For flashlights, AAAs are the new black
Tony Sculimbrene 06.05.13
Emitter technology has pushed performance higher and higher until finally, after years of subpar output, common cells even in single-cell flashlights produce more than enough light for EDC use. It used to be that flashaholics (what flashlight fans call themselves) demanded exotic lithium cells like CR123a or CR2 (batteries that were commonly used in cameras) or even more esoteric rechargeable formats like 18650 cells in their lights. The only way to coax respectable lumens counts out of AA or AAA lights was to double or triple them up, a requirement that resulted in bulky, un-pocket-friendly designs.
But with the release of CREEs XPG, XML, XPG2 and XML2 emitters, the performance of a single-cell light running an AA or AAA battery is more than sufficient. The benefits of using common cells are obvious–you can power your light anywhere at anytime. If there is a gas station nearby then you have power and thus light. And in an emergency you can also raid common household items, like remote controls, to power your lights. (New modern flashlights can sip power out of even “mostly dead” batteries). A final advantage of the lowly AAA battery is that it also happens to be about ten times cheaper than its lithium counterpart (though you can cut the costs of lithiums significantly by ordering online).
If emitter tech lets you choose your cell, the choice, at least among custom makers and those that buy trend-setting lights, is clear–AAA batteries are now the default flashlight battery choice. In writing for my site, I have made connections with quite a few custom makers and we chat regularly. More than one, in fact, more than three, have mentioned upcoming designs using 1xAAA. The form factor is the main reason. AAA batteries are significantly smaller and lighter than their AA cousins and they have they same output, just shorter runtimes.
These new emitters have yielded a few production light superstars. The Peak Solutions Eiger is one of the best lights available for under $100, and it can hit more than 200 lumens with a rechargeable 1xAAA. Even with standard alkalines the performance is a decent 60 or so lumens. The 47s Preon 1 is another great 1xAAA light, topping out around 70 lumens. The fact that you can get all of this punch in something that happily resides in the coin pocket of your jeans or your shirt pocket is quite nice. The Maratac 1xAAA is one of the best values in gear, belching out 115 lumens on high.
But just over the horizon, even more tempting options are appearing. The custom Tain Piccolo is an uber-tiny 1xAAA light with a nice high, a nice low, and decent runtime. It is all Ti (of course), equipped with a tritium locator, and runs a super simple UI.
Once this design, or ones like it, seep down to mass-market production companies, watch out. There is a new battery sheriff in town, and it’s an oldie but a goodie. The AAA battery is the new black, and the 1xAAA should be your next EDC light’s power source.