When shopping for flashlights you will notice a huge differences in flashlight materials and prices. There are a vast number of different styles of flashlights with a variety of light outputs and options. To start, get a good grasp of two fundamental flashlight measurements, namely, lumens and candelas. These terms refer to two types of light output with lumens being the total light output and candelas being the light intensity at its brightest point.
With flashlights you will also see huge differences in construction and prices. There are two main categories of flashlight: (1) non-tactical, and (2) tactical. Tactical flashlights provide light and can be used as a weapon. Tactical flashlight features include:
- Rugged Construction: These flashlights are constructed of very durable material, normally aircraft aluminum or a very tough poly. These lights are normally water resistant (IPX4) to waterproof (IPX7 or IPX8).
- Crenellated Strike Bezel: The front strike bezel (and often back bezel) is not smooth. This uneven service provides greater force concentration when used as a striking device.
- High Lumens: Lumens measure the total light output. Tactical flashlights have a high lumen output. High lumen output must also be coupled with high candela output (see Lumens & Candelas article).
- High Candelas: Candelas measure the beam intensity at the brightest point, or “hotspot.” High candelas means that the beam projects for a greater distance and also provides blinding output.
- Tail Switch: A switch on the end of the light is easy to find and use. When using a tactical light you normally employ the “ice pick grip” with fingers around the body of the light and thumb on the tail switch. This position is effective for operating the light and for using it as a striking weapon.
- Potted Electronics: If a flashlight is used as a striking weapon then it has to be very durable. Some flashlights use “potted electronics” which means that gaps around the electronics are filled with a rigid substance to increase durability.
- Weapons Mount: Many tactical flashlights can be mounted on firearms. The flashlight diameter must fit the firearms mount.
- Size: The flashlight body should be larger than the palm of your hand. Place the flashlight in your palm and tighten your hand around the body of the light. The ends of the flashlight should extend beyond your tightened first on both sides so that both sides can be used as a striking device. The very small “tactical” flashlights may be useful for generating light but will be almost useless as a striking weapon.
The ability of a tactical flashlight to generate blinding light can be useful for almost anyone. However, do NOT attempt to use the light as a striking weapon unless you are very well trained (tactical training, martial arts, etc.). In nearly all cases use the blinding light to temporarily disable an attacker and then quickly get away from the situation. Only in the most extreme circumstances should the light be used as a striking weapon and, even then, only by users who are highly trained.
If you decide to carry a tactical flashlight then be SURE to carry it EVERYWHERE you go. If you do not carry a flashlight then you will normally not miss it. If you carry a flashlight you will be amazed at how many times you use it. If you carry an EDC (Everyday Carry) tactical flashlight then be sure that you can access it VERY quickly.
When choosing a tactical flashlight be sure to consider size. Do you need a small everyday carry (EDC) light or do you want a larger light? If you want an EDC light then it should be small enough to easily carry. I have an EDC light that fits comfortably in my pants pocket and it is hardly visible (Streamlight 1L-1AA). I have a larger light that I often wear in a belt holster. An EDC light should be large enough to fit in the palm of your hand and small enough to easily carry.
Consider how you will carry the flashlight. A concealable light may require a shorter length and smaller diameter. If you use a tactical holster then the light should extend beyond the holster so that it can be removed very quickly. If the holster has a tight fit then you may want a flashlight with a larger head so that it is can be accessed more quickly.
Selecting a Tactical Flashlight
There are many manufacturers that offer many good tactical flashlights. Each flashlight has different properties and characteristics. Here is short checklist to help you choose a flashlight that suits for your needs:
- 250 lumen minimum (more is generally better)
- Tail switch with momentary ON
- At least 6,000 candelas (more is better)
- For weapons mounting make sure the light fits well in the mount
- Minimum length should be longer than the width of the palm of your hand
- Highly shock resistant and waterproof (or at least very water resistant)
- Able to use disposable batteries
- Uneven (crenellated) strike bezel(s)
- Correct size which depends on your personal carry requirements
- Non-sliding head
Some flashlights have beams that can be adjusted by sliding or twisting the head. I do NOT recommend lights with a sliding head. The sliding head could severely pinch your hand if you had to use the flashlight as a striking weapon. Be sure that the tactical flashlight has a momentary tail switch. This switch allows you to hold the switch to activate the light and then when you release the button the light turns OFF. You can also click the switch to lock the beam ON.
Flashlight recommendations are difficult because different lights have different uses. I am giving recommendations based upon my personal requirements. I want high-output tactical lights that can used for protection and also for illuminating over greater distances. I do photography and I wanted lights that could illuminate buildings and other structures. Your needs may be completely different so these recommends may not apply to you.
Keep in mind that I reviewed lights that I have seen and tested. There are many very good flashlights on the market that I have not had a chance to review.The Streamlight 1L-1AA is my (current) personal favorite because it is small enough to be an everyday carry (EDC) light, fits in my pocket, easy to conceal, powerful (350 lumens), and it uses either 1 CR123 battery for 350 lumens or 1 AA battery for 150 lumens (full review). I keep looking for something better and keep coming back to this one. Fenix UC35: The UC35 has a turbo mode that generates a 1,000 lumen, 17,700 candela beam. It uses a 18650 rechargeable battery that can be charged in the flashlight and can also use two CRf-123 lithium batteries. A side switch allows you to switch light modes, the tail switch actives the beam, and holding the side switch for 0.5 seconds activates the tactical strobe regardless of the current beam mode. The Streamlight ProTac HL-X is an updated version of the ProTac HL. It is a manageable size, has very high output of 1,000 lumens and 27,100 candelas, and is extremely rugged (full review). I have the Streamlight HL (750 lumen) and I am very pleased with it. The HL-X is the same price and nearly the same form factor. The HL-X can use a 18650 rechargeable batter (not included) and it has 25% greater lumen and candela output.