Updated: June 9th, 2017
If you’re looking to find a top rated tactical flashlight, then you’re in the right place.
If you’re in a hurry, check out this tactical flashlight on Amazon – it’s my personal favorite because it’s never let me down and it’s as bright as the sun.
Tactical Flashlight Brands Comparison Chart
My review guide breaks down the best flashlight brands so you don’t have to. The comparison chart below provides an overview of my top picks. I read every single user manual and know the specs by heart. I distilled my personal thought into the score.
Mobile Device Users: For best results, turn your phone landscape (wide view) to see the entire comparison chart.
Streamlight 88040 ProTac (my top pick)
Nitecore EC4S Bundle (best high-end)
For years, I’ve been carrying one everywhere I go (some would call that crazy). You’d be surprised how many times that thing has bailed me out of a tough situation. My tactical flashlight reviews break down the good, the bad, and the ugly. If I wouldn’t use it, then I won’t recommend it to you.
While it’s clear a tactical flashlight is going to give you more than a basic kitchen model, many people are confused when they hear the term, “tactical”. There isn’t a perfect definition, but your “tactical” flashlight should have some of these characteristics:
- Emits a high amount of light
- Made for maximum durability
- Weapon-grade aluminum is commonly used
- Typically smaller and easy to carry for daily use
- Textured grip (anti-roll profile)
Table of Contents
- 1 Tactical Flashlight Brands Comparison Chart
- 2 Top 10 Best Tactical Flashlight Reviews 2017
- 2.1 1. Streamlight 88040 ProTac Lumen Professional with High/Low/Strobe
- 2.2 2. SOLARAY PRO ZX-2 Professional Series Bright LED with Max 1200 Lumens
- 2.3 3. Vizeri 230 Tactical Flashlight with Focusing Lens, Cree XML T6 or XRE Q5
- 2.4 4. Outlite A 100 Portable Ultra Bright LED Handheld with Adjustable Focus and 5 Light Modes
- 2.5 5. Surefire G2X Series LED with tough Nitrolon body
- 2.6 6. Refun E6 High-Powered, Water Resistant, Handheld for Camping & Hiking
- 2.7 7. J5 Hyper V Bright 400 Lumen LED 3 Mode Tactical Light
- 2.8 8. Helotex G2 Tri-mode Cree XR-E LED Tactical Flashlight
- 2.9 9. Olight M20-X Super Bright Cree XM-L IPX-8 Water Resistant
- 2.10 10. Nitecore EC4S 2150 Lumens CREE XHP50 LED Die-cast Handheld Tactical Light
- 3 Buyer’s Guide
- 3.1 What is a Tactical Flashlight?
- 3.2 What Does Tactical Mean?
- 3.3 Parts of the Flashlight
- 3.4 ANSI FL1 Standards
- 3.5 Why Carry A Tactical Flashlight?
- 3.6 Do You Need A Tactical Flashlight?
- 3.7 Budget
- 3.8 What Will You Use It For?
- 3.9 Batteries
- 3.10 Material
- 3.11 Type Of Light
- 3.12 Brightness
- 3.13 Battery Life
- 3.14 Lumen
- 3.15 Beam Distance
- 3.16 Switch Types
- 3.17 Special Light Modes
- 3.18 Water Resistance Ratings
- 3.19 Special Features and Options
- 4 Additional Resources
Top 10 Best Tactical Flashlight Reviews 2017
1. Streamlight 88040 ProTac Lumen Professional with High/Low/Strobe
The Streamlight 88040 ProTac is a fantastic tactical flashlight that comes at a great price. If you work in the force or just enjoy time spent exploring the wilderness, you’re going to need a quality flashlight to get you through it. The Streamlight 88040 ProTac gives you just that.The main feature is the extreme brightness it offers.
The Streamlight is built with C4 LED technology, which makes it one of the brightest tactical flashlights on the market.
Features and Specifications
- This extreme brightness is generated by the LED Solid Power Regulation, which gives you the most efficient light output in relation to battery life. This means it will regulate its power output to ensure the battery is not overused, eliminating the risk of your battery dying when you need it most.
- It’s also made of aircraft aluminum, so it won’t break easily if dropped.
- It has three different operating modes, which means you can adjust it to your setting depending on the environment.
What Customers are Saying
The LED bulb is extremely bright, which makes it reliable for when you need it most. For the price, you are purchasing a product that is superior in quality to others of the same price range.
The Streamlight 88040 ProTac offers incredible brightness from the LED bulb, which is assembled specifically with C4 LED technology in order to preserve battery life, making it extremely reliable. Along with its sturdy aircraft aluminum body and waterproofing, it will not break easily and leave you in the dark when you need it most.
2. SOLARAY PRO ZX-2 Professional Series Bright LED with Max 1200 Lumens
The SOLARY PRO ZX-2 is an extremely reliable tactical flashlight ideal for anyone working in security or someone who spends a lot of time in survivalist environments, hunting or extended camping trips in the wilderness.
The standout feature of this product is the dependable quality of the huge lumen output. At its maximum setting, it can expel a massive 1,200 lumens. The Ultra Bright XM-L T6 Cree Super-Silicon Carbide Single Die LED Chip is one of the best LED bulbs on the market, making for amazing brightness, ideal for security and many other purposes.
Features and Specifications
- It delegates energy efficiently to ensure a lasting lithium battery life to ensure you aren’t caught off guard and left without visibility when you need it most.
- Rechargeable batteries
- The focus zoom lens makes it very versatile, so you can tailor its function to your specific needs in any given situation.
What Customers are Saying
This impressive product comes securely packed in cardboard, foam-lined packaging with a secure, magnetic lid. The zoom feature is brilliant and easy to use due to the ridges on the outside of the lens.
The additional bonus of the Mini-Pro 1 LED flashlight, along with the careful packaging, make it all the more desirable for anyone planning a long camping trip, or a security guard looking for reliability.
Any drawbacks? Some customers have said that the zoom feature on the larger flashlight is difficult to use because a sizable amount of pressure was required to twist the lens. However, the stiffness of the zoom feature is reduced with use over time. It tends to be a problem with the first few uses, but not one that lasts.
