Info on LED Lights and Lumens

Info on LED Lights and Lumens

"LED" stands for "light-emitting diode". LED technology is now available in flashlights. Popular brands include Maglite, Streamlight, Surefire, Inova, Coast, Pelican, Dorcy, Energizer and Garrity.

The LED Advantage
Red LEDs have been available for decades. Cheap and powerful white LEDs now make LED flashlights clearly superior to traditional incandescent flashlights.

LED bulbs hardly ever need to be replaced. LED design and integration company LEDdynamics says that LEDs can sustain up to 100,000 hours (eleven years) of use.

LED flashlights (known as torches in some countries) last longer between battery changes. SureFire offers their 6P flashlight in both LED and incandescent versions. The LED version is over twenty percent brighter, yet lasts eleven hours on a pair of 123A lithium batteries versus one hour for the incandescent.

LED Brightness: Lumens versus Watts
More LEDs doesn't mean brighter. A one-LED flashlight can be brighter than a flashlight with 3, 4 or even 9 LEDs.

Total brightness is measured in lumens. 10 to a 100 lumens is common.

•10 lumens is about the minimum practical brightness.
•30 lumens will be bright enough for most purposes: lighting up trails when walking, fixing car engines, searching for lost items under the sofa.
•"Tactical" super bright police/military flashlights start at 90 lumens and can reach a few hundred lumens. They are good for lighting up more distant objects.
LEDs are also measured in watts. This is the power input, not the brightness output. Most general-use flashlights top out at 1 watt. 90 lumen police flashlights are typically 3 watts.

It is difficult to compare lumens with watts. Manufacturers claim anything from 10 to 80 lumens per watt (manufacturers probably report the rated wattage of the LEDs, not the actual wattage driven by the electronics). Average claim is about 30 lumens per watt.

So, brightness is best compared using lumens, not watts. However 30 lumens per watt can be assumed if lumens are not stated.

Dimmer can be Better
The lowest brightness of a flashlight is important. Dim light is

•Good for conserving battery life (super bright also means super battery-eater), especially useful in emergencies.
•More comfortable for reading at night.
•Less likely to wake up companions when rummaging around in a tent.
Premium flashlights have a low and high power setting. Some have more than two levels of brightness. Others have a separate red LED that not only conserves the battery but also protects night vision.

An alternative is to carry two flashlights, one dim and another bright (much like carrying a pocket knife and a machete). This is practical with today's lightweight flashlights. A backup flashlight can be a lifesaver.

LED Flashlight Batteries
AA batteries are best.

Small, bright LED flashlights can be powered by one or two AA batteries. These are the best all round performers (cost, capacity, availability) for general portable use. A single AA alkaline can power a flashlight for hours.

AA batteries have wide market support. There are

•lithiums (lightweight, last longer than alkalines, work well in the cold, expensive)
•NiMH rechargeables
AAA batteries are the next best. Flashlights with three AAAs are a popular configuration.

Specialized batteries such as button cells or CR123A lithiums should be avoided. CR123A batteries may give good performance, but replacements can be difficult to obtain in remote areas.

Batteries are part of an overall portable or emergency power supply plan. Equipment that use the same battery type (GPS, camera, flashlight, MP3 player, radio, walkie-talkie) can share batteries in a pinch. Solar chargers for AA and AAA batteries are available, making these batteries even more attractive.

LED Flashlight Features
Brightness and batteries are the most important issues when choosing a flashlight. Additional features include

•Regulated power or voltage, to maximize and even-out battery power. Instead of being too bright when the battery is new and too dim later, a more constant level of brightness is maintained.
•Flashing feature, to attract attention in an emergency.
•Focusing head to adjust the width of the beam. These are normally available only on single-LED flashlights.
•Safety switch to prevent accidental switching-on of the flashlight, draining the battery. End-twist switches and recessed push-button switches are also good.
•Momentary-on switch, for signaling in Morse code.
•Additional red LED for protecting night sight.
•Floating (buoyant) body. This prevents the flashlight from getting lost if dropped into water, but increases the size of the flashlight.
•Hole to attach a lanyard.
•Flat sides to stop the flashlight from rolling when placed on an even surface.
Upgrading to LED Flashlights
LED flashlights are overwhelmingly superior to traditional incandescents. With LEDs, a backpacker or homeowner setting up an emergency preparedness bag

•Need not worry about bulbs burning out.
•Can carry up to ten times fewer batteries.
This translates into better safety and a lighter backpack. Aside from the higher initial cost, there is no downside.

