For security personnel, a reliable LED torch with a full, bright beam can be an invaluable instrument of personal safety, even as it enables better job performance. An inferior model, on the other hand, may cause its user all manner of unforeseen problems.
If using a hand-held torch is part of your job, you’ll know that there is no better option on the market right now than an LED torch.
In this handy guide, we’ll be taking a detailed look at these lovely little light-givers. What are they made of? How do they work? And what should you look for if you’re thinking of buying one.
So without further delay, let there be light!
Maglite 3D LED Torch
ThruNite USB Tactical Flashlight
Olight Rechargeable LED Flashlight
TrustFire LED Tactical Torch
Ledlenser LED Rechargeable Torch
How an LED Torch Works
LED, as you probably know, stands for Light Emitting Diode. An LED is a semiconductor light source that reacts to electric current passing through it by emitting a bright light.
This light can appear in a wide variety of different colours, but white light (the kind we’re focussing on in this feature) is accomplished either via the use of multiple semiconductors, or a layer of light-emitting phosphor contained within the device itself.
LEDs are different from traditional incandescent bulbs because they produce light differently. Where LEDs produce light via a semiconductor, traditional light bulbs do so by passing electricity through an electric light filament. This also differs from energy saving bulbs, which use mercury vapour to produce UV light.
A Little Bit of History
British inventor David Misell invented the first torch (or ‘flashlight’ to our American cousins) in 1898. One year later, he received the patent. Prior to this, potentially dangerous items such as wax candles and kerosene lamps had been used to provide light.
Misell’s invention would not have been possible without the prior invention of the first dry cell battery (by the German Carl Gassner in 1888), so the inventions of both the battery and the torch go hand in hand.
Today’s LED torches have not changed dramatically from these early models, though performance and functionality have been improved considerably.
British radio researcher (and assistant to Marconi) Henry Joseph Round first discovered electroluminescence (the production of light by the flow of electrons) in 1907. A decade or so later, another radio researcher – this time Russian – named Oleg Vladimirovich Losev documented the electroluminescence that was coming from the diodes in his radio set.
Then, in the early 1960’s, Losev’s observations inspired Americans Robert Byrd and Gary Pittman to create the first LED (an infrared version not visible to the naked eye) as a by-product of their search for an LED laser.
In 1962, American engineer Nick Holonyack finally put all the pieces together. Holonyack created not only an LED laser, but also the first visible light LED.
Years later, in 1999, the first high-powered LED torches became available. The Lumileds Corporation of San Jose, California designed and built these early LED pioneers.
LEDs or Regular Bulbs, Which is Better?
LED bulbs are vastly more efficient than traditional bulbs, consuming between 75 and 90% less energy, while also lasting a lot longer.
Additionally, the light from an LED bulb disappears almost as soon as you switch an LED light off, while other bulbs can dim slowly and then take a while to completely shut off. When LED bulbs are reactivated, the light comes on instantly.
LEDs also work perfectly well at lower temperatures, something that cannot be said for other portable light sources.
On the downside, LED bulbs are considerably more expensive than other bulbs, although the prices are coming down rapidly, making LED technology more accessible than ever to even the most cash-conscious consumers.
Some people do not like the light emitted from LEDs, complaining that it has a colder ‘bluish’ quality than the warmer tones given off by traditional bulbs. In terms of torchlight, this probably won’t be the deciding factor in anyone’s purchase, but it is worth mentioning nonetheless.
Overall, it is definitely fair to say that LED torches are significantly better than most, if not all, other options.
How Long do LED Torches Last?
A good LED can last for an extremely long time, perhaps as much as 25 – 30 years. Of course, this does not factor in accidental damage or carelessness on the part of the user.
In terms of battery life, most LED torches are battery powered, taking batteries comparable to the size of the torch itself. The larger models tend to run on ‘D’ batteries (commonly referred to as ‘flashlight batteries’). These will be discussed in greater detail later on in this feature.
Smaller models might use smaller batteries, such as double or triple A. Ultimately; battery life depends on the quality of the batteries themselves, as well as the energy efficiency of the device used and the frequency of usage.
Battery life may vary from torch to torch, but the LEDs are still the longest lasting form of man-made illumination there is. A good LED torch should, if well kept and looked after, last for many years.
