It is rather obvious that most people do need to have a flashlight of some sort at hand.
But the needs and requirements are quite different for each class of users and therefore the desirable characteristics for best tactical flashlight will vary accordingly.
You may want a tiny little lamp to keep on your bedside table that you would just use to go to the bathroom without awaking your partner.
You need a slightly bigger torch for use at home in case of a power outage.
These kinds of flashlights can be purchased from any nearby stores or supermarkets.
They are easy to find and cheap, but how long they would last is certainly a concern to be addressed. Youll notice that they are not subject to much strain therefore they dont need to be very sturdy.
For heavier uses, you will need a more professional tool. Many user profiles can be identified such as (non-exhaustive list):
- Outdoors activity addict: trekker, camper, fisher, hunter, or simply walking the dog,
- Professional worker: truck driver, mechanics, fireman,
- Law enforcement: police officers, security guards,
- Military in their many roles, including users of weapon-mounted flashlights.
All of these users will need, to some extent, a flashlight that we call tactical. This paper is aimed at helping every potential user to choose the best flashlight for one’s own purpose.
The first step is to define the material of which the case of the flashlight should be made.
In this market, you will find bodies made of metal or plastic.
Furthermore, there may be a coating adapted to the material intended to enhance the quality or bring additional benefits.
It is true that the chemical industry today is able to produce plastics with very good mechanical properties.
However, for our purpose, it is clear that the best choice is aluminum. This material has more useful properties than the best plastic product.
Aluminum is light weight, non-magnetic, corrosion resistant and a good electrical conductor. Therefore, we can summarize as follows:
- The weight will not be a burden if you have to carry your light for hours either by hand or in a holster on your belt.
- It will not produce perturbations on a compass if you have to use one in the vicinity.
- It will survive in hostile environment or at the seaside for example.
- Passing current through the body of the flashlight simplifies its construction by providing a return path for the current.
Although offering a natural strong mechanical resistance, aluminum has a rather soft surface.
In order to prevent scratches and bumps, it is advisable to harden the surface. This is achieved by a process called anodizing. The process consists in immersing the aluminum part into an acid electrolyte and running a current through it.
This electrolytic process produces a thin coat of aluminum oxide. The anodic layer is non-conductive. The layer is somewhat porous, depending on its thickness.
The corrosion-resistant property is improved by an additional process of sealing. Cooling the acid solution to the freezing point of water produces a much thicker coating that penetrates deeper into the aluminum.
Various types of anodizing processes are known which produce the following results:
- Type I uses a chromic acid solution. It produces a 0.5 μm to 18 μm thick layer.
- Type II uses a sulfuric acid solution. It produces a 1.8 μm to 25 μm thick layer.
- Type III also uses a sulfuric acid solution. It produces a 13 to 150 μm thick layer. This type is also called hard anodizing or hardcoat.
- It gives aluminum a stronger surface.
- It makes your flashlight more durable and resistant to harsh conditions.
- It appears that Type III Hard Anodized is standard coating for it. Other processes do not produce good enough results.
Choice of battery cells
Now you know what your top choice should look like from the outside. Lets then have a look at the inside.
To begin with, we need a power source. There is a multi-fold choice to make on this matter.
First of all, we have to compare alkaline versus lithium batteries and, secondly, disposable versus rechargeable batteries. We will then look in more details into the selected types.
Lithium batteries last a lot longer than alkaline ones before the energy load is depleted. The ratio is somewhere between four and seven times longer, depending on the particular application.
They can also output a higher voltage for a longer period of time which is very useful for many devices. More voltage and more time means more energy stored in lithium cells.
On another hand, lithium battery units are more expensive than alkaline ones. However, the extra cost, if you can afford it, is overcome by the better efficiency so that, on the long run, lithium batteries are more effective than alkaline units.
Finally, it is noteworthy to say that lithium cells weigh about 1/3 less than their alkaline equivalent and they are not prone to leakage of chemical corrosive products that could damage your light.
- More efficient energy wise
- More expensive
- Lighter weight
With the above data, you have decided that you want lithium batteries. We will now discuss about the most renowned battery types, both disposable and rechargeable.
In the first instance, the two types of cells do not have the same chemical content. Disposable cells are Lithium whereas rechargeable cells are Lithium-Ion.
Most of the flashlights now are CR123A 3V lithium battery powered. The CR123A battery outputs 3.0V as opposed to 1.5V in an AA alkaline battery.
CR123A are small and lightweight. Lithium batteries withstand a wide range of temperature -40F to 140F (-40°C to 60°C). This cell has a shelf-life of 10 years; this allows them to be easily stored without charge drain. Self-discharge is less than 2% after 1 year of storage at + 20°C.
