Imagine this: a category 4 hurricane is wreaking havoc and it’s downing power lines left and right. It’s a blackout. The world is plunged into darkness and you can’t see a thing. What do you reach for first?
How about this: you’re making your way across a dim parking lot. It’s a bit of a walk to your car and unfriendly people could be lurking just around the corner. How do you check the area for threats and make sure you get home safe?
Or hey, maybe you’re just a guy who needs a reliable light that can be used and abused to get you through another work day. Whatever you use it for, a tactical flashlight is a unique tool that you can use in emergencies, identifying threats and even self-defense. It’s something that you need to have in your everyday carry (EDC) kit.
What Makes A Flashlight “Tactical”?
As the name suggests, tactical flashlights were initially used to aid police and armed forces in tactical operations. They’re often made of tough aerograde aluminum casing and are equipped with powerful light outputs that can go anywhere from 100 to greater than 1000 lumens. Most come with bezels that can be used for self defense or in some instances, breaking glass. Depending on their rating, tactical lights can also be water and impact resistant.
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has established standards for tactical lights. Here’s a quick look at the common icons used:
Tactical flashlights were often used in combat, mounted onto weapons or utilized to identify and apprehend perps. However, because of their reliable build and multiple functionalities, these lights soon caught the attention of the general public. It was only a matter of time before they made their way to commercial markets and into the EDC kits of many a civilian.
Today, all kinds of people— from preppers, outdoor enthusiasts, handymen to average Joes— have tactical flashlights clipped on their belts or stowed away in their glove compartments or EDC kits. These days, tactical flashlights aren’t only used by men and women in uniform; they’ve now become a vital tool for everyday tasks.
How To Choose A Tactical Flashlight
Now, tactical lights aren’t the cheapest things to buy. These bad boys can be considered as investments.
There are literally hundreds of lights out there, each promising different functionalities. Choosing the right one that fits your needs can be a tricky job.
So, naturally, we took it upon ourselves to find out which tactical flashlight is worth your while.
We looked at dozens of products, pored over hundreds of reviews and testimonials from people from all walks of life. We narrowed it down to the top 10, compared them side by side, and weighed each light’s pros and cons.
We then subjected them to rigorous performance tests.
Floors were chipped, some paint jobs were nicked and more than a dozen non-rechargeable batteries met their maker (or the trash can, in this case). In the end, we determined that even the best lights aren’t created equal. We documented it all in the reviews below:
The Top 10 Best Tactical Flashlights
Max Light Output: 320 lumens
Modes: single output, temporary on
Power: 2 CR123A batteries
- 320-lumen single output
- permanent and temporary on features
- doesn’t heat up
- solid Nitrolon polymer body
- tough polycarbonate window
- comes in 3 other colors and can be painted
- single output only—no other modes available
What People Are Saying
- 1159 Amazon customer reviews with 93% 4-5-star ratings
Just because a light doesn’t have a lot of fancy bells and whistles doesn’t mean it’s less functional than the others.
The Surefire G2x is a no-frills, single output light that’s often mounted onto rifles, but it can definitely be used as an EDC device as well. It’s light and compact, with a nitrolon polymer body, Mil-SPEC aluminum bezeled head, and a polycarbonate window. The polymer makes the light sturdy and virtually impervious to extreme temperatures. During our heat test, only its aluminum head began to warm up, but the rest of the body remained cool as a cucumber. It also passed our drop test without a single chip or scratch.
The nitrolon gives the light a matte finish, but it’s got enough texture on the body to keep it from slipping or dropping from your hands. The light has bezels on the head, but they don’t look like they’ve got too much bite. The light is, however, very bright, so you can use its powerful 320 lumens to stun any potential perps instead. It’s the only light in this list to come in 3 other colors: orange, yellow and green. Painting a camouflage pattern onto the light is possible as well.
The G2x is basically the embodiment of the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle: it’s got permanent and momentary-on functions that you can access through its tailswitch. You can also move between these two modes by twisting the light’s tail cap. It can be kept on for long periods of time without a hitch as the light’s output hardly decreases even after several minutes of continued use.
The Surefire G2x is proof that a good light doesn’t have to be complicated. This straightforward tactical light does its job and does it so well, it deserves a spot in any EDC kit.
