How Many Lumens Does my flashlight need?

When you are in a situation that requires a flashlight, you need one that puts out enough lumens for the task at hand so that you are not fumbling around blindly in the dark.  You may wonder what the word lumens means and how they impact specific situations you may encounter.

I know I was confused about this (which is why I wrote this post) because I knew a lot of the “lumen” nonsense on the packages of flashlights was mainly marketing hype with little real-life application.

After all, if you can get a 2,000-lumen LED flashlight at Walmart for $10, why would anyone spend $150 for a 200-lumen light? There is a reason, and quality is not the only one. Lumens can be deceptive figures if not looked at in the proper context. Let’s dive in.

Lumens measure the amount of light that is emitted from a light source. It is the volume of light that is visible to the human eye. A higher lumen count means a brighter light is produced. 

For camping, a light should have 30-60 lumens. For hiking, a light should have at least 100 lumens. For home defense, a light should have at least 150 lumens. For search and rescue, a light with 1,000 or more lumens is required. For in-home use, a lightbulb should have between 200 to 800 lumens depending on location and distance from the ground.

If you don’t want to be stuck in the dark and are interested in learning more about lumens and what the recommended lumen count is for certain situations, continue reading this helpful article. I’ve added some additional information about the best lumen counts for lighting situations outside the realm of flashlights for more reference points.

Use CaseRecommended Lumen Count
Search and Rescue1,000+
Interior Lighting200-800
Outdoor Recreational Lighting8,000-50,000
Pathways and Steps20-60
Exterior Accent Lighting90-150
Recommended lumens based on use case.

Lumens Versus Watts – Knowing the Difference

Gone are the days of simply going to your local store’s hardware aisle and grabbing a box of light bulbs. In today’s modern world, if you need some new illumination, you had better get ready to spend some time perusing your options. There are many factors to consider when purchasing lightbulbs:

  • LED/Incandescent
  • Lumen count/Brightness level
  • Size/Shape
  • Wattage

When you go shopping for lightbulbs, you are probably used to looking for how many watts they are. It is a common misconception that the higher the wattage, the brighter the bulb will be. When in all actuality, the wattage has little to do with measuring the visible light that is produced. 

Watts measure how much energy is produced by the light bulb, not by how much light it is capable of producing. If you are looking for a light to really brighten up a space, it is important to look at the lumen count instead of the watts. As mentioned briefly above, the higher the lumen count, the brighter the light produced will be. Adversely, the lower the lumen count, the dimmer the light that will be produced. Lumens are the visible light that the human eye can see.

What are lumens?

Basics of Measuring Lumens – How it’s Done

To determine the number of lumens needed for any particular space or task you are tackling, you first must know how many foot-candles are in that particular space. A foot-candle is a way of measuring the intensity of light produced. Keep reading to learn more. Before modern times, the basis of the foot-candle measurement was taken from candles. It measures how much light is produced within a square foot of the light source. 

One foot-candle is equal to approximately 10.76 lumens. To determine the number of lumens you will need for a particular space or task, you must multiply the number of foot-candles (square feet) by 10.76, and that product will tell you how many lumens are needed for your situation. 

Different Lumens for Different Situations

As you surely know, different spaces and tasks call for different amounts of light. Continue reading to learn the approximate amount of lumens needed for the various spaces and tasks

Around the House – General Purpose

You may be wondering how many lumens you need for:

  • Navigating around a creepy basement or attic
  • Searching through closets for lost items
  • When the power goes out… and other common situations that arise

Most general-purpose situations that you encounter around the house can be illuminated sufficiently with a 10 – 25 lumen flashlight. This may not sound very bright; however, it is more than enough light for basic tasks. 

Camping and Nightime Fun

There is nothing better than spending the night in the great wide open, listening to the sounds of the crickets chirping, the breeze rustling the leaves on the trees, and the howls of the coyotes in the distance. What do you do when you hear a sound that makes the little hairs stand up on the back of your neck or when you need to make a mid-night pitstop? You may be wondering how bright of a light you need if you are going to see where you are going or what is lurking in the tree line while you’re out on your beloved camping trip. For most camping situations and tasks, 35-60 lumens is more than sufficient. 

Defending Yourself and Your Home 

The defensive power of a flashlight is grossly under-estimated by most people. Having the proper tactical flashlight can allow you to blind and temporarily disorientate an oncoming attacker. The ridged end can be used as a striking object to defend yourself if you are being physically attacked. In order for a flashlight to effectively temporarily blind and disorientate an oncoming attacker, you should carry a tactical flashlight that is at least 120 lumens. If you like to walk or run alone at night, it is a good idea to carry a tactical flashlight with you as an extra safety measure. 

