Battery Operated Lights: Flashlights, Headlights and Lanterns, Oh My.

September 15, 2020

As time marches forward into the fall, daylight time gets shorter.  This increases the need for a good light source early in the morning and into the evening for our outdoor pursuits.  It is certainly necessary when camping, and very handy when fishing. With so many options available for lights, let’s explore your options. This article will focus on battery operated lights as they are safer and easier to use.

Battery Operated Lights

Flashlight versus Lantern:

The first choice to make is whether to have the light mobile or stationary.  Lanterns are best used to illuminate the area around it.  It’s typically used in one place; although it can be carried around. Since its light is more diffused, usable light is limited by distance from the lantern. Lanterns are ideal for a campsite, cabin or for use during hurricanes when the electricity goes out.

A flashlight is used to focus the light in a particular area.  It’s generally used in a more mobile situation.  All the light is directed in one direction which allows one to see further away.  This applies to navigating a hiking trail or a cave, or anytime you need to see what is in the distance.

Flashlight versus Headlamp:

Flashlights are held in one’s hand.  This allows for the light to be directed quickly, but can be cumbersome if both hands are needed for a task.  This is where headlamps come in.  Basically they are flashlights on your forehead. The light follows the direction your head turns.  Hands are free to do what is needed.  One can always hold a headlamp in the hand.

The one disadvantage of headlamps is the proclivity of insects to be attracted to light. Some lights have a feature which allows the user to use a red light. This option decreases the attraction of insects, but is not the original purpose of this feature.

White versus Red Light:

The true purpose of being able to change your light to red is to preserve your night vision.  White light allows you to see color.  Within the eye there are light receptors referred to as cones.  Used during the day, this is what allows us to see color.  When the lights go on, they relatively quickly adjust to see color.

At night with no lights, the eye uses a different set of receptors called rods which can’t discern color, but can finely sense different shades of grey.  When the lights go off it takes longer to adjust to the darkness.  Red light is invisible to rods, allowing our eyes to stay more adjusted to the dark, making the adjustment quicker.

Using a flashlight with white light we can see color, but when you turn the light off it takes a while for your eyes to adjust to the dark.  Using red light, eyes can adjust faster when the light goes off.

Brightness and Battery Life:

Most would have started all this by talking about how bright the light is.  Brighter is always better.  Right? Well logically, the brighter the light the quicker it will burn through the battery.  So when you are looking at the specifications of a portable light, keep in mind how often you’ll need to change/charge the battery.  Some lights will give you options for brightness allowing it to be really bright when you need it, but give you just enough to see when you don’t, thus preserving the battery.

How to measure brightness:

There are a number of ways manufacturers indicate the brightness of their product.  Among these are lumens, candlepower (candela) and watts. Comparison between two different measures can be difficult as they don’t equate exactly. Watts is a measure of energy used, and not illuminance.  An LED (light emitting diode) can produce more light with less energy than an incandescent light bulb.  Many lights are utilizing LEDs rather than bulbs for this reason.

Lumens are the most common measure and refer to the amount of illumination of an area.  Candela is similar, but more focused in a particular direction.  There is a formula for conversion, but it’s questionable whether one needs to do the math.

Everyone needs battery operated lights:

When all is said and done, everyone needs a light.  It is one of the ten essentials to have in the outdoors. Even indoors or around town, be the one who is prepared.  If you have any questions, we are here to help at Bill Jackson’s. Call us at 727-576-4169 or email at