In the annals of human innovation, few inventions shine as brightly in our daily lives as the flashlight. Its inception dates back to January 10, 1899, when David Misell, a British inventor based in New York, patented a device that would cast light on the future of portable illumination.

This device, characterized by its tubular shape, a bulb at one end, and the alignment of three D batteries, was not merely an invention, it was a beacon of progress. Misell's vision was recognized by Conrad Hubert, a Russian immigrant and fellow inventor, who acquired the rights to this invention for his company, Eveready.

Photo of several people tracking at night with white light.

Above: Conservation trackers utilize white light to create shadows while tracking at night.

Genesis of the Flashlight

The flashlight's debut was marked with a nod to creation itself, featuring the biblical quote “Fiat lux” in the Eveready catalog. This phrase, translating to “Let there be light,” echoed the profound impact of this invention on society. Initially named for its fleeting illumination—offering only a “flash” of light—the flashlight has transcended its early limitations to become a staple of modern life.

The invention of the flashlight stands as a testament to human ingenuity and the relentless pursuit of practical innovation. When David Misell patented the first portable electric light in 1899, it was a revolution in the way people interacted with light. This early version, though primitive by today's standards, laid the foundation for a century of technological advancement.

The initial model, powered by rudimentary batteries and offering only brief illumination, earned its name due to its ephemeral light output. However, the concept of portable light quickly proved indispensable, evolving from a novelty to a necessity. The evolution of the flashlight is a mirror to the technological and material advancements of the 20th and 21st centuries, reflecting changes in battery technology, materials science, and electronic innovation.

Photo of a handheld led flashlight being held close to the waist while working in the field.

Above: Flashlights can be used to create sharply contrasting shadows even during daylight hours.

Anatomy of a Flashlight

Understanding a flashlight begins with its core components, each playing a crucial role in its function:

  • Light Source: Ranging from incandescent bulbs to LEDs and halogen lamps, the evolution of the light source has significantly enhanced efficiency and brightness.
  • Reflector: Typically parabolic, this component focuses the light into a beam, amplifying the flashlight's reach and intensity.
  • Protective Lens: Made of durable materials like glass or plastic, the lens shields the light source from damage.
  • Power Source: Modern flashlights offer a variety of power options, including batteries, photovoltaic cells, and dynamos, catering to different needs and preferences.
  • Switch Mechanism: The evolution of the switch, from push-buttons to slides, reflects a focus on user convenience and reliability.

This fundamental design has given rise to a plethora of models, each tailored to specific uses and preferences. From emergency signaling to varied power sources and brightness levels, the modern flashlight is a testament to innovation and versatility.

Photo of someone using a blue light flashlight.

Above: Blue light is great for finding body fluids such as blood or saliva.

Modern Flashlights

The flashlight of today bears little resemblance to its predecessors. Advances in technology have transformed it into a device of unparalleled utility and efficiency. Rechargeable LED flashlights, in particular, represent a significant leap forward. These devices offer adjustable light beams, emergency modes, and induction charging, embodying the pinnacle of flashlight innovation.

Specialized models, such as right-angle torches, cater to specific needs by allowing hands-free operation, a critical feature in many professional and emergency contexts. Similarly, multi-color flashlights provide versatility with color-specific applications, from tracking to enhancing night vision.

The introduction of LED (Light Emitting Diode) technology marked a significant milestone in flashlight evolution. LEDs offered longer life, greater durability, and more efficient use of power than their incandescent predecessors. This leap forward was complemented by advancements in battery technology, including the shift from disposable batteries to rechargeable lithium-ion cells, further enhancing the utility and environmental sustainability of flashlights.

Modern flashlights now boast features that would have been unimaginable to their earliest users. Variable light settings, waterproof designs, and even integrated USB charging ports illustrate the flashlight's transition from a simple tool to a multifaceted device capable of meeting a wide range of modern needs.

In my personal case as a Tracker, I often employ them in indoor tracking, as they offer a good amount of additional light which allows me to spot micro details of latent tracks.

