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Published Jan. 9, 2020

There are a bunch of good reasons to keep a flashlight in your car. Suppose you get a flat on the highway at night, and your phone’s dinky flashlight isn’t giving you the visibility you need to change the tire—and the battery’s dying. Or maybe you got lost on the way to the campsite and arrived in pitch darkness. Perhaps you just need to find something that fell under your car seat.

Regardless of the reason, it pays to have a portable, powerful AA flashlight among the tools you carry on every drive. We’ve listed some of the best below.

The Best AA Flashlight

Portland-based Coast has been building tools for work and play for more than 100 years, ever since its founder invented a better knife for salmon fishermen on the Oregon Coast. Today, it’s best known for headlamps and flashlights, including this powerful LED unit that’s available very little money.

On a single AA battery, Coast’s HP1 LED flashlight shines at 190 lumens, which is better than many more expensive models. It can be adjusted from a 90-degree flood beam to a single focused point with a long beam distance that still lights up with an appreciable amount of spill. It’s small enough to carry in your jeans pocket (and comes with a handy clip) but also makes a great tactical mount. It’s also backed by a lifetime warranty.

Key Features
  • Adjustable 190-lumen beam
  • Focus beam one-handed with a slide control
  • Takes AA, NiMH, or lithium ion batteries
  • Pocket clip
Specification
  • Brand COAST
  • Model HP1
  • Weight 2.24 oz
PROS

Small and light

Strong beam, even with AA battery

Highly affordable quality with lifetime warranty

CONS

Occasionally gives out

Switch difficult for some users to operate

Beam doesn’t always hit 190 lumens as rated

If you’re in the market for a high-quality, impact-resistant flashlight, Dorcy’s waterproof LED flashlight offers superior value for your money. Rated for 55 lumens and lasting more than eight hours without needing to change the batteries, the Dorcy 41-2510 features a watertight construction that floats if you drop it in water.

It also comes with a carabiner tail clip, which, combined with its toughness, makes this flashlight a solid choice for outdoor adventures. It’s simple to use; however, this is a double-edged sword, as there are no options for focusing or adjusting the beam—the only control is an on-off tail switch. While the price is very good, 55 lumens really isn’t that bright. But as long as you know what you’re paying for, Dorcy’s waterproof LED flashlight is a great option.

Key Features
  • 4 LED bulbs shining at 55 lumens
  • 8 hours and 45 minutes of battery life
  • 3 AA batteries included
  • Waterproof and floats in water
Specification
  • Brand Dorcy
  • Model 41-2510
  • Weight 4.5 oz
PROS

Tough construction

Easy to grip and use

Long battery life

Affordable price

CONS

No adjustability

Beam isn’t very bright

Requires more batteries than some other models

Streamlight’s latest ProTac model offers a good combination of flexibility and power. With high, medium, low, and strobe modes and the ability to run on multiple sizes of alkaline and lithium batteries, this is a tactical product that’s useful for a wide variety of purposes, and you don’t have to be a Navy SEAL to get value out of it.

The different settings shine with anywhere from 40 to 350 lumens. Other features of note include the aluminum casing that renders the flashlight waterproof down to 1 meter and the 50,000-hour lifetime of the LED bulb.

Key Features
  • High, medium, low, and strobe options
  • 40 to 350 lumens, depending on the setting
  • Accepts alkaline or lithium batteries
  • Waterproof aluminum body
Specification
  • Brand Streamlight
  • Model 88061
  • Weight 4.8 oz
PROS

Extremely durable

LED bulb itself lasts a long time

Very bright at highest setting

CONS

Short battery life at highest settings

No low battery indicator

High price

Maglite’s Mini Incandescent model may not look very powerful, but there’s a lot wrapped up in its small package. The first thing that stands out is its American-made durability—it’s built to withstand drops, spills, and corrosion, along with all the other damage adventures, housework, and auto repair might do to it.

The Maglite Mini Incandescent boasts a 325-foot beam distance, but the feature we really like is “candle mode,” which lets it convert easily into a freestanding light. There’s also an extra bulb hidden in the tail cap in case the first one burns out.

Key Features
  • 325-foot beam
  • Converts into freestanding candle mode
  • Compact design
Specification
  • Brand Maglite
  • Model Mini Incandescent
  • Weight 3.78 oz
PROS

Durable American construction

Fits into any kind of carrying case

Spare lamp included

CONS

Batteries burn out quickly

Low-lumen beam

Sometimes flickers in and out

GearLight’s S2000 is a bulkier, heavier, and more expensive model than most of the AA flashlights we’ve listed so far, but what it lacks in portability, it makes up for in power. Its LED bulb emits up to 1,200 lumens—and that’s not a theoretical rating. They all go that high.

Other perks of the GearLight S2000 include its adjustable focus, which lets you spill those 1,200 lumens across a 90-degree area or shine a single beam up to 1,000 feet. It also has five settings—high, medium, low, strobe, and SOS—for every eventuality. The S2000 is also water-resistant (though not for very long) and can survive being dropped up to 10 feet.

