Torches and Handlamps Overview

What Are Torches?

A torch is any hand-held source of light. They are usually designed to be highly portable and often come in very compact designs that can fit in a pocket. In the past, most torches had bulbs in them that provided the light. Today, the majority of them use LEDs to produce light, which offer better performance and less power consumption.

Torches are sometimes designed for specific purposes, such as those that are designed to be used underwater. They may be used in various ways. Some of them are designed to be held in the hand normally, others are fitted with straps that allow them to be worn on the head, for instance. Some are mounted in holders that affix to the wrist. There are numerous designs and, with torches becoming increasingly compact and powerful, new designs are always being developed.


What Are the Parts Within a Torch?

A torch usually consists of very few parts. The housing encompasses all of the internal parts. It may have special features, such as resistance to water or dangerous chemicals. It may also permit the user to adjust the beam of the light by repositioning the lens or reflector.

The internal parts consist of a power source, a switch—which protrudes outside the body, in most cases—a reflector, a LED or bulb light source and a plastic or glass lens that fits over the top of the light source.

The power source is usually a dry cell battery. Lithium ion batteries are becoming popular in these devices, but alkaline and rechargeable batteries are also widely used. Some torches have power sources that allow the user to charge them by cranking a lever.


How Does a Torch Work?

A torch is a very simple device. Power is drawn from the batteries or other power source and fed into the light source. A switch allows the user to turn the torch on and off, and sometimes to use other functions. The torch may have a resistor or other components that complete the circuit or provide additional functions.

Some modern torches have functions such as strobe lights, high and low power modes and so forth. These are often accessed by cycling through the options using the power button. Some are also provided with remote switches, which allow the torch to be turned on or off without contacting it. These are common on the torches that are designed to be mounted on the end of a firearm, allowing the operator to turn the light on and off without having to reach forward to touch the switch.


Which Professions Require the Use of Torches?

Torches are used by numerous different professionals in their job capacities. They are used by police and security guards to see into darkened areas. They are sometimes used to temporarily incapacitate a suspect by shining the light directly in their eyes, or to do so to determine whether someone is intoxicated or disoriented.

Any type of emergency responder uses a torch. These are used for safety and visibility, of course, and may have colored lenses to enable them to see in the dark without compromising their night vision. Red lenses are often used for this purpose.

Tradespeople use torches frequently, from plumbers who need to see down into a crawlspace to electricians who need to follow a run of wiring.

Torches are among the most common tools in the world. They are used by most everyone, professionally and otherwise. They are also basic safety equipment in any vehicle.

Among the most famous torches are those used by miners. These are usually mounted to their helmet, allowing them to see without having to use one of their hands to manipulate the torch. Electric torches are far safer than using open flame in mines, as well, of course.


Who Else Needs Torches or Handlamps?

Everyone likely has some use for a torch or handlamp. Most emergency information recommends keeping at least one in the home, preferably more, and checking the batteries periodically to make sure that they’re working.

Torches and handlamps come in many designs that make them appropriate for a wide variety of common tasks. For instance, some torches are designed to clamp onto surfaces, making them excellent for working on computers and other tasks where mobile, high-powered light is useful. They are also great for working on cars, in this regard.

Some torches are handheld but are designed like lanterns. These are excellent for providing emergency lighting and for signaling. Some of these designs have a red lens that allows them to be used as warning lights for roadside emergencies and other purposes.


What Are Handlamps?

A handlamp is a type of torch that fits in the hand, but that is usually designed to be hung from a convenient location, making it a sort of lantern. These handlamps sometimes use mains power and are used with extension cords.

They usually have a hook mounted on to the device, but they may also have magnets and other means of affixing them to surfaces. They are also sometimes referred to as trouble lights.


How Does a Handlamp Work?

A handlamp works in much the same fashion as a torch, but is often used with the mains power. This means that it is something of a portable light fixture, in use. It will have an on and off switch, possibly multiple options for brightness and a bulb. Unlike a torch, most handlamps are designed to provide ambient lighting, so they don’t have as focused a reflector. They are usually designed to protect the light source from shock and other hazards.


What Are Handlamp and Torch Chargers?

Handlamp and torch chargers are devices that are used to charge up the batteries in one of these devices. They come in different designs. Some of them allow the handlamp or torch to be charged out of an outlet and others are designed to work with car accessory ports, for example. Some are even solar powered and others are designed to be cranked by hand. Chargers are common now, as many torches and handlamps come with internal, rechargeable batteries that provide a lot of power and a long lifespan.


