Tactical flashlights are very popular in 2016. Online retailers and other outlets are reporting record sales due to the recent release of military-level tactical technology and engineering encasings.
However, buying one can be a daunting task due to the large number of models that have become released on the market in recent years. As we continue to shift our focus at MTEA, our goal is to give you the guideline on the best of the best when it comes to the crazed combination of tactical technology and LED lighting.
If you are a first time buyer and you are looking for a guide that can help you find the model that best meets your requirements, then you have landed in the right place. So read on…
Tactical flashlights are military quality flashlights. They can create dangerously bright beams and can emit light in several modes such as low, medium, high, SOS and strobe. They can also be mounted on a firearm which is how they got to be called tactical. In addition to illuminating spaces, they are great as emergency lights and can be used as non-lethal weapons of self-defense.
There are many ways to compare tactical flashlights and in this section we will cover the various features and military-grade specifications. Make sure you familiarize yourself with this section as it will equip you with the needed information for making a wise shopping decision.
The light coming out of the front end of a flashlight is measured in units called lumens. A high lumens number means a flashlight with a powerful LED and a powerful battery. Although a high rating is useful, it is not the only factor that should affect your buying decision. Popular lumen categories include:
– 1 to 59 lumens: The typical output of a general purpose LED flashlight. It is the level of lighting you need to illuminate an indoor space such as your room.
– 60 to 149 lumens: The typical output of a mid-range LED flashlight. This is the level of power you want to conduct a search in your backyard or when you walk a short distance in your neighborhood during a power outage during darkness. 100 lumens is sufficient to cause temporary blindness.
– 150 to 299 lumens: The output of a moderately high output LED flashlight. It can illuminate a much larger space, such as an auditorium, or a backyard. This rating can cause temporary blindness even in bright conditions.
– 300 to 499 lumens: The output of a high output LED flashlight. This is sufficient brightness to illuminate a campground and even a football field. It can cause permanent eye damage.
– 500+ lumens: This is the output of ultra high LED flashlights. This level of brightness is generally off limits to the commercial sector. It is used by the military, police and units that specialize in search and rescue operations. Although certain expensive LED flashlights come close to 3,500 lumens, most professional models have much lower ratings.
The peak beam intensity represents the brightness of the brightest point of the beam as perceived by the human eye. It is measured in candela or the unit for luminous intensity. Because our perception of brightness has the shape of a bell curve, for a light to appear twice as bright as another, its beam intensity has to be 4 times as high. For this reason, a flashlight’s beam intensity depends on the structure of the beam, in other words, how it is focused by the lens and the reflector.
This is a measurement in meters that represents the distance at which a beam will drop to a level of 0.25 lux or the quantify of light being emitted by the full moon on a clear night. This quantity depends on the LED and also the reflector.
This is a ratio that is expressed as Candela/Lumen. Understanding what this means, can help you find the flashlight with the right beam.
– < 15 cd/lm: The beam is wide due to shallow reflectors and is best suited for indoor uses. – 15 to 100 cd/lm: The beam is somewhat more focused due to shallow smooth reflectors, textured reflectors or TIR optics. – > 100 cl/lm: The beam is very focused, producing a small bright spot, and is suitable for illuminating distant objects outdoors. It is achieved by deep smooth reflectors or total internal reflection optics.
The performance of the battery affects greatly the performance of the tactical flashlight. Picking the right flashlight, means picking the right battery. The right battery can also lower the operating cost. Rechargeable batteries are always preferable to dispolable ones. Here are the main types:
– AA/AAA: Many general-purpose flashlights use these. The main advantage is their low cost and that they can be bought from a supermarket.
– C/D: These are larger and heavier than the above category but offer similar performance. They usually power older models. Their popularity is in decline.
– 18500, 18650 and RCR123A: Made of lithium ion (Li-ion) and being fully rechargeable, these are best suited for tactical flashlights. Although about half the size of alkaline batteries, they have twice the voltage. They are capable of great power output and can be recharged through conventional electrical sources.
– Proprietary: Certain flashlights, tactical ones included, use battery packs that are built directly into the flashlight but that can also be removed and plugged into a wall socket.
