The Best Tactical Flashlights – Reviews for 2017
Tactical Flashlights have a wide array of uses, more so than simply lighting up a dark space. These portable torches can be used in a variety of everyday situations: during walks, while doing work or maintenance in the nighttime, during emergency situations, and can even be used as a weapon for self-defense.
The trouble lies in the fact that, when trying to decide on a new flashlight, all of them pretty much look the same. Often times when you’re searching for a new portable torch, you’re filled with questions: How much should I be spending on a flashlight? What’s the difference between a xenon bulb and an LED? What’s the deal with rechargeable batteries? And, What in the heck is a lumen?
If you find yourself in this situation, don’t worry; you’re not alone. Before you make a purchase for your new tactical flashlight, be sure to read this article, as I will try my best to make the process as simple as possible.
Different Types of Tactical Flashlights
As was mentioned, the trouble with deciding on a new flashlight is that they all look the same, but every type of torch has its own specific functions and uses. Each comes with a different a light output, run time, weight, size, and intensity levels. It’s important to have an understanding of the different types of flashlights offered on the market so the decision-making process is effortless and trouble-free.
Handheld Tactical Flashlight
These types of flashlights are useful without a weapon for personal defense. These torches are small and compact and light enough to carry around on your person. They can also be used in conjunction with a handgun to improve accuracy in low-light situations. Aside from these, handheld tactical flashlights can be used for a multitude of situations outside of the self-defense world.
These types of flashlights attach to the top rails of long-range rifles or shotguns and aid in vision and help provide good targeting. They can be fitted onto a wide array of guns.
Bottom-Mounted Tactical Flashlight
These forms of tactical flashlights attach to the bottom rail of the gun. The benefit to these types of flashlights over top-mounted flashlights is that it keeps the line of sight clear and helps to improve accuracy. They can be fitted onto many different types of guns.
These forms of flashlights can be mounted onto guns with Picatinny rails. These also keep the line of sight clear and are available for both right- and left-handed users.
Tactical Flashlights with Laser Sighting
These flashlights, combined with the laser sighting, improve the accuracy of aim. Depending on manufacturing, they can either be top-, bottom-, or side-mounted, and the lasers are available in either red or green.
Colored Filters or LEDs
These types of flashlights and filters are excellent for the night hunting of predators. These filters and colored lights preserve night vision and help to illuminate maps during night hunts. It is postulated that most predators cannot see these colors so these lights give hunters the competitive advantage over their intended targets.
Keychain LED Lights
These portable torches are exactly what they sound like: an LED light on a keychain. They typically have lower light output and a shorter run time than most other tactical lights, but these types of flashlights have taken convenience to an entirely new level. Also an important note to add is that these styles of LED lights usually come in an assortment of colors, as they are made to be more personalized than other forms.
Flashlights are, for the most part, powered by disposable batteries. There are certain advantages and there are certain disadvantages when it comes to disposable batteries, with cost being the biggest disadvantage. Over the years and over countless hours of use, paying for replacement batteries could become quite costly. In a response to this many manufacturers have began incorporating rechargeable batteries into their products, which takes care of the cost factor, but this too comes with its own set of negatives. If you forget to charge your light or your battery runs out and charging your torch is out of the question—well, then you’re left in an unfortunate predicament; whereas having a spare set of batteries in your bag or satchel could easily remedy this. It’s a bit of a catch-22, so ultimately it comes down to evaluating how you intend on using your flashlight before deciding on disposable or rechargeable battery-powered lights.
Often times when it comes to making any purchase it is stressed that executing prejudice towards certain brands is never a good idea. However, when it comes to flashlight brands, it may not be such a bad idea. There are certain brands that have gathered cult followings that adamantly attest to the high caliber functioning of these portable lights, so buying a light from one of these major brands might actually work out in your favor.
For over 40 years, Streamlight considers themselves as a “hands-on” company due to the fact that they are constantly learning and evolving as employees, as consumers and as an entity. The company is filled with hunters, fishermen, and outdoor and sports enthusiasts; they go through firemen’s training, take lowlight shooting courses; and through this experience, the company is able to create innovative products and maintain their status as one of the forerunners of the flashlight industry.
What sets them apart from other companies is how proactive Streamlight is in the customer service realm. They frequently hold focus groups to allow customers the opportunity to praise or criticize their products. They then take this feedback to development table, making sure to keep the things that work and fix the things that don’t.
Streamlight is also proud to be affiliated with organizations such as the Concerns of Police Survivors, Inc.; the National Fallen Firefighters Foundations; and the International Hunters Education Association.
