Keychain Flashlights – Buyer’s Guide

Let’s establish something quickly: There’s no best keychain flashlight – regardless of price, make, or model – except the one that’s the best for you. You, yourself, will ultimately have to decide whether something works for your unique preferences and use-case. What you see in this buyer’s guide is ultimately a representation of my own preferences and what I think is subjectively the “best” keychain flashlight in each price range. Please see my “Rankings” page to better understand how I come to my grade conclusions.

A lot of buying guides are straight up shilling products with affiliate links and stuff they haven’t actually used. That’s not something that I do. I have good experience with most of the lights on this guide, and these are my honest thoughts. This guide is solely on keychain flashlights, and unless specified otherwise, they all have integrated USB charging.

$10 and under

Nitecore Tube

Quite possibly one of Nitecore’s most iconic flashlights, and a standout amongst keychain lights that punches well-beyond its price. It’s not winning any awards for performance, but it’s rechargeable, lightweight, and you can selectively ramp the output. Overall, the Tube is a competent and useful keychain flashlight.

Pros: Versatile and cheap.

Cons: Build quality is poor, so expect to buy a replacement in the foreseeable future. The LED tint is laughably bad and is almost blue. PWM might be a concern if you’re sensitive.

B= ★★

$20 and under

Nitecore TIKI

I haven’t had the chance to play with this model yet, but the specifications and functions seem nearly identical to some of the Rovyvon Aurora models. Not only that, but they’ve improved upon the Aurora with actual, decent mode spacing. The Hi-CRI LED is the icing on the cake. Sans Nitecore stealing ideas, this one is stellar for the price.

Pros: Strong performance, design fundamentals, and versatility.

Cons: Rip-off of Rovyvon, probably typical Nitecore build quality.


Olight I1R EOS

One of the smallest, cutest keychain flashlights there is. There’s only two outputs; you twist progressively to go from 5 lumens to 130 lumens. The new model goes up to 150 lumens at the expense of precious battery life, so stick with the old model. The I1R’s not particularly special in a sea of 10180 keychain lights, but it’s a very viable option.

Pros: Small even for a keychain flashlight, and with decent performance.

Cons: Not very versatile and might be hard to use one-handed. Runtime is expectedly horrid on the High output. Non-replaceable battery unlike some similar 10180 flashlights.

C= ★

$30 and under

Nitecore TIP

Funny how many times Nitecore has shown up on here so far. Most of their other products are dubious, but a good number of their keychain flashlights are rather competent. This is another slam dunk from Nitecore which has spawned numerous iterations and a follow-up, the TIP 2. Fun fact, the TIP 2 is (subjectively) worse than the original TIP.

Pros: Solid performance, Hi-CRI model, mode-spacing.

Cons: A bit larger than some other keychain flashlights. Earlier versions had significant parasitic drain.

B+ ★

$50 and under

Rovyvon A8U

Honorable mention here. Nitecore’s TIKI is better value for the money, but Rovyvon is the company that spawned this creative design. Overall, it’s a very good keychain flashlight plagued by small foibles. Now if only Rovyvon could get their act together.

Pros: Performance and overall versatility. Secondary and tertiary LEDs were unique.

Cons: Mode spacing and PWM.

B- ★

$100 and under

Veleno Designs Quantum

Probably the oldest keychain flashlight on the list here, and yet undeniably still relevant. The Quantum uses a QTC pill that adjusts the voltage drawn by the LED relative to the pressure on the pill. That is to say, the Quantum has infinitely variable brightness. But you’ll need to externally charge the 10180 battery it uses.

Pros: Very versatile design, well-built.

Cons: QTC is finicky and it can be hard to dial in your desired output. Lack of availability. Non-integrated charging.

