In this post, Tactical flashlights 2017 – what you need to know before you buy, I discuss all of the things you might want to consider as you search for the perfect flashlight. I’ll discuss some of the primary features you want to be aware of prior to making your purchase, some go-to brands with good reputations and other pertinent details that you can use to help you buy a tactical flashlight perfect for your application. Let’s get started by defining what we mean by tactical flashlight (because there are probably a number of correct answers). One definition is simply a flashlight that can be attached to a weapon. Typically, this is a flashlight that is placed in a holder and attached to a rifle (like an AR-15) via a rail or a front site base.
Another definition is a flashlight that might be used by law enforcement or the military. Regardless of what your definition is, a tactical flashlight should fit in a pocket (in most cases) and typically looks something like the Fenix TK16 w/ dual tactical tailswitch shown below:
NOTE: All of the photos you see in this post are flashlights I actually purchased, own and use. YES – I really have tested and used these flashlights. Let’s just put it this way. There are a ton of “review sites” that talk about flashlights and you never see any real photos of them except canned shots from the manufacturer’s website.
Tactical flashlights 2017 – Features and functionality
When you buy your tactical flashlight you need to think about features and functionality. Let’s get started.
Lumens and brightness
The main feature that most people are interested in is the maximum lumens rating for a flashlight. This may or may not be the most important feature overall, but it’s the key feature most people judge a flashlight by. Most tactical flashlights range from 300 lumens to 1000 lumens. It’s a measure of the flashlight’s total light output and NOT the overall brightness of the flashlight.
The thing to remember is that it’s possible for one 1000 lumens flashlight to appear brighter (or dimmer) than another 1000 lumen flashlight. The two design factors that control this are the flashlight’s flood and throw. Flood refers to the flashlight’s beam width. Throw refers to the distance the flashlight’s beam will project. If you have a 1000 lumens tactical flashlight with a reflector/led combination that projects a wide beam (flood), it won’t appear to be as bright as a 1000 lumens tactical flashlight designed for maximum throw. In this case a picture is worth a thousand words. Below is a 140 lumens flashlight with an incredibly narrow beam:
The beam is so narrow that it appears to be much brighter than you’d think a 140 lumens flashlight would be. This is a perfect example of why the way the flashlight is designed is just as important as the lumens rating it receives. You should look for a tactical flashlight with a good balance between flood and throw. Truthfully, it’s sometimes tough to determine that from manufacturer specs, so it’s good to check out first person customer reviews (like those on Amazon.com), blogs (like this one – where the writer actually owns tactical flashlights) and flashlight forums (like CandlePower forums and BudgetLight Forums). If you need even more visual proof to help you understand what lumens are, see this video by Elzetta. Elzetta makes extremely high quality tactical flashlights that are built to withstand the rigors of military usage.
One last thing on lumens. Typically, the higher the lumens rating the more expensive the flashlight. There are exceptions. Surefire tactical flashlights are one example. Surefire puts a premium on extreme durability and you pay for that. Another exception are really inexpensive tactical flashlights claiming high lumens ratings. What are the chances that a $13.95 flashlight is a true 2000 lumens? Pretty slim. In other words, you get what you pay for.
Tactical flashlights 2017 – What size tactical flashlight do I need?
In the photo below you can see the two extremes in tactical flashlight size. One is a full-size tactical flashlight that you’d typically carry in a belt holster. The other is a small pocket carry (sometimes called EDC or everyday carry) flashlight. One is the Nitecore SRT7 Revenger and the other is the Nitecore EC11. The SRT7 Revenger has been out for quite some time and is still one of my favorite full size tactical flashlights (960 lumens rated). The Nitecore EC11 tactical flashlight is rated at 900 lumens and packs a lot of punch in such a small size.
Besides the full size and small offerings, the most prevalent and popular size of tactical flashlight the mid-sized tactical flashlight. The Nitecore P12GT (shown below) is an example of an extremely popular mid-size tactical flashlight. Besides the Nitecore P12 GT, other popular mid-size tactical flashlights are the Fenix PD35 Tac and the Thrunite TN12. All three examples of these mid-size tactical flashlight offerings are 1000 lumens or more and fit easily into your pants pocket. I personally own the Nitecore P12GT and the Thrunite TN12.
In my opinion, the Thrunite TN12 is the best tactical flashlight under $50.
Before you buy your tactical flashlight, consider how you want to carry it and let that dictate if you get a full, mid or smaller version.