Developed in the 60s, engineer Dr. John Matthews began his long and complicated dance not with flashlights but with lasers. After becoming a pioneer and a staple in the laser industry, Matthews turned his focus towards his hobby: shooting. He created and patented some of the earliest forms of lasers adapted for shooting, and through a long and complicated history, Mathews and his company’s willingness to accommodate the needs of the law enforcement led them to the creation of a weapon-mounted flashlight. From this, Surefire was born and the light industry was “never the same.”
Surefire prides itself on creating some of the finest flashlights on the market. They engineer their lights for maximum performance and manufacture their tools for precision. Used by military personnel, emergency responders, law enforcement officers, or outdoorsmen, anyone whose lives depend on having light can attest to the reliability of Surefire’s equipment.
Founded by Anthony Maglica, Mag Instrument has been dedicated towards creating high performance products and maintaining one of the highest reputations in the industry for over half a century. Every flashlight produced out of the Maglite Company is a representation of all the years of research, development and constant refinement through the advancements of technology.
Mag Instrument is headquartered in the U.S.A., and every production facility (as well as the expansion of upcoming facilities) is located in within the states. This company prides themselves on being an American-based establishment and asserts that every single production employee on the payroll (aside from the sales personnel in other regions of the world where Mag products are sold) live and work within the U.S.
Not only have they created a prolific product and customer base, they also contribute towards the betterment of society and have gone above and beyond their social responsibility as a company. For example, the Maglite Company donates to the National Firefighter Foundation in an effort to remember fallen firefighters, are proud sponsors of National Breast Cancer Foundation, and, during the aftermath of 9/11, Mag Instrument donated 3,000 flashlights to help aid the S&R efforts during the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.
While not solely limited to these select three—there are certainly other manufacturers that release outstanding products—these brands in particular consistently produce high quality products that are well received by customers.
Top Ten Tactical Flashlights
This article aims to show you the top ten tactical flashlights based off of consumer reviews via Amazon as well as providing a brief background and description on each so you can make a better, more informed decision when you go to make your purchase.
Starting off the list is a tactical light from the prestigious Streamlight Company. The ProTac series was designed to conform to the needs of trade professionals and law enforcement officers, as well as being marketed to security officers, emergency medical services, and for personal use. With the implementation of Streamlight’s C4 LED technology, this lightweight torch produces a lot of bright light, making this is one of the brightest, most compact personal carry lights of its caliber.
The ProTac features a multi-purpose push-button tail switch for easy one-handed use. While in high mode, this light offers 260 lumens with a 3 hour run time, 150 metered beam distance and a 5,600-candela peak beam intensity. In low, this flashlight produces 13 lumens of light output with an astounding 50 hour run time, 35 meters of beam distance and 300-candela peak beam intensity. This light is designed with an anti-roll face cap, a removable pocket clip, and comes with a nylon holster. Also included with purchase are two 3-volt CR123A lithium batteries.
Customers love how compact this light is, as well as how bright of a beam it produces. In addition to this customers attest and praise the battery life of the ProTac. One customer, a law enforcement officer, purchased this light for use during patrol and claimed that it worked better than other lights he’s used in the past. Another, a security officer, purchased this torch and said he felt safer when using this light during his shift.
Next up on the list is a tactical light from the SureFire G2X Series. This flashlight is compact but produces an exceptionally powerful beam of light. It’s practically indestructible due to its Nitrolon polymer design and comes standard with high-efficiency LED emitters and precision reflectors.
This torch maintains simplicity by offering two different output levels: on high this tactical flashlight produces a penetrating 320-lumen beam; on low the light emits 15 lumens but can be used for an extended run time.
This light was manufactured using a strong polymer and comes with a Military-Spec anodized head for increased durability. Through the use of O-rings and gaskets, this light was designed to be impenetrable to dust or moisture, making it not only rugged but also functional. Users toggle through the different light outputs using its tactical tail-cap switch, and those who decide on upgrading their purchase to the G2X LE (a version tailored towards the needs of law enforcement officers) will have the luxury of 400 lumens.
Customers seem to love the versatility and the durability of the G2X series light. They praise how well constructed and resilient it is and how it can withstand any shock or impact it comes across. Of course they commend the brightness and how easy it is to use the torch, but what’s most impressive to customers is the assortment of colors that are available for purchase. Whether it serves a practical use or just for personalization, the selection of colors that SureFire offers sets them apart from the classic black finish that is common within the market.
