Indestructible and versatile light source for backpacking and camping
High quality materials and construction, dependable, flexible usage. Retrofit LEDs available.
Not the longest battery life, bulbs a bit fragile.
The Bottom Line:
A great choice for general lighting for backpacker, amateur astronomer, but carry extra batteries and bulbs. New aftermarket LEDs may improve performance.
Once upon a time, before Mag Instruments of California hit the market with the MagLite series of quality flashlights, consumer flashlights were noted for cheap materials, non-precision parts and assembly, and the tendency to explode into four or five pieces if you dropped one. If you wanted a quality flashlight, you would have to go to a police supply catalog or military surplus store.
MagLite changed all that when it introduced a line of consumer flashlights made to exacting standards with high performance materials. Campers, backpackers and other outdoor types jumped on the bandwagon.
Many years later, Mini MagLite 2 AA flashlight is still an excellent light source for campers and backpackers.
Construction and Operation
The flashlight has two main parts: the barrel and the head. Both are made of anodized aircraft aluminum and are available in black, blue and red.
The barrel holds the 2 AA batteries. At the back end is a screw cap that gives access to the battery compartment. It also has space for a replacement bulb which is protected and held in place by a plastic cushion. Outside, there's an eye for a key or lanyard ring. The barrel is also knurled over about 75% of its length to provide a better grip. The T1 mini vacuum bulb is mounted at the other end, which is threaded to accept the head and has an O-ring for resistance to water intrusion between the barrel and head.
The head contains the reflector and clear plastic lens. It also has a knurled segment because you'll need to twist it. That's because, unlike most other flashlights, the head is also the on-off switch. When you "screw" is all the way down onto the barrel, the light is off. Twist it counterclockwise less than one-eighth turn and the light goes on. Twist it further and you can set the focus from diffuse blob to sharp point. Twist it even more and it comes completely off, leaving a bare bulb that sends light in all directions, a lot like a candle. In this case, the head serves as a base for standing the "candle" upright, but it's not that stable, so I prefer hanging it from an overhead branch or the ceiling of my tent. Pretty versatile!
All of the parts and screw threads are machined to excellent precision, so they turn easily. But be careful putting the screw cap back on after replacing batteries as it's a bit prone to cross threading.
The Mini MagLite has a bunch of accessories, sometimes packaged with the flashlight and sometimes available as separate kits. It most often comes as just a bare flashlight, but there's a basic accessory kit which includes 1) a lanyard ring, 2) an eight-inch wrist lanyard, 3) a pocket type pen clip, 4) three plastic filters (clear, red and amber), 5) an anti-rolling cap that doubles as a filter holder.
The lanyard setup is very useful for carrying and for hanging from a tree branch or the ceiling of your tent. The anti-roll cap keeps the flashlight from rolling away when you place it on a tilted surface. The red filter is great if you need to preserve your night vision, say if you're looking at the stars or watching a meteor shower.
Replacement bulbs come in two-packs.
For its size, the MiniMagLite 2 AA flashlight provides the expected amount of light, both with the lead on and off. The ability to focus the beam makes it possible to have a wide beam for, say reading, and a narrow beam to illuminate something at a moderate distance. The "candle mode," with the head off, gives enough light to dimly illuminate the inside of a family sized tent.
But this is not a high powered flashlight. Do not expect it to brightly illuminate your path on a dark moonless night. You'll really get more like a little spot of light that allows you to pick your way along carefully. For me, that's perfect because, when I'm out camping or backpacking, I enjoy the dark and don't want a bright beam flashing around.
I also have a specialized use for my MagLite: amateur astronomy. Fitted with the red filter, it helps preserve dark adaptation (night vision) while giving enough light to illuminate star charts, telescope and camera controls, etc.
The MagLite does have a problem with battery life. The specs say it will go 6 hours at 70 degrees but only a bit over 1 hour at 0 degrees. I typically use mine when temperatures are in the 50s, and I find myself changing batteries more often than I would expect. So be warned. Have plenty of spare batteries.
Finally, although almost everything about the flashlight is very sturdy, but the bulbs aren't. They seem to go out fairly regularly, especially if you drop the flashlight a few times. There is that extra bulb in the battery cap, but you probably still need to stock some additional spares.
A typical price for the flashlight alone is about $10. The accessory kit goes for around $5, and a two-pack of spare bulbs is around $2.50. To me, all of these prices seem very reasonable in comparison to products of similar quality.
It sounds amazing, but MagLites are so popular that there's an aftermarket for owner-installed modifications.
Terralux (at www.terralux.biz) makes a bright LED replacement "bulb." They claim that it's brighter than the OEM T1 incandescent bulb, increases battery life by a factor of six, and has an amazing 100,000 hour lifetime. It, and the included replacement reflector are easy to install (according to Terralux), and sell for about $25.00 . I haven't tried one yet, but I'm thinking about it.
This is a high quality product that I highly recommend as long as you are willing to live with its inherent limitations.
On the other hand, there has been a lot of recent innovation in lighting technology for backpackers and campers, including both flashlights and head-mounted lamps. I recommend that you check out the large array of products at the REI web site (www.rei.com) under the camping and backpacking headings.