As part of our effort to be prepared for everyday emergencies like power outages and needing to find stuff in the back of the van at night when the rear light has burnt out, we went on a hunt for the best cheap flashlight.
There are a TON of flashlights available, and many of them are crazy expensive. Many of them also require specialty batteries, which bumps up the cost even more. (And if your special batteries go dead, the light is useless.) It just didn't seem practical to spend big bucks on flashlights that were likely to spend most of their time in nightstands, emergency bags and glove compartments. My husband, August, made it his personal mission to check out an assortment of flashlights over the last several months, and this is his recommendation for the best small, durable, inexpensive, multipurpose flashlight.
The Best Cheap Flashlight – UltraFire Q5 mini Cree 3 mode LED flashlight
Technical Summary: The Ultrafire Q5 mini Cree 3 LED flashlight uses a standard AA battery or a 14500 3.6v battery. The Q5 has a sturdy aluminum case with a belt clip and a manual focus. There are two types, a single mode and three mode – High, Low and Strobe. It is about 25mm (just under an inch) wide and 92mm (3.6 inches) long, weighing about .143 pounds/65 grams/2.3oz. The Q5 mini Cree costs $5 to $7 on Amazon.
Pros: It is bright, inexpensive and has proven reasonably durable. It is water resistant but not waterproof and has no IPX rating. A remote pressure switch is available for weapon mounts.
Cons: It is a bit heavy for EDC (Every Day Carry) in a purse or pocket . If the unit is left on “high mode” it will get quite hot. The individual LEDs are visible when the flashlight is fully focused which may bother some people. We have heard of people having trouble with the switch, and units being bad to start. You might have trouble finding the three mode unit and there are complaints of bait and switch with advertising listing the three mode and delivering single mode instead. The lumen rating is likely over estimated on most of the Q5, C8 and T6 flash lights.
Best Uses: Stashed in a car or truck, one in the glove compartment and two in the trunk/toolkit. Good for nightstands, bathroom and kitchen drawers. Put one in an emergency kit, 72 kit, first aid kit, get home kit and a bug out bag. If you or the kids lose one you aren’t losing an expensive flashlight.
We recommend three for every vehicle. August was on the way home and came across a deer accident. In clearing the road, vehicles were not slowing down. He put one facing traffic in each direction with strobe on which did slow down traffic more than normal hazard lights.
Details: When we ordered this little flashlight we were suspicious that a $3 to $6 flashlight could be any good. It took a couple of weeks to arrive from China. When we got it we were pleasantly surprised. This is a great little inexpensive flashlight. The case feels a bit overbuilt and industrial.
The three modes are toggled using the large orange thumb button (tail cap) on the back. Note the flashlight doesn’t remember the last mode. The advertisements say that they are 300 or 400 lumens (brightness). The mini Cree Q5 Ultrafire is actually about 100 to 150 lumens (depending on the focus) – there are others such as Thorfire, Trusfire and Sipik, all of which appear to be the same flashlight.
Even though the mini Q5 Cree flashlights are 150 lumen, they are still blindingly bright with a fully charged AA. They might be brighter with a good 14500 battery, however we want to standardize on the AA batteries as much as possible. The light color or hue is not too “red or blue”. It is a fairly clean white- slightly blue, however, given the wide variance in production it is possible your flashlight could vary.
The UltraFire mini Cree has a decent range (light throw) for a small single AA LED flashlight – about 30 feet to 100+ feet, depending on flood vs. narrow focus beam. Although the LEDs are visible in the narrow focus, the brightness is just right for close tasks like pulling a sliver. The wide focus works better for a night-time tire change or lighting up a room. The strobe is disturbingly bright and would be a good alternate to a road flare to warn drivers, and it did work for August. The lower intensity is good for enough light to see your way around the house in the dark.
Be cautious buying the off brand or unnamed Q5 flashlights – there are many. They are similar and some are slightly less expensive, however, not all of them use the Q5 LED and even with the Q5 many only have on/off, not 3 modes. The single mode one should be about $1 or $2 cheaper than the three mode unit. There are some “waterproof” versions that include an o-ring seal. We recommend you only order one flashlight and then order more if you like it. We ended up with a few single mode no-name flashlights when we intended to get 3 mode, so confirm the seller has a good rating and you are actually purchasing the Ultrafire.