This refers to the length of time that the tactical flashlight can perform. It depends not only on the type of battery but also on other factors such as operating mode (brightness level, strobe, SOS, etc) and whether the design is power efficient.
– < 1 hour: For flashlights that use capacitors instead of batteries. – 1 to 5 hours: Usually the runtime of tactical and military-grade flashlights which have a runtime of 1 to 2 hours. Step-down regulation can extend it up to 5 hours. – > 5 hours: Flashlights that can accommodate larger batteries, extending runtime.
Dimensions and Weight
Flashlights can be categorized as small, medium or large. The size is usually assessed based on the length dimension. Common sizes are listed below:
– Mini and Small: These range between 2 and 4 inches long. They are easy to carry. Not all of them in this size category can be actical because the smaller ones are not suitable as striking tools. There are small tactical flashlights that can output as much as 250 lumens.
– Tactical: Their length is between 4 and 6 inches. Many house two specialty batteries of type 18500 or 186500. Flashlights in this size range are considered effective defensive weapons.
– Medium-sized: These are 6 to 10 inches in length. They are often carried in a belt hoister and often include two switches, one in the head and the other in the tail.
– Full-sized: These are over 10 inches long. Flashlights of this size are usually operated using a head switch and are best carried in a belt loop. The larger the flashlight, the more effective it can be for self-defense. Portability becomes an issue with large flashlights.
For many flashlights the lens is made of specialty material. Its proprties play a role in the shape and quality of the beam. There are 4 main types…
– Plastic: Undesireable as it is prone to scratching and can introduce artifacts.
– Anti-Scratch Coated Polycarbonate: This is a plastic derivative that is unbreakable and scratch-resistant.
– Borofloat Glass: This is high quality glass that is highly transparent and can withstand high temperatures.
– Anti-Reflective Coated Glass: It provides the least resistance to the passage of light but the anti-reflective coating can be scratched.
The bezel is the outside rim that surrounds the lens and joins it to the body. There are two bezel designs.
– Flat: This is when the surface feels flat and seamless.
– Crenelations: Designed to let light escape through the bezel when the flashlight faces down on a flat surface so that the user is alerted.
The body of tactical flashlights can be made from a variety of materials that include plastics, aluminum, stainless steel and titanium. Each of them are discussed briefly:
– Plastics: Police-grade tactical flashlights rarely use a plastic housing. However, polymer is lightweight and durable. Some brands, like Pelican, are well known for their lightweight polymer flashlights.
– Anodized Aluminum Type II: A finish for an aluminum flashlight that is less durable than Type III.
– Anodized Aluminum Type III: A finish for aluminum flashlights. It is more resistant and durable but also more expensive.
– Stainless Steel: It is strong and durable but it also adds weight to the tactical flashlight, thus limiting portability.
– Titanium: This metal has the lightness of aluminum and the strength of steel. Its main disadvantage is that is it considerably more expensive.
The switch lets you turn a flashlight on or off. Although it is a simple component, understanding switch types can help your buying decisions.
– Twist: This type is more common in small-sized flashlights. It does not take up any space because it involves twisting the tail or head component.
– Head Switch: This is more common on large-sized flashlights where the grip is mid-body.
– Body Switch: This is a popular design found on military and police-quality flashlights. The placement allows specialized grips that are not possible on other designs.
– Tail Switch: Most commonly found on tactical flashlights. The placement is behind the grip where it is least likely to be touched by accident during a confrontation. Thus, it is good for self-defense. Its location also makes it easier to access when the flashlight is mounted on a firearm.
Tactical flashlights come with more than one brightness modes. More expensive flashlights usually offer more modes. You may not find all the modes useful but it is good to have them on your flashlight.
– On and Off: All flashlights have this mode.
– Multi-Mode: Many tactical flashlights offer low, medium and high brightness levels. Some offer as many as 10 levels of brightness. The idea is to not output more light than is needed and to conserve battery power. Why use full brightness to illuminate a small room?
– Strobe: This is quick on and off flashing. Its application is for self-defense and the idea is to disorient and disable an attacker. Military personnel and police officers often rely on this mode when self defense is needed so the Strobe mode is present in professional tactical flashlights.
– SOS: This is a morse code signal programmed into many tactical flashlights. It can indicate danger or emergency.
