Readers of this particular blog at the Backwoods Home magazine site seem to break down largely into two categories: seriously interested “gun people,” and the now-and-future rural dwellers who understand that firearms and related gear are simply logical tools for self-sufficient living. “Related gear” is the operative term at the moment, for this particular blog entry.

Even if you choose not to own firearms, you can’t live away from the city streetlights without artificial illumination at your disposal. The more you need that artificial illumination, the better you need it to be.

What we used to call flashlights and battery lanterns are now, in the crossover languages of modernspeak and tacticalspeak, “illumination tools.” We have the finest of their kind that have ever existed, branded with names like SureFire and InSight and Streamlight. Truth to tell, these devices have rapidly outpaced firearms in their rate of development in the last couple of decades. We now have lights more powerful than our grandparents could have gotten from the garage with advance warning of emergency, which are small enough for us to have in our pockets 24/7. Personally, I have similar technology on detachable white light and sometimes white light plus laser sight units that lock onto my guns.

They generally work on Size 123 batteries.

There are batteries, and there are batteries. And with this sort of hardware, you want the best. The photo below shows you what can happen when you “buy cheap” with this sort of stuff. It is said by reliable sources to have happened to a police officer in Texas who, like many cops today, had the light unit attached to his service pistol in a holster designed to accommodate same. The officer sustained burn injuries, and the famously rugged Glock pistol he was carrying was seriously damaged. His holster and patrol jacket were ruined, as well. The light unit in question is a heavy duty InSight M6X, one that I have a lot of personal experience with, and trust and recommend.

The problem has been, apparently, traced to cheap, substandard batteries. In addition it is not recommended that you mix different brands of batteries or mix batteries that have different charges, for example putting a new battery in with an old one.

The photo of the damaged gun and illumination unit come from an old friend who is a heavy hitter in the law enforcement tactical equipment world, and a watch commander on a good-sized Midwestern municipal police department. He strongly recommends using only the Size 123 batteries designed especially for tactical flashlights and tactical light units. I totally concur. My colleague states that he trusts only SureFire, Streamlight, Duracell, Eveready, and Sanyo brand batteries, and notes that SureFire and Streamlight are the only two brands of 123 batteries that he has determined to be optimized for performance in heavy duty tactical lighting units.

Whether for the SureFire, InSight, and Streamlight tactical lights I keep on some of my guns and available to quickly attach to some of the others, or for the SureFire A2 LED Aviator light that I carry virtually every day from when I put my pants on in the morning to when I take them off at night, I use SureFire Size 123 batteries. I order them in quantity and keep them well-stocked at home, and take a few on the road on extended trips. The rare times I’m caught without my own spares, I make a point of buying the available-everywhere Duracell brand for replacements. A call to InSight elicited the information that they currently ship their products with Duracells.

It ain’t just a performance thing. It’s obviously a safety thing, as well. Be warned. In the photo below, the substandard batteries didn’t just burn, they EXPLODED.

HPD officer injured by exploding flashlight

Exploding Lithium Flashlight Batteries?

Info from the CDC.

More info and Links to other instances.






  1. Is this an ad for SureFire? This sounds like promotional material. It’d be nice to see a disclaimer saying you aren’t being paid or given free batteries as a result of your endorsement.

    While we’d all love to have SureFire-brand batteries in our lights, at $2 apiece + shipping, it is simply not affordable to all your readers. Those Duracells you mention can cost $8 each when purchased as “camera” batteries in a supermarket. I buy my generic CR123A batteries by the 50-pack from at about $60 shipped for 50. They don’t make or sell anything besides batteries (unlike SureFire), so you know their reputation relies on a good product.

    This articles title a bit misleading. I thought you were going to make the case that people should use “primaries” or disposable batteries in their gear instead of rechargeables, which many do in order to save money. Instead, you should title this “Use only SureFire-brand batteries in your..” because that is the only point you make.

    I suggest your readers who want to know more explore for more than they ever wanted to know about flashlights or battery brands.

  2. No ad, Brad. If I was in SureFire’s pocket, would I be recommending Duracells and giving a plug for InSight? It’s a simple product warning: these problems all seem to involve generic batteries.

    As parents tell children, “Use thiings the way they’re meant to be used.” When the manufacturers of high tech lights tell us we should use them with certain batteries, I for one think it’s wise to listen.