Overall, the SOLARY PRO ZX-2 is a durable and reliable flashlight with numerous additional features. The zoom feature makes it a versatile tool for security and hunter alike. The bonus of the complimentary Mini-Pro 1 LED flashlight is an enticing addition to an already quality for money purchase. For the price, you will find it hard to find a product of similar quality on the market.
3. Vizeri 230 Tactical Flashlight with Focusing Lens, Cree XML T6 or XRE Q5
The Vizeri 230 is a durable and versatile option. With numerous modes all the features necessary for a quality product.
The standout feature of this guy is the focusing lens. This is particularly useful for when you need to narrow the beam in order to see something specific in the distance. As you can imagine, as a security guard approaching a potentially dangerous situation, or a hunter catching up on an animal, this would be a particularly useful and beneficial feature.
Features and Specifications
- The product comes with 5 modes: low, medium and high brightness levels, as well as SOS and Strobe.
- It is water resistant in up to 3 feet of water.
- All the components thread into the tube, as opposed to pressure fixings like cheaper models.
- It includes a lamp diffuser and holster with a D ring, meaning it can be adapted into a hanging lamp, which is useful to have when camping.
- It has flexible power options. You can use low cost AAA batteries or CR123 alkaline batteries, including rechargeable versions.
What Customers are Saying
The flexible power option is incredibly beneficial, especially for someone using the torch overseas, where lithium batteries may not be accessible. The Vizeri 230 comes with a lithium-ion battery end-cap adapter as well as the AAA battery adapter, which is useful because it gives you the option of 18650 lithium batteries for a longer battery life as well as AAAs, which are very common globally.
Anything not to like? A small portion of buyer’s have complained about the sturdiness of the Vizeri 230. The positive is that it comes with a lifetime warranty, if anything were to arise.
Overall, the Vizeri 230 provides the right balance between versatility and simplicity to make it suitable to all users. You’ll find it hard to beat the quality of the Vizeri 230.
4. Outlite A 100 Portable Ultra Bright LED Handheld with Adjustable Focus and 5 Light Modes
The Outlite A 100 is a versatile and reliable tactical flashlight, with multiple modes to accommodate you in almost any situation. It’s extremely bright beam offers optimum visibility, making it ideal for anyone in the police force, military, or security. It’s also a good tool to have if you’re hunting or taking an extended camping trip in the wilderness.
The main feature of this product is the zoom lens, which allows the user to focus the beam in order to enhance and focus the light on a specific area. This is a useful feature for when a narrower beam is needed in order to see something specific in the distance. A security guard approaching a potentially dangerous situation, or a hunter catching up on an animal would find this a particularly useful and beneficial feature.
Features and Specifications
- The Creed XML-T6 LED bulb projects a massive 700 lumens at its highest setting. On the zoom feature, this stretches to 900 lumens.
- It takes a rechargeable 3.7V 18650 battery, which is included, or else three AAA batteries.
- It is equipped with five switch modes: high, medium, low, SOS and Strobe.
- It can stand upwards on a flat surface to resemble a candle.
What Customers are Saying
People are generally surprised at the quality of this product because of the fair price point. The huge light output and overall quality is an unexpected but pleasant surprise. Power source is very useful and versatile, as it gives the option of a rechargeable battery, which is included, or three common AAA batteries. The lightweight aluminum body of the flashlight makes it convenient and durable as well.
Some customers were dissatisfied at how the flashlight will automatically switch to the next lower setting when turned on. Basically, when switched off on the high setting, it would next be switched on at the medium setting. Others suggested that it was not 900 lumens by their estimation. However, the amount of lumens often is decided by the quality of the eyesight of the users.
The benefits of a flashlight that automatically goes to a lower light setting is that you can be sure that it automatically preserves the batteries. This means that the Outlite A 100 will preserve the energy it has so that you aren’t left in the dark and without a light when you need it most. Many customers have noted the longevity of the batteries when used in this product, making it more reliable than other flashlights on the market.
The adjustable lens means you can focus on specific objects or spaces when needs, which makes it particularly useful for security guards, police officers and hunters alike.
5. Surefire G2X Series LED with tough Nitrolon body
The Surefire G2X is an extremely durable and reliable product. It has a very strong LED emitter that you can rely on, as well as a number of other very useful features.
This is one of the most trusted brands in tactical flashlights, and with good reason. The convenient size of the Surefire G2X ensures that it won’t get in your way when you don’t need it, but also that it’s there to be relied on when you do need it.
The key feature of this product is the near indestructible LED emitter that is regulated to maximize the light output as well as ensure the highest possible running time. It has a strong Nitrolon body, combined with a anodized bezel to ensure that it will stand the tests it faces, whether dropped from a height onto a hard surface or used as self defense. This is a light designed specifically with law enforcement officers in mind.
Features and Specifications
- It has a single output level of 320 lumens to maximize the quality of the light.
- It has a tactical tailcap switch for optimum accuracy.
- It has two settings: press once for a momentarily “on”, or twist for constant “on”.
- It has a precision micro-textured reflector that creates an optimized beam.
- The tough exterior of the body makes it sturdy and reliable.
What Customers are Saying
The light is incredibly strong and the flashlight overall is very strong and reliable. Many were also delighted by the quality of the light when considering the cost.
The Surefire G2X is an incredibly strong and sturdy tactical flashlight that makes it the ideal tool for security and police officers alike. It is built with such professions in mind. The light output is very strong, as is needed in high intensity professions.
Thisproduct is also ideal for anyone taking on an extended camping trip, due to its sustainability and all round durability. You won’t find yourself lost in the dark when you have a Surefire G2X.
6. Refun E6 High-Powered, Water Resistant, Handheld for Camping & Hiking
The Refun E6 tactical flashlight is a resilient and durable product ideal for both leisure purposes and practical purposes. Refun is a highly trusted brand in the flashlight industry and the E6 is one of their best products to date.
The key feature of the Refun E6 is the adjustable focus lens. This allows the user to focus the bezel in order to enhance and focus the light on a specific area. This is a useful feature for when a narrower beam is needed in order to see something specific in the distance.
