How many lumens do you need?

Photo Courtesy of Campco Photos
Photo Courtesy of Campco Photos

While browsing the aisles of a local sporting goods store yesterday, I was reminded of a growing and ridiculous trend in flashlights, headlamps and other personal lighting devices. “Why would you spend that on a flashlight?” a woman said to her partner.  “Because it’s got 300 lumens.  I need all the lumens I can get for hunting season this year”,  the misguided man retorted.  I pretended to look at something close to them and giggled to myself as he explained the 5 different strobe settings, 3 different color lights and all the other whiz bang features that would obviously not have anything to do with his hunting success.

The trend in question here is the use of high powered tactical lights in the great outdoors. Lets face it.  Anything labeled “Tactical” is going to sell nowadays. We all have overweight, middle aged buddies who sit on their tactical couch every night, playing with their tactical gear, stuffing their face with tactical food, drinking tactical beer and thinking of what they will do if they ever get into a tactical situation. It’s silly but true.

For those unfamiliar with the design, I’ll describe.  They are small, very high powered flashlights that can be handheld or weapon mounted.  They use a type of Cree LED bulb that puts out a much brighter light than traditional models.  They’re designed to illuminate a target for fast acquisition and momentarily disorient the target with the ultra bright beam or a series of rapid strobes that some models feature. Most feature some sort of sharp scalloping on the edge for use as a hand to hand weapon.  Current models range from 200-800 Lumens, which is a measure of light by the way.  In a defensive (or offensive for that matter) scenario, they might serve admirably but…

These high performance units come at a substantial cost and have many other downsides for general outdoors use.  It’s not uncommon to see the latest, greatest models sell for $250-$400.  The high powered LED system drains batteries like The Energizer Vampire when used on any but their lowest settings.  CR-123a batteries are considerably more expensive than their AA or AAA counterparts.  Most models don’t dim when the battery is getting low, going directly from bright to off.  Changing modes / programming involves an annoying and confusing series of taps on the switch and the scalloped edges hang on everything they touch and tear up your pack.

I fell victim to this craze a few years ago.  It didn’t take long for me to learn my lesson on a Whitetail hunt in Central Texas.  Driving from my stand to pick up a buddy for the ride back to camp, I received a text message that he had arrowed a nice one just before dark. We entered the woods with our fancy new lightsabers to retrieve his prize.  Every tick and blade of grass was illuminated as if it was daylight… for a little while.   It was a long tracking job and his light died an hour into it.  Mine had fresh batteries and held up a little longer but not long enough.  By the time both lights died, we were closer to camp than we were the truck.  It was a brutal walk to camp in the dark to retrieve batteries and extra lights.  We were a bloody mess from fighting a losing battle with the thorny vines inhabiting that region of the state.  Those terrible thorns could have easily been avoided if we were able to see them before walking into them.

For my money, I’ll stick to more reasonable (in both light output and price) models.  My personal favorites being the AA Mini Maglite series.  At 97 max lumens, they put out plenty of light for anything I’ve ever needed and 11 hours of burn time on high (32 hours on low) is good insurance that you won’t be walking home in the dark.

P.S.  Bring a few spare batteries… just in case.