LED Tactical Flashlight Review Guide
Tactical flashlights are all the rage on the internet in 2016. But separating all of the different flashlights apart from one another can seem impossible. Today, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about the best tactical flashlights sold online today.
What is a Tactical Flashlight?
Tactical is defined as “of, relating to, or used for a specific plan that is created to achieve a particular goal in war, politics, etc.”
“Tactical” is one of the biggest buzzwords in the accessory industry. You can call just about anything “tactical” without it actually meaning anything.
With that in mind, tactical flashlights are flashlights that claim to be higher-powered, heavier, and sturdier than an ordinary flashlight.
Many tactical flashlights sold online claim to be used by real police forces and military personnel in the world today. That’s not true for most of the LED tactical flashlights you see online, although a handful of flashlights are legitimately used by real military personnel.
How Much Should You Pay for a Tactical Flashlight?
If you’re paying under $80 for a tactical flashlight, then it’s unlikely used by any military or police forces in the world today. Any good flashlight with bright lightning power and sturdy design is going to cost you over $80. Anything less than that is likely a cheap knockoff of a more high-powered unit.
Nevertheless, not everybody needs a tactical flashlight used by real military personnel. If you don’t care about using a “real” tactical flashlight, the you can find decent flashlights as cheap as $10 or less.
Typically, pricing for tactical flashlights breaks down like this:
-$: Under $10
-$$: $10 to $40
-$$$: $40 to $80
-$$$$: $80 to $200
Keep in mind that you can spend $2000 or more on higher end flashlights that output thousands of lumens of brightness. The flashlight industry has an enormous range of different products for all different budgets and lifestyles.
How to Compare Different Tactical Flashlights
Typically, the best way to compare different flashlights is by examining the following characteristics and tech specs:
-Flashlight Brand and Name or Model
-Bulb Type (LED, Xenon, or Halogen)
-Lumens (Brightness Rating)
-Length and Dimensions
-Battery Type (Included or Not, Type Required)
-Pictures of the Flashlight and Aesthetic Appeal
By carefully considering all of the above qualities, you can make the best possible decision on your tactical flashlight purchase.
Why Do You Need a Tactical Flashlight?
Ultimately, there are four main reasons why you need a tactical flashlight: Emergency/Survival, Illuminating your Surroundings, Finding Things in the Dark, and Self-Defense.
Tactical flashlight manufacturers love to scare people into buying their products.
Many of them – especially the X700 flashlights recently released on the market – talk about how the average American needs a flashlight to fight off terrorists – seriously! They’re trying to scare you into thinking that terrorists are lurking right around your neighborhood and all you need is a flashlight to scare them away.
In the real world, tactical flashlights can genuinely come in handy in a variety of situations for which an ordinary flashlight might not cut it. Some of the applications for a tactical flashlight include:
-Walking your dog late at night
-Blinding attackers or intruders in your home with the bright bulb
-Used as a physical weapon to fight off an attacker
If you live in a crime-heavy part of the country, then flashlights might be a good self-defense tool. The vast majority of crimes take place at night. With a good flashlight, you can blind attackers, illuminate areas, and make yourself feel safer.
Parts of a Tactical Flashlight
The key parts of a tactical flashlight include all of the following:
-Bezel: The outside edge surrounding the light at the head of the flashlight.
-Head/LED Housing: The entire body area surrounding the head of the flashlight.
-Battery Compartment: Where the batteries are housed.
-Pocket Clip or Keychain Clip: For attaching the flashlight to your clothing or keychain.
-Tailcap: The rear portion of the tactical flashlight.
-LED: The light emitting diode at the center of the lens and reflector; the device that actually creates the light.
-Lens and Reflector: These two pieces magnify the light from the LED, reflecting it many times over to create a brighter, more powerful light.
-Switch or Button: Typically located on the rear or tail of the flashlight, this button turns the flashlight on or off.
Tactical Flashlight Certifications and Standards
It wasn’t until recently that tactical flashlight certification standards started to become more important. With the recent advances in tactical LED flashlight technology, and the hundreds of tactical flashlights that have been released on the market, certification standards like ANSI FL1 have evened the playing field and made it easier for consumers to distinguish between flashlights.