Max Light Output: 1000 lumens
Modes: Turbo, High, Mid, Low, Eco, Strobe
Power: one 18650 rechargeable Li-ion battery or two 3V CR123A Lithium batteries
- 1000 lumen max output
- 6 output modes
- Has dual switch (tailswitch and sideswitch)
- Comes with holster, 2 non-rechargeable batteries, lanyard, and O-rings
- sleek and slender design
- doesn’t heat up quickly
- high price point at $70
What People Are Saying
- 819 Amazon customer reviews with 90% 4-5 star ratings
Like the G4 below, the Fenix PD35 also boasts a maximum of 1000 lumens at its highest setting, but it’s much pricier at a little over $70. Many owners of the PD35 (the 663 individuals who rated it 5 stars on Amazon, to be exact) would, however, agree that it’s worth every penny.
The package comes with a holster, 2 non-rechargeable CR123A batteries, a lanyard and a couple of spare O-Rings. In our opinion, you can do without the holster since it isn’t really of the best make. The light comes with a clip anyway, so you can conveniently put it on your belt or stow it in your pocket.
That being said, the Fenix is lighter at around 4 ounces and is far more slender than most lights in this list. It fits great in the hand; nothing clunky about this light at all. Because of its slim shape and high peak beam intensity, the light gives a really impressive throw. And despite being slender, the Fenix doesn’t heat up as much as the other lights in this list. It started getting warm at the bulb at around 20 minutes, but the rest of the body barely heated up.
What we love about this light is that it’s got 6 features (turbo, high, mid, low, eco and strobe) and two switches: one on the tail and another on the side.
The tail switch works smoothly and has a momentary-on function. The stainless steel side switch is used for toggling between modes.
The side switch is definitely a winner— it’s ergonomic and makes for a more convenient experience. Pressing the side switch for a second will let you move between turbo, high, mid, low, and eco while pressing it for a couple more will get you to strobe.
Overall, it’s pretty safe to say that the Fenix has the best of both worlds: its slender design makes it easy to carry and its performance, ergonomic build, and functionality can definitely match those of the bigger lights out there.
Max Light Output: 1000 lumens
Modes: High, Low and Strobe
Power Source: 2 CR123 batteries or a single 18650 rechargeable battery
- 1000 Lumen CREE XM-L2 LED
- Tri-mode (High, Low, Strobe)
- Runs on 2-CR123 or 1-18650 button top battery
- Runtime 72+ hours on low power setting
- Aircraft spec 6063 T-6 anodized aluminum body with O-ring seals
- Comes with an attachable clip
- G4 never appeared to overheat and stayed cool until end of the test
- Emits cool white light
- Runtime 2.75 hours on high power setting
- Tapping the light to switch through modes is very sensitive and feels awkward
What People Are Saying
- 197 Amazon customer reviews with 87% 4-5-star ratings
People who want a sturdy tactical light will love the Helotex G4. The light is made of 6063-T6 aircraft aluminum alloy and it shows because the G4 is built like a tank.
Despite being only 5.5 inches long, the light has a nice, solid weight. It’s got a tough build but it’s not too bulky, either. The G4 comes with a clip, so you can conveniently attach it to your belt, but it can definitely fit in a pocket or EDC kit, too. The manufacturer doesn’t indicate the light’s impact resistance rating, but dropping it from a height of 1 meter did nothing to damage the light. If anything, the G4 ended up chipping the floor. The light also comes with a bezeled head that’s as solid as the rest of its body. It can definitely be used for self-defense.
The light can be powered by 2 CR123 batteries or a single 18650 rechargeable cell. Based on our experience, the latter works better than the former. Given its high 1000 lumen max output, it can only run for a little less than 3 hours on its highest setting. Running it on low will make it last for around 72 hours. What we love most about the G4 is that while it’s got a powerful max output, it never overheats. We ran it on its highest setting for 45 minutes straight and were pretty impressed that the light kept its cool until the end of the test.
The G4 emits a cool white light temperature, with the slightest blue tint on its spill.
The light has low and strobe modes that you can switch to from the tail. Now, as much as we like the light’s sturdy build and its ability not to overheat, we’re not big fans of its tail-switch. Turning the light on and off is easy enough, but switching through modes requires a tap so light it comes off as awkward and difficult. That being said, cycling through its modes takes a while to get used to.
