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One of the most important pieces of gear you can carry is a good, solid flashlight. Not only is it an invaluable tool for general use and emergency prep but it could be the tactical tool that saves your life. Even if you carry nothing else, some of the best tactical flashlights today offer an extreme advantage in your personal defense.
At A Glance: Our Top 5 Picks for Tactical Flashlights
Gone are the days of the huge 6-cell Maglite’s that could be used as a club. With modern LED technology you can get much more power out of a light a tenth that size that weighs only ounces. The defensive power of these lights comes from their ability to temporarily blind and disorient a potential assailant with sheer brightness.
If you haven’t invested in a light yet or are dissatisfied with the light you have, we can help! We have found the best tried and true lights on the planet for your perusal and while we were at it, compiled a comprehensive list of everything you need to make an informed decision. It’s time to step up and pick your EDC light!
In a market as flooded as the flashlight market, being the best takes more than just a bright light with a long run time. Sure, this rugged aluminum maxes out at 900+ lumens and on low can run for a massive 29 hours on a single charge but it has far more than that to offer that only adds to the value.
At a size of a little over 6” long and just over an inch in diameter at its thickest, the Pelican has three colors and four brightness settings that can cast a light as far as 225 meters making it a great spotlight and very intense in the core of the beam. More than what you would need to render any attacker blind.
With an onboard USB port, this rechargeable light can be charged from home, car, or even in the field if you have any of portable charging hardware. It does take some time to toggle through the modes but not enough to cause any harm once you are used to it.
But the one single factor that tips this light over the edge is the warranty. It’s a Pelican just like the most durable cases in the world and if you ever break this sturdy, waterproof flashlight they will replace it for free. Forever! You can’t beat that!
Weighing just three and a half ounces, this 5” long 1” diameter light is as small as they come but packs a 1000 lumen punch that will get you out of the toughest situations. Or tone it down a little bit to look for the spring you dropped cleaning your gun. With five brightness modes going as low as an 8-lumen firefly mode that runs for a whopping 140 hours, this light will do anything you need it to do.
But for a tactical light, you never want to search through modes when you need the power right now and Fenix knows this so you can use the light in either a tactical mode or a more universal mode with the most settings. In the tactical mode, you will never have to search of your brightest setting, hit the momentary on tail cap switch and you will reward your target with an eye-searing burst of light.
The PD35 comes packages with a nylon holster for easy access and two rechargeable 18650 super-powered lithium batteries for the best operation. You are on your own to get a charger but for the price, that is a worthwhile investment.
When you want bright, you want the OLight, it’s that simple. Not only because of the 1500 lumen turbo mode but because it can focus the beam so tight it can project over 200 meters away with the press of a button. If you are in a tight spot, that’s enough to buy you seconds if not minutes and you will never have to cycle through modes to get there. Or you can adjust it down through six modes to a very low 1 lumen that will burn for 104 days of continuous use!
At an inch at its widest and only five inches long, this is a pocket-sized light that has far more than pocket-sized power but comes with one of the best flashlight holsters around just in case. Not that you are likely to damage it by dropping it and even if you do it has a solid 5-year warranty just in case.
Packaged with a magnetic charging cable, holster, battery case, and single 3500 mAh 18650 battery, its everything you need to get started and to keep it going for the long haul. A couple extra batteries won’t hurt but the light comes ready to clip on your pocket and hit the field.
When it comes to the mini but mighty, this 1100 lumen monster has one of the tightest beams with the farthest ranges you can get on the market today. It’s an industry leader in toughness, brightness, and innovation for a cost far below its value. No doubt that ThruNite is making its mark on the world of tactical lights.
With a total of 5 modes from less than a lumen to over 1100 on turbo mode, it has a setting to cover anything but only when you want it. If you are in trouble the full power of a turbo strobe is only a button press away every time. The tight focus will send a beam almost 250 meters should you need it but excels in close up work.
At just 5”x1”, this tiny light weighs a minuscule 3 ounces, light enough to carry anywhere so it’s there when you need it. Charge it anywhere with the included micro USB cord and never worry about a separate battery charger again. Comes with a charging cord, holster and nothing else because it has close to everything else packed inside its solid aluminum body already.