Now, I will say, even though at first thought you might think the brighter the light the better for home defense, I would caution you away from that. While an extremely bright light, say 1,000-lemens+, can certainly disorient your attacker, the brightness from the light can also disorient you.

You want to strike a balance of something bright enough to temporarily blind your attacker without throwing out so much light that you yourself have a difficult time seeing.

Grab your light and keep it off. Then stand in the pitch black dark and let your eyes adjust. Once you have given them a good 5 minutes to adjust (like they would be in the middle of the night), shine your light onto the wall in front of you and see if you can clearly see it, or if it gets washed out in the light. Adjust accordingly.


Spending time in nature can be calming and healing. There’s nothing like the peace of listening to a river trickling over rocks, a waterfall spilling over a cliff, or sounds of unidentified critters scampering along the tree line. 

When hiking at night, you will want a light that puts out enough lumens:

  • To allow you to see potential tripping hazards
  • To clearly illuminate the pathway/trail
  • To spot potentially dangerous wildlife

While 35 lumens is a sufficient amount of light, it is best to use a flashlight that is closer to 60 lumens for better visibility while hiking

Fun fact: The first flashlight was invented around the 1890s by an English inventor named David Misell. 

Search and Rescue Efforts

If you ever find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having to search for someone who is missing, you will need a very powerful light. Most search and rescue workers use flashlights that are around 2200 lumens. These lights are so bright that they can make the surroundings look like daylight when it is pitch-black in the middle of the forest. 

Standard Police Issue

Police officers have a tough job that can be very dangerous. Walking up to a vehicle when it is dark outside is not always a safe thing to do. They don’t know:

  • How many people are actually in the vehicle
  • If there are any weapons  
  • If there are other potentially hazardous items

Officers have to rely on their flashlights to show them what is happening. Typically most standard police issue flashlights are around 90 lumens. 

How To Determine How Many LED Lumens You’ll Need To Properly Light Your Space

Bigger Is Not Always Better

Often, we think that bigger is better, or the higher the lumens, the better the flashlight.  However, that is not always the case. Sometimes, the best things really come in smaller packages or lumen counts as they pertain to this article. The higher the lumens, the more battery life is used. Sometimes having a higher lumen count is not always necessary. While it is helpful to have a light that can illuminate a football field, it may not be necessary, and you may be wasting precious battery life when you can avoid it. 

The brightness of a flashlight also depends on the reflector’s type and quality in the head of the light. For example, a one-lumen flashlight with a high-quality reflector can put out more visible light than a 10-lumen flashlight with a poor reflector. So when purchasing a flashlight, be sure to consider what it will be used for the majority of the time. Planning ahead will save you money in the long run. 

Tips for Purchasing Flashlights that Last

The following list is made up of things to keep in mind when purchasing a flashlight. If you take your time and shop carefully, you can find a flashlight that can serve you in almost any dark situation you find yourself. Keeping one quality flashlight on hand can serve you better than ten inexpensive options that don’t work as well or last as long. 

Consider the following things when purchasing a flashlight: 

  • Does it have a tactical design
  • Does it have multiple brightness settings
  • Is it resistant to the shock of being dropped
  • Is it waterproof or water-resistant
  • What kind of batteries does it require

What kind of light options does it offer:

  • Adjustable Light
  • Flashing Light
  • Flood Light
  • Spot Light

What type of bulb: 

  • Incandescent 
  • LED (Light-Emitting Diode)

LED Bulbs Versus Traditional Incandescent Bulbs

You may be wondering which bulb is best. For many of us, incandescent was the standard option for a flashlight when we were younger. But technology and the energy industry have come a long way by creating better bulbs for brightening our dark situations. 

Fun fact: The first LED lightbulb was invented in 1962 by Nick Holonyak Jr. while working for General Electric™.

LED lightbulbs:

  • Can pierce through fog and smoke, whereas an incandescent bulb cannot
  • Shock-resistant, so they do not have to be replaced as frequently as an incandescent bulb
  • Typically offer more power and brighter light than an incandescent bulb
  • Use less energy which retains battery life better than an incandescent bulb
Comparing LED vs CFL vs Incandescent Light Bulbs (Source).

Illuminating Indoor and Outdoor Living Spaces

Now that you have a good understanding of what lumens are and how many you need in your flashlights for certain situations, you may be wondering how many lumens are needed to illuminate other areas in which you spend your time. The following sections will give some detail on approximately how many lumens are needed for specific areas and tasks. 

