LAST UPDATED: October 24, 2019
Best Penlights: Efficiently Illuminate Narrow Areas
A good penlight is bright and illuminates small spaces effectively
The Review Team
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PUBLISHED ON October 24, 2019
A penlight is a pen-sized flashlight that was initially used by medical professionals. However, this style of light is now popular with the general public due to its sleek design, small size, and portability. There are many types of penlights available, and choosing the one that suits your needs may be challenging. To help you make an informed buying decision, we have reviewed three of the best penlights on the market.
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Benefits of Penlights
- Compact Design. What makes a pen flashlight most appealing is its compact design. Due to its small size, a penlight easily fits into shirts, pants, and suit pockets. That makes it more convenient than regular bulky flashlights, especially when you need the extra storage space to carry other tools and accessories.
- Portability. Because of its size, a penlight is easy to bring with you everywhere. It’s an everyday carry device that doesn’t take too much storage space. Thanks to features such as pocket clips, you won’t even notice you have a penlight with you.
- Versatility. A penlight comes in handy for all kinds of purposes, from mechanical to medical jobs. It's powerful enough for heavy-duty jobs yet compact enough to meet the needs of daily DIY purposes.
- Self-defense. You can also use a penlight to defend yourself in dangerous situations. You're not legally permitted to carry many self-defense weapons, but you're allowed to use a penlight. In case you face a potential attacker, you can blind them temporarily with a penlight, which will give you time to flee or call for help.
- Focused Light. A penlight offers a focused spotlight to illuminate hard-to-reach areas. That makes it convenient for people such as mechanics, electricians, and doctors, who need to light up the specific area and locate the problem.
- Ease of Use. Most penlights feature a sleek design combined with a small size, which makes them easy to use. You can reach into your pocket or bag and take out the penlight in no time. The ease of use also makes a penlight a handy self-defense weapon.
Types of Penlights
The penlight with rechargeable batteries is created for those who are in constant need of a penlight. When you frequently use a penlight, from daily to weekly purposes, you don't want to bother with disposable batteries. The rechargeable one might be pricier, but it saves money in the long term as you don't have to buy batteries over and over again.
Penlights with disposable batteries are handy for those who don’t need a spot light that often. In case of emergency or occasional use, it works just fine. This type of penlight uses standard alkaline and lithium batteries. The most commonly used are AAA batteries, because they are widely available and inexpensive. Lithium batteries provide more power and are smaller in size, but they are also more expensive.
Streamlight, based in Eagleville, Pennsylvania, was founded in 1973. The company has been around for 47 years, producing high-quality flashlights, lanterns, and other lighting solutions for professional and home purposes. One of its most popular flashlights is the Streamlight 88061 ProTac Tactical Light.
Maglite is a company based in Ontario, California. It was founded in 1979 and has produced high-quality flashlights ever since. Along with all kinds of flashlights, the company also offers different accessories and replacement parts, including batteries. The Maglite LED 3-Cell D Flashlight is one of its top products.
- Under $10: The cheapest penlights are disposable and cost $5-$10. Due to the price, they don't have much power to offer, so they are mostly suitable for basic home use.
- $15-$35: Penlights in this price range are mostly suitable for mechanics, electricians, and other professionals who need the tool for inspection purposes. They offer more power and different brightness modes.
- Over $40: If you want a high-intensity penlight with different modes and beam patterns, you'll have to spend some extra cash. The higher-priced devices are more protected from external damage, and they can be used as tactical flashlights.
The main benefit of using penlights over regular flashlights is the size. Penlights are smaller and lightweight, which means they are more portable and take less storage space. That makes them extremely easy to use. When choosing a penlight, make sure it can fit your tool bags, backpacks, and pockets. You should be able to reach it in seconds at any given moment.
Consider the overall design of the penlight before you make a purchase. It should be not only compact and portable, but also sturdy and durable. If you're planning to use it outside, make sure it can withstand abuse and that external factors won't affect its operation. In this case, water and shockproof penlight is the best option.
A penlight should have a decent runtime, so you can rely on it in any situation. You don't want the light to fail on you when you need it the most. The runtime mostly depends on batteries and the number of lumens, so it's smart to look for a penlight that has adjustable brightness modes. This way, you get to save power when you don't need the brightest light for a particular task.
Check the brightness before the purchase. You want to make sure you can perfectly illuminate the working area. The brightness mostly depends on the number of lumens. Most penlights offer from 10 to 250 lumens. The ones with up to 50 lumens are excellent for close-up tasks such as finding items in dark areas. For more demanding purposes, such as camping, hiking, and tactical work, you'll want one with more than 100 lumens, aiming for the brightest penlight out there.
- Color Temperature. Depending on the task, you might want to choose a color temperature provided by a particular penlight. The cool, white light is more crisp and bright, while the yellow light is less harsh to the human eye. For example, a medical penlight should have a warmer color because it’s more comfortable and safer for the patient.
