If you are currently in the market for a tactical flashlight, you may already know that the number of available options is virtually limitless. But do you know what to look for in a tactical flashlight? Do you know what a flashlight like this can be used for—and how you plan to use it? If not, the following article may be able to help. Below we will briefly define the term “tactical flashlight” and highlight its many potential uses. We will then outline the various characteristics and factors you should consider when purchasing a tactical flashlight for personal use.
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What Is A Tactical Flashlight?
A tactical flashlight is a tool that was originally developed to be used by law enforcement and military personnel—a tool to light the way when using a firearm. And while tactical flashlights still serve this very important function each and every day throughout the country, they have now evolved into Every Day Carry (EDC) items for individuals interested in self-defense and home protection, for camping, hunting and outdoor enthusiasts, and more.
A tactical flashlight has a much different purpose than that old incandescent flashlight you use to keep in the kitchen drawer for low-light situations and emergencies. They are also a step up from the once-popular Maglite that debuted in the 1980s. Instead of being made from cheap plastic—or from the heavy steel once used to make Maglites—tactical flashlights are typically constructed of lightweight, aerospace-grade aluminum that is very strong. They are guaranteed to resist high-impact stress because they were originally designed for use in very high-stress situations, many involving weapon fire. They are also typically waterproof or at least water resistant, meaning they can be used in most any type of weather situation without shorting out.
Tactical flashlights generally have textured grips for easy gripping and handling. They are also roll proof, which means they are built in such a way to prevent them from rolling should the flashlight be set down or dropped during the course of use. Unlike the old Maglites, which were large and very heavy, tactical flashlights are generally smaller and lighter (thanks to their aluminum construction), with some even small enough to fit into the operator’s coat or pants pocket.
Quite unlike the old kitchen drawer flashlight, which could barely muster up enough light to help the user confidently walk in the dark; tactical flashlights produce a very wide and bright beam of light—a beam of light that can light up a target from several yards away. Tactical flashlights are equipped with long-lasting LED lights that burn brighter and longer than any incandescent bulb, ensuring it is always ready to use any time you need it.
For all of these reasons, many people, even people outside of the fields of military and law enforcement, prefer to carry or keep their tactical flashlight with them at all times, largely for the wide assortment of functions it can serve and for the benefits it can offer. For instance, a tactical flashlight is good for:
- Emergencies. Emergencies can happen anywhere and at any time. For example, during a storm—or when an accident occurs—that knocks out power to your house, there is no better tool than a tactical flashlight. Not only can a tactical flashlight help light up the room, it can be used to check fuse boxes, gas lines, etc. without having to squint and potentially make a mistake. And should you encounter a flat tire or car trouble in the middle of nowhere—with no light to be seen for miles—a tactical flashlight can literally save the day. Also in outdoor hiking and backpacking emergencies—such as being lost in the wilderness—the bright beam of a tactical flashlight means it can be used as a signaling device, potentially helping rescuers locate your position.
- Identifying threats. What’s that up ahead? Can you see it? Should you be concerned with it? These are questions you can easily answer with the help of a tactical flashlight. Tactical flashlights are great for those who run or walk in the pre-dawn hours of the morning, giving them the confidence and peace of mind that comes with a fully lighted path. Tactical flashlights are also great for those who leave work, the gym or anyplace else after dark. With the help of the tactical flashlight’s bright beam, these people can check in and around their vehicles for suspicious people and items—and do it from a safe distance.
- Self-Defense. According to law enforcement experts, the tactical flashlight is quite possibly the best self-defense weapon someone can have in their arsenal. For starters, the tactical flashlight has a VERY bright beam—and by VERY bright we mean almost blinding bright. Because of this, the tool can be shined in a potential assailant’s eyes to blind and disorient him, giving you just enough time to flee the situation or get into a more favorable position to fight back. Although tactical flashlights are not quite as heavy as the old Maglites, they are still heavy enough to do some damage when cracked over an attacker’s head, and their soft, textured grip makes it difficult for a would-be attacker to wrestle the flashlight away from you. Add to this the beveled edges that most tactical flashlights boast and you have a well-rounded, non-lethal self-defense weapon.
- Everyday Tasks. In the same manner we once used our old kitchen-drawer flashlight, we can use a tactical flashlight—and with better results. Lost the remote under the couch? Reach for your tactical flashlight. Looking for the popcorn in the dark pantry? Reach again. In other words, the tactical flashlight has a limitless number of uses.
