There’s no point buying an expensive flashlight if it’s at home in a drawer when you need it most. For many of us, it’s the sheer hassle of carrying a flashlight around that means we never have one when we need one.
And let’s face it, if you’re not planning a nighttime excursion where you’ll want a really good light, the chances are you’ll be unlikely to carry a top-notch flashlight with you.
And that’s where the keychain flashlight comes in. The whole point is that it’s small enough to take literally everywhere with you, which can only be a good thing. And the other good news is that small generally means cheap. For a few bucks, you can make sure you’re never stuck without a light again.
Obviously, being so small means that there are compromises to consider – keychain flashlights are generally not as bright as their big brothers, and the really cheap ones may only have one fixed level of brightness. Spend a few dollars more, though, and you’ll get a flashlight with a very respectable lumen rating and multiple brightness levels too. You get what you pay for.
The two main types of keychain light are microlights that run off a watch battery and lights that run on a AAA battery. They’re known for their durability – especially since LED lamps have replaced the older incandescent bulbs – and come in very useful when you least expect it.
Perfect as a first – or only – flashlight, or as a back-up to a more expensive flashlight. Everyone should have at least one. Or two. Or three.
Our recommended keychain flashlights
FourSevens Atom AL
Barely bigger than the CR123A battery powering it, the FourSevens Atom AL somehow manages to produce an impressive 110 lumens in high-power mode – and it can keep pumping out that level of light for 3.5 hours.
Low-power mode is a power-sipping 6 lumens, which will let you keep the lights on for a full 40 hours.
The Atom AL has a smooth and wide viewing angle – great for close range lighting – and a glow in the dark tip so it can be found easily in the event of a sudden power outage.
It is activated by a twisting operation and comes with the required CR123A battery. The Atom AL also has a neodymium magnet in the tail to allow for quick attachment to any ferrous metal surface. This may not suit everyone as the magnet has a tendency to stick to keys, so it’s one factor to consider as to whether it’s the right flashlight for you.
Amazon buyer rating 4.4/5
Olight i3S EOS
This update on the popular Olight i3 keeps the classic compact design but adds a newly designed clip and clip mount. The pocket clip is also reversible, so you can attach it to a hat brim if you want.
The i3S comes with updated drive circuitry, meaning it is far more efficient and gives a higher light output. The regulated output means it has an excellent runtime on a single AAA battery.
There are four output levels; moonlight, low, high and strobe. Rotating the head is how you alternate between these modes. It has a maximum output of 80 lumens, with a runtime of half an hour. In moonlight mode (0.5 lumens), the I3S will soldier on for 60 hours.
The i3s is lightweight, durable and easy to use with one hand. It has a large hotspot and a wide spill beam for peripheral vision. And, an important point seeing as many people will be carrying it as a fashion accessory, it comes in a range of colors; red, blue, purple, gold and black.
Amazon buyer rating 4.6/5
Klarus MiX6 Ti
Sleek and shiny, the Klaus MiX6 Ti is as versatile and durable as it is good-looking.
With an IPX8 waterproof rating, it’s an AAA flashlight with four modes of operation: High (100 lumens for 70 minutes); Medium (30 lumens for 5.7 hours); Low (4 lumens for 66 hours) and Stobe (100 lumens for 2.3 hours).
Its titanium body prevents corrosion and provides a light weight while maintaining a solid feel. It has a digitally regulated output, and avoids the flickering often seen in other regulated lights.
The twist switch means its less likely to turn on accidentally if carried in a pocket or purse.
Amazon buyer rating 4.8/5
Photon Freedom Microlight LED keychain light
For the ultimate “Put it in your pocket and forget its even there” experience, it’s hard to beat the Photon Freedom range.
The Microlight LED keychain light is the approximate size and weight of a US quarter – you’d better attach it to your keys or you’re likely to lose it!
Despite its minute size, it packs a decent punch. Its maximum brightness of 4.5 lumens isn’t going to blind a would-be attacker, but it will provide enough light to find a keyhole in the dark or light up a map if you’re lost.
It comes with a replaceable Lithium battery but can run on 2 CR2016 batteries if you want a brighter light.
It has a full range of adjustable brightness and can be used in regular mode, strobe mode, SOS mode or pulse mode – pretty impressive for such a little light.
The Photon Freedom range comes with LEDs in a variety of colors for different uses, including infrared and ultra-violet. The cases are also available in a different colors.
Amazon buyer rating 4.3/5
Also, read our full review of the Streamlight LED Nano Light.