Michael’s flashlight collection began out of necessity. As a disabled 55-year-old, he has to be careful when ascending the uneven steps to his home after dark. And so, in 2003, a co-worker gave him a Maglite Solitaire, which he attached to his keychain — a simple, convenient solution. But then, Michael thought, wouldn’t it be nice to have another one to get dressed in the morning without having to turn on the lights and waking the rest of the family? How about a flashlight bright enough to look for the cat on the porch at night?
Today, he owns more than 40 lights, two or three of which he will keep on him at all times during the winter months. “Now I’m the crazy man who always has a light around my neck,” he says, his collection quickly going from necessity to hobby.
Of course, flashlights aren’t inherently a dude thing, but the community does largely skew male. Some compare flashlight aficionados to the demographics of the tech industry, while others got into flashlights through stereotypically male activities like fixing up cars or working security. For the most part, though, people in the subreddit r/Flashlight say they simply like to be able to see in the dark — along with flashlights being a less expensive (they typically range from $10 to $100) and less dangerous (they generally can’t kill you) piece of tech with military-style functionality. “Flashlights are wonderful because they’re tremendously cheap (compared to collecting knives, tools, guns, fishing gear, etc.), and there’s constant innovation,” says Mason, a 31-year-old who frequents r/Flashlight. “Plus, unlike many other semi-utility collectibles, given that it’s always going to get dark, you can actually use flashlights every day without going out of your way to do so.”
Unlike Michael, Mason got into flashlights during his childhood. “My dad and grandfather always kept them around, so they were a common possession growing up,” he says. The same goes for redditor r/MervGoldstein. “It’s always been that childhood nostalgia and sense of adventure,” he explains. “It likely started when I was young during Halloween. Just about every year my parents would pick up a new light for me for trick-or-treating and that would always get me excited. As I grew up, that sense of adventure grew as well into Boy Scouts, camping, outdoor activities, etc. There was kind of a primal enjoyment from it all. It was dark, yet you essentially had the modern-day equivalent of fire on a stick, so you felt powerful in a way.”
Simon Benedict, a 30-year-old collector from Florida, runs an online store called Photon Phreaks, where he sells items for flashlight enthusiasts, including flashlights themselves (duh), but also patches, hats and other merch targeted toward them. According to him, the flashlight community is similar to the “everyday carry” community, or EDC, that emphasizes preparedness for unexpected emergencies. Many people on r/Flashlight always have one on them for that reason. “I love being prepared and helping people, and having a portable light source is often helpful,” says user Virisenox_, who got into the r/flashlight community through r/EDC.
They also love bringing a more metaphorical light into each other’s lives. “It becomes a fun, intellectual exercise to use my knowledge to help someone who is looking for their ‘good’ light,” says redditor BlueTheloneous. “There are only so many people I can do that for in my life before they start rolling their eyes.”
“Some people talk car engines with their friends, or what fountain pen ink has the best consistency and sheen,” he continues. “I like the usefulness of a good light just as much as the arcane discussion of what LED manufacturing is producing the best color rendering. It’s a nice distraction, something that can keep my brain feeling busy on an idle Tuesday evening, while not being particularly expensive.”