Australia’s ‘torch nerds’ join international flashlight-obsessed community

Most Australian households will have a few torches here and there – some working, others flat, broken or forgotten – but for Pat from Melbourne, that number is closer to 180.

The Blackburn local, who goes by the online nickname Sillen and withheld his surname out of respect for the torch-testing community’s code of anonymity, records all his torches in a spreadsheet.

It lists the brand, type of LED and battery, amount of light produced, and distance traveled by the beam.

Pat said his fascination started when he bought a torch from a bargain website a few years ago, which “blew his mind”.

“You start thinking, ‘So this [torch] it’s good, why is it good? How it works?’

“And then you find these websites and start digging into them.”

He estimated he was one of 200 “torch nerds” across Australia.

Pat from Blackburn saves all his torches in a spreadsheet.(ABC Radio Melbourne: Madi Chwasta)

They are part of an international online community that communicates anonymously on social media platforms Reddit, Discord, Facebook and TikTok.

Pat said the community discussed all aspects of torches, from “user interface”, to “lumens”, to “casting” – while referring to non-torch nerds as “muggles”.

He said the community was inclusive, but “people should make a decent effort to find the answer before asking. [about torches]”.

“Otherwise we are anonymous – we don’t know each other’s race, creed or gender.”

Testing “very fun” torches

Tim McMahon is also part of this community and owns about 50 torches.

A man looking at the camera with a blank expression while holding a torch
Torch tester Tim McMahon hopes more people will take up the hobby.(ABC Radio Melbourne: Madi Chwasta)

The Melbourne-based software developer’s fascination began in 2020 – around the time his daughter was born.

“I wanted to find a torch that would provide low output and last a long time so I could change diapers at night without waking everyone up,” McMahon said.

He soon began examining them, which involved checking what was written on the packaging by running a number of tests.

The tests take about 20 hours per torch, which he does in his spare time.

“I take pictures, take measurements, pass and use a light meter to measure range and check the user interface,” McMahon said.

“Then I do the runtime tests, where I let it run all day while I work, and capture the light output and temperature over time.”

A photo of a few dozen torches lined up
Pat collected 180 different torches.(ABC Radio Melbourne: Madi Chwasta)

Attentive builders

Mr. McMahon posts his reviews on a website called the Budget Light Forum.

He said some manufacturers have changed the way they design their torches based on his testing.

Another side of the hobby is swapping LEDs [the light source]which Mr. McMahon says he enjoys doing with other enthusiasts.

He said some international torch enthusiasts are even sharing their LED designs with Chinese manufacturers, who have most of the market, so that they produce better torches.

A man handling a torch on a workbench while wearing a COVID mask
Tim McMahon says he takes safety precautions when testing torches.(ABC Radio Melbourne: Madi Chwasta)

Mr McMahon said he wanted to shine a light on the hobby to encourage others to get involved in torch exploration.

But he said it had to be done safely or else they could be dangerous.

He said that while most torches had thermal regulation to prevent them from overheating, some torches could literally burn a hole in someone’s pocket and had to be handled with extreme caution.

He also said that many torches use lithium-iron batteries, which cannot be thrown in a drawer like alkaline batteries.

“These cells should be handled with care at all times and charging should be supervised,” McMahon said.

A photo of the inside of a torch
Tim McMahon says you should never look directly into a burning torch.(ABC Radio Melbourne: Madi Chwasta)

Additionally, he said torches and batteries should be supervised at all times during testing and should be kept out of the reach of children.

“You should also never look directly at the LED of a torch or shine the beam on someone for a joke, as these torches could permanently damage your eyesight,” McMahon said.

The TikTok torch star is going viral

In the spotlight of the international torch community, however, is Kyle Krueger.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to search, up and down arrows for volume.
‘Is this the brightest flashlight in the world?’ with Kyle Krueger on TikTok(Provided: Kyle Krueger/TikTok)

The 20-year-old from Florida in the US posts on TikTok, flashing the brightest torches on offer, some that “look like the sun”.

Mr Krueger said his torch videos had attracted around 90 million views.

“It’s kind of hard to remember that it’s actually real people interacting, commenting and interacting with my videos.”

Mr Krueger said his videos were popular because the torches had universal appeal.

“Flashlights are so versatile,” he said.

“It’s dark everywhere, no matter where you live, who you are or what you do.”

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