For a long time now, we have been bringing updates to LA and the world via the Internet on emergency situations and events. And now, as we shift our intentional focus towards self-defense and protection, whether it be tactical gear and equipment to health and wellness safety issues, one of the core messages we have today is about personal security and well-being.
As the new year is fully under way, we are witnessing a noticeable trend in the increasingly interested need for a tactical (professional use and strategic purpose) flashlight for self-defense military methods.
Finding The Best Tactical Flashlight for the Money
Tactical flashlights have taken the internet by storm in 2016, in case you haven’t noticed. As you may know, they are one of the few non-lethal tools being used by Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) units. Has the average consumer just become aware of this and hopes to gain some of the coolness inherent in being a SWAT officer, by owning one?
This might explain their recent popularity surge in part. There are, of course, other good reasons to owning one. But as cool and as practical it is to own a tactical flashlight, finding the right one online can be a daunting task due to the hundreds of models that are available on the market right now and they will continue to increase. This purpose of this guide is to simplify the buying process and make what would have been a time-consuming task, much quicker.
What Is A Tactical Flashlight?
The guide has been segmented by several headlines for convenience.
First, it’s important to be clear about what a tactical flashlight is.
A tactical flashlight differs from an ordinary flashlight in that it is bigger, heavier, capable of withstanding more abuse, and more powerful or able to deliver more light.
As an aside, ‘tactical’ has become a big internet buzzword that can frequently be seen in Google Trends. For this we can probably thank the frequency that SWAT, of which ‘tactics’ is a part, makes its appearance in the daily news. Traditionally however, ‘tactical’ is a military term used to refer to a specific plan that is part of a bigger objective. For example, an airstrike that provides cover for friendly fire could be referred to as ‘tactical’.
By now, you have probably formed an image of a tactical flashlight in your mind as being the military version of an ordinary flashlight. This is correct. Be aware, however, that many tactical flashlights that you can find when browsing onine marketplaces, such as Amazon, are not professional tools and do not meet the tough standards of the police or military.
When it comes to tactical flashlights, the price range to keep in mind is anywhere to $8 to $80 to $200 USD or more. Those above but near the $8-30 mark are considered low end tools while those just under and beyond the $600+ mark are considered high end. The X800 Flashlight from Shadowhawk Tactical has been one of the brightest selling taclights on the market to date boasting many benefits and overall functions in a handheld-sized flashlight.
It is highly unlikely to find a military-grade tactical flashlight under $80, or one that could be used by the police force, at least in the US. In all likelihood, anything under that price point is a high-powered ordinary flashlight in a military housing.
If you need a powerful flashlight, and do not care whether it looks like the ones carried by SWAT officers, you can find a high-quality one for a lot less than $80, and in that case you do not need to read any further.
Be aware that $200 is a convenient upper mark when it comes to explaining the average price range of tactical flashlights. It is by no means a benchmark or a guarantee of a great instrument. It is easy to find models that costs in excess of $2,000 and that can output an enormous quantity of visible light. But anything around $200 would meet most non-police and non-military requirements, often by a wide margin.
Your shopping journey starts with comparing the basics. But before comparing the basic characteristics of tactical flashlights, you have to know what those are:
Brand and Model – The brand is the manufacturer of the device and the model is the name of the product. If you see a name such as ‘SureFire XC1’, ‘Surefire’ refers to the manufacturer and ‘XC1’ is the specific product or model.
Brightness – This is measured in lumens. A lumen is a unit of brightness (more on that later). The total quantity that can be emitted by a tactical flashlight is measured in units of lumens.
Light – The technology of the core feature of the flashlight, the bulb, can be LED, Halogen or Zenon.
Lens – The lens of a tactical flashlight can influence the focus or shape of the beam, depending on how far you want it to shine.
Dimensions – These are the length, width, height and weight of a unit.
Price – As mentioned earlier, professional tactical flashlights will cost anywhere between $80 and $200. Anything over $200 is likely to have specialty features.
Features – Other features include laser emission, strobe light, shock absorption, mouting surfaces for attachment to other devices, shielding from the elements and much more.
Do you really need a military flashlight? This is the most legitimage question. For most needs, an ordinary flashlight will suffice. There are, however, situations when a tactical flashlight is more appropriate. You need one for emergency or survival situations, to illuminate your surroundings well when household flashlights fail, for finding objects across relatively long distances and for self-defense.