Features and Specifications
- Reverse polarity protection to protect the LED bulb so it won’t burn out if batteries are inserted backwards.
- It has 5 switch modes: low, medium, high, SOS and Strobe.
- It is water resistant.
- It has a rechargeable battery that is included.
What Customers are Saying
Customers love the rechargeable battery. It means you don’t need to spend money over and over again in order to power the torch over the years. It comes with rechargeable batteries, as well as a charger. What’s best is that the Refun E6 can also be powered of AAA batteries.
Some owners do disagree about how water resistant the Refun E6 is. Although the packaging advises you not to submerge it, it happens. And so the water resistant flashlight appears not to be so water resistant.
However, there are other customers who claim to use it on their boats and, although not getting submerged, the Refun does get a lot of splash and soak from waves and rain. These customers claim they have had no trouble with this kind of wetness, and so it seems that the Refun E6 is more splash proof, extremely splash proof, rather than totally water resistant.
The Refun E6 is a very good product, and one that won’t let you down. The rechargeable batteries will save you money in the long run, and that it can be used on AAA batteries as well, makes it a very reliable flashlight.
7. J5 Hyper V Bright 400 Lumen LED 3 Mode Tactical Light
The J5 Hyper V Tactical flashlight is a quality product that comes at a great price. It has multiple setting, an extremely bright LED bulb and a heavy duty exterior, meaning you’ll be ready for anything that comes your way when you’re out in the wilderness or working.
The main feature that makes this product so impressive is the amazingly bright 400 lumen LED bulb that can illuminate objects that stand up to 800 feet away. It will shine a white beam of light that will stretch the length of two football fields on a clear night.
The adjustable focus of the lens allows you to focus this beam and concentrate it on specific areas. This is a useful feature for when a narrower beam is needed in order to see something specific in the distance. A police officer encountering a potentially dangerous situation, or a hunter preying on an animal at night would find this a particularly useful and beneficial feature.
Features and Specifications
- The J5 Hyper V comes with 3 settings: low, high and strobe.
- It runs off AAA batteries and will run for hours.
- It has a tough body that is made from Aluminum Alloy, making it extremely durable and strong.
- It’s the perfect flashlight for hunting, camping, fishing & outdoor activities
What Customers are Saying
They love that it take either AA or AAA batteries, which are easy to find and cheap, as opposed to expensive, high power batteries that are hard to come across.
One complaint was that the J5 Hyper V will automatically switch to the next lower setting when turned on, so that, when switched off from the high setting, it would next be switched on at the medium setting. As you can imagine, if you were using it at medium and switched it off, the next encounter would be with a strobe light.
However, there were pretty much no other complaints, suggesting that other than this small issue, it is an almost perfect flashlight that can be relied upon. The strong and durable exterior means it won’t break and let you down easily when you need it most. The amazingly strong beam is sure to help you get to where you want if lost in the woods too.
The J5 Hyper V has one of the brightest beams on the market, so strong that it can be used as children’s entertainment, with the ability to stretch across 2 full-sized football fields. The strong aluminum alloy exterior means that it is super durable and won’t break if put to the test.
8. Helotex G2 Tri-mode Cree XR-E LED Tactical Flashlight
The Helotex G2 is a strong, high performance flashlight that will stand the test of time and endurance. It has an extremely powerful LED bulb to illuminate even the darkest of atmospheres. This is one of the most trusted brands in tactical flashlights, and with good reason. The convenient size of the Helotex G2 ensures that it won’t get in your way when you don’t need it, but also that it’s there to be relied on when you do need it.
The standout feature of this product is the huge light output. It’s a nice and well balanced beam with no distracting defects, making it incredibly reliable for when you need it most.
Features and Specifications
- The Helotex G2 runs on either AAA batteries or CR123 Batteries.
- It produces a huge 130 lumens of light from its CREE XR-E LED bulb
- It has 3 useful settings: high, low and Strobe
What Customers are Saying
The light output, they say, is more than adequate. It is can be counted on in every situation, from hunting to camping to fire fighting.
The Helotex G2 is an incredibly strong and sturdy torch that makes it the ideal tool for security and police officers alike. The light output is very strong, as is needed in high intensity professions.
This product is also ideal for anyone taking on an extended camping trip as well, due to its sustainability and all round durability. It’s a quality product at a good price, leaving little margin for disappointment.
9. Olight M20-X Super Bright Cree XM-L IPX-8 Water Resistant
The Olight M20-X tactical flashlight is one of the most durable and reliable products on the market. The LED bulb is incredibly strong.
The standout feature of this light is the indestructible Type III hard anodized aluminum offering superior scratch resistance and durability. This flashlight was built for intense purposes, rather than leisure. That’s not to say that it won’t suit leisurely activities either though.
Features and Specifications
- The LED super bright CREE XM-L bulb is extremely bright.
- Three setting: high, low and Strobe.
- It has an integrated battery polarity protection.
- It is water resistant, though submersion is not advised.
What Customers are Saying
Many customers say that this is hands down the best tactical flashlight they have ever owned. The primary reason for this is the durability of the indestructible body. This makes it incredibly reliable in intense situations when you need your torch to perform, as well as moments when you lose your grip and drop it onto a hard surface. This product simply won’t break. You can count on Olight to offer you a quality product.
Some were less than impressed by how the Olight M20-X will automatically go to the lower setting when turned on, meaning that, when switched off the high setting, it would next be switched on at the medium setting. The problem with this is, despite being an energy saving mechanism, if you were using it at medium and switched it off, the next encounter would be with a strobe light.
However, there were literally no other complaints, suggesting that other than this minute issue, it is a perfect light that can be relied upon. The strong and durable exterior means it won’t break and let you down easily when you need it most. The strong LED beam is sure to help you get out of the woods and where you want to be.
The Olight M20-X is one of the strongest flashlights on the market. The strong LED bulb will illuminate even the darkest corners of the woods to ensure you find safety when you need it.