What are ANSI FL1 standards and how do they affect you? Here’s a basic explanation of all of the major characteristics covered by ANSI FL1:
-Light Output: Lumens rating that indicates the total amount of light that is emitted from the front of the flashlight.
-Run Time: The amount of time it takes for light to get to 10% of its initial output. In layman’s terms, that means the length of time it would take, say, a 100 lumen flashlight to run down to 10 lumens when being continuously used. Basically, it’s the length of time you can use the flashlight without needing to recharge or replace the batteries.
Beam Distance: This is the measurement in meters of the distance at which the intensity of the beam reaches 0.25 lux. To put 0.25 lux in perspective, it’s the approximate amount of light of a full moon on a clear night.
-Peak Beam Intensity: Peak beam intensity is measured in Candela and is the brightest point in the beam – like the direct center of the beam. Lumens tells you how much light is coming out of the entire flashlight in total, while Candela measures the brightness of the brightest point of the beam.
-Water Resistance: Flashlights come with three different levels of water resistance, including IPX4, IPX7, and IPX8. The higher the final number, the more water-resistant the flashlight will be. IPX4 refers to a flashlight that has been tested under splashing water. IPX7 refers to a flashlight that has been rated to perform submerged to 1 meter for up to 30 minutes. And IPX8 refers to a flashlight that has been certified to work deeper than 1 meter for up to 4 hours.
Ultimately, if a flashlight doesn’t list ANSI FL1 standards, then you should probably avoid it. Flashlights sold outside of these standards can make any claims they want, with some flashlights even claiming to output thousands of lumens of brightness – despite the fact that they hardly output more light than your smartphone’s camera flash.
Top 5 Things to Consider When Buying a Flashlight
Want to narrow down all of the information listed above into one easy-to-read form? Here are 5 important things to consider whenever you’re shopping for tactical flashlights:
-Budget: You get what you pay for in the tactical flashlight industry. If you’re paying under $40 for a flashlight, it’s probably not anywhere near “tactical” quality. On the other hand, paying $100 for a flashlight doesn’t always guarantee a high level of quality either.
-Size: Big, heavy flashlights are great for self-defense, but they’re impractical for everyday use or for portability – like if you’re going camping.
-Power Source: Some flashlights are rechargeable, which can be convenient if you don’t like swapping out batteries. Other flashlights feature batteries of different sizes. Flashlights with standard-sized batteries are more convenient, because the batteries are easier to find, although flashlights with specialized batteries might be able to output more power. If you’re going camping or plan on using your flashlight away from an electricity source, then battery power may be the best option.
-Brightness: It takes at least 100 lumens to cause temporary blindness with a flashlight. Anything with less than 100 lumens of brightness shouldn’t be considered a tactical flashlight.
-Durability: Different flashlights are made from different materials. Typically, the highest grade material is type III hard anodized aircraft grade aluminum with an LED bulb rated to at least IPX7 waterproofing. However, you can pay a little more for full IPX8 waterproofing, which means your flashlight is waterproof to a greater depth (over 1.5 meters) and for a longer period of time (4+ hours).
Types of Flashlights
There are three main types of flashlights on the market today. In some cases, your flashlight’s manufacturer might include an adapter that lets you change between the three main types of flashlights:
–Weapon lights (designed to be mounted to a pistol or firearm)
There are hybrid flashlights or multi-use flashlight adapters that let you transform your flashlight for use in multiple applications.
How Bright is Your Flashlight?
Your flashlight’s brightness can be measured using three important qualities, including Lumens, Candela, and Beam Distance. Here’s a brief overview of each one.
Lumens refers to the amount of luminous flux, light energy or light power that comes out of the face of the flashlight. A high lumens rating means you have a powerful LED and a powerful battery. Although lumens tends to be the most popular brightness measurement, it’s not nearly as useful as candela or beam distance. Some flashlights have high lumens ratings, for example, but have poor reflectors that only shine the light a short distance. Lumens should play an important role in your shopping decision, but it shouldn’t be the only ANSI rating to take into account.
Popular lumens ratings include:
-1 to 14 Lumens: These small lights will help you illuminate a dark room – like if you need help getting to the bathroom in the middle of the night or reading a map while camping. Using a flashlight like this won’t compromise your night vision even when used in deep darkness.