The Components of a Torch
Most LED torches are cylindrical in shape. The main exterior part of the torch is referred to as the case. The case not only protects the torch’s inner components, it also gives the device its shape.
Some torches feature a handle on top of the case, however most are simply handheld, meaning that the handle is incorporated into the overall design, sometimes via the inclusion of a rubber or plastic grip.
The switch, which can be located almost anywhere on the device, is the element that completes the transfer of energy from the batteries to the bulb.
The bulb (or ‘lamp’) is the area at the front of the torch that emits light. This can be a tungsten filament bulb or an LED bulb. The shiny area around the bulb is usually called the reflector. The reflector is fashioned from plastic and coated with a shiny layer of aluminium that directs the light rays forward to create a steady beam.
In front of the bulb is a layer of clear plastic referred to as the lens. The main job of the lens is to protect the bulb, which is usually fashioned from thin glass.
If we imagine ourselves to be unscrewing the head of the torch and peering inside the case, we will see the batteries.
Once the batteries have been removed, the contact strips will become visible. Contact strips are made from copper or brass and are located throughout the device. These thin slips of conductive metal complete the connection between the batteries, the bulb and the switch. The contact strips usually rest upon a small spring or thin piece of conductive material.
Once the switch is turned to the ‘on’ position, it allows the passage of electrical energy to take place from the batteries to the bulb, creating a basic circuit. When the switch is turned to the ‘off’ position, the circuit is broken, which causes the light to go out.
This section effectively describes the component parts and inner workings of most torches, though some models may vary slightly from this description.
Types of Batteries used
The batteries most commonly used in LED torches are ‘D’ batteries. In fact, D batteries are so closely associated with torches that they are sometimes known as ‘flashlight batteries’.
Smaller LED torches, of course, will use smaller batteries (with AA and AAA being the most popular). However, we will be focussing mainly on D batteries for this section.
D batteries are dry cell batteries that measure around 3CM in diameter and 6CM in length. They usually weigh between 160 and 180 grams. They are available as both non-rechargeable and rechargeable models. Like most other batteries intended for domestic use, D batteries carry a charge of 1.5 volts.
A standard D battery might produce a current of around 10,000 mAh (milliamps per hour). As the name suggests, a milliamp is one thousandth of an amp. How long the battery lasts, then, depends on the device’s current consumption rate.
You might wish to check the batteries you buy for an ‘Ah’ rating. An ‘Ah’ of ‘amp hour’ rating tells the consumer how long the battery is likely to last if the power were to be drained at a basic rate of one amp an hour. An Ah rating of 3, for example, means that the battery would last for three hours if drained at this rate.
The Ah rating is really only used to compare products, however. It is not a reliable measurement in most other circumstances as every device is different.
All alkaline batteries, including D batteries, can become very warm if used over a prolonged period of time. Between their high charge and the steady increase in temperature, it is possible for these batteries to leak alkaline fluid inside the LED torch itself. Alkaline fluid is quite corrosive and, in addition to severely irritating the skin, it can completely ruin the inner workings of your torch.
To avoid this, it is advisable that you do not store your torch in a high temperature environment (for example, the attic or loft space of your house. Although it is convenient to leave a torch up there, the hot temperatures of summer greatly increase the chances of battery leakage).
It is also a good idea, if possible, to remove the batteries when the torch is not in use. If you use an LED torch for work, for example, take the batteries out when you get home and only put them in again when your next shift starts.
You should also avoid mixing battery brands if possible and never use batteries that appear to be misshapen or dented. You might also consider switching over to rechargeable NiMH batteries, which are far less likely to leak.
Ultimately, all alkaline batteries can potentially leak and there is no way to be 100% secure against battery leakage. However, the methods listed here will greatly minimize the chances of this occurring,
If you are intending to use your torch regularly, you will also be replacing the batteries fairly often. In this case, please locate a site that will recycle them. Batteries, when simply thrown away with other household rubbish, can have a deadly effect on your local environment.
Batteries contain at least one of the following metals: lead, zinc, manganese, nickel, cadmium, mercury, silver and/or lithium, all of which are potentially toxic. This is in addition to dangerous acids that are also present in batteries.