10. Nitecore EC4S 2150 Lumens CREE XHP50 LED Die-cast Handheld Tactical Light
Last, but certainly not least is the Nitecore EC4S. It’s extremely durable and the LED bulb is one of the brightest around. It has every feature you might need, meaning you’ll be ready for anything that comes your way when you’re out in the wilderness or at work.
The key feature of this torch is the excellent die-cast unibody construction. It’s made with superior structural integrity, with 200% of the strength of an ordinary flashlight that consists of three separate parts. It is only 6.03 oz.
Features and Specifications
- It has superior lighting performance. The Nitecore EC4S uses a CREE XHP50 LED bulb and innovative “Precision Digital Optics Technology”, to maximize the output up to 2150 Lumens, that’s 200% of the brightness compared to CREE XM-L2 LED, 19,600CD beam intensity.
- It has the ability to shoot 280 meters of beam distance,
- The high efficiency constant current circuit offers a maximum runtime of 325 Hours.
- It has 5 brightness levels: Turbo, High, Mid, Low, Ultralow, and a further 3 concealed special modes: Strobe, SOS and Location beacon.
What Customers are Saying
There are almost no complaints about the Nitecore EC4S. With so many quality features, it’s a tool made of craftsmanship, made with the user in mind at all times. What people like most is the durability of the flashlight. Made from one piece, it is less likely to fracture, and has a strength double to that of any competitors.
The only complaint about this product was that it shut down after a few minutes of use. Which is a very valid complaint. Even on the lower setting, it was alleged to have shut down in order to conserve the battery. This is a frustration for sure and one that would deter customers.
However, most have lauded the durability of the Nitecore EC4S, noting the great lengths of time the power sources will last. As noted in the description, it can last up to 325 hours, making it the longest lasting torch I have seen on the market. The brilliant customer service of Nitecore will always ensure that faulty products are replaced or redeemed.
The Nitecore EC4S is the best tactical flashlight that I have come across. It is the most durable 3 piece light on the market, and the LED bulb is incredibly strong, with a seriously long lasting power source.
What is a Tactical Flashlight?
If you are a fireman, policeman, in the military, a survivalist or hunter, you’ll understand the importance of having a high quality, reliable light. For activities and duties such as the mentioned professions, a simple household flashlight is not adequate.
It needs to be powerful, water resistant, have a reliable and rechargeable battery and it needs to be sturdy.
They are llife-saving tools.
This guide covers a wide price range of flashlights. If you’re #1 concern is finding the brightest flashlight in the world, regardless of the price, we recommend you read this guide. It only reviews the brightest LED flashlights on the market.
What Does Tactical Mean?
Tactical refers to military tactics; the science and art of implementing techniques to organize a military force, as well as techniques for engaging and defeating an enemy in battle, using weapons and military units.
Before great technological advances were made, military forces used their knowledge of land; heights, swamps, rivers, valleys and so on, in order to gain a tactical advantage over their enemy.
Practices of assault, skirmishing, engagement, creating and using obstacles and defenses and ambushes have not changed much however. Specialized tactics such as these still exist in situations such as securing a room or building by military forces, police and fire departments alike.
Parts of the Flashlight
The bezel is the head of the flashlight. It’s an extremely important part, though it might seem like a minor or inferior aspect of the light. It holds the head of the light onto the body. This means it keeps the window of the flashlight in places and heightens the brightness of the light by way of keeping the microscopic lens firmly attached. Beneath the lens you’ll find the torch, and depending on the model, the batteries and everything else that makes the light work.
The lens is more than just a cover for the torch. It heightens the brightness and reach of the already powerful torch. A lens on a tactical flashlight is very important for a number of reasons.
It is used to protect the torch beneath, but also it is used to illuminate the area in a number of colors; red, green, blue or clear are generally the colors chosen by military groups. The different colors enhance or alter visibility in specific situations.
For example, a red lens will help to preserve night vision; blue helps in the tracking of blood trails; and green can enhance vision in light conditions.
LED (the Bulb)
LED bulbs generally are capable of about 50,000 hours of continuous use, which amounts to roughly 5 years.
They also have no filament, which makes them more shock resistant. These qualities make LED bulbs arguably the most reliable bulbs around, which is exactly what is needed for military, police, or any other user of military tactics.
LED lighting will provide the best possible vision no matter what the conditions are. The best LED flashlights are chargeable as well, meaning there is no need to carry a box of batteries around with you.
The reflector has a parabolic shape and concentrates the light from the LED bulb, creating a direct beam. The reflector is a very important component as it enhances the power emitted from an already powerful bulb.
Many brands allow for the adjustment of the reflector to create a wider or narrower scope.
This is useful for moving in large areas of darkness, such as forestry or open land, as well as using it in more confined spaces such as a building.
Generally they are made of polished metal, glass or aluminized plastic. Some manufacturers also use a pebbled finish on the reflector to give uniformity to the beam that is being omitted.
The tail switch is essentially the button that turns on the light. Its location is not just random placement. It is specifically placed at the butt to allow for optimum control over the direction in which you are aiming the beam.
By holding the flashlight with your arm in an upright position, in a so-called “icepick” grip, you can direct the beam with the twist of your wrist as opposed to your entire arm. This is useful for stealth operations when the beam is necessary one moment and detrimental the next. Being able to switch between high visibility and no visibility at the quick push of a thumb has aided stealth operations for decades now.
When stealthily moving through a building or forest, there comes a time when you need to put the light away for fear of being detected, or to open a door, or any other time you might need your hand to be available.
The lanyard attachment allows you to keep your torch at the ready when your hands are free. It allows you to easily clip it to a belt or buckle and hang by your waist or around your neck, where you can easily reach for it again when needed.
It’s just a simple clip located at the base of the light alongside the tail switch: a simple but effective and necessary accessory.
The Pocket Clip
The pocket clip holds a similar function to the lanyard clip. It’s a piece of metal that runs down the body that allows you to easily clip the light onto the exterior of your pocket.
This is probably more useful, in terms of easy access, than the lanyard attachment. In a situation of high intensity when you’ll need your flashlight, you don’t want to be fumbling with a lanyard clip.
