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.
“Best of the Best” Cheap Flashlights and Accessories List
- AA LED Flashlight 3mode Q5 Cree 150lumen AA LED Six flashlights for $20.49 ($3.42 each)
- AAA LED Flashlight the Mini Perman 1000 (100 lumen) AAA LED (single mode) $2.49
- 18650 LED Flashlight Atactical A1 1150 lumen 18650 LED (Low / Medium / High / Turbo / Strobe / SOS light modes) $29.99
- AA & AAA Rechargeable batteries Tenergy and the AA-AAA Lacrosse BC-1000 $59.99 Charger
- 18650 Rechargeable batteries and the 18650 Nitcore i4 Charger *the Nitecore can charge 18650, AA and AAA
For more 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.
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.
There are 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. A single Q5 costs $5 to $7 on Amazon, but you can purchase multipaks for less per flashlight (linked above).
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.
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 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.
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 ordered this little flashlight we were suspicious that a $5 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 150 lumens, 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 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 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 $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.
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.
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 1000 Lumens CREE XPE-R3 AAA LED Flashlight. This flashlight is as bright as many AA LED lights. It is simple on/off only. It is small enough to be a key-chain light – and definitely light enough to be and EDC and at $2.49 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. There is a three mode version for $3 that we haven't checked out yet.
The Best TINY Flashlight
The LUMINTOP Mini Worm AAA 110 Lumens is $13.90 so it fails the “cheap part”. However, it is a super small, super bright ,3 mode AAA 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.
The Best Cheap 18650 Flashlight
The Best Cheap $29.99 ATactical 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, for use on a “tactical” mount. It is slightly smaller lengthwise than the 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 $72.95 Fenix PD35 TAC 1000 Lumen which is a great flashlight from a name brand but is more expensive and is comparable in brightness.
For information on rechargeable batteries and battery chargers “Best Battery Chargers and Batteries” post.
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