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How to choose the perfect tactical flashlight.

A simple and easy-to-read tactical flashlight guide, with all the information you need in order to pick the best tactical flashlight that wont let you down.

Police tactical group shooter, SWAT, anti-terror team member in black uniform and helmet aiming assault rifle with optical sight and flashlight, shooting with service weapon close up isolated portrait

In my years of hunting and on various hiking and camping trips, I have used many different tactical flashlights for a variety of purposes and know that having a sufficient flashlight can save the day when you’re out in the elements.

Looking for a tactical flashlight, or any flashlight, can be a challenge. You can read hundreds of different flashlight reviews, all telling you what flashlight you should buy, but they often fail to provide the knowledge needed to help you find the ideal tactical flashlight that suits your needs.

Luckily, you have come to the right place. This guide will tell you all you need to know so you can make the right choice and find the perfect tactical flashlight.

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A Quick Guide to Tactical Flashlights

EDC or tactical uses.

In need of a tactical flashlight for self-defense or EDC applications? Then you might need to consider the following specs:

  • Is The flashlight bright enough? We recommend at least 500 – 1000+ lumens to ensure it can illuminate your surroundings, probably even at night.
 
  • Does it have a spot beam or flood beam? Both beam types work well, but it’s a more preferential thing. Read more on the different beam types here.
 
  • What controls do the flashlights use? does it have a tactical tail cap and shortcuts to the brightest mode? Is it easy to operate in high-stress situations or when wearing gloves?
 
 
  • Does it have a strobe feature to blind attackers? Can it fit comfortably inside your pocket or on your keychain?
 
 
  • You should look for a tactical flashlight with atleast an ipx rating of 4 and impact resistance rating of 2.
 
 
  • What is the run time on the brightest mode? Are the batteries replaceable or rechargeable? A tactical flashlight with at least 4 hours of run time should be sufficient for most applications. Read more on batteries here.
 
 
 

 

 

Hiking or camping.

If you are looking for a tactical flashlight to use on your next hiking, camping, or backpacking trip, you might need to consider the following specs: 

Woman hiking through the forest at night

  •    Is the brightness and beam distance sufficient for illuminating your path at night? as mentioned before a flashlight with 500 – 1000+ lumens is sufficient for illumination at night.
 
  • To get a more versatile flashlight, consider looking for a tactical flashlight with adjustable beam
 
  • What is the size and weight of the flashlight? Does it have a pocket clip to mount on your cap or pocket? 
 
 
  • What is the flashlight run time? Is it enough for the planned camping or hiking trip? Are the batteries replaceable or rechargeable?  a 4 hour run time is favorable for a 2-3 days trip.
 
  •  You should consider choosing a flashlight which are compatible with both rechargeable and replaceable batteries, to allow you to have extra batteries in your backpack on extended trips.
 
 
  • Does it feel sturdy and have a sufficient IPX and impact resistance rating? An IPX-4 rating and a impact resistance of 2 meters is recomended for outdoor use.
 
 

Suppose you plan to use the tactical flashlight for more general applications, like reading a book at night or other indoor uses, where a tactical flashlight may be too bright to be used,  and you might be better off with a general-purpose flashlight instead or a tactical flashlight with lower lumens light settings.

green-tent-lighted-from-the-inside

Tactical Flashlights: Everything You Need to Know

Tactical flashlights are primarily used for two types of applications: tactical and for general outdoor uses.

 

Tactical applications

Tactical flashlights were originally invented and are still used by police and military to identify targets in dark areas. They are designed to be very bright and durable, and as their name suggests, are ideal for tactical purposes such as hunting, self-defense, and everyday carry (EDC) by police and military personnel.

Tactical flashlights are often mounted on guns to allow police and military to locate targets in dark rooms while still being able to use a two-handed firearm for self-defense.

In addition to their tactical use, tactical flashlights can also serve as a first line of defense against potential attackers. They can be used to temporarily blind attackers, allowing you to escape safely and make everyday tasks like taking out the trash at night or walking to your car alone in a dark parking lot a bit safer and more enjoyable.

General Outdoor Applications

In addition to their tactical uses, tactical flashlights are also ideal for general outdoor activities such as hunting, hiking, camping, and backpacking due to their bright, lightweight, and durable design.

I personally enjoy using tactical flashlights for lightweight hiking or backpacking because of their small size, brightness, and lightweight design. Tactical flashlights are often waterproof and have high impact resistance, making them able to withstand accidental drops, even in water or on rocks.

