The growth in Tactical Flashlights
When choosing a tactical flashlight, as with any other tactical gear, there are so many selections available in today’s market.
So how can you make the best decision?
First, pick the brand?
The right brand will have a history of quality and innovations that the want-a-be tactical lights lack. It will also have a warranty that says “we'll back it up”.
The wrong brands simply won't have any warranty at all. A statement of their true value.
I've explained in other articles how cheap and unreliable fake tactical lights are so commonly available.
For those wondering what's going on, here's the story. Chinese manufacturers produce a number of products which can be purchased at huge discounts and even customized. For example, you can find these lights (like the Wsky) on the Internet in China for between $1 and $3.50 each if you purchase 100 or more units. Additionally, you can have them customized to add your logo to the light. Then, you take delivery and ship them to Amazon under their fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) program. They are then featured on Amazon and sold for, let's say $12.99, and after paying $1 and probably around $2 or so to Amazon for fulfillment and shipping, you end up with around $10 in profit per light.
Not bad … for them.
There are a lot of really good FBA programs out there, but if the wholesale price of a tactical light is $1, you have to understand that you're probably getting what you paid for.
Don't go for cheap and unreliable want-a-be tactical flashlights. Your safety and that of your family is worth too much.
After brand, understand your purpose and match those needs with quality options
I've written before on how to select the best tactical light.
Here's a brief summary:
Understand your purpose.
Do you want a light on your nightstand or are you just hunting dust bunnies? Is this for backpacking or self-defense? Is this a gun mount? Do you want every day carry, or would it be all right to have a sheath on your belt? You need to start with the end in mind.
Understand that quality costs.
There are hundreds of thousands of cheap lights flooding the market (unfortunately). Again, understandably, everyone is concerned about costs, and Asian markets are capable of producing really cheap lights and really quality ones. You need to recognize that a Tactical Light is really part of your self-defense and protection gear – for you and for your family. How much is that worth? Seriously, this is not the place to cheap out – buy quality and be protected.
Understand what makes a good Tactical Flashlight.
This article lays out the features of a Tactical Flashlight and their construction, which directly relate to an understanding of what light to purchase. Spend time in understanding Tactical Lights as you would any other serious purchase.
Look at my Reviews and my Recommended Gear page. I regularly update recommendations that I feel fit specific needs. Check out these reviews as well as the other tactical articles we produce and continue to educate yourself on this important subject.
Here are the best of the best in tactical light companies
Below is a list of some of the most trusted companies when it comes to tactical flashlights. Most all companies claim to work to produce the best possible products on the market. But, these are companies that have proven to live up to that claim.
Surefire, out of Fountain Valley, California, is a name that tops the list when it comes to tactical flashlights. What originally began in 1969 as a company that used laser technology to develop a laser sight for guns evolved into something even bigger when the weapon-mounted flashlight was introduced to the law enforcement community upon request. The rugged and compact design, along with the powerful light that could temporarily blind or suspend a threat, gained for Surefire a great following in the tactical world.
All Surefire lights use LED light source, with the exception of the Hellfire Weaponlights. Most of the flashlights produced by Surefire are 250-600 lumens, but the UDR Dominator brings the durability and quality to a whole new level with 2,400 lumens. These flashlights are built to be tough and withstand the elements. They are also built with as few options as possible and for a reason. In tactical situations, the few light modes the better, since super adrenaline levels really inhibit sorting through multiple alternatives. Straightforward simplicity is best in many tactical situations.
There are so many quality and iconic Surefire tactical lights that it's difficult to pick any one as representative. The Fury, however, is really one of the most popular lights from this company and illustrates Surefire's no-nonsense approach to quality and simplicity. The Fury comes in a number of combinations but the following is an evolution of the Fury series and features a 1500 lumen output handheld torch.
Royal Robbins started a company to provide quality gear for climbing enthusiasts such as himself. The name, 5.11 Tactical is a through back to his climbing days. The Yosemite Decimal System dates back to the 1930’s and rates the difficulty of a particular climb. A 5.11 rating meant that the climb was impossible, but a few managed to accomplish it. The name reflected the quality standards of the company.
