IPX Rating System Explained – Is Your Flashlight Water Resistant vs Water Proof?

Explore More About the IPX Rating System and How it Can Impact Your Flashlight Selection

Have you ever bought a “water-resistant” or “water-proof” tactical flashlight only to have it stop working completely after being exposed to the slightest drizzle? How can something that is supposed to stand up to water fail after just a little exposure? Seems like false advertising doesn’t it?

But then again, you may have purchased flashlights that stood up to water just fine. They may have even over performed.

So, what gives? Why doesn’t “waterproof” or “water resistant” mean what you think it means? Essentially, these terms are marketing ploys (or at least they used to be). A flashlight doesn’t need to pass any tests in order to use these terms in advertising. If they manufacturer says a flashlight is “waterproof” and “water-resistant”, it is.

Caveat Emptor. Let the buyer beware.

It’s this lack of truth in advertising that led to the creating of the IPX rating system. IP stands for Ingress Protection. This includes protection from just about everything – dust, body parts, debris and water. When an object isn’t protected from all ingress – say it isn’t protected from dust – it is labeled as IPX. For the purposed of water protection, a flashlight will be labeled as IPX-1 through IPX-8 – the higher the rating the better the protection.

Let’s look at each of these in turn and what level of protection you can expect from each classification.  By understanding what each level of protection represents you can determine which light is the best match for your goals.

IPX-1

An IPX-1 rated flashlight can stand up to rain for a short amount of time – as long as it is in a normal horizontal or vertical position. In order to be awarded this rating, the flashlight must function after being exposed to 1mm of falling water per minute for ten minutes.

IPX-2

A flashlight that receives this rating will withstand falling rain coming in at an angle not greater than fifteen degrees – think a nice driving rain but not a torrential downpour. In order to be awarded this rating, a flashlight must function after being exposed to 3mm of falling water per minute for ten minutes.

IPX-3

This is a flashlight that will survive a torrential downpour. It can continue to function in rainfall up to sixty degrees from vertical. In order to be awarded this rating, a flashlight must function after being exposed to .7 liters of water at a pressure of 80-100 kN/m2 per minute for 5 minutes.

IPX-4

This is the splashing water rating. Essentially, your flashlight will survive any splash of water from any direction. This is the flashlight you want to take on a whitewater rafting trip.  In order to be awarded this rating, a flashlight must function after being exposed to 10 liters of water at a pressure of 80-100 kN/m2 for five minutes.

IPX-5

With a tactical flashlight with a rating of IPX-5 or greater, you could dowse your flashlight with a garden hose and it would still work. Don’t do that. But you could. In order to be awarded this rating, a flashlight must function after being soaked with 12.5 liters of water at 30 KN/m2 at a distance of no more than 3 meters for three minutes.

IPX-6

If the IPX-5 can withstand a garden hose, the IPX-6 rated flashlight can withstand a fire hose. IPX-6 flashlights must function after being exposed to 100 liters of water per minute at a pressure of 100 kN/m2 at a distance of no more than three meters for three minutes

IPX-7

IPX-7 and above deal with flashlights that continue to function after being immersed in water – dropped in the lake. In order to receive a rating of IPX-7, a flashlight must function after being immersed in 1 meter of water for 30 minutes.

IPX-8

An IPX-8 flashlight will continue to work underwater indefinitely. The depth of resistance will be specified by the manufacturer but in some cases these will be lights used by scuba divers. Many of the light offerings from Nitecore are rated at IPX-8 and while they aren’t recommended for scuba diving they are good a depth of 3m.

As you can see, the IPX rating system is much more illuminating – pun intended – than simply trusting a manufacturer when they say a flashlight is “water resistant” or “waterproof.” So, the next time you invest in a new flashlight – like the many found here on this website – check to make sure you are getting one with an IPX rating appropriate for what you plan to use it for.

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