If you have spent any time at all researching high-quality flashlights, you’ve seen the term “tactical flashlight” more often than you can count. In fact, this formerly descriptive and specific term has become so overused as to lose all meaning.
So, if everyone is using “tactical” to describe any flashlight with a black finish, what is a true tactical flashlight? What characteristics must a flashlight possess to earn that title? What makes a tactical flashlight…tactical?
Well, there are several attributes that a tactical flashlight worth the name possesses in varying degrees. There are no hard and fast rules, but every flashlight will possess all these qualities in one form or another.
While price is not always an indication of quality, it’s a safe bet you won’t find a true tactical flashlight in the clearance bin. A tactical flashlight is an investment. Fortunately, if you open your wallet now to buy a quality light, it will last you for years to come.
Tactical flashlights must have the ability to cycle between various brightness level and modes of operation. At a minimum, your flashlight should offer at least two brightness levels and a strobe mode. Ideally, you will have upwards of four brightness levels plus strobe, beacon and SOS mode. The reason you need these modes is due to the variety of situations and environments in which your will find yourself. Not every situation calls for a 500 lumen beam – in fact, that much light could be counterproductive.
Easy to Use User Interface
Tactical situations are rarely well lit, warm and peaceful. In fact, the exact opposite is often true. It makes sense that a flashlight designed for these situations would feature an intuitive and easy to use interface. You need a flashlight that allows you to react, not think.
Most tactical flashlight features a tail cap switch user interface, but side switches are also common. Regardless, any user interface should allow you to quickly cycle through the available modes and power your flashlight on and off. Added features include a power and voltage indicator.
Arresting or interrupting an attack can often be the difference between life and death in a tactical situation. A tactical flashlight will feature the ability to quickly access what are known as interruption modes – either a high intensity beam or a strobe light. This allows you to disorient or blind and attacker with just your flashlight.
High Max Lumen Output Level
While not all situations call for a 300+ lumen beam, that doesn’t mean that a powerful flashlight beam isn’t necessary in some situations – like when searching for a suspect during a moonless, rainy night. If a flashlight doesn’t offer a max lumens output in the hundreds, it’s probably not a tactical flashlight. We have found that in many of the tactical flashlights that have truly been designed for use by law enforcement and military that they will often have maximum lumens output in excess of 800 lumens. Not to say you always need that high of an output, but more options are available than there were in prior years.
Tough and Durable Construction
Tactical flashlights are going to get beaten up. You are going to use them in less-than-ideal conditions. Those are just the facts. You need a flashlight that will keep working in even the worst conditions. Quality tactical flashlights use aero-grade or better anodized aluminum and the latest technology in their construction. At a minimum your tactical flashlight should have a 1 meter impact rating and an IPX-7 water resistance/proofing rating. Plastic just won’t cut it in a tactical situation.
We’ve already covered how interrupting an attack with a bright or strobe beam can save your life. Well, tactical flashlights often take self-defense a step further by incorporating features such as a crenulated, striking bezel. This sharp, jagged bezel will certainly ruin an attacker’s day if you can get in a strike to the face, throat or another soft spot.
Easy access to your flashlight is often a requirement in tactical situations. A flashlight designed for these environments and situations will often come with a high-quality holster. Many have an integrated clip that makes a flashlight even easier to deploy and harder to lose.
Weapon Mount Compatibility
Tactical flashlights are designed to be used in conjunction with a firearm. Sometimes, that means holding your flashlight in your off hand while gripping your pistol in the other; however, most prefer to mount their lights to the barrel of their firearms using a mounting system like the Picatinny Rail system. It certainly beats duct tape. Make sure your tactical flashlight is compatible with your preferred mounting method before investing.
The above features are, in our opinion, requirements for the title of tactical flashlight; however, there are some supplementary features that, while not necessary, are nice to have such as:
- Variable Beam Color –Different some situations call for a different color light.
- Variable Beam Shape – The ability to alter beam shape increases the effectiveness of your light.
- Rubber Grip – Prevents the light from slipping from your fingers or being too painful to grip in extreme cold and heat.
- Knurled Surfacing – Makes it easy to keep your grip on your light.
- Anti-roll design – Prevents your flashlight from rolling off an angled surface – like your car hood or trunk.
- Rechargeable – Buying batteries can get expensive. If you plan to use your flashlight daily, consider buying a rechargeable version.