5 Best Ultralight Flashlights for Backpacking & Night Hiking

Flashlight Score MSRP Weight Battery Switch Style
Rechargeable Pick: Nitecore Thumb
86
$19.95 0.88 oz USB Rechargeable Li-ion Side
AAA Pick: ThruNite Ti3
84
$15.95 0.35 oz 1 AAA Twist
Honorable Mention: Nitecore Tip
83
$29.95 0.88 oz USB Rechargeable Li-ion Side
Fenix LD02
80
$37.95 0.6 oz 1 AAA Tail
Fenix E05
76
$26.50 0.42 oz 1 AAA Twist
The 5 best ultralight flashlights for backpacking and night hiking

The 5 flashlights we tested. The lip balm is for scale.

Over the course of three backpacking trips we field tested five of the best ultralight flashlights for backpacking and night hiking.

After all that we think the best rechargeable option is the Nitecore Thumb and the best AAA-powered option is the ThruNite Ti3.

Both flashlights are incredibly lightweight and compact. Each has a clip that can be used to clip the light to the brim of your hat for hands-free use.

They also have many brightness settings that make them well-suited for a number of uses, from night hiking to reading in a tent. What’s more, they are the two cheapest flashlights we tested. Both are excellent value.

Now, let me be clear upfront: overall the differences in performance between the five lights were minor.

All of them are truly ultralight — less than one ounce (!) — and bright enough for any night hike or backpacking trip. Like with many pieces of gear, the best backpacking flashlight for your needs will come down to your personal preferences.

We discuss what these preferences are in great detail in our reviews. We also include buying advice to help you choose the flashlight that fits your preferences best. Keep reading to learn more.

If an ultralight flashlight isn’t what you’re looking for, check out our guide to the best camping flashlights or our guide to the best backpacking headlamps.

Rechargeable Pick: Nitecore Thumb

Nitecore ThumbA couple of unique features made the Thumb stand out from the competition.

First, it is the only flashlight we tested that has a red light mode. Red light doesn’t bother the eyes as much as white light, making it ideal for nighttime use. Many backpacking headlamps have a red light mode for this very reason.

Second, the Thumb has a tiltable head which is a convenient feature when the light is clipped to the brim of your hat, something many hikers do at camp to be able to use their flashlight hands-free.

The Nitecore Thumb's tiltable head

The Thumb’s tiltable head is a welcome feature when the light is clipped to your hat.

These two features combined with the Thumb’s respectable runtimes make it the most versatile light we tested. It performs well whether you’re night hiking, doing chores around camp, or reading in your tent.

Speaking of runtimes, let’s take a closer look at the Thumb’s. Its mid brightness setting — the setting we found ourselves using most often — has a runtime of 2 hrs 15 min.

That is the shortest mid-output runtime of the five lights we tested. But for all but the heaviest users we think two hours a night is plenty of time. And since it’s rechargeable if you use up most of the battery one night you can recharge it while you sleep.

Plus, after monitoring how each light’s beam degraded over time in a dark room we’re skeptical of stated outputs and runtimes. This shouldn’t come as a surprise; they’re notoriously deceptive.

To illustrate, the Thumb lasted over two hours when on the highest brightness setting, despite its stated runtime on high being just 45 minutes. (It should be noted that the beam dimmed significantly over those two hours.)

The point being we found the Thumb’s runtimes and outputs to be adequate.

The Thumb is not the best choice for backpackers who don’t carry a lightweight battery pack. Without one and a short micro USB cable you can’t recharge it on the trail. If that’s you check out our AAA Pick, the ThruNite Ti3.

Product Specs

  • MSRP: $19.95
  • Weight: 0.88 oz (with battery)
  • Battery: Built-in USB rechargeable Li-ion
  • Output & runtime:
    • High: 85 lm / 45 min
    • Mid: 30 lm / 2 hrs 15 min
    • Low: 2 lm / 22 hrs
    • Blinking: 85 lm / Unknown runtime
    • Red: 0.25 lm / 13 hrs
    • Red blinking: 0.25 lm / 14 hrs
  • Red light mode: Yes
  • Strobe mode: Sort of — it has a “Blinking” mode which is like a slow strobe
  • Clip: Yes
  • Switch style: Side

Click here to view the complete list of product specs on Amazon.

