How to Choose the Right Tactical Flashlight: A Buyer’s Guide

October 12, 2020

How to Choose the Right Tactical Flashlight: A Buyer’s Guide

A tactical flashlight can serve multiple purposes, which makes it important for you to choose the perfect one that serves your individual needs or situation. Since a tactical flashlight could be your first line of defense in an unexpected attack it’s vital to choose a high-quality light that will uphold its integrity. 

To choose the right tactical flashlight first decide its purpose, then set a budget. Select features that fit your needs like lumen output, power source, material durability, size variations, weight, bulb type, brightness levels, switch options, light modes, and if it follows the ANSI FL1 standard.

Not all Tactical flashlights are built the same, hence why there is such a huge array on the market. We’ll show you every aspect you’ll want to consider before investing in the right tactical flashlight and provide you with the best Tactical lights on the market and why. 

What Are You Going to Use the Tactical Light For?

A tactical flashlight is used for many essential purposes, such as self-defense and military purposes, survival, hunting, and even camping.  It is mainly designed for tactical (i.e., military or police) use. Hence, many tactical flashlights are designed in a way that allows it to be mounted to a weapon for low-light shooting as well as self-defense if necessary. 

You may be wondering what the big difference is between a normal flashlight and a tactical one. The difference begins in its history and development, where it was originally developed in conjunction with a firearm to mainly assist in target identification in dark areas. Rather than using a separate flashlight, a tactical flashlight was attached to the gun for a better aim.

But apart from being used for low-light shooting, it is a versatile tool that can serve any person in an array of various purposes.

Most people recommend carrying a powerful tactical flashlight when going out alone at night because its brightness and strobe modes can momentarily disorient offenders, giving the victim a chance to attack or escape.  The durable materials and aggressive tipped tactical flashlights can be used in self-defense.  It can also be used in other emergencies like signaling for help and breaking through glass or windows.

Its small size and powerful light make it an apt tool to always carry along with you no matter where you’re going, as having a flashlight (especially a strong and reliable one) can never be a bad thing!




Check the Quality of the Flashlight

The first thing you need to check when buying a tactical flashlight is its standard and quality. TheAmerican National Standards Institute approved a specification standard for flashlights in 2009, since which the ANSI FL1 has become the quality checker for flashlight buyers. 

This standard helps buyers make more informed choices regarding their investment in a good flashlight. The ANSI standard ensures the flashlight has a good lumen, beam distance, beam intensity, impact resistance, and durability. Here is a list of manufacturers who follow ANSI FL1 standards:




The Light Output or Lumen of the Flashlight

The lumen is simply the measurement of the total amount of light that comes out of the flashlight. People tend to confuse lumen with wattage, which is the amount of power used by the light. 

The higher the lumen output your flashlight has, the more overall light the flashlight produces.  The lens or reflector will then determine the file projection of the light and exactly how the total lumens is used) which also affects brightness. Most flashlights range between 20 lumens (which is quite low and is great for reading books in the dark) to 1000-2000 lumens. Some flashlights make even higher lumen claims, but to adequately and efficiently reach anything brighter for a reasonable amount of time (more than short bursts), the flashlight becomes quite large due to required heat sinks and batteries to support such power. 

Most tactical flashlights have variable lumen output levels, so it's best to look for one with this feature. This will give you the ability to choose the lumen output depending on the situation.  These flashlights are soo bright, high power may drain a battery fairly quickly, so variable modes are important to give the user options that will prolong use between battery charges or swaps.   

When dealing with the light output, there are three factors that you will need to pay attention to in this category - beam distance, beam type, and temperature. Let’s see what these are in more detail below.

Beam Distance of the Flashlight

The beam distance is measured in meters or feet. This measures how far the light reaches before it diminishes. Simply put, it measures how far ahead you’ll be able to see using your tactical flashlight. In terms of beam distance, there are two types of light dispersals, one that sheds light in terms of length and one that sheds light widely. This mainly depends on the type of reflector or lens your flashlight has. 