Photo of a muddy footprint in the dark.

Above: White light is neutral and can be used to find ground or aerial spoor.

Common Flashlight Choices

Right-Angle Torches. Imagine navigating through dense underbrush or precarious terrain where every step counts. Here, the right-angled torch shines—not just literally. Its unique design allows for attachment to a belt, offering illumination without occupying your hands. Crafted from durable yet lightweight materials, these torches are ergonomically designed for ease of use, even with gloves. With impressive light output and reach, they light up the immediate vicinity, making them indispensable for intense situations where focus and free hands are paramount.

Multi-Color Flashlight. Next in our arsenal is the multi-color flashlight, a tool that boasts a palette of possibilities. From the neutral clarity of white light to the stealthy green that pierces the woodland shadows without alarming wildlife, each color serves a purpose.

  • White. The most neutral light, so a Tracker can employ it on different terrains (also in indoor environments), from ground spoors to aerial spoors.
  • Green. Runs longer than many other LED colors. It is massively beneficial in woodland. It is also employed by not scaring away animals when hunting at night.
  • Red. Creates a nice contrast on bright baseline, for example snow and bright-colored sand.
  • Blue. Can be used to track blood evidence and, generally speaking, body fluids (for example, saliva).

Colors can be extremely useful also for improving and consolidating night vision, for hunting, for map reading, for sending SOS signal, for fishing, for observing the constellations in the sky.

Multi-colored flashlights are my artificial light of choice when it comes to tracking in the dark as well as in poor light conditions. By being able to switch from one color to another, I can maximize the lights full capabilities, enhancing details that may be neglected while adopting only a white light.

UV Flashlights. Originally called the Wood's lamp, named after its inventor, a UV flashlight beams out electromagnetic waves, primarily in the ultraviolet spectrum. So, what sets apart a UV LED flashlight from a UV sanitizing gadget? Essentially, UV light from a lamp like the Wood's sticks to UV-A wavelengths. These wavelengths don't interfere with the RNA or DNA of the critters caught in its glow.

That’s not the case with sanitizing gadgets that operate on UV-B and UV-C wavelengths. These devices shatter the molecular chains of microbes and stopping them from multiplying like crazy. UV lights are great for:

  • Analyzing carpets, sofas, armchairs and corners of the house in search of any partial indoor track
  • Identifying damp patches caused by leaks resulting from broken pipes in structures
  • Detecting the presence of animals like scorpions
  • Detecting the presence of saprotrophs, mesophiles, psychrophiles and thermophiles mold

Basic UV flashlights shine in scenarios where you're playing detective with germs, mold, moisture spots, and more. It's a pro at uncovering hidden flaws in materials—think invisible cracks or deep-seated damage that hasn't shown its face on the surface yet. But the user should protect their eyes with special glasses or, at the very least, don't go flashing it at yourself or others, as this wavelength is terrible for your retinas.

Tracking instructor Kyt Lyn Walken uses a headlamp during a night tracking exercise.

Above: Kyt Lyn Walken analyzes a track at night using the light from her headlamp.

Hands-Free Headlamps. Lastly, let's not forget the humble headlamp, a beacon that keeps the darkness at bay while keeping your hands unburdened.  Some headlamps come with different light modes, allowing you to switch between high, low, and even strobe settings. Types of headlamps include:

  • Incandescent: These traditional bulb headlamps are reliable and affordable, but they tend to drain batteries faster and produce a less intense beam compared to newer options.
  • LED: They offer a brighter and more energy-efficient lighting solution. LED bulbs last longer, consume less power, and can produce a wider range of light colors. Plus, they don't get scorching hot like traditional bulbs, so you won't have to worry about any surprise eyebrow singeing incidents.
  • Rechargeable: Say goodbye to constantly buying and replacing batteries with rechargeable headlamps. These nifty devices can be juiced up using a USB cable or a wall charger, making them eco-friendly and cost-effective in the long run. Just remember to recharge them before your adventures.