As batteries break down in landfill sites, they can leak these and other pollutants into the atmosphere, which causes air pollution. They can also seep into the closest water supply, which affects not only the wildlife that depend on that water supply, but also human beings who may, as a result, unknowingly ingest contaminated water. When you consider how many batteries are being thrown away each year, this becomes quite an alarming notion.
As of 2010, any UK shop that sells more than 32kg of batteries per annum (around 345 4-packs of AA batteries) is legally obliged to provide battery recycling options to its customers in-store.
Accordingly, many local supermarkets and other businesses offer free battery recycling services. Take a minute to find the one nearest to you and make use of it.
Different Types of LED Torch
There are a lot of different types of LED torches in use today. These include rechargeable models, where rechargeable Lithium-ion batteries replace traditional batteries.
In terms of outer design, there are small, portable models such as penlights, clip and keychain torches. There are also right angle torches (which are often adjustable and used for hands-free work), flexible torches (which are good for a variety of uses and positions) and body or head-mounted torches.
Tactical torches, for their part, are tough, durable models designed for military and police use (they are also sometimes used by security services). Among the most solid models used today are Maglites. These tough LED torches were the brainchild of American inventor Tony Maglica, Maglites were developed for use by the Police force, who found traditional torches too easily breakable.
Maglites have subsequently been in-use, in various disciplines and capacities, since 1979. A key design point of a Maglite torch is the adjustable head, which allows it to blast a wide beam of illumination or focus solely on a small area (the benefits and drawbacks of this will be discussed later on in this feature).
the Materials Used in Torches
Although some high-end LED torches can be fashioned from plastic, many torches are made from aluminium, the same material from which drinks cans, tin foil and bike frames are made.
Aluminium is lightweight and therefore practical for hand-held or body-mounted items. It is not especially tough, however. Accordingly, a lot of aluminium LED torches make use of a type III hard anodizing.
Anodizing is an electrochemical process that involves adding a finish of anodic oxide to nonferrous metals such as aluminium, titanium and magnesium. This makes the metal much more durable as well as far more able to resist corrosion or damage.
Sometimes, the case will also be coated in a thick layer of rubber, which in addition to acting as a form of insulation, can provide extra impact protection and improve the user’s ability to grip the LED torch while in use.
The bulb itself is usually fashioned from thin glass, while the lens will be made from a thick, clear plastic. All materials can vary from model to model, however.
Of course using a torch as a weapon, is frowned upon, but in the case you need to use it for self-defense, the heavier and better made torch will give you better protection.
Resistance Ratings and Prevention of Breakage
Most LED torches have an impact resistance of around 1.5 metres. The term ‘impact resistance’ describes an item’s ability to withstand a sudden impact. In the case of devices such as LED torches and smartphones, an impact usually occurs as the result of the item being dropped.
The average British man stands at around 1.75 metres tall, while the average woman is around 1.61 metres. This means that an adult, whether male or female, can adopt a standing posture and drop a torch with a 1.5 metre impact resistance without seriously damaging it. In order for any serious damage to occur, the user would have to be holding the torch fairly high, perhaps near their chest or head.
Many modern devices are referred to as being ‘waterproof’ or ‘water resistant’, however, it is worth noting that every device has a point whereby water can get inside and ruin it. It could be the temperature of the water, the length of exposure, the depth or even manipulation of the device while it is submerged, but whatever protections the device may or may not have, water ingress always holds the potential to cause irrevocable damage.
In the case of any technology you plan to use outside or near to water, it is worth examining the IP (or ‘ingress protection’) rating. In simplest terms, an IP rating explains how water or dust-proof the device in question actually is.
An IP rating features two numbers from 1 – 6 (‘0’ or ‘X’ means that it has no score and offers no protection). The first number describes the device’s ability to resist dust, dirt or small objects.
If the first digit is 1, for example, it means that the camera is safe from penetration by objects larger than 50mm in diameter. A rating of 6 tells the user that their device is basically dust proof.
The second digit of an IP rating rates the device’s resistance to moisture. A rating of 1 tells you that the device can be safely used in the rain, while a rating of 8 means that the device will function properly even when fully submerged in water.