- The high voltage in a small package means a significant increase in power density which is a must for modern LEDs with high current draw.
- The reduced weight is an asset for a portable light which will be held in hand for extended periods of time.
- The temperature range is perfect for use in rough conditions.
- Low self-discharge rate permits storage of a high level of spare parts without loss.
An alternative to the CR123A is the 18500 Li-Ion rechargeable batteries. If a tactical flashlight uses two CR123As it will most likely work with 18650 Lithium-ion batteries (you should consult your flashlight’s manual to confirm compatibility). These cells are industrial batteries with extremely high energy density 3.7V to 4.2V, commonly used in laptop batteries.
18650 Li-Ion cells can be found fitted with Protective Circuit Board (PCB); they are called Protected 18650s.
A protected cell will shut down the cell if the current demand exceeds safe levels. It will also be protected from overcharge, therefore you can safely leave the flashlight in the charger cradle at all times when not in use.
As stated above, these cells are rechargeable. Many manufacturers have a “clever” charger in their accessory listing. This protects your battery from overcharge and stops changing when the battery is full.
- They have an even higher power density capability than the CR123A cells, most desirable for your high end flashlight.
- The protected type of cell is the one to go for as they will give a safer service.
- Running costs are reduced as you dont need to buy and store many spare cells.
- The clever charger protection keeps the battery safe.
This battery is the same size as the CR123A but it is rechargeable. RCR123A is sometimes also called 16340. It has a higher voltage (3.2V) but a lower capacity than primary CR123As. It is advisable to get protected type only and to use it with a “clever” charger.
If a flashlight uses two RCR123a‘s (or CR123as) in most cases it will be able to run with one 18650.
It is advisable to use 18650 instead of RCR123a’s because of higher energy density. I like 18650s because they usually are better priced per amount of power they produce.
Disposable vs. Rechargeable
Primary (disposable) batteries
Less expensive at purchase
Re-usable many times
Single use, need repeated purchase
Its time now to take a step into modernity. In recent times, LED (Light-Emitting Diode) technology has grown as a dependable, powerful and valuable light source.
It now outperforms by far other technologies such as the vintage incandescent bulb but also more recent devices such as halogen or xenon devices.
However, LED components are still rather expensive but prices are dropping sharply, thus making them more and more attractive and this trend is going to last.
One of the most noteworthy features is that LEDs lack a heated filament and a glass bulb. This means that they are much more impact and shock resistant than bulb type devices.
- LED is the best choice light source for tactical flashlight which may be frequently submitted to rough handling.
- If flashlight is going to be used on a firearm, its LED should be further reinforced to withstand recoil.
Another very interesting feature is its lifetime. Most LEDs today exhibit lifespan of 50,000 hours or more, some high end ones can even go as high as thousands of years.
- Extended lifetime means that you will never need to change your light source.
- As a side benefit, youll not need to deal with spare parts: so good for your warehouses but also for your tactical equipment, whether it is a rucksack or camping equipment: travel light and save!
LED devices are the most efficient as regards the ratio light output/energy consumption. With the constant increase in light power out of a single chip, this means highest light output and longest run times.
This characteristic makes LED chips ideally suited for use:
- You get bright illumination while on long night shifts without concern to duration.
Additionally, we have to consider the so-called light color temperature.
Color temperature defines the spectral distribution of light source, in other words it is a measure of the relative mixture of red and blue light being emitted. It is measured in Kelvin. The higher the Kelvin value of a light source, the whiter and later the bluer the light emitted by this source. It is not a measure of brightness (see below). Here is one definition of the Kelvin scale (thresholds may vary according to sources):
- Warm White: from 2600 K to 3500 K: incandescent light bulbs.
- Natural White: from 4000 K to 4500 K: typical fluorescent lighting.
- Daylight White: from 5000 K to 5500 K: noon day sunlight.
- Commercial or Cool White: above 6000 K: industrial applications, hospitals.
On the warm side, the light color is yellowish whereas on the cool side light color tends to be bluish. For flashlights, we would prefer to be between 5000 to 7000 K as it is the kind of light which best allows for natural color of objects recognition.
Another important characteristic is the amount of light an emitter can output and how efficiently this amount of light is used by the device it is mounted in.
Luminous flux is measured in lumen, a measure of power. Luminous intensity is measured in candela, a measure of intensity.
