carrying
This style of flashlight is still very much in use.
It is easy to carry as you’re walking.
You can hold it comfortably in a horizontal position.
But it lacks other features that may be important to you.
Plus, the longer such a flashlight is, the more batteries it will take and the heavier it will be to carry.
Like a Lantern
This light is shaped like a lantern with a handle and flat bottom.
The neat thing about this particular light source is that it can be placed in a variety of positions.
The handle can be positioned
- on top (as shown),
- on the side (for carrying in your hand but showing light ahead), or
- on the bottom (for hanging it in an inverted position).
These are flashlights (sold as “spotlights”) for sale at a truck stop.
Mike once had one of these rechargeable units.
He thinks the reason why it stopped working was because it was dropped one time too many.
Of course, he had had it for 5 years and believes that it served him well.
We used to say that our favorite flashlight was the kind with a crank handle.
Even though it was a pain to crank it sufficiently to make it work (or provide a brighter light), we knew that it always produce light.
This kind of flashlight has its limitations and it isn’t meant to continually be used for “work.”
Since this article was first written, our favorite flashlight has to be one that can safely use rechargeable batteries, such as those sold by Amazon.com, with whom we have an affiliate relationship.
Money saving tip: While it may be difficult to know in advance the size or brightness of a light that you’ll need, don’t overbuy.
For example, why buy a 6.5 million candle spotlight when a 1 million or 2 million candle spotlight will work?
There’s no benefit in spending more if you don’t need it.
As a general rule, truck stop chains sell similar products within a chain.
You can expect that what you will find at one truck stop, you will find at another.
Many truck stops sell products at a premium price.
Determine what features you like and see if you can find a similar unit at a retail store for less.
Of course, if you find a good buy at a truck stop (such as one that is on a super-duper sale), feel free to snap it up.
However, investigate the reason why a unit has a reduced price.
For example, was it re-manufactured or has the box been badly mangled (which is evidence that the unit has been handled a lot)?
In addition to looking at the warranty, look for any restrictions on returns at the store where you purchase your unit.