A while back, we discussed the importance of always having access to a flashlight of some kind (http://wp.me/p3TYmc-1l). Unfortunately, I managed to lose my Fenix PD32, and finding a replacement (at a reasonable cost) is proving to be a challenge. In the meantime, I’ve discovered a real challenger, the Olight “Baton” line.
The Fenix showed some minor disadvantages over time. It is controlled by two switches, which are fairly easy to handle; however, the selection switch is on the side, which tends to get pressed accidentally a lot. This was only a minor annoyance, as the only impact was an easily corrected “wrong” illumination level. I carried it clipped in my front pocket and often found it turned on in there. Thus I started unscrewing the end cap a quarter turn which solved the problem of unintentional activation, but then it took two hands to turn it on. This was somewhat more annoying. It is a bit disturbing that the light “fell out” of the pocket, possibly during when I tripped and fell. Still, I’m looking for a good sale in order to replace it.
But detesting being “lightless”, I searched for an interim replacement, and Olight came to my attention. They seem to be brighter than equivalent Fenix lights, and their lowest levels, being much dimmer, last a lot longer. They are less expensive than the Fenix, or at least are more commonly on sale at this point in time. Most interestingly, they are operated by one button, which includes a “lock” function to prevent (or at least greatly reduce the chances of) the light from being turned on accidentally.
The premium flashlight companies, such as Fenix and Olight, seem to have a wide variety of lights for various purposes. This means that you have to be careful when selecting a model. For instance, the Fenix PD32 is a very good light for survival/emergency usage, while the more available PD35 which appears to be “the same” actually seems a poorer choice in this instance, being brighter but with a lesser run time. Same with the PD32 UE (Ultimate Edition) which is nearly three times as bright as the standard PD32 with lesser run time. Also, the LED used seems to be of importance. One version of the PD32 uses a “S2” LED, which is alleged to have some problems with the color stability, where as the “R5” LED seems to have good reviews.
In the Olight line, the S10 (single CR123), S15 (single AA) and S20 (dual CR123/18650) seem the best choices for our purposes.
Another thing to be careful of is that the companies seem to come out with a new version every so often. If you go on eBay and look for one of these, you’ll see a wide selection of lumens advertised for the “same” model. When shopping, make sure you know which is the “latest” version, and go for the one which gives you the best brightness/run time combinations, or if going for an older model with adequate specs, make sure you get a good discount.
My first Olight was a S10 with maximum level of 400 lumens and a “moonlight” mode of .5 lumen which can go for 15 days straight. This is a tiny little thing, almost too small to handle easily, but it sure does carry like a dream. The single button control takes a bit of getting used to, but is very usable once you get used to it. The clip seems excellent and secure, but does position the lens upwards, which means that it gets dusty quickly. There is a removable magnet in the end cap, which allows the light to cling to any ferrous (iron) surface. My only complaint is that after a while it started to be difficult to turn on or keep turned on. Possibly the battery (an old one I had kicking around for years) got weak; a new battery seems to have cleared up this problem.
With the success of the S10, I went searching for a good price on the 2 CR123 version, the S20. This would be a direct competitor to my beloved PD32. It has a maximum level of 550 lumens, and the moonlight mode goes for 25 days (600 hours). It has all the other features of the S10, PLUS it allegedly lets you know when the batteries are done for, which the S10 does not (except possibly by not working reliably…). In a single AA light, the S15 looks like a good choice, offering 280 lumens and 15 day moonlight mode in a small package (a significant improvement over my Fenix LD12). An extension tube is available to allow usage of 2 AA batteries; the advantages seem to be limited to an extended run time and perhaps making it a bit easier to hold onto during use.
Again, for the S20, I use an 18650 LI rechargeable battery for everyday use, swapping them out every so often, and have new CR123 battery pairs in my various survival kits. Note that there are a wide range of 18650 batteries. 2600mah (milli-amp hours, an indication of how much current the battery can supply, for how long) seems to be common. I’ve found 3100mah and 3400mah from reputable companies, and even greater capacities (up to 5600mah) from “unknown” companies. I would suggest going with a known reliable battery company, even if the advertised capacity is less, since there is a rumor that these Lithium Ion batteries have been known to catch fire while charging, and in my experience with no-name “ultra-high capacity” AA cells, they don’t seem to last that much longer AND seem to self discharge much quicker. Will 18650 ultra-high capacity cells have the same problems? I don’t know, but certainly won’t trust them until I put them through extensive testing.
Update: S20 has been in use for a while now, and I like it a lot for EDC. The “lock” function reduces, but does not eliminate, the light turning on in the pocket. As it faces upwards, you can spot it being on sooner. I have not run it down to the point where I can evaluate the “power low” function yet. The magnet in the base has come in handy a few times. Meanwhile, the original S10 has been relegated to backup, for when even the relatively small S20 is “too big” to carry or if I lose it, too. The S15 with extension tube (for 2 AA cells) is my “workroom” flashlight at the moment. Without the extension tube, it beats out the Fenix LD12 single AA in brightness and run time, but I have not replaced the LD12 in my kit. The S15 may be a better “flashlight”, but the LD12 has two pluses the Olight does not: 1) it flashes “S-O-S”, and 2) it comes with a belt case and that is how the light is carried in my kit; in its belt case attached to the Molle straps on the outside of the kit pouch.