  3. Frankly for defense-related “illumination tools” buying the premium, top-notch product makes sense (whatever the brand.) It’s the same reason we buy premium ammo for the self-defense loads or the $2/rd ammo for the trophy hunts. When it matters, it MATTERS.

  4. Mas is right about the Chinese Lithium CR123 batteries.

    Sure, the price is right with those Chinese batteries, but in my experience, about a third of the batteries are bad right out of the package. In incandescent lights, these bad cells are dim to begin with and go downhill from there quickly. It’s not as noticeable in LED lights.

    As far a cutting corners, there are a number of Chinese manufacturers making products that are very much peers to SureFire. NiteCore is one for “professional” users, and Fenix has a nice mix for both LEOs and civilians. Frankly, they run circles around SureFire in performance and endurance and their reliability is on par with SureFire at a fraction of the cost.

    I’m with Brad on the Battery Station batteries as one example of safe and effective “non-brand name” batteries. They are high-quality, American-made cells and if you’re an active member of CandlePower Forums, they are affordable at about $60/50 delivered. I just received my second box of 50 from them last Friday. I’ve got plenty of Sure Fire batteries as well and I can’t really tell a difference other than price. Given that I too am sold on CR123 lighting devices and have literally a dozen or more, buying them in bulk is the only way to go and as an added bonus they don’t look at you like you’re cooking up a batch of meth when you order 50 or 72.

    One of the biggest issues you need to watch for in any of these Lithium batteries is moisture. They don’t play nicely with water and if there’s extremely high humidity inside your light or it gets wet in there, you would be wise to remove the batteries. Also, store your new ones in a cool, dry place. In ziplock bags or sealed ammo cans are two good places. Keep the moisture away from them before they are put in service.

    Lithium batteries, be they rechargeables or not, are very powerful, densely-packed energy storage devices and much more unpredictable than alkaline batteries. If they start acting strangely, remove them from your appliance and discard them in a safe place immediately. If they blow up, move to fresh air immediately as they release toxic gases when they fail catastrophically.

    Of course, don’t throw them into a fire or in your pocket where they may short out on loose change or ammunition cases.

    Be careful using these appliances and you probably never experience an issue with these batteries or the products that use them.


  5. Maybe it’s just me or my monitor, but there seem to be a lot of greenish tints in those pictures. Makes me think of corrosion.

    I wonder if the problem with cheap 123 batteries is leakage leading to corrosion, thus increased resistance and heat, eventually causing a battery to explode?

    Side note:
    Personally, I carry a Surefire 6p on my belt, but I rarely use it more than a couple of minutes at a time. If I’m going to need light longer than that, I’ll grab a D-cell Maglite out of the kitchen or from my truck.

    This cuts down on the number of 123’s I need to buy, and also keeps me from burning myself on that torch-hot Surefire – and the heat generated by the Surefire light, when it’s working properly, is what led me to wonder about corrosion-based electrical resistance causing catastrophic battery failure.

    If it gets that hot when it’s working properly, what’s going to happen when something’s wrong?

    Mas, any chance of getting Jeff Yago to weigh in on this one? He might have some enlightening information.

  6. I’d like to add a plug for the CandlePower Forums discussion group located here:

    There have been postings there in the past regarding exploding lithium cells. Some of the name brand cells have a built in protection device to prevent them from too rapid discharge and resulting explosion while generic cells often do not. Of course any device can fail.

    Most of the folks over there know more about high tech and modified lights than anyone else.

  7. Two points: first I was wondering if Streamlight either did or would step up to do a post mortem on the M6x? In my limited electrical background it would seem at least a “person of interest” and worthy of some investigation to see if it failed or was defective which then led to the battery explosion; second is that I also like and one neat deal they have is you can order their branded batteries (of which I have had no problems) and get a free Otter box.

    Batteries are little chemical factories with lots of potential energy stored. The bigger the battery the more the energy usually. They can release that energy SLOWLY and power a Surefire for a hundred or so hours for example, or they can dump it all at once in a run away reaction. Its no different then playing around with a very tightly wound spring. We have all had occasion where the damm little piece of metal goes flying across the room.