Tactical flashlights 2017 – features and functionality
There are two schools of thought regarding tactical flashlight features and functionality. Some manufacturers (like Surefire and Elzetta) error on the side of simplicity. They build flashlights that are designed for use on weapons or conditions where the flashlight is going to get the crap kicked out of it. So we are talking hard core battlefield conditions. This means they have fewer functions (in some cases just on and off at one lumens output) and potted electronics. You are paying for durability rather than tons of features. A guy sitting in a recliner writing a blog post (like me) isn’t their target demographic. I just get to benefit from the fact that they offer these flashlight designs to the general public. I love a good torture test. Elzetta does one using their own tactical flashlights:
The other route is to offer more features and functionality. This is where most of the other major flashlight manufacturers are at. Most tactical flashlights by my favorite flashlight makers (Fenix, Nitecore, Klarus, Thrunite, Olight, FourSevens) that are full-size, mid-size, and even the small everyday carry versions offer a multitude of features that should meet just about any application you might have.
Tactical flashlight lighting modes
When you buy your tactical flashlight you want to make sure it has the lighting modes you think you’ll need. Every tactical flashlight has user selected modes spanning the total lumens output of the flashlight. The key thing is picking a flashlight that spreads the modes out evenly.
One specialized output mode some tactical flashlights offer is a “moonlight” or “firefly” mode. Typically, this is an output of 5 lumens or less. This is a nice mode to have when you need to turn on the flashlight in a pitch dark environment and it eliminates the need for your eyes to adjust to the light since the output level is so low. A practical application (which I’ve used many times) is looking for something in the bedroom at night when my wife is sleeping. It’s just enough output to find whatever it is you need and not disturb anyone that is sleeping.
Other special lighting modes that a tactical flashlight might have are strobe (very common) and beacon (not so common). The strobe is generally considered to be a self defense option that can be used to temporarily disorient a threat. If you’ll use the flashlight for hiking or hunting I strongly recommend considering a tactical flashlight with a beacon mode option. In beacon mode, the flashlight emits a flash of light at the highest lumens output approximately every ten seconds. If you were to become lost or injured, at night you could let the flashlight run in beacon mode so you can ensure being seen, while resting or carrying out other chores.
Tactical flashlight 2017 – switches and user interface
I’m going to cut to the chase here. I’m a huge fan of the dual (or split) tail switch. Klarus, Fenix, Nitecore and others are using it on a variety of their flashlight models and with good reason. It gives you an extremely easy way to access the strobe in a self defense situation. No cycling through a variety of clicks to get the strobe immediately. Here is the dual tactical tail switch on my Fenix TK16 flashlight (see picture below). My full review of this tactical flashlight is available at this link.
Typically, tactical flashlights have a combination of switches – a side switch and a tail switch. You’ll turn on the flashlight with the side switch and cycle through the lighting modes by depressing the tail switch. They normally have a memory feature as well. This means that if you turn off the flashlight in it’s highest lumens output mode and then turn it back on it will be in that mode. If you don’t have a tactical flashlight with a dual tail switch that gives you immediate strobe access, you can simply cycle through to your strobe and turn off the light. Next time you turn on the flashlight you’ll be in strobe mode due to the memory feature.
There are other lesser used interfaces to access lighting modes on flashlights. For example, my favorite full size tactical flashlight is the Nitecore SRT7 Revenger. This uses a twisty interface (Nitecore calls it a “Smart Ring”) to access the various lighting modes. Sometimes your extremely small pocket carry flashlights (like the Fenix E15) use a twisty interface as well. See the the Nitecore SRT7 Smart Ring below:
If you are mounting your tactical flashlight on a shotgun or black gun you’ll probably want to activate it with a pressure switch. Before you buy make sure the manufacturer offers both a holder and a dedicated pressure switch. I highly recommend getting the manufacturers flashlight holder rather than an aftermarket version. My experience has been that aftermarket versions are hit and miss sizing-wise and you really need to be able to secure that flashlight to your rail or you are going to lose it.
Lastly, read the specs on the interface before you buy. If you have to fumble around to find the right lighting mode it doesn’t matter how good the flashlight is… you’ll end up hating it. I’m all about simplicity so that’s why I love the dual tail switch flashlights.
Tactical flashlight 2017 – power options
This section is short and sweet. You’ll either be using standard batteries, typically a CR123a or rechargeables. Most tactical flashlights that use rechargeables use the 18650. Some higher output flashlights that are tactical in design use proprietary batteries to get the full lumens output claimed. If you are buying a light that uses a proprietary rechargeable battery, I recommend buying a spare or two to have on hand in case that battery is no longer made in the future. If you are buying a tactical flashlight for bug out bag or some other emergency kit, you should consider one of the brighter flashlights in AA. In the event of a real “shi* hit the fan” emergency, recharging a battery won’t be an option and most stores don’t carry CR123a batteries. But just about every house and every store has AA batteries somewhere.
Tactical flashlight 2017 – LEDS
I won’t delve too deeply into LEDs except to mention a few things to consider. Some tactical flashlights will list options like “cool white” or some other LED tint. So the same model flashlight may offer various LED tints for you to choose from. A very few may include colored LEDs as well. Colored LEDs are typically used by people that are hunters and use that colored LED to pick up blood trails. Some are used for emergency signaling. The only tactical flashlight with colored LEDs that I own is the Nitcore SRT7 Revenger.
