It wasn’t that long ago when police officers carried Maglites, and what made them “tactical” was simply that their shape and weight gave them the ability to be used as an impact weapon in a pinch. Today’s tactical flashlights are smaller, lighter, brighter, and tougher than the once-ubiquitous Maglite, thanks to new battery and LED technology. But before we get all technical, let’s look at what makes a flashlight “tactical.”
At Captain Dave’s, we believe a tactical flashlight must have these features:
- It must be bright enough to disrupt the night vision of the other guy and make him turn his head or shield his eyes with his hand when you point the beam at his face. A bright light in his face makes also it harder for him to see you and to detect your movement; it may disorient him and leave after-images when the light is off, making it more difficult for him to engage you.
- It should have a tail cap switch that provides options for both momentary on and constant on.
- Unless used as a dedicated weapon light, it should offer multiple brightness settings that are easily selected by the user.
- It must be small enough to carry all the time, either in a pocket or in a belt holster.
- It should be waterproof and shock proof.
- It should require only one hand to operate.
These additional features are useful and nice to have, but are not mandatory:
- A strobe mode. (Some would argue that this is mandatory, but there are pros and cons to strobe modes, and they are not necessary for lights mounted on long guns.)
- A body design that will not roll when set on a flat or sloped surface.
- The capacity to be mounted to a weapon. Even better, it should have accessories for weapons mounting, such as a remote pressure switch.
- Rechargeable batteries or the ability to accept rechargeable batteries.
- A bezel or tail cap designed for striking, making it usable as an impact weapon, should the need arise.
- A secure clip to attach it to your pocket, vest, or MOLLE webbing .
- A lanyard for those times when dropping your light is more than just an inconvenience.
- A good warranty.
What tactical flashlights should NOT have:
- Lots of small LEDs. These lights may be great at the campground or during a power outage, but they are not powerful enough and the heads tend to be too large for easy carry in a pocket or holster.
- Secondary LED bulbs that provide different color lights (red, blue or green, for example) are acceptable.
- Using two or four LEDs bundled to increase brightness to more than 1,000 lumens is also acceptable. Lights 9, 12 or 20 smaller, weaker LEDs are unacceptable.
- AAA or AA batteries. A flashlight powered by AA or AAA batteries may be good a keychain light or every day carry light, but they will not have the run time or brightness required for serious tactical purposes. Your back up light can be powered by AAs, but your primary should not.