All in all, the G4 is tough as nails. It’s a solid light that does its job pretty well, but its tail-switch could use a bit of improvement.
Max Light Output: 900 lumens
Modes: turbo, high, mid, low, ultra low, 3 flashing modes, and secondary red LED
Power Source: CR123A, rechargeable RCR123A or IMR 18350 battery
- 900-lumen max output
- secondary red LED output
- 20 hrs runtime on low
- versatile power options (runs on disposable CR123A and rechargeable RCR123A or IMR 18350)
- dual switch design
- comes with clip, O-rings, and batteries
- great texture and anti-roll features
- smart energy-saving mode
- standby mode
- easily heats up after several minutes on turbo
- only 30-45 min runtime on turbo
What People Are Saying
- 45 Amazon customer reviews with 86% 4-5-star ratings
At 3 inches and just under 2 ounces, the Nitecore EC11 is one of the smallest lights on this list. But don’t count it out just yet: the EC11 arguably has the most light output features out of all the contenders.
The Nitecore EC11 is tiny and could easily fit in the palm of your hand. If you’re a fan of big lights and want something a bit heftier, the EC11 might not be the best fit for you. Despite its tiny size, however, it has great texture and anti-roll features.
The light’s package comes with a holster and lanyard that both look sturdy enough. It also has a detachable clip, a couple of spare O-rings and 2 IMR 18350 Batteries. Note that this light can also run on CR123A and RCR123A batteries, so you have quite versatile power options.
Tiny as it is, the light packs a maximum output of 900 lumens on turbo. Aside from that, one can cycle through high, mid, low, ultra low plus SOS and strobe. And then there’s the secondary red-light LED feature that comes in handy during emergencies and also flashes in standby mode so you can find the light in total darkness.
The EC11 doesn’t have a tail-switch; instead, it’s got a dual side switch that does its job pretty well. The first button is used to turn the light on or off— it has a memory feature and saves the last mode selected. Pressing the power button for one second allows you to enter instant low mode; pressing it for more than one second while the light is still on enables a standby mode.
During standby mode, the red light flashes every three seconds. This lets you find the EC11 even when it’s totally dark out. It’s an awesome proactive idea, given that the light is so tiny and could most likely get lost or misplaced during use. The standby mode can last for as long as 6 straight days.
The second button lets you cycle through the light’s five modes. Pressing the mode button for one second instantly takes you to turbo mode.
Like most small lights, its greatest downside to the EC11 is overheating. The light has a smart setting that automatically adjusts its output. This is to prevent it from draining juice. This setting does work— the light’s output decreases significantly from turbo to low at around 10 minutes. Unfortunately, the light starts getting warm 3 minutes into its highest setting. By the 5 minute mark, it gets pretty hot and is uncomfortable to hold.
The light is undeniably packed with so many features. It might not be the best light for those who want something bigger, but it’s great as an everyday carry device, especially for people who want a reliable light that can easily be stowed inside a pocket, purse, glove compartment or EDC bag. It might not have very large bezels, but it sure can momentarily stun someone if you wish to use it for self-defense.
We don’t recommend going on full turbo for more than 10 minutes, though. This is to conserve energy and well, to prevent your hands from getting burnt.
J5 Tactical V1-Pro
Max Light Output: 300 lumens
Modes: high, low, strobe
Power: 1 AA battery or 14500 rechargeable Li-ion battery
- affordable at $13
- 300-lumen max output
- 3 output modes: high, low and strobe
- runs on AA battery or 14500 rechargeable
- solid and robust aerograde aluminum body
- adjustable zoom feature
- paint can chip after multiple uses
- alkaline batteries have shorter life span
What People Are Saying
- 13,457 Amazon customer reviews with 87% 4-5-star ratings
There are three things that make the J5 special: first, it runs on a single AA battery. Second, this light is the cheapest on the list at less than $15. Third, it’s got 13,457 rave reviews on Amazon, 3/4 of which are 5-star ratings. So, how does a cheap, alkaline battery-powered light get crazy good reviews from thousands of customers? Let’s break it down.
First, the J5 packs a punch with its 300-lumen max output. Sure, it’s nowhere near the 1000 lumens of some lights in this list, but how many of them are powered by a single AA battery?