In general, flashlights that ‘flood’ a wide area with light tend to have a shorter beam distance, but spread the total lumens to a larger space. Hence, people prefer using this for activities that are close-up. Generally, people who use tactical flashlights for the sole purpose of close up tasks when camping, working on a car, or DIY projects stick to a flood beam.

 

However, if you need your light to travel a long distance, you will need to choose one that “throws” light (longer range) instead of “flooding” (wider range). People choose this type of flashlight for activities that involve long-distances, such as search and rescue, biking, night hiking, etc. 

 

Using a tactical spotlight with a tight, long-distance beam indoors or in close up situations may actually be harder on your eyes.  At close range, the “hot spot” of the light is a very small diameter and extremely bright.  The reflection of the light alone could hurt your eyes and make whatever your task difficult.   

Types of Beams

When it comes to the “flooding” or “throwing” of the light, the lens or reflector that surrounds the bulb influences how the light is dispersed. You have three options to choose from in this category:

 

  • Flood beams: The beam is dispersed in terms of width and is used for spreading the total available lumens throughout a wide area, but not a far distance.  This is best for tasks that are close to the user or light source.  It can be great for mechanics, DIY, power outages, indoor use, walking, camping, and other such activities.

 

  • Spot beams: Also known as focused beams, this beam penetrates a long distance in terms of length. This is good for fast-paced activities and for targeting objects in the distance.  If you really want to see what is happening 100 yards away, then you will need a spotlight.  When incense spotlights are used in close situations, the spot of light will be a very intense small diameter of light.  This can cause a lot of reflection making it hard on your eyes in close situations.  However, it can be helpful when a focused spot is required or trying to shine light into a tight area. Like a hole, or a spot deep in an engine bay.   

 

  • Adjustable beams: The beam can be adjusted to be wide or focused, or something in between. This is a great option as you wouldn’t have to narrow down the utility value of the flashlight based on the type of beam and reflector it has.  
  • Dual beams: This is a new trend pioneered by STKR Concepts and their line of B.A.M.F.F. Flashlights, and is being duplicated by many other flashlight manufacturers.  Offering a dual-beam gives the user the option to use both a flood and spot beam independently or at the same time.  This is great for illuminating something in the distance while also lighting up the entire immediate area for your peripheral vision and eliminating “tunnel vision”. 

The Temperature of the Light

Temperature refers to the color of the light. When checking the temperature of the flashlight, there are three general terms you may come across - warm white, neutral white, and cool white.

  • Warm white light is on the lower end of the color spectrum and gives off a yellowish tinge, similar to an incandescent light bulb.  This color temperature of light is a more relaxing light, like one that would be used for an interior light bulb in your living room.
  • Neutral white light lies somewhere in the middle, where neither warm nor cool tones (yellow or blue) dominate.  Sometimes it is said that this mimics sunlight.  Usually around 5400k (kelvin) on the light temperature scale.  It is a great light color for clarity and project-based lighting.  
  • Cool white is on the higher end of the spectrum and is a strong white light with a bluish tinge.  This color of light can often be viewed as the brightest, but can affect the color of the objects you are looking at.  

Hence, the beam intensity and color temperature are two aspects you will want to pay attention to while checking out the light output of a flashlight. 




Brightness Levels of the Flashlight

Since you are buying this flashlight for tactical purposes, you may want to look for one that has a light output of 300+ lumens. As mentioned earlier, a good tactical flashlight will come with adjustable brightness levels, making it a useful flashlight for a number of activities. 

