What Are the Best Tactical Flashlights for EDC, Camping, and Survival?

Surefire G2X

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 tactical flashlight that’s often mounted onto rifles, but it can definitely be used as an EDC device as well.

Review Summary

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We’ve said this before, and we’ll say it again: a tactical flashlight is an indispensable part of your EDC kit or bug out bag.

Can you imagine surviving through a blackout without a reliable light strapped on your person? We sure can’t.

The uses of a tactical flashlight go beyond survival, too. You can use it for all-around jobs at home or at work, law enforcement, emergency response, and even for self-defense if the situation calls for it.

You can’t deny the fact that a tactical flashlight is a must-have for every prepared individual. The question is: what are the best tactical flashlights out there?

That’s what we’re going to find out in this article, so read on!

Hold Up, What Makes a Flashlight “Tactical,” Anyway?

If you missed the memo and are not quite sure what a tactical flashlight is, here’s a quick refresher:

Tactical flashlights are basically your everyday house torches…if these torches were on steroids.

As the name suggests, tactical flashlights were initially made to help the police and military in tactical operations. They were often used in combat, mounted onto weapons, or utilized to identify and apprehend perps. Like any good piece of tactical gear, however, these lights soon caught the attention of the general public, and it was only a matter of time before they made their way to commercial markets and into the EDC kits of many a civilian.

The biggest factor that sets tactical lights apart from their kitchen-drawer counterparts is their powerful light output. A tactical light can pack anywhere between 100 to 1000+ lumens and can reach distances of at least a hundred meters. In comparison, most household flashlights can only produce around 50-80 lumens at the maximum and can reach several feet in beam distance.

Tactical flashlights are also built like tanks. Most of them are made from sturdy materials like stainless steel, hard anodized aircraft grade aluminum, and sometimes, proprietary polymers or special plastics.

They’re also equipped with strike bezels that can be used for self-defense, breaking glass, and the like.

Ingress Protection (IP Rating)

Depending on their Ingress Protection (IP) rating, tactical lights can also be water and impact resistant. Here’s a quick look into how they’re classified:

IP rating chart
photo from bluesea.com

ANSI Standards

Aside from IP ratings, The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has also established standards for tactical lights. You’ll often find these icons on the packaging or specs sheet of any tactical light. Here’s a quick look at the common icons used:

ANSI rating chart

Things to Consider When Looking for a Tactical Flashlight

Lots of factors come into play when searching for the best tactical flashlight. There are specs to look into, features to consider, and of course, price points to evaluate.

Here’s a short guide on what to look for when choosing a tactical flashlight:


First things first: what are you using the tactical light for? A tactical flashlight is a pretty straightforward tool, but you still need to consider its main purpose in your kit.

Are you in law enforcement or the military? You probably know your thing and need a robust light that can handle some use and abuse. You might want something that can easily be clipped on a holster or mounted on weapons. Aggressive strike bezels can also be part of your checklist, should you use them for self-defense.

If you’re a first responder, you might need a powerful yet long-lasting light that can help you identify threats, signal for help across long distances, or aid in medical emergencies.

If you’re an average Joe who just needs a reliable light for everyday fixes and chores, there are a lot of tactical lights that fit the bill, too.

Once you’ve identified the purpose, it will be easier to narrow down your choices and criteria of the best tactical flashlights further along the way.

Weight and Size

parts of the tactical flashlight

Tactical lights can come in various shapes and sizes, but you can roughly classify them into two categories: small tactical flashlights and large tactical flashlights.