A good way to think of a military flashlight is as a non-lethal, defensive weapon. Unsurprisingly, that is the most commonly stated reason to buy one in advertizing. When the Tactical G700 Flashlight was released, for example, it was being marketed as a very effective weapon against terrorists and other criminals which may sound far-fetched until seeing what a high quality instrument can do. Those are areas where ordinary flashlights fall short.
You may never experience an extreme situation yet still find a tactical flashlight useful. Some of the more common applications include:
– Walking your dog late at night
– Living in a forested or other remote area
– Repelling undesirable wildlife during the dark
– Bliding an attacker.
Powerful flashlights have often proven to be effective weapons of self-defense. An attacker can be blinded and disabled. Being able to illuminate dark areas can make you feel safer and reduce the risk of accidents.
A military flashlight, like its household counterpart, is a simple device with few components. Although more expensive models may include modules not present in lower end models, the following parts can be found in all tactical flashlights:
– LED: This is short for Light Emitting Diode. It is the source of illumination and is located at the front of the flashlight, between the reflector and the lens.
– Lens and Reflector: These box the LED. The light from the LED can bounce between these two many times so that when it exits the lens, it is a lot brighter.
– Bezel: The slanting surface that surrounds the lens and joins it to the non-glass part of the flashlight.
– Head: The front part of the flashlight that contains the lens, reflector and bezel.
– Battery Compartment: The usually tubular part of the flashlight that contains the batteries.
– Attachment: This can be in the form of a pocket or keychain clip. It is for attaching the flashlight onto the owner.
– Tailcap: The rear part of the tactical flashlight, extending beyond the batteries area.
– Button or Switch: The feature that turns power on or off. It can be located at the head, middle or tailcap.
Certifications and Standards:
Before a tactical flashlight is released to the market, it has to undergo a standardization process. The resulting technical specification is called ANSI-NEMA FL-1 and its release date was August 18, 2009. Its purpose is to help consumers make level playing field comparisons between models by different manufacturers, otherwise it could be like comparing apples to oranges. The six criteria used are Light Output, Runtime, Peak Beam Intensity, Beam Distance, Water Resistance and Impact Resistance.
– Light Output: This is the total output in lumens that is measured by a concave sensor after 30 to 120 seconds, as this is time typically needed for an LED to reach its maximum performance.
– Runtime: The amount of time, in minutes, that the tactical flashlight is able to perform, starting from 30 seconds after it is turned on, until its output drops to 10% of the original brightness.
– Peak Beam Intensity: This is a reading of the brightest portion of the beam at distances of 2, 10 or 30 meters, and between 30 and 120 seconds after it is turned on. The reading is in units of lux, however, intensity is presented in units of candela (cd) which means flame. Candela is the product of lux times the square of the distance in meters.
– Beam Distance: The distance in meters at which the beam has an intensity of 0.25 lux. To get a sense of how bright this is, it is the approximate brightness of the full moon on a clear night.
– Water Resistance: Protection against water is an important capability since ingress of water and of other liquids can harm electric components. How protected a flashlight is, is specified by three levels of the IPX standard:
– IPX4: The device can withstand drops and splashing from any direction.
– IPX7: The device will still operate if immersed to a depth of 1 meter and for up to 30 minutes.
– IPX8: The device will not be affected by indefinite immersion in water, down to a depth of 3 meters.
Tactical flashlights sold with an IPX1 standard are not tactical and should be avoided. All an IPX1 certification guarantees is sound operation when small amounts of water are dripped vertically onto the device. This places severe limitations on how and where you can use such a flashlight. Even if it can output thousands of lumen, it is not worth your money.
Top 5 Priorities:
The information presented above can be difficult to deal with. We understand this and that is why we are going to narrow it down to 5 important points to keep in mind. Make sure you are cognizant of these 5 points before you make a buying decision!
– Budget: The “you get what you pay for rule” that applies to other product categories, applies to tactical flashlights as well. As a general rule, the higher the price, the higher the value, but there can be exceptions. Less than $80 will not buy you a flashlight of “tactical” quality. It is not a tool that would be used by SWAT and other teams trained to deal with exceptional situations. On the other hand, a price of over $200 is no guarantee of higher quality instrument either.
– Size: Pay attention to the dimensions and weight of the unit. Bigger and heavier does not always translate to sturdier. You also want your military flashlight to be practical for everyday uses while being easy enough to handle and maneuver during challenging circumstances.