While tactical flashlights can also be used for indoor tasks like power outages or other emergencies, they may be too bright for activities like reading a book at night or lighting up a tent. In these cases, you might consider looking for a tactical flashlight with lower output modes (e.g., 30-100 lumens maximum) or a general applications flashlight.

Therefore, to pick the best tactical light, you must, Identify your specific needs first.



 

 

Eventhough tactical flashlights are versatile and as mentioned before can be used for different applications, you should consider the following specs:

Brightness:

 

A candlelight in a dark room
1 Candela = the brightness of one candle light

A tactical flashlight should have a brightness of 500 – 1000+ lumens(1) and be capable of illuminating your souroundings probably. 

But dont get fooled by the number of lumens the flashlights has, the flashlights candela and lux rating are just as important, when comparing the outputs of differrent flashlights: read more on candela and lux ratings here.

You should also consider the flashlights beam distance, Beam distance is defined as the distance from the flashlight where illuminance is equivalent to a full moon on a clear night(2) or more simply put: how far the flashlight is able to iluminate before it deminishes which is measured in meters.

 Remember: Brighter isent always better, it depends on the planned application.

 

 
 

Beam Type

Flashlights use two types of beams: spot beam and flood beam, both beam types have pros and cons, but it’s hard to tell which one is best; it’s more about personal preference. We discuss the pros of each beam type below to make it easier to figure out which beam type you prefer.
 

Spot beam

  • Shines light further in a more focused area.
  • Can cast light over longer distances.
  • Good for: spotting objects over longer distances, signalling others or night time hiking.
Spot beam on blue baground.

Flood beam

  • Capable of Iluminating a wider area.
  • Dosent washout what you are trying to see.
  • Good for: hiking, late night walks or reading a book at night or cooking in camp.
Stage lights

Adjustable beam

Tactical flashlight with adjustable beams, is the perfect sollution if you are looking for a flashlight to use for hiking, camping  or backpacking. With just the flick of your wrist you can switch from spot beam to flood beam and vise versa, this is especially handy if you are hiking and want to read a map(flood beam) and look for signs or objects in the distance (spot beam).
 
 

Modes and light settings.

Tactical flashlight with mode switch on the side.

To get the most value for money you should look for a tactical flashlight with more than one light setting which makes it useful for more versatile applications, like reading a book in the dark or lighting up the inside of a tent. 

Tactical flashlights also  tend to have a longer run time on the less brighter modes which means you can use them for longer periodes of time before you need to recharge or replace the batteries.

On the other hand a tactical flashlight with too many modes can be a bit confusing to use,  especially if it dosent have programmed shortcuts to enable you to quickly switch to the brightest mode, strobe or sos feature.

You should look for a tactical flashlight with a strobe and SOS mode, especially if you plan to use it for self defense, EDC or hiking trips, where you might end in a situation where you need to signal others or protect yourself.

I wont tell you how many modes a tactical flashlight should have, its truly about personal preference, where i prefer tactical flashlights with 3-5 modes including a strobe and SOS, some swear to the flashlights with only one mode.

 

Light filters and color changing leds.

Rays of bright green light shining in dark room
 Tactical flashlights often come with coloured lenses or colured light filters in different colours like Red, Green and yellow, which are usefull for different purposes:
 

Red light:  Ideal for preserving night vision without hurting your eyes, perfect for tactical uses.

Green light: Dosent scare wildlife and isent visible from the side, which makes it Ideal for hunting 

yellow light : Primarly used for signaling in emergencies, and are often in emergency kids.

Theese are the most commonly used colours but other popular choices are blue or UV light, which is usefull for investigating crime scenes and locating blood. 

 

 

Impact Resistance.

Impact resistance is defined in the FL1 standard as: “The degree to which a portable light resists damage when dropped on a solid surface”(2). This is measured in meters, and the minimum drop height is 1 meter. 
 

So, to ensure your tactical flashlight can withstand, accidental drops when hiking or in self defense situations, you should look for a tactical flashlight with atleast 2-3 meters of impact resistance rating.

 

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IP rating (waterproof vs. waterresitant.)

Water resistance (IP- rating) is measured by three different tests: Temporary immersion in water, Continous immersion in water, and resistance to splashing water.

The  flashlight must function after the test and 30 min after the test, in order to pass. 