Ranked third on the list is the Maglite Mag-Tac. This LED flashlight was superiorly designed with the intention of out-performing rival tactical lights that cost several times the amount. Intended for military and law enforcement use, the Mag-Tac has an aggressive knurled design and an anodized aluminum body with a stealth black matte finish and water-resistant seals. It also comes with Quick Clik technology, which allows users the ability to quickly toggle through the different settings as well as for easy functional use.
Available with either a crowned or plain bezel, these torches emit 320-lumen/310-lumens of light and have a 193-meter/182-meter beam distance. In addition to providing a whopping 9267/8293 cd peak beam intensity, both variations are water resistant and drop resistant up to a 1-meter distance.
The Crowned bezel version features three modes: momentary (in which the light stays on only while the Quick Clik button is being pressed), full power, and Strobe (12 Hz strobe meant for disorientating an opponent).
On the other hand, the plain bezel version features a full power mode (with a run time of 4 hours), a power saver mode (with a run time of 17 hours), and a Momentary mode (similar to the crown bezel version).
Customers love the value they get for their money when they purchase this light. Another underappreciated feature that fans love is the belt clip; they love the accessibility this affords them that some other flashlights don’t. Not only do they feel they received a high-quality product, but one customer notes that, due to Maglite’s superb customer service team, he would be a return buyer in the future.
Coming in at number four on the list is the WtdPro Tactical LED Flashlight. This light was built for outdoor activities (such as hiking and camping), cycling, night fishing, patrolling, survival or emergency use, or any other assortment of activities you could think of.
This light is built with a CREE chip that helps emit an ultra bright, high-lumen light. It is configured with a highly durable aluminum that is not only shock resistant but is also skid-proof and made with a water resistant design. This resilient torch has five different light modes, the most popular being its Strobe Light mode that is perfect for self-defense.
In comparison to those cheap 18650 batteries that are common amongst most tactical lights, the WtdPro comes with two high-quality rechargeable Lithium batteries, both of which are assured more than a 1000-cycle charge capacity. Arguably the best part of the deal is that there is not just one, but two flashlights, and given the current price of these torches, these might just be the best tactical flashlights for the money.
Customers are raving about how good of a deal they are getting for the typical price of only one light. Buyers enjoy the multiple settings available, as well as the ability to use disposable AAA batteries aside from the included rechargeable ones. They also love how bright and lightweight the flashlights are, and while not from a product of one of the major brands like Streamlight or Surefire, the product they received are significantly comparable.
Rounding up the top five tactical flashlights list is a change of pace: the NiteCore Tube Keychain Flashlight is definitely something different when compared to the other four lights. The NiteCore Flashlight comes in ten alternative colors, making it the most diverse and personalized flashlight we’ve seen thus far.
The NiteCore has two different lighting modes: a high mode, at 45 lumens, and a low mode, at one lumen. Although one lumen might seem ridiculously insignificant, given its size and weight and incredible run time of 48 hours, this flashlight is not an item you want to disregard. It has a 24-meter beam distance with 150 cd of peak beam intensity. It is also impact resistant up to 1.5 meters, as well as being dust and water-resistant.
While not the brightest tactical flashlight, this light is incredibly lightweight at less than 1-oz and has a built-in Lithium ion rechargeable battery that can be recharged using a USB cable. Incredibly small in length (slightly over two inches), this flashlight is constructed from extremely lightweight polycarbonate materials and the key ring can withstand up to 77-lbs of weight.
Customers are absolutely in love with the low cost of the light and the many different colors available for purchase. They claim this light is one of the few keychain lights on the market that actually work and recommend that you buy more than one, as they are tremendously useful and can be placed around the house, as well as make for great gifts.
These following lights have their own definitive features and individual perks and accessories that you can search up with your newfound skills.
Before you dive into your own research of tactical flashlights, there’s an entire lexicon in the flashlight world that many people at first are unaware of. When pressed with the task of buying a new flashlight you’ll find articles and product descriptions riddled with these terms. My job is to make these terms as easy to understand as possible and hopefully make the task of buying less daunting.
(In alphabetical order)
Beam Distance: The measurement (in meters) of how far away the flashlight will produce a useful amount of light. Sometimes referred to as Throw.
Bezel: This refers to front part of the light (often includes the flashlight lens, reflector, and bulb).
CR123: These are the most common size of 3-volt lithium disposable batteries available for use due to their prodigious weight to power ratio.
Impact Resistance: This refers to the highest distance (in meters) that a flashlight could be dropped in the off position while still remaining functional.
LED (Light Emitting Diodes): These are durable and long-lasting light bulbs with some having a 100,000-hour lifespan. They are less powerful than incandescent bulbs but can last for hundreds of hours at low intensity levels as well as being ideal for short range.
