Choosing the best Tactical Flashlight

 

How do you go about choosing the best tactical flashlight?

 

Selecting the best tactical flashlight is a process of understanding what the intended use will be, and matching that objective with the light's characteristics, features, functions, quality, and cost.

 

They exist to provide a level of protection

 

If you just need some light to occasionally see in the dark – let's say to view a menu in a dark restaurant – let's face it, you already have your smartphone – so why a tactical light? There have to be more critical purposes.

In reality, there's a mindset when understanding the purpose of a tactical light – they exist to provide a level of protection for you and your family. As such, these portable torches can grace you bed stands, they should be available in your vehicles, they must accompany your firearms, be available when tracking outdoors, and there should be some consideration for every day carry (“EDC”.)

 

In addition to identifying friend and foe in the dark, these tactical marvels can be used for self-defense. In fact, the brightness alone is effective in disarming someone. Additionally, the toothed bezel on most tactical lights is effective for protection, as is the strobe which is available on many lights.

 

So, what are the general characteristics of modern tactical flashlights?

 

not your fathers flashlight meme

 

Exterior Construction

 

Almost all tactical lights are made of aerospace grade aluminum since they are expected to withstand high impact and stress. Aluminum is also lighter than other metals and because of they're anodized, they have a higher corrosion and abrasion resistance.

 

Waterproof

 

Another feature of the best lights is that they are waterproof.  This ensures that they can still be used even on rainy days and under different temperatures and atmospheric conditions.

 

Anti Roll and Textured Grip

 

These tactical units are made with an anti-roll configuration and have textured grips for securely grasping. Why? If you set it down on a table to provide light in an emergency situation, the last thing you want is for it to roll off the table. Most have a smaller profile, which helps in access and mobility.

 

Bulbs and Circuitry Technology

 

In contrast to your father's best flashlights, modern tactical lights generally use LED and Xenon type lamps.  Whereas LED's can be good for close-in lighting for extended periods of time, Xeon is better for lighting objects in the distance. The brightness, normally measured in “lumens” and tactical applications generally require at least 100 lumens. As a relative comparison, a 100W incandescent light bulb generates about 1600 lumens. Although you might believe the more the merrier, it's important to understand that the tradeoff of brightness is the duration and brighter settings on a light will burn through batteries quicker.

 

Lumens, throw or reach of the light, and duration, or how long the light performs, is really a combination of the bulb, the power source, or battery, and the circuitry technology. This technology is essentially equivalent to a computer chip.

 

Batteries

 

Today's tactical lights use a number of battery configurations.

  •  AAA – the smallest, least powerful, most portable and generally available
    • AAA rechargeable with more power and longer battery life
  • AA – the most common and available power source with reasonable power
    • 14500 – same size as AA but rechargeable and more powerful – great for power and the ability to have AA's as backups
  • CR123A – Lithium batteries which have increased power and shelf life – probably most available of lithium sources
    • 18650 – same size as two 123A sources – probably least available but powerful and uses 123A's as backup
Each has a corresponding range of available sizes, lumens, throw, and performance which conform to the inherent limitations of the power source.
Here's an infographic that details the various components of tactical flashlights.

Features

 

Within the realm of features, tactical flashlight generally comes with an attached pocket clip, and allow for various levels of illumination, included strobes, SOS and even red lights for low-level use.

Infographic illustrating tactical flashlight construction

tactical flashlight construction

 

Let's look at some of the best tactical flashlights for specific applications

 

Handgun illumination

 

Granted a number of professionals use a separate tactical flashlight while holding a handgun and there are even a number of techniques that facilitate this tactic. The problem is that in the event of an emergency, the typical homeowner is under stress with super high adrenaline levels and simply not equipped to control two separate items – the handgun and a tactical light. This is something professionals train for, it is not what the typical homeowner involved with an intruder at night can easily handle safely.

As such, I strongly recommend a gun mounted light. The benefit is that you're now dealing with one piece of tactical gear and if your finger is not on the trigger (which it shouldn't be until you're ready to shoot) you can easily control both the handgun and the light. The light I recommend has a lever switch so that you can turn the light on or just on momentarily. The counter-argument to this is that you are aiming your handgun at anything you illuminate with your flashlight – which could be someone you definitely don't want to shoot. This essentially violates the safety rule of not aiming at something you don't want to destroy. Because of the limitation of our abilities during stress, this is simply a rule that needs to be broken and keeping your finger off the trigger gives some degree of safety.