Key Features
  • Emits up to 1,200 lumens
  • Five settings, and adjustable from focused beam to wide spill
  • One-year return policy
Specification
  • Brand GearLight
  • Model S2000
  • Weight 11.2 oz
PROS

Extremely bright beam

Tough exterior casing

Settings make it versatile for all purposes

CONS

Takes four batteries (not included) and burns out quickly

Bulkier than other AA flashlights

Susceptible to overheating

The third iteration of the ThruNite Archer 1A flashlight is a more costly investment at first but cheap to use over the long run. Everything about this high-quality flashlight is built for economy, from its small size and weight to its ability to hit 200 lumens on a single alkaline battery.

The ThruNite Archer is a great all-around AA flashlight—lightweight, surprisingly bright, and featuring an emergency strobe. It’s so flexible that one customer even reported that it was useful as a defensive device.

Key Features
  • LED bulb emits up to 200 lumens
  • Aluminum body
  • 30-day replacement guarantee, lifetime limited warranty
Specification
  • Brand ThruNite
  • Model 1A V3
  • Weight 2.08 oz
PROS

Powerful on only one AA battery

Small enough to use and adjust with one hand

Casing built with an easy grip and anti-abrasive finish

CONS

End cap switch sometimes comes unseated and has to be re-tightened

Dust can get inside case and short the wiring

Short total lifespan

Best AA Flashlight Buying Guide & FAQ

The term AA flashlight doesn’t refer to a specific size or construction but rather any flashlight that runs on AA batteries—as opposed to a AAA flashlight that runs on AAA batteries. As we’ve already seen, AA flashlights can range in size from tiny keychain penlights and compact flashlights to heavier four-battery models like the Gearlight S2000.

It’s not a popular model in all circles. AA flashlights have a bad reputation for being cheaply built and shining dimly. But this is far from the case nowadays—in fact, the quality of AA flashlights has been soaring ever since LED bulbs began to replace incandescents. Lately, a AA flashlight has become as indispensable in your toolkit as a jack and wrench set, so we’re here to answer all your AA flashlight questions and help you find the best one to fit your needs.

Why Do You Need a AA Flashlight?

You never know when you’ll be stuck in the middle of a blackout or forced to do some quick repairs at night. AA flashlights are the ideal size for your constant light source. They’re a perfect middle ground between keychain flashlights and heavy-duty lamps. They’re big enough to shine brightly and withstand damage yet small enough to carry around everywhere, from the office to the garage to the campground.

They’re also highly available and affordable, as many of the best models go for less than $10.

The fact that they run on AA batteries is the other big advantage. There’s no need to search high and low for specialty batteries: even if you don’t have a stockpile, one trip to the gas station and you’ll be back in business. However, you can also use rechargeable AAs or some lithium-ion batteries, if you prefer.

Benefits

  • Run on the most commonly available batteries
  • Balance compact size with brightness and durability
  • Commonly available and cheap
checking broken oven with flashlight

Types of AA Flashlights

Since any flashlight that runs on AA batteries is an AA flashlight, the category includes a pretty big range. In this section, we break down some of the subgroups of AA flashlights to help you decide which kind will be right for you. To get started, think about what you need the flashlight for—emergencies, repairs, hunting, or another use.

  • Everyday Carry (EDC) Flashlight

The type of small AA flashlight that can be operated entirely with one hand is often referred to as an everyday carry or EDC light, since you can carry it with you everywhere you go. Even if all you’re doing is going to the office, an EDC flashlight fits neatly in your purse or briefcase.

If the power goes out or you’re uncomfortable in a poorly lit area, it’s easy to get these flashlights in your hand quickly and operate them while doing something else, like opening your car door.

What’s more, you don’t necessarily have to settle for weak light with a one-handed EDC flashlight. Models like the Streamlight 88061 use compact LEDs to emit powerful beams without sacrificing light-and-tight construction.

  • Tactical Flashlight

These flashlights are built for hunting, survival, and crisis situations. Originally referring to the lights that soldiers and domestic police officers clip to their weapons to identify and disorient enemies, tactical flashlight now describes any light that’s a tool for something more than just illumination.

They tend to be bigger and might include strobe or “turbo” settings to incapacitate assailants as well as SOS settings to signal for help in the backcountry or by the side of the road. Tactical flashlights have to be durable and are usually still able to be clipped to gun barrels. Some of the best-known manufacturers of tactical flashlights include Nitecore, Fenix, and Thrunite.

Flashlights made specifically for hunting might have red lights, since higher-wavelength light causes less glare and helps humans maintain their night vision. Some tactical manufacturers like Nitecore and Fenix allow you to toggle between red and neutral white.

  • Penlight

Penlights are some of the smallest AA flashlights, but these low-lumen options aren’t just cheap keychain baubles. There are plenty of situations where it’s helpful to have a dimmer beam. For example, paramedics and nurses use penlights to check their patients’ pupil responses and examine wounds.