When it comes to tactical lights, Surefire is the company that moved the industry from the past to the present. Every other light out there has grown out of the industry that Surefire that surefire helped to define. Of all their lights, the G2X shines as the tactical light of choice for those who want the most rugged and most trusted on the market.
While this light is a little larger than most other tactical lights at almost 7” long, it’s still sized for easy carry and packs a punch in that rugged-as-hell Nitrolon body. Maxing out at 600 lumens with a momentary on, it may seem a little weaker than most tactical lights but with its tight focus it can blind an attacker up close or spotlight a wall over two football fields away.
In the end, this is a light built for duty and lacks all the crazy modes, just a high and low that burns at just 15 lumens for those everyday uses. When paired with Surefire’s smart 123A batteries, you are safe from heat buildup in this plastic body which can be an issue with other lights. It may be simple but it is situationally perfect for tactical applications.
If Surefire defined the modern flashlight, Maglite defined what a tactical light was in the first place but not content to stay in the past, they have moved into the LED market in a big way with a very small light. At just over 5” long and 1” in diameter from butt to bezel, this very easy to carry light weighs only 4 ounces and easily fits in a pocket.
Like the Maglites of the past, is one rugged little light that packs a serious punch. Though the light is only 320 lumens on the high end, it projects it in a tight beam and is plenty bright enough for all your defensive purposes while being mild enough for use as a standard light. Built for the tactically inclined, its one press on is perfect for those who want it simple and effective.
While it lacks a lot of the features and extras of many other lights, this is not a piece of gear you should disregard. Every bit of the toughness that Maglite put unto those old aluminum beasts from 20 years ago is still packed into this tiny package. Drop it, get it wet, it won’t care. This is a light for a lifetime of use.
Streamlight has made some of the most popular weapon mounted lights for years but have always been on the sidelines when it came to handheld lights. This is a shame because their lights are quite good and well worth your consideration.
The ProTac is a straight up tactical light that doesn’t worry about frills. Its 500 lumens or nothing, on/off with a tail cap switch. IF you want modes, go with something else but if you want pure, powerful light that is bright enough to blind an attacker, Streamlight does it. The beauty of the one mode option is you can’t mess it up.
Weighing only 4 ounces with the included CR123A battery, this 5” long mini-monster is built to last. It is certified waterproof, drop proof, and rugged with an all-aluminum housing. This is one of the few lights that is actually mil-spec and that quality shows. For the dedicated tactical fan, Streamlight works like no other.
For a little extra cost, you can upgrade to a USB rechargeable model.
Nitecore earned their reputation as a light for spelunkers who really need a light that works or they are royally screwed! All of that reliability and durability was passed along into their foray into the world of tactical lights with this powerful light in a compact package.
Whether you want 1000 lumens for an hour or 1 lumen for close to three weeks, you can have it with this intelligent light with enough modes to satisfy any flashlight lover, you can have SOS, strobe, or one any one of 5 brightness levels. All of which are selected from a side button so your end cap can always be set to deliver a blindingly bright pulse of light when you absolutely need it.
Able to run off of 1850 batteries or CR123s for added versatility, you will never have to guess at how much power you have left with its integral power level indicator. While not the brand most people first think of, innovations like these are putting Nitecore on the map and the P12 is a strong contender in any best light lineup.
Pure power isn’t everything. There is a lot to be said in favor of convenient and what could be more convenient than a light that could run for nearly 6 hours on a single AA battery from the local supermarket and fit in the palm of your hand. This light may be the lower limit for what you would want for self-defense, for every other utility you would need, it will definitely do the job.
Though it only packs 128 lumens in its highest of 5 modes, that is sufficient to dazzle a person in the dark especially when packed into a tight enough beam. The size at just over 4” long makes this the smallest tactical light you are likely to find and one that is sized perfectly for everyday carry. And with its very aggressive crenellations, it could make an impression if you ever needed it to.