With the pocket clip, you can easily grab the flashlight in one hand and bring it to your aid immediately. The only downside is that if you’re moving a lot, jumping or sliding down steep trenches, the flashlight could slip from your pocket grip and fall to the ground without you noticing. This is why both pocket clips and lanyard clips are necessary.
The battery compartment is generally found mid way up the body of the flashlight. As the name suggests, it’s where the batteries are stored to power the flashlight.
Many modern tactical flashlight brands won’t have a battery compartment as they are chargeable, meaning they can be attached by way of a USB port to a power system and charged when not needed.
However, tactical flashlight brands with a battery port are more desirable by way of the virtue of not having to carry additional equipment, such as a USB charger.
Most tactical flashlights with a battery compartment will get a significant lifespan out of batteries, making the load a lot lighter, which is what you would want if on a long excursion.
The tail cap offers grip at the tail of the flashlight when it is being held in the aforementioned “icepick” grip. Grip at this part of the flashlight body is incredibly important, as one false move and a dropped flashlight could lead to a heightened intensity situation and or death. The tail cap also secures the battery compartment adequately to the body of the flashlight in order to power it. Again, it may seem like a moderately irrelevant component of the tactical flashlight, but it’s a very important one. Grip and control are essential in high intensity situations and the tail cap offers extra grip and control, thus making it an essential component.
The Head or LED Housing
The head, or LED housing, is the compartment in which the LED flashlight bulb is stored. This is an important component of the tactical flashlight as it provides protection to the bulb.
With tactical flashlights, the head will be exceptionally sturdy in order to give optimum protection for the high intensity activities that security.
ANSI FL1 Standards
In August of 2009, the American National Standards Institute approved a standardization specification for flashlight performances. This was developed by a committee of flashlight manufacturers known as the Flashlight Standards Committee of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association. The standards fell under 10 headings.
The light output is the measurement of luminous flux within the sphere and is essentially a measurement of energy.
The run time refers to the nearest quarter hour of output before it drops to below 10%.
Beam distance is the distance from the flashlight to the illuminated object or space equivalent to moonlight.
Peak Beam Intensity
Peak beam intensity measures the intensity of the light at the mid section of the flashlight beam. It’s also a measurement of energy.
This tests the durability of flashlights dropped from certain heights onto concrete with batteries included.
Water resistance is measured using an IP rating system. It comes in three categories:
- IPX4 is water resistant or splash proof from all directions.
- IPX7 is waterproof and resistant to 1-meter submersion for 30 seconds.
- IPX8 is waterproof for a submersion of 4 hours.
Why Carry A Tactical Flashlight?
Whether you enjoy random excursions or you work within the fire department or police force, a quality tactical flashlight is an essential survival tool. You literally won’t know you’ve needed it until it’s too late, and at that point it will be too late.
Should you or a friend fall in a dangerous place at night and you don’t have adequate lighting, you don’t stand a chance. If you need to tackle some sort of obstacle in the night, it will be made infinitely easier, or rather, less difficult, with a tactical flashlight.
In a military situation, where everyone is equipped with an assault rifle, should you come across a stranger in darkness, you will need to identify them. This is safer with a quality flashlight. If that person is an enemy, they may well be able to mimic and pretend to be an ally.
Before you know it, you are confronted with a very real threat. In a burning building, you simply won’t be able to find an exit without a powerful flashlight. Smoke and debris will block out most of your senses, the least of which you will need is your vision. As an excursionist, losing anything relatively small in the dark is potentially dangerous; be it keys, a water bottle or even your tent, you can become disorientated and lost. A tactical flashlight will help you find what you’re looking for.
As a self-defense device, walking home at night is made all the much safer with a flashlight. With a tactical flashlight, any offender will be disorientated and temporarily blinded by the LED beam shone in their face as they approach you. Because of their sturdiness, should an intruder catch you off guard, a tactical flashlight will also serve you well if it comes to hand to hand combat. A swift blow to the head will knock just about anyone out. Having said that, you’d rather it didn’t come to that, so it’s best to simply disorientate them and use the time to run and escape.
If you are a collector of gadgets or tools or various electronics, a tactical flashlight is the height of electronic technology, the efficiency and craftsmanship that goes into the making of a tactical flashlight is remarkable. No stone has been left unturned and no scenario has not been thought out when considering the many uses and benefits of owning a tactical flashlight. They are versatile tools for excursionists and soldiers alike. Anyone in the military, police force or fire department will tell you how useful a tactical flashlight is.
Do You Need A Tactical Flashlight?
You need to think about the activity you’ll be doing, when you’ll be doing it, and why you’ll be doing it. A camping trip with friends in a safe environment will not necessarily require a tactical flashlight, though a regular one should definitely be considered. In this scenario, a tactical flashlight will definitely make the experience easier and more enjoyable.
As a member of the force, a police flashlight (tactical) is a must-have accessory. Entering unknown buildings at night, chasing offenders or even as a last resort of self-defense, having the best police flashlight is going to be extremely useful and may even save your life.
In the fire department, your job is often going to require you to enter burning buildings in order to save someone’s life. But you also need to consider your own life. Finding your way to somebody trapped in a burning building is going to be extremely difficult without adequate lighting, so you should equip yourself as best possible; with a tactical flashlight. A lost life will should not come down to inadequate visibility, be it theirs or yours.
Hunter, Bushcrafter, Outdoorsman
As a hunter, you will find yourself on weeklong tracks, following your prey (read our article about flashlights designed specifically for hunters). This means tracking at night, which can be dangerous for numerous reasons. If you can’t see adequately, you can easily put your foot into a hole and break a leg, leaving you stranded and alone in the wilderness. You need to see your path. Also, if you have wounded your pray, a blue lens will help you track it with a blood trail.
However, if you need your hands free at all times; if you’re the runner in your field of work, or if you’re caving or climbing, maybe a headlamp is a better option. As a tactical flashlight isn’t that small or light, it might become something of a burden, despite it’s obvious and many uses.
Think about these things when considering your purchase:
You will need to consider a few things when purchasing a tactical flashlight.