The light is on the smaller side at only around four inches, but its weight and build are both pretty solid and robust. Some chipping on its paint job can be seen after the drop test, but other than its looks, it didn’t do any serious damage to the light itself. The J5 has great knurling and texture on its tiny body and comes with a clip. Its bezels are on the sharp side, so be careful not to take anyone’s eye out with it.
The light has 3 modes— high, low and strobe— which you can access using the tailswitch. Aesthetically speaking, the said switch is…well, not nice to look at. It’s a nasty red color and sticks out like a sore thumb. However, it doesn’t affect the light’s performance. The switch works like a dream and lets you toggle flawlessly from one mode to another.
The light also has an adjustable focus feature– something quite uncommon in smaller lights— so we’re quite glad that the J5 has one. Zooming in or out is no problem and light output is still excellent, but it can be quite spilly.
The AA batteries can actually hold their own; although AA batteries have a limited lifespan compared to their rechargeable kin, they still work great. The light never heated up after 45 minutes on continuous high mode. The test didn’t drain much of the light’s juice, either, so that’s a plus.
So, with its price tag and ace qualities, it’s really no wonder why the J5 is a fan favorite. It has an excellent price-performance ratio and is a perfect light for those who want a reliable device without spending a small fortune.
SOG Dark Energy DE-06
Max Light Output: 687 lumens
Modes: high, mid, low, strobe, temporary on
Power: 18650 rechargeable battery
- 687-lumen max output
- 75 mins runtime on max
- 32 hours runtime on low
- sturdy anodized aluminum body
- great knurling and bezels
- comes with rechargeable batteries and charger
- hard to press tailswitch
- heats up fast
- high price point at $107
What People Are Saying:
- 60 Amazon customer reviews with 92% 4-5 star ratings
We all know that SOG can make good knives, but we also wanted to know if any of their flashlights were worthy to make the list.
At around $110, the SOG Dark Energy is easily the most expensive light on this list. The package comes with its own rechargeable 18650 lithium battery and charger. The light— with its twisted, bezeled head and textured 6061-T6 aluminum body— looks tough and foreboding in an aesthetically pleasing way. In other words, it’s darn pretty for a tactical light.
The Dark Energy has a really great grip and build. It’s not too small at around 6 inches but its body is slim and feels good in the hand. It’s less bulky than both Anker and Solaray, described below, but has better knurling and body texture. Its bezels are smaller and less pronounced compared to the two lights as well. After the drop test, we saw some chipping around the tailswitch and the bezels, but no major damage done to the LED or windows.
The light has momentary on, high, medium, low, and strobe options that you can go through using the single-button tailswitch.
And that’s where the tiny issue comes in: the tail switch is kind of hard to press when you want to turn the light on or off.
Switching from one mode to another is fine, but fully pressing the button to switch the light on or off is not a smooth experience. We wanted to chalk it up as an isolated case, or a user issue (perhaps we have really weak thumbs?) but a quick glance at user testimonials and reviews on Amazon reveals that other users have the same complaint. It’s not a major issue in the grand scheme of things, because the light is truly bright at a max 687 lumens and well-built.
On the plus side, this also means that it would be difficult to accidentally turn this light on.
What we love most about this SOG light is that its brightness really lasts a long time. At max, the light can last for 72 hours straight. After running it on its highest setting for 45 minutes, the light showed no signs of diminished output. However, this also meant it heated up faster than the other lights. At around 20 minutes in, it got uncomfortably toasty.
Overall, it turns out that SOG not only makes good knives, they can also make functional tactical lights that are also easy on the eyes. While it has a tailswitch that needs a bit of work and a tendency to heat up, this light has solid functionality and can last a darn long time.
Max Light Output: 900 lumens
Modes: High, Medium, Low, Strobe, SOS, and zoom adjustment
Power Source: 1 Lithium ion battery with USB charging
- 900-lumen max output
- 5 light output settings
- adjustable focus feature
- comes with rechargeable batteries and charger
- USB charging feature
- pronounced bezels
- 2 hr max runtime on high mode
- 9.5 hrs max runtime on low mode
- cycling through the modes via tailswitch is difficult
- hard to zoom in and out
- body needs more texture and bite
What People Are Saying:
- 1320 Amazon customer reviews with 91% 4-5-star ratings
Unlike most manufacturers on this list, Anker specializes in charging devices like batteries and power banks— not flashlights. So, for them to have a flashlight that has rave reviews on Amazon is quite intriguing. We decided to include it on the list and put it to the test.
