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 flashlights. We tested each of the flashlights, batteries and chargers reviewed.
“Best of the Best” Cheap Flashlights Accessories List
7w Mini Cree Q5 300lumen LED AA Battery – (Low / High / Strobe) – Six flashlights – approximately 200 lumens
Mini Perman LED AAA Battery – (single mode) – roughly 80 lumen (not 1000)
LUMINTOP Mini Worm our favorite smallest LED flashlight (3 mode – low med high) – single AAA battery – 110 lumen
“Best of the Best” Accessories List
AA & AAA Rechargeable batteries Tenergy affordable AA and AAA Batteries – provide good shelf life and fairly high mah.
Lacrosse BC-1000 Affordable battery charger that can refresh older rechargeable AA and AAA batteries (but not 18650)
Orbtronic 3500mah 18650 Rechargeable batteries good for the aTactical A1 flashlight
Nitcore i4 Charger can charge 18650, AA and AAA rechargeable batteries (but cannot “refresh”)
For more information on rechargeable batteries and battery chargers “Best Battery Chargers and Batteries” post.
The Best Cheap Flashlight – 3 mode 7W 300LM Q5 mini Cree LED Flashlight
Technical Summary of Q5 mini Cree 3 mode LED flashlight
The Q5 mini Cree 3 mode 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. The 14500 battery will make the flashlight brighter assuming its a true XR-E “Q5”. See below for info on the various CREE LED types.
There are generally two types of Q5's: 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 single Q5 flashlights tend to cost much more individually which is why we recommend you purchase multi-packs. Watch out for the high rated LED flashlights that might have false reviews (look for lots of short reviews in a short time period with grammatical errors. Also watch out for high shipping cost flashlights.
It is bright, inexpensive and reasonably durable. It is water resistant (but not waterproof) and has no IPX rating. A remote pressure switch is available for weapon mounts. Note the unit in the pictures is the Ultrafire, but is the same “build”.
It is a bit heavy for an EDC (Every Day Carry) flashlight in a purse or pocket . If the unit is left on “high mode” it gets hot. The individual LEDs are visible when the flashlight is fully focused, which may bother some people (series of rectangles). 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.
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.
When we first ordered this little flashlight we were suspicious that a $3 to $7 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 is actually about 150 lumens (depending on the focus) – there are numerous name brands such as Ultrafire, Thorfire, Trusfire and Sipik, all of which appear to be the same flashlight. We have purchased over 100 of these (August gave them as parting gifts to his team at his previous employer) and have had a few duds, but given the price and general quality for the ones that work it is a great deal (and they won't break the bank if you lose them).
Even though the mini Q5 Cree flashlights are 100 to 150 lumens, they are still blindingly bright with a fully charged AA.
With a 14500 battery they are slightly brighter. 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 (known as “cool white”), however, given the wide variance in production it is possible your flashlight could have different color hues.
The Q5 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 / 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 $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 Q5 Cree. The price has been going up, and the quality on some knock offs is poor, buy one before you buy a dozen.
Overall this is a solid, inexpensive, very bright, single AA battery, LED flashlight with a manual focus.
Update 2017: Our readers report that they have been using the Q5 Cree for over three years and they are still working well. August and I have ordered many for gifts, for work and friends. We have used the Q5 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. They have held up to being dropped, abused by teenagers and left in cars for months on end.
We recommend you combine the Q5 mini Cree with rechargeable AA batteries and a good AA 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:
The Best Cheap AA, AAA and 18650 Rechargeable Batteries
AA & AAA Batteries: Amazon Basics, Tenergy or Panasonic (Sanyo/Eneloop) 2500mAh batteries. We recommend the Panasonic Pro rechargeable batteries. They are low self discharge, so they hold their charge well in storage. If you want to save a few dollars and are okay with lower mAh, the Amazon Basics batteries are inexpensive alternative. We recommend the Tenergy AA and AAA rechargeable batteries.
We recommend the Orbtronic “protected” 3500 mAh rechargeable battery.
The Best Cheap AAA Flashlight
The clear winner here is the Mini Perman CREE XPE-R3 AAA LED Flashlight. This flashlight is as bright as many AA LED lights. The unit is simple on/off only. It does have a focus which is nice. The Mini Perman is small enough to be a key-chain light and definitely light enough to be and EDC and it definitely meets the “cheap” criteria. Buy a few of the “XPE-R3” LED units. We might move this to #1 if it holds up over time.
The Best TINY Flashlight
The LUMINTOP Mini Worm uses AAA batteries. It is a 110 lumen, super small, super bright, 3 mode LED flashlight. It is great for a small emergency kits, a purse, a backpack, bug out bag, a keychain light, or other space or weight sensitive uses. We have one in all our small first aid kits. This is a close runner up to the Q5 as its is very small and very bright.
The runner up and brightest TINY flashlight is the Nitecore TIP 360 Lumen USB Rechargeable Keychain Flashlight. It is about 2x to 3x the price but also much brighter and smaller. It requires a mini-USB charger. This unit is crazy bright, and very lightweight. It is on August's keychain.
The Best Cheap 18650 Flashlight
The Best Cheap aTactical A1S 18650 LED Flashlight Bright 1000 lumen tactical 18650 LED. This is an amazing flashlight and is our go to for lighting up a 10 acre parcel. The aTactical is one inch diameter. It can be used with a mount on a weapon for tactical use. The strobe is appropriately blinding for defense use. It is slightly smaller lengthwise than our PD35 and has mode memory and a 2nd button to cycle through the Low / Medium / High / Turbo / Strobe / SOS light modes. The ATactical is IPX7 water resistant. It includes an interesting 18650 battery that can be charged with a micro-USB cable. Another interesting thing about the aTactical is the option for Cool White or Neutral color hue (different models, same price). You might want one or the other depending on use.
We also have a Fenix PD35 TAC 1000 Lumen which is a great tactical flashlight from a name brand but is more expensive and is comparable in brightness. The PD35 is a standard in the tactical flashlights. For weapon use you can purchase a Fenix PD35 kit. The Thrunite TN12 is another good alternative we tested, and its $10 to $15 more than the aTactical A1S.
CREE LED Differences
There are many other CREE LED flashlights. The main variable on the flashlights are the LEDs used to create the light. A few of the more popular ones are the XR-E “Q5” CW, the XP-G “R5” CW, XM-L “T6”. The XM-L or “T6” and the XP-L/HI which is probably the highest out there as of Nov 2017. The Fenix PD35 and aTatical uses the XP-L (providing true 1000 lumens).
The really amazingly bright XHP70 LED flashlights such as the ThruNite TN36 are excellent but don't fit the “cheap” expectation of this post. So we don't review them here. All LEDs using XHP70 LEDs are expensive varying from $50 to $500+ and require multiple 18650 or 26650 batteries. None not pocket flashlights.
For information on rechargeable batteries and battery chargers “Best Battery Chargers and Batteries” post.
See also: “Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) – What You Need to Know” for info to protect your LED flashlights from EMPs.
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
- Emergency Heat During a Power Outage and other Winter Storm Preps
- Emergency Power Options for Your Home
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