A company that vows to “Always be ready”, 5.11 Tactical has worked closely with the public safety and first responder communities. Everything that this company produces, from the very first training pant design for the FBI to their tactical flashlights, is made to be ready for anything. Unlike the other companies on the list, 5.11 isn’t solely focused on lighting, but that hasn’t stopped them from making sure their lights hold up next to brands like Surefire and Streamlight. Some of the features you can count on are multiple light modes, an intelligence switch to allow for adjusting the cone of light, and extreme durability. 5.11 Tactical is an international company with facilities in California, Sweden, Australia, and Hong Kong.
The 5.11 lights are a little different and one of their most highly rated light is a mere penlight. The Tactical 5.11 Unisex TMT PLx, which shows that lights come in all different shapes and sizes and that for a reasonable price, you really can have a quality light. The TMT PLx uses 2 AAA batteries, produces 90 lumens and comes with a single tail button that only operates a momentary on mode. For the price, you can't really expect much more the build quality, however, is top notch.
In 2005, Fenix gained recognition with their foundational goal. They wanted to produce the best lights at the best price while maintaining quality. Since that time, the name continues to appear on top lists and their awards just keep stacking up. Based in China, their devotion to quality and technology has led Fenix to partner with colleges and universities to continue testing and bringing in new ideas for better products. Hunters, military, law enforcement, and civilians alike have used Fenix flashlights and help grow the name and popularity of the brand.
There’s a lot to choose from at Fenix. These lights offer aircraft grade aluminum exteriors, hard anodized finish, waterproof, multiple light modes, lumens of 1000 and beyond, cutting-edge LED technology, and up to 150 hours of light on the lowest light setting. There’s a light for every purpose and for every budget.
Fenix, and Klarus, really illustrate that Asian manufacturers can not only produce quality tactical gear but have added tremendous innovations which make these lights true competitors. One of the most popular Fenix lights is the PD-35 and the FX-PD35 Tac displayed below is a stellar example of the PD-35 line. At 6 inches and only 5.6 ounces, the Tac produces 1000 lumens of quality light. It also delivers 6 output modes, including strobe. A true everyday carry option.
Streamlight, from Eagleville, PA, made a name for itself as an innovative company after developing a special hand flashlight for NASA in the 70’s. This particular light was designed to mimic the light of the son and produced a million candlepower units, a truly groundbreaking invention. The reputation for technology and design has only grown since then. Streamlight now offers a line of safety lights that will survive up to 200 ft of water and high temperatures. They produce flashlights that are used and trusted all over the world and have gained high approval ratings throughout government, military, and law enforcement communities.
Streamlight documents the needs of its users invest in training and creates flashlights that specifically address the needs. The company prides itself on learning by doing. This is part of what makes them a great partner to and provider of gear for military and law enforcement. As part of their dedication to innovation, quality, and customer service they “design flashlights and lanterns that make lives safer and jobs easier. We build those lights to make certain that every part of every product lives up to the Streamlight name you have come to trust.” (Quote directly from streamlight.com).
Streamlight has so many stellar offerings that it's difficult to pick just one great example. I have covered a number of other offerings including their rail mount light and handgun mounted light, but for purposes of an iconic and popular Streamlight tactical light, you need to look no further than the 74301 Strion. This light uses 3 AAA batteries and produces 260 lumens from the CREE LED for 2 hours or 65 lumens for 7 and 1/2 hours. As with most Streamlight products, you can purchase an accessory tactical holster and with the Strion, various rechargeable units.
The BLACKHAWK! This company, headquartered in Overland Park, Kansas, is the brainchild of a US Navy SEAL who, while navigating a minefield, vowed to make better equipment after his own pack failed. There’s truly no better testing for tactical equipment than out in the field. In 1993, BLACKHAWK! was born to fulfill that vow to create gear that never quits. This is another company that focuses on a wide range of tactical gear, but it deserves mention in this list of tactical flashlight companies. The flashlights that BLACKHAWK! produces are made just like everything else: tough and dependable.
The selection of lights that BLACKHAWK! features are admittedly smaller than most of the other brands on this list. However, the Night-Ops Legacy Tactical is an impressive choice and has been tested to meet ANSI-FL1 standards. The key to this company is dependability.