Interior Lighting Needs – Ambiance and Function

When you are working to decide what type of lighting you need for your home, it is important to consider how you will be using each space.  Some rooms may not require as much light as others. Continue reading to learn about how many lumens you need for different areas of your home. 


The recommended amount of light needed for completing your personal hygiene tasks is around 70-80 foot candles or 753.2-860.8 lumens. It is difficult to bathe in the dark, so having ample light in your bathroom is important. For those who wear makeup in your family, they will also appreciate good lighting in the bathroom because any Cosmo™ girl knows that you must have proper lighting when applying your makeup. 


The recommended amount of light needed to illuminate a bedroom sufficiently is around 10-20 foot candles or 107–215.20 lumens. Since bedrooms are typically used for sleeping, you probably won’t need super bright lighting. However, if you like to read in bed or perhaps have a desk in your child’s room for homework and studying, a suitable option would be to add small task lights to the areas where reading or schoolwork is done. 


Whether you are working on your prized hot-rod, building furniture, or creating beautiful works of art, you will need plenty of light to be sure you are doing everything accurately. The recommended amount of light for a garage or workshop is around 80-100 foot candles or 860.8-1076 lumens. 


Since we don’t typically spend much time in our hallways, they do not require as much light as some other spaces might. The recommended amount of light needed for a hallway is around 5-10 foot candles or 53.8-107 lumens. Many times we like to feature our favorite family photos or memories along the walls of our hallways. For situations where you wish to feature certain pictures or items, accent lighting may be used.  

Home Office/Library/Children’s Playroom

When lighting a home office, library, or children’s playroom, you will need plenty of light.  It is important that you can see what you are doing, and your kiddos don’t strain their eyes when they are reading their favorite stories and playing with their toys. The recommended amount of light for a home office, library, or children’s playroom is around 60-80 foot candles or 645.6-860.8 lumens. 

Kitchen and Dining Areas

You will most likely want to have brighter lighting in the kitchen so you can see what you are doing while preparing those oh-so-delicious meals that your family and friends enjoy with rave reviews. The recommended amount of light needed for a kitchen’s work area is around 70-80 foot candles or 753.2-860.8 lumens. This provides ample light for any task, whether you are cooking a large gourmet meal or helping the kiddos with their homework around the kitchen table.  Once the meal is prepared and the homework is complete, it is time to sit down and enjoy the fruits of your labor. It is recommended that kitchen/dining areas have around 30-40 foot candles or 322.8-430.4 lumens. This amount of lumens provides ample light for dining and creates a relaxing ambiance. 


When you are ready to relax for the day, there is nothing better than flopping down in your favorite recliner and zoning out to your preferred television show. The recommended amount of light needed for illuminating a livingroom is around 10-20 foot candles or 107-215.20 lumens. If you find that you need more light periodically for reading or playing games with the family, add some accent or task lighting that can be switched off when movie time rolls around.

Lumens guide for your home (Source).

Lumens Needed for Lighting Outdoor Areas

The following sections will give you some insight into how many lumens you will need for the different outdoor spaces on your property and around your home. 

Accent Lighting

When accenting certain parts of your home or landscaping at night, it is recommended that you use lights within the approximate range of 4-27 foot candles or 50-300 lumens. This amount of light will not blind you and accents your best landscaping features perfectly. 

For the Sake of Security

When safety is a concern, you want to be sure you can really light up your property to expose any lurking dangers. To illuminate your property with floodlights or motion security lights, it is recommended that you use lights that put out around 65-foot candles or 700 lumens. If anyone is trying to sneak onto your territory, you will see them for sure! 

Pathways and Steps

Having insufficient light on your pathways and steps can cause people to fall and get hurt, which also puts you at the risk of being sued. Protect yourself and your homeowner’s insurance premiums by providing enough light for everyone to see clearly. The recommended amount of light for pathways and steps is around 10-foot candles or 107 lumens. 

Sporting and Recreational Areas

For those who play a lot of sports or games with the family, it may be necessary to add some outdoor lighting so you can continue the fun once the sun goes down. The recommended amount of light for outdoor basketball courts and similar types of recreational areas is around 8,000-foot candles or 87,000 lumens. With lights like this, the whole neighborhood will be able to play outside at night! 

Shedding Some Light on Lumens

Now that you have been enlightened as to what lumens are and how many you need for a particular situation or space, you can make educated decisions that allow you to make the best purchases for your flashlights and when you are designing your indoor and outdoor living spaces.


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Kevin was born and raised in Texas and loves all things tactical. His hobbies include shooting, hunting, rock climbing, and hiking with his dog Jax.

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