If the most popular battery type for the average flashlight user is the AA, there’s a strong case for the argument that the most popular battery type for true flashlight junkies is the lithium ion-based 18650.
And the reason is pretty clear: the 18650 packs a powerful punch in terms of the capacity it delivers versus its size. Add in the fact that the 18650 is, of course, rechargeable, and you’ve a compelling reason to consider the best 18650 flashlights over their AA counterparts.
Size-wise, the 18650 comes in slightly larger than an AA at 18mm diameter by 65mm height, as against the smaller cell’s 14mm by 50mm. But that small increase in size belies a much higher voltage output (typically three times that of an alkaline AA) and two to three times the capacity. The dimensions of the 18650 also mean that it can generally be used in place of two CR123A batteries, giving users some options in case they don’t have access to a charger.
In the past, Li-ion batteries had something of a bad press, due to their unfortunate tendency to burst into flames at inopportune moments. Fortunately, they’re much safer these days and lots of versions of the 18650 have built-in protection circuits to prevent over-heating and explosions. However, there are tight controls on shipping of Li-ion batteries, particularly by air, so if you’re buying one online you may run into difficulties actually getting it to you, depending on how the vendor usually delivers.
For use in a flashlight, the 18650 is ideal. It’s small, but provides a high voltage for a relatively long length of time. Advances in LED technology, coupled with the improvements over the past decade in battery technology, are what have really allowed for the great leap in output and runtime that flashlights have enjoyed.
If you want to take your flashlight game to the next level, you should be seriously considering an 18650 model.
Our recommended 18650 flashlights
The PD35 is a consistent favorite on our recommended lists, and it’s easy to see why it’s earned its place among the best 18650 flashlights. At an impressive 960 lumens max power output, it provides a stunning amount of illumination in a compact package.
Five modes will run from just one hour 10 minutes in turbo mode, right through to 150 hours in the economy mode (14 lumens). There’s also a strobe mode, which operates at the maximum 960 lumens.
Digitally-regulated output means the flashlight maintains constant brightness, and a low-voltage warning reminds you when it’s time to replace the batteries, which can be either one 18650 or two CR123As.
At 5.5 inches long and three ounces without batteries, the PD35 is a fantastic tactical flashlight and will suit many people as an EDC option as well.
Amazon buyer rating: 4.9 out of 5
NiteCore MH20 USB Rechargeable
The Nitecore MH20 features a lot of innovations in its small, pocket-size form. As well as sporting a micro USB socket on its head to allow charging of its 18650 battery, it has a built-in blue power indicator to show remaining battery life.
This also doubles as a handy location indicator when the flashlight is in standby mode. Rated at 1,000 lumens, the MH20 also comes with a USB cable, holster, clip and lanyard, as well as being available in various bundle versions with extra batteries and car chargers, etc.
Amazon buyer rating: 4.9 out of 5
Olight S20 Baton
The Olight S20 is a great example of how the 18650 battery lets manufacturers achieve maximum output in a relatively tiny package. And with a maximum light output of 550 lumens, this is a great EDC flashlight. Highly efficient thanks to its driver circuit, it runs on either two CR123A batteries or one 18650 battery.
It has a magnet on the base and is very durable as well as waterproof. It also comes with a removable embrace clip.
Its four brightness levels (moonlight, low, medium and high) as well as its strobe mode mean it will come in useful no matter what situation you find yourself in.
The S20 comes with time-based thermal management. After lighting on high mode for 4.5 minutes, the output is automatically reduced to 50% of high brightness to avoid overheating.
The S20 baton weight in at 1.83oz without batteries, and measures 4.17 inches in length.
Amazon buyer rating 4.9/5