Firstly you will need to think about your budget. Is this going to be used in a survival situation or just to make a pleasant camping trip easier?
You can’t put a price on your survival.
If purchasing as a tool of survival, you will need to spend a decent amount of money on the flashlight and should not cut corners.
For leisure, you can afford to spend a little less. You won’t find yourself confronted with an enemy brandishing an assault rifle. It will most likely be useful for finding the keys to the car when you lose them during the night, or finding the tent when you wander off from the campfire for a leak.
What Will You Use It For?
Consider the activity you are taking on.
If you need to use your hands a lot, like rock climbing through caves, you should opt for a headlamp, rather than a handheld flashlight. You’ll be putting yourself in danger by occupying your hands in a situation in which you need them. Also if you are taking on an activity in which you are moving a lot, or running, your hands won’t be able to stay steady and aim correctly, limiting your vision and making you disorientated.
But if you need more control and precision with your aim of the flashlight, you should opt for a handheld flashlight. If it’s a slower paced activity, like hiking, hunting or camping, you will need a handheld flashlight to aim. Handheld flashlights will provide you with a broader scope of vision, which will benefit you greatly in these conditions.
As a hunter, you may also need a weapon mounted flashlight. Not only will this improve your vision, and thus your aim, but also with a tactical flashlight, you may stun the animal and prevent it from running making for an easier shot and therefore a quicker kill
Mount & Hybrid Adapter
Lastly, you’ll need to consider whether you want a mount or hybrid adapter. A mount adapter will attach the flashlight to a rifle or other instrument you have with you, making the use of two tools at one a possibility. Hybrids come firmly attached to the weapon and so can only fulfill the single purpose. So you need to consider whether you want a multi purpose or single purpose. Bare in mind that not all manufacturers of adapters make products to fit all flashlights or weapons.
These are important considerations as if you make this decision for the wrong reasons, such as laziness or absentmindedness, you won’t know it until it’s too late and you’re in the middle of nowhere with inadequate equipment.
Choosing the right battery for your flashlight is important and will affect it’s overall performance. Disposable alkaline batteries are the common AAA, AA, C and D batteries. They don’t offer a great deal of power but they are very easy to find. Those in the prepper or survival industry will often opt for a flashlight that uses standard sized batteries because they know they are easily accessible.
Disposable Lithium Batteries
Disposable Lithium batteries should not be confused for Lithium Ion batteries. Disposable Lithium batteries are almost the exact same as disposable alkaline batteries except they’re more powerful, store more energy and are lighter. They will last longer as well. These are favored by survivalists for these reasons. However, they are more expensive.
Rechargeable cells come in a variety of sizes. Specialized sizes for tactical flashlights include 18500, 18650, and RCR123A. They offer a very good output and the ability to recharge makes them more environmentally friendly. However, rechargeable flashlights are more expensive and require the purchasing of a decent charger as well.
Integrated Rechargeable Pack batteries are specially made for specific tactical flashlights. They are either rechargeable or else you just plug the entire flashlight in to recharge. They can be hugely beneficial but it can be annoying when you run out of energy and have to wait while it recharges.
The kind of material that you choose for your flashlight to be made of will have an effect on its durability and its weight. Tactical flashlights come in three different materials.
- Plastic or composite flashlights are generally of a lower quality, although Pelican is a good company for producing quality flashlights that uses plastic or composite materials.
- Anodized aluminum is the most common material used for quality flashlights. Make sure to have at least type II anodizing, but type III is the best.
- Stainless steel is a strong and durable material, but its downside is that it is heavy.
Type Of Light
Firstly, the color really depends on what kind of activity you are engaged in. Kelvin Temperature is the measurement of the color of light, specifically the tints, which are measured in Kelvins. The lower end of the spectrum, from 2,600K to 3,500K, generally give off what is called a “warm white” coloring.
Between 3,500K and 500K offers a “neutral white” coloring. The higher range of 5,000K and upward will give off a “cool white” color that usually has a blue tint to it. These are the most popular due to the efficient light production they offer.
You will also need to consider what kind of bub you want. Incandescent bulbs contain a wire filament that is heated to high temperatures by electricity to illuminate it. Some higher-powered incandescent flashlights use halogen lamps, whereby halogen heightens the power of the bulb. Despite these being replaceable bulbs, they have a short life expectancy; maybe just a few hours.
This makes them less reliable than LED bulbs for a tactical flashlight because they are also more fragile than LED light bulbs. If you drop your flashlight from a height onto a hard surface, the filament might break or come loose, rendering your flashlight useless. The best color you will get out of an incandescent light bulb is around the 2,500K mark.
Flashlight LED bulbs have a longer lifespan and electrical efficiency than most other bulbs, such as incandescent bulbs. They can produce over 100 Lumens for every watt, as opposed to the 8 to 10 Lumens produced by an incandescent bulb. They have a significantly longer battery life than incandescent light bulbs, using about 10% of the energy of an incandescent.
They will produce a range of colors, from a “warm white”, about 3,800K to 4,000K, to a “cool white”, about 5,500K to 6,500K. This makes them the ideal choice of light bulb for a tactical flashlight; you will want a range of colors at your disposal, as well as not wanting your tactical flashlight to cut out when you need it most, such as in a high intensity situation. Combined with a reliable battery, or a fully charged one, you’ll be safe with an LED bulb in your tactical flashlight.
Light Pattern Spread
You should also consider the light pattern spread that you’re going to get from your bulb. Consider the setting in which you will need it. A burning building will have significantly different needs to a big open forest. Or climbing a rock face compared to a dark alleyway.
Most tactical flashlight brands come in to varieties when considering light pattern spreads: flood and throw. You’ll need to make a compromise on these. A flood will spread light upon a wider space, but it won’t reach terribly far. On the other hand, a throw will reach far but in a concentrated and thinner line of space. You’ll get a long and defined beam, but your overall brightness won’t be great. Different flashlights and lights are made to lean more to one side than the other.
It comes down to the design of the reflector and the LED being used. Generally speaking, flashlights that are more floody are best suited for close and isolated inspections of objects. Flashlights that are more throwy are better for closer up inspections of things, or for lighting up a greater area. Before you make the decision, you’ll need to consider the activity you’re undertaking and think about when and why you will need your flashlight.