If you’re not a medical professional, penlights are also crucial for car repair. Anybody who’s ever tinkered with an engine or transmission knows that certain inner workings can be shadowed even in a well-lit garage, and penlights are ideal for getting around those tight corners. Even if you’re not a doctor, police officer, or mechanic, they’re great for finding things that fall under the couch.

While they’re called penlights, some exist that are even smaller than pens. Sunwayman, for example, makes a flashlight the size of a USB flash drive.

What to Look for When Buying AA Flashlights

You probably have some idea of the basic questions to ask when shopping for a AA flashlight: How big is it? How bright is it? How long does it last? There’s no need to settle for a less satisfying tool if you know what points of the product to focus on.

  • Size

Where are you planning to keep your flashlight? In your purse? Your backpack? Your glove compartment? On a holster or lanyard? Some 12-inch AA flashlights might be brighter than their 5-inch counterparts, but if they don’t fit in your pocket or handbag, your options for using them are limited.

Remember the rule of thumb: bigger flashlights tend to equal more lumens. However, more lumens aren’t necessarily what you want. Sometimes, it’s more important to be able to use a flashlight with one hand, fit it around tight corners, or attach it to another tool.

AA flashlights smaller than 4 inches are considered penlights and are good for first aid or working in tight spaces. EDC flashlights tend to clock in between 5 and 10 inches. Lights bigger than that are more likely to run on D-cell batteries rather than AAs.

  • Brightness

The brightness of an electric light is measured in lumens. The actual definition of one lumen is highly technical. For reference, a standard 60W incandescent bulb shines with around 700 lumens.

AA flashlights never shine as bright as standard bulbs: 120 lumens is considered good for a flashlight, and 200 is excellent. Anything setting off 300 lumens comes with the caveat that it will burn through batteries faster.

Balance your need for brightness with how often you’re willing to replace batteries. Remember that many AA flashlights come with multiple settings that will allow you to choose how much energy you spend on the beam.

  • Bulb Type

Almost all AA flashlights are fitted with one of two types of bulbs: incandescent or LED.

Given the increased durability, brighter light, and longer life of LEDs, it might seem surprising that anybody is still manufacturing incandescent flashlights. But incandescents and LEDs are just two different tools with two different purposes.

Incandescent bulbs give out less light, so they’re more useful in situations where softer beams are better—for example, first aid, home use, and any use around people sensitive to bright lights. Conversely, LEDs are better for lighting up dark places, such as campgrounds and hunting grounds away from other light.

  • Durability

Flashlights take a lot of punishment. Whichever model you buy is likely to get dropped, knocked around, and possibly even submerged in water. It’s important to find one that’s impact-resistant and built to last.

The most durable AA flashlights are constructed out of stainless steel or anodized aluminum, leading to a nearly indestructible case. The glass lens should be tamper-proof and sealed with an O-ring in order to waterproof the flashlight for at least 30 minutes underwater.

Durability is less important for a home flashlight vs. one you’re going to take on long offroad drives, but when good construction is this cheap, there’s no excuse not to buy an AA flashlight with a better case.

Selective focus of bearded auto mechanic holding flashlight

Tips for Buying and Using AA Flashlights

Follow this guide to make sure you’re satisfied with your new AA flashlight. If you only remember one thing from this guide, remember this: only get the number of lumens you need. If you buy a flashlight that’s too powerful, you’ll pay for it later in scorched vision and burned-out batteries.

  • For indoor use, like in your home or garage, buy a smaller, lower-lumen flashlight that will emit softer light.
  • For a flashlight you plan to use outdoors, higher lumens are key, but having a wide range of settings is also important. Go with a flashlight you can adjust for any situation.
  • Even if a flashlight is waterproof, you shouldn’t submerge it on purpose. Look for a separate dive light that’s built for use underwater.

Best AA Flashlight FAQ:

We’ve given you plenty of information so far, but you may still have questions about how to find the best AA flashlight. Read on to see the answers to the most commonly asked questions.

Q: What makes an AA different from other flashlights like AAAs?

It’s built to take AA-sized batteries. This makes it easy to keep the light on, since AA batteries are widely available, but still allows for a powerful and long-lasting device.

Q: Can I use other sorts of batteries in my AA flashlight?

Almost always; make sure to check your flashlight’s manual first, since you could overheat it if you don’t take care. Rechargeable AAs or 14500-sized lithium-ion batteries not only fit, but they might last even longer and lead to a brighter beam.

Q: How can I use an AA flashlight for safety?

Helping yourself see in the dark is one of the best safety choices you can make, but you can also use SOS settings to signal for help on a dark highway. Just be sure not to use the strobe mode, since this can disorient other drivers.

Our Top Pick

We’ve named the Coast HP1 190-Lumen LED flashlight as the best AA flashlight on the market. Not only is it small enough to carry anywhere, but it also has a powerful 190-lumen beam that can be adjusted for all uses. On top of that, it sells for less than $10 and comes with a lifetime warranty.

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