The compact box comes with one rechargeable 18650 battery, a wrist strap and of course, the micro USB charging cable, which, in the end, turned out to be the best thing about this light.
The USB charging capability is indeed a nice touch— you can charge it on your computer or use an adapter to plug it into a wall outlet. You can also take the battery out and recharge it the old-fashioned way. These options make the light more flexible as far as power is concerned. For this review, we juiced it up using the USB function and it performed without a hitch.
The LC90 operates with a tailswitch that lets you access each of the 5 modes– high, medium, low, strobe and SOS. We’re going to be honest: cycling through the modes is not easy. You need to click the switch twice in quick succession to get from one mode to another. This is quite tricky because the switch is pretty hard to press. On the plus side, it does remember the last setting used and has a temporary-on feature. The light doesn’t heat up fast, too. It started warming up after 20 minutes on its highest setting, but nothing too uncomfortable.
The LC90 is on the bigger side, and is quite heavy at 6.2 ounces. Some people may find these extra ounces a comfy weight, so if you want to go ultralight and sleek, the LC90 may not be your match.
The light has a large, bezeled head which can be used to adjust the light’s focus. Maneuvering the light to zoom in and out isn’t as fluid as we want it to be. The other adjustable lights in this list like the Solaray and the J5 can be zoomed in and out without a hitch. The Anker requires a bit more effort. Thankfully, the light output itself isn’t much of a problem. Zooming in, the light has decent focus with a bit of spill. It also floods pretty well when zoomed out.
The LC90’s body has some knurling to it, but we’d love to see more texture and bite. As it is, the LC90’s body is relatively smooth and matte compared to the other lights in this list. It can easily slip or roll in certain conditions. Although the light is pretty sturdy (it sustained but a teensy chip on its bezel after our 1-meter drop test), you wouldn’t want a light that keeps falling out of your hands when you need it the most.
Overall, the LC90 is a bright light with versatile power options thanks to the USB charging capability. We’re not big fans of its tail switch and zoom, though.
SOLARAY PRO ZX-1
Max Light Output: 1200 lumens
Modes: high, medium, low, strobe, sos
Power: Rechargeable 18650 Li-ion, AAA batteries
- 1200 lumen max output
- 5 light output modes
- can run on rechargeable li-ion batteries or disposable AAA batteries
- adjustable focus feature
- doesn’t heat up fast
- chipped bezels after drop test
What People Are Saying:
- 318 Amazon customer reviews with 83% 4-5-star ratings
When it comes to size, the Solaray Pro ZX-1 is right up there with the Anker LC90 and SOG Dark Energy. It’s got an adjustable focus feature and is quite sizable at 6.2 inches when fully extended. Aside from being one of the biggest lights in this list, the ZX-1 also has one of the highest max light outputs at 1200 lumens.
What we love about it is its adjustable focus feature. It compliments the light’s high lumen output very well, making it more versatile and useful in many situations. The head zooms in and out without a hitch. When zoomed in, the light focuses into a single, powerful beam with really great throw. Zoomed out, the flood is even and bright. The light can be powered by 1 rechargeable lithium 18650 battery. It also comes with a sleeve so you can fit the 3 AAA cells.
The light doesn’t heat up too much as well. It started getting warm during the 15-minute mark, but it doesn’t get too hot after that.
It’s got the standard 5 modes that you can find in most lights, namely: high, medium, low, strobe and SOS. Getting from one mode to another is smooth and easy with the tailswitch.
The light itself has a nice weight and build but it could use a bit more knurling and bite in the grip. The bezels sustained a bit of chipping after the drop test.
Max Light Output: 700 lumens
Modes: high, medium, low, strobe, beacon, SOS
Power: 14500 Li-ion rechargeable battery or 1 AA battery
- 700-lumen max output
- 3 brightness levels (high, mid, low)
- 3 special modes (strobe, SOS, beacon)
- head is adjustable up to 90 degrees
- magnetic bottom
- submersible for up to two meters
- not prone to overheating
- 1 hr 15 mins runtime on high
- 6.7 hrs runtime on low
- alkaline batteries don’t last long
What People Are Saying:
- 4 Amazon customer reviews with 100% 5-star ratings
At only 3.8 inches in length, the Rofis TR15 is one of the smallest in this list.