Battery life and brightness are things you will need to consider here. Do you need a flashlight that will maintain its maximum brightness for 30 minutes and then dim significantly? Or do you need something to maintain its maximum brightness for 3 or 4 hours?
Battery life versus brightness is one of the biggest debates surrounding flashlights, but it’s really a subjective matter, and wholly dependent on the activity taking place. Many smaller flashlights can produce a huge amount of Lumens but, due to their small size and thus smaller battery capacity, they won’t last very long. Larger flashlights can fit more and stronger batteries and thus can produce a higher level of Lumens and will last longer.
A Lumen is a unit of luminous flux and the measurement used for the total quantity of light that is visibly produced by a source, such as a bulb. A flashlight’s Lumen measurement will be referring to the flashlight on its highest setting with new batteries or fully charged. Although the Lumen is a good tool for comparing flashlights, it does not tell the entire story behind brightness.
For example, the Fenix PD35 TAC is considered one of the best 1000 lumen flashlights on the market. If you find other 1000 lumen flashlights, you’ll be hard pressed to find one better than the Fenix.
Beam distance is measured in meters and should not be neglected. This will measure the distance the light ejected from the flashlight will reach before it diminishes to the equivalent of the light that comes from a full moon, which is generally considered to be safe to travel in outdoors. Obviously, the distance varies depending on the setting. But depending on the location of your activity, distance may or may not be of great importance, so you should consider this before you make a purchase.
Candela refers to the intensity of a Lumen (ie, 1,000 lumens). It is similar to radiant intensity, the main difference being that instead of combining the contributions of each wavelength of light within the spectrum, it is weighed by the luminous function, which means it is measured by the human eye, essentially.
The ranges of lighting are an important factor to consider, and these range from 1 to over 700 Lumens. This will vary depending on the battery and bulb being used. It also comes down to the vision of the person using the torch. But any quality tactical flashlight will come with a brightness adjuster or multiple brightness levels. These usually come as one of either a head/tail twist, a body switch or a tail switch.
A lot of tactical flashlights have a simple on/off switch, which only gives you the option of one brightness level. These are generally the small flashlights, as they don’t have the capacity to encompass the necessary setting for brightness adjustments. If purchasing one of these, you should ensure that the level of Lumens are adequate enough for the activity you are undertaking.
More advanced or larger flashlights will have two settings: high and low. The lower setting will use less battery but omit a lower level of Lumens, resulting in reduced visibility. High settings will omit the maximum level of Lumens and use up much more of the battery life, and so you should save the higher setting until natural light has decreased dramatically.
Better tactical flashlights will have 3 or more settings from low to high. This gives you more variety when deciding on which is the best light to suit the moment and also which one will give best lighting while preserving the most amount of battery as possible. You can alter the lighting to the amount of natural light you have available in order to save battery.
Generally speaking, tactical flashlights will come with one of three different type of switch. Again, you need to consider the activity you will be doing to choose the switch that is most adequate for you.
The head/tail switch is very common on very small flashlights because it doesn’t take up more space in order to develop a flashlight that changes electrical contacts, which are based on how much the head or tail is screwed on. These aren’t terribly reliable as sometimes the head or tail becomes entirely screwed off and you lose it. Having said that, a flashlight with this setting is generally going to be inexpensive and suitable for leisurely use, such as a family camping trip.
The body switch is more popular because it allows you a variety of grips on the flashlight while also being able to switch it on or off. In the case of a flashlight with multiple light settings, you generally switch once for on, twice for setting one, three times for setting two, and so on. This is useful for casual use, such as rummaging through a dark shed or walking the dog in the evening. It will not dramatically enhance or hinder your use of the flashlight in self-defense.
The tail switch is the most popular and most common. With the switch at the base of the flashlight, you can alter the lighting with the “icepick” grip, allowing for better accuracy and self-defense. It is the preferred grip and switch for using a flashlight with a handheld pistol, such as when police officers use a flashlight and gun, as it allows you to aim with ease while keeping the flashlight in a position ready to strike a potential attacker.
Special Light Modes
Many tactical flashlights will offer special light modes. There are three special light modes that come with a tactical flashlight.
Despite your initial assumptions, the Strobe light mode is not meant for raves in the forest. It was designed to disorientate people. It is a very fast flashing of the brightest level on the flashlight that changes patterns to confuse people. It’s a feature that has many uses, but most notably, police officers would consider it very important when making raids.
The strobe light causes what is known as the Bucha effect (also known as A Lumen), whereby the person experiences dizziness and confusion when exposed to a strobe light. Dr. Bucha realized this in the 1950s when asked to explain why there had been an increase in helicopter crashes.
Survivors of the crash had explained that they had become dizzy from the strobe-like effect of rotating blades of the helicopter. This was later incorporated into the tactical flashlight, among other things, to disorientate and confuse suspects during a raid.
The SOS or Morse code mode is very important and useful. It’s used for emergency purposes. Originally a naval term for “save our ship”, it became synonymous for any kind of distress signal. Morse code transmits text as a series of tones or flashes that can be understood to anyone who knows Morse code.
In the 21st century, there are, obviously, few under the age of 50 who can decipher Morse code. Thankfully any tactical flashlight that offers the SOS or Morse code mode will be able to signal the globally recognized “SOS” signal in order to attract the necessary attention. Even if you don’t know SOS, it is a rather distinct signal of seemingly random intermittent flashes, or beeps on a radio, that will be assumed as a call for help.
The Beacon mode on a tactical flashlight simulates a lighthouse; it blinks beautifully in the darkness at full level brightness signaling a distress signal, or a warning signal if you assume the position of a lighthouse. It’s a survival feature, just like the SOS mode. It’s more useful than the SOS mode for when you’re in a locality closer to civilization. The Beacon mode will alert nearby aid, as opposed to the SOS which will reach further distances.