Lumen: A unit of measurement for the light output of the bulb, not taking focus into consideration.
NiCd (Nickel-cadmium): A type of rechargeable battery known for being high performing and rugged.
NiMH (Nickel-metal hydride): Another form of rechargeable battery.
Peak Beam Intensity: Refers to the intensity of light in the brightest part of the flashlight’s beam when it is optimally focused, measured in Candelas.
Reflector: The area that surrounds the bulb tasked to assist in focusing and directing the beam of light.
Run Time: This refers to the duration of time the batteries will last at a given intensity level, measured in hours or minutes.
Waterproof: This is measured similarly to Water Resistance but when a flashlight company claims its product is waterproof it can actually be fully submerged and still work after. For example, when a waterproof label notes a measurement of IPX7, this means that the light can be submersed in 1 meter of water for up to thirty minutes. Similarly, IPX8 flashlights can be put under 1 meter of water for up to 4 hours.
Water Resistance: This term causes quite a bit of confusion. Water resistant is not the same as Waterproof. For example, if a flashlight says it is “Water Resistant IPX4” then it would most likely survive a couple of splashes of water but won’t make an entire weekend on your kayaking trip.
Now that we’ve got the vernacular down pat, we can continue with the buying guide.
First and foremost, it is important to know the purpose and reason behind your need for a flashlight before you begin the buying process: Are you looking for convenience? Do you need something for everyday carry? Emergency situations? How about one for that new pistol you bought last month?
The list goes on, but before you make a purchase you must know that certain flashlights are suited for very particular tasks. Knowing exactly what your needs are will be the most important deciding factor when making your selection.
Floodlights, for example, are often used to illuminate outdoor playing fields during low-light conditions. If you perform in activities that require the use of both hands (rock climbing, spelunking, etc.), a headlamp might be the best option. For the vast majority of people, a flashlight serves a more practical use. Handheld light is preferred whenever you want the strongest portable beam possible or when dexterity and precision in controlling light is essential. They are also widely versatile and can be used during walks, for working in the nighttime, during emergency situations, and even as a means of self-defense.
After you have thought over and evaluated your needs when it comes to a tactical flashlight, price is usually the next considerable step in the process. People typically correlate high price with high performance, and many times this is not truth. Paying $100+ for the latest model that comes with this feature, that feature, and the other won’t always mean that you’ve got the best flashlight on your person. Based off the numbers of units sold and the average consumer ratings, many flashlights in the low to mid price range are typically the best tactical flashlights. Set yourself a reasonable price range and stick with it, keeping it in mind that paying more money does not always mean you’ll be getting a better light.
Size is another factor that is often overlooked when deciding on a new light. These lights vary in size from that of a regular, standard issue flashlight (10-12 inches in length) to some flashlights that are the same size as a marker. The bigger flashlights do offer certain advantages, such as providing wider and longer beams. They also are large enough to take the long-life D-cell batteries, which means you won’t be replacing the batteries every couple of days. This is not to say that smaller flashlights are inferior, quite opposite, in fact. The development and advancements in LED technology leveled the playing field and now smaller units are competing head to head with the bigger lights. They’re just as rugged, just as efficient and can be just as blindingly bright. Again, like all the other factors, you want to keep in mind how you plan on using the light before you decide on a size.
Lumens also seem to be causing a bit of confusion to people who are looking into purchasing a new light. Similar to price, people often associate lights with high lumens as being superior to those with lower lumens. While lumens are the measurement of light output—so higher lumens do mean a brighter light—most of the time these lights aren’t perceptibly brighter to the eye than others. And what’s not mentioned most times is how short of a run time these lights have. Higher lumen lights typically drain their batteries in a short amount of time (sometimes even minutes) and will often leave you stranded with no light at all.
There was a lot of information given in this article—I was often criticized over the years for being overly thorough—so let me try to sum it up for you and give you the CliffNotes version.
- Know your reason for buying: this is the most important thing to have established before you even consider buying a tactical light.
- Execute company bias: there are certain brands that consistently make superior products (see section Brands above).
- Set a price and stick to it. Blowing loads of cash on a flashlight won’t always mean you’re getting a higher quality product.
- Higher lumens also doesn’t mean you’re getting a better tactical light: brighter isn’t always better.
Of course these are just suggestions. I would caution being wary about what the manufacturers claim on their advertisements or product descriptions and lean more towards what the customers say about the products.
My intentions with this article were to help clear up some of the confusion that is common when it comes to tactical lights. I hope I was able to shed some light on that dark and dreary road towards buying your new flashlight.