Let’s have a look at the different ranges of illumination and what each range can be used for below:

  • 150-299 lumens: Compared to recent claims of many flashlights that boast thousands of lumens of light (many claims are false) this may seem like a small amount of light output, However it is bright enough to easily light up a room and has a can have a pretty decent beam range depending on the lens. This brightness can also disorient people for a few seconds.  It can be a very sufficient light output for an average flashlight with average uses. 
  • 300-699 lumens: Here begins the tactical zone. This level of brightness can cover a relatively large area effectively.
  • 700+ lumens: Rescue parties, trekkers, campers, and the military use tactical flashlights that begin from this range of output. This gives strong illumination and covers a vast area quite easily. Though this may suit your need, there are also flashlights that have an output of 2000+ lumens, which can be used for jobs that require the strongest illumination possible.  Be wary of flashlights that make claims that seem too good to be true as they probably are.  With increased lumens comes the need to properly power and cool the LEDs.  small, handheld flashlights have limitations, or can only provide max lumens of that level for very short periods of time.   

In general, people prefer flashlights that have a lumen output of over 300 for tactical flashlights. 

Generally, flashlights come with two types of brightness adjusters:

  • Set modes for brightness: This is a basic model, where the flashlight has two or three set brightness levels, high, medium, and low. The high level will give the strongest lumen output of the flashlight while the low-level option can be used when you need less light, or to preserve battery power.
  • Dimmable flashlights: People generally prefer this type (though it may cost a little more) as these flashlights have a larger number of brightness levels, going up to even ten levels with dials that support continuous change, or a press and hold function to variably change the light output. Flashlights with many adjustable levels can be used to set the perfect combination of light output, from relatively dim lights to extremely bright, while also dictating the power consumption and life of the battery. 



Types of Bulbs in Tactical Flashlights

A flashlight can use three types of bulbs, with each having different characteristics and uses. However, most tactical flashlights only use LED bulbs due to their brightness and longevity. 

LEDs are also more efficient when compared to incandescent or fluorescent light bulbs. Here are some of the reasons you should keep an eye out for an LED bulb when buying a flashlight, especially a tactical one:

  • Long life
  • Energy efficiency
  • High brightness and intensity
  • Vast color range
  • Low radiated heat
  • Instant full illumination
  • Directional lighting

The other two types of bulbs that are used in flashlights are incandescent and fluorescent bulbs. Although they are quite common among regular flashlights, it is wise to avoid them when buying a tactical flashlight. Here are some of the reasons why they won’t be an efficient choice in an expensive tactical flashlight:

  • Omni-directional light
  • Energy inefficiency
  • Needs warm-up time to fully illuminate
  • Generates low lumen per watt
  • Fragile
  • Short lifespan
  • Expensive


 

Power Source of the Flashlight

The power source refers to the type of battery you’ll be using for your flashlight, which also plays a big role in how long your flashlight power will last and how efficient it’ll be.

  • Disposable Alkaline: These are the standard batteries that are used in most flashlights. It comes in the standard AAA, AA, C, and D sizes. It is preferred due to its easy availability, longer shelf life, and higher energy density when compared to other batteries. One of its advantages is its higher voltage output for its small size and weight. 
  • Disposable Lithium: These batteries are almost the same as alkaline batteries, except that it has a higher power output and also tends to last longer. Its shelf life is around ten years, which makes it more popular than the alkaline batteries. However, the only drawback is that it is slightly more expensive than other batteries. 
  • Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Batteries: Li-Ion batteries can be recharged hundreds of times and also offer a great power output like Lithium batteries. They also come in many sizes but are slightly more expensive than disposable batteries. In addition to this, you will have to buy a good quality charger to prevent damaging the batteries. 
  • Integrated Rechargeable Battery: Flashlights with these batteries can directly be recharged via a mains or USB socket. The only drawback is that it cannot be recharged if you’re stuck in a place with no power socket.  Additionally, most integrated batteries are also not changeable.  This is not useful for power out situations or long excursions with no option to charge or swap with a fully charged battery.  Another issue with an integrated battery is the fact that batteries do eventually fail, or lose their ability to charge and discharge fully.  When this happens the entire flashlight is junk. STKR Concepts is introducing several new flashlights that integrate a built-in USB charging option on the flashlight but also allow the user to swap the battery.


