Between 2016 and 2017, I bought and tested 13 of the best tactical flashlights under $20. My findings were published individually on this site but I never completed a comparison of those brands and models. That was until now.
In this article you will find an easy to understand comparison of the 13 flashlights we tested based on their portability, battery life, features and light effectiveness. I also highlight which flashlights were my favorites and why. My goal is to make this is fluid list that will be updated as I test more flashlights.
- A Quick Highlight
- The Results of My Tests
- Best Tactical Flashlight Reviews
A Quick Highlight
In the months I’ve been writing my reviews I’ve learned people want the good stuff up front before we get into the thick of things. Here is a quick rundown of how each flashlight fared and my favorites.
J5 Hyper V
These are our favorites, but by no means the only options. You can jump down and see a synopsis of all of the reviews here, or see the full length versions here.
The keyword in the title of this article is “tactical”. From the design to operation, these flashlights were rated based on this adjective. Before we get started though, we need to define what tactical means.
When you think of tactical, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Military? police?I think of it a little more general. Anyone or anything can be tactical. To me tactical means designed for function or planned.
So for the purpose of this comparison I am looking at the design and operation of these flashlight with respect to a few criteria:
How I Calculate the Winners
Size and Weight – there are too main opinions with respect to what size flashlight is considered tactical. On one hand, a compact and lightweight flashlight is easy to carry or conceal. Larger and heavier flashlights, while more difficult to carry, have the advantage that they can be used in defense. Both of these facts seem right to me, so I struggled to flat out say which was better. Due to this fact, the points in this criteria only count 5% toward the overall scores.
Battery Life – Tactical situations typically don’t have defined time periods, so it is critical to have a flashlight that will last. Using an multimeter, I tested each flashlight for amperage draw to determine how long it should last. All but one of the flashlights I bought can use either alkaline batteries or rechargeable batteries, so I included results for both. This counted 25% toward the final points for each flashlight.
Operation – Back in the day, flashlights were simple. On and off. Now-a-days flashlights are a lot more sophisticated and include different modes of operation. You have different light output settings (high, mid, low) as well as strobe and SOS. The better the operation and the more functions, the more points. This counted toward 10% toward the final points.
Reliability – You never know when you will need a tactical flashlight which is why it needs to be ready whenever the time calls. When I look at reliability my main focus is on the construction of the flashlight, it’s resistance to water and dirt, and ease of operation. This counted 10% toward the overall scoring.
Output – No one goes out to buy the least powerful flashlight. It just doesn’t happen. So while I was reviewing each flashlight I tested it’s ability to provide ground coverage for usage while walking, and also measured the effective distance of each flashlight. Since light output is the main reason people buy flashlights, this counted 50% toward the points of each flashlight.
The Results of My Tests
Detailed in this section are the findings from each of the tests I detailed above. I went ahead and ranked the flashlights based on their performance and assigned a point value out of 100 to each. These points were used to determine the overall best tactical flashlights at the top of this article.
Size and Weight
There are two schools of thought when it comes to whether a flashlights size and weight would be considered tactical. On one hand, a small and lightweight flashlight is easily carried, concealed and drawn when needed. On the other hand, a larger and heavier flashlight is ideal for defending oneself from an animal, attacker, or just as a tool. Depending on where you land, the following measurements may tell a different story than what I am pitching to you.
In the 13 flashlights I reviewed a few really stood out with respect to their ability to be EDC (everyday carry) options. The Hausbell 7w was the smallest and lightest of the flashlights, and fit extremely easily into my pocket. So much so that I once forgot it was there. The J5 V1 Pro is in the same boat at just a few millimeters larger in either direct and a total of 3.4 ounces. The larger size makes it more noticeable in your pocket than the Hausbell but not obnoxious. The J5 Hyper V is the big brother to the V1 Pro and measures in at 4.63 inches long and an inch wide. It is definitely larger than the other compact options and is not ideal for pocket carry because of the width, but works perfectly on your hip with the attached belt clip.
