Flashlight Score Strobe Mode Red Light Mode Weight Battery Top Pick: ThruNite Archer 2A V3 Yes No 1.7 oz 2 AA Runner-Up: Fenix E12 No No 1 oz 1 AA Fenix LD02 No No 0.6 oz 1 AAA Best Value: Fenix E05 No No 0.4 oz 1 AAA Budget Buy: Nite Ize Radiant 3-in-1 LED Mini Flashlight Yes Yes 2.7 oz 1 AA Goal Zero Torch 250 Yes Yes 14.7 oz Built-in rechargeable battery J5 Tactical V1 Pro Yes No 2.3 oz 1 AA Maglite Mini PRO LED No No 2.5 oz 2 AA BYBLIGHT Lantern Flashlight Yes No 9.1 oz 3 AAA
We researched dozens of the best camping flashlights and then bought nine top models for a head-to-head test. After field testing, double checking product specs, and using the lights for over a month we think the ThruNite Archer 2A V3 is the way to go.
It has a robust yet intuitive user interface and plenty of brightness settings, including an extra dim “firefly” mode which doesn’t hurt your eyes once they’ve adjusted to the dark. Its strobe mode is also the brightest of any flashlight we tested, making it the best to have in case of an emergency.
However, before you spend any of your hard-earned cash, I strongly urge you to ask yourself:
“Is it really a flashlight that I need?”
Probably not. Chances are a headlamp or lantern will serve you better for camping, so consider those options before buying a flashlight. You can jump to my thoughts on the matter.
If you are certain a flashlight is what you need, though, then read on.
If you’re looking for a flashlight for backpacking or night hiking, check out our guide to the best ultralight flashlights.
Table of Contents
- Top Pick: ThruNite Archer 2A V3
- Runner-Up: Fenix E12
- Best Value: Fenix E05
- Budget Buy: Nite Ize Radiant 3-in-1 LED Mini Flashlight
- Reviews of the Other 5 Camping Flashlights We Tested
- How to Choose the Right Camping Flashlight for Your Needs
- You Probably Don’t Need a Flashlight
- How We Tested
Top Pick: ThruNite Archer 2A V3
Two features quickly set this flashlight apart during my testing.
First, it comes with an extra dim firefly mode that emits a whopping 0.2 lumens. If that sounds paltry it’s because it absolutely is — it’s 40x dimmer than the dimmest setting on the other 8 flashlights we tested.
While camping at night, the firefly mode is incredibly useful. This is because your eyes will have adjusted to the dark and a 0.2-lumen beam will be plenty for most camp chores.
After all my testing, I found myself reaching for this flashlight every time and using the firefly mode almost exclusively. It works well for all typical camping scenarios, such as:
- Leaving the tent to use the bathroom
- Reading a book or looking at a map before going to bed
- Looking for something in the tent without disturbing your tent mate with a bright light
Also, the Archer has the brightest strobe mode (aka flash mode) of any light we tested, emitting 500 lumens at a rapid flash rate.
While this feature will be unnecessary most of the time, it means this flashlight can act as an emergency blinker in emergency situations where you need a highly visible signal.
These two features — the dim firefly mode and bright strobe mode — were the defining ones, but I liked most things about this flashlight. The build is durable. It’s 2-button user interface was my favorite. And it comes with a lanyard and belt clip.
The light has two minor downsides that arose during my testing.
First, it lacks a red light mode. Red light, according to REI, “does not cause our pupils to shrink the way white light can.” Thus, it is good for nighttime use. I use my headlamp’s red light mode to read in the tent at night, for example.
Second, you can’t change the beam’s focus in any way. In all my testing I didn’t have a time where I missed that feature, though. But for those who want a camping flashlight with that capability, look elsewhere.
Runner-Up: Fenix E12
A little bit of background on Fenix flashlights before I get into this review:
“Flashaholics” appear to be big fans of Fenix flashlights. I came across references to the brand many times on flashlight sites and forums while doing research for this article.
The main reasons for the fandom seem to be the durability and longevity of the brand’s flashlights.
