Why we think the 5.11 flashlights are the best on the market and are ready for any emergency situation
No surprise here, but you know what you'll need in ANY disaster? Light. Really good, reliable flashlights. And if there's one maddening truism when it comes to flashlights — most of them are terrible.
They work for a little while; or at least until them moment when you absolutely need them. And then... pfffffttttt. Rattle rattle. Thunk with you hand. Open up and fiddle with the batteries. And.. nothing. No light, no love. Darkness.
Not good in an emergency.
We've bought cheap flashlights and expensive flashlights; brand names and those Costco bulk ones, and they've all ended up in the trashcan. Because a flashlight that isn't reliable is in some cases worse than having no flashlight at all. Because when you think you've got a functioning tool that doesn't function, you're doubly screwed.
We recently took an epic trip to the Gobi Desert, in Mongolia. (Read more about it in Conde Nast Traveler and Cool Hunting, if you like!) We were camping out in the wilds of the Gobi, so a good flashlight or three would be key. (As would a good headlamp. We brought the Black Diamond Storm. But that's another review.)
More essentially, we brought two brand new flashlights from 5.11: the EDC PL2AAA and the Station 2AA. Here's our review of those 5.11 flashlights, plus the 5.11 3D, which is also brand new and wasn't yet ready for our trip. It's the granddaddy of them all.
The 101 on 5.11
The company 5.11 wasn't even on our radar until recently. Based out of Irvine, California, it makes "tactical" gear that is favored by law enforcement and first responders. Yes, there's a slight militaristic bent to the company and its gear, but the fact alone that so many police rely on their flashlights (and other gear) day in and day out, gives us a good measure of confidence in the products.
Since that time, we've checked out gear like the new Amp72 backpack, which makes an ideal go bag, and found it MUCH to our liking. We love good sturdy gear that's been well thought out.
Anyhow, to the flashlights...
Review of the 5.11 PL2AAA: The Wee Flashlight
Details: 107 lumens; 85-foot beam; 4 hrs, 20 min run time (claimed); water resistant; runs on two AAA batteries.
We're always looking for the kind of ultra-portable flashlight that can take anywhere and everywhere. The small light that lives in our purse, backpack, and nightstand. The 2AAA absolutely qualifies. It is on the longer side — just a bit shorter than an iPhone 8 — and there's a sense of heft to the thing. That weightiness, which we appreciate, comes from the fact that it is made of aluminum and NOT plastic. Still, it will tuck into any bag or on the side of a knife sheath or even in a back pocket. Aesthetically, we're also digging the available orange color; "sandstone" in 5.11 parlance. It's easy to spot when you're looking for the flashlight itself, and its stylish, too. We have enough dull black colored gear in our lives.
Use is simplicity itself: There's a button on the end that turn sit off and off. You can push that button halfway in and the light will engage just as long as you keep it depressed — ideal for a quick peek at something.
It gives good light, without the "hot spot" of some lights. Perfect for reading a map (or even the 5.11 instructions in a dim room). But it's also ample enough to see in a dark space like this basement stairwell pictured (a place we often use a flashlight for times when the electricity goes out in our Poconos country house).
Again, this light made its way into our backpack on the trip to the Gobi, and when our camp was hit by an IMMENSE sand storm, which blew away tents and was one of the most intense natural occurrences we've experienced in a desert. The 2AAA was already in our pocket due to its feather weight. It and its brother, the Station 2AA, plumbed through the fog of spitting sand and darkness. Crucially, it worked when we REALLY needed to, and has continued to work in the months after. And we use it every single day. (If only sometimes to find stuff in the back of a Manhattan closet, which has no light inside, irritatingly.)
Review of the 5.11 Station 2 AA: The Goldilocks Flashlight
Details: 256 lumens; 62-foot beam; 2 hr, 21 min run time (claimed); water resistant; runs on two AA batteries.
If you were to go camping, this is the kind of light you'd bring. More to the point for Preparation Concierge and our raison d'être: The 5.11 is ideal for emergency- and disaster-oriented needs. It would easily live in your dedicated go bag without taking up much space or weight. A Station 2AA also gets our vote as the best flashlight to live in your car. It fits into a glove box or, even better, your dedicated emergency car kit.
The 5.11 Station 2AA is about three times bigger than the 2AAA, but it fits wonderfully into the hand. You aren't going to drop this tactile light. (That being said, it WOULD be nice if there were a hole for a lanyard of some kind. Apparently the on-off button on the end precludes it.) The moniker is self explanatory: The 2AA takes two AA batteries. We love this about it. Many crappy flashlights demand four AA batteries, yet fail to make a good light while still eating through batteries.
Otherwise it functions like the 2AAA. When it comes to flashlights, simplicity is key. No bells or whistles, please. Just a light when we need it. The 2AA also came to Mongolia with us, and we used it throughout the long, windy, stressful night. It's still running on the same two AA batteries. (Oh, and our five-year-old has dropped it numerous times — twice on concrete. Still works.)
Review of 5.11 Station 3D: The Granddaddy Flashlight
Details: 1,232 lumens; 580-foot beam; almost 6 hour run time (claimed); water resistant; runs on three D batteries.
So... generally we loathe D batteries. At some point lithium technology will get to the point where AA lithium batteries will produce enough energy to do away with Ds... or we hope. When you're putting aside supplies for potential emergencies, and space and cost are issues (and they're always issues) — having to stock three varieties of batteries feels like a bridge too far. (And that's not even counting 9 volts, which are essential for smoke alarms.)
BUT — well, the Station 3D. It tickles a very primordial, gear-loving piece of our selves. It is the length of a forearm, with a truly sizable heft. This is less a flashlight and more an object. It too is made of machined aluminum. You could hit a fly ball with this thing! Or perhaps clunk an assailant on the head if so needed.
The downside of this mass is that it won't easily fit into your go bag, and it's too big to keep in a vehicle's glove box. But for a home or away shelter, man, this thing is wonderful. It casts out chunks of daylight-esque, blazing light. There are two modes — full on and low. It's a pain to get into low mode: The instructions call for two half clicks on the button (which is located on the side, near the bulb), and then one full click. It reverts to high mode when turned off. Whatever. You're looking for big light anyhow.
We have a very long, dark road that leads through the woods to our country house. Recently we heard voices in the woods, late at night. We didn't have the 5.11 at that point. We did have another brand, that also took D batteries. When we went out to investigate, we found that this inferior light failed to throw light down the road as far as we hoped... and then we dropped the damn thing and it stopped working. And we were left feeling vulnerable. That day we decided to rectify the situation. Next time we'd have a light so bright that we could see hundreds of feet down the dirt lane... and intimidate someone with that light, if so needed.
With the Station 3D, consider that situation remedied.
In each case, the 5.11 are great flashlights. Each serves a need. We'll trust them in emergency situations to actually turn on, and work, every single time. And that's the entire point, isn't it?