If self defense is what you are looking for than large and in charge is your better bet when it comes to the measurements of your Tactical Flashlight. The largest flashlight in my group of 13 was the Ghost Vapor which measured in at 6.25 inches long and 6.7 ounces. It outweighed the average by over an ounce. An ounce may not sound like a lot but at a speed of an average person’s swing, that can produce an additional 10-15% of force. The next largest flashlight was the Refun E6 which measured in at a bit longer (6.5 inches) but only 5.6 ounces. Just to see how it felt I hit myself in the leg and I can attest that these two flashlights would do some damage. The Uoline, Urpower and iCoostor are all in this size range but lower overall weights.
Those in the middle of the pack didn’t really do it for me. Neither big or small nor heavy or light, those scored lower on my list.
Here are the results from all the measurements:
|Flashlight||Length (in)||Width (in)||Weight (oz)||Points|
|Hausbell 7w||3.63″ (3.88″ extended)||.75″||2.8||99|
|J5 V1 Pro||4″ (4.25″ extended)||.75″||3.4||94|
|Gold Armour||4.5″ (4.88″ extended)||.875″||3.9||83|
|Ghost Vapor GVX-8700||5.5″ (6.25″ extended)||1″||6.7||79|
|Uoline||5.38″ (6.25″ extended)||1″||6.7||76|
|Refun E6||5.6″ (6.5″ extended)||1″||5.6||76|
|Urpower FL-005||5.25″ (6.13″ extended)||1″||6.6||74|
|Peakplus||5.25″ (6.13″ extended)||1″||6.4||69|
|AYL TF-89||5.5″ (6.25″ extended)||1″||6.3||68|
|J5 Hyper V||4.63″ (4.88″ extended)||1″||4.6||66|
|iCooster||5.25″ (6″ extended)||1″||5.7||65|
To calculate battery life you must compare the power usage of the bulb to the capacity of the battery, which is exactly what I did in my testing. Using a multimeter I measured the amperage draw of each flashlight on it’s highest mode over a period of 30 seconds to get an average reading. This was done using both Alkaline and NiMH rechargeable batteries for each flashlight.
Something of note is the clear distinction of the battery life when using an Alkaline battery versus a rechargeable NiMH battery. Alkaline battery life is significantly worse which is a result of something called the Peukart effect. Alkaline battery life depends on the rate at which the capacity of the battery is used. For instance, you would expect a 1000mAh Alkaline battery to last 1 hour under a 1000mA load, and the same battery to last 5 hours under a 200mA load, however the Peukart effect shows a relationship in which both examples are incorrect. You can read a more scientific approach at Powerstream Technologies, which is where I read about the effect. NiMH batteries experience very little effect based on the load.
One observation that you will see below is those models which utilized the AA or 14500 rechargeable batteries saw more battery life that their competition that used three AAA or 18650 batteries. This was a result of the lower amperage draw of those flashlights combined with the large difference in voltage between the AA and 14500, which requires less power to provide the same wattage to the bulb. Another thing of note is the AYL TF-89 was the only flashlight with a permanent battery. While a cool idea in design, the practicality was missing because when that battery dies I could not switch it out for another. That meant 3 hours of recharging before use.
Here are the results of my testing:
|J5 V1 Pro||1.43 hrs||6.23 hrs||97|
|Gold Armour||1.67 hrs||2.50 hrs||90|
|Hausbell 7w||1.17 hrs||5.33 hrs||89|
|J5 Hyper V||1.42 hrs||2.22 hrs||85|
|iCoostor T6||1.16 hrs||2.00 hrs||77|
|Ghost Vapor GVX-8700||1.00 hrs||1.82 hrs||71|
|Peakplus||.92 hrs||1.74 hrs||68|
|Uoline||.91 hrs||1.72 hrs||68|
|Outlite 501b||NA||1.75 hrs||66|
|Ultrafire WF-502B||NA||1.57 hrs||64|
|Urpower||.73 hrs||1.50 hrs||62|
|Refun E6||.72 hrs||1.48 hrs||61|
|AYL TF-89||NA||3.69 hrs||42|
The 13 flashlights I bought and reviewed for this article had a variety of 5 basic operations: High, Mid, Low, Strobe and SOS. These modes extend the functionality of a flashlight into more tactical uses. You can extend the battery life of a flashlight by using a lower power mode like the mid or low. You can ward off attackers with the strobe function and you can tell others know you need help with the SOS. Generally having all 5 operations is an advantage for tactical flashlight owners and was taken into consideration as I reviewed each flashlight.