Like it’s small cousin, the J5, the Rofis can run on a rechargeable 14500 and on a standard AA. But that’s where the similarity ends: unlike the J5, the TR15 is smooth and sleek, has a higher max output at 700 lumens and is priced significantly higher at $40.
The Rofis is small enough to be stowed in a pocket, purse, EDC kit or clipped onto a belt. What’s great about it is that although it’s on the smaller side, it’s got a pretty substantial weight and texture. The light can withstand use and abuse, too: it’s impact resistant up to 1 meter (looked good as new after the drop test) and is submersible for up to 2 meters.
It’s easy to cycle through modes— you just have to press the side-switch to move through low, high and medium. Clicking thrice will bring you to strobe and from there you can press for more than 1 second to go through SOS and beacon. What’s the difference between SOS and beacon, you might ask? Not much, really. Both are used for signaling, but the latter blinks three consecutive times, pauses and then repeats the blinking pattern.
Max light output can diminish after several minutes using the AA batteries. On the plus side, it doesn’t overheat.
What’s unique about the TR15 is that its head can be adjusted to a 90-degree angle, and its bottom is magnetic. This means you can stick the light to any metallic surface. You can work hands-free on tasks such as plumbing, car repairs and the like.
Overall, the TR15 is pretty unique and has really good ergonomic features. It’s only got 5 reviews on Amazon, but all of them are for 5 stars, so that’s still saying something.
Olight S1 Baton
Max Light Output: 500 lumens
Modes: high, mid, low, moonlight and strobe
Power: 1 CR123A or 1 RCR123
- 500 max lumen output
- 5 light output modes (high, mid, low, moonlight and strobe)
- magnetic bottom
- overheat protection
- turbo mode only lasts 1.5 minutes before output diminishes by 50%
What People Are Saying:
- 197 Amazon customer reviews with 90% 4-5-star ratings
So, here’s the question with the Olight S1: are you willing to shell out 45 bucks for a light that’s no bigger than a grown man’s pinky?
At barely 2.37 inches, the S1 is both the smallest flashlight Olight has produced and is also the smallest light on this list. It’s slightly smaller than the EC11 and can be powered by a single CR123A or RCR123 battery.
The package comes with a spare O-ring and a wrist strap. The light also has a clip and sports a magnetic bottom so you can stick it to metal surfaces especially when you need two hands to do a job.
The S1 Baton may be tiny but it has an impressive 500 lumens max output on it. It’s impressively bright for a light this small. You can switch between high, medium and low by pressing the side switch for more than one second. Pressing it 3 times will get you to strobe. Overheating, as always, is an issue in small lights, and this one is no exception. You’ll feel the warmth in around 4 minutes and since the light is so tiny, there won’t be much room for your hands to adjust. The S1 also doesn’t have any bezels for self-defense.
As far as small flashlights go, this one can easily find a home in someone’s purse, bag or pocket as an EDC. It’s also great for travel. It’s got excellent light output and is definitely handy, but is quite limited in terms of features.
Things To Consider When Choosing A Tactical Flashlight
A lot of factors come into play when searching for the perfect tactical light. There are qualities to consider, specs to look into, and price points to evaluate. Still not sure which light is the best for you? Here’s a short guide to the things that you need to take into account when choosing a tactical flashlight:
First things first: what are you going to use the tactical light for? Are you someone in law enforcement or the military and need something that can help you in identifying threats? Do you need to mount it on a weapon?
Are you a first responder who needs a light that can assist them in emergencies?
Or maybe you’re just someone who wants a low-key EDC and self-defense tool that you can conveniently put somewhere discreet?
You have to know what you’ll need the tactical flashlight for from the get-go. From there, you can then fine-tune your criteria, know what features to look for and narrow your choices down.
Weight and Size
Tactical lights can come in various shapes and sizes.
On one end of the spectrum are the small lights— sometimes these can be further classified into mini and micro flashlights. These tiny lights can range from around 1 to 3 inches in length and can comfortably be stowed away in a pocket, purse or even attached to a keychain. Since they’re on the smaller side, they’re usually powered by a single battery and are controlled by side switches.