  8. I have a SureFire Executive Elite E2E which I carry in a SureFire nylon holster. One time the flash light was accidentally on while in the holster and I didn’t notice. A while later I started smelling burning nylon. When I looked down, my holster was melting and the light suffered some damage. Since the E2E is an aluminium flash light, it didn’t suffer the same damage as the M6X. It had nothing to do with the batteries, it had to do with operator error. The damage on the light doesn’t appear to be a problem with the batteries either. It appears that the batteries are fully intact. “Exploded” batteries do not remain intact! The damage appears to be heat damage. I wasn’t there so I’m not 100% sure but I’m making a decision based on experience. Some people, especially those in law enforcement, are reluctant to admit to mistakes.

  9. I stick with either Surefire, Duracell or Eveready and buy them in bulk. Been using my Surefires for almost 20 years with no problems (other then Run time but now I got the LED bulbs in them that helps with that.

    An Mas, I know you carry a light with you everywhere. AND you are not afraid to use it… no matter what manner of horror you are illuminating!!!

  10. Mas,
    Thanks for the clarification. I’d like to add, for those that don’t know, CR123’s have a shelf life of TEN years, so always buy in bulk! You can get seriously ripped off if you buy them in a blister pack at the grocery/convenience store.

    Mas, it’s not mentioned in the article, but I’m wondering, did the explosion set off any of the rounds in the magazine? Could it have? I mean, is it possible?

  11. Look in this like for lots if info about battery failures. Don’t mix different brands of batteries or mix batteries that have different charges. See this like for more info

    “The flashlight was a Streamlight Poly Tac LED model, powered by two Ultralast Photo Lithium batteries, Cannon said”

    Quote for this link from about the HPD exploding flashlight.

    In this picture you can read that they Ultralast batteries are marked North American Battery Company but they are made in China.

  12. sorry theaton – but you don’t know about what you speak…
    an overheated light and cell due to the amp pull extended runtime from an incandescent bulb (probably)
    is very different than a rapid vent and flame chemical chain reaction from a defective or mismatched cell. The cell typically vent-flames from one end (weak by design?) not through the side, and is typically contained by the device body anyway = so the vent/flame/pressure blows out the head or tail or both of the device.
    as previously pointed out – go to candlepowerforums website – you’ll see plenty of pics that looks similar to the above – which are NOT caused by overheat/extended runtime damage.
    NEVER mix brand or age or condition CR123 cells in multi-cell device – use a ZTS or other tester to test questionable cells under a load in order to “match” them for remaining capacity. A multitester/voltmeter doesn’t tell much about condition of a lithium cell as a new cell could measure 3.0v and a dead one could be at 2.9v+ = put them together in a device and you risk POOF.

  13. Brad — I’ve seen no indication of rounds exploding due to the fire in this case. The cartridges in the pistol would have been well protected by the frame and magazine from any open flame. It takes some serious exposure to open flame, or extreme heat, to detonate cartridges. I’ve seen it happen with cartridges thrown into a fire deliberately, and in one tragic case of an officer burned to death in a conflagration involving a burning tanker truck. The rounds “cooked off” inside the pistol, denting the outer frame of the Smith & Wesson 9mm (aluminum frame) in the dead officer’s holster.

    Schmit — There were some sights mortal men were never meant to see, weren’t there? I hope time will eventually allow you to gouge the memory from your mind’s eye… 🙂

  14. News
    Release For Immediate Release

    Use of Substandard Lithium Batteries in Flashlights Can Lead to Fire, Explosion or Burn Hazards

    EAGLEVILLE, PA, October 8, 2009 – Streamlight, Inc., a leading provider of high-performance flashlights for industrial, fire and rescue, law enforcement professionals and sporting enthusiasts, today issued another warning about purchasing and using inferior quality lithium 123A batteries with its flashlight products or other products. Use of off-brand lithium batteries may present a risk of leakage, fire, explosion or serious personal injury, company officials said.

    “Streamlight recommends only the use of U.S. made, high quality lithium batteries with its products, including Streamlight Battery No. CR123A, Panasonic Battery No. CR123A or Duracell Battery No. 123,” said Ray Sharrah, Streamlight’s Chief Operating Officer. “The use of other batteries, or the mixing of used and new or different brand batteries, could result in fire, explosion or burn hazards.”

    Sharrah said that a Houston police officer suffered minor injuries on October 4 when a Streamlight flashlight he was using during an investigation reportedly exploded while in use. The flashlight was powered by off-brand Chinese batteries, which were the source of the explosion.