AAA Pick: ThruNite Ti3

ThruNite Ti3The Ti3 is easily the best AAA-powered flashlight on this list.

For starters, it weighs a mere 0.35 oz without a battery and is the size of a tube of lip balm.

Its low setting, a 0.04-lumen “Firefly” mode, is great for nighttime use once your eyes have adjusted to the dark. You can even use it to read at night without disturbing your tentmate. It’s so dim, in fact, we didn’t much care the Ti3 doesn’t have a red light mode.

Its mid setting, though the dimmest of the bunch at 12 lumens, is bright enough for night hiking and has a stated runtime of over six hours.

The Ti3 is also the cheapest light we tested at $15.95 retail as of this writing. Considering its specs and performance that’s excellent value.

There are a couple potential drawbacks depending on your preferences.

The Ti3 sports a twist switch. Twist switches aren’t our favorite because they’re difficult to operate with one hand, but some hikers prefer them. Ultimately we considered it a small price to pay.

Also, the Ti3 uses one AAA battery. Depending on the electronics gear you already carry a AAA-powered light could be a good or bad fit with your gear list.

Product Specs

  • MSRP: $15.95
  • Weight: 0.35 oz (without battery)
  • Battery: 1 AAA
  • Output & runtime:
    • High: 120 lm / 30 min
    • Low: 12 lm / 6 hrs 20 min
    • Firefly: 0.04 lm / 115 hrs
    • Strobe: 120 lm / 1 hr
  • Red light mode: No
  • Strobe mode: Yes
  • Clip: Yes
  • Switch style: Twist

Click here to view the complete list of product specs on Amazon.

Honorable Mention: Nitecore Tip

Nitecore TipThough not our top choice, the Nitecore Tip is another great ultralight flashlight.

Like our Rechargeable Pick, the Nitecore Thumb, it weighs just 0.88 oz. Its brightness modes and runtimes are well-suited for backpacking and night hiking use. Its built-in USB rechargeable battery can easily be recharged on the trail with a battery pack and charging cable.

The Tip is a side-switch light but its interface differs slightly from the Thumb’s. The two buttons on the Thumb operate the two different lights, red and white. You toggle between brightness modes by pressing that light’s button. This means you must cycle through every brightness setting to turn the light off.

The Tip also has two buttons but you press one to turn the light on and off and the other to toggle between brightness modes.

The advantage to this is that you don’t have to cycle through every brightness setting to turn off the light. Because it defaults to the lowest output you can turn it on and off without the light ever getting too bright.

Though minor, this feature can save your eyes some discomfort late at night once they’ve adjusted to the dark.

One of the main differences between the Tip and the Thumb comes down to stated outputs and runtimes. Consider the mid output for each:

  • Thumb: 30 lm / 2 hrs 15 min
  • Tip: 35 lm / 6 hrs 30 min

The Tip’s mid setting is brighter and much longer lasting. If you’re a heavy user, the Tip is the better rechargeable option.

Product Specs

  • MSRP: $29.95
  • Weight: 0.88 oz (with battery)
  • Battery: Built-in USB rechargeable Li-ion
  • Output & runtime:
    • High: 150 lm / 1 hr 30 min
    • Mid: 35 lm / 6 hrs 30 min
    • Low: 1 lm / 46 hrs
    • Turbo: 360 lm / 30 min
  • Red light mode: No
  • Strobe mode: No
  • Clip: Yes
  • Switch style: Side

Click here to view the complete list of product specs on Amazon.

Fenix LD02

Fenix LD02Aug 2018 Update: The LD02 has been discontinued by Fenix. For the time being it can still be found at some online retailers.

Relative to the other flashlights we tested the LD02 is unique in many ways.

