A penlight is a very versatile, small flashlight. As its name suggests, penlights are shaped like pens. While there are other small flashlight types for everyday carry, penlights are unique in that they easily fit into a shirt pocket or clip onto a cap. Thus, they are a go-to lighting implement for a few professions, particularly doctors, nurses, first responders, and tradespeople.
If you’ve come here looking for a penlight for your job, let me quickly note that you’ll find two categories of penlights, and that should quickly guide your purchase decision.
Medical professionals tend to use penlights to check for pupil dilation or during exams. As such, penlights for nurses, doctors, or medical students don’t need the beam to project nearly as far from the light as users such as police, EMTs, mechanics, or people recreating outdoors. For medical professionals, weight, simplicity of use, and appropriate brightness are important factors to consider.
For outdoors or trades use, durability, waterproofness, and higher lumen output set good penlight choices apart from others. And let’s not forget, one of the coolest features of some penlights for trade and outdoors use is a reversible clip that allows you to attach it to a baseball cap and wear it like a headlamp.
Because these two different use cases require different lights, I note below the primary uses of the listed lights.
We’ve compiled this list of the most adept, versatile, best penlights to get you out of the proverbial dark.
The Best Penlight
The Streamlight 88033 is a tactical flashlight/penlight combination that is built to last. It is perfect for military and law enforcement officials and has a push-button tail switch to easily alter between programmable modes whenever you need it. This makes it appropriate for a tactical, overhand carry in which you control the light with your thumb.
It has a variable light output and a strobing function, both of which are useful for law enforcement or military applications. Its casing is robust and durable and can survive being dropped and submerged in water, even for days at a time.
Removable pocket clip
Charge one battery or two simultaneously
Multi-function, push button tactical tail switch
Waterproof to 1 meter for 30 minutes
- Weight3.2 ounces
One of the brightest penlights on the market, the Coast CREW HP3R offers a strong and ultra-focused beam of up to 245 lumens. This is a lot of light from a very smalls source. It’s great for inspecting sensitive electronics, working on mechanical projects in dimly-lit spaces, to for outdoor use. Having used this one a lot, I love that it’s easy to recharge with any micro-USB cable. It also has a reversible clip to attach it to any baseball hat, a great and useful feature.
The charge port is hidden to protect it from the elements, and the outer casing is easy to grip and hugely robust to withstand damage such as drops or being driven over.
Flex charge dual power system
High light output of 245 Lumens
Runtime up to 6 hours
305 feet max beam distance
- ModelLumen Penlight
- Weight1.76 ounces
Optimized for medical professionals
Warm Nichia 219B LED provides excellent color rendering
Default low-power turn-on avoids flashing patients with bright light
- Weight1 ounce
Infray’s mini LED flashlight boasts a strong beam despite its compact size at a value price. For those working in maintenance, or those who just want a reliable, small backup light, this is a great addition to your everyday tools that will make life a little bit easier.
The light has the ability to be focused on different situations and comes with a decent run time using easy-to-find AAA batteries. The aluminum body can take quite the beating, which is ideal for those who find themselves in tough environments day after day.
Light range of up to 230 feet / 70 meters
Fully zoomable from wide to narrow beam
Tough and reliable
3 adaptable settings
- Weight0.8 ounces
Topping out at a maximum of 500 Lumens, this is the brightest penlight on our list. ThruNite Archer 2A is a powerful flashlight at an entry-level price. It offers five modes, including strobe, that are easy to switch between depending on your needs. It is small enough to carry easily in pockets without taking up too much space.
On the lowest “firefly” setting, the battery life runs at an impressive 28 days, while higher settings will help to illuminate deep, dark areas of the world like it’s the middle of the day. It uses easy-to-find AA batteries. While this does save money at the time of purchase, it does cost more to refuel over time.
Love this product? Check out our review of the top EDC flashlights for our top picks.
Versatile applications for law enforcement, camping and first responders
Aerospace-grade aluminum body construction with anti-abrasive finish
Max 500 Lumen output
Overheat and reverse polarity protection
- ModelArcher 2A V3 CW
- Weight1.6 ounces
The Brite penlight is an effective little device that is slim, understated, and provides EPLI output perfect for all kinds of outdoor adventures.
Its size offers impressive brightness, even though the whole light is only ever so slightly larger than a marker. The outer casing is durable and meant to last through the years.
While the high runtime is merely 30 minutes, there are few occasions where you will need to use it for this long, so this shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
Max output of 160 Lumens with latest Cree LED state of the art digital power management
Up to 6 hours run time
High grade aircraft aluminum casing
Lightweight and easy to carry
- BrandBrite Strike
- Weight2.4 ounces
The 5.11 Tactical TMT penlight is one of the most compact on our list, which is ideal if you want a penlight for your shirt pocket. Despite its size, the TMT still outputs a sound 90 lumens with a 40 meter light stream.
It’s not only water-resistant, but the durable outer casing has been drop test approved to 3 meters. It conveniently runs on readily available AAA batteries, and two batteries are included with your purchase so you can use your new penlight as soon as it arrives.