The other aspect I considered in my reviews was the portability of the flashlights which came down to 2 questions: Does the flashlight have a belt clip? Does the flashlight have a carry strap. Typically the belt clip is reserved for the compact and semi-compact models which can be easily fastened at the belt line. Carry straps are used on larger flashlights and add an additional carry point if strapping to a backpack or hanging on your wrist.
After all of my testing here are the results I found:
|J5 Hyper V||5||Clip||88|
|Ghost Vapor GVX-8700||5||Strap||85|
|J5 V1 Pro||3||Clip||75|
Tactical usage of a flashlight can sometimes mean different seasons, climates and geographies all of which require a flashlight to be versatile and reliable. This starts at the individual components and extends outward to the casing and lens.
As I was reviewing each flashlight I documented their resistance to water and sand, as well as their durability in normal usage. Because I didn’t want to potentially destroy each flashlight by submerging it underwater, I inspected each flashlight for rubber seals at all openings. I also tested each flashlight by dropping it from a height of about 1 foot onto concrete to see how well the casing and paint held up.
Below are my findings:
|Flashlight||Seals||1 Foot Drop||Points|
|Gold Armour||Lens and Tail||No Scratches||99|
|Peakplus||Lens and Tail||Very Minor Scratch||97|
|J5 Hyper V||Lens and Tail||Very Minor Scratch||94|
|Hausbell 7w||Lens and Tail||Small Scratch||92|
|iCoostor||Lens and Tail||Small Scratch||92|
|Refun e6||Lens and Tail||Small Scratch||92|
|AYL TF-89||Lens and Tail||Small Dent||88|
|J5 V1 Pro||Lens and Tail||Medium Scratch||85|
|Urpower||No Lens Seal||Small Scratch||82|
|Ultrafire WF-502B||Lens and Tail||Medium Scratch||81|
|Outlite 501B||No Tail Seal||Small Scratch||80|
|Ghost Vapor GVX-8700||No Lens Seal||Small Scratch||79|
|Uoline||No Lens Seal/Tail Seal Damaged||Small Scratch||65|
The 4 prior test criteria are important but the true test of any tactical flashlight is the light it puts in front of the user. To compare the 13 flashlights I created 2 tests that make it a little more clear which flashlight was the brightest, both in short distances and long.
The “Light the Path” test demonstrates the output and scatter of each flashlight at a short distance. It is meant to emulate how much ground coverage there is while a user walks with the flashlight at waist height. The results varied here depending on the size of the flashlight and the focal point. The lowest scoring flashlight was the Hausbell 7w which was expected considering compact size and limited adjustable focus. Flashlights like the Refun E6, Uoline and Ghost Vapor saw the best results thanks to the large flashlight lens and high power LED. The average ground coverage was just above 33 sqft or 5.5 ft x 8.5 ft).
The “distance” test demonstrates the effective length of each flashlight beam. As I was reading through a lot of the specifications made by the manufacturers I kept finding claims like distances over 100 meters which seemed a bit exaggerated. I tested each flashlight a few times, and created a comparison which you can see if this photo – 40 Yard Test Results. Each of the tests in the photo was performed at a distance of about 40 yards, which best shows the differences between each beam. Our overall distance winners were the Refun E6 and J5 Hyper V which lived up to their claims. As expected, the smaller flashlights like the J5 V1 Pro and Hausbell 7w didn’t do as well because the size and smaller battery limited the overall distance.
The Outlite 501B and Ultrafire Wf-502B are both missing the adjustable focus that the competition has. Instead these flashlights have both the flood and spot beams built into the reflectors around the bulb. This feature sacrificed the adjustability for short versus long distances but made them more ideal for tactical situations like rifle mounting because you don’t have to mess with the focus every time the distance changed.
