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Camping with full complement of Goal Zero gear, including the Torch 250 LED Flashlight (left)

About Goal Zero

Goal Zero has been producing cutting edge, solar-powered gear and portable batteries since 2009. The company constantly incorporates the latest technology into its products and now sells everything from solar-powered home backup generators (like theYeti 150 generator reviewed by Matt Paligaru) to solar panels and lights –including the Torch 250 I’ve been testing out. Along the way, it’s continued to improve its products not just in efficiency, but by adding the features people want and use.

For example, I also brought a Goal Zero Lighthouse Mini lantern with me (a smaller version of the full-sized Lighthouse) and besides an impressive run time between charges, you can plug a smartphone in to recharge from its battery.

Goal Zero Torch 250 review.jpgGoal Zero Torch 250 LED Flashlight: Power From Virtually Anywhere

Flashlights are battery-powered. That makes sense, since you can’t exactly walk around with one when it’s tied down by a power cord. They’re less common (because they cost more), but you can buy flashlights now that are rechargeable so you can plug them in instead of constantly having to replace batteries. There are also a few on the market that have a built-in hand-crank generator.

Goal Zero’s Torch 250 is probably the most comprehensive flashlight you can buy these days when it comes to power sources. It has a built-in, 4400mAh Li-NMC rechargeable battery and an integrated USB cable. Plug it in to a USB charger and in seven hours it’s fully charged. Most of the back surface of the flashlight is covered by a monocrystalline solar panel—leave the Torch 250 in the sun and it will re-charge itself. No wall outlets and no sun? No worries! A hand crank is folded into one side of the light. Pop it out, start turning the handle and you get two minutes of light for every minute of effort.

 

Versatility Rules

Camping is a big thing with my family. We typically go on two or three camping trips each year, and have towed our tent trailer to PEI, Cape Cod and all over Ontario. With limited space, where possible I always try to choose gear that can cover off multiple needs. A portable gas BBQ that can also convert to a griddle or a burner for boiling water, for example.

The Goal Zero Torch 250 LED Flashlight fills that multipurpose mission in a big way.

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It’s a high intensity LED flashlight, something you can’t live without when camping. One side of the Torch 250 has a housing lined with 22 LED bulbs, so it can be used as a floodlight or lantern. There are even multiple hooks on the end of the light that can be popped out so you can hang the Torch 250 from a tree or wherever you need light. There is a red emergency light, with a flashing option. And outside of its lighting capabilities, the Torch 250 has a full-sized USB port so you can connect your mobile devices for an emergency battery top-up. There’s enough power to re-charge most smartphones several times.

 

Hands On With the Goal Zero Torch 250 LED Flashlight

I have to say, the Goal Zero Torch 250 LED flashlight quickly became one of my favourite camping gadgets. It does everything well and the more I used it, the more I appreciated the engineering that went into its design. It’s the little things that drive home how much experience and thought went into the device.

Goal Zero flashlight in action.jpgTake the USB cable. It fits snuggly in a channel that runs the length of the light, the cable is a high contrast bright green so you can easily see it and the USB connector attaches securely in its slot with a magnet. The angular shape of the light seems odd at first—most flashlights are a round cylinder—but the shape serves a distinct purpose. A flat side is needed to mount the solar panel while angled edges let you position the light so the panel gets maximum sunlight for charging. It’s largish, but not heavy, fits securely in hand and the edges are coated in non-slip material.

The light output of the Torch 250 was excellent and at the high setting, easily outperformed the other LED flashlights in our collection, beating them on distance, area covered and brightness. Push the “Spot” button twice and you get a lower intensity beam that doubles the roughly seven hour battery life. Flood light is less intense, but it’s a good substitute for a lantern in providing area lighting. Expect anywhere from 22 hours to 48 hours of run time depending on whether you choose the high or low setting. The red emergency light isn’t something I typically need (knock on wood), but I tried it out and it definitely works.

Charging the Torch 250 LED flashlight took about six or seven hours using a USB charger. I tried it using its built-in solar panel, but direct sunlight can be limited in a camping situation. In our case, trees blocked the sun much of the day, but Goal Zero includes a handy 4 LED indicator that shows how effective the sunlight hitting the panel is and as mentioned, the light is designed to be able to angle that panel as needed, so there’s little fuss in finding the optimal spot. Goal Zero says 24 hours of exposure will get a full charge. I left it out each day for three to four hours and that was enough to top it up for nightly flashlight duty.

One day I used a Nomad 7 solar panel (the Torch 250 can be connected to it using the USB cable) and that was enough to get me to a full charge.

Besides use as a flashlight and lantern, we also used the Torch 250 one night to recharge an iPod and to save the day by topping up my phone, which was running low on battery at a friend’s site while it was being used to stream music to a Bluetooth speaker.

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Really the only thing that would make this flashlight perfect is waterproofing. Unfortunately, with the exposed USB port, using it in the rain probably isn’t a good idea.

Not Just For Camping

I focused on the Torch 250 LED flashlight as a camping accessory, but it would be just as useful at home and a great part of any emergency kit. You get a flashlight that’s not dependent on power or battery replacements, the ability to recharge your smartphone and with the handy hanging hooks it makes a useful task light or emergency room lighting.

Everyone needs a flashlight, so the next time you need to replace yours, consider investing in a much more versatile option: theGoal Zero Torch 250 Solar LED flashlight.

Brad Moon
Editor Computing solutions
I’m a long-time electronics and gadget geek who’s been fortunate enough to enjoy a career that lets me indulge this interest. After 13 years as a product manager with a leading Canadian tech company, I transitioned into a full-time career of writing about technology. I’ve contributed to a range of publications and websites including Forbes, Wired, Gizmodo, Lifehacker, About.com, MSN Money, the Winnipeg Free Press, InvestorPlace Media, Shaw Media and—combining technology and my three kids—I’ve been a Core Contributor to the award winning GeekDad blog since its launch in 2007.