An example of a BLACKHAWK! tactical torch is the Ally L-1A2 Compact Handheld proving again that quality can be had for reasonable prices if you know where to look. The Ally is only 0.16 ounces yet boosts 100 lumens and has a multiple-position rotating switch that includes strobe and even a safety lock to avoid accidental discharge.
Klarus is one of the newer companies out of China and founded in 2011. What seems to set them apart from the others on the list is the choice of products with brightness levels up to 2000 lumens. Klarus makes quality flashlights that are solidly built, easy to use and hold up in a variety of weather conditions. The technology can get pretty impressive as well with a programmable user interface, auto-adjusting output, and a magnetic charger with a self-locating base.
While there is a multitude of choices when it comes to tactical flashlights, there is a balance to be struck between cutting edge technology and the rough and rugged dependability needed in tactical environments.
Klarus is one of the most popular brands if for nothing more than their constant innovations and high quality. Additionally, throughout the pages of TactBright, I've highlighted, reviewed and recommended several Klarus lights. None, probably more highly than the XT2CR Dual-Switch. The XT2CR uses the Mode or Paddle Switch to instantly turn on Strobe. We're also talking about 1600 lumens with either 2 CR123A or one 18650 battery. For its purpose, as a tactical light, it's hard to beat the Klarus XT2CR.
Coast, out of Portland Oregon, was established in 1919 when they produced their first product, a fillet knife. Henry Brands was selling knives to local merchants when he realized that his wares weren’t able to hold up. The fillet knives were no match for the 50-pound chinooks. Henry worked with a local metalsmith to produce something better, thus giving way to Coast Cutlery.
Throughout the years, Brands continued to create better knives and eventually brought his grandson into the business. When Henry’s grandson, David took over, he held true to the company’s vision and innovation. He began bringing in new materials and ideas, to include the multi-tool line in 1983.
In 1996, Coast released its first LED flashlight. They later developed features like Pure Beam Focusing Optic for flashlights and headlamps as well as the Flex Charge Dual Power recharging system. It’s been almost 100 years since Coast was formed and it’s seen three generations of the Brand family at the helm, and yet they continue to balance the production of quality products with pioneering innovation. They really do have a wide range of choices when it comes to the appearance and materials used; most fall in the $75 to $190 price range, some with outputs over 1000 lumens.
I've mentioned this light before on TactBright. The Coast G19 Inspection Beam LED Penlight is one of the most successful lights available anywhere. Interestingly, it is one of the most portable, and could easily win the best bang for the buck lights you could possibly own. Proving, once again, that there's no need to shop the cheap Asian want-a-be lights. The G19 uses one AAA battery and at 4 inches and 1.5 ounces throws a respectable 54 lumens. It even has a lifetime warranty. Not bad for under $8.
David Chen founded ThruNite in 2009. David dropped out of college and set about to build his dream by becoming an expert in LED products. He named the company ThruNite because he wanted to produce quality products to “get you through the night” (Company motto). The company produces simple, effective, and cost-efficient products to be available for everyone. A part of that process has evolved to being distributed from Amazon warehouses across the world.
When it comes to tactical flashlights, ThruNite offers four models ranging in price from $30 to $60. There are traditional battery options as well as rechargeable systems. Each model offers Type III hard anodized finishes, multiple light modes, and strike bezels. The brightness levels for these flashlights are impressive with maximums of 200 lumens for the most basic model to over 1000 lumens for the top models.
ThruNite has become one of the more popular and recommended lights as evidenced by its inclusion in the recommended lights article by other tactical blog experts. The TN12 XP-L Edition at 1110 lumens is a classic example of how much ThruNite is able to offer. This light uses the standard and readily available (thanks to vapers) 18650 battery. It is 6.8 inches long and weighs just over 3 ounces. With multiple light levels and strobe, the TN12 is really a modern marvel.
Nitecore, another Chinese company, was established in 2007 with a dedication to engineering perfection, creativity, and practicality. The company, though young is a leader among other companies producing tactical flashlights. The inventory is impressive and very few companies have been able to match the range and technology that Nitecore offers. These tactical flashlights keep the cool factor without sacrificing what people expect from tactical gear and durability.
