A good quality flashlight is a flight bag essential. But you don’t want just any cheap light. You want a quality light you can depend on when you need it.
Once you start flying at night you’ll need a nice light for your preflight inspection and for reading any charts in the cockpit.
This list of flashlights and headlamps are some of our top pics for quality lights you can pack in your flight bag.
What to Look for in a Flashlight or Headlamp
When searching for the perfect flashlight there’s a few things you’ll want to consider.
You’ll want a flashlight or headlamp that has a few different light level options as well as a red or green color option. This will help you preserve night vision in the cockpit.
Be sure to look into the function of the light, as well. Some lights require you to go through the bright white light options before getting to the red option. Unfortunately, it can a bit of a challenge to find good flashlights with this well thought out design but many headlamps do have this function.
You may also want a flashlight that uses conventional batteries (AA or AAA) so you don’t have to remember to keep them charged. However, if you’ll already be carrying a spare battery to charge other items, it may not be a big deal.
If you’re going to go with a headlamp you’ll want one that’s comfortable to wear on those long flights.
This is our top pick for a basic flashlight that should work for any pilot.
This is a very bright, very compact, and affordable flashlight. It comes with 5 separate brightness settings, a red mode, and a number of special features such as strobe, SOS, and beacon.
Plus it uses AA batteries so with a few extras in your bag you’ll be good for a long time.
We also like the inclusion of the SOS and beacon features. These are the kinds of things that you aren’t likely to use often, but which could someday be extremely useful – even life-saving! The five brightness settings are also welcome.
The package includes a number of additional features too, such as a lanyard, spare parts, keychain light, and holster.
Streamlight Stinger Flashlight
Especially at larger and busier airports, you will want to write down everything you are told. Directions can get long and complicated at times, so the less transmissions it takes to get instructions to you, the better for ATC and for you.
This flashlight has a lot going for it, but with one main flaw.
First the good. The Stinger is an extremely well-made, compact, and powerful light that will stand the test of time and prove a joy to use. The beam has three brightness settings which is really useful for your preflight inspection of the plane. And the resilience of the light is second-to-none.
Unfortunately, though, the flashlight does not include a red or green option, meaning that it won’t be as effective for providing a low level of light that won’t ruin your night vision. There is a solution to this however (see below).
It’s also a shame that the battery is rechargeable. While there will be some people who like this feature, for many others it can mean another thing to remember before a night flight.
Searching for a good flight bag?
Streamlight Flip Lens for Stinger Flashlight
If you loved everything about the Stinger but need that red or green functionality, then there is always the option to add colors using these lenses.
This is a neat solution, but you’ll have to buy the lenses separately and then store them with the light.
Maglite XL50 LED Flashlight
This tactical pack should provide everything that the average pilot needs in a flashlight, all in a single package.
Specifically, you’ll receive a light with a powerful LED beam. This is a small, compact, and very well-made tool, anodized against corrosion.
The tactical pack includes colored lenses, pocket clip, and an anti-roll device. Again, this is not as convenient as being able to switch between colors with the press of a button. But it’s a great pack and particularly well-made and durable tool.
LUMENSHOOTER Multi-Color Flashlight
The Lumenshooter places its multiple colors front and center, and each of these is vivid and useful.
The flashlight also comes with some useful additional features, such as a memory function. This means that if you’re on a color for three seconds, the torch will remain on that color when you turn it back on. No rotating between colors. If you’re using this primarily for reading charts in the cockpit, then that’s a perfect feature.
Otherwise, this is another very nicely made flashlight and one that is once again resilient, compact, and ergonomic to use.
Smith & Wesson Galaxy 12 LED 15 Lumen Flashlight
So how does this Smith & Wesson Galaxy 12 stack up against the others?
In terms of the basics, it has those covered well. This is a small and well-made flashlight with a satisfying ergonomic grip, and a durable anodized aerospace aluminum. That’s important, as it means the flashlight will last a long time and won’t fail you in an emergency. We also like that this is powered by regular AAA batteries (included), and the included holster and wrist lanyard could also be useful.
The flashlight also uses multiple switch technology, mapping red, blue, and white to a single switch. It’s quick and easy to use.
The downside of this design that we can see, is that it means you need to cycle through all the colors before you can turn it off. This can be an issue if you’re trying to keep the light low and you need to switch to the more disruptive blue before you can turn it off. Covering the end with a hand will solve this issue though.
The torch is also nice and compact at 6.25” and only weighs 6.4 ounces: perfect for throwing into a bag.
Flight Outfitters LED Headlamp
The Flight Outfitters LED Headlamp is an excellent option for any pilot. One of the best features of this headlamp (and missing on many others) is two separate buttons for the red and white light. This makes it easy to turn on the red light without having to flash through the white light.
Another great feature that’s often missing on other headlamps is two brightness settings for the red light. This can make a big difference while in the cockpit.
The only downside to this light is it doesn’t feel like a quality headlamp like some of the other options.
Black Diamond Cosmo Headlamp
The Black Diamond Cosmo headlamp comes with a red night vision, dimming options, strobe lighting feature, and the ability to turn on and off without needing to cycle through the white modes. In short, that’s everything you could need for a headlamp like this.
It’s powered by AAA batteries, and offers basic water resistance so you don’t need to worry about it getting wet in the rain.
One complaint we have with this headlamp however is it’s somewhat confusing function. It has a bit of a learning curve to get used to switching between white and red light.
BioLite HeadLamp 200 Lumen Rechargeable Head Light
The BioLite headlamp features a smart, low-profile design that is comfortable to use. The device is rechargeable via USB which may not be preferred by all pilots. The headlamp also comes with a variety of different modes, including white + dim, red + dim, white strobe, and red strobe.
A great feature is the option to tilt the front panel downward. This can help you to angle it down to read checklists or charts in the cockpit, while also avoiding ruining your night vision.
A single charge will offer you 40 hours on low, or 3 hours on the highest setting white light. The whole thing weighs only 50 grams (which is extremely light). One small downside is there’s no water resistance.
If you’d like a higher output option the BioLite 330 lumen headlamp is another great option.
Nitecore NU25 Headlamp
Finally, we have one last headlamp, the Nitecore NU25. This high output headlamp includes a 13 lumen red light for reading charts in the cockpit.
This incredibly lightweight headlamp will be comfortable to wear for those long night flights. It also includes a high CRI 20 lumen light that renders colors better and makes it easier to read.
This headlamp uses a rechargeable battery so you’ll want to take that into account when deciding if this is the headlamp for you.
Overall, the Flight Outfitters is our favorite headlamp on the list but any of these will work well for a pilot.