How to Choose the Right Tactical Flashlight
As we pointed out in the introduction, there are many different brands of tactical flashlights. They are available in a number of shapes and sizes, beam strengths and more. So what exactly should you look for when purchasing a tactical flashlight? Here we will discuss this question in some detail, highlighting the different features and functions in tactical flashlights that you should always consider.
Tactical flashlights have surged in popularity in recent years, largely due to the above-mentioned benefits they offer to the user. Tactical flashlights not only offer the strongest and brightest beam available in a portable device, they also benefit users when dexterity and precision in controlling the light is important—such as when the flashlight is used to light up a target when used in conjunction with a weapon; or even when you are changing a spark plug in your car. Moreover, the fact that tactical flashlights are built with anti-roll apparatus means the user can confidently set the light down when working on a task, and be sure that the flashlight will still be there when it is once again needed.
Major advances in Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology and battery efficiency have resulted in flashlights that are lighter, brighter and smaller than most of their predecessors. With that in mind, there are several key aspects you will want to compare when selecting a tactical flashlight for your personal use. These factors/characteristics include, but are not limited to light output, battery type, battery run time, size, weight, price, and more.
Today’s tactical flashlights range in price from about $30 to over $200. These varying models—with wide differences in their price—may all look the same from the outside—they may even be the same size and weight—but there are some major differences that might make one flashlight pricier than another. One of these is of course the amount of light that is produced, but they also may vary in terms of the type of bulb used, the battery type, its average run time and the basic circuit technology of each tactical flashlight. Naturally, a feature such as a rechargeable battery can make one product pricier than the next, but there are also other things to consider, such as impact and water resistance, effective heat dissipation (how hot the light gets) and multiple lighting modes.
In the section below we will cover several different factors and characteristics regarding tactical flashlights and their overall performance. These different elements can serve as a blueprint when you ultimately head out to shop for your own tactical flashlight—and will help you ask all the right questions when dealing with the sales associate.
Things to Look for in a Tactical Flashlight
When you head out to shop for your tactical flashlight, there are many things you should look for and consider. Some of these include:
The Light Output
The light output of a tactical flashlight is measured in lumens. By definition, lumen is a measure of the intensity of light emitting from the tactical flashlight. The light output or lumens of a flashlight range from 20 lumens (great for tying your shoe in the dark) to a whopping 3,500 lumens—for those looking to light up an entire city block. Keep in mind that the lumen measure that is printed on the box of your tactical flashlight assumes the flashlight is set to the highest setting, with brand new batteries. In other words, as the batteries get low, so does the amount of light that is produced.
Although the “lumen” measure can give you a pretty good idea of how your tactical flashlight will perform from a light output standpoint, there are also other features to consider, such as the beam type and distance, both of which can change the way the tactical flashlight performs.
Light or Beam Distance
In compiling data on tactical flashlights, rating agencies look at a variety of factors. One of these factors is light distance or “beam distance.” Beam distance, which is typically measured in meters rather than yards, is a measure of “how far the light will shine before the brightness of that light diminishes to the equivalent of the light from a full moon.” Of course, this measure will vary depending on the brightness setting used. And although this may sound like a rather odd way to look at light output, it makes sense when you think that a full moon usually produces enough light to travel safely outdoors after dark.
Another light output measurement that you should definitely consider when shopping for a tactical flashlight is “beam type.” Every tactical flashlight has a lens reflector surrounding the bulb. This lens reflector influences the manner in which the light is dispersed or shined. There are three common beam types available for tactical flashlights. They include:
- Flood Light. A flood light, also known as a fixed light, is characterized by a single beam width. This type of light is great for tasks such as walking after dark or preparing S’mores around the campfire.
- Spot Light. Also known as a “focused light,” a spot light is also a single beam of light, only this type is condensed into a spotlight to penetrate a long distance. Often used by police officers when searching for suspects in the dark, this type of light is great for seeing things at a distance—such as the next path up ahead—or for lighting up the campfire stage for songs and skits.
- Adjustable. With an adjustable light, the beam width ranges from wide to focused to any point in between. This is perhaps the best type of tactical flashlight to possess for switching back and forth between different activities.
The measurement of run time in a tactical flashlight is basically a cross between the light output and the battery. Measured in hours, the run time can be defined as “how long it takes the light output to drop to 10% of the rated output on new batteries, rounded to the nearest quarter hour.” Measuring run time can be tricky at times, because light output can diminish in one of two ways: it can gradually decrease over time; or it can remain basically constant and then suddenly decrease. When measuring the run time for a tactical flashlight, a number is usually given for each light setting (low, high, etc.). Be sure to ask your salesman if they have run time graphs available for each model you are considering purchasing, as this is usually the best way to view this measurement.