Flashlight enthusiasts share plenty of stories and videos of themselves “abusing” their flashlights, and Fenix flashlights consistently survive “horrific abuse”, as one forum commenter put it.
(My favorite example is this “Will It Crush?” video of the Fenix T1 surviving up to 20,500 lbs of force.)
This durability and longevity comes at a price, of course. Fenix flashlights are expensive relative to budget options. For example, the Fenix E05 is smaller than a stick of lip balm but costs quite a bit.
In short, Fenix flashlights are for those who value durability and longevity as opposed to a low price.
Ok, enough about the Fenix brand. Let’s get into the review.
The Fenix E12 is a straightforward camping flashlight. There is nothing fancy about it. It has no strobe or red light mode, no ability to change the focus.
What it is, though, is a compact, reliable, and durable flashlight.
It has 3 modes: low, medium, and high. I mostly used the low mode while camping since the medium and high modes are too bright when your eyes adjust to the darkness.
The brighter modes have their places, though. Collecting firewood or seeing what that rustle in the bushes was might call for a medium beam. The high mode could be used as a signal or when you simply need more light.
Whenever you turn on this light it defaults to the low mode, regardless of the brightness setting it was on when you turned it off. I loved this feature. Your eyes will thank you when they aren’t blinded by your flashlight beam.
The drawbacks to this flashlight are important to highlight, though. It’s low mode is still quite bright at night. What’s more, it has no red light mode. These two things make the flashlight not ideal for tent use or late-night campground use. The brightness irritated my eyes and disturbed my tent mate.
Finally, this flashlight lacks a strobe mode for emergency signaling. If you need a flashlight with a strobe mode, the comparison table at the top of this article indicates which flashlights we tested have this feature.
Best Value: Fenix E05
We named the Fenix E05 our Best Value pick because it is one of the cheapest flashlights we tested, yet it sports the durability and longevity of the Fenix brand.
Also, know that the Fenix E05 is a tiny flashlight. It is smaller than a stick of lip balm and weighs only 0.4 oz without the battery in. It was the smallest and lightest flashlight we tested.
The E05’s size will be a deal-breaker for some. It will seal the deal for others.
Those prone to misplacing small pieces of camping gear should certainly not buy this light. It is tiny and black and hard to locate in the depths of a backpack.
Those looking for a tiny and lightweight camping flashlight that can fit in your pocket will like the Eo5.
The main gripe I have with the E05 is the twist switch — meaning you have to twist the flashlight’s head to turn on the light and toggle between brightness modes. It isn’t as user friendly as a button switch and requires two hands. It also lacks strobe and red light modes.
Budget Buy: Nite Ize Radiant 3-in-1 LED Mini Flashlight
To be honest, this flashlight is nothing special.
However, in addition to being quite cheap it has a strobe mode and red light mode and can convert into a tiny camping lantern.
We recommend it only if you are on a tight budget. Otherwise, go with any of the above recommendations.
The user interface is a little clunky. You need to toggle between all the brightness modes to turn the beam on and off. And for some reason it’s the red light that strobes, not the white light.
One positive is that the red light is on the back end of the flashlight, separate from the white light. This way you don’t have to toggle through blindingly bright white light modes to arrive at the red light mode.
Reviews of the Other 5 Camping Flashlights We Tested
The 5 remaining flashlights included in our tests didn’t win any awards, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t the right choices for some people.
Here are brief reviews of each, focusing on their drawbacks and best uses.
Feb 2020 Update: Fenix has released a new version of the LD02 — the LD02 V2.0 — and discontinued the previous version that we tested. We’ve updated our links to point to the new version and are in the process of testing it.
This was the third and final Fenix flashlight included in our tests. The LD02 was near-identical in performance to our Runner-Up, the Fenix E12.
Ultimately, it scored lower for two main reasons:
- The Fenix LD02 has a slightly higher MSRP for the same features
- The Fenix E12 has a slightly recessed switch which prevents accidental activation and allows the flashlight to tail stand, while the Fenix LD02 does not
I did like the pocket clip, which wasn’t present on the other two Fenix flashlights. If you’d like small, quality camping flashlight which you can clip to your belt or pocket, this is the one for you.
