What Is a Red Flashlight Used for?

Clear night sight without ruining the night vision.

I’m embarrassed to admit that for much of my life, I had no idea red lights were anything other than Hollywood special effects for horror movies or submarine war movies. Then a friend who had served in the armed forces and minored in photography in college informed me I was an idiot.

Okay, she was way nicer than that, but learning red lights, red lenses, and red flashlights were real practical things really got my mind racing: what were they used for?

Turns out red lights in general are used for a lot! The light from a red light flashlight or red lens helps you see in the dark, minimizes you getting noticed from a distance, and allows you to read & work in the dark without ruining your night vision. Red light is common in old photography rooms, military bunkers, submarines, and even situationally in underground mines!

As you’ve probably figured out from reading any of my outdoor blog posts, I’m endlessly curious. When questions start popping up in my mind, I’m going to chase down the answers!

Besides aside from my natural curiosity, red-light flashlights are just really cool!

Why Is Red Light Used in the Dark?

This depends partly on what the use is for. There are two big reasons. One is for developing photos. Regular light would spoil developing film but red light allows a photographer to move around and see without ruining any of the developing pictures. When it comes to actual lights, the reason for using red light is simple.

It allows you to see clearly at night while:

A) Not ruining your night vision 

B) Not giving away your position from a distance

While red light can be seen by others, it has far less of a travel rate. This is a big reason why red lights are used in the military. They can be used to read maps in the dark without killing night vision and aren’t as easy to spot from long distances, helping to keep moving units hidden from enemy eyes or at the very least not giving away their position.

There are also scopes that use red lenses to help allow at least a clear short range view of dark forested areas at night.

These lights are commonly used by the military in bunkers, as well. There are shifts towards blue light or green light options instead but the red light was the classic choice.

Cool, huh?

Why Is Red Light Better for Night Vision?

So red light gives people super powers when it comes to seeing at night. That was a really awesome thing to learn, but if you’re like me you see where the next logical question is coming: Why?

It turns out the science on this has actually been explained pretty well!

Why is a red light better for night vision?

This all apparently has to do with how the human eye works. There are important proteins in the eye called Rhodopsin that have a lot to do with what colors of light our eyes are sensitive to and which they are not. Our eyes are sensitive enough to red light because of these proteins to see red light at night, but not so much as to kill off the night vision in darkness.

That’s a bit of an oversimplification, but it gives a pretty accurate answer without deep diving into the Ph.D science of it.

With bright white light, your eyes have to adjust to the light to then see what it illuminates, but that kills sight elsewhere. Red light doesn’t do that with the human eye.

This makes red lights ideal not just for making your way around if you’re hunting at night or enjoying another outdoor evening activity when there’s no moon out, but red lights or lenses are perfect for any situation where work might be done in extreme dark or underground.

Many headlights have a red light mode for that reason.

Add in the fact that red lights are safe on the eyes, and it’s easy to see why they are so popular with so many night owls.

Red Flashlight or Red Lens?

Honestly the majority of good red light flashlights I’ve seen after ordering a bunch online are good tactical flashlights that are designed to easily accept a colored filter over top. That means there are plenty of flashlights after there that can us traditional light, red light, blue light, or even green light.

The flashlight is the same, but there are attachment lenses that are each colored to filter the light that you want. While some flashlights do a really good job of setting this up, it’s worth noting that not every white light LED flashlight is going to be built to easily connect a red light lens.

Understanding these options means you can expand your search if this is something that interests you as much as it interested me. Needless to say I was excited to play with a few of these to see what I could come up with.

black Welltop three color flashlightBest Red Flashlight: Welltop Tri- Color Flashlight

While not a red light only light, very few actually are. While other people might have differing opinions, I personally really liked what the Welltop brings to the table. After all, why play with one type of light when you can play with three?

This is a solid flashlight, built to be water resistant and featuring three different light colors: white, green, and red. While this isn’t a top of the line heavy duty flashlight, it is well built for its size. This isn’t a cheap knock-off, so it will put up to normal wear and tear and have some resilience to it.

The versatility is great. The little nephews love playing with the different colored lights indoors, and I enjoy flicking through the other lights while hiking at night or hoping for a glance at some wildlife up and personal.

Overall this is a really great flashlight, but it isn’t perfect.

There are two minor complaints I have about this model. One it is basic so there is no blinking or SOS signal. As someone huge into signaling for rescue, or at least having that option, that bugs me.

Also every time you turn on the light it starts on bright white and you have to switch it to the color you want. They really should make it so you can set this on green light or red light and not have to set it every time.

However this is a good overall flashlight and there’s a good reason it’s my favorite of the red light flashlights I’ve played with so far.

If you want to check out up to date prices, click on the picture above or CLICK HERE to see its current price on Amazon.com.

small button push red light flashlightBest Budget Choice: WAYLLSHINE 1-Mode Red Flashlight

Personally when the price different isn’t huge I’m not sure it’s always worth going the budget route, but sometimes you just need the least expensive reliable model. The good news is that if you want to mess with a red light flashlight there is a very good budget option available.

Granted, I didn’t spend as much time with the budget models, but this one did impress me. Smaller than many of the others, so more of a compact option, the WAYLLSHINE red flashlight is small, easy to clip onto a shirt pocket, and provides a solid red light.

This actually is a red light torch and is solely designed for that purpose. That makes it ideal for night time activities and the fact it is a true one mode red flashlight so it serves its purpose.

The compact design is nice, and I like the fact it is specialized. They are also incredibly inexpensive, making it easy to pick up several for a small group, if you desire.

What are the downsides? Well it is a budget model. While the aluminum feels plenty solid, it’s also clearly not a premium heavy-duty flashlight and I wouldn’t intentionally put this through a beating to check it. There are also some cases of it overheating.

This was never too bad for me, but other people I’ve talked to have mentioned that in some cases it can get pretty hot.

I hope you found this article helpful about ref light flashlights – and if you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment!

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