Here are the main differences between the two:

Small Tactical Lights

  • Average length: About 1 to 3 inches
  • Average weight: About 1-4 oz
  • Shape: straight and slender, also marketed as micro/mini-flashlights or pen lights
  • Pros: lightweight, portable, can be clipped on key chains or fobs
  • Cons: tend to heat up easily, usually don’t have strike bezels
  • Preferred by: folks who travel frequently and wish to carry something light and discreet

Medium to Large Tactical Lights

  • Average length: About 4-6 inches
  • Average weight: About 5-8 oz
  • Shape: straight handle with bulbous heads
  • Pros: great grip, don’t heat up easily, can be outfitted with sharp strike bezels
  • Cons: relatively heavier, may not be TSA-approved
  • Preferred by: those in the military, law enforcement, or people who need a light for heavy-duty jobs

Light Output, Peak Beam Intensity, and Distance

When it comes to determining a tactical light’s brightness, lumen output is not everything—it’s actually just one slice of the pizza. You must also look into the light’s peak beam intensity (candela) and beam distance.

Let’s break these factors down one by one:

Max Light Output (Lumens)

You see a lot of manufacturers throw the word “lumens” around as if it’s the end all, be all of tactical lights.

It’s actually not.

By definition, lumens are the total quantity of visible light produced by a device. They refer to how much light a flashlight puts out, regardless of direction.

A lot of things can influence the light’s lumen output, such as:

  • The actual LED used
  • Its power source
  • The light’s reflector

That being said, even if your light has a really high max lumen output, its actual performance would still depend on these factors.

Peak Beam Intensity (Candela)

If lumens are all about the amount of light a device puts out, candela is all about the intensity. To be very specific, candela is a unit used to measure the intensity and focus of a particular beam.

In terms of tactical flashlights, candela is usually measured by finding out how much light hits a 1-foot square area, 1 foot away from a wall at a 90-degree angle. The higher the candela, the more throw and focus you get from a light. On the flip side, 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 tactical flashlight 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, so don’t forget to take that into consideration when choosing a tactical light.

Beam Distance

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.” In plain English, that means the max distance at which the flashlight will give you the same amount of light produced by a full moon on a clear night.

Beam distance is measured in meters and is closely related to the light’s peak beam intensity. The more focused the light, the farther its beam distance.

Power Source

Another thing to consider when looking for a tactical light is its power source. There are two ways to go about this: you can use rechargeable cells or opt for disposable, non-rechargeable ones.

Non-rechargeable or disposable cells

  • Alkaline (AA, AAA, C, or D batteries)
  • Lithium cells (CR123)

Alkaline batteries are the 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 or reusable cells

  • Li-ion 18650
  • RCR123A

Rechargeable batteries tend to be expensive upfront, but they can 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 hundreds of times before they’re rendered unusable.

USB-Charging Capability

USB charging is one of the latest innovations in tactical flashlight technology. These flashlights are usually powered by 1 18650 rechargeable lithium battery and come with a USB cord.

With this unique and versatile feature, you don’t have to worry about running out of power; you can plug your flashlight into any USB-compatible device like a laptop, portable power bank, or vehicle.

Light Modes and Special Features

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 simple.

Here are the light modes available in most tactical flashlights today:

  • Single output – this can’t be more simple: you can turn the light on and off. Most single-output tactical lights give around 100-300 lumens
  • Low to mid – used for general tasks such as reading, looking for stuff in the dark, camping, bushcraft, and other activities
  • High mode – can be used to shine light across long distances, for distress signals, and to blind perpetrators
  • Strobe and SOS functions – useful for distress signals, limited visibility (ie biking at night or driving through foggy roads), and self-defense.

Aside from the usual light output functions, modern tactical flashlights are also made with other special features:

  • 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

How We Did Our Review

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 and pored over hundreds of reviews and testimonials from people from all walks of life. We gathered dozens of insights before narrowing our list down to the 7 best tactical flashlights. Once we got the flashlights on hand, we 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 tactical flashlights aren’t created equal.

We documented it all in the reviews below:

The Top 7 Best Tactical Flashlights

Surefire G2X

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 tactical flashlight that’s often mounted onto rifles, but it can definitely be used as an EDC device as well.