Water Resistance Ratings
Many don’t consider water resistance when purchasing a tactical flashlight, but if you’re the survivalist type, or in the military, or a policeman, or a fireman, you inevitably going to be put to the test in wet conditions, be it rain, swamp or fire hose, there is going to be water around at some point.
You need to be prepared for this. Come unprepared to an flight or fight survival situation, the last thing you need is a flashlight that is water damaged; fail to prepare, prepare to fail. The water resistance of a flashlight comes in three grades: IPX4, IPX7 and IPX 8.
IPX4 means that your flashlight is water resistant at the most basic level; splash level, in fact. This may be all well and good for a kiddy camp out in the back garden, or as a toy for a young teenager just getting into the great outdoors, but it’s not going to help you when you’re lost in the wilderness for four days, searching for a route back home.
IPX7 is a little more reliable and is up to 1 meter of submersion water resistant. This is ideal for the survivalist who might be catching trout from a flowing river. You can rest assured that if a flashlight of IPX7 is lost in the foliage at some point, it will survive the morning dew as well. This is a more reliable flashlight altogether. It will even survive the relentless spray of a fire hose if it happens to come into the direct line of fire. This is a much more reliable level of water resistance.
IPX8 is the most reliable water resistance level. If can be submerged in up to 1 meter of water for over four hours. This essentially makes it completely waterproof. The length of time in the water is not truly of concern, but the pressure created by the depth is. Spearfishing at 8 meters for 20 minutes would give the same results as 1 meter for 4 hours, and so a tactical flashlight with an IPX8 marking is going to be an extremely reliable flashlight in wet circumstances, such as a boat at rough sea.
Special Features and Options
Tactical flashlight brands will often come with a variety of special features and modifications, perhaps two or three, to suit your specific needs.
Light filters can be put over the top of the lens in order to change the coloring of the light beam. Changing the color of the light offers a different function depending on the color. For example, red is very useful for night vision, which would often be adopted by the military and SWAT teams advancing upon an enemy. Hunters tracking an animal over long distances through the night would also use night vision. Blue and yellow light filters are used a lot for tracking blood.
These colors will illuminate the red of blood in dark conditions, making it easier for hunters to track a wounded animal. Police may also adopt this method for tracking a wounded criminal who has been shot but escaped from a shoot out. Green is a very useful light filter that is often used by hunters.
Green will not frighten animals and so you can preserve your location and vantage point while maintaining a track on them. Green cannot be seen from peripheral vision either, which makes it useful for military purposes as well. Typically, only the best police flashlights will have these filters.
Dedicated RGB LEDs
Dedicated RGB LEDs can come built into the flashlight, as opposed to offering the same functions as above from a light filter. You may, for some reason, require that the light filter be incorporated into the flashlight, rather than attachable. The only downside to the dedicated RGB LEDs is that the level of brightness will not be the same as if from a light filter attached to the head of the camera. The advantage of dedicated RGB LEDs is that, because they’re incorporated into the flashlight, they won’t come lose in action and fall off, leaving you stranded.
Pocket or Belt Clips
Pocket or Belt Clips are useful for keeping your tactical flashlight in a convenient and easy to reach position. In any given situation you will need your flashlight at intermittent moments. You don’t want to be packing it into your rucksack or forcing it into your pocket every so often, only to need it again moments later. A pocket or belt clip eliminates this problem with a rather simple addition. Some flashlights have much better clips than other, like the Sunwayman Mr. Elfin M11R has a deeper pocket clip than most, which ensures that it is totally secure and won’t come loose when in a moment of high activity, such as crawling across the ground or down trenches.
Similarly, holsters offer you quick to reach positioning. These are more uniform and are frequently adopted by police forces. A holster will attach to the belt for easy access.
Strike Bezel (Self-Defense)
A strike bezel is a bezel designed with jagged edges made to hurt an attacked if struck with the flashlight. Some lights come with these built on, but generally they are something bought separately, as they turn the flashlight into a weapon, offered as a crenulated bezel add on. Usually they are advertised as a means of breaking windows in an emergency situation, such as those that a firefighter or police officer might find themselves in. police officers will frequently have a strike bezel to use for smashing windows or as a means of protection. For this reason, you need to be careful if confronted by security at an airport or elsewhere, as they may consider a strike bezel as a weapon.
Some lights come built specifically to be attached to a gun, while others will come with adaptors to attach them to a gun. Those made specifically to be attached to a gun will be much more secure with less movement. But a mounting bracket has a more versatile function and is ultimately cheaper. Mounting brackets are incredibly useful for hunters and police officers alike. A mounting bracket combined with a red light filter will make for optimum vision when tracking and aiming at an animal. Similarly it would be useful for police and military forces for maintaining aim on a target in dark conditions.
A pressure switch is another utensil for mounting to a weapon. Mounting your light to a weapon may require you to move the on/off switch to a different position. A lot of manufacturers will offer a pressure switch that replaces the tail switch of a flashlight with a pressure pad, allowing you to move the on/off switch to anywhere you want on the weapon. This is useful for long weapons like a rifle, so that you can keep the switch comfortably next to your hand as you aim. This means you don’t need to break your focus in a high pressure moment, such as taking aim on an animal when hunting, you covering a military or police partner as they enter dangerous territory.
A headlamp adapter is useful in a similar way to the mounting bracket or lanyard in that it allows you to keep your hands available when you need them free. Obviously these are most useful for small flashlights, as larger ones would be too heavy and fall out of place.Zebralight and Foursevens offer dynamic and versatile headlamp adaptors for many of their products. A headlamp adaptor basically gives you another option when you might need it most. Alternatively, many would put the flashlight between their teeth, but this significantly hinders your ability to communicate, which can be dangerous for both you and those around you, depending on the situation.
Knurling refers to the grip on the handle or body of the flashlight. Some prefer a smooth, ergonomic handle while others prefer the surface to be knurled for extra grip. Your preference should be based on the activity you are taking on and the environment in which you will find yourself. Wet conditions will favor a knurled handle for sure, as a smooth surface will become slippery when wet. But overall knurling really just comes down to personal preference and will not dramatically affect the light’s functioning.
photo credit flickr creative commons: brian.c