Here are 7 of the Brightest tactical lights available
Brightest Tactical Flashlight Buying Guide
Bigger is not always better!
Wait, let’s discuss that a bit.
It’s no secret that many items are sold on – “bigger is better”, and certainly, with tactical flashlights, it’s easy to just promote the number of lumens.
But, how bright, and how many lumens do you need for tactical use?
Although I’ve read numerous suggestions on how bright a tactical light should be, one of the most definitive books written on the tactical use of a flashlight, Deployment of Illumination Tools – Law Enforcement Training Primer by Ken J. Good, states that
“the recommended brightness for a tactical flashlight should be “a minimum of 250 lumens for an adequate light source”. He further states that “traditional 2/3-D cell flashlights using incandescent bulbs are inadequate sources of light”.
Now, this may be a bit dated but you’ll notice that those companies that dominate the law enforcement sector, such as SureFire and StreamLight, often how lower lumen lights – certainly as compared to the competition.
The truth is, once you have around 250 lumens or so, your ability to see in the dark is truly enhanced.
Now, for tactical uses, too bright of a flashlight can be a bad thing. “Back splash” is a phenomenon where a light source bounces off white and shiny objects, like white walls, mirrors, and steel structures, and can actually disorient the person using the tactical light.
In fact, SureFire has a tactical light, known as the IntelliBeam, which automatically adjusts for back splash by lowering the light’s intensity. You can read about this special light and others in my article on the Best Tactical Light Manufacturers and their Best Tactical Lights.
There are however situations where higher lumens are beneficial – such as search and rescue.
The point is, the tactical light should be selected for a specific purpose. Once that purpose is known, selecting a light that meets that purpose is much easier.
The evolution of the Light Emitting Diode or LED
Although an engineer for GE invented the first visible-light LED in 1962, it wasn’t until much later that the now commonly available home and flashlight LED’s really were in commercial use.
Even in the late 1990s, the typical tactical flashlight was a two to three D-cell light with an incandescent bulb.
LED flashlights, when they first appeared, were typically low light trinkets.
The Cree’s LED chips, the Lithium battery, and the Digital Power Management chip (DPM) have culminated in the Tactical Flashlight as we now know.
You may want to read my post on how to choose a tactical flashlight which gives even more information on the three technological wonders.
What is a lumen?
Whereas “watts“, the typical rating indicator for incandescent lights, are a measure of the amount of energy required to produce light, “lumens” are a measure of the light produced and tell us how bright the light will be.
The more lumens, the brighter the light.
Also, whereas 90% plus, of the energy used to produce light in an incandescent bulb is wasted heat, virtually, 100% of the energy used to produce light with an LED actually produces light (and with little-wasted heat energy.)
Since we’re conditioned to thinking in terms of “watts”, the light that is produced by, for example, a 100-watt bulb is equal to 1600 lumens of light.
This is not linear, however, as a 60-watt bulb would produce 800 lumens.
Are the stated lumens on flashlights accurate?
That’s a great question.
Since many lights are sold on lumens, the more the better, and since there are no government agencies who operate as “lumen police”, it is tempting for manufacturers to fudge on their claims of lumens.
And fudge they do.
As I’ve stated in my post on how to choose a tactical flashlight:
It is not uncommon to see lights that are advertised to be 700, 1000, 1200 or more lumens which are in fact closer to 160 lumens. In fact, one company engaged UL Verification Services, Inc. to test various, commonly available, tactical flashlights with the following results:
- Flashlight 1 – Claimed 700 lumens – tested lumens 166.4
- Flashlight 2 – Claimed 1000 lumens – tested lumens 281.6
- Flashlight 3 – Claimed 1200 lumens – tested lumens 319.6
- Flashlight 4 – Claimed 1000 lumens – tested lumens 331.3
You should also know that many of the cheaper lights never even state the lumens but insinuate it in the model number. For example, a light with the model number – XTR1000 looks like it’s a 1000 lumens light. Usually, it’s nowhere’s near 1000 lumens.
You should also know that some companies claim odd numbers for their lumen power. For example 844 or 765 vs the standards fair of 1000, 1600 and 2000. The truth is, although the number may look strange, it probably is in fact more truthful.
How do you avoid false lumen claims?
Years ago, stereo amplifiers were sold on the basis of “watts”. In other words, how powerful the amplifier was.
Certainly then, a 1,000-watt amp was at least two times better than a 500-watt amp.
Eventually, consumers started to see how ludicrous this was and they became more nuanced in understanding the features, benefits, and ratings of stereo equipment.
In a sense, the heyday of super hyped lumens on tactical lights is waning.
People are starting to see that their 2000 lumen flashlight is less bright than someone else’s 300 lumen light.
It doesn’t help that China is flooding the market with super-hyped lumen flashlights as really cheap prices. Like 1000 lumens for $12.
But, overstated lumens are the least of the problems with these lights. They’re cheaply made and quickly become disposable lights.
The best way to avoid false claims, and end up with a light that you can depend upon, is to stick with some of the well-known brands such as SureFire, Streamlight, Klarus, Fenix, and NiteCore. As I’ve said over and over, if you can’t Google the name of the light and find a company ready to stand behind their product, you should avoid buying their light.
