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CR123A vs AA: Choosing the Right Battery for Your EDC Flashlight

presented by Fenix Outfitters

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Modern-day EDC lights are leagues above the garden-variety lights you might have collecting dust in a junk drawer somewhere. But the advancing technology that makes them so great can get confusing at times. In this guide, I’ll explain one important aspect of choosing a light: batteries!

For an EDC-sized primary light that you’d be using for most tasks (as opposed to a small backup on your keychain), the best balance of simplicity, power, and size comes down to two battery types: AA and CR123A.

Of course, there are plenty of other battery types that some flashlights use, but for this primer we’ll start simple and use lights and batteries provided by Fenix Outfitters to explain the differences. The three main factors to consider between these cells are availability, size, and voltage.

Price and Availability

AA batteries are the reigning champ of affordable and easy-to-find cells for EDC lights. Because they’re so easy to track down and stock up on, many EDCers prefer AAs for their lights. This is a crucial advantage when relying on your light in emergency or survival situations.

You’d have worse luck trying to pick up some CR123A batteries off the shelf at the supermarket. They’re commonly considered batteries for specialty applications (like cameras). They also cost more — a 12 pack of decent CR123s runs about $20 US, whereas a 12 pack of alkaline AAs costs close to half that.

Size Matters

The more obvious difference between AAs and CR123As is their size. AAs are longer and narrower, whereas CR123As are short and stout. The difference might not seem like much, but when building a flashlight around them, the millimeters matter. It’s especially clear when considering lights with two-cell configurations (2xAA lights are considerably longer than 2xCR123 lights usually). In general, AA lights are longer and thinner than CR123A lights, which tend to be shorter and thicker.

For us EDCers, the size and shape of gear is definitely something to consider as it affects not just how it fits and carries in our pockets, but also how it feels in hand. Here’s an example of a simple CR123 light next to a Fenix LD11, a great example of a 1xAA light. Depending on the size of your hand and the type of grip you need, you might want to look into lights of a certain battery configuration more than others. I have smaller hands and prefer a shorter CR123 light, but the same light can be uncomfortable for people with bigger paws.

Output and Runtime

The voltage a flashlight receives is what drives its LED to push out a bright beam (measured in lumens). An AA light only delivers 1.5 volts. It’s enough to produce a powerful beam — for example, the Fenix LD11 featured here hits 130 lumens for 2 hours on High mode. But the 3 volts a CR123A battery delivers allows the Fenix PD25 to scream on Turbo mode at 400 lumens for 70 minutes. Granted, the LEDs they use are different, but in general CR123A lights can reach brighter max outputs than AA lights can.

To make best use of this power, sometimes manufacturers build CR123A lights with “pocket rocket” features, like a bigger head to throw the beam farther and to manage the extra heat that comes with the increased voltage, making the overall size of the light close to AA lights (as seen in the Fenix PD25 vs. the Fenix LD11).

While that’s certainly impressive, brightness isn’t everything. Runtime, or how long the battery lasts in use, is just as critical (especially in emergency situations). Between these two lights at the same brightness of 50 lumens, the AA light lasts for 7 hours and 50 minutes. Not bad, right? Well, the CR123A light runs even longer at 9 hours and 5 minutes.

So… Which Battery Is Right For You?

You might want to use an AA light if you…

  • want something simple
  • don’t necessarily need the brightest light
  • want easy-to-find batteries when traveling or during emergencies
  • have room to spare in your pockets
  • prefer a longer light that’s easier to grip

If that sounds like you, I’d recommend getting some rechargeable NiMH batteries — that’d be your best bet for performance, maintenance and value in the long run.

You might want to use a CR123A light if you…

  • are a flashaholic, or flashlight enthusiast (there are dozens of us!)
  • want more power and runtime
  • don’t mind ordering batteries online in bulk and paying more for it
  • want the most compact carry possible, without compromising performance

If all that resonates with you more, then we have something in common! I personally prefer CR123A lights mainly because they fit my hand best, but I also marvel at how bright these things are and how long they last despite how tiny they get.

By now I hope you understand the key differences between these battery types to help you the next time you’re on the market for a new EDC torch. In light of all this, what’s your preferred battery type? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!

This post is presented by Fenix Outfitters.

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Discussion (13 total)

My light (Sunwayman V10r) has a removable sleeve that allows for AA or CR123 to be used. Awesome feature. I get a higher output and smaller size, but when the 123 runs dry, I can easily pop in a AA.
I realize this sounds counterintuitive but during natural disasters, people have reported CR123's are actually easier to find and get a hold of because all of the AA's have been purchased by the masses stocking up on supplies while the CR 123's have been left hanging on the hooks. Even though a few AA's have improved their advertised shelf life, CR123's, in general, last longer. Finally, CR 123's operate better in the cold. So, I would say have your main light as a CR123 light and an AA light as a back-up in case you have to liberate somebody's AA's during an emergency. (Repay them later after things normalize).
I never really give that any thought but they does make sense. I know during Katrina the first responders learned a valuable lesson about having rechargeable only flashlights. With no power and most vehicles flooded they had nowhere to charge their flashlights.
Eneloop Pro. They are the batteries for me.
My pocket carry is a 4Sevens Tactical AAx2 (XML) and my vest carry is a Dark Sucks Alpha (18650). The APL on the 1911 is powered by a single CR123.
Loved the article!! I've been putting off make a flashlight purchase but have been going back and forth on what to get. Thanks for the additional info!
I have a Nitecore SRT3, 550 Lumens. Great EDC torch. Best thing it can take both a CR123A or AA. Best of both worlds! When using AA battery torch is slightly longer (about 12mm) due to the added sleeve that comes with the torch. Love this torch.
The heat of the CR123A's, especially in extreme temperature environments such as the desert or Southern areas, are to be used properly. I frequently carry an EagleTac D25LC2 with the CR's in it.. awesome light by the way, but certainly not for long term use during 95 degree+ temperatures that the Mojave has to offer this time of year. It's great for scanning and turning back off, but not for tracking. Too much heat.
When it comes to the 2A and 3A batts I certainly appreciate the Energizer Ultimate Lithium variety, especially in my smaller pocket lights including the 4Sevens Mini MA.
Cool review on these essential EDC items.
Neither for me, sorry. AAA battery flashlights are my favourite. Tiny lights, plenty bright, small enough to carry an extra battery in my wallet. 20 lumens to find something you dropped or a keyhole, 80 lumens for the occasional use.
A flashlight with a low scale lumens output and a cr123 can give you 5-6 weeks of light. There are many flashlights from 0.5 up to 400 + lumens output.
Walmart in my area it is hard to find CR123A's if you look were the batteries are you can not find them. The flashlights area you will find Rayovac CR123A's that's all you will find.
AA Maglight LED is my preference. Habit I guess, Fits my hand. Comes in blue to match my collar ;-)
Personaly I like them both. Though I decided recently to go with AA/14500 capable light. So now I have good lumens and runtime and convenience of easy finding AA's (have also four Ni-MH 2700mAh rechargeables for my camera)

Though that said I find CR123 lights more appealing and dressier (in chrome or Ti version) and AA's more like common work daily stuff...

At the end I find Sunwayman (and other producers) upgrade part for CR123 to take AA very convenient