Light beam patterns differ from torch to torch, both in terms of brightness and beam size. There are informal, but somewhat apt names for these different kinds of beam patterns. Each type is, of course, suited to a different activity, so it pays to have at least a passing familiarity with them all.
‘Floody’ light beams illuminate a wide area, but do not throw light over particularly long distances. This type of torchlight is very useful for lighting up an entire darkened room, where longer-range LED torches will simply illuminate whatever specific point they may be directed toward. This is a good type of light for head torches and anything you need to see close up.
‘Throwy’ beams throw up a long-range light with a tight hotspot. Not especially suited for close-up work, these beams are very good for seeing people or objects that are relatively far from the viewer. They are also very good for lighting up dark tunnels and caves.
‘Zoomy’ beams are well known to users of Maglites. Zoomable light beams purport to offer the best of both worlds. The reality, perhaps sadly, is somewhat different. Zoomies don’t illuminate as broadly as floodies and don’t focus as keenly as throwies, so, whilst they are convenient in certain situations, zoomies tend to underperform when it comes to specialist usage.
The brightness of zoomies can also dim considerably when the light beam is at maximum zoom in either direction. Zoomies are also at a greater risk of water ingress, since the head adjusts like a camera lens.
These LED torches are however pretty useful for basic home use, where their versatility can really come in handy. Zoomies are also highly prized by both artists and photographers, as the ‘zoom’ function allows them to manipulate their light source in order to create the right look for a particular image.
What to Look for in a Torch?
If you work in security, or any other field that may require you to operate by torchlight, then you owe it to yourself to purchase a dependable torch of relatively high quality.
However, it isn’t at all necessary to buy the best LED torch on the market (and spend a lot of money needlessly in the process). An LED torch capable of being used professionally should ideally:
- Be fashioned from a durable substance such as hard wearing plastic or specially treated aluminium.
- Have a light output of around 1000 – 15000 lumens.
- Have a beam pattern specifically suited to the duties for which the torch will be used (for example, a long-throwing beam is useful if you work outdoors at night or in a large area with low light).
- Have an impact resistance of at least 1.5 metres.
- Operate via rechargeable batteries (this is cheaper over the long term, not to mention much better for the environment).
- Have an IP rating of 44 or greater.
- Feature a design well suited to the tasks for which it will be used (i.e. body mounts or portability).
- Be covered under warranty or guarantee from the manufacturer.
Maglite 3D LED Torch
ThruNite USB Tactical Flashlight
Olight Rechargeable LED Flashlight
TrustFire LED Tactical Torch
Ledlenser LED Rechargeable Torch
Maglite 3D LED Torch
Originally developed for use by police officers in the United States, Maglites are among the toughest members of the flashlight family.
The ML300’s design is classic Maglite; a hard, durable aluminium casing completes a slick, professional look that’s at once stylish without being showy and classic without being boring.
It handles well, too. The Maglite 300 features an advanced version of Maglite’s famous focus technology, allowing precise switches between ‘floody’ and ‘throwy’ modes with less than a ¼ turn of the head. The longest-range setting can fully illuminate people and objects from over 400m away.
The ML300 is also highly customisable, with 5 different modes and an electronic switch that allows the user to vacillate between them. The modes include an ‘eco mode’ that helps to save power, a ‘momentary’ setting and a strobe function.
This torch can even be set up to allow the user easy access to their most commonly used settings. One downside to this is that, due to the torch requiring rapid clicks of the on/off button in order to access some of the modes, it can be very easy to overshoot, causing the user to have to go through the options a couple of times before landing on the mode they want.
The battery life is also very good (117 hours on-time), however this is let down somewhat by the utter lack of rechargeable options for this model.
At only 625 Lumens, the ML300 could be brighter. However, its brightest setting his is still brighter than a car’s headlights on full beam.
Overall, this torch performs exceptionally well. It has a lighter body than previously released Maglites, but still feels thoroughly solid and hardwearing. The torch’s ability to project light over immense distances is, frankly, incredible and it responds quickly and efficiently to even the slightest touch.
The ML300 is also very user friendly and highly customisable, offering 5 modes (including 2 energy saving options) that all perform well. This is an exquisitely well-designed torch that does everything you need it to – and then some.