It’s the most expensive, the heaviest (when weighed with a battery), and the only light operated by a tail switch.

The first two are bad news to everyone reading this review. Whether you think the third is a good or bad thing is a matter of personal preference.

One of our testers preferred the tail switch because, like a side switch, it’s easy to operate with one hand. However, some hikers avoid tail switches because they claim they are more prone to turning themselves on inside a pack and draining the battery.

During our testing the LD02 did indeed turn itself on — but so did flashlights of the other two switch styles. Based on that we can’t say one way or the other if tail-switch lights are more prone to it happening or not.

One minor drawback of the LD02 is that the lowest brightness mode outputs eight lumens. At night once your eyes have adjusted to the dark this is unnecessarily bright for certain uses.

For comparison, we found the ThruNite Ti3’s 0.04-lumen Firefly mode to be sufficient for tent use and for a nightly trip to the loo. It’s also much less likely to disturb your tentmate(s).

Unlike the other Fenix light we tested, the E05 (to come), the LD02 does come with a clip. By default it’s oriented the wrong way for use with a hat but you can easily flip it around.

Maybe the biggest upside to this light is the brand. Fenix is one of the top flashlight brands, loved by “flashaholics.” Though pricier, their lights are incredibly durable and long-lasting.

The brand alone might tip the scale for some of you. For us it wasn’t enough.

Product Specs

  • MSRP: $37.95
  • Weight: 0.6 oz (without battery)
  • Battery: 1 AAA
  • Output & runtime:
    • High: 100 lm / 30 min or 45 min depending on battery
    • Mid: 25 lm / 4 hrs 15 min
    • Low: 8 lm / 14 hrs 30 min or 15 hrs depending on battery
  • Red light mode: No
  • Strobe mode: No
  • Clip: Yes
  • Switch style: Tail

Click here to view the complete list of product specs on Amazon.

Fenix E05

Fenix E05Shorter and narrower than a tube of lip balm, the E05 is impressively tiny. It weighs just 0.42 oz without a battery.

Yet despite its small size other aspects of this light make it the poorest choice of the five we tested.

The main drawback is its lack of a clip. Unless you MacGyver your own there’s no way to clip it to your hat for hands-free use.

Try filtering water, pitching a tent, or prepping and eating dinner one-handed. We did. It’s annoying.

The best you can do to get around this issue is to hold it between your teeth, a less than ideal solution.

Furthermore, when compared to the competition, particularly the ThruNite Ti3, the E05’s inferiority is quickly brought to light. The Ti3 is lighter and cheaper and it comes with an included clip. Plus its brightness outputs are more conducive to backpacking.

The E05 was designed to be an EDC light. We think it’s best left for that application.

Product Specs

  • MSRP: $26.50
  • Weight: 0.42 oz (without battery)
  • Battery: 1 AAA
  • Output & runtime:
    • High: 85 lm / 45 min
    • Mid: 25 lm / 4 hrs 15 min
    • Low: 8 lm / 15 hrs
  • Red light mode: No
  • Strobe mode: No
  • Clip: No
  • Switch style: Twist

Click here to view the complete list of product specs on Amazon.

Summary

Here are the best backpacking flashlights:

  • Nitecore Thumb
  • ThruNite Ti3
  • Nitecore Tip
  • Fenix LD02
  • Fenix E05

How to Choose the Best Backpacking Flashlight for Your Needs

A flashlight with a clip and one without

To clip or not to clip? We’d always prefer a clip because it allows you to clip the flashlight to your hat brim for hands-free use.

Here are some of the specs and features — beyond weight — that you need to take into account when choosing a backpacking flashlight.

Battery Type: AAA vs. USB Rechargeable

Recharging the Nitecore Tip with a battery pack

Carrying a battery pack makes it easy to charge a USB rechargeable light in the backcountry.

The flashlights we tested either used a single AAA battery or had a built-in USB rechargeable Li-ion battery.

USB rechargeable flashlights are best for backpackers who carry a battery pack. Pack a micro USB cable along with your battery pack and you’ll have everything you need to charge your flashlight on the trail.