The relationship between lumen and candela depends on the beam angle. If the LED is focused into a tighter beam with a reduced beam angle, the luminous intensity (brightness) will increase without actually increasing the amount of light (flux or power). As an example, if you divide by two the beam angle (say from 30° to 15°) while keeping light power constant (lumen figure), intensity (candela figure) will be multiplied by four.
In most cases, flashlight manufacturers specify the power of their products in lumen but rarely give the candela intensity. As explained above, the latter will depend on reflector design.
Most modern light have multiple brightness modes and special purpose modes such as strobe and SOS beacon.
- Experience shows that 250 lumen is bright enough to blind one’s opponent standing at handgun’s shooting distance.
- If opponent’s eyes are adjusted to night vision then 100 lumens is enough.
- A variable mode output might come in handy in a survival situation. Strobe is especially efficient for signaling at maximum power while at the same time extending battery life as much as possible.
- How high flashlight brightness can go is just as important as how low can it go. Very low brightness modes are usually employed when some illumination is needed while eyes must stay adapted to the dark. This can be achieved if light output is not greater than 6 lumens.
Yet another feature of your flashlight is how this bright light is put to use. LEDs produce more or less uniformly smooth light while incandescent light bulbs produce various shapes and dark rings due to their construction and filaments.
As explained earlier, reflector design will impact the way light power is being used. A narrow angle will increase the center beam intensity, therefore extending the reach (also named throw) of the beam. Around the center beam is an area of less intense light named peripheral.
A smartly designed reflector can help combine qualities to get a superior product. Reflector is the most important part for eye pleasing light quality.
- Most flashlights have smooth reflector (mirror like) but some high end ones have textured reflectors. Textured reflector smooth out light and hide any light source imperfections.
- Reflector is also responsible for focusing the center beam. It is wise to choose a modelwith tightly focused center beam. It enables longer reach and is especially important when mounted on a weapon for accurate targeting.
- Peripheral light is also very important to consider. Being uniform and of good quality will greatly increase the users peripheral vision.
Controls and Available accessories
However powerful, must also be user friendly. Operation must be straightforward and reliable, adapted to the intended use of the light. It is also desirable that the manufacturer provides optional equipment so as to allow the user to tailor to his /her own needs.
- It must have a reliable on/off switch. It must withstand a high number of operations without failure. This is of paramount importance. How good is a flashlight if one can’t turn it on when it is the most needed in an emergency?
- The switch must provide instant on/off operation. Any delay must not be tolerated.
- A good flashlight must have a separate control for brightness levels. It is important that mode switching can be performed without delay or hesitation.
- Is the flashlight of your choice provided with a holster? For small to medium size lights, it is handy to be able to hang it from your tactical belt, thus allowing for hands-free operation.
- If you plan to use your flashlight mounted on a gun, does it have a rail mount adapter? Several adapter keys must be provided. Youd better check that the key which fits your gun is included.
- Also is there a Remote Pressure Switch for the type of flashlight you’re buying? This may be handy if you need to operate the light mounted on a gun.
- Also consider if light diffusers and color filters are available. Especially important in tactical situations is red color filter used to dim the light.
Best Tactical Flashlights
Many people need one associated with a laser sight. You can find cheap items at your local gun dealer. But if you are serious about your equipment, you need a professional tool such as the Streamlight TLR-4.
This ultra bright flashlight is designed to fit most compact and sub-compact handguns but will also fit most full-sized handguns with standardized rails.
Youll find it a perfect fit whether you are a police officer, a soldier, a security guard or even for your own self-defense at home.
SureFire P2X Fury
Everyone does need a flashlight, right? You can find an inexpensive model at the store next door; it will be OK to find your way at home after a power outage or to search your car trunk for keys that slipped out of your bag.
But what about the good guy who needs a superior flashlight to use with his gun, pistol, or whatever weapon he carries? And the trekker who needs to illuminate the cliff he is climbing on?
And the SAR crew who are going out for a rescue at night?
They can do no better than check with SureFire lights. Among the models offered for personal, corporate or military use, they will find that SureFire P2X Fury Dual Output LED flashlight will not disappoint.
Read Full Review
Are you a police officer or a security guard taking your duty day or night all year round? Then you need a dependable and powerful flashlight.
The Streamlight Stinger flashlights have been on duty for years.
The newest version with the Crees C4 LED chip features smart enhancements and it will help you in your daily assignments in a reliable manner.
Read Full Review
Are you a camping addict? If so, you have already faced the challenge of finding the best flashlight for your favorite outdoor activity, as probably have all your fellow campers.
It seems that among the wide choice of models offered by the Fenix flashlights series, you can find the right tool that you have long been dreaming of. Let us have a look at the TK35 model.
Read Full Review