40 meter light cone
90 Lumens output
Impact-resistant to three meters
- Weight3.20 Ounces
A massive improvement on the previous model, the Pelican 1920 LED pen flashlight brings an increased Lumen count (from 67 up to 120) despite only requiring one battery while still providing a decent beam that can prove massively useful in any situation.
The flashlight is slightly bulky but still compact enough to fit comfortably in your shirt pocket for easy access. The penlight offers two output levels so that you won’t waste battery life in situations requiring less light.
Ultra-bright 120 Lumen
High and low beam mode
9 hour max runtime
Type II anodized aluminum body
- Weight2.24 ounces
The Streamlight 66133 is a rechargeable flashlight that offers a high-quality feel perfectly suitable for professional and everyday environments. There is nothing cheap about it, and it promises to provide excellent brightness that can survive years’ worth of use. The Streamlight penlight also boasts a long runtime — invaluable when camping or during power outages.
90 Lumens, 860 candela
Runs 6.5 hours
Scratch and break resistant
- Weight6.1 ounces
One of the best value penlights to make our list is the Streamlight 66118 Stylus Pro.
The penlight comes in a high-quality finish as well as a tear-resistant holster to keep it safe in extreme environments.
The push-button switch is easy to operate and won’t get stuck, while the light is compact enough to be carried in shirt or jacket pockets without weighing you down.
It has an excellent battery life and has a durable outer casing to keep it operational come rain or snow.
Push button tail switch
Tear-resistant nylon holster
6.5 hour battery life
90 Lumens output
- Weight1.6 ounces
Yeah, it looks more like a lightsaber handle than a flashlight, but doesn’t that make it cooler? The Fenix LD22 comes with a lifetime warranty while also delivering in the functionality department.
It works perfectly as a camping light or one to use when working on the car but can also function ideally as something to have around the house. Also provided is an excellent runtime with decent output that won’t blind you but will also not have you straining your eyes, either.
New Cree XP-G2 LED providing 215 Lumens
Waterproof at 2 meters for 30 minutes
6 different outputs
Durable, anti-slip casing with body clip
- Weight7.2 ounces
Sturdy and well-built, Nite Ize brings both efficiency and style to the table with its Inova XP LED penlight. It has a powerful beam that offers a wide-spread and focused hotspot.
Additionally, its twist-switch technology makes it easy to operate.
The construction is tough enough to handle all kinds of abuse and can continue to deliver excellent results after years of use.
Our handy guide to the self-defense flashlights features more great products like this, so check it out.
Combines convenience of a penlight with performance of LED flashlight
Dual mode functionality
High of 144 Lumens
34 hours max timespan
- BrandNite Ize
- Weight1.92 ounces
Penlight Buying Guide
Features To Look For In A Penlight
If you are planning on investing in a new penlight, we recommend you quickly review our priority list below for the key features worth considering.
How Will You Use It? This is the first factor to consider when buying a penlight. The needs of an electrician are very different from the needs of a nurse, so considering how you'll use the light most of the time is critical.
Convenience - The whole purpose of having a penlight as opposed to a traditional and bulkier flashlight is ease to use and portability. Your penlight should be sized so that it can easily fit into a backpack, a trouser pocket, or even a front shirt pocket. Check out the weight of each light, and consider how it'll factor into your use. Keep in mind that a pocket clip is very helpful, and in some cases you can spin it to clip backward onto a hat brim.
Construction - Consider the build of the product, and if it fits your needs. If you are using a penlight either because you're an outdoor enthusiast or you require one in the line of duty, then clearly it needs to be reliable and robust. In those cases, look for water-resistant, metal construction. Likewise, if you intend to use it outdoors, it pays to ensure that your penlight is also waterproof and shockproof. Check the waterproof and shock ratings on each light, as they vary from fully submersible to splash-resistant.
Ease Of Use - This again returns to the intended purpose. For those in law enforcement, a strobe feature can be very useful. But a strobe is detrimental to medical professionals and could cause problems for patients. So consider the features of each light and make sure they fit your needs.
Runtime - Runtime varies a lot from light to light, but tends to rely on the type of battery, light output, and type of LED. For those who will use low-power outputs primarily (think medical professionals), runtimes should be many hours. On the other side of the coin, powerful penlights will usually only run at high for an hour or less before requiring battery changes. For those who need a lot of power for longer runtimes, a penlight is probably not the best choice, so check out these more powerful flashlights here.
Battery - Some batteries are harder to locate than others but for the most part, the range of penlights we've recommended run on readily sourced batteries, primarily AA and AAA. The runtime, brightness and also reliability will affect the battery life and source and if this is the only means of powering your particular penlight, then make sure that you have backup supply close by.
Q: What's the difference between a penlight and a tactical flashlight?
A: When you were doing your research, you probably came across both penlights and tactical lights. The term "penlight" refers to the shape of the torch. And there are plenty of tactical penlights. Most tactical lights have a lot of power output, as well as a strobing feature to disorient subjects in the field. There are also many non-tactical penlights that do not have strobing features and have less power. These are more suitable to use by mechanics, carpenters, electricians, and medical professionals. There is a bit of an overlap and both make exceptionally reliable light sources.