ThruNite USB Tactical Flashlight
With a smart, compact design and a brightness output that can range anywhere between 0.5 to 3800 Lumens at the user’s discretion (yes, you read that right), the ThruNite USB tactical flashlight both looks – and plays – the part of ‘super-torch’ very well.
This torch comes with a rechargeable 5000mAh 26650 battery and will even remind you when its power levels are running low. As a general rule, we prefer rechargeable batteries to traditional ones (they are more efficient, more cost-effective and much better for the environment overall), so it’s good to see them being used here. Back-up batteries (for those who forget to recharge) are also available relatively inexpensively, which is another plus point.
Frankly, there really aren’t a lot of negative things to say about this one. Nevertheless, for the sake of a balanced review, we’ll try to find some.
The on/off button is a little too sensitive, meaning that it could quite easily be switched on by accident (thus draining the battery). However, the torch has a ‘lock’ mode, specifically designed to stop this from happening, so that’s not much of a complaint.
Elsewhere, the design is too wide to fit comfortably into any user’s pocket (although it can be attached to a belt via the included holster). Perhaps more importantly, the beam is a bit too floody and could benefit from more range. Even then, the beam will still stretch to about 250m (this is advertised as being 320 metres, although we did not find this to be the case, hence the discrepancy between this review and ThruNite’s item description).
This torch is lightweight, yet strong and (reasonably) weatherproof to boot. The runtime is pretty great, with power lasting up to 130 minutes on ‘Turbo’ mode.
For comparison, ‘Medium’ mode (320 Lumens) can last for over 10 hours, while the ‘Firefly’ setting (0.5 Lumens) can actually last the user a whopping 37 days. It’s also worth noting that these modes are by no means the only user options (in all there are six – another thing which makes this torch a highly versatile product).
If there are any real problems with this one, it has to be that the advertising is slightly misleading. This is a shame, as the product is more than good enough to be sold according to its own merits. However, beyond that, it’s really hard to find fault with it. This is a genuinely outstanding torch.
Olight Rechargeable LED Flashlight
OK, so it’s not the cutest puppy in the store. That’s alright though, because performance is ultimately where it counts. A basic, utilitarian design houses a number of genuinely innovative features, as well as a product that performs very well indeed.
Probably the most interesting thing about the Olight S2R is the magnetic charger, which is both fast and easy to use. It is, quite without any hyperbole whatsoever, a genuinely fantastic innovation. You can even use the magnet at the back to attach this torch to metal surfaces so you can work hands-free!
The battery itself is a specially designed 3200mAh 3.6V 18650 rechargeable number – and it’s good. The only problem is that Olight designed and built their own 18650 battery especially for use with this torch.
This means that, whilst regular 18650 batteries will work, they will not enable the torch to go into ‘turbo mode’ (which is where it does its best work). One of these special batteries IS included with purchase, but an extra one is likely to be harder to obtain, not to mention more expensive.
However, this is a minor quibble as opposed to a complaint, mainly because the included battery is so good. The whole battery and charge mechanism is so well designed, in fact, that this torch even has a battery indicator that is colour-coded to let you know when it is time to recharge.
The torch emits a pretty bright 1150 Lumens, which boasts a maximum throw of over 135metres. It also features an upgraded TIR lens that produces a perfectly balanced beam.
The torch has six modes in all, including the aforementioned ‘turbo’, as well as ‘moonlight’ and ‘strobe’. The lowest modes are ‘strobe’ and ‘mode 5’, which generate an output as low as 0.5 Lumens. In mode 5, the battery can last for 60 days. Yeah, that’s right. 60 days as in TWO MONTHS – that’s just awesome.
This torch is tough, lightweight and totally waterproof for up to 2 metres. Plus, the Olight S2R comes with a number of other fun extras, including a pocket clip and a carry case (although we should warn you that the carry case is huge for some reason).
To be critical, it’s worth saying that this torch is a far better spreader of light than it is a thrower and that the Lumen count could be higher for a torch of this kind. The design is also somewhat ugly when compared to some of the sleeker models we’ve seen. Nevertheless, the S2R is very well made and performs exceptionally well indeed.