- Controls. Different light modes are useful and great to have, and you should be able to switch between them easily. If the controls are difficult to operate, you won't be able to get the best out of all those modes. You might even fail to use them at all in case of an emergency. That's why you need an easy-to-use penlight with intuitive controls.
- Batteries. Whether you choose disposable or rechargeable batteries, you want to make sure you can replace or recharge them quickly. With disposable batteries, you should look for those that are easy to find in stores, primarily AA and AAA. With rechargeable batteries, a compact charger is a must-have because you want to have a power source close-by all the time.
Best Penlights Reviews & Recommendations 2020
The Streamlight 88033 is a penlight and tactical flashlight designed for daily use as well as military and law enforcement purposes. The device is quite powerful, with up to 250 lumens on the high beam and 18 lumens on the low beam setting. Depending on the mode, it can run for up to 43 hours. The device uses two AA alkaline batteries, and given it’s the size of a marker it's quite compact. It offers three different lighting modes (high, strobe, low) and one-handed operation. Thanks to the rubber push-button, it's super easy to use.
What makes this device suitable for heavy-duty tasks is the rugged design. The penlight features C4 LED technology that is shockproof and ensures a lifespan of 50,000 hours. It's also waterproof and impact-resistant, so you don't have to worry about accidental drops, bumps, and spills. Additionally, the penlight has an anti-roll design, which means it offers more stability and won't fall off surfaces easily.
There are a few battery-related issues, though. First of all, the battery drains out rather quickly when on the high beam setting. It might even lose its charge when not in use. Also, the lack of a low battery warning is quite inconvenient.
The Maglite Solitaire flashlight is the size of a keychain, so it's incredibly convenient for daily use. Considering the price, it's an excellent option for DIYers and those on a limited budget. The device works on a single-mode and one AAA alkaline battery. It provides an output of 37 lumens and runs for up to two hours.
For such a tiny device, the Maglite Solitaire proves to be of impressive quality. Thanks to the sturdy aluminum construction, it's drop-resistant and quite durable. The anodized body wards off corrosion, and it's waterproof. That makes this device suitable for all kinds of outdoor purposes as well as demanding mechanical and electrical jobs. The device has a twist design, which means either the head or tail has to be turned for activation. The optimal focus is achieved with a simple twist motion as well. A keychain lanyard, spare lamp, and a lifetime warranty are included in the package.
There's one thing you should keep in mind with this penlight. The output of 37 lumens might not be enough for tasks that require a high level of brightness. Also, the batteries are not rechargeable and they drain quickly, so frequent replacement will be needed.
Here comes another high-quality penlight from Streamlight called the Stylus Pro. It's a USB device suitable for both professional and DIY use. What makes it rather versatile is its powerful output. The device can produce up to 250 lumens on high and 90 lumens on a low beam. The runtime goes from 90 minutes to three and a half hours, depending on the choice of the beam.
The Stylus Pro features a sleek and lightweight design. It's quite convenient, as it fits most pockets and is easy to carry around. Still, the compact design doesn't affect the sturdy construction. The penlight is made of anodized aircraft-grade aluminum for durability. It's water- and impact-resistant too with a matte black finish. Additionally, you can recharge the device on-the-go by using the USB cord or AC wall adapter.
The main drawback of this penlight is the short battery life, as you'll need to recharge it quite often. It's an unexpected issue considering how this penlight is more expensive than other options. Some users also complain that the on and off button is not soft enough.
- Since the top reason for buying a penlight is portability, make sure you choose one that is lightweight, compact, and sturdily constructed to withstand any conditions and ensure it lasts a long time.
- Another thing to consider when buying a penlight is the brightness of the light. Choose a pen that is bright enough to suit your lighting requirements.
- An LED penlight without an orange peel reflector can harm your eye when pointed directly at it. An orange peel reflector disperses light and prevents any damage to the eye, so try to choose one with this feature.
Q: What are penlights used for?
A: Penlights are used to illuminate narrow and small places. For example, doctors use them to examine the eye or the ear canal, while technicians use them to light up small openings on their gadgets.
Q: What material are penlights made of?
A: These devices are made from a variety of materials, including plastic, metal, and wood. The most important parts of a penlight are the wiring, battery, and LED bulb.
Q: How are penlights powered?
A: Due to their small size and enhanced portability, most penlights draw their power from AA batteries. However, some use lithium-ion rechargeable batteries.
The Streamlight ProTac 2AA Professional Tactical Flashlight is our top pick. It is bright, waterproof, and durable, and has many of the positive traits that you need in a penlight.
If you are on a budget, we recommend the Maglite Solitaire LED Flashlight. It is bright, sturdy, reliable, and durable.