There have been some nice advances made in LEDs recently. The result are tactical flashlights that appear markedly brighter that their predecessors. A good example of this is shown in the difference between the LEDs used in the Nitecore P12 and P12 GT models. I own both and took these photos that clearly illustrate the difference between their LEDs:
Both of these photos were taken at exactly the same lumens output (1000) yet the P12GT appears brighter. That’s because it’s using the a newer LED by Cree that offers a higher intensity output than previous LEDs that were available. By the way, that’s why I continue to recommend the Nitecore P12GT to people who have never purchased a tactical flashlight. If you can only own one than this is the one to get.
Tactical flashlight 2017 – How waterproof is it?
Yup. Most tactical flashlights work when submerged in water. Pictured below is my Nitecore P12GT submerged in water. The key thing to know about the tactical flashlight you are purchasing is the IPX rating. This is an industry standard rating that is applied to tactical flashlights so you know how waterproof or water resistant your flashlight should be. Most tactical flashlights are IPX-8 rated – meaning that it can be submerged in water deeper than 1 meter PER the manufacturer specifications. In other words, if the flashlight is submersible to 1.1 meters or 10 meters it is IPX-8 rated.
Tactical flashlight accessories
What other stuff do you get when you buy a tactical flashlight? Typically, full and mid-size tactical flashlights come with a holster made of black nylon. You normally get some spare o-rings as well (used to keep your flashlight waterproof). Other accessories that might be available are colored lenses or filters. If you plan to mount the light to a weapon, you’ll want to make sure there is a holder that fits on a picatinny rail and and a pressure switch to turn the light on and off.
Tactical Flashlight 2017 – What should I buy?
It’s really impossible to say what is the best tactical flashlight for you to buy. But if someone were to ask me what I thought a good full, mid and small size tactical flashlight would be worth buying I’d start with these:
Full-size – Nitecore SRT7 Revenger
The fact that the Nitecore SRT7 Revenger is still being made by Nitecore four years after being introduced should tell you quite a bit about what people really think about this flashlight. I love mine and as I’ve stated earlier in this post, it’s my favorite full-size tactical flashlight. It’s packed with plenty of features and even has red, blue and green LEDs. It features 960 lumens of output. My full review of this flashlight can be found here.
Pros: Packed with features and lighting modes including strobe and beacon.
Cons: It’s a bigger tactical flashlight and depending on the pants you wear you may have to use a belt holster.
Full-size – Fenix TK16 Dual Tactical tail switch
I still consider the Fenix TK16 to be closer to a full-size tactical flashlight, but I wanted to show it next to the Nitecore SRT7 to give you an idea of the size difference. What do I like most about the Fenix TK16? Definitely, the dual tail switch and the immediate access you get to the strobe mode of the flashlight. I also just like Fenix tactical flashlights. They are well made and have a reputation for being a quality flashlight. You can read my full Fenix TK16 review at this link.
Pros: Dual tactical tail switch and 1000 lumens of output
Cons: Really, none. It’s a well-executed tactical flashlight design
Mid-size – Nitecore P12GT
When I get asked the “if you could own only one flashlight, which one would it be” question, I immediately respond “the Nitecore P12GT.” This is one of the most versatile flashlights you can get for the money. It fits easily in your pocket so you can carry it anywhere. Here it is pictured next to my Kershaw Blur folder.
Pros: Incredibly bright Cree XP-L HI V3 LED, 1000 lumens of output
Cons: I’m sure you could find something not to like, but as for me? None. My favorite mid-size tactical flashlight.
Mid-size honorable mention – Fenix PD35 Tac
I do not own this tactical flashlight but I mention it because it’s one of Fenix’s most popular tactical flashlights. It’s definitely worth a look if you want mid-size and you want to have a Fenix. First person reviews show plenty of happy owners.
Small tactical flashlight – Fenix E15 2016
If you need super small and super bright you need to consider the Fenix E15 2016. I own the original E15 and the new 2016 version. The new version is roughly twice as bright at 450 lumens of output. Note: to get the maximum 450 lumens of output you need to use a rechargeable battery. I recommend buying one bundled with a rechargeable to get the full 450 lumens.
Pros: Super bright and super small
Cons: Uses a twisty head interface. It’s really the only option on a flashlight of this size, but it is about the slowest design to access flashlight modes.
Tactical Flashlights 2017 Conclusion
I’ve shared just about all of my thoughts on what you need to consider before you buy a tactical flashlight. If you stick with name brand tactical flashlights, read reviews by people who actually own and use tactical flashlights (like at this site) and check out various flashlight forums you should be obtain all of the info you need. I like to look at my lighting application and then narrow it down to a couple of tactical flashlights. There are plenty of places to buy your tactical flashlight on-line. I normally use Amazon.com due to Prime shipping and general ease of returns – just in case you realize you should have bought that other tactical flashlight. Good luck and remember to like Final30.com on Facebook.