TrustFire LED Tactical Torch
With a slim, streamlined body that gives it a disproportionately large head (its diameter is more than twice that of the body), the TrustFire T62 tactical torch is somewhat odd looking. However, unconventional looks aside, this is still a very high quality model.
Designed for professional use, this torch is lightweight and surprisingly hardwearing. The lens is highly scratch resistant and the body is made from a tough aluminium alloy. It is even waterproof to a depth of up to 2 metres.
Making good use of a Cree XHP70CW LED, the T62 can emit a brightness of up to 3600 Lumens, with a throw of over 430metres, which is brilliant.
Sadly, the rechargeable batteries required by this torch are sold separately and not included in the overall package, which is something of a negative point. Worse still, the batteries will need a separate charger in order to be recharged.
Now, this definitely can be useful, because it means that the torch can still be in play even as your spare batteries are charging, but it also means that you’re more likely to need to buy extra batteries. As a result, this is far from the most cost-effective choice out there.
There is good news, however, as the T62 does feature an extendable tube that can hold an extra battery, thus increasing the torch’s overall battery life. It’s a smart and innovative feature – and we like it a lot.
This torch also features 5 distinct modes of use, an anti-slip feature and a run-time of up to 64 hours. The light is bright and clear, making it excellent for outdoor use. It features a great balance of throw and flood, making it also versatile as well as high quality. You can even mount it to a gun, if you’re so inclined.
On the negative side, the torch’s long, thin design does not make it particularly compact or easy to store, in fact, it has a tendency to get in the way.
In summary, one or two minor quibbles do not detract from what is otherwise a very good model. The T62 is clearly fashioned from the finest components and expertly developed. A lot of care has evidently gone into the creation of this product. It is by no means perfect, but, at it’s best, it does come reasonably close.
Ledlenser LED Rechargeable Torch
There are a lot of good things we can say about the Ledlenser MT14 and there are a few not-so-good things to mull over. Overall, there are more good points than bad, which is good.
The MT14 puts out a very nice beam of light. The enlarged zoom function offers the user excellent uniformity, with the depth position being decent, but not nearly as good. The light output is respectable too, offering about 1000 Lumens on the highest settings. This is certainly bright enough to cover most tasks. Yes, it could be better, but that’s not to say that it’s in any way bad.
The torch recharges via a 3.0 USB cable, which is included with purchase. It also recharges very quickly and efficiently. The door for the charge connector is altogether too flimsy, however. It’s disarmingly easy to accidentally remove it when unplugging the cable – and it’s actually quite a frustrating and fiddly job to reattach it.
Apart from that, this torch is very solid and well made. It feels like it would be enormously difficult to break. It isn’t particularly waterproof, however, though it will work in the rain. The MT14 comes with a carry case that, like the torch it’s designed for, is exceptionally hardwearing and well designed.
Elsewhere, the battery life is simply superb – the MT14 can run for up to nine hours, even on the highest settings. You can even customise an energy saving mode that will decrease the brightness in accordance with the amount of battery life remaining. Rechargeable batteries are also included with purchase – always a welcome feature.
In most cases, LEDs do not produce much in the way of heat, but this torch will nevertheless automatically lower the brightness in an attempt to control its temperature. Whilst this is a fine and useful feature in and of itself, the advertising copy suggests that the MT14 will emit 1000 Lumens worth of light for up to 9 hours – however, due to the temperature control feature, this is simply not the case.
The Ledlenser MT14 will work well – and in most weather conditions, too. The beam is nice and bright, though not as far-reaching or bright as some others we’ve seen. The battery life and charge times are both superb and options such as a customisable energy saving mode are excellent additions.
Overall, this is a very well designed and engineered piece of equipment, but it’s hampered by a few minor irritations (the door to the charger socket coming off, the strobe function being difficult to get to in a hurry, a locking mechanism that takes far too long to start etc.). It’s a shame, really, as this is an otherwise excellent torch.
Both the torch and the included bag are incredibly high quality and robust.
Very good beam of light, excellent uniformity with “enlarged” zoom, but more than acceptable even in the “depth” position.
Beam can be spread out pretty wide which is great for scanning a large area.