– Power Source: Flashlights are portable devices that are intended to operate away from a source of electricity. This means, they run on batteries. The batteries that a flashlight can use can either be standard or specialized. Both have advantages. Standard batteries are the ones you can buy from a convenience store so they are easy to find and relatively inexpensive. Always choose rechargeable batteries. Specialty batteries can be ordered from the manufacturer or, in some cases, found in hardware stores, but they can output more power. So whatever you do, you are trading convenience for power or the reverse.
– Brightness: Earlier we said that price can define what is and isn’t a tactical flashlight. Brightness is another metric. Everything else being right, anything with a brightness of under 100 lumens cannot and should not be considered a tactical flashlight. So let that be a cutoff mark.
– Durability: Industrial and military flashlights are made of type III anodized hard aircraft grade aluminum which is the highest grade material. Those with shock-absorbent casing, IP7 and IP8 waterproofing and components that can withstand high temperatures are the flashlights that will last the longest, so is advisable that you invest in such products.
Tactical flashlights fall into three major design types, depending on design and intended usage. Those are:
– Handheld flashlights
– Weapon lights. These can be mounted on a gun or other firearm.
Some tactical flashlights are hybrid models. They can be transformed from one type into another and so be adapted to more than one application. Multi-use or hybrid flashlights are more desireable but, as would be expected, also more expensive.
The brightness of a flashlight can be expressed in several units, making it potentially confusing to someone who is unfamiliar with the topic. The more commonly encountered units are Lumen, Candela and Beam Distance. A brief description of each follows:
This is a unit derived from the International System of Units and is used to quantify what is called luminus flux. Luminus flux refers to the electromagnetic waves that are observable by the human eye. (Radiant flux refers to all electromagnetic waves, including ones that appear invisible such as infrared and ultraviolet). So the number of lumens refers to the total amount of visible light capable of being emitted out of some source. When a flashlight has a higher lumen, it has a more powerful LED and more powerful battery. Although the number of lumens is an important factor, it is overrated and can be misleading. For example, a flashlight can have a high lumens rating but because of how the lens and reflector are designed, it may only shine the beam to a short distance. You should always take lumens into account but not without Candela and Beam Distance, explained below.
Before proceeding to the other units, here is an introduction to popular lumens ratings:
– 1 to 14: Sufficient brightness to light a room. You can use a flashlight with this rating to walk from one room into another inside a dark house.
– 15 to 59: Sufficient brightness to illuminate fully a medium-sized room.
– 60 to 149: The level of brightness you need to walk outdoors. 100 lumens is sufficient to cause temporary blindness to an individual.
– 150 to 299: Enough brightness to fully light up a very large room or an entire backyard. When used outdoors, it will let you see quite far. It can cause temporary blindness to someone even when used in a lit, indoor environment.
– 300 to 699: The level of lighting that can illuminate a large outdoor area such as a campground and even a football field.
– 700+ : This level of brightness is usually unavailable to consumers. Typically it is what is used in search and rescue operations and by the police and military. Some of the more expensive tactical flashlights can reach 3,500 lumens but most flashlights never reach this level, even in burst mode.
With candela (cd), the brightness of the brightest point of a beam, on a surface, can be assessed. It is a base unit used to measure the luminous power per solid angle so it can vary according to the angle of a beam. Because of its dependency on the beam angle, it can vary quite a bit even when the lumens rating is quite high.
When the beam is concentrated, like that of a laser, candela is higher and less variable. When the beam is diffuse, or spreads out widely over distance, the candela reading will be lower.
– Beam Distance:
Whereas lumen and candela are semi-obscure quantities, that you have to spend time to get used to, beam distance is measured in “good ol” meters. It is simply the distance at which a light beam will have a brightness of 0.25 lux. ‘0.25 lux’ may sound like another obscure unit but it is the approximate amount of light being emitted by a full moon in ideal weather conditions. As you know, a light beam diffuses over distance. This means, the further you are from a light source, the less light your eyes will be able to capture as they look towards the source. So a high beam distance implies a good focused beam.
Hopefully, this has been sufficient to convince you that the number of lumens is not the only criterion to go by when shopping for a tactical flashlight. This is important to note because many manufacturers only state the lumens rating on the description page, thus misleading uninformed future consumers. Strictly speaking of brightness, although a high lumen rating is always desirable, it is of limited use when the candela is highly variable or when the beam distance is very short. Hopefully, this is clear by now.