– Programmable Functions: Some flashlights let the user change a particular sequence or program his or her own pattern.
A tactical flashlight will carry one of three levels of water resistance. Those are code named IPX4, IPX7 and IPX8. IPX is an ANSI (American National Standards Institute) certificate where the higher the final number, the greater the water resistance.
– IPX4: A flashlight is water resistant. It has been tested under splashing water so that when water splashes from any direction, it will not harm the internal components.
– IPX7: A flashlight is water proof. When a unit is submersed in no less than 15 centimeters of water and in no more than 1 meter water (whichever is deeper) for up to 30 minutes, any incursion of water will not cause damage to the internal components.
– IPX8: A flashlight is submersible. It can operate indefinitely if submersed down to a maximum depth of 3 meters.
This is a legally binding assurance by the manufacturer that they will repair or refund the product as long as the device has not been altered or damaged by accidental means, such as a drop from a cliff.
– 3 to 5 year: Offered by some manufacturers.
– Lifetime: Offered by most flashlight manufacturers. Obviously, this is more desireable. It also indicates that the company has confidence in its products and backs them up.
Price can be thought of as a feature and might have been included in the above list. But it is a topic in and of itself so it deserves its own section.
As a general rule, anything under $80 is probably not a police quality or military quality flashlight. There are many flashlights with a military-looking exterior that are marketed as tactical but if they are under $80, odds are they are wannabies and not the real thing. Not the tools that could be used by police officers or military personnel. So $80 should be seen as the cut off point below which lie all non-tactical flashlights and above which can be found the tactical instruments.
If you don’t need a real tactical flashlight, and looks are not important, you can find a decent one for as little as $20. However, much like the Shadowhawk Tactical X800 we mentioned earlier, military-grade tactical flashlights such as the G700 can be priced almost $60+ with shipping unless you buy bulk online.
Tactical flashlights that cost more than $200 generally have a high performance LED, TIR lens that can vary the beam shape for close- to longer-range uses, high-strength housing that is both shock absorbent, drop resistant and all weather, and a T-slot mounted system for solid installation to firearms. Multiple levels of brightness, strobe and SOS modes are also likely to be found in more expensive models.
Common accessories include batteries, AC adapter, DC charger, carrying case and shoulder strap.
Now that you know about the features and price range of tactical flashlights, it is time to look at another important factor on which to base your buying decision, and that is customer ratings.
Although customer ratings are not scientific, they are extremely valuable because they offer insights into a product from the perspective of a user. If you want to know the truth about a product, you are more likely to learn it from the tesimonials of other users than from reading the specs of the manufacturer and other technical documents.
To find plenty of customer ratings and reviews, head over to Amazon.com, search for “tactical flashlight” and learn how to use the left sidebar. It lets you limit the search results using various criteria. The ones you are interested in are ‘Average Customer Review’ and ‘Price’. For the first one choose 4 stars and for the second one select $200 & Above. Click Go and then investigate each item of the search result.
Do not spend too much time reading the Product Description. Scroll down and start by reading the Top Customer Reviews. These are the reviews that have been voted as being the most helpful by other customers. In addition to the reviews, you can also read Customer Questions & Answers, a relatively new section. These two sources of information are invaluable for learning about specific models and about tactical flashlights in general.
Customer reviews that can be found on online retailers are great because the motivation behind them is to help wanting customers. People form emotional bonds with the products they buy. When a product is very good or very bad, it can lead the owner to go online and write a passionate review. Customer reviews are often more influential than paid advertizing.
However, reviews that are found on affiliate websites are not as reliable. Such product reviews are written by the webmaster and are often biased on purpose. Whether they are positive or negative, they are designed to generate sales. So reviews on third party websites should be read with caution.
Valuable reviews and ratings can also be found on the website of the manufacturer. Some people will prefer to buy directly from the company that made the product instead of from a retail online store.
Thanks to advances in flashlight technology and the huge demand for tactical flashlights, certification has become very important. The ANSI FL1 certification standard now makes it easier for the consumer to do side-by-side comparisons between different brands and models. The major characteristics covered by the ANSI FL1 standard are explained briefly.
