A phone's flashlight is the torch equivalent of a butter knife: the bare minimum. The inadequacy of a phone flashlight is proven for any use beyond illuminating objects further than a metre away. The other important thing is that people spend an awful lot of money on phones now and it's unwise to subject one to the peril of assisting in a night-time breakdown. Besides, actual torches are often much tougher than a phone anyway.
While a decent torch is unquestionably superior to a phone flashlight, the good news is that you don't have to spend much these days. However, in addition to value, there are some important factors you need to consider, which we outline below.
What to look for in a travel torch
Lumens: By its very nature, a torch needs to be a light source. This is a very simple concept that cannot be argued with. But how many lumens is best? It depends on what you need (or want). Torches 500 lumens and above are fantastic outdoors and often feature a focused beam to see long distances, which is good for searching. But it can be overkill for some who just want something that will allow them to check something under the bonnet, illuminate a wheel, or hook up jumper cables.
IP rating: An IP (ingress protection) rating determines how well protected an electrical device is from substances such as dust and water (for a detailed explanation of IP ratings, click here). For a torch you plan you use outdoors, a rating of IPX4 is a minimum starting point. IPX4 will cope with drizzle and light moisture. For the best protection, IP67 or IP68 is needed.
Build quality: IP ratings are an indicator of build quality, but not totally. A cheap torch may be IP67 and with 2000 lumens but for how long? Longevity is just as important as performance because the last thing you want is pulling a dead torch out of the glovebox. Established industry specialists such as Ledlenser and NEBO produce some excellent torches at a reasonably good price.
Rechargeable? A torch with a rechargeable battery is more convenient for you and better for the environment. It's preferable to those without.
Size: Size is important. These days you don't need one of those enormous handheld units that use four C or D batteries. There are some very powerful units the size of a glue stick that fits in your glovebox without displacing the existing miscellaneous gear already residing there.
The best travel torches
NEBO Slyde King 2K
Striking an ideal balance between build quality and value, NEBO's Slyde King 2K takes the prize. It has five light modes, with the brightest throwing a beam of light at a distance of over 400 metres. That's all great but what makes this torch so fantastic is that you can slide back the handle to create a work light, you can then stick the torch to a metal surface thanks to its magnetic base - perfect for changing a wheel or illuminating an engine bay, for example. It feels solid too, with an aluminium body.
|Max run time||20 hours|
|Size/weight||15.9cm x 3.5cm/454g|
NOCO Boost X GBX45
This isn't a torch. It's a portable jump starter that happens to have a 100-lumen torch. To be more specific, it's CAR top-rated portable jump starter. Hailing from industry leaders NOCO, the GBX45 is the smallest in the Boost X range but is still capable of jump-starting almost any non-commercial vehicle engine. It also acts as a power bank, it's tough IP65 rated, and is very light and compact. We also appreciate how simple it is to use. The torch also features an SOS function.
|Max run time||Not given|
|Size/weight||17.2cm x 8.4cm x 5.3cm/1250g|
Best build quality
Half the output of the NEBO torch above yet more than twice the price, what gives? While the NEBO is well made, the German Ledlenser is brilliant. On top of the impressive build quality, the MT10 has Ledlenser's Advanced Focusing Optics lets you switch between flood and focus beams instantly. Moreover, it seems to make more efficient use of each lumen, giving a better quality, clearer beam than what you get in cheaper torches with the same brightness. The MT10 has a long run time and seven-year warranty too.
|Max run time||144 hours|
|Size/weight||12.8cm x 3.2cm/156g|
For the inevitable and painfully overused car analogy, this is the TVR of the torch world in terms of power to weight ratio but luckily it's much more reliable. The 1000 lumen headline concerns the torch's Turbo mode, which can be used for up to 30 seconds. For the most part, you use up to 500 lumens, depending on the mode. Like the Slyde King 2K above, it has a handy magnetic base but is also has a neat wireless charging pad.
|Max run time||6 hours|
|IP rating||Not given ‘water and impact-resistant'|
|Size/weight||6.7cm x 3cm/62g|
Silverline LED Wind-Up Torch
The Silverline Wind-Up Torch's brightness is peanuts compared to the others here but it's designed as an emergency light source. It weighs almost nothing and is reliable. Wind it up with the foldaway handle for one minute and you get an impressive 30 minutes of run time.
|Max run time||1 min wind = 30 min run time|
|Size/weight||14cm x 6cm/140g|
AA Heavy Duty LED Torch
The AA torch is quite an old school unit compared to most others here, but its reliability, value, and efficiency deem it worthy of a place. It is C battery-powered (included), but in return, it has a reasonable run time. When the included batteries need replacing you can always do so with rechargeables. The base with six angles is handy for various instances and so too is the 180-metre beam.
|Max run time||15 hours|
|IP rating||Not given - ‘weatherproof’|
|Size/weight||19cm x 11.2cm x 16.5cm/880g|
Most motorists do not need this torch. It's a long-range spotlight that only a few of us need. For the output it provides and the toughness it bears, this is quite a compact torch. It has five light modes: Turbo, High, Medium, Low, and Strobe. Turbo offers 1500 lumens of concentrated light for a short time capable of reaching 925 metres.
|Max run time||61 hours|
|Size/weight||18.4cm x 6.8cm (head) x 2.6cm (barrel)/220g|