After a few nights of testing, here are my results:
|Flashlight||Ground Cover||Effective Distance||Points|
|Refun E6||60.48 sqft||100 yards||96|
|Uoline||60.48 sqft||80 yards||89|
|Urpower||47.12 sqft||80 yards||87|
|Peakplus||47.12 sqft||80 yards||86|
|J5 Hyper V||11.78 sqft||90 yards||85|
|AYL TF-89||31.42 sqft||80 yards||80|
|iCoostor||31.42 sqft||70 yards||76|
|Gold Armour||18.85 sqft||70 yards||74|
|Ghost Vapor GVX-8700||60.48 sqft||60 yards||73|
|Outlite 501B||18.85 sqft||60 yards||67|
|Ultrafire WF-502B||18.85 sqft||60 yards||67|
|J5 V1 Pro||18.85 sqft||50 yards||57|
|Hausbell 7w||9.42 sqft||50 yards||53|
Best Tactical Flashlight Reviews
After completing all my tests, the best tactical flashlight under $20 really started to stand out. I detail below the strengths and weaknesses of each flashlight, and a short summary of what I liked about each.
J5 Hyper V – 85 Points
Our overall winner of the best tactical flashlight under $20 was the J5 Hyper V, which scored an average of 85 points across all of our testing. This flashlight really covered all of the bases for me, making it ideal for almost any situation. It was compact enough to conceal and carry, but packed the light output that rivaled big winners like the Refun E6. The battery life was near the top for all of our flashlights but stood above the other flashlights using the 18650 battery. It has 5 operation modes and stood up to all of my abuse without even a scratch.
High Distance – 90 yards
Ground Cover is Low – 11.42 sqft
Refun e6 – 84 Points
The Refun E6 was by far the most powerful flashlight I reviewed under $20. At short distance and long, the Refun stood out with its overall power and brightness. It covered a class leading 60 sqft feet at waist height and had a maximum effective distance of 100 yards. At the expense of power however is reduced battery life which was only about an hour and a half with a 18650 battery. The Refun was the largest flashlight in this price range I reviewed, making it ideal for self defense situations but could also make it more difficult to carry.
Highest Distance – 100 yards
Low Battery Life – 1.5 hours
Gold Armour – 83 Points
The Gold Armour flashlight was awarded the most versatile of the 13 flashlights I reviewed in this price range. Its versatility comes from its compact size, high durability and mid range light output. The Gold Armour was the only flashlight with a flash lens cap which actually helped spread the weight of flashlight during my drop test and left no marks on the paint. The light output was on the lower end of the spectrum at close range however the distance testing made the Gold Armour shine above the rest with an effective range of 70 yards.
Mid-Range Distance – 70 yards
Close Distance – 18 sqft
Peakplus – 82 Points
The Peakplus was number 4 when I completed all of my testing. It held up as one of the better flashlights in my drop testing, with almost no markings in the drop. The light output was near the top overall in both the short distance and long distance testing. The width of the beam was 47 sqft at waist height and the effective distance was above average at 80 yards. The size is on the larger end of the spectrum at 6 and 3/8 inches with the focus out, and a weight of 6.4 oz. The battery life was right at the average with just under 2 hours of run time.
High Distance – 80 yards
Low Battery Life – 1.7 hours
Uoline – 80 Points
The Uoline was number 5 in my testing. It measured in as the second longest flashlight at 6.25 inches with the focus out, and a weight of 6.7. This made it one of the best options for self defense situations. The light output of the Uoline was also exceptional and it was tied for the widest beam in the close range tests (60 sqft) and near the top with the distance testing (80 yards). At the sacrifice of power is some battery life however. The estimated battery life based on my testing is right around 1.7 hours. The only downfall of the Uoline was the durability during my testing. The tail cap seal broken the first time I unscrewed it.
Most Coverage – 60 sqft
Low Battery Life – 1.7 hours
Urpower – 79 Points
The Urpower was very similar to the Uoline in the testing, as they utilize a very similar flashlight body. The overall size with the adjustable focus out was 6 and 1/8 inches and a weight of 6.6 ounces. The Urpower was comparable in the light output with just a bit less coverage in short distances (47 sqft compared to 60). The Urpower pulled more amps which meant less battery life compared to other flashlights in this size range. During my testing the Urpower had a run time of about 1.5 hours with a 18650 battery.