Nitecore has led advancements such as the Smart Piston Drive System and Smart Selector Ring technologies. The Smart Ring Tactical Series offers a line of tactical flashlights with the Smart Selector Ring that allows users to adjust brightness, light modes, and even integrated multi-color LEDs. The Crystalline Coating Technology increases reflector performance while the aircraft grade aluminum alloy and HA III military grade coating make these flashlights light and rugged. Flashlight brightness ranges from 750 lumens up to 2000+. Customers can expect to pay between $50 and $140 depending on the model.
NiteCore is another one of the tactical lights that continue to show up again and again in the list of recommended lights, especially the lights from tactical experts. The SRT7 Revenger is one of their classic models and is both affordable and extremely popular. The SRT7 has 960 lumens and uses, again, the 18650 lithium-ion battery. Like all quality torches, it optimizes its output with a CREE LED, on the SRT7, the XM-L. Also, like most quality lights, it uses a hardened mineral crystal lens with anti-reflective coating. At 6.22 inches and only 6.4 ounces, the NiteCore SRT7 is a quality option.
Anthony Maglica began his business in California, with two goals: to produce quality products and to keep jobs in America. Although born in New York, Maglica was raised in Croatia and only returned to the US when WWII had left his home war-torn. He escaped back to America where he worked odd jobs, learned English, and saved up the money he needed to build a business of his own. It was while manufacturing parts for industry, aerospace, and military that he gained a reputation for his outstanding work. He quickly developed techniques for cutting costs while preserving the quality of his work.
The first Maglite flashlight was produced in 1979. Word of the durable aluminum anodized flashlight spread fast and soon Maglica was producing more flashlights to answer the needs of his customers. To this day, Mr. Maglica still puts his stamp of approval on every product released. These military grade tactical LED flashlights are built to withstand the harshest of environments with features like the crown bezel, rechargeable systems, and removable pocket clip. Brightness ranges between 200-350 lumens, although they do offer a tactical model providing 543 lumens. Maglite offers a limited lifetime warranty and free shipping over $50.
Maglite is really “your father's flashlight” and was featured in my article on the three great American Tactical Light Legacies. Unfortunately, it's taking a while for Maglite to convert over to LED light bulbs and Lithium batteries. They are making the transition, but there are still some that just like the old type lights. Take the Maglite Heavy-Duty Incandescent 4-cell D flashlight with almost 3,000 Amazon reviews. Someone out there appreciates Maglite. At least, though, you have a choice.
Pelican, another California company, was formed in 1976 by David and Arline Parker. David’s experience as a diver prompted him to research, design, and develop flashlight products that were rugged and dependable. He needed something that wouldn’t leak or break. This goal was realized with his first patent, the Pelican Float.
In 2004, Behrman Capital acquired the company, then in 2006, a new CEO was appointed. Lyndon Faulkner came with a world of experience in technology, having formerly worked for Microsoft. His aggressive growth strategy for the company saw new locations open around the globe. In 2015, the company had grown so great with expansion into other consumer products that it was divided into four divisions: Commercial/Government, Consumer, BioThermal, and International. The products created by Pelican are depended on by first responders, military, law enforcement, and civilians alike.
Even the most basic model of Pelican’s tactical flashlights (178 lumens) comes with four selectable programs, multiple light modes, removable clip, and a durable casing. The 7 series includes even more convenient features, like being compatible with multiple battery options. The tactical flashlights in the 7 series come with a Type III hard anodized finish and are submersible while offering up to 900 lumens. Some are even programmable via Bluetooth.
Having said all that, one might expect the price for these flashlights to be quite high. Fortunately for Pelican lovers, the prices are generally under $100.
Pelican is somewhat of a sleeper company in their tactical light offerings. One of the most popular torches is the 7600 Rechargeable which features 944 lumens with a run time of 3 hours and 15 minutes and features a red and green light mode. Coming in at a little over 6 inches and just over 10 ounces, the 7600 is an iconic example of a great light from a great company with a really modern look.