Tough as nails and with a lifetime warranty should you ever need it, this is not a light duty tool but one to stand the test of time and keep on rolling no matter what you throw at it. Some may want more power but for those more concerned with something they can carry and use on a day to day basis, you aren’t going to easily beat the Dark Energy series by SOG.
Let’s not pretend that the world of flashlights isn’t a little confusing with lumens, modes, and all the rest. That’s before you ever get into accessories and batteries and all the rest. For some, buying a package deal that gives them everything they need up front is really the best bet, especially when it’s a great value!
None of that is to in any way disparage the quality of this stunningly bright 2000 lumen flashlight that does the job in a way that no bad guy is every likely to forget if you hit him in the eyes with this beast. With all the best features of the many lights out there, its USB rechargeable with easy to use tactical settings or versatile general use modes. Add in durability and you have a great choice without all the options.
Packages with a wall charger, car charger, holster, batteries, and charging cable, its everything you need off the bat and will serve you well. If it had a weak point, the broad beam doesn’t have the range of some of the other lights above but for close in work, you will never be left wanting.
No products found.
No products found.
Comes with everything you need
Not as durable
Not simple to use
What Makes the Best Tactical Flashlight
Too many people just look at lumens and nothing else when it comes to purchasing a light. There are far more factors you should consider before you make your choice. Yes, how the brightness is important, it is the reason we want a light, but take the time to consider every aspect of the light. There are hundreds of lights that will put out 1000 lumens but they are not all created equal.
1. Light Output
We are going to use this as a catch-all for the many aspects of the light that comes out of your light. It is far more complicated than just lumens. You also need to consider beam pattern, intensity, and throw. It’s tricky but we can get through it.
First, a brief explanation of lumens so you know what you are looking at. Lumens are simply a measure of the amount of light that comes from a flashlight. It has nothing to do with intensity on its own. Two 1000 lumen flashlights may appear to have vastly different brightness levels because brightness and lumens ARE NOT THE SAME THING.
If you shine one light on the wall and it makes a big spot and a second light that has a smaller spot but is brighter, they could have the same lumen rating. A simple if not scientifically correct way of looking at this is that the first light has the same amount of light spread over a large area where the smaller beam has that light in a focused area. Think of a spray bottle. If you put it on mist, it emits the same volume of water as if you put it on stream but the effect is completely different. Sometimes you may want a mist and sometimes a stream but that will be covered under beam pattern. For now, just know that lumens are only a measure of the light that comes out of the bulb and nothing else.
Intensity is the sheer eye-blinding brightness of the light at its core brightest point. This may be called candela. Using the example above, the smaller beam will be more intense and harder to look at. This is what most people think of as lumens. For a tactical flashlight, we want the highest intensity we can get, what the lumens are really doesn’t matter.
Beam pattern is the wideness or narrowness of the light coming out of the flashlight. There are benefits to each type. A wider light will be less intense for the same level of lumens as we have discussed but will cover more area allowing you to scan an area more quickly.
It’s a tradeoff, you can only fit so much power in a light so having a broad beam with an intense light doesn’t happen in smaller tactical flashlights. Yes, you can get some that have an adjustable beam and that could be a consideration but it is also a moving part that could fail.
The last aspect of a lights output we need to understand is Throw. Most people never think of this and many flashlights, especially the cheaper ones, don’t advertise it. Throw is the effectiveness of a flashlight to place light on a distant object. It is an indication of pattern and intensity. A flashlight with high throw and high lumens will be very narrow beamed where low throw with the same lumens would be a wide beam.
The easiest way to predict all of these aspects of a light is to check the lumens and then see if you can find out if the light is a floodlight or a throw light also called a spotlight.
Because you are looking at a tactical light, the size is an important consideration. You could get all the best aspects in a single light if you wanted to carry one the size of a baseball bat but we have to make some concessions to get a size that can be easily carried. Usually, a tactical light is pocket-sized or just a bit larger.
The size you are comfortable with will mostly be determined by how often you plan to carry the light and the method of carrying it you choose. A light for a pocket will need to be smaller than one that comes with a holster. One carried in a pack, purse, or other conveyance could be larger still.