Unsurprisingly, flashlights come in a variety of sizes. The size of a flashlight is largely judged by its length dimension. There are 5 categories to consider:
– Micro Flashlights: These are devices under 2 inches in length. Intended for fitting into a shirt pocket or attached to keychains, they typically run on CR2 or CR123A batteries.
– Mini Flashlights: They have lengths between 2 and 3 inches, making them slightly larger than micro flashlights. They form a separate category because this size makes them sufficiently large to house AA or AAA batteries. Although certain models, belonging to this category, are capable of over 250 lumens in brightness, due to their small size they do not qualify as tactical because, due to their small size, they are not an adequate striking tool.
– Small Flashlights: These range between 3 and 4 inches, making them not much longer than mini flashlights. The extra inch, however, allows for improved reflectors that often translate to beams with higher beam distance.
– Medium Flashlights: This size category includes flashlights between the 4 to 6 inches range. Here we are beginning to see the smallest tactical tools. At this size range, they can house two specialty batteries like the 18500 and 18650 which are particularly popular. As a result, they can output over 150 lumens, making them a valid defensive tool. As stated earlier, a brightness of over 150 lumens is sufficient to cause temporary blindness even inside a lit, indoor area.
– Large Flashlights: Those are flashlights with front-to-back length of over 6 inches. The larger they are, the more features they usually pack and the more effective they can be in situations where self-defense is called for.
A complete understanding of flashlights will not be possible without reference to the batteries they use. As stated earlier, military flashlights can use both off-the-shelf batteries and special purpose ones. Here is an act of sorting through the various types:
– Disposable Alkaline: These include batteries that can be found in household items stores. They come in sizes such as AAA, AA, C and D. As you might have guessed, they are designed to be desposed after a single use. They are not the most powerful batteries but their main advantage is that they are easy to find.
– Disposable Lithium: These too have a single lifetime and are designed to be desposed after one use. They have a shelf life of approximately 10 years and can output more power than their alkaline counterparts. Because of this, they are more popular for uses involving recreation and survival.
– Rechargable Cells: Lithium ion (Li-ion) rechargeable batteries can often be found inside tactical flashlights. They are specialized batteries that come in sizes of 18500, 18650 and RCR123A. Their main advantage is that they pack a lot of power for their size and that they are easy to recharge. On the downside, they can be expesive to replace and the charger may have to be ordered from the manufacturer.
– Integrated Rechargeable Pack: This is when the charger is built into the flashlight and the batteries recharge when the flashlight is plugged into a wall socket. Some models let you separate the rechargeable pack from the rest of the device, which is a convenient feature.
Flood versus Throw:
Once you begin searching for tactical flashlights on websites such as Amazon.com, sooner or later you will encounter the terms “flood” and “throw”.
When a flashlight has a good “flood”, it means that it can illuminate a large volume but its beam will not reach a long range. A good analogy is the incadescant light bulb.
Conversly, when a flashlight has a good “throw”, it will send its beam quite far but it does a poor job at illuminating an indoor area. Think of the laser beam analogy.
Flood and throw are determined by the the lens and reflectors of the flashlight, not its LED. Think of them as describing the focusing mechanism of a flashlight. People know that cameras have a focusing mechanim but do not realize that flashlights do also although in most cases it is not one that is variable and can be adjsted.
Should you buy a flood or a throw flashlight? It all depends on what you want to use it for. If you plan on illuminating large indoor volumes or pointing the beam to short ranges, then invest in a flood model. Buy a throw flashlight if you plan on using it as a searchlight in outdoor environments or as a defensive weapon. Remember, these have a long range and an intense focus.
Luckily, you can find flashlights capable of both flood and throw, and that allow you to switch between the two beam modes. Understandibly, they are usually pricier.
As mentioned earlier, the switch is one of the basic components and all flashlights have one. It is the feature that lets the user turn the flashlight on or off, and is an important element of the design. Tactical flashlights can have one of the following three types of switches:
– Head or Tail Twist: This switch type is common on smaller models because it takes up no space. It works by twisting the head or tail component. Twisting changes the internal electrical conductivity, thus the flashlight is able to power itself on or off.
– Tail Switch: This is probably the most popular switch design. The button is located at the bottom of the flashlight allowing for a tight, unencumbered grip where it’s impossible to accidentally flick the switch off. If you plan on using your tactical flashlight as a defensive weapon, look for this design. Tail switches are also present on models that can attach to a firearm or other device.
– Body Switch: This too is a popular switch design because it permits greater flexibility on how a flashlight can be gripped, compared to the other two design types.