What Are Torch Batteries?

Torch batteries are simply the batteries that are used to provide power to the torch. They have come a long way since torches first became available.

In the United States, torches are referred to as flashlights. This is a reference to the limitations of the early batteries for these devices, which were so quick to drain that the light had to be flashed on and off frequently to maintain power.

As the batteries adapted, they became increasingly smaller and more powerful. Most torches today are powered by one of the common alkaline designs. Some of them are efficient enough that they can work off of button cells, the very compact batteries that resemble large watch batteries.

Lithium ion batteries are becoming increasingly popular. They are rechargeable and offer excellent power and last a very long time on one charge.

Other types of rechargeable batteries, such as NiMH and NiCd are still commonly used, as well.

Many newer torches have internal batteries that are not intended to be removed. The torch will have a charging port instead of a battery access panel. The torch is simply plugged in when it needs to be charged up. These torches typically offer great performance and the batteries can be recharged many times over.

Some torches use particularly large batteries and, though used much less frequently than in the past, are still in use. For instance, the very large hand torches that use 6V batteries are still popular, owing to their large size, the area that they can light and the fact that they can run off of one battery for a long time.


What Are Torch Bulbs?

Torch bulbs are the actual light emitting device in torches. They come in two main types: incandescent bulbs and LEDs. Both types are usually backed by a reflector, which increases the intensity of and controls the direction of the light that the torch emits.

Most incandescent bulbs use a tungsten filament encased in an evacuated glass bulb. Over the years, however, newer and more powerful bulb designs incorporated halogen and other gasses in them to produce a long-lasting, efficient and bright light.

The bulbs are easily replaced, but often have very short lifespans. Given that torches are only intended to be used for brief periods, however, this is not usually a particularly worrisome limitation.

LEDs are much more efficient than incandescent bulbs. They can cast a much brighter light and still consume less power than very bright incandescent lights. LED torches are usually white, but there are specialized designs that produce UV or colored light.

Some LED torches have more than one LED in them. These can produce very significant quantities of light, though high-power single LEDs are powerful, as well, and are being developed in more powerful versions all the time.

A LED light can produce up to, and more than, 100 lumens of light per watt. Incandescent bulbs generally produce less than 10 lumens for that same power consumption.

While most LEDs aren’t replaceable, most of them will last as long as or longer than the torch they’re installed in, so this is irrelevant. One disadvantage of LED lights is that they do produce more heat than incandescent lights and the heat can cause the LED to fail. LED torches usually have some sort of a heat sink incorporated into their designs because of this.


What Other Torch Accessories Exist?

A range of accessories are designed to make torches more convenient to use, to expand where they can be used and to make them more effective. Here are some of the most common accessories.


Accessory Pack

A torch accessory pack usually comes with materials that are designed to enhance the torch in a specific way. For instance, one might come with a variety of differently colored lenses, mounting devices and parts. This makes them useful for modifying a torch to a specific use. Someone signaling may want a yellow torch, for instance, while someone trying to provide illumination in a yard without disturbing anyone may want red light.


Asia Adapter Insert

Not everyone uses the same socket configurations and adapters are sometimes required to charge devices. High-end torches that charge out of wall power are among the devices that need adapters. These are made specifically for use in Asia. There are other designs for other nations.


Belt Holder

Torches are usually not required continuously, which means that they have to be carried. A belt holder allows the user to carry the torch without it occupying one of their hands. These carriers do not provide a way to use the torch hands free, however.


Flexible Torch Holder

This device can be used to hold the torch in place, allowing it to be positioned in nearly any way required. They’re popular for use by people working on machinery and computers, and for other tasks.


Helmet Clips

These are designed to affix the torch to a helmet. These are used by people who have to labor or who explore underground or at night. They are also useful for bicyclists and others who need to have free hands and illumination.



This is a case for the torch much like a pistol holster. It holds the torch securely and protects it from damage, while allowing it to be kept on one’s person at all times. These do not usually provide a means of using the torch while it is in the holster, however.


LED Module

Some torches are expensive and very durable, but were designed before LED torches became widely available. LED module accessories allow the user to fit their older incandescent bulb torch with a LED light system. This extends the battery life and gives better performance. They have to be matched to the specific model of torch being upgraded.