Goal Zero Torch 250
This was the most expensive flashlight we tested as of this writing.
I was hoping to be wowed by its cool techy features.
I was certainly wowed for a moment. But after multiple nights of testing, I concluded this flashlight is not worth using for camping.
First, let’s talk positives.
You can easily charge your electronic devices with this device. The solar panels work seamlessly. The hand crank is durable and easy to use and — along with the USB cord — it cleverly stores away when not needed.
The flood light and flashlight are bright and the red light mode is good for nighttime use.
Also, the Torch 250 is the only flashlight we tested with a hook that actually hangs from a closed tent hanging loop.
There are plenty of drawbacks, though.
The Torch 250 is big and heavy. It didn’t fit comfortably in any of my short pockets. It took up precious space in my 2-person tent.
Second, it’s expensive. If all you need are a lightweight battery pack and camping flashlight, you could buy two of the best options out there at full price — the ThruNite Archer 2A V3 and Anker PowerCore 10000 — and still spend less than if you bought this light.
Of course, the built-in solar panels are a big plus if that’s an important feature to you. Personally, I hardly found myself using them during my testing.
J5 Tactical V1 Pro
The MSRP for this light is listed as higher on the manufacturer’s site than the amount it’s usually available for according to CamelCamelCamel’s price history.
Because of that, I’m going to classify it as a “budget flashlight” for the purposes of this review.
Budget flashlights abound on Amazon, so, before offering my review, I’d like to let you know about a potential risk you take when buying them.
Selfbuilt, a prolific flashlight reviewer, wrote about a consistency problem he encountered with budget flashlights. As he puts it:
“I quickly discovered that budget lights could be incredibly inconsistent from batch to batch.”
As a result, he rarely recommends or reviews budget lights anymore.
What’s more, The Sweethome, an excellent review site, tested a number of budget flashlights — including the J5 Tactical V1 Pro — and concluded that “due to the inconsistencies mentioned above, we can’t recommend any of [the inexpensive generic lights we tested].”
In other words:
Be fully aware that, if you buy a budget flashlight, it may be of poorer build quality and performance than the ones other reviewers received.
With that out of the way, time for a brief review.
The J5 Tactical V1 Pro’s interface has a couple features that makes it a poor flashlight for tent use.
First, it’s a single-button interface that includes the strobe mode in the brightness cycle. More than once I temporarily blinded myself with the strobe while cycling through brightness settings when using this flashlight in my tent.
Second, the default brightness setting is the high mode. Whenever you turn the flashlight on after it’s been off for more than a few seconds, it activates at that mode. The high mode on this light is 300 lumens according to J5 Tactical. It’s a staggeringly excessive amount of light when your eyes are adjusted to the dark. I felt shocked awake by the light each time I turned it on when camping.
For comparison, the firefly mode on our Top Pick emits only 0.2 lumens — 1,500 times less — which was plenty for both my general tent and campground use.
Beyond these flaws, the J5 Tactical was simply okay relative to the other lights we tested. I liked the focus feature on it — you simply slide the barrel forward and backward to adjust it. The pocket clip makes it easier to keep track of, if clipping your flashlight to your belt or pocket is your thing.
Overall, there was nothing this flashlight could do that any of the other flashlights I’ve already recommended could do better.
Maglite Mini PRO LED
This classic flashlight isn’t great for camping. It faces a similar problem as the J5 Tactical V1 Pro: it’s starting brightness level is too bright. But, unlike the V1 Pro, you cannot adjust the brightness.
Needless to say it’s a poor choice for tent use, likely the worst we tested. It works fine around the campground until the sky darkens and your tired eyes start begging you for a dimmer light.
The light is so bright that, when I went to use the bathroom late one night, I found myself turning it off and trying to find my way by moonlight instead. My eyes had already started to adjust to the brightness, though, and the sudden lack of light made it hard to see. I ended up using the dimmer flashlight on my smartphone.
A good camping flashlight is supposed to make camping easier. In that instance, this Maglite felt like more of a burden.
BYBLIGHT Lantern Flashlight
This second budget flashlight we tested didn’t perform any better than the first.
