A couple of weeks ago, I got a surprise holiday gift from Gary Lee at EliteLED.com. He wrote,

…When I first learned about this stainless special edition LD01 from Fenix, I told myself this would be a perfect holiday gift for my friend Bill. I know you are the AAA light person and you would be thrilled with this light. Enjoy!

Well, he couldn’t have been more right. Gary knows that I consider any flashlight used for everyday carry (EDC, in flashlightgeekspeak) a non-starter if it can’t be tossed in a pocket or hung on a keychain and just forgotten about until it’s needed. For me, an EDC light needs

  1. an unobtrusive form and size
  2. a decent run time
  3. a battery that is easily replaced, of a size that’s easy to find, and finally
  4. to be capable of producing enough light to get the job done.

If it can’t meet those criteria, I not only won’t use it myself, I won’t recommend it to anyone else.

There are a lot of small pocket flashlights. Some use the little “coin” batteries, have short run times, don’t put out much light, really, and the batteries are a couple or three bucks apiece and aren’t rechargeable. They are fantastic for hanging on a keychain for those moments when you have your keys in your hand and need to find a light switch, avoid stepping on the cat, etc., but they aren’t work lights.

Others have plenty of punch, but use the relatively expensive CR123A lithium cells, great if you need high voltage and energy density. CR123A’s are short, and make for a small light in the one-cell versions, but they are larger in diameter than my entire Fenix (which uses a AAA cell). They’re just too big for a pocket light. (I’m limiting this discussion to single-cell lights, because there are no multi-cell flashlights that meet the size criteria except for the coin cell models mentioned above.)

Still other LED flashlights use cheap, easily-acquired AA cells but, again, the size gets in the way. Here’s a picture of the Fenix LD01 Stainless next to the old CMG Infinity AA that I carried for several years. The Fenix is about the same length because of its regulator circuit, but look at the difference in diameter! And when it comes to output there’s no point in even showing a comparison. The Cree Q5 LED lamp in the Fenix is about 7 years newer technology, and it would only make the old faithful Infinity feel bad.

AAA cells are about perfect for pocket lights. They’re cheap, plentiful, easily found just about everywhere, and come in a variety of kinds, from alkaline to lithium to Nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) rechargeables, that serve well in various purposes. Lithium cells, for example, are great for the light that you throw in the glove compartment and forget about until an emergency. They have a 10-year shelf life, and are quite heat-resistant. Unfortunately, they’re as expensive as sin and generally less fun.

The Fenix LD01 uses AAAs. I’ve been using it with Sanyo Eneloop “hybrid” rechargeables, with excellent results. Hybrids are a good choice for flashlights, as they hold a charge longer than regular NiMH rechargeable cells, although the energey density (amount of juice) is a bit less. In a regulated flashlight, that doesn’t make much difference.

Here are the specs on the LD01 (that’s “zero one,” BTW),

  • Cree Q5 7090 XR-E LED 
  • Three output modes: 27 Lumens (3.5hrs); 10 Lumens (8.5hrs); 80 Lumens (1hrs)
  • Four days of survival use (two continuous hours per day on the lowest setting)
  • Uses one 1.5V AAA battery (not included), inexpensive and widely available
  • 7.35cm x 1.4cm (2.9 in x 0.6 in)
  • 14.8-gram (0.5 oz) weight, excluding batteries. (This weight is for the aluminum version. The stainless steel model Gary sent me is probably half again as heavy.)
  • Made of aircraft-grade aluminum (I’d recommend the aluminum for overall use because of its lighter weight and superior machining.)
  • Durable Type III hard-anodized finish (aluminum model)
  • Toughened ultra-clear glass lens with AR coating
  • Waterproof to IPX-8 Standards
  • Capable of standing up securely on a flat surface to serve as a candle
  • Input voltage: 0.8V~3.3V
  • Reliable twist-switch

Package Includes:

  • Fenix LD01 Flashlight 
  • Spare O-Ring
  • Split key ring
  • Fenix Pocket Clip (useful for attaching to your hat).

I can’t say enough good about this flashlight. I’ve been using it for long enough to have a good idea of its advantages and flaws — of which there are a couple, but not big ones.

The performance is simply amazing. On the low setting, the thing produces enough light for most purposes: navigating around the house when the power fails or you don’t want to wake the spouse, reading under the covers and so forth. On the medium setting, it’s hard to see how you’d need much more light up close; it’s perfect for holding in your mouth when you’re digging around behind a computer table. On high — OMG! In pitch darkness, you can see fine out to about 25 yards, and high contrast out a bit farther. From a 1-AAA light!

Here is a shot of the LD01 on the high (80 Lumen) setting, with a Nuwai Luxeon Star 3-watt “tactical” flashlight for comparison. Keep in mind that the Nuwai uses 2 CR123A lithium cells, for a 6-volt input, while the Fenix uses one 1.5 volt AAA (Sanyo Eneloop, in this case). The LD01 is on the right.

 

Impressed yet?

Now the little niggling negatives. The barrel design is OK, but pales alongside the little Fenix E01, which has two flats that are perfect in your mouth or between a couple of fingers, plus checkering. Two nice panels of fine checkering down about 2/3 the length of the barrel. Non-slip for real, and the perfect little work light, albeit a bit weak compared to the LD01 (same output as it’s big bro’s “low” setting).

The LD01, on the other hand, has no checkering on the battery holder, but rather a smooth surface with a hexagonal cross section. On my stainless light it was slick, and I dropped the light several times before I got smart and put a rough finish on the high spots between the flats with a diamond file. This would be a similar problem with the aluminum model, but perhaps not as bad because it’s lighter.

The other complaint has to do with the fact that stainless steel is difficult to machine, for reasons we won’t go into. The threading on my light was a bit rough, and made it hard to operate the switch precisely. (You turn the LD01 off and on, and adjust the power settings, by twisting the head.) The ol’ gunsmith fixed that, too, and I would not expect it to be noticeable on the aluminum light. All of my aluminum Fenixes are perfectly fitted. (The stainless models are limited edition items intended for collectore anyway — which doesn’t stop me from using mine.)

The only reason I spend so much time on these little gripes is that the LD01 is close to being the perfect everyday carry flashlight. It wants to live in your pocket, beside the bed, in the tackle box, the airplane glove compartment and the survival kit. The slippery aspect is a distinct problem for use in bad weather, and I really think Fenix should address it in the next model update. If they do, I’ll be the first in line to upgrade. In the meantime, I’ve got my new little buddy in my pocket as I write this. Thanks, Gary.