High Distance – 80 yards
Low Battery Life – 1.5 hours
iCoostor T6 – 78 Points
The iCoostor T6 ended right in the middle of the pack during my testing. The size was a bit shorter than some of the other flashlights in this same size category (6 inches) and a weight which was also a bit lower at 5.6 ounces. The light output of the iCoostor T6 was about average for the flashlights I reviewed with a ground coverage of 31 sqft and 70 yards of effective distance. The iCoostor had above average battery life at 2 hours of run time and held up with only a small scratch during the drop test.
Highest Battery Life – 2 hours
Low Weight for Size – 5.6 oz
Ghost Vapor GVX-8700 – 75 Points
The Ghost Vapor GVX-8700 was also in the middle of the pack with the 13 flashlights I reviewed in this price range. The extended size was 6.25 inches long and 1 inch wide. The weight with battery installed was 6.7 ounces. The battery life was range was around the average at 1.82 hours with a 18650 battery. The light output was great in short range with 60 sqft of coverage however the shorter adjustable lens kept the Ghost Vapor from leading the distance testing (only 50 yards of effective distance). The Ghost Vapor was pretty reliable in the drop test but was missing the lens seal.
Large Size – Self Defense
Low Distance – 50 yards
J5 V1 Pro – 73 Points
The J5 V1 Pro did extremely well in the size and battery life departments but not so well in the light output. It measured as the second smallest flashlight in my testing at 4 and 1/4 inches with the adjustable focus out. The overall weight was only 3.4 ounces which made it easy to conceal and carry. The low amperage draw of the V1 Pro meant longer battery life from the 14500 battery, about 6 hours with a 2000mAh capacity. The light output was lower than the others with a ground coverage of 19 sqft and an effective distance of 50 yards.
Highest Battery Life – 6 hours
Low Ground Coverage – 19 sqft
Outlite 501B – 71 Points
The Outlite 501B was different than the other flashlights, aside from the Ultrafire, as it does not have a adjustable focus. The overall length was 5 inches and the weight was 4.3 ounces. The Outlite body size limited it to only use a 18650 battery and with the high amperage draw, I saw an average run time of about 1.75 hours. The light output was pretty good in short distances but the lack of the an adjustable focus made it worse in distance testing. The flashlight is designed with both a flood and spot beams so you can use both at once. The overall effective distance was about 60 yards.
Low Weight – 4.3 ounces
No Adjustable Focus
Hausbell 7w – 71 Points
The Hausbell 7w flashlight is a small and simple flashlight, without the frills or cost of the complicated competitors. It was the smallest of the flashlights I reviewed, measuring in at 3.88 inches with the adjustable focus out and weighed 2.8 ounces. The light output was limited by the size and short adjustable focus. The ground cover was the lowest at 9 sqft and the overall effective distance was 50 yards. With the lower power draw, the Hausbell had the second highest battery life near 5 and half hours with a 14500 rechargeable battery.
Battery Life – 5.5 hours
Low Ground Coverage – 9 sqft
AYL TF-89 – 70 Points
The AYL TF-89 is a good flashlight, just not great. It was the only true rechargeable flashlight of the 13 we reviewed for this article, which actually hurt my rating. The battery life is respectable at about 3.5 hours, however the fact that you can’t remove the battery from the housing means once that battery is drained, you are waiting for it to recharge. No switching to another battery. The size was close to the largest I purchased and made the AYL TF-89 ideal for self defense. The silver color was actually refreshing compared to the competitors because it made it much easier to find in the dark. The light output was also respectible with a ground coverage of 31 sqft (5′ x 8′) and an effective distance of right around 80 yards.
High Distance – 80 yards
Ultrafire WF-502B – 70 Points
The Ultrafire WF-502B rounds out our list of best tactical flashlights under $20. The Ultrafire was very similar to the Outlite 501B, except for a few disadvantages. It measures in at 5 inches long, without an adjustable focus. The weight was right at 5 ounces. The power draw was pretty high which usually results in more light output but the Ultrafire didn’t have that same relationship. The effective distance was right at 60 yards and the battery life was only 1 and a half hours, which is about 20 minutes shorter than the Outlite. The Ultrafire did not hold us as well in the drop test, getting a heavy scratch on the head.
Low Battery Life – 1.5 hours