The most common IP ratings explained:

IP4 : The flashlight can withstand water splashes from any direction

IP7: 30 minutes of 1 meters submersion in water. 

IP8: submersion of more than 1 meter specified by the manufactorer. (3)

When hiking our backpacking you face the elements alot and sometimes accidentally drop your flashlight in water.

You should therefore look for a flashlight with atleast an IP4  rating, which makes it suitable for withstanding the elements when hiking, hunting or camping.   

However, depending on the planned application of the flashlight, you migh need a higher IP rating.

 
 
 
 
Pile of aluminium rods. Metal bars close up. Buy aluminium online.

Materials

Tactical flashlight are specially designed for heavy duty tasks, and should therefore be made out of the toughest materials avaible like titanium or aluminum, in order to withstand to be used to break trough glass or as a weapon during self defense and even accidental drops.

Therefore, its vital that the materials the flashlight is made of is of highquality, this wil help prolonge  the lights overall lifetime, and how reliable it will be in the long term.

Most modern tactical flashlights are made from either aluminum, titanium, plastic or polymer, which have different pros and cons listed down below.

 

 

 


Aluminum


titanium


plastic


polymer

In conclusion, eventhough plastic and polymer are inexpensive materials payin a little extra for a titanium or aluminum flashlight, is well worth it in the long run and will safe you from the frustation of being stuck on a hill side with a malfunctioned flashlight. 

Size and shape

Tactical flashlights come in a variety of different sizes and shapes ranging from 2″ EDC pocket-sized lights to   7″ + full size tactical flashlights where you might need a strap to carry it probably. 

Different sized tactical flashlights
Different sized tactical flashlights from Olight.

 

Choosing the right sized flashlight, truly comes down to the planned application, as they are all ideal for different uses like EDC, hiking or lawenforcement applications.

 Small sized tactical flashlights are really handy if you are looking for  a reliable EDC flashlight, due to their tough design brightness and easy to use design.

 

on the other hand, If you are looking for a tactical flashlight for self defense or lawenforcement uses, you might be better of with a bigger sized flashlight(3″ -4″),  and with a striking bezel for breaking glass and self defense.

But in the end the size and shape is a preferecial decision, I personally like smaller 2″ – 4″ lightweight flashlights, due to their qbillity to fit easy in my pocket and my hands dosent tire out quickly when using them over longer periods of time.

Battery

One of the most important specs besides brightness and materials, is the tactical flashlights battery, the battery will determine the overall run time and effeciency of your light. There are two types of battery used in tactical flashlights: Alkaline And Litium.

used-batteries-different-sizes-close-up

Alkaline batteries.

  • Disposable batteries, and come in four battery sizes from the smallest size AAA to the biggest D size.
  • They can be bought in most retail stores, and are easy to replace.
  • They have a lower output and run time than Lithium batteries.
 
 

Lithium batteries.

  •  Can be bought both as disposable and recharge able lithitum-ion batteries.
  • Has a higher output and run time than alkaline batteries.
  • Are  more expensive than alkaline batteries.
 
Need more info on Alkaline and Litium batteries? check out or other article here.
 

Rechargeable vs disposable batteries.

So, are you better of with a rechargeable or disposable batteries? in truth your better of with a flashlight that functions on both powersources.

A tactical flashlight with rechargeable Li-ion batteries will safe you money in the long run, and helps reduce the waste of batteries which is better for the enviroment. However, if you are out camping or hiking in off the grid areas, recharging the batteries can become quite difficult.

Therefore, you should avoid flashlights with an integrated rechargeable battery and instead look for flashlights which allows you to change the battery either with a disposable or another rechargeable battery. This will prolong the overall lifetime of the flashlight, and will make sure you always have power on your flashlight when you need it.

 
 

Controls and user friendliness.

The tactical flashlights controls and userfriendlyness, can determine your overall hapyness of the light. If the flashlight is difficult to use, you will get frustated faster. 

There are three different types of flashlight controls :  Push button, Switch or a  Rotating bezel.

electric flashlight on a white background.

Push button.

  • Easy to operate in high stress situations.
  • Often located on the buttom of the flashlight.
  • Used in most modern flashlights, to switch between modes.
  • Isent easy to turn on when wearing gloves.
  • Can be a bit noicy to use.

Switch

  •  Used in mostly older flashlight models.
  • Located on the front of the flashlight.
  • Tricky to use with glowes and in high stress situations.
  • Easier to turn on by accident.