– Light Output: It is measured in lumens and represents the total amount of light that the flashlight can output. Although lumens are an important rating, it is not the only one to be taken into consideration.
– Peak Beam Intensity: It is measured in Candela and describes the brightest point of the beam or the point of the beam with the highest flux density.
– Beam Distance: This is the distance at which the beam will drop to an intensity of 0.25 lux, where 0.25 lux is approximately equivalent to the amount of light emitted by the full moon under a clear night sky.
– Run Time: This is the length of time it takes for the initial output of a flashlight to drop down to 10% of its original output, without changing or replacing the batteries. It is an indicator of energy usage and efficiency.
– Water Resistance: Tactical flashlights are rated by three levels of ingress protection. Those are IPX4, IPX7 and IPX8. They indicate how waterproof the device is – how well it can withstand water. The higher the final digit, the more water resistant it is. A device with an IPX4 rating can be splashed by 10 liters per minute, over 5 minutes, and at a pressure of 50 to 150 kPa, and it will not be damaged. A device with an IPX7 rating can be placed to a maximum water depth of 1 meter, for up to 10 minutes, and it will not be damaged. A device with an IPX8 rating can be immersed to a maximum depth of 3 meters below the surface, for an indefinite length of time, and it will not be damaged.
The bottomline is this. If you are looking to buy a tactical flashlight and it does not list ANSI FL1 standards, that is a red flag. Flashlights that have not undergone ANSI FL1 standardization can make any claim they want. Being uncertified does not mean you will not find them on Amazon. Amazon does not have a policy against tactical flashlights that have not undergone certification. So it is up to you to do the investigation. You can start by reading the product description on the retail site and if you believe it is incomplete, you can visit the manufacturer website where the user manual and the specifications sheet can be found.
Brands and Models
Individual products are identified by the brand name followed by the model name. Sometimes, it’s not as straightforward. For example, at Amazon it is not uncommon to find a long name such as this: Streamlight 69260 TLR-1 HL High Lumen Rail-Mounted Tactical Light. Here, the brand name or the company name is Streamlight. The model name is the next word to the right which in this case is 69260. The rest of the words are keywords that highlight various features. Be aware that the brand name and the model name can comprise more than one words.
If you are looking at the sheer numbers and popularity of the newly marketed tactical LED flashlights, it would not be hard to spot the X800 Shadowhawk flashlight because of its wide variety of specs and purpose-filled properties.
Judging from the number of customer reviews, which for some products number in the thousands, it is safe to assume that there is enormous commercial activity around tactical flashlights.
Some of the more well known brand names are SureFire, Streamlight, Ultrafire, J5 Tactical, Outlite, Fenix, Refun, Vizeri LED, EcoGear FX, ON THEWAY, EASTSHINE, CISNO and APG.
A few of the more popular tactical flashlights, in terms of sales volume and customer reviews are:
– Streamlight 88040 ProTAC HL
– Streamlight 69260 TLR-1
– Helotex G2
– Surefie G2X
– UltraFire WF502B CREE 56 XM-L
– SOLORAY PRO ZX-1
– OxyLED MD20 LED
– Vizeri Focusing (Military Grade)
– Nitecore EC4S 2150
– Streamlight 88031 Protac PT 2L
Tactical flashlights is a rapidly growing industry. New models are being released on the market at a dizzying rate. Although certain brands and models have a strong foothold on the market, and they dominate certain narrow niches, there is no guarantee that they will not be the next dinosaur. Online marketing and mobile marketing are strong forces that shape today’s high-tech marketplace.
Tactical flashlights have taken the internet by the storm in recent times. The reason they have become so popular all of a sudden might be an industry secret that only manufacturers, retailers and advertizing firms are privy to. It is possible that their popularity is associated with the image of the SWAT officer.
The tactical flashlight forms part of the arsenal of the Special Weapons and Tactics unit member. Even though their popularity might be due to style, they are also quite practical tools. Many people begin to realize that next time they go camping, hiking, hunting, fishing or on a long trip, they should probably carry one.
Even if you never leave the urban environment it makes perfect sense to own one. It can save your life during a power outage, when you are facing an intruder or are trying to repel an attacker. In fact, the best way to view a tactical flashlight is as a non-lethal weapon rather than as a tougher flashlight.