Doctor with flashlight

From the doctor's office to wilderness hikes, flashlights have evolved from bulky, single-purpose devices into multi-purpose wonders.

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Flashlights are so ubiquitous and so useful that it's hard to imagine what life must've been like before Conrad Hubert invented the first "electric hand torch" in 1898. Since Hubert's history-changing creation, flashlight technology has evolved in incredible ways. Flashlights now use super-bright bulbs, have long battery life and even combine multiple lights with other types of tools.

These multi-purpose flashlights are often called all-in-one or 3-in-1 flashlights, and they blend several useful gadgets into one device. Think of a 3-in-1 flashlight as the Swiss Army knife of flashlights. Fittingly, Victorinox, the maker of Swiss Army knives, actually sells versions of their cutting-edge multi-purpose tools with built-in LED flashlights. Dozens of other companies create similar hybrid products.

Why are flashlight makers so endeared with combining illumination with other tools? Why are they integrating more than one type of bulb into one flashlight body? And how do these products compare in quality and performance with traditional flashlights?

Quite simply, manufacturers are merging flashlights and tools technologies because, well, they can. Where flashlights with any real lighting power used to be bulky and expensive, contemporary flashlights can be tiny yet bright, and very cheap to produce and sell. Best of all, even high-quality multi-purpose lights have low price tags in comparison to flashlights of the past.

For consumers, it means inexpensive lights that are small and powerful and suited to just about any day-to-day or emergency situation. When those lights are combined with other useful tools, such as a tripod, knife and scissors, they are just that much handier. Keep reading to see just how creative, practical and in some cases, outlandish, these 3-in-1 flashlights have become.