Whether you opt for the nostalgia of traditional bulb headlamps or embrace the efficiency of LED models, these devices offer a spectrum of light modes tailored to every task. Rechargeable options provide an eco-friendly alternative to battery-powered lights, ensuring you're always prepared. With features like adjustable headbands, waterproofing, and varied light modes, headlamps are indispensable for preserving night vision and maintaining focus on the track ahead.

Photo of a footprint in the dirt.

Above: By creating low angles with the light, a sharp contrast is produced that makes the track “pop.”

Things to Consider Before Buying a Flashlight

When venturing into the wilderness or embarking on a tracking expedition, the flashlight you carry can be as crucial as your compass or your map. But with the myriad options available, how do you select the beacon that won't let you down when you're deciphering tracks under the moon's gaze? Here's a tracker's insight into picking the perfect flashlight, ensuring you're never left in the dark.


First up, let's talk lumens. This measure tells you just how bright your flashlight will shine. While a cozy 100 lumens might suffice for a quick peek under the sink, those venturing into the great outdoors will need something with more punch. Think in the ballpark of 1,000 lumens to light up vast spaces like campsites. However, it's not just about the lumens; the design of the reflector and lens also plays a pivotal role in how your light cuts through the darkness.

Battery Life

Next, consider how long your light will stay with you. Whether you're team rechargeable or more of a disposable battery enthusiast, the capacity of your flashlight's battery, measured in milliamp-hours (mAh), is key. A solid 3,000 mAh will keep your night illuminated till dawn, while 5,000 mAh might be your pick for those high-powered luminary beasts that devour energy.


When it comes to flashlights, size does matter. The standard torch might be about 6 inches long and fit comfortably in your grip, but there's also something to be said for the nimble EDC (everyday carry) flashlights. These pint-sized illuminators can easily tag along with you, ensuring you're always prepared, whether it's for a spontaneous tracking challenge or a sudden need to navigate in the dark.

Weather Resistance

Out in the field, your flashlight will face more than just the dark. It'll encounter dust, water, and the occasional drop in the mud. This is where the Ingress Protection (IP) rating comes into play, which indicates how impervious they are to dust and water. The IP rating is typically followed by two numbers, the first indicates its ability to resist dust (1 being the lowest, and 6 being the highest) and the other its ability to resist water (again, 1 being the lowest, and this time 8 being the highest). An IP rating of 68 indicates the flashlight is impervious to dust and can be submerged in water. 

Photo of someone using a red light for tracking.

Above: Different spectrums of light make different tracking sign more visible to the naked eye.

A Tracker's Arsenal

The journey from Misell's initial patent to the high-tech devices of today illustrates a relentless pursuit of improvement and adaptation. Flashlights have become indispensable tools, illuminating our paths, enhancing our work, and ensuring our safety. As we continue to push the boundaries of technology, the humble flashlight stands as a symbol of human ingenuity, a reminder of our ability to bring light to the darkest corners of our world.

For those of us who track, whether it's following an animal across varied terrains or uncovering clues at a crime scene, having a versatile flashlight collection is not a luxury; it's a necessity. The ability to choose the right tool for the job can mean the difference between a successful track and a cold trail. It's about understanding the nuances of the landscape and the subtleties of the substrate you're working with.

Selecting the perfect flashlight is more than just picking a tool, it's about choosing a companion that will stand by you through thick and thin, illuminate your path, and perhaps even reveal secrets hidden in the shadows. Armed with the right knowledge and the perfect torch, the night and its mysteries are yours to explore.

Photo of someone using a UV light during tracking.

Above: UV light can be used to reveal different substances, like mold, moisture or otherwise hidden cracks.

About The Author

Kyt Lyn Walken Allsopp is an official representative and Instructor for Hull's Tracing School (Virginia, U.S.). She also presents Tactical, Forensic and Search and Rescue Tracking courses and webinars across the European continent and South America. She is author of five books on Mantracking, and is recognized worldwide as one of the leading experts of this primordial but effective skill. You can learn more about her work at her website:

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