Flashlight Series Part II:
How to Pick the Best Tactical Flashlight

Hopefully, we have had a chance to read Part 1 of this series, What makes a Flashlight a “Tactical” Flashlight. In this section, we’ll cover how to pick the best flashlight for your needs.

In picking a tactical flashlight, you have to ask yourself how you intend to use it. The best light to mount on your rifle may not be the best light to mount on your shotgun or to carry in your pocket. A couple things to consider:

The range at which you will use it: For long distances, you want a light with a good throw or range. For close distances, you want a beam that has a wide circle of illumination. In other words, you want to light up the room, not just one dot on the wall. A flashlight’s throw is usually determined by the head design of the flashlight, including the reflector and lens. This, in turn, can affect flashlight size and carry options. (Note that the claims of flashlight makers may be technically accurate, but in our opinion must be taken with a grain of salt. Just because they claim a light as a throw of 500 yards does not mean you will be able to identify your target at that range.)

A PowerTac E5 light with weapons kit mounted on an AR15 with a GG&G Upper.

A PowerTac E5 light with weapons kit mounted on an AR15 with a GG&G Upper.

How you will carry it: Do you wear a duty belt all day and is there room for a flashlight on it? Do you need it to fit in a pocket? Will it be in your tactical attaché or a backpack? Will it spend most of its time in the glove box or center console? Will it be mounted on your weapon? The answer to these questions will help determine the size and weight of the best light for you.

How Bright is Bright Enough? The level of illumination you need to navigate in the dark is probably far less than the level you need to identify a suspect or what they are holding in their hands. (Is that a weapon or a cell phone?) Likewise, the amount of light you need to read a map is going to be different than the level you need to search the ground for clues, tracks, or a blood trail. The up side to a very bright light is probably obvious, but the downside is a sacrifice in run time and possibly an increase in size and weight and how hot the light gets during use. (Generally speaking, the brighter a light, the faster it will burn through your batteries and the hotter it will get in your hand.) A light with three modes may run for only 90 minutes at high, yet could run for 3 hours at medium and 10 or even 20 hours at low.

How much run time you need: Will you use your light minutes or hours per day? Are you directing traffic with an orange cone on it, or do you work the day shift and only need it when inside buildings or other confined spaces?

Do you want it to be rechargeable? Many lights can be fitted with rechargeable batteries while others can be plugged in to charge them. Some need to be fitted to a charging dock or plugged into a USB port (a method that is becoming increasingly common.) In general, rechargeable lights are more initially expensive but become more cost effective each time you recharge them instead of buying batteries.

Do you plan to mount it on a weapon, and if so what kind of weapon? We strongly favor dedicated weapons lights rather than carrying a single light that can be mounted on a weapon. Dedicated weapons lights are always there when you need them. The TLR-1 and 2 from Streamlight are excellent dedicated pistol-mounted lights and can be used or long guns as well. For long guns, match the weapon’s throw to the weapon. For example, a shotgun mounted light does not need to clearly illuminate a target at 200 yards, but that may be ideal for a rifle.

What, if any, accessories do you need? Do you need a cone to direct traffic? A red or green filter? A weapons mount? It’s always better to buy these accessories with the light than to find out later that you could use them.

As you can see from the above list, the best tactical flashlight may, in fact, be two different lights. One for you, one for your gun. Or one for your pocket and one for your vehicle.

In part 3, we’ll take a look at our recommendations for the best tactical flashlights.