EAGTAC, LLC. out of Washington, was originally founded in 2009, which makes it the youngest company on this list. A company devoted to offering the “ finest, brightest, toughest, and most power efficient tactical flashlights ever made”. Though a US business, it’s worth mentioning that the parts are made and assembled in China. What the company lacks in history, they make up for in value. The T25C2 is one model that places EagleTac on top lists alongside brands like Surefire, Fenix, and Pelican.
After pouring over reviews of the company and their tactical flashlights, here are a few things to note about these lights. All of the tactical flashlights have multiple lighting modes; a pretty standard feature. Customers can choose from different models that offer a maximum of about 800 lumens on the low end to 3000 lumens on the higher end. Model specific features include strobe mode, USB re-charging capability, and programmability.
One of the best examples of the Eagletac (or EagTac) is the T25C2 XP-l V5 at 1250 lumens which uses the reliable 18650 lithium-ion or 2 CR123A batteries. At 5.7 inches and 4.6 ounces, this light is a typical configuration for utilizing the various handgun techniques discussed in my article on the best techniques for handheld tactical flashlights.
Olight, another quality Chinese company, was started in 2006. After making a splash in the European markets with their flashlights, the company turned its efforts toward tactical flashlights and has become quite popular in the U.S.
The go-getters over at Olight believe that no one should be left in the dark. All of the products produced by the company are tested to meet ANSI FL1 standards, meaning that they are backing up their claims for quality products with hard proof. The aluminum aerospace alloy used creates resistance to damage without excess weight. Customers can expect to pay around $50-$100 for one of these tactical flashlights and they come with a limited warranty. From the palm-sized I3T EOS (180 lumens) to the full-size M2R Warrior (1500 lumens), these flashlights are guaranteed to fit any need.
At the higher end, and extremely popular, is the m2r with 1500 lumens and using the 18650 lithium-ion battery. This unit has a magnetic recharger and includes 6 light modes – from 1500 to 15 lumens, plus strobe. Moonlight mode has an incredible run time of 25 days. There's a lot to like about this 5.1 inch, 8-ounce tactical wonder.
One more from Olight, why? because this is simply one of the most innovative tactical lights available right now. It's the Olight PL-Mini which is 400 lumens, has a quick release that works with Glock, S&W, Sig Sauer on more. This ultra small, ultra lightweight mounted light even has a USB charging cable with a magnetic charger, which fits on the bottom of the unit, and an easy to see battery indicator. Just another example of some great innovations available now. Oh, and did I mention, it's priced right at around $66. Hard to beat.
Spencer Frazer founded SOG after he added a unique knife to his Vietnam memorabilia collection. The knife was carried by the special operations group MACV-SOG, thus the name. A company well known for their exceptional knives, a lesser known fact is that they put out some pretty impressive tactical flashlights as well. These flashlights are higher in price than most others on this list but are worth considering given the company’s reputation for quality. The Dark Energy line four models with brightness levels up to 687 lumens, hard anodized finish, rechargeable batteries, and a truly unique appearance. A single button controls the light modes without the need to hold it down. Prices range from $89 to $194.
SOG doesn’t offer all the frills and thrills of some of the other brands, but that doesn’t stop their tactical flashlights from showing up in top reviews of tactical gear. No need for honorable mention here because these tactical flashlights hold their own against the other top brands.
SOG lights are as rugged and iconic looking as the SOG tactical knives. You might not be able to take one of these on an airplane but there's no mistaking that this is a SOG. The Dark Energy DE-06 – 687 lumens tactical light utilizes the 18650 lithium-ion battery and has a run time at 722 lumens for 75 minutes and approximately 32 hours at 40%, which is its reading level. As most, it comes with a lifetime warranty and measures 6 inches at 4.8 ounces. This light screams tactical.
As the search for Hillary’s emails is endless; so is the search for great tactical gear.
With companies constantly working to push the envelope of new technology, there are plenty of brands to consider when purchasing a tactical flashlight. Some companies that top the list are tried and true, while others are new kids on the block.
Which is better? That’s really a personal preference.
As it stands currently, however, you really do have a ton of quality options.
Be well, always be prepared.