Small tactical lights come in slender, straight shapes and are usually outfitted with small bezels, if any at all. Sometimes they can even be marketed as “penlights”. Because of their shape and size, small tactical flashlights are the preferred device by people who wish to carry something discreet.
While they can still pack a high lumen output and have multiple features, they also have the tendency to heat up or burn through their juice easily.
On the other end you have the medium to large flashlights, which can range from some 4 to 6 inches— sometimes even more— and can weigh about 5-8 ounces on average. These lights aren’t necessarily bulky, but they do lend a significant weight on a holster or EDC kit.
Larger flashlights can be powered by a couple of disposable lithium or alkaline batteries, but more often than not they come with rechargeable battery systems. The larger flashlights often have other physical features like strike bezels for self-defense, tail-switches to scan through modes and adjustable zoom features that let you adjust the light’s beam focus.
In this review, the heaviest light was the Anker LC90 at a little bit more than 8 ounces. The Nitecore EC11 on the other hand only weighed 1.59 ounces.
A lot of factors actually come into play in determining just how bright a tactical light is. High lumen output is just one slice of the pie. You must also look into its peak intensity and beam distance. Let’s break them all down:
You’d see a lot of manufacturers throw the word “lumens” around, as if it’s the end all, be all of tactical lights.
Don’t be fooled, it’s actually not.
Defined, lumens is the total quantity of visible light produced by a device. It’s how much light a flashlight puts out, regardless of direction. A lot of things can influence the light’s lumen output, like the actual LED used, its power source and even the reflector. That being said, even if your light has a really high max lumen output, its performance would still depend on a lot of other factors.
If lumens is all about the amount of light a device puts out, candela is all about the intensity. To be very specific, candela is a unit of measure used to quantify just how intense a light is. In terms of tactical flashlights, it’s usually measured by finding out how much light hits a 1 foot square, 1 feet away from a wall at a 90-degree angle. Candela is the unit of measure used to determine how focused the beam is. The higher the candela, the more throw and focus you get from a light. Inversely, if the candela is low, you get a more diffused, floody light output.
Keep in mind that just because the light’s candela is high doesn’t mean that it’s the best light for you. A high candela may blind an attacker, but in threat assessment, it’s prone to shine an intense beam on one point and leave the rest in relative darkness. Lights with high peak beam intensity also burn through their power faster. On the other hand, a lower candela might not do much to disorient a perp, but it will help you in identifying threats over a larger area.
Since intense, focused light travels faster, beam intensity can be used to estimate the flashlight’s beam distance, which we’ll discuss next.
The ANSI describes beam distance as ” a measure of how far away the light will usefully light up an object when its beam is focused optimally”. It’s the max distance at which the flashlight will produce ¼ lux of light, or the light level produced by a full moon on a clear night.
Beam distance is measured in meters and, like what we mentioned earlier, is closely related to the light’s peak beam intensity, measured in candela.
Tactical lights are generally built to be used and abused. Depending on their rating, they can often withstand being dropped from at least a meter and can be used in wet and cold conditions. Tactical flashlights can survive these situations because most of them are built with durable materials, like the following:
Aerograde Aluminum Alloy
Arguably the most common material used to build modern tactical lights, aerograde aluminum alloy is lightweight yet very durable. It is often used to build airplanes, small utility boats, and auto parts. This material is often anodized to prevent further corrosion and improve the casing’s strength. The suffix attached to aluminum alloys (ie -T4 or -T6) indicates the material’s hardness or temper. The higher the number on the suffix, the stronger the material.
Some lights, like the Surefire G2x, are made with polymers. These are specially-developed materials that not only prevent damage and breakage but also prevent the light from overheating or freezing in extreme weather. Since most quality polymers are proprietary, they end up being a tad expensive.
Stainless steel lights are affordable and are built like tanks. Unfortunately, they can weigh like tanks, too.
If you’re feeling fancy and can afford to splurge a bit, there are some lights that are made of titanium. The material is both lightweight and durable, but can definitely burn a hole in your pockets.
Different power sources can be used to power a tactical light. They’re usually divided into two categories: non-rechargeable and rechargeable batteries.
