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
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?
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.
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.
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
Infographic illustrating tactical flashlight construction
Let's look at some of the best tactical flashlights for specific applications
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.
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)
I do have two, however, again that I use, and highly recommend.
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.
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
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 for more recommendations and reviews.
Always be prepared. Be well.