Plan ahead on and do your best to think through the lights uses and how you plan to carry it before you make your purchase. If you are unsure, always go with a smaller light.
3. Power Source
There are a few considerations for the type of power source you would like in your light and plenty of options to keep you guessing. This will partially determine your brightness but will have the largest effect on your runtime.
Type of batteries is a very important consideration. Some lights use AA or AAA batteries that are very cheap, plentiful, and easy to find where others use CR series batteries that are more expensive and harder to find but last longer. In an emergency, a flashlight using easy to find batteries is an asset but you will lose brightness and runtime for that convenience.
Some flashlights are sealed or at least rechargeable without taking out the battery. The batteries in these lights could be standard batteries or a proprietary power source. There is a lot of convenience to having a flashlight that is rechargeable but when the light is dead, you are done until you have time to charge it again. That can be a huge negative for those who want to be prepared at all times.
A personal preference is for flashlights that use common AAA batteries for everyday carry and for more specialized purposes, one that uses CR batteries for that added punch of power.
4. Run Time
While this is a consideration, there is little to say about it. Longer runtime is always a favorable trait in any device. Usually, the predominant factor in a light’s runtime is the power source. Lithium batteries will last longer but cost more than alkaline batteries.
The power consumption, measured in watts, will determine your brightness but also your runtime. Simply, the brighter your light the shorter it will last on a set of batteries. Lights with varying brightness settings are a great way to offset power consumption vs brightness. Use a lower power for daily tasks and the brightest mode for tactical purpose.
If you purchase one of the lights above, durability is a given as we would recommend nothing less than something rock solid. If you don’t go with one of the brands above, do your due diligence to make sure you are getting a tough enough light that is shockproof at a minimum.
What you really need to consider is the difference between lights made of metal or plastic. Typically, the metal of choice is aluminum for its light weight, durability, and cost but lights could also be made of steel or titanium on rare occasion which are tougher but also costlier and/or heavier.
Aluminum has been the go-to material for lights for decades. It is strong and resistant to breakage. However, it is conductive. That means that it will allow conduct electricity but it will also conduct heat making cool faster than plastic lights. Aluminum is the standard for a reason, it is a good material for a light.
Plastic lights are about the same weight as comparable aluminum lights but are often more shock resistant and if the material is a quality plastic it will resist breakage just as well. Plastic is nonconductive which makes it safer around electricity but it can be bad for storing heat instead of allowing it to conduct away from the light. Modern plastics are a good choice for lights as long as there is some method for heat dissipation.
A final note on the construction of a light is its ability to keep out water. While most lights of this type are unlikely to ever be in a situation where they will be wet enough for it to be an issue, waterproof is a feature that gives you peace of mind. It will never hurt to have it in any case.
Most lights have at least a couple of modes with some having as many as eight or more. These are usually several different brightness settings. The modes of some lights mag go from a nightlight to low, medium, high, and turbo. Usually, firefly is a very low powered setting of fewer than 10 lumens lasting for days while turbo mode is the most power the light can crank out and lasts for minutes.
You may also find lights with strobes and varying colors like red and green. Some lights even have a pre-programmed SOS mode. While these do serve a purpose in specific applications they add a lot of complications to the light.
For a tactical light, it is probably better to keep it simple. A couple of brightness settings are all you really need. If it comes down to using your light for protection, the last thing you want to have to do is fiddle with the controls to get the light you want.
Pick a light that fits your needs but if you are unsure, always get the simplest light you can.
This, in part, connects back to the modes but predominantly deals with button type and location. Most tactical lights have a button on the end cap that controls all functions of the light. This the optimal placement for that button if you plan on using it with a firearm and works well for any other purpose.
Some very specific tactical lights will have a momentary on switch which means that the light is only on as long as the button is held down. This was the most popular method of control in tactical lights for a long time but has recently changed to a toggle on/off for the majority of companies.
The on/off switch older style flashlights have pretty much disappeared but will crop up from time to time but usually on larger flashlights. The only benefit of this method is when the light is too large to hold in a way that the end cap button wouldn’t always be within reach of your thumb.