All flashlights have an On or Off mode. Many flashlights, especially tactical ones, come with additional modes. Higher end models can have 4 or 5 different light modes although rarely will the average user use all of them. Unless you have a very specific use in mind for the flashlight you plan on buying, find one that has multiple light modes because you never know when the one you think is least useful might be of service. Here is a brief rundown on flashlight light modes:
– On or Off: All flashlights can be turned on or off and so have this mode.
– Low, Medium or High: Many tactical flashlights can offer low, medium or high brightness, depending on the situation. Low might be suitable when you want to illuminate a small area and you want to conserve battery. Certain tactical flashlights offer as many as 10 intermediate steps in between Low and High, letting you finetune brightness to any desired level.
– Strobe: When this mode is enabled, quick, repeated alternations between the off and on states ensue. The objective is to disorient and throw off any attacker which can be human or animal. So the application of this mode is purely for defensive purposes. This is the most battery demanding mode of all. Professional tactical flashlights, as those used by police officers, always include this mode.
– SOS: Some tactical flashlights can produce the Morse code of an SOS signal, repeatedly. This, of course, would come in handy during an emergency. If you do camping or hicking, ensure that the tactical flashlight you plan on buying has this capability.
– Beacon: This can also be called lighthouse mode. When this mode is enabled, the device will blink at full brightness every few seconds. So its frequency is lower than both the Strobe and SOS modes. The most sensible application of this mode is search and rescue operations. If that’s what you do, make sure that the tactical flashlight you plan on buying offers this mode.
The housing, or the enclosure that contains and protects the electric components, can be made of four common types. Those are plastic, aluminum, stainless steel and titanium. Each type is briefly addressed:
– Plastics: You will not find police or military-grade flashlights using plastics even though certain plastics derivatives can be quite durable and resistant to wear and tear. It is, however, possible to find high-quality flashlights, some tactical but for civilian uses, made of high quality and lightweight plastics and composites. Pelican is a well-known manufacturer of such models.
– Aluminum: Anodized aluminum is the most common material used in tactical flashlights. If you see type II or type III (hard anodized), those refer to durability and resistance against damage or deprecation. Type III is superior to type II, though it is usually more expensive.
– Stainless Steel: Although stainless steel is stronger and more durable, it also adds weight. Weight is usually a factor you can brush off as relatively unimportant because even the heaviest models are easy to maneuver by an adult human without stress or fatigue. But if you plan on carrying a tactical flashlight in your backpack, be aware that the effect of extra weight can add up over time.
– Titanium: Out of all the materials mentioned, titanium is the best because it has the tenacity of steel but the lightness of aluminum. So what’s the catch? Unfortunately, titanium is very expensive.
Most Popular Tactical Flashlights:
Here is the top 10 tactical flashlights list as of February 2016. Since the industry is rapidly evolving, the list will quickly change. A best way to find the top 10 or top 5 or top 20 list at any given time is by heading over to Amazon.com, entering the word “tactical flashlight” with or without the quotation marks, clicking Search and then filtering the results by Price and by Customer Reviews. Choose 4 stars and up for customer reviews and between $80 and $200 for price, although you can always enter a higher upper limit.
- ShadowHawk X800
- Streamlight 88040 ProTAC HL
- Streamlight 69260 TLR-1
- G700 Lumitact Flashlight
- Vizeri Focusing (Military Grade)
- SOLORAY PRO ZX-1
- OxyLED MD20 LED
- Helotex G2
- Surefie G2X
- Nitecore EC4S 2150
- LightStrike 360
- UltraFire WF502B CREE 56 XM-L
- Streamlight 88031 Protac PT 2L
Thanks to the frequency that SWAT teams, and other special weapons units, are presented in movies and the media, the popularity of tactical flashlights has skyrocketed in recent times. 2016 may justifiably be called the Year Of The Tactical Flashlight. Tactical flashlights are large, solid, robust and attractive. We would suggest further reading on TacticalPractical.com’s tactical flashlight guide as well.
Not only that, they pack sets of features that are simply not available in conventional flashlights. The vast majority of consumers would be happy to replace their wimpy-looking household flashlight with one that is used by the police or military.
Not only do they boost self image, they are also powerful weapons of defense. The barrier that prevents most hypothetical buyers from buying one is not knowing how to start. You need a step-by-step guide to help you through what can be a time-consuming and energy-draining process. This was the objective of this guide and, hopefully, it has achieved its objective.