Gear, Parts and Accessories

Shedding Some Light on Lights

What’s the first thing you should slap on the end of your new AR-15? A tactical light of course, but not just any light will do. Try putting poorly a made flashlight on the end of your home defense gun and it will be lights out before you know it.

I had one of my chums show up to the range with his new Mossberg 500 Persuader. This genius installed a cheap clamp-on flashlight adapter and a 9-dollar light to the end of his pistol grip contraption. Those things work great for Airsoft, or even a .22, but a short barrel 12-gauge pump shotgun kicks like a mule. The gun kicked that flashlight off before the first magazine tube was empty. We all got a good chuckle at his expense.

So what do you need to know concerning lights to avoid getting laughed off the range? Well, it depends on what you mean to do.

Handheld Lights

Handheld lights work fine for pistols, but not long guns, since you need both your hands to operate a long gun properly. As with most things, you really do get what you pay for. If you buy a SureFire, you really can’t go wrong. These things hold up to an incredible amount of abuse, but you’ll shell out more than 100 bucks for most models. Some Surefire models feature a patented lock out tail cap. In English, that means that you can twist the back end to lock the flashlight into the off position, so it doesn’t accidentally turn on inside your go bag and drain the lithium batteries. A few new brands are attempting to challenge Surefire in the world of indestructible lights. American Technology, Streamlight, and Blackhawk! are all coming out with outstanding handheld flashlights that will make it to war and back.

Weapon Mounted Lights

There are endless choices when deciding what light to mount on your weapon. The best advice we can give, is make sure the flashlight itself has good specifications, and that the mount itself is a match for that specific light. This will prevent slippage, and elimination of rattling or the need to constantly adjust the position of the light.


If your light doesn’t have a lithium battery, then you’re wrong. While alkaline batteries do provide moderately long shelf life and low initial cost, they simply don’t perform nearly as well as the lithium ones. Cold weather performance of the lithium battery is also far superior. The advantage these batteries give in performance is because of their long shelf life, high specific energy, and gradual voltage decay over the battery’s lifetime. If you can afford to carry lithium batteries, then by all means, do so.


While Tactical Flashlights made with traditional incandescent bulbs are becoming progressively rarer, you still definitely want to get a tactical flashlight with LED bulbs. Why you might ask? For starters, LED bulbs are more power efficient, enabling much longer battery life. Later generation LED bulbs are brighter and generate far less heat than their conventional counterpart’s do, which in turn means less drain on power. Finally LED bulbs are long lasting–often rated for over 50,000 hours and often beyond 100,000 hours of use.

Variable Intensity

When buying a tactical light, make sure it features a variable intensity mechanism. When you are performing simple, everyday tasks, you don’t want to be burning that bulb at maximum power, as this will drain your battery very quickly. Battery life increases almost exponentially when you operate at a lower setting. Burning at maximum output will expend your batteries in under a few hours.

Power Output

This is what most people look at first when they are trying to choose a light. Most companies measure light intensity with lumens, which is the measure of the power of light perceived by the human eye. The higher the lumens, the brighter the light should be. Buy the highest lumen count you can afford.

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!

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