What’s a “Lumen” and how does it relate to Flashlights?

(Editor’s note: Welcome to the next installment of our “Ask a Survival Guy” series of blog posts. We encourage you to submit a question. The founder of Midwest Native Skills, Tom Laskowski, might just answer it as part of this regular feature!)

Question:

I want to buy a flashlight, but the advertisements I see all talk about something called “lumens.” What are lumens and what do they have to do with buying the right flashlight?

Answer:

Simply put, lumens is a measurement of light output. The higher the number, the brighter the light. Flashlights typically have several brightness levels, or lumen levels.

The lowest brightness is something called “moonlight mode” and is very low. This would be the equivalent of a nightlight, which is in the range of five to 15 lumens.

Next is a low level, which some people would refer to as the “dim” setting. This level is enough to see at a close distance (around five feet) and would be approximately 30 to 50 lumens.

Next is the medium setting with a reasonable brightness level that would be enough to help you walk a trail at night. Some people would refer to this as an adequate light, which is approximately 100 to 150 lumens.

After that level, we get to “high.” Most would consider this to be a very bright flashlight, which is in the range of 300 to 500 lumens.

Then we have the category of “Wow, now that’s really bright!” flashlights. These lights have outputs in the 1,000-level range. They’re extremely bright and would illuminate a residential backyard very well.

And beyond that are the 2,000 lumen lights. Although this is double the 1,000-lumen lights, there is point of diminishing returns in regards to your perception of the light that it projects.

What does this mean? While the 2,000-lumen light is brighter, visually it will seem to be only 25% brighter than the 1,000-lumen light. It does NOT double the brightness, as the numbers would lead you to believe.

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