Fenix UC35 and Streamlight Protac HL USB Flashlight Reviews–two stellar candidates for your bug-out bag
Editor’s note: This is second of our series on flashlights that you’ll need for your bug-out bag or, emergency kit at home. In this piece we’ll look at USB-rechargeable flashlights from Fenix and Streamlight that are worthy of your consideration.
A good flashlight is the linchpin of any survival kit.
However, I don’t recommend tossing any old flashlight into your bug-out bag. The days of the mighty Mag flashlights running on drugstore batteries have gone the way of the Humvee. According to the experts at Illuminationgear.com, Modern flashlights are much more reliable, powerful and have advanced electronics (such as LEDs and current control circuitry) that don’t suck energy like a gas-guzzling V8.
Instead of the standard throw-away batteries, modern flashlights are powered by the new industry standard– the 18650 Li-ion rechargeable (or the smaller disposable CR123A) batteries. They have greater storage capacity, longer life and don’t leak. The best batteries on the market nowadays are manufactured by Sanyo/Panasonic and crank out an impressive 3500mAh. (The word is out that in the near future they will be replaced by “Tesla/Panasonic 21-70 battery” (or Samsung 21-70, or 21700) will replace the 18650 as the new standard).
So what brand of flashlight to buy?
There are a number of really cool flashlights out there. There’s a lot of junk too so caveat emptor.
First off, it’s a good idea to be aware of what not to buy. You should avoid the dime-a-dozen Walmart specials that suck energy like a gas guzzling V-8. These cheapo models will not have the high end circuitry and LEDs that the more expensive ones sport.
Thus, you’ll have to spend a few bucks for quality gear. You can get something decent and basic for $40-50 but count on dropping at least $90 or more for a rechargeable model. My criteria for state of the art flashlights means that they should be waterproof, have multiple brightness levels and be USB-rechargeable. Of course they need to be able to take a pounding. Good flashlights nowadays are made from high impact polymer or aircraft grade aluminum.
Fenix manufactures a large line of well-regarded flashlights. It’s not a household name but don’t let that dissuade you from giving it consideration. I got turned onto Fenix through a friend who uses this same flashlight every day in his line of work and he swears by it. Its been abused, dropped and banged up but continues to run like a champ. So, we decided to check out the Fenix UC35, ourselves. To begin with, this USB-rechargeable flashlight has five different Lumen intensity settings, more than you’d typically get. It’s easy to switch modes by using the white button that also serves as a warning and charging light.
- Turbo: 960 Lumens (1 hour 30 min.)
- High: 480 Lumens (2 hours 40 min.)
- Mid: 180 Lumens (9 hours 15 min.)
- Low: 50 Lumens (38 hours)
- Eco: 14 Lumens (150 hours)
Within this spectrum there’s plenty of variance to offer illumination for any circumstance. It’s manufactured from anodized aircraft-grade aluminum and is water proof up to two meters for half an hour.
I liked the ergonomics. It’s about six inches and has a balanced feel. It also has a scalloped tail switch which provides easy access for your thumb. It uses one 18650 rechargeable Li-ion battery or two 3V CR123A (non-rechargeable) batteries. (Obviously the preference is to go with the former). You’ll know when the battery needs charging because a warning light will go off and the actual beam will drop in intensity from high, mid, low, etc. No surprises, which is nice.
When you need to recharge you can either use a powerbank (pictured below) or plug your cell phone’s charger into the USB port and it will fully charge in about 4 hours. It has a protective circuit that prevents over-charging. It’s really hard to find fault with this product. The only minor issue I could find in all my research was that a long time user of this flashlight said that after 8 months of continuous banging around in his pocket the rubber cover that protects the USB port worked a bit loose. There was no negative outcome.
The UC 35 comes with a holster, lanyard, Micro-USB Cable, 18650 battery and a host of spare parts such as a rubber switch boot and 2 spare o-rings. (FYI, this is more in the parts department than you’ll get from most companies). Fenix says they will warranty your flashlight for the life of your light and “repairs will be made with no labor charges and as long as parts are available from the manufacturer”.
Great choice for an everyday carry. Price is $90.
Streamlight is another popular brand and well known in the firearms space. They sell a great deal of gear to law enforcement agencies. The company has a full array of products, including a number of items designed for emergency scenarios. These include flashlights, lanterns, headlamps and charger kits. They also have products specifically for the firearms space.
We looked at one of their newer products, a USB rechargeable flashlight called the Protac HL USB Flashlight. Like the Fenix, it also uses a rechargeable 18650 or two CR123A batteries. It has a three different operating programs which are set up with its proprietary “TEN-TAP” system.
The TEN -TAP drill seemed a bit tricky at the beginning but I watched a video review (I admit it) and got the hang of it quickly. What it boils down to is quickly tapping quickly ten times to switch the program. Of the three program offerings I preferred the third mode which provides a low, medium and high setting. This is perfect for every scenario I need.
Strobe is offered as well but I never use that. Strobe can be used in attracting attention in an emergency situation or disorienting someone, should you need that function. At the top end of performance, at 850 Lumens, you can expect 1.5 hours of run time.
At 350 Lumens you’ll get 4 hours of run time and 12 hours, at the low setting of 85 Lumens. The Protac (manufactured from aircraft aluminum) is water resistant up to one meter. (Not to get too picky but I’m not sure why they don’t say “waterproof”–which is what Fenix says. At three feet under the water, it better be more than just water “resistant”).
One of the main design differences between the Protac and the Fenix is that the Protac’s USB port is protected by a sliding metal sleeve instead of a rubber.
For everyday use you can charge both flashlights from your cell phone charger. In an emergency situation a powerbank such as the EPU-5200 charger which allows for two full charges on the Streamlight ProTac HL.
In conclusion, the Protac HL compares closely to the Fenix in function, performance and price. At 6.5 inches the Protac is slightly longer and in this regard might be better suited in your bug-out bag or on your nightstand than in your pocket. Ergonomics and balance are sweet on both of the models.
Sounds like a broken record but this another product where it’s hard to find fault. It’s packaged with a USB cable, removable pocket clip and holster. Streamlight has a limited lifetime warranty on parts defects. It retails on Amazon at $92.
Note: Many thanks to Tod over at Illuminationgear.com for all his advice on batteries.