The phrase ‘tactical flashlight’ gets used a lot, but can be confusing for people unfamiliar with the terminology. Strictly speaking, tactical flashlights are used along with a firearm in order to aid low-light target identification.
This allows the marksman to aim and illuminate his target simultaneously. A tactical light can either be mounted onto a weapon or hand-held.
However, some people also use ‘tactical flashlight’ to mean any type of flashlight suitable for use in a combat or confrontational situation. Here, the flashlight might be used as s baton, for example. But tactical lights can also be used as a method of non-lethal force as they can disorientate one’s target.
Tactical flashlights have a tendency to be expensive. This is because they have much higher quality standards and are built with better materials than other flashlights. Most are manufactured using aircraft grade aluminum, are shock proof so they can be mounted to weapons, they have some level of waterproofing, and they are small. They are very durable. Tactical flashlights start out at $25-$30, but can run to many hundreds of dollars.
When buying a tactical flashlight, size and weight have to be taken into consideration as it has to be able to be carried around with you. Also, in terms of defence, roughly 100 lumens are needed to cause temporary blindness, dependent on how far away your target is and how tightly the beam is focused. Whether a tactical light is waterproof and how waterproof it is should also be taken into consideration when looking to purchase one. Be aware that some weapon mounted lights are specific to particular firearm models
Tactical lights tend to be shock-resistant, reliable, lightweight and with a high light intensity. Some tactical lights can have filters that produce colored light or emit infrared radiation.
Handheld Tactical Flashlights
Handheld lights are mostly restricted to use with handguns. Almost any handheld flashlight can be used as a tactical light, however, some features are more adapted to the role.
While holding a gun in one hand, the flashlight can either be held parallel to the gun in the other to provide support, or it can be held to the side and act as a false target to a potential assailant. Since the light is not attached to the weapon, it is far more versatile.
A flashlight that has been designed as a handheld tactical flashlight will have been designed in a way that makes it easy to use with a handgun. Some models have a ring designed to fit through fingers, meaning that one can grip their gun with both hands. The switch on these types of flashlights is controlled by pulling back the ring. Some flashlights have a momentary on switch so that the light can be turned off quickly.
Weapon-mounted Tactical Flashlights
The bulbs used in early flashlights were unable to withstand the acceleration of firearm recoil. In 1912 a patent was issued in the United States for a night sight for firearms demonstrated on a revolver with a bulb mounted in a shock absorber below the barrel. The grip had been modified to hold a battery and included a pressure switch.
Weapon-mounted tactical lights are usually seen on shotguns, rifles and submachine guns. They leave the operator free to use both hands to control the weapon. The on/off switch is mounted within easy reach on the weapon.
These lights are more expensive than hand held lights as they must be extra durable in order to withstand firearm recoil. A disadvantage of the weapon-mounted light is that it can only aim parallel to the bore. A little more research than normal is needed to find the best tactical flashlight for the money, and you may be limited in terms of what can fit onto your weapon.
Get a FREE tactical flashlight
Our friends at SurvivalLife.com are currently giving away a free $25 Hybeam Tactical Flashlight – you just have to pay for shipping. The other good news is that it also comes with a free Ultimate Survival Skills book and a two-hour Survival Course.
Our recommended tactical flashlights
At an eye-watering 960 lumens max power output, the PD35 provides a stunning amount of illumination in a compact package.
Five modes will run from just one hour 10 minutes in turbo mode, right through to 150 hours in the economy mode (14 lumens). There’s also a strobe mode, which operates at the maximum 960 lumens.
Digitally-regulated output means the flashlight maintains constant brightness, and a low-voltage warning reminds you when it’s time to replace the batteries, which can be either one 18650 rechargeable or two CR123As.
At 5.5 inches long and three ounces without batteries, the PD35 is, for now, our must-buy tactical flashlight.
Amazon buyer rating: 4.9 out of 5.
Olight M18 Maverick
The M18 Maverick ticks all the boxes in terms of being small, light, and very, very tough. And with 500 lumens, it’s got plenty of power too.
The stainless steel crenelated bezel not only looks extremely cool but would be very practical in close-up combat.
The M18 has a tail switch to turn the unit on and off, with a side switch to change the output level. This is memorized on turn-off, so the flashlight will come back on to the same power level – a very nice touch. It also has SOS and strobe modes.
It’s powered by two CR123A batteries, or one 18650 rechargeable, and comes with a glow-in-the-dark ring under the bezel in case you drop it in the dark.
At a shade over two ounces (without batteries) and just five inches long, the M18 is small enough and light enough to go everywhere with you. And tough enough to do whatever you ask of it.
Amazon buyer rating: 4.3 out of 5.
Streamlight 88031 ProTac 2L
At ‘only’ 260 lumens, the output of the ProTac 2L doesn’t match up to the M18, but the build quality and reputation of Streamlight makes up for that for many users.
The company manufactured its ProTac line with the needs of law enforcement officers in mind, resulting in a range that’s highly-regarded and highly-adaptable. For example, the unit is programmable to allow the switch to select one of three different programs.
The ProTac 2L is powered by two CR123A batteries, which provide a run-time of three hours on high mode and 50 hours on low power (13 lumens). There’s also a strobe mode which can run for six hours.
Weighing 2.8 ounces with batteries, and having a length of 4.8 inches, the 2L is made from anodized aluminum and is rated IPX7 for waterproof operation at one meter for 30 minutes. It’s also tested for two-meter impact resistance and had an unbreakable pocket clip and an anti-roll head.
Amazon buyer rating: 4.6 out of 5.