-15 to 59 Lumens: This is enough light to completely illuminate an interior room, although you won’t be able to see very far outdoors.
-60 to 149 Lumens: This is the level of light you want if you’re walking at night through your neighborhood. If someone approaches you in the dark, 100 lumens is enough to temporarily blind that individual.
-150 to 299 Lumens: This will easily light up a large room or illuminate your entire backyard. If you’re outdoors in the woods, you’ll be able to see pretty far. This rating is also enough to cause temporarily blindness even in a lit, indoor environment.
-300 to 699 Lumens: Most small flashlights will only reach this level of brightness during a burst mode or with special batteries. At this brightness, you can illuminate an entire football field or campground easily.
-700+ Lumens: This is a serious level of brightness only required for specialized jobs – like genuine military, police, or search and rescue operations. Some expensive handheld flashlights get up to 3500+ lumens, although most flashlights don’t come close to this rating.
Candela is a measurement of the peak beam intensity of the flashlight. It measures the brightness of the brightest point of light produced by the flashlight. Candela can change quite a bit regardless of the lumens rating because candela depends more on the beam angle and the reflectors of the flashlight.
When a flashlight has a tight, concentrated beam of light, the candela rating will be higher. When that light is more diffuse and spread out, the candela rating will be lower.
Beam distance is the measurement in meters that a light can go until it reaches 0.25 lux, which is the approximate amount of light output by a full moon on a clear night. Beam distance depends largely on the type of LED used as well as the reflector.
Ultimately, today’s flashlight manufacturers typically only list the intensity of their flashlights in lumens. Higher lumens means a brighter flashlight – but remember to consider the other two measurements listed above while shopping around.
Flashlights come in five different sizes. Typically, flashlight sizes are assessed based on the length of the device. Common flashlight sizes include:
-Micro Flashlights: Flashlights under two inches, typically designed to be attached to keychains. These may run on small CR2 or CR123A batteries.
-Mini Flashlights: Flashlights that are between 2 and 3 inches in length. Why this small measurement range? Well, at this range, you’re slightly larger than a micro flashlight but just long enough to fit in a AA or AAA battery. Some flashlights at this size range may output over 250 lumens of brightness. Nevertheless, mini flashlights typically aren’t described as “tactical” because they’re ineffective for use as a striking tool.
-Small Flashlights: Small flashlights are between 3 and 4 inches in length, which typically allows the flashlight to have deeper reflectors and longer beams.
-Medium Flashlights: Medium flashlights are between 4 and 6 inches. At this size range, you typically start seeing flashlights with two batteries. 18500 and 18650 specialty batteries are particularly popular. At this size, tactical flashlights can start to increasingly be used as self-defense tools.
-Large Flashlights: Large flashlights are anything over 6 inches. The larger the flashlight, the better it can be used for self-defense.
Types of Tactical Flashlight Batteries
It’s not just about AAs and AAAs in the tactical flashlight industry. These flashlights have all sorts of different types and varieties of batteries, including:
-Disposable Alkaline: Disposable alkaline batteries are what you think of when you hear the word “disposable battery”. They include things like AAA, AA, C, and D batteries. Although they don’t pack the same punch as other batteries, they’re easy to buy at any store.
-Disposable Lithium: Disposable lithium batteries are significantly different than standard lithium ion batteries. They have more in common with alkaline batteries and have a shelf life of around 10 years while also being able to output more power – making them popular for survivalists.
-Rechargeable Cells: Rechargeable lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries can be found in some tactical flashlights. Specialized batteries in these sizes include 18500, 18650, and RCR123A. These batteries come with great power output and the ability to recharge through conventional power sources. The downside is that the batteries are expensive to replace and you may need to buy your own charger.
-Integrated Rechargeable Pack: Some batteries come with a charger built into the device, allowing you to plug the flashlight directly into the wall. Other flashlights allow you to remove the battery pack and plug that into the wall separately.
Flood Flashlights Versus Throw Flashlights
During tactical flashlight review research, you’re bound to come across terms like “flood” and “throw”.
A flashlight with good “flood” is said to illuminate a very large area – but it doesn’t go very far in terms of distance.