Glock 19X with Streamlight TLR-1 HL

 

I personally use and highly recommend the Streamlight 69260 TLR-1 HL weapon mount a tactical flashlight.  The Amazon reviews on this light are superb and you simply won't find a better option for a high-quality gun mount tactical light. As you can see from the image, the on/off, momentary switch is ambidextrous and right in line with where your finger should be prior to firing.

Everyday Carry (EDC)

 We need to define what we mean when we say Every Day Carry. EDC can be anything from having a light in a bug out bag to having one in your pocket or attached to your belt on a consistent basis. Obviously, the size and weight of the tactical light will dictate the ease to which you will be able to carry your light. Additionally, and generally, there are tradeoffs with size – the smaller the size, the fewer lumens the light will produce.

I do have two, however, again that I use, and highly recommend.

NiteCore MT10A

 

Weighing in at 2.14 ounces (without battery) and measuring 4 1/4 inches is the Nitecore MT10A tactical flashlight. The MT10A is compact and runs on both one AA or 14500 battery. With 170 lumens for 2 hours and 45 minutes on one AA battery and 920 lumens at 30 minutes on one 14500 battery, you have the option to get more power for the 14500 battery but have the common AA battery as an effective backup. Finally, the MT10A has five power ratings with a sixth as a red light.  A red light allows for very low illumination and works well for night photographers and those wishing not to disturb others. The value of this unit far exceeds the price and is a favorite for a number of EDC advocates.

 

TactBright surefire tital plus e1515364424305 1024x768 Choosing The Best Tactical Flashlight  Image of surefire tital plus e1515364424305 1024x768

 

The Surefire Titan Plus is the epitome of AAA technology. At 3.4 inches and less than 2 ounces, this torch actually produces 300 lumens. It is totally pocketable and anything from SureFire is reliable and totally guaranteed. But, it's expensive. As with most things in life, there are tradeoffs. This is small, totally pocketable for EDC, bright at 300 lumens and uses readily available and small AAA batteries. Is it worth it? Only you can decide. You won't find anything near it size and power even at this price and I consider the benefits worth it but again, you need to make that determination.

 

Nightstand and auto light

 

The light we use at home and in our autos can afford to be a bit bigger.  Along with size comes additional power and the light that fulfills this need best is the Fenix PD35. The PD35 is another highly rated torch and uses either one 18650 battery or two CR123As.

 

TactBright Fenix PD35 e1515364839820 1024x768 Choosing The Best Tactical Flashlight  Image of Fenix PD35 e1515364839820 1024x768

 

At 6 inches and 5.6 ounces, this light packs a punch and produces up to 1,000 lumens. It bigger and more powerful without being too big to handle and many even use the included holster to carry daily. I believe it makes a great home and auto light and provides enough heft to even act as a self-defensive weapon. The Fenix PD35 is highly respected and tactical holsters for EDC are available from various police tactical stores specifically for this light. That alone is a testament to its respect and acceptability. It's the same price as the Surefire Titan plus but quality does have its cost.

 

Summary

 

There you have it. How to go about choosing the best tactical light for your needs with some personal recommendations.

It's important to recognize that there are many many lights to choose from and the competition along with technological advances have resulted in plenty of choices and plenty of cheap models. I strongly recommend that you consider what your safety is worth and do not rely on the many cheap alternatives. Fortunately quality doesn't cost too much more, but it's worth it when you and your family's safety are at stake.

Make sure you understand the characteristics of the typical tactical flashlight and that you understand your needs. The next step is simply to match your need with the right available choice. The choices are out there but what works for some may not for you, so think through your decision.

Purchasing on Amazon is the way to go since they have such a great return program and almost unlimited options. When you get your light, test it out. As with most electronics, if they're going to fail, they usually fail early. Also, make sure it meets your needs. If it's EDC make sure it's comfortable to carry all day and yet has enough power. Get used to how it works, your life may depend on you being familiar with the unit. If it doesn't work or fails, send it back and try another unit. Your knowledge and experimentation will ultimately reward you.

 

Check out my Recommended Gear page and my YouTube channel, for more recommendations and reviews.

 

Always be prepared. Be well.