Gear, Parts and Accessories

Choosing a Flashlight: 6 Factors to Consider

Streamlight ProTac HL Head Mount Flashlight

A flashlight is an incredibly valuable item to have for everyday carry, but with all of the options available on the market today, how do you decide which one is best for you?

With so many factors to consider, how do you decide what is important? We’ll cover everything you should take into consideration when choosing a flashlight.

1. Batteries

Batteries are the ammo of the flashlight world. As much as ammunition is a major consideration (both in performance and availability) when considering the purchase of a firearm, batteries are one of the most important considerations when purchasing a flashlight.

The best flashlight in the world is useless if you cannot obtain batteries for it. Choose a standard battery that provides the performance you need. AA, D cell and CR123A Lithium batteries are the three most common battery types.

Some flashlights utilize a rechargeable battery and some use the disposable variety, decide what works best for you and go with it.

2. Run Time

Run time is the most important consideration when choosing a flashlight. When shopping for a light, first determine the minimum run time you will need for the desired application.

Security guards, for example, may need a flashlight that can run for multiple eight-hour shifts. Other applications such as underwater diving may need only an hour or two run time.

The brighter and smaller the flashlight is, the less run time you will get. Obviously, you want as long of a run time as you can get, but the trade-off for a long run time is larger or more expensive batteries, or dimmer light.

Streamlight ProTac
This Streamlight ProTac is large, but it produces an astounding 3500 Lumen light beam.

3. Brightness

The amount of brightness you need out of a flashlight is also an important consideration. For tactical applications, you will want a very bright light in a smaller package.

For other applications, like reading or use in a car or cockpit, a lower amount of brightness is desirable so that night vision is only minimally disrupted. Determine how you will use your flashlight and the distance you will use it at to help make this decision.

4. Attachments and Features

Depending on the role the flashlight will play, it will have a number of attachment options. Marine flashlights feature waterproof O-rings and are often are equipped with “life jackets” so that they won’t sink if dropped in the water.

Flashlights for SCUBA divers, in addition to being waterproof, are designed to have neutral buoyancy so that they don’t try to float to the surface while a diver is underwater.

Some tactical lights utilize lanyards as well as Picatinny or Weaver rail mounts. Whatever the role, make sure that your light has the appropriate attachments and features.

Streamlight TLR-1
The Streamlight TLR-1 is a popular light to mount on pistols.

5. On/Off Switch

The on/off switch is another important consideration for a flashlight. The switch is the only moving part on most flashlights, so it is the biggest point of failure for any flashlight.

Switch reliability is critical and should be a major consideration for your flashlight choice. Twist-on/off switches are the most reliable, utilizing the fewest moving parts, but they are not necessarily the easiest to use.

Tailcap-click switches are employed in most tactical flashlights because they are easy to use one-handed, and can be turned on and off for brief periods of time very quickly.

Streamlight MicroStream
The Streamlight MicroStream is not only compact, it is also USB rechargeable.

6. Reliability

Determining the overall reliability of a flashlight is generally very difficult. You can determine some information based on the construction and design of a light.

LEDs are much tougher than incandescent or halogen bulbs that have a relatively fragile filament. Some flashlights have rubber armor to help minimize impacts on the flashlight body.

But in the end, the only way to truly determine the reliability of a light is to use it. Seek out reviews of lights that have been put through actual use for six months or more to find what lights are the most reliable.

What are some of your favorite flashlights? Why? Let us know in the comments section below!

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

1 Comment;

  1. To quote the Rev. Cleophus Brown in the Blues Brothers, “Do you see the light?” I have found that it’s hard to be satisfied with a flashlight. I keep small plug- in rechargeables near where I sit or sleep. My older eyes need more light for small print or chores. I keep a bright tactical light on my nightstand for quick use when I wake up to an unexpected ‘thunk’ in the dark. I prefer to not mount a light on my firearm. Always remember the 4 most basic rules of firearm safety, especially under challenging lighting conditions. Always.

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