AAA flashlights are ideal for backpackers who don’t like relying on a battery pack (or don’t have one) and would instead prefer carrying backup AAA batteries should they need more power.

Intended Use, Output, & Runtime

When we night hiked we found ourselves using the mid brightness output most often. We also preferred it around camp. In the tent we used each light’s low setting almost exclusively.

Take into account how you’ll be using your flashlight and for how long to get an idea of the output and runtime combinations best suited for your needs.

Heavy users should opt for longer runtimes. Light to moderate flashlight users can get away with shorter runtimes.

Clip or No Clip?

A lightweight flashlight clipped to the brim of a hat

A clip allows you to clip the flashlight to the brim of your hat for hands-free use.

We highly recommend getting a flashlight with a clip. We found having one to be incredibly convenient, especially at night when at camp or in a tent. It’s so convenient, in fact, that the only light in our test not to have a clip, the Fenix E05, was ranked last mainly for that very reason.

Red Light & Strobe Modes

Using the Nitecore Thumb's red light mode

The Nitecore Thumb is the only flashlight we tested that has a red light, located on the side of the body.

Some flashlights have extra brightness modes like red light and strobe modes that might be important to some hikers.

Red light mode is good for nighttime use because it doesn’t bother our eyes the way white light does. The only flashlight in our tests to have one was our Rechargeable Pick, the Nitecore Thumb.

Strobe mode emits a bright, quickly flashing light that acts as an emergency blinker.

Twist, Tail, or Side Switch

A final minor feature to consider is the type of switch you’d like your flashlight to have. There are three types we tested: twist, tail, and side.

Twist Switch

A flashlight with a twist switch is turned on by twisting the head. You toggle between brightness modes by quickly untwisting the head until the light turns off and then twisting it back.

The main downside of the twist switch is that it’s difficult to operate one-handed. When compared to flashlights with tail and side switches this stands out as an inconvenience.

Some hikers prefer a twist switch because they claim it’s harder for the flashlight to accidentally turn on in your pack. However, during our testing a flashlight of every switch type accidentally turned on at one point or another.

Tail Switch

A tail switch is a button on the end of a flashlight. Typically you do a full press to turn it on and a half press to toggle between brightness modes.

Flashlights with tail switches and side switches are much easier to operate with one hand than twist-switch lights.

Side Switch

A side switch is a button on the side of a flashlight. It’s similar to a tail switch except for the placement of the button.

How We Tested

Field Testing

A tester uses a flashlight to consult the guidebook in preparation for another day of hiking.

A tester uses one of the flashlights to consult his guidebook in preparation for another day of hiking.

We spent a total of eight days over the course of three backpacking trips testing each flashlight in the field. The locales ranged from Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah to the Appalachian Trail in Georgia.

Night Hiking

Night hiking with one of the flashlights on a clear night in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah

Night hiking with one of the flashlights on a clear night in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah

In addition to the night hiking we did during our field testing, we set aside some testing time exclusively for hiking with each flashlight after the sun went down.

Beam Degradation Test

Monitoring how the beam of each flashlight degrades over time when on the highest setting

From left to right: Nitecore Tip, Fenix LD02, Nitecore Thumb, ThruNite Ti3, Fenix E05

We spent an evening in a dark room monitoring how the brightness levels of each flashlight degraded over time while on high. We took photos at 10 minute intervals to compare how the flashlight beams changed over time.

Before this test we put a fresh Duracell in each AAA light and fully charged each rechargeable light.

Note: The above collage should be “read” like you’d read a book — from left to right, top to bottom. Some lights appear in the photos to have gotten brighter during various stretches because the shutter speed on my camera automatically slowed as the lights dimmed, thus taking in more light. The lights in fact got progressively dimmer.

Weight Check

We double checked the weight of each flashlight by weighing it on our own scale. These are the weights which appear in the comparison table at the top of the page and in the Product Specs sections of each review. The three flashlights that use a AAA battery were weighed empty.