Conclusion: Overall this is a solid, inexpensive, very bright, single AA battery, LED flashlight with a manual focus.
Update 2016: Our readers report that they have been using the Ultrafire Q5 Cree for over two years and they are still working well. August and I have ordered many for gifts, for work and friends. We have used the Ultrafire flashlights weekly since December 2013 in our cars, bedrooms, garage, 1st aid kit, kitchen, storage, basement, work rooms and around our 10 acre yard. They are great, cheap and bright.
There are many other inexpensive and expensive flashlights, but our focus was on the BEST inexpensive flashlight we could get.
We recommend you combine the UltraFire Q5 mini Cree with rechargeable AA batteries and a good charger. The rechargeable batteries and a good recharger can easily pay for itself if you use even a moderate number of AA and AAA batteries:
- Batteries: Panasonic (Sanyo/Eneloop) 2500mAh batteries. We recommend the Panasonic Pro rechargeable batteries. They have excellent charge hold in storage. If you want to save a few dollars and are okay with lower mAh, the Amazon Basics batteries are inexpensive alternative.
- Charger: Buy the BT-C2400 – it has several modes (charge AA/A and refresh mode) and it's only $32, and it comes with a car charger. $32.21 @ Amazon
Inexpensive battery charger alternatives are:
- Panasonic BQ-CC17KSBA eneloop Advanced Individual Battery Charger with 4 LED Charge Indicator Lights – $20.41 @ Amazon
- Amazon Basics Charger, $17.23 @ Amazon
- If you want a brand name consider the Lacrosse BC1000 charger. The Lacrosse charger is excellent and can add new life to a nearly dead rechargeable battery. $54.50 @ Amazon
Alternate Products: There aren’t any as inexpensive as this mini Cree Q5 with similar brightness and quality. There are Blue, Red, Green and silver versions of this flashlight that may cost a bit more. Some more expensive higher quality flashlights include the:
- UltraFire® Cree XML T6 LED Zoomable 5 Mode Flashlight Torch Lamp Zoom (Black): This uses the less common 18650 rechargeable battery. $5.38 @ Amazon
- UltraFire 500 Lumens Professional High Quality Ultra Bright Tactical LED Flashlight with Rechargeable Lithium Battery – Charger Included. Again this is an 18650 unit but this one includes the battery and charger. $14.49 @ Amazon
If neither of these units are quite what you are looking for, search on “C8 or T6 Cree and 1000 or 2000 lumen” and you will find some options. If you are looking for a higher quality flashlight, consider these:
- Coast HP1 Focusing 220 Lumen LED Flashlight. A brand name AA single mode (on/off) LED flashlight with focus. It is very similar to the Q5, but costs more – this is the runner up. It’s a great price, $9.62 @ Amazon
- Fenix PD35 TAC 1000 Lumen CREE XP-L LED Tactical Flashlight with Two EdisonBright CR123A Lithium Batteries. It can also use a single 18650. Thi is an amazing flashlight and is our go to for lighting up a 10 acre parcel. It is a name brand and you won’t have to guess if you are getting what you believe you are ordering, however, you will pay more $72.95 with batteries and $63.14 without. This is a good unit, with more controls. $72.95 @ Amazon It is expensive but is a fantastic small flashlight with 6 modes: Turbo @ 1000 Lumen (1hr); High @ 500 Lumen (2.5hrs); Mid @ 200 Lumen (8hrs); Low @ 60 Lumen (29hrs); Eco @ 8 Lumen (140 hrs) and Strobe: 1000 Lumens. All the times are estimates and will vary with the battery type and charge.
Hopefully you'll find this useful if you're shopping for some extra flashlights to have on hand before summer storm season hits, or any time you need a handy light. The new LED products have much better battery life and durability than some of the first units that came out, while still providing excellent lighting.
You may also find other posts on General Preparedness, First Aid and Food Storage useful, including:
- Emergency Cooking – 10 Ways to Have a Hot Meal When the Power Goes Out
- Winter Storm Survival – Keeping You and Your Home Warm When the Power Goes Out
- Emergency Power Options for Your Home