 

The Durability of the Flashlight

This is one of the most vital factors of a tactical flashlight, as it needs to work perfectly in any kind of emergency or situation. Following the guidelines of standard flashlights, let's look at a few of the most important characteristics of durability you need to keep an eye out for. 

Impact Resistance

Look for flashlights that are made out of anodized aluminum, stainless steel, or titanium. These metals are strong and durable, which means it won’t easily break when it has been dropped even on hard surfaces like concrete. 

Additionally, using strong metals will make it sturdier, enabling it to be used as a weapon to protect yourself from attackers in case you don’t have an actual weapon on you. 

Water Resistance/Waterproof

Commonly known as the IPX rating of a flashlight, the water-resistance of a flashlight is important if you want your flashlight to last for a long period of time, through rains and storms and other accidents where it might end up submerged in water.

There are three IPX ratings for flashlights, which are as follows:

  • IPX4: This rating means that the flashlight can withstand splashes of water that may result from heavy rains and such.
  • IPX7: An IPX7 rating indicates that the flashlight can be submerged in about 1 meter of water for a small period of time, usually 30 minutes. 
  • IPX8: The IPX8 rating allows a flashlight to be completely submerged at a deeper depth of water for at least a few hours before it begins to malfunction. 

Based on your personal requirements, you can choose the right flashlight for your activity using these ratings.




Size of the Flashlight

The size you want your flashlight to be solely depends on the purpose you intend to use it for. If you only wish to carry a small flashlight along with you for minor emergencies, you can consider buying micro and mini flashlights, as it serves the purpose of being conveniently small while also giving off sufficient light.

I recommend checking out STKR’s B.A.M.F.F. 2.0, which is one of the most popular small flashlights available. Its light output is 200 lumens, and just like it’s brother the B.A.M.F.F. 4.0 (400 lumens), it runs off of ‘AAA’ batteries so you can pack ahead. Like the rest of the B.A.M.F.F. series, they both had two LEDs for flood and spotlighting and are also water and impact resistant.

However, if you want a flashlight that packs a brighter punch and contains a much heftier power source, you can check the list below to figure out which size will work best for you and your needs.

Small Flashlights

A small flashlight is usually 10 to 12 cm (4 inches) long. Most small flashlights usually have only one battery. However, it has deeper reflectors, which allow light to travel further, so although the power isn’t strong, it will serve the purpose pretty well. 

Additionally, small-sized flashlights are generally more powerful than mini or micro flashlights. It also has more features, so you can consider spending a few extra dollars and buying a small one instead of a micro or mini flashlight. 

Medium Flashlights

This comes in a slightly larger size and usually has more than one battery, which automatically increases its power. With increased battery capacity, the flashlight can either generate a higher lumen output, making it far brighter than the previous flashlights, or increase the runtime.  

Large Flashlights

Any flashlight bigger than 6 inches (16 cm) is considered to be large. However, don’t be worried by its name, as any tactical flashlight (even the large ones) are designed to be compact and easy to carry around. 

Large flashlights give the highest lumen output, longest runtime potential, and come with the most number of features. Additionally, they are also strong and big enough to be used as a weapon. 

Keep in mind that it is also quite pricey when compared to the other sizes, but a good quality flashlight will definitely be worth the price




Special Light Modes in Tactical Flashlights

Although not all tactical flashlights will come with this feature, the most expensive ones will definitely have at least one of these three special light modes we’re about to have a look at.

Strobe

The strobe effect is specifically designed to disorient the person it’s aimed at, thereby giving you a chance to either escape or call for help if you’re about to be attacked. It also works well with some wild animals. 

It’s a very bright light that blinks fast in a confusing pattern, which can even momentarily make a person feel blind. Police officers generally use flashlights with this light mode.  