I have a long list of gripes about this light:
- It has no dim brightness level which led to the same too-bright problem I’ve explained ad nauseam already
- The metal handle is closed which means it can’t be hung inside tents with closed hanging loops
- The button switch clicks so loudly I was afraid I’d wake my tent mate just by pushing it
- Like the J5 Tactical V1 Pro, it has a single-button interface that includes the strobe mode in the brightness cycle
- Unlike the V1 Pro, it doesn’t default back to a particular brightness setting after being turned off, meaning every third time you turn it on it will activate in strobe mode
- It’s cheap
- It converts into a small camping lantern
Bottom line: I don’t recommend this light to anyone.
Here are the best camping flashlights:
- ThruNite Archer 2A V3
- Fenix E12
- Fenix LD02
- Fenix E05
- Nite Ize Radiant 3-in-1 LED Mini Flashlight
- Goal Zero Torch 250
- J5 Tactical V1 Pro
- Maglite Mini PRO LED
- BYBLIGHT Lantern Flashlight
How to Choose the Right Camping Flashlight for Your Needs
Flashlights are feature-heavy pieces of technology. It can be easy to get bogged down in the technical jargon.
Let me simplify it for you. Here’s what you need to consider when shopping for a camping flashlight.
First, look at the brightness levels of the flashlights you’re interested in.
Look at the how many lumens the low mode emits. The lower the better. The fatal flaw of too many of the flashlights we tested was a low mode that wasn’t dim enough. They irritated my eyes at night while doing camp chores or using them in a tent.
Next, consider the remaining brightness levels with an eye towards what you’ll be using them for. Flashlight product pages like to tout max lumen outputs, but these higher brightness settings went unused in 99% of my testing. They were too bright for basic camping.
A bright high mode could be used as an important signaling method in an emergency situation, though. Take into account where you’ll be going and if you need something extra bright for this reason.
Red Light Mode
Red light doesn’t cause pupils to shrink the way white light does. If you do lots of reading or map perusing while in your tent, I’d recommend using a light with a red light mode. It also doesn’t disturb your tent mate as much.
A red light mode isn’t necessary, though. A very dim low mode can also work, even if it’s emitting white light.
Our Top Pick, the ThruNite Archer 2A V3, doesn’t have a red light mode and frankly I only missed it slightly. That’s because its dimmest setting, its firefly mode, is so dim that it doesn’t hurt your eyes at night.
Strobe mode (aka flash mode) acts as an emergency blinker. Like a red light mode, it isn’t necessary your camping flashlight have a strobe mode. Our Runner-Up doesn’t have one.
It’s important to consider a flashlight with a strobe mode if there’s a possibility you might find yourself in an emergency situation. You could use the strobe mode on your light to signal for help if worst comes to worst.
I’ll end with a personal opinion. If searching for a flashlight with a strobe mode, I recommend choosing one that strobes white light as opposed to red light. The white light strobes we tested were all brighter.
Weight & Bulk
Just a friendly reminder to take into account weight and size. Car camping removes the burden of carrying your gear around on your back, but smaller, lighter gear makes almost everything easier.
Types & Number of Batteries Required
I’m no flashlight expert. I don’t understand the nuances of when it’s best to choose a 1-AA flashlight over a 1-AAA flashlight and vice versa.
I do understand things like pack weight, though. So, my advice here would be to consider weight and bulk of the spare batteries you’ll need to take with you.
The last important consideration for campers is run time. Manufacturers list run time on their product pages (but be aware they’re likely incorrect and take them with a large grain of salt). Make sure to look at the run time for each mode and confirm that it’s adequate for your purposes.
Those who will just be using their flashlight for a few seconds or minutes at a time can get by with a shorter run time. Those who will be using their flashlight for longer stretches of time — such as nighttime reading or hiking — should invest in a flashlight with a longer run time.
The main factor that influences run time is brightness level. The brighter the beam, the shorter the run time.
Accordingly, another benefit of finding a flashlight with a very dim setting is that it’s run time will be much higher in that mode. Our Top Pick, the ThruNite Archer 2A V3, has a purported run time of 28 days in its 0.2-lumen firefly mode according to ThruNite.
