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Don’t Get Left in the Dark: Factors to Consider When Buying a Tactical Flashlight 5/5 (1)

Now you may be wondering, do I really need to read an article detailing factors when buying a tactical flashlight? It shines light, plain and simple, right? Not so fast, Poindexter.  Not all tactical flashlights are created equal. So let me just say this, if you’ve ever cleared a dimly lit building – or tried to find your way hiking at night – you know how crucial a flashlight can be. The artificial light is taken for granted until the moment it craps out on you. Your pucker factor instantaneously triples and all forward motion ceases. Not only do your eyes need to readjust, but your safety is immediately jeopardized when you freeze in place. Mobility and threat scanning is crippled without your artificial sight.

The flashlight is the lifeline to completing your mission. So what sets flashlights apart, you ask? Well I’m glad you asked – or just continued reading past the intro. From lumens to power source, there are several variables to consider when making your decision. I’ve detailed various factors below, along with my choices for the best tactical flashlights currently on the market.

Choosing the Right Power Source

rechargeable flashlight, single use battery
Rechargeable Vs. Single Use Battery

Now, this may be something you thought was a no brainer, just go buy a pack of Energizer batteries and poof, let there be light! That’s the type of mentality that leaves you unprepared with a crack-pot lantern. A power source is essential, but each choice has certain tradeoffs. Some flashlights are powered by Lithium CR123As, which provided amazing power but are expensive, to say the least. Some flashlights are rechargeable, which is amazing for fiscal responsibility, but over time they tend to die quicker than others. Finally, you have the crank or shake powered lights, which utilize friction to power the light. I would just avoid these unless you’re in the apocalypse. They are weak and require constant noisy shaking or cranking, which isn’t exactly tactically sound – pun intended. I would stick to the lithium or rechargeable powered lanterns if your need something tactical.

Acceptable Lumens and Light Spectrum

gelan district operation, infrared flashlight
DVIDS – U.S. Army courtesy photo/Released

A lumen is considered a unit of measurement for the brightness of a light source.  The higher the lumen count the better, right? Yes and no. The higher the white light lumens the stronger the light, but this typically can also lead to faster power drain and produce tactical failure when you need it most. Murphy’s law reigns supreme in any sh*t storm. It’s best to find a happy medium between lumens and battery drain. In my opinion, any bulb over 250 lumens is sufficient and anything over 1200 lumens is overkill and will drain a battery drastically.

Having addressed lumen strength, let’s look to the spectrum of light. Some tactical flashlights have differing light spectrum (color) capabilities. The capability to switch to “infrared” light is key when operating in low light situations. Utilizing the infrared end of the light spectrum allows for the human eye to easily readjust in darkness if you find yourself in a tactical scenario requiring to suddenly go dark.

Tactical Weight and Grip

If you try utilizing the cup/saucer or cigar technique when shooting in low light scenarios, you know the importance of grip and weight. Holding a heavy flashlight creates stress on fine motor skills and impacts focus. Hands sweat, especially under stress. Any form of frictional surface is essential in keeping the flashlight in a steady grasp. A tactical flashlight should be slender, lightweight, and have a frictional exterior surface.

Dancing in the Disco: The Strobe Light Function

tactical strobe
Perhaps there’s a reason EDM concerts use strobes? A visual distraction from the awful music…

It’s no longer just a click on – click off – flashlight type of world. The modern day flashlights have low to high brightness as well as strobe functions. The strobe function is unique and recent in the last decade. Incapacitating a threat through the control of powerful bursts of light is now commonplace with tactical flashlights.

The downsides to the strobe function? It can disorient the operator as well as create issues when trying to switch between lumen strength.  Bottom line, if you’ve ever seen the strobe function in action, you know how impactful it can be in close quarter combat.

Tactical Flashlight Suggestions

Having detailed every different variable in the tactical flashlight world, I decided it was best to list two of my favorites. The first being a battery (non-rechargeable) operated light. The second I have chosen is a rechargeable lantern.

Battery Powered Flashlight:

Surefire’s V1 Vampire™

Surefire V1 Vampire, tactical flashlight
Photo Credit: Surefire

Cost: $265.00

Lumens: 250 white light on high setting

Runtime: Approx. 1.5 hours when powered by one CR123A lithium battery

I always used a Surefire light as a police officer. They truly are made with tactics mind. Aside from the quality white light lumens, the V1 Vampire™ has infrared capabilities as well – making it ideal for lowlight scenarios. This infrared capability does not require a physical filter, but is built into the light. Although the V1 doesn’t have the strobe capability, the low light infrared technology makes up for the strobe in a tactical sense. A knuckled end and compact body makes this flashlight a breeze to implement in either the cup/saucer or cigar tactical shooting grips. Finally, the fact that it runs on a single 123A battery helps keep costs to operate within reason for a budget conscious buyer.

Rechargeable Flashlight:

SOG’s Dark Energy DE-06

SOG Dark Energy, tactical light
Photo Credit: SOG

Cost: $194.00

Lumens: 687 white light on high setting

Runtime: Approx. 1.5 hours per charge on full setting

SOG is most commonly known for knives, but their new Dark Energy DE-06 is an exceptional tactical flashlight. To start with, the cyclone-like frame is amazing when finding proper light/firearm grips – not to mention the ribbed frictional coating. On high setting, it boasts 687 lumens of light, with a strobe capability sure to blind any attacker. The rechargeable battery helps save costs and provides approximately 1.5 hours of 687 lumens. The one downside? It’s made in China.  Come on SOG, you’re better then that…

Final Thoughts

If you’re not convinced at this point that a flashlight is essential for any tactical action, then I can’t help you.  Be smart with your investment and research the proper light for your mission.  Don’t just simply buy the most expensive one, get your hands on the actual product and see how it feels in your grip.  At the end of the day, your choice will either blind you or illuminate the way to safety.  Let there be light ‘Merica!

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The Author

Travis Mandell

Travis Mandell

Former South Florida Police Officer and Detective. Certified in criminal investigations, narcotics, tactical response and firearms. Now that he is in the private sector, he enjoys his constitutional freedom of speech once more. He's always down for some fishing, motorcycle adventures, or camping in the great outdoors.