Non-rechargeable or disposable batteries are the usual alkaline (AA, AAA, C or D batteries) or lithium cells (CR123) that you can find in many hardware stores. Alkaline batteries are cheapest and the most common. Disposable lithium cells, on the other hand, can be more expensive but are lighter and have a longer shelf life. Both cells work well with devices that only require small amounts of power. They’re not very efficient when used with high-draining devices, though.
Rechargeable batteries tend to be expensive upfront, but they could be beneficial in the long run. They work well with high-drain devices, like flashlights with really powerful lumen outputs and high peak beam intensities. These batteries can be recharged for hundreds of times before they’re rendered unusable. This makes them more environmentally friendly than their disposable counterparts. Common rechargeable batteries include the Li-ion 18650 and RCR123A.
Each light has its own set of modes and special features. Some people prefer lights that have a lot of output options, while some want to keep things straight-forward and simple.
Single output lights like the Surefire G2X produce the same light output whenever you turn it on. They’re simple, but most of them have enough lumens to get the job done.
Still, other lights have multiple output options such as high, mid and low. They also have additional features like strobe and SOS.
Low to mid settings are used for general tasks such as reading, looking for stuff in the dark, camping, bushcraft and other activities.
High modes can be used to shine light across long distances, for distress signals and even for self-defense. The brightest lights are capable of momentarily stunning an attacker, giving you enough time to escape or call for help. The light’s runtime significantly decreases the higher the light output and the longer you use it.
Strobe and SOS functions are useful when you need to call attention to oneself, like if you get lost or need to be rescued. They’re also effective in a situation with limited visibility, like riding a bike at night. Strobe and SOS functions can also be very disorienting so you can use them for self-defense or if you need to escape.
Cycling through several settings can be a chore, so lights with multiple features also often come with memory capabilities where the light remembers the last setting used. Otherwise, you can settle for a no-frills light that has fewer bells and whistles but will do the job just fine.
The Nitecore EC11 easily has the most light output modes and features, including a red light output and standby mode while the Surefire G2X is the only single output light on the list.
Aside from the usual light output functions, modern tactical flashlights are also made with other special tech features like USB charging and bluetooth compatibility. The LC90 can be charged through a computer using a USB cable. None of the lights are bluetooth compatible, though. Looking at available reviews, it would seem that more research is needed for that kind of technology to be worth your money or time.
Other special features that you might want to look into include:
- heads that can be rotated at an angle
- adjustable focus
- magnetic bottoms
- safety locks that prevent turning the light on accidentally
- standby modes
- battery indicators
- memory functions
On average, tactical flashlights can cost you around $30-$50. They’re not your ordinary household flashlights, so they can cost a bit. That being said, you really have to determine your budget and weigh that against the light’s performance and features.
Lights made of premium or proprietary materials like titanium or nitrolon polymer can be significantly pricier. Lights made of stainless steel or plastic, as well as those with limited runtime, are usually cheaper. Then there are mid-level lights that bridge the gap between the two.
In this review, the most expensive light is the SOG Dark Energy at $110 while the cheapest one ended up being the J5 at only $13.
Tactical flashlights are some of the best EDC tools that one can carry. They’re durable, portable and can be used for a multitude of things. As long as you’ve got a tactical light on your person, you can assess an area for threats, signal for help during emergencies and disasters and even wield it as a self-defense weapon, if needed. Even when they’re built like tanks, tactical lights can still be carried in pockets, belts or purses. They’re discreet. They can fend off an attacker if needed without critically endangering the person carrying it in the process.
There are a lot of things to consider when choosing the best tactical light out there, and we weighed in these factors before coming up with a decision. It’s worth noting that all lights in this list are good, but if we had to rank them based on our findings and test results, the best flashlight on this list is the Surefire G2x. It’s a straightforward light that’s made from insanely strong material. It’s a single output light that does its job well.
Notable runners-up include the Fenix PD35 with its ergonomic tail and side switches and the Helotex G4, which is built like a tank.
Each tactical flashlight has its own set of pros and cons, and we hope that this guide was helpful in objectively presenting those to you. As a buyer and potential tactical flashlight owner, you should also have your own set of criteria that will help you in choosing the appropriate light. Again, it all goes down to what you need and which light can fill that role best.
We hope that this guide gave you helpful insights on how to choose a tactical light! Which one was your best pick? Let us know in the comments below!