On the other hand, the Mini Maglite PRO LED has only one brightness setting — a high mode that emits 272 lumens — and has a run time of only 2.5 hours according to Maglite.
You Probably Don’t Need a Flashlight
Time to circle back to a claim I made in the intro.
If you simply need a light source while camping, a flashlight might not be the best tool for the job. In fact, I’d argue that it almost always isn’t be the best tool for the job.
Consider this partial list of things you might do at night while camping:
- Cooking dinner
- Pitching a tent
- Disposing of trash
- Cleaning camp dishes
- Searching for and carrying firewood
- Building a campfire
- Walking to your car or the bathroom
- Reading a book or looking at a map
- Looking for things in your tent
- Checking for ticks
- Filtering water
For many of these scenarios, you’d probably hold your flashlight with your teeth to use as a makeshift headlamp or set it on a surface to use as a makeshift lantern.
Headlamps Work Better for Most Camp Chores
In almost all of those situations listed above, I would personally prefer a headlamp to a flashlight. Headlamps let you use both of your hands which makes most camping tasks — from cleaning dishes to reading a book in your tent — so much easier.
You can find our headlamp recommendations in our guide to the best backpacking headlamps.
Camping Lanterns Work Better for Producing Ambient Light
If you’d like a light source to evenly illuminate your tent or campground rather than produce a focused beam, a camping lantern would work much better.
For our recommendations, check out our guide to the best camping lanterns. If you’d like a solar-powered lantern, check out our guide to the best solar camping lanterns.
Two of the flashlights we tested, the Nite Ize and BYBLIGHT, convert into a small lantern. Another one, the Goal Zero Torch 250, has a “flood light” mode. I don’t recommend any of these as a camping lantern, though. They don’t work too well for that purpose.
How We Tested
Let me be clear:
I’m no “flashaholic” or flashlight expert. What I am is an outdoorsy fellow.
Thus, I mostly tested these flashlights the best way I knew how: in the field.
I spent multiple nights camping in Talladega National Forest in Alabama and Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia in order to test these flashlights in real-world scenarios.
Also, while camping, I conducted the following side-by-side tests.
Campground Use Test
Once the sun goes down on your campground, you’ll need an alternative light source.
While I’d argue that in most scenarios a campfire, headlamp, or camping lantern would serve you better, I tested each of these flashlights as a campground light source.
To do this, I simply pitched my tent and waited until it got dark. I then shuffled around camp doing usual camp chores — such as cooking dinner, washing dishes, and checking for ticks — while alternating between the flashlights to get a sense for how well they performed.
Tent Use Test
Your camp light source should also do a good job of illuminating your tent once you’ve gone “inside” for the night.
After I had tucked myself in, I waited until my eyes adjusted to the dark and then brought out my flashlights and — one at a time — used them as a tent light source. I used them to locate items I’d left lying around the tent and as a reading light for reading from a paperback I’d brought with me.
I left a gap of 10 minutes between testing each flashlight as a tent light source to allow time for my eyes to readjust to the darkness. This allowed me to better assess each flashlight’s dim mode, since at night in a tent this is the mode you’ll be using most often.
Of course, my testing would be incomplete without using the flashlights to take a nighttime trip to the loo.
Beyond the instances where I actually needed to go the bathroom, I also mimicked this act by literally getting out of my tent and walking a little ways into the woods.
Using all the flashlights in this real-world scenario allowed me to assess things like the user interface of each flashlight, how appropriate the brightness settings are once the sun goes down, and how easy the lights are to operate in the dark.
I used my own scale to double check the weight of each flashlight. These are the weights found in the comparison table at the top of the page.
All flashlights were weighed empty, i.e. without batteries, with the exception of the Goal Zero Torch 250 because it has a built-in rechargeable battery.
I tested these flashlights exclusively in a 2-person tent. I cannot comment on how they’d perform in a larger tent, so I hope to test them in a 6-person tent soon enough. I will update this article when I do.
I’m a guy, so the results of my Bathroom Test are from a male’s perspective.
I did not do any night hiking with these flashlights since I wanted to restrict the testing to camping use only.