Review Summary

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  • 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

The Surefire G2x is 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.

surefire tactical light bezels

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.

surefire tactical flashlight

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 tail switch. 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 the best tactical flashlight doesn’t have to be complicated. This straightforward tactical light does its job and does it so well that it deserves a spot in your EDC kit.

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Fenix PD35

Review Summary

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  • 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 (tail switch and side switch)
  • Comes with holster, 2 non-rechargeable batteries, a lanyard, and O-rings
  • Sleek and slender design
  • Doesn’t heat up quickly


  • High price point at $70

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 this tactical flashlight is 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.

fenix PD35 tactical flashlight bezels

That being said, the Fenix is lighter at around 4 ounces and is far more slender than most tactical flashlights in this list. There's nothing clunky about this light at all. It fits great in the hand. And because of its slim shape and high peak beam intensity, the light gives a really impressive throw. The Fenix also doesn’t heat up as much as the other lights in this list despite being slender. 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 tactical flashlight 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.

Fenix PD35 tactical flashlight, sideview

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 tactical flashlights out there.

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Helotex G4

People who want a sturdy tactical flashlight 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.

Review Summary

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  • 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

Despite being only 5.5 inches long, this tac 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. This tactical flashlight can definitely be used for self-defense.

helotex g4 tactical flashlight bezels

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.

helotex g4 tactical flashlight tailswitch

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 this tactical flashlight 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.

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Nitecore EC11

At 3 inches and just under 2 ounces, the Nitecore EC11 is one of the smallest tactical flashlights 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 for the best tactical flashlight.

Review Summary

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  • 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 a 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

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.

nitecore ec11 tactical flashlight bezels

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 tactical flashlight 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.

nitecore ec11 tactical flashlight sideswitch

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 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, it starts getting warm 3 minutes into its highest setting. By the 5-minute mark, it gets pretty hot and is uncomfortable to hold.

nitecore ec11 tactical flashlight, solaray tactical flashlight, size comparison
The size difference between the Nitecore EC11 and the Solaray tactical flashlight

The light is undeniably packed with so many features. It might not be the best tactical flashlight 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.

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J5 Tactical V1-Pro

Three things make the J5 special: first, it runs on a single AA battery. Second, this tac 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? We break it down.

Review Summary

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  • 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

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?

j5 tactical flashlight, side clip, bezels

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.

This tactical flashlight 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.

j5 tactical flashlight tailswitch

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 the best tactical flashlight for those who want a reliable device without spending a small fortune.

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The Solaray Pro ZX-1 has an adjustable focus feature and is quite sizable at 6.2 inches when fully extended. Aside from being one of the biggest tactical flashlights on this list, the ZX-1 also has one of the highest max light outputs at 1200 lumens.

Review Summary

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  • 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

solaray tactical flashlight


What we love about the ZX-1 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 a really great throw. Zoomed out, the flood is even and bright. The light can be powered by one rechargeable lithium 18650 battery. It also comes with a sleeve so you can fit the 3 AAA cells.

solaray tactical flashlight, bezels

This tactical flashlight doesn’t heat up too much as well. It started getting warm during the 15-minute mark, but it didn'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 tail switch.

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.

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Olight S1 Baton

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 tiniest tactical flashlight on this list.

Review Summary

Buy on Amazon


  • 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%

The S1 is slightly smaller than the EC11 and can be powered by a single CR123A or RCR123 battery.

It 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.

olight s1 baton tactical flashlight

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 mode. 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 this tactical flashlight 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 an excellent light output and is definitely handy, but is quite limited in terms of features.

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.

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Final Thoughts

Tactical flashlights are some of the best EDC tools that one can carry. 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.

All lights in this list are good, but the Surefire G2x really impressed us with its light yet sturdy nitrolon body. It’s a single output, no-nonsense light that does its job well.

Another great light is the Fenix PD35 with its ergonomic tail and side switches

We hope that this guide was helpful in presenting each light’s pros and cons. 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.

Which of these is the best tactical flashlight for you? Let us know in the comments below!

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