SOS

This is typically used in emergency situations to signal for help, making it a great feature to have when you’re going camping or trekking in wooded areas. This feature is also called “Morse code”. An SOS signal is similar to a strobe, except that the blinking takes place at a slower pace. Here’s an example in the video below:

Beacon

A beacon is also used for the same reasons as a Morse code signal. However, it blinks at its full brightness every few seconds, thereby conserving its battery life to ensure it lasts as long as possible. Its signal and pace are similar to that of a lighthouse.




The Two Types of Tactical Flashlights

There are two main types of tactical flashlights, based on the main purposes they serve. The first type is weapon-mounted, and the other is handheld.

Weapon-Mounted Flashlight

Since tactical flashlights are extensively used by the police force, some flashlights come with an attachment that allows it to be mounted to a weapon, removing the need for the user to hold a gun and flashlight separately. Having a “hands-free” flashlight while navigating and targeting in the darkness allows you to have full-mobility and ease of movement. 

So if you’re looking for a hands-free flashlight, you’ll want to consider getting a weapon mountable tactical flashlight to provide ease of use. 

Normal Flashlight

A normal tactical flashlight comes without any additional attachment, and you can use it as an ordinary, handheld flashlight. 




Additional Features of a Tactical Flashlight

There are a few additional things you can add to your flashlight to modify it to suit your needs better. Let’s have a look at these unique features and additions below.

Light Filters or Color-Changing LEDs

Though some flashlights come along with light filters, this is something you might have to invest in separately. These filters are put over the lens of your flashlight to change the color of the LED bulbs. More modern LED flashlights offer variable colors.  People generally get these color options filters to make their flashlight suitable for their activity.

For example, hunters usually prefer using green lights inside the forest as this prevents animals from getting startled. 

Tactical Ring

A tactical ring is a circular ring you can attach to your flashlight for two reasons - to prevent it from rolling away on smooth surfaces and also to increase your grip on the flashlight. The position of the ring will prevent it from slipping from your hand even when it's raining or wet. 

Although this may seem unnecessary, you never know what activity you will be using this versatile and unique instrument for.

Remote pressure switch

A remote pressure switch can be screwed onto the back of the flashlight and mounted directly to the gun in a convenient place to quickly and accurately use the light while still properly operating the gun.  Some nicer switches offer momentary and mode switches.     




The Budget for a Tactical Flashlight

When it comes to getting a good quality tactical flashlight, there is a pretty big range to fit just about any budget. If you want to get a decent flashlight with great features and durability, it might cost you somewhere between $40 to $250. Also, look for brands that give you a warranty.  When investing in a quality flashlight, buy from known, honest, and reputable brands that will be around should you need to use your warranty.  Avoid all of the copy flashlights that are available direct from China on Amazon. Although you may get lucky with a quality product from time to time, the odds are against you, and your customer service is gone after Amazons 30 days.

If your budget is on the higher side of that range and you’re wanting to get a higher-end tactical flashlight, I recommend checking out STKR’s B.A.M.F.F. 8.0 or 10.0 models. They have almost all the features we discussed in the article, and also come with a rechargeable battery and full recharging kits!

However, there are also budget tactical flashlights that come at a much cheaper price. But don’t be dismayed as you can still find a flashlight that’s almost as good as an expensive one. 



 

Summary

This article highlights all the factors you need to keep an eye out for when buying a tactical flashlight. Let us review the key points to remember below:

  • Be specific about its purpose
  • Check for ANSI FL1 standard rating
  • Good lumen and light output
  • Beam distance and intensity
  • Type of Beam - flood and spot beams
  • The temperature of light - warm, neutral, and cool
  • LED bulbs
  • Reliable power source - rechargeable and disposable batteries
  • Durability - impact and water resistance
  • Size differences - micro, small, medium, large
  • Special light effects - strobe, morse code, beacon
  • Weapon mounted or regular flashlight
  • Light filters and colored LEDs
  • High and low budget flashlights

Using these specifications, you can make a well-informed choice while buying a high-quality tactical flashlight!




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