The impact resistance of a tactical flashlight is measured by the rating agencies in terms of meters. In determining the level of impact resistance, the flashlights are dropped six times onto the concrete from various distances, and then rated for the way they are able to withstand those drops—for their ability to remain functional after occasional accidental drops. It is important to note that impact resistance is not an indicator of how a flashlight will hold up if it is smashed with a heavy object, smashed onto a heavy object, or run over by a vehicle of some type. However, a higher impact resistance does indicate that one flashlight may be more durable than another.
Tactical flashlights may regularly have to be used in harsh conditions—in the rain, in the snow, or when working around large bodies of water. Hence, they are typically rated for water resistance. Rating agencies testing for the water resistance of tactical flashlights use the IPX System. This system is a combination of impact and water resistance, in that it takes into account the damage water could potentially have on a tactical flashlight based on its impact resistance rating. Naturally, a flashlight with a low impact resistance rating may be more susceptible to water after being dropped, especially if the body of the flashlight is not fully intact. Under the IPX water resistance system, tactical flashlights can receive one of three general ratings:
- IPX4 Rating. The lowest of the water resistance ratings, IPX4 means a tactical flashlight is splash resistant from all angles—after the impact test has been applied. They can usually be used in the rain, but perhaps not for long periods of time.
- IPX7 Rating. Also conducted after the impact test, a rating of IPX7 means a tactical flashlight can withstand up to 30 minutes of temporary water submersion at a depth not to exceed 1 meter.
- IPX8 Rating. The granddaddy of all the water resistance ratings, an IPX8 Rating implies that a tactical flashlight can withstand up to 4 hours of submersion at the same depth, after being dropped, and still remain functional once the light has been retrieved and turned back on.
Between a tactical flashlight’s impact and water resistance ratings, you can get a pretty good idea of a flashlight’s durability. We recommend you choose a flashlight with at least a mid-range rating in both of these rating categories. This may cause you to spend a bit more money, but at least you will be sure to have a long-lasting flashlight that you won’t have to soon replace.
Although the old incandescent bulbs still exist, we highly recommend you opt for a flashlight with an LED bulb. Not only do these bulbs last significantly longer than the older-style bulbs, they also produce a brighter and more efficient light. Fortunately, nearly all of the tactical flashlights available today have switched to the newer style of LED bulbs.
The output of your tactical flashlight can be regulated or unregulated. Here is the difference between the two different types of output:
- Regulated Output. Tactical flashlights with a regulated power supply maintain a consistent, near-peak brightness level throughout the lifecycle of the battery you use. With regulated output you will be able to use your flashlight for all of its intended purposes without worrying about losing brightness along the way.
- Unregulated Output. Unregulated tactical flashlights start very bright, and then they progressively grow dimmer as the power of the batteries fade. This only allows you to enjoy the peak brightness of the flashlight for a very short time.
For this category, we strongly recommend you opt for a flashlight with a regulated output, enabling you to reap the benefits of the flashlight for the entire lifespan of the batteries.
Advancements in battery technology have made tactical flashlights last much longer than they did just a decade or so ago. Today there are many different types of batteries from which you can choose to power your flashlight, including:
- Disposable. Disposable batteries, usually AAA and AA size batteries are still a good choice for tactical flashlights. These batteries are both affordable and easy to find.
- Rechargeable batteries. Rechargeable batteries can be an affordable option over time, even if they do cost more on the front end. However, their usefulness is limited to some type of power supply, either through a direct electrical connection or USB cable.
- Renewable batteries. Solar batteries and those that can be renewed with a hand crank are great options for an emergency kit.
In addition to all of the categories outlined above, you should also do/consider all of the following when shopping for a tactical flashlight in person:
- Pick up the flashlight and see how it turns on/off. Could the power switch be inadvertently switched on inside your backpack or bug out bag? Can it be turned on using gloves in cold conditions?
- Is it rugged and/or light enough for your needs?
- Can it fit into your pocket?
- How does it feel in your hand?
- Are the batteries easy to access/change
By carefully considering all of these categories, while simultaneously considering how you will primarily use your tactical flashlight, you can make an educated purchasing decision and find a tactical flashlight you can use for many years to come.
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