A- ★

$300 and under

George Kemenes’ Omicron

At a certain point, you’re paying for fancy materials more than you are actual, functional performance. The Omicron in titanium manages to balance these two well-enough that I would recommend it if you don’t have a budget for your keychain flashlight. It’s build to the highest standards I’ve seen of any keychain flashlight and runs Guppy Rev. 1 with a variety of mode groups to select from. This one also doesn’t have integrated USB charging.

Pros: Incredible build quality and aesthetics, Hi-CRI LED, and programmable firmware.

Cons: Price, limited availability, and can be difficult to actuate (tail twisty). Non-integrated charging.


In Closing

There you have it folks, these are what I believe to be the “best” flashlights for their respective price ranges. Once you hit the ~$50 point, you’re going to be looking at some diminishing returns. That’s just how it works in this hobby, and I still firmly believe that the Steve Ku and George Kemene’s pieces set the bar for custom-esque keychain flashlights.

I get a lot of comments like “my flashlight X can do this. What can’t it do that these do” and I can’t stress enough this: If you’re happy with your purchase…you’re happy. So you don’t have to project or try to rationalize it upon me or anyone else. It’s that simple.

Other Keychain Flashlights

Basically brief summaries of all the other keychain flashlights I’ve played with and why I don’t think they don’t belong on this list.

Rovyvon AXx: Rovyvon captured lightning in a bottle with their original Aurora series, and unfortunately the “upgraded” models don’t bring much to the table. Mode spacing is arguably worse than before, the boot is slicker which makes actuation difficult with gloves, and the rubber USB port doesn’t seal as nicely. Top that off with some of the worst parasitic drain I’ve seen, and you have a trainwreck.

Grade: C-

Nitecore TIP 2: Solid performance hampered by haphazard design execution. The TIP 2 spreads itself thin by trying to be too many things: It’s a keychain flashlight, ball cap light, work light, and a pocket light all rolled into one. Unfortunately, it’s not particularly good at being any of them. The 2-second press-hold delay isn’t ideal either. Not strictly a bad keychain flashlight, but there are better options to be had for the price.

Grade: C

Nitecore TINI: Awesome performance and a minuscule footprint. Where does this fall short? The buttons are on the side of the flashlight, and they’re not flush. The TINI will accidentally activate at every opportunity if you have it in your pocket. This one fundamental flaw kills this otherwise stellar keychain flashlight.

Grade: C-

Mecharmy Illuminex (Aluminum/Copper/Brass/Ti): A well-built, mainstream design that’s overpriced for what it is. Let’s not talk about their gimmicky “Bullet” Illuminex designs. Apparently this is discontinued so no link – good riddance.

Grade: C=/Aluminum, C-/Copper/Brass/Ti

MBI HF/R: One of the most advanced, versatile keychain flashlights to ever be produced. At $120, it set the bar impossibly high for subsequent custom-esque keychain flashlights – it’s a total anomaly. I’d put it on the buyer’s guide…but you can’t buy them anymore as the maker disappeared due to health issues. The sole drawback was the proprietary battery it used.

Grade: A ★★★

Surefire Titan: Ridiculously overpriced for what it is. Meager performance and decent build quality. The Surefire Sidekick would probably sit at a similar grade (if not worse) were it not for the price-cut from an absurd $70.

Grade: D+

Surefire Titan Plus: Another AAA flashlight…that Surefire marketed as being a keychain flashlight. The Titan Plus makes for a horrible keychain flashlight because it’s made of Aluminum Bronze – it’s way too heavy. As a stand-alone pocket flashlight, it’s acceptable. Impressive performance and decent functionality overall. I recommend shaving off the keyring piece if you have access to a dremel or lathe.

Grade: B-

Prometheus Lights Beta QR: I can see this working for the aluminum iterations, but the copper and brass versions are too heavy. The detachment piece is probably the biggest selling point on this flashlight. Overall, overpriced for what it is: Not Surefire Titan bad, but still commands a price more than it’s worth. I’d buy the pocket clip and call it a day as a pocket flashlight instead – of course, that’ll cost you even more.

Grade: C-

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *