Tactical Flashlights

Initially developed for the military and law enforcement agencies, tactical flashlights are now available for just about anyone. Tactical flashlights are a category of flashlights designed specifically for high intensity light output in a very small hand-held or weapon-mounted platform. They have a much higher light output than standard flashlights so that they can temporarily blind the target and obscure anything behind the light, making the operator much more difficult to see. Older conventional flashlights with two D-cell batteries and a standard bulb emit only about 15 to 25 lumens. Tactical flashlights emit anywhere from 60 lumens to more than 200 lumens.

There are three main types of tactical lights. Weapon lights either have a rail mounting system built into the body (such as item# 37980 pictured to the right), or have a straight 1″ body tube for easy mounting in a clamp. Skilled operators know that lights work both ways; they not only illuminate any bad guys, but they also show the bad guys where you are. Weapon lights are able to be dismounted from the firearm and hand-held so that they do not necessarily give away the position of the weapon muzzle or the direction it is pointed when the light is illuminated. Weapon-mounted lights usually have a tailcap switch or a switch built into the rail mount so that they can be turned on and off quickly. Tactical lights that are designed to be hand-held only usually have knurling on the tube, or have finger grips that allow them to be gripped between the index and middle finger, allowing for easier use with a firearm. These lights are available with a twist on/off switch or with a tailcap switch, and sometimes both with a twist switch used to keep the light on and the tailcap switch as a momentary switch. Belt clip tactical lights are a civilian-specific design intended to be clipped onto a belt or pocket. Obviously, the belt clip they are equipped with makes weapon mounting difficult or impossible. These tactical lights are also available with both a twist on/off switch and/or tailcap switch.

Tailcap switches allow you to hold the light with your thumb at the rear of the body of the flashlight with the body between your index and middle fingers, similar to the way you would hold a hypodermic syringe. This allows the light to be utilized along with a handgun so that your hands interlock and provide a solid base. Twist-style switches are more reliable since they use less moving parts. Tailcap switches, however, allow for momentary use of the light. This allows the user to sweep a room with brief intense beams of light and reduces the chance of revealing your location to any bad guys who may be in the vicinity.

Tactical lights are designed to withstand extreme combat environments, as well as the stress and recoil of being mounted to a firearm. They are often armored and/or are manufactured from high-strength materials. Almost all feature waterproof or water-resistant construction. Springs and cushioning are common construction components utilized to protect the bulb and other sensitive areas of the light from impacts. The reflector and lens of tactical flashlights are manufactured to higher standards using better materials than most standard flashlights. High-tech coatings on the reflector and precision optics on the lens give the light a more solid and intense beam.

Tactical flashlights tend to all be around the same size with a 1″ tube between 3″ and 6″ in length. Instead of the standard D-cell or AA batteries, most tactical flashlights utilize one or two 3-volt 123A lithium batteries (LIGHT-310). These batteries provide higher voltages to run the high-pressure xenon bulb. The tungsten filament in these bulbs can burn much brighter and hotter than typical filaments, enabling higher voltages to be used and giving the flashlight a much more powerful beam of light. This high performance comes at a cost; most tactical flashlights can only run for about 60 minutes before the light begins to dim. Most use xenon bulbs, but some new models use high intensity LEDs to extend battery life. Some high end LED models such as the Elzetta ZFL-M60 (60655) are capable of outputs of 235 lumens for 1.5 hours.

There are a wide variety of tactical flashlights available to serve many applications. They all retain certain design characteristics like compact size, lithium batteries, high power output, and standard 1″ diameter tube. No matter what application you need a tactical flashlight for, there is sure to be one specifically designed to fill that role.

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. Its great how you point out that using the flashlight gives your opponent a strong target indicator. It always seems like the tactical light and laser companies want you to think that their product is the answer to all situations when in reality they need to be used judiciously.

    I was actually amazed when I bought my first Surefire 6P LED. I put together a photographic comparison between the 6P and the most powerful headlamp I own.

    I will have to check out the Elzetta. 235 lumens! 🙂

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit exceeded. Please click the reload button and complete the captcha once again.

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.