There are plenty of other manufacturers who only sell quality lights.
They also include lifetime warranties – another hint that you’re buying quality.
In reality, they simply can’t afford to fudge on their lumen ratings – no matter how tempting.
How do Reflector Cones control the light?
With tactical flashlights, however, we’re not talking about the typical lumen light conversions, since most of these relate to home light bulbs.
The tactical flashlight uses a reflector cone to manage, focus, and control the light from the LED.
By the way – these “reflector cones” are completely missing from cheap tactical lights. At two for $12.99, you get what you pay for.
Some reflectors are “smooth” to produce a long throwing hotspot (think searchlights) with a clear transition to the light spilled around the center.
Other tactical lights use an “orange peel” reflector to soften the transition between the hotspot and spill.
You may have noticed the center light hot spot on some flashlights.
These typically have a much-reduced amount of light spilling out to the sides since most of the light is focused in the center.
Other lights are more evenly illuminated, a product of the orange peel configuration.
Although theoretically, the choice of reflector type, should be matched to the task to which the flashlight is being used, more and more tactical lights are being developed with the use of the “orange peel” reflector, and the consensus is that this option of more versatile. The trade-off is not such a steep drop off, and I notice that orange peel reflectors still retain a solid center focus with an even and stronger light spill off to the sides.
Some firms, such as SureFire, even CDC machine the reflector out of aluminum to produce the desired orange peel reflector cone.
Of course, these are more expensive than other lights that deploy a combination of a cheap plastic reflector with a plastic magnifying glass as the lens.
So how many lumens do you need?
Well, let’s start with Ken Good’s recommendation “at least 250”.
Nowadays, that’s not that difficult to obtain. When Ken wrote his training manual, 250 lumens were some of the top producing lights.
It’s easy to get a tactical flashlight in the 300 to even 1000 lumens range. Many of the rail-mounted lights are between 300 and 800, while some of the higher-end everyday carry lights easily go to 1600 and even 2000 lumens.
The trade-off with higher lumen lights is the run time.
Even with lithium batteries and DPM chips, higher lumen lights have lower run times than lower lumen flashlights.
In truth, the run times for even the higher lumen lights are really good, but, there is a tradeoff.
There’s also a tradeoff with respect to size, although one light (covered in this post), is small enough to fit into a jean’s key pocket and boost 700 lumens.
The bottom line, lumens are important and I would suggest somewhere around 300 to even 1600 lumens, but equally important are the features inherent in the light.
- Size is important if you want every day carry light. Even smaller size lights can come with 700 – 1200 lumens and strobe.
- In some situations, such as for an RV’s, a simple penlight with 50 – 100 lumens is perfect.
- Features such as strobe and ultra low light settings are necessary for law enforcement and tactical light usage.
- If the need is for a searchlight or SAR, a number of really powerful lights are available as discussed in this post.
Summary of recommended lights
|Nitecore TM28 Tiny Monster 6000 Lumen QuadRay Rechargeable Flashlight||Prime||Sorry - No Results|
|Olight SR Mini Intimidator II 3200 Lumen Cree LED Flashlight, Olight Omni-Dok Charger, 3 X Olight 18650 2600mAh rechargeable batteries and six EdisonBright CR123A Batteries bundle||Prime||Sorry - No Results|
|Fenix TK72R 9000 Lumen 3x CREE XHP70 LED Digital OLED Display Rechargeable Searchlight Flashlight - Doubles as Powerbank - Includes Lumen Tactical Organizer||Prime||Sorry - No Results|
|ThruNite TC20 3800 high lumens Tactical Flashlight, USB Rechargeable LED Handheld Flashlight CREE XHP70B LED - CW||Prime||Sorry - No Results|
|Klarus XT11X 3200 Lumens CREE XHP70.2 P2 LED 18650 Extreme Illumination Rechargeable Tactical Powerful Flashlight,with 1 x 18650 Battery,SKYBEN Battery Case and USB Light(XT11GT Upgraded Version)||Prime||Sorry - No Results|
|klarus XT21X 4000 Lumens CREE XHP70.2 P2 LED Rechargeable Powerful Tactical Flashlight, with 1 x 21700 Battery,SKYBEN Battery Case and USB Light||Prime||Sorry - No Results|
|Streamlight 88060 Pro Tac HL 4 2,200 Lumen Professional Tactical Flashlight with High/Low/Strobe Dual Fuel use 4x CR123A or 2 x Rechargeable Li-iON Batteries - 2200 Lumens||Prime||Sorry - No Results|
If brightness is what you want, check out the lights above. These are seven of the biggest baddest brightest lights available.
Which light is best? They’re all from the best tactical lighting companies available with solid construction and great warranties. Compare their prices with the rated lumens. All are around 4,000 lumens with the exception of Nitecore’s 6000 and Fenix’s 9000 lumens. Finally, check their size and see what fits with your needs. Here’s a situation where you almost just can’t go wrong.
You might also want to check out the article on the best tactical flashlight manufacturers and flashlights, and the article which lists 80 of the best tactical flashlights available with notes on intended uses.
Always be prepared. Be well.