When you’ve been into preparedness quite a long time, progress can be a double-edged sword – while it’s awesome to have improvements in your gear over what you had twenty years ago the drawback is that it means you have to upgrade, often at considerable expense, to get those improvements. Case in point: flashlights.
Now, I don’t know how old you are but it’s likely that, for most of your adult life, when it comes to flashlights you reflexively think of the classic, all-metal, beat-a-man-to-death-with-it MagLite. Prior to the MagLite the market was mostly plastic-bodied flashlights and a few specialty lights used by the cops. In fact, pick up an old book on cop gear from the late 1970′s or early 1980′s and you’ll probably see references to the ‘Kel-Lite‘, one of the earlier ‘duty flashlights’.
For basic end-of-the-world duty whether it be tornado, earthquake or NYC Blackout, the D-cell MagLite is what I keep on hand (other than small pocket SureFire lights). For years I’ve had various MagLites of the 3-battery D-cell variety laying about the house, and a stash of about a half-dozen laid back for future use. And, for my needs, that seemed a good way to go.
Then, naturally, progress marches on and the incandescent bulbs and ‘Xenon/Krypton’ bulbs, which were all the rage, started giving way to LED bulbs. LEDS drew much less power (a big consideration when you may not know where your next batch of batteries is coming from) and had no delicate filaments to break if you dropped the light on a hard surface. (Older MagLites had a spare bulb in the tailcap…LED MagLites dispense with this since the bulbs are, effectively, unbreakable in normal (or abnormal) use and have a life measured in years and years of continuous use.) So now the stash of incandescent MagLites is ‘yesterdays technology’. Oh, they’ll work just fine but they wont have the advantages of the more modern LED lights.
Since I’ve always been a fan of the MagLite for its brutal ruggedness the obvious solution is to upgrade to the LED versions. Now, if youre like me you really dont want to spend any more money than you have to so you may be tempted to buy one of the LED ‘conversions’ thats are out there. Basically, you just swap out the bulb for a regulated-power LED bulb. This will work, no doubt about it, but it will not turn your old-style MagLite into the equivalent of the newer style. Here’s why: in addition to replacing the fragile filament-bulb the reflector of the flashlight is shaped differently. On most incandescent-bulb flashlights the reflector is funnel shaped. On the LED MagLites it is more ovoid (egg) shaped. The difference is noticeable when it comes to performance. If you’re going top upgrade, then upgrade. Half-measures to save twenty bucks probably will not pay off in the long run. Spend the money and get the purpose-built D-cell LED model.
I bring this up because someone emailed me a while back and asked me about what to keep in their car for a long road trip they were planning on. I told them to take along the usual things, blanket, water, cash, flashlight, etc, etc, but I admonished them not to just grab the first $9.99 flashlight they found on the shelf at Home Depot but to specifically get the MagLite 3-D Cell LED Flashlight..accept no substitutes. Think of all those AAA commercials where the guy is kneeling next to his car, in the dark, changing a tire, as rain pours down on him and his wife stands by the side of the road holding the flashlight. That is so not the time for a $2.99 Made-In-China flashlight.
But what about the higher-end stuff like SureFire? You know, I love SureFire products. They make great weapon lights, they make great tactical flashlights, but they do not make, in my opinion, work lights. By work lights I mean the flashlight that you would use in the aforementioned AAA tire-changing scenario. Let’s face it, CR123 flashlights are not ‘sustained fire’ flashlights…they are meant for short(!) periods of use as you check out hallways and rooms and that sort of thing. Leave one on for fifteen minutes straight and it’ll either burst into flame or be time for another set of $5 batteries. Mel Tappan had his ‘working guns’ and his ‘defense guns’, well the MagLites are pretty much ‘working flashlights’ and the SureFire are ‘defensive flashlights’.
Regardless, I have a number of the older style MagLites here that will be relegated to secondary or tertiary status. They’re fine flashlights…for 1999. While I would certainly take one over a cheapo Made In China $2.99 flashlight, I would rather have the more modern LED light that is hardier and thriftier in terms of battery usage.
While Im on the subject of MagLites, in an attempt to gild the lily MagLite offers some accessories for their product. The colored filter set is, in my opinion, not terribly useful. If youre not using one of the colored filters you have to carry around the filters and the clunky rubber ‘mask’ that goes over the flashlight head. One accessory that is worthwhile, though, are the brackets ( MAGLITE D-Cell Flashlight Mounting Bracket ) that let you mount the light to a wall or other surface. While practical, these are made out of some fairly brittle plastic and I have broken more than one. If you use one of these make sure you replace/remove the flashlight on a straght-line axis…torquing it out of the jaws at an angle will sometimes break the darn thing.
My biggest complaint about MagLites is that there is no attachment point for a lanyard. You could just drill a hole through the tailcap and thread in a sling swivel or somethingl ike that, but you would then lose the waterproof integrity of the product. I think there might be enough meat in the endcap to drill a hole for a split ring but I havent tried that yet. I suppose a crafty person could chuck the body of the light in a lathe and turn a groove in the body shallow enough to keep a loop of paracord or wire from sliding up and down the length of the body.
Anyway, if youre in the market for a solid flashlight thats a bit more practical than tactical definitely get the LED MagLite. Skip the C-cell version, those are just silly. Go with the big burly D-batts.
Now if only CostCo would bring them back so I could buy a bunch at a discount, I’d be a happy camper.
ETA: Two interesting accessories I havent tried yet (but want to):
Maglite D Cell Flashlight glass breaking Tail Cap X Cape Cap – If youre going to keep a light in your car, might as well have one with the glassbreaker built in.
X Cape Cap Maglite C or D Bezel Upgrade – Short of beating someone with this thing, I have no idea if it works or not but looks like it would make a nasty impression.