A flashlight with good “throw”, on the other hand, will send a beam of light very far, but that beam of light doesn’t illuminate a large area (it’s more concentrated).
The flood or throw of a flashlight depends mostly on the reflectors.
Your decision of whether you want to purchase a flood or throw flashlight depends on the application.
Do you need your flashlight to illuminate a large area? Or do you need a flashlight for close up applications, or narrow areas of focus?
Of course, you can also get flashlights that have good flood and throw, or flashlights that can switch between modes.
Types of Flashlight Switches
There are also multiple types of flashlight switches on the market today. The switch is the part of the flashlight that turns it on. All of the following are popular on tactical flashlights:
-Head or Tail Twist: These switches are common on small flashlights because they don’t take up much space. These switches work by changing the electrical contacts based on how tight the head or tail is screwed on.
-Body Switch: Body switches are a popular design found on tactical flashlights. They allow specialized types of grips that are not available on the other two switch types.
-Tail Switches: Tail switches are typically the most popular for tactical flashlights. These switches place a button on the bottom of the flashlight, allowing you to adopt an overhand grip in a fist position without turning off the flashlight (good for self-defense). Tail switches are also the most popular tactical flashlight option if you plan on attaching your device to a firearm.
Types of Light Modes
Flashlights come with a few different light modes and brightness levels. Good flashlights have 4 or 5 different modes, although some people might find that they’ll only ever use one mode. If you’re planning to use your flashlight for multiple applications, then having multiple light modes is valuable.
-On or Off: All flashlights have an on and off light mode.
-Low, Medium, and High: Some tactical flashlights have low, medium, and high brightness levels for different applications. If you just need to illuminate a small space and don’t want to compromise your vision, then the low light might be perfect. Some flashlights even have up to 10 different brightness levels to allow you to minutely tune the flashlights according to your unique application.
-Strobe: Strobe light mode is specifically designed to disorient an attacker. It blinks quickly and changes its intensity and pattern to throw off attackers. Police officers and military personnel often rely on this action for self defense.
-SOS: SOS is a Morse code signal (—…—) used to indicate an emergency situation. If you want to send out an emergency signal when you’re camping or hiking, then the SOS mode is valuable.
-Beacon: Some flashlights have a beacon that works like a lighthouse, blinking at full brightness every few seconds. This conserves more battery than SOS mode while still allowing you to be seen by search and rescue personnel.
Tactical flashlights are made from four main types of materials, including plastics, aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium:
-Plastics or Composites: High-quality tactical flashlights will rarely use these materials. However, certain flashlight companies – like the well-known Pelican brand – are famous for their lightweight composite flashlights.
-Anodized Aluminum: Most modern tactical flashlights use anodized aluminum. You’ll see this aluminum separated into different varieties, including type II aluminum or type III (hard anodized) aluminum. Type III is more durable and resistant, but may be more expensive.
-Stainless Steel: Stainless steel is strong and durable but also adds significant weight to your flashlight. That may be good if you plan on using your flashlight for self-defense, but less than ideal if you value portability.
-Titanium: Titanium has the strength of stainless steel with the lightness of aluminum. The main downside is that titanium flashlights are very expensive.
The Most Popular Tactical Flashlights on the Market Today
- Shadowhawk X800 Tactical Flashlight
- Lumitact G700 Military Grade LED Flashlight
- Streamlight 88040 ProTAC HL
- Streamlight 69260 TLR-1
- Vizeri Focusing (MIlitray Grade)
- SOLARAY PRO ZX-1
- OxyLED MD20 LED
- Helotex G2
- Surefire G2X
- Nitecore EC4S 2150
- UltraFire WF502B CREE 56 XM-L
- Streamlight 88031 Protac PT 2L
- FordEX Group 330lm Mini CREE
- DB Power WF 501b Cree XML T6
- Guard Dog Security with Stun Gun
- Smith & Wesson Galaxy Elite
- Fenix E21
- NEBO Redline Select 5620
- Wagan EL2498 Xtreme Brite-Nite
Ultimately, the tactical flashlight industry is bigger today than it has ever been before. But by carefully considering all of the above characteristics on your flashlight, you can make a smarter purchase and ensure your next tactical flashlight meets your unique needs.