Rotating bezel.

  • Easy to turn on with the flick of your hand.
  • Can be turned on silently.
  • Easy to turn on accidentally which may cause powerloss.

So, what controls is the best?

Its difficult to say what type of controls you should choose, as it truly deppends on your personal preference and planed application of the flashlight. 

I personally prefer rotating bezel or push button flashlights, as they are easier to operate while wearing gloves or with cold fingers.

Accessories

When you have found the right tactical flashligh twhich matches your specific needs and expectations, the next thing to consider is what kind of accesories you need to get the most of your tactical flashlight.
 

Most tactical flashlights include different types of accesories like: Holsters, tactical rings and pocketclips, where other accesories like remote pressure switches can be bought seperately. But, what are the main uses of theese accessories, and what should you must consider before you buy.

Holsters:

  • Flashlight holsters are a must have flashlight accessory, and are often included when you a new tactical  flashlight.
 
  • Can be made from a range of diferent materials and come in many different colours.
 
  •  Holsters are good at protecting the flashlight from impacts or scratches, they can also be mounted directly to your belt which makes carrying the flashlight on your person much more enjoyable.
 

 

 

 

Tactical rings:

 

  • Tactical rings are often included when you buy a new tactical flashlight.
 
  • Tactical rings are made from silicone, or plastic and are often shaped as a pentagon to improve stability.
 
  • Tactical rings improve your grip of the flashlight, and prevent the light from rolling away when placed on a uneven surface.

 

 

 

Pocketclips:

  •  Pocketclips are also included most of the times when buying a new tactical flashlight.
 
  •  Pocketclips are made of plastic or metal, and are ideal for EDC purposes.
 
  • Can be mounted directly in your pocket or on a belt.

 

 

 Remote pressure switch:

 

  • Remote pressure switch makes it possible to operate a LED flashlight mounted to a gun, easyly and silent.
 
  •  Must be bought sepperately.
 
  • Ideal for lawenforcement and other tactical applications.

 

Summary

Following theese seven steps will lead you to choosing the perfect tactical flashlight, that will suit your specific needs.

Step 1:  Figure out your planned application of the tactical flashlight.

 

Step 2: Brightness and beam type. 

  • 500 – 1000 lumens are ideal for outdoor uses.
  • 1000+ lumens for selfdefense and other tactical application.
 
  • flood beam = illuminates over shorter distances and  has a  wide beam.
  • spot beam = iluminates over  longer distances and has a brighter fokuspoint.
  • adjustable beam = A flashlight which can switch between flood beam and spot beam.
 
 
 

Step 3: Modes, light settings and color changing leds.

  • More modes/light settings = a more versatile tactical flashlight.
 
  •  Red light:  Ideal for preserving night vision without hurting your eyes, perfect for tactical uses.
  • Green light: Dosent scare wildlife and isent visible from the side, which makes it Ideal for hunting 
  • yellow light : Primarly used for signaling in emergencies, and are often in emergency kits.
 
 

Step 4: Impact resistance and Materials.

  • IPX 4 waterproof rating and 2 m impact resistance is ideal for most outdoor activities.
  • Aluminum and titanium are the most durable materials, but also more expensive than polymer and plastic.
 

Step 5:  Size and shape.

  • Size and shape depends on the flashlighsts planned application.
  • >3″ = pocketsized flashlights
  • 3″+ = full size flashligts.
 
 
 

Step 6: Battery and controls.

  • 4 hour run time is ideal for 2-3 day trips.
  • Disposable Alkaline batteries = easy to replace but has a lower output than lithium batteries.
 
  • Common tactical flashlight controls: Push button, Switch and rotating bezel.
 

Step 7: Accesories

  • Must have tactical flashlight accseories: Holster, tactical ring and pocketclip.
  • Optional accesories: Remote pressure switch.
Patrick D. Bayless

Patrick D. Bayless

A dedicated hiker and nature lover. With over 11 years of experience exploring the great outdoors, he has a deep appreciation for hiking gear and challenge of the trails.

refferences:

 

(1) Thesoldiersproject:  link: https://www.thesoldiersproject.org/how-many-lumens-for-tactical-flashlight/

(2) the fl1 standard led-ressource.com:    link: https://www.led-resource.com/ansi-fl1-standard/

(3) nitecorestore blog: link: https://blog.nitecorestore.com/what-flashlight-ip-waterproof-ratings-mean.html

 

 

 

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