    “Streamlight lithium CR123A batteries are manufactured to stringent quality control standards, incorporating safety features which ensure they will not overheat in our high-performance flashlights,” explained Sharrah. “By using quality U.S. made lithium battery brands exclusively, Streamlight product users can be assured that they can operate their flashlight products safely at all times.” He added that users should never misuse, short circuit, improperly store or discard, disassemble or heat any CR123 batteries above 212 F (100 C).

    Streamlight includes a warning about using off-brand batteries on applicable product packages and instructions. Information is also available on the company’s website at

    Headquartered in Eagleville, PA, Streamlight, Inc. is a leading manufacturer of high-performance lighting equipment for professional automotive, fire fighting, law enforcement, military, industrial and outdoor applications. Streamlight is an ISO 9001:2008 certified company. For additional information, please call (800) 523-7488 or visit

  15. My father had a cheap flashlight with cheap batteries ( it was a promotional item) ignite in his pants pocket not to long ago. It was a slow ignite and burn, so he was able to clear it from his pocket with little damage to his leg. The pocket was a loss and his ego took a hit, but he made out okay. He now carries a brand name flashlight with good batteries on a belt holster.

    I have one streamlight that is okay (it was a gift), I don’t care for the ergonomics, balance, or light output so seldom use it. I do use mini-maglights a lot, upgraded with tail caps and LED lights. THey only get quality batteries and are inspected frequently for damage, corrosion, moisture intrusion etc. Only thin worse than a light that doesn’t light when needed is a click when you need a bang!

  16. I don’t have any lights that use the 123 batteries all mine use AA. For my needs the cost of the high dollar lights and the 123 batteries doesn’t justify them.

    Have two made by Rayovac that are in aluminium and work really well single LED @ 80 lumes with 2 AA, have had to replace them only once in the two years I’ve owned them.

    I found sone that’s a single LED @ 132 lumes and runs on 2 AA. (<$50) No they don’t last long and they do heat up pretty good. But is blinding in the middle of the night. Have two, one I use for work and one stays beside my bed at night.

  17. I live rurally, and depend a lot on batteries for clocks, radio, and various lights. In my experience, some batteries just fry out.
    I can attest to the fact that batteries that are hooked up into the device-flashlight, or whatever, can burst, generate tremendous heat, and leak burning acid all over. It would not surprise me one bit if the newfangled lithium batteries could also explode.
    Check your batteries often, and replace them long before they go completely dead. Saves a lot of trouble in the long run.

  18. I have personally experienced failures with the no-name China batteries. Fortunately none “exploded” and cause damage. Most issues with with corrosion and leakage.

    I have had great luck with the Panasonic CR123A series. I buy them in bulk. Occasionally I will run across an unbeatable Surefire deal, but usually Panasonic wins out by 20% or better on price. I’m using mine mostly with my Fenix lights.

  19. Dear Mas,

    I finally broke down and bought one of those fancy “police” flashlights. It was made by one of the companies that basically invented this category and cost me over $100.00. Right now, that piece of junk is kicking around somewhere under my bed, and I’m carrying a $10.00 Ever Ready LED I picked up at the auto parts store.

    Why junk the cutting edge technology?

    1) The fancy flashlight would constantly click off when I wanted it to stay on (I DO have week hands).

    2) It was so bright that three times when I went to use the darned thing it wouldn’t work–no power and no warning it was about to run out of power.

    3) Carrying in a pocket, I would sometimes adjust the screw on tailpiece so the light wouldn’t go on by itself. Of course, the screw on tailpiece wouldn’t STAY in that position and the flashlight would turn itself on in my pocket almost setting me, or my clothing, on fire.

    Mas, I love your books and articles and seldom disagree with you, but my real world experience leads me to believe these super deluxe flashlights are unreliable, impractical, expensive and dangerous. Long live Ever Ready!


  20. Had one blow up Surefire 6P with Surefire batteries, the bulb had blown, but I thought the batteries had died, so I must have left the switch on, it took about 10 minutes, to get hot enough , and blew out the switch in the back of the light.

  21. With all the problems we’ve seen with laptop batteries and medical equipment batteries, this should come as no suprise to anyone who has seen the news and heard the tales of battery explosions. People should keep in mind that ALL batteries are full of yummy acidic goodness and should be always treated with caution regardless of brand. Good post!