Read more at Suite101: White LED Flashlight Brightness, Lumens, Watts: Super Bright LED Torches for Hiking, Tactical and Emergency Use

More From samD


7 years 52 weeks ago, 1:18 PM

greg az

greg az's picture

Secretary of Homeland Security
Join Date:
Oct 2009
New York, NY, Ascension Island

Correct about rural availability on some small "button" batterys, love my mini surefire for the P-22 but forget to add the batt to wifes "buy" list.. At the moment its just an extra muzzle weight...
Ive found that the LED's are fine, but you have to put some money into them to get quality. I'll still stick with maglights.. Like the 3 D cell the best.. I think the over all quality is still the best for non gun application, don't have a lot of experiance with weapon mounted other than the little sure fire, but very impressed with it.

a man has to hold his word, hold his beliefs, and hold a good sight picture.
7 years 52 weeks ago, 3:25 PM


runawaygun762's picture

Vice President
Join Date:
Nov 2008
Richland, MO, United States

When I was a young infantry soldier, I used the 3 D-cell maglite taped to the handguards of my M16 for MOUT training. By the time OIF 1 rolled around, I paid 262 bucks for a Surefire barrel clamp-mounted light with pressure tape for my M4. Now we get issued a variety of different lights, mainly from Surefire and Pentagon lights. I have mostly surefires now, and i carry an E2E executive in my pocket for concealed carry, I have four M6 Guardians, a G2Z Nitrolon, a 6P LED, a Gladius light, Stramlight TLR-1 for the Glock, and a whole crapload of mini-maglites and maglites. I tell my patrols it's always best to have two lights on patrol. A 3 or 4 D-cell maglite for searches and traffic stops, and a Surefire on their belt for weapon use. When I make approach on a traffic stop, that 3 D-cell maglite is in my left hand, resting on my shoulder. If the violator attempts to grab me or make a threatening move, that maglite will do a very good job of breaking the small bones of the hand or wrist and if they attempt to take off, a busted rear passenger seat window or back glass will assist in vehicle identification.

"I have always been a soldier. I have known no other life. The calling of arms, I have followed from boyhood. I have never sought another." From The Virtues of War, by Steven Pressfield.
7 years 52 weeks ago, 7:16 PM


Schuyler's picture

Join Date:
Nov 2008
Bainbridge Island, Washington, United States

Any recommendations on models?

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." - Edmund Burke
7 years 52 weeks ago, 8:10 PM


runawaygun762's picture

Vice President
Join Date:
Nov 2008
Richland, MO, United States
Seriously expensive?

You want suggestions on expensive lights?

"I have always been a soldier. I have known no other life. The calling of arms, I have followed from boyhood. I have never sought another." From The Virtues of War, by Steven Pressfield.
7 years 52 weeks ago, 3:50 AM



in my truck I have a rechargeable 2 million candle power flood light that plugs into the cig lighter and hangs in a GPbuilt mount on the dash.My general all around use light is a 6D Mag light(makes a fine club!)that I use around the house or if I have to leave the house at night.I have a bunch of them cheapy LED lights that gas stations sell in glove boxes,drawers in the house,etc.They are cheap but they do a fine job for small light work and when they break I am only out 5 bucks.usually have to drop them from pretty high up or leave them in my work bibs pockets for the wife to run thru the wash machine to kill them though.I also have the cheapy lights hanging on hooks right next to my 3 older kids beds so that if they need a light they always know where it is at.just had to teach them that flashlights are NOT Star Wars light sabers.If my wife has to go somewhere that she will be walking at night without me there,she carries my 6D Mag light with her.I am looking for the LED conversion kit for it but with a krypton bulb it works fine and isnt too bad on batteries.I use rechargeable batteries in that one anyway.I am thinking about machining some clamp on mounts out of aluminum to hold the smaller LED lights to be mounted to shotguns and home defense rifles.

7 years 51 weeks ago, 5:51 AM


LLE's picture

Join Date:
Jul 2008
United States

Surefire 6P's; they are high lumen, and efficient---they do not eat batteries. They were used in the Front Sight 4 day defensive handgun course, in low light and darkness conditions.
I also have a chinese copy of the Surefire style lights. The parts are perfectly interchangeable, and as far as I can determine just as well-built. This chinese copy, has a sequential switch that gives the operator a choice of:
Full power lumens
Half power lumens
High power, high frequency disorienting flasher
Automatic SOS sender in morse code.
It also has a serrated bezel front as a weponization feature. Contrary to my desires, however, it will not cook breakfast or do the dishes!

Too old to fight, Too old to run, guess that's why I carry a gun! "would someone show this asshole the way out of town".[Rabbi Avram Belinski-aka "The Frisco Kid"]
7 years 51 weeks ago, 9:22 PM


zx12rmike's picture

President Pro Temp
Join Date:
Dec 2008
commiefornia, United States

I used regular maglites for many years and have had good luck with them. when I found out you can buy an adapter for a aa mag for less 7 bucks instead of buying the whole thing that's what i did. It did take me awhile to get used to the "whiter" color beam and with a aa maglite it seemed (to me) the beam didn't reach out as far. Batteries last much much longer so it was worth switching. All the supermarkets are switching to LED case lights for obvious reasons. Waiting until they get rid of the overhead lights and replace them with LED as well.

"We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home" Thomas Jefferson
samD's picture
Posted by: samD
7 years 52 weeks ago

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