Some lights will have a hybrid of these two controls where the light is turned on by the end cap button but a button or switch near the front of the light will control the modes. Depending on what you want your light to do, this can be a good blend to get the most tactical usefulness with a variety of modes for special purposes.
There are only two options here, a plain bezel or a crenelated bezel that can be used as a striking instrument. You may wonder why anyone would choose a plain bezel but such a light will look less tactical should that ever be an issue. Realistically, most tactical lights are small and lightweight making them a poor choice for striking.
If you do choose a crenelated bezel, be aware that not all are created equal. Some will have large crenulations that may be more effective than others with very small crenellations. With all of the factors above, this should not be a deciding factor on which light you get but can make a difference if picking between a few very similar lights.
The possible accessories run the gambit of all possible things you could want for a light and are far too numerous to cover here. Other than a few notable examples, assess the features on the light you want and decide if they are worth the cost. Generally, most will only apply for very specific purposes.
A holster is a good accessory, especially if you have a larger light. Some dedicated pouch that keeps your light safe, secure, and easily locatable could be the best thing to add to your light. Some lights come with these while others are add-ons from the manufacturer.
If your light has a rechargeable battery, a charger is a great thing to have. Usually, this is a separate unit but some of the most innovative companies have added USB chargers to their lights meaning you can charge them anywhere, even off of a portable backup battery that you would use for your phone. This can be a great way of keeping your light powered up in the field.
Replacement lenses are worth a note here. This is an uncommon accessory but one that a few companies offer. This is not so much to correct a broken lens but to provide a lens that will alter the lights function. Some companies will offer a diffuser lens that will turn a spotlight into a flood light or vice versa. Keep an eye out for these. It is a good purchase if its an option, you never know when you may need it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What makes a flashlight tactical?
Simply put, a tactical flashlight is a light that can be used in some method as a tool to aid in your personal defense. While some companies apply the term tactical only to lights intended to use with a firearm, others may apply it more universally to any method you could use the light in self-defense through blinding or striking.
For the purposes of this article, we will use the second meaning of tactical. If it can blind a person, that is enough to be considered a defensive tool with a tactical application.
Q: Why Should I Carry a Tactical Flashlight?
In a case where you are surprised by an attacker or just need a few seconds to gain the advantage, having a light to blind an attacker is a very effective tool. This is in addition to any other of the many purposes you could possibly use a light, tactical or not.
Carrying a good light is a very important part of your EDC and will come in handy more often that you could ever imagine.
Q: Are Tactical Flashlights Legal?
At the time this article was written, no state or municipality could be found that had any laws regarding flashlights. This is subject to change and you should always consult your local and state laws but a law to forbid such things would be very hard to write as there are no specific qualities that are universal to tactical lights that don’t apply to work lights or lights of any other type.
You should be safe to carry whatever light you want no matter where you live.
Q: How many lumens do I need?
This is a hard question to answer. If you read through the section on brightness above, you will understand why. In general, 100-150 lumens, if it is a very direct beam, will cause momentary blindness in the dark if shined directly in the eyes. In areas that are well lit, that number jumps to 300-500. During daylight, 1000 lumens will often have a similar effect.
Remember, this is for a very narrow, direct beam. The wider your beam is and the farther the person is away the more lumens you need. For a general recommendation, 900 is a good minimum.
For uses outside of tactical, 200 lumens will light up an area as bright as daylight where 1000 will be enough to spot small things and washout areas. Just remember that distance and lumens do not have a direct correlation.
There is not a military or police profession where a flashlight is not a standard piece of gear. No combat or potential combat profession from security guards to special forces where it is not one of the most valued pieces of gear. If you are the prepared type, having a good light should be a priority.
We have done our absolute best to provide you with quality information about the best of the best lights out there short of a very few small manufacturers. Any of the lights featured here are tough, serviceable, and capable of doing what a tactical light needs to do. While they should not be the only line of self-defense, they could be the one piece of gear that turns the tide. Never leave home without one!
I am the Founder and Chief Editor of outdoorsity.net and a prepper with over 15 years of experience.
I’m excited to my knowledge and the things I learn while travelling in British Columbia, Canada where I live and around the world.
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