A tactical flashlight is one that can be used along with a firearm to assist in low light target identification, allowing aiming and illumination of the target at the same time. Tactical lights can be handheld or mounted to the weapon with the light beam parallel to the bore. Tactical flashlights also serve as a means of non-lethal force, used to temporarily blind or disorient targets, and may include design features for blunt force.
The features associated with tactical flashlights include shock resistance, reliability, lightweight and powerful batteries, and high light intensity. The light is typically activated by a push-button switch which may include momentary contacts and may switch various levels of intensity. Tactical lights may have optional filters to produce colored light. They often come with the ability to attach a lanyard – allowing the light to be secured to the hand holding it; this allows the light to be dropped if the hand is needed (for a magazine change, for example) and quickly retrieved.
Tactical flashlights have become popular for more than just gun enthusiasts. Their compact design and feature set is beneficial in many ways for other applications including camping, backpacking, survival kits, in the car or around the home. They are typically better designed and built than ordinary traditional flashlights.
Lithium batteries are commonly used with tactical lights, because of their long shelf life, high energy, better cold weather performance, and gradual voltage decay over the battery’s lifetime. Rechargeable batteries, such as low-self-discharge NiMH, are economical solutions for lights with heavy usage.
Many tactical flashlight bulbs are now the recently developed high-power LEDs which are brighter and more efficient than comparable xenon-filled incandescent lamps used in the past. A very important benefit, LED bulbs are not subject to filament breakage due to the shot recoil of a firearm or from dropping. LEDs also provide maximum battery life due to their energy efficiency.
Weapon mounted lights are most commonly seen on rifles and shotguns, but they are becoming more common on handguns as well. These lights are often a lot more expensive than ordinary handheld lights, since they must withstand the recoil of the firearm, and the dedicated mounting hardware also adds to the price. One downside of the weapon mounted light is that it is always aimed parallel to the bore, so illuminating an object means that it is also targeted. Some tactical light manufacturers make specific lights for specific firearms. Many modern firearms are now incorporating ‘Picatinny rail’ systems, allowing any appropriately sized Picatinny compatible system to be attached.
On Amazon, the most popular LED tactical flashlight for under $25 is the Nebo Redline Tactical Flashlight. This compact flashlight, 4 3/8 inches long and 1 3/8 inches in diameter, puts out 220 lumens of white light and has 5 modes including 3 choices of light levels. Although the light isn’t a true tactical in pure form, it’s physical style and some of it’s features land it in that category.
The most popular LED tactical light between $25 and $50 is the Streamlight ProTac 2L Professional Tactical. The best part is the switching system. You switch between modes using just the pushbutton on/off click switch in the tailcap. At 4.68 inches long, 0.90 inch at its largest diameter, it’s lightweight and small enough to not be bothersome when carrying and the pouch that is included is well made.
Between $50 and $100 is the most popular UTG 2-in-1 Tactical LED Flashlight with Red Laser. It includes a 16-position adjustable, removable, red laser. The flashlight has a tail push-button momentary switch and end cap twist-on switch, while the laser has an ambidextrous push-button switch. An integrated clamp-on mounting deck fits most tactical pistols and firearms with or without rail slots.
There are hundreds of styles of flashlights to choose from. The tactical flashlight has many useful features for a survival preparedness minded person and will make a great addition to your prep possessions. As a prerequisite, I would definitely be sure that the bulb is LED, and I would use rechargeable NiMH batteries (with a solar battery charger) to ensure usability for an extended period of time, and charge-ability when the power is out.
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The Nebo Redline featured in the “Under $25” category is one to skip. The tail switch is so recessed that it takes two hands to operate. The “redline” is a translucent plastic ring that actually casts light back on you during use, effectively ruining your night vision and depth of field perception. There are much better flashlights out there for the price. In fact, I utilize a $5.00 flashlight in place of this one every evening.
While the Nebo Redline is the most popular in that price range, here is the 2nd most popular tactical flashlight on Amazon (for less than $25), Smith & Wesson Galaxy 13 LED Flashlight. I’ve always believed in the general notion of ‘you get what you pay for’, and the ‘under $25’ category may not provide the quality or features that you may be expecting in a tactical flashlight.
I have the Nebo. Mine doesn’t have the red ring. I’m able to operate with one hand. Hold with thumb and three fingers. Use your forefinger to push button.
Ken, within regards to the NiMh batteries being used in these LED torches, the NiMh batteries usually have a 1.2volts rating which can cause issues with the LED performance and overall light output over the time of use. I only use Alkaline from my experience with rechargeable batteries (Duracell NiMh AAA 1000mAh), alkaline’s last longer and give you better output, even Lithium’s should be used rather than NiMh or Ni-Cadmium.
Another point with flash lights and the current evolution with LED’s etc, is that the current form of LED Lensers etc should be known as toys rather than a tool. As once a LED torch is broken or the LED chip malfunctions it is typically rendered useless. Where a Maglite with a filament bulb or drop in LED bulb replacement is still a tool as the bulb or LED replacement can be removed and exchanged for another repeated times. Maglites are larger and more bulky, however this shouldn’t be any less form or function to use in a SHTF situation.
The reason I like NiMh rechargeables over alkalines is because they are rechargeable. Alkalines are not. Therefore, if you were to encounter a period of time without electricity, you could keep your devices powered, so long as you have a solar charger. They also save some money over the longer run. You’re right about the slight voltage difference. I agree that a battery like a Lithium is powerful and long lasting (and you pay for it).
There are a lot of LED flashlights that are simply cheap ‘toys’. There are also some that are quite heavy duty and built of quality workmanship. LED’s are not susceptible to breakage from dropping like a filament bulb, but I do like the concept of a LED flashlight where you could replace the LED itself if need be. In all the years I’ve owned various LED flashlights, I’ve never had one go out (now I probably just jinxed myself).
Hi Ken, What are the best small tactical flashlights including strobe for 200$-500$?
Regan, There isn’t a right answer because it becomes a personal choice – and it depends on your specific application… e.g. if it will ever be mounted to a rail (firearm), or a helmet, etc.
The term, ‘tactical’ seems to be widely used on small flashlight packaging these days. What is tactical? Well that is debatable.
A few interesting tactical flashlights in your price range while browsing Amazon…
JetBeam Raptor RRT-3 XM-L LED Flashlight – 1950 Lumens with rail mount and handle
Surefire R1 Lawman Rechargeable Variable Output LED
Check brand names like SureFire, Streamlight, Pelican, Maglite, and others. Look for quality and a brand you can trust if you’re going to pay that kind of money. Check online reviews, etc.. Search Google for websites that are discussing these tactical flashlights. Look for those with LED’s.
I used the NEBO style and left it on and found out it burnt out a contact and is no longer good. Great idea; bad ocntacts.
…which is surprising because it’s an LED flashlight which draws very little current (the thing which burns out contacts). Sounds like you got a bad unit and hopefully the manufacturer will honor a warranty.
All of these flashlights are great, but I might have an alternate suggestion for the “Flashlight between 25-50$” range. While the one you have here is very good, it might be a good idea to check out the LazerBrite tactical flashlights as well. They are lightweight, durable, LED, and they can function as various types of flashlights, and can be separated to share with a friend. In my experience, the LazerBrite has been a great tool for all things outdoors, and is a vital part of my survival kit.
In any case, I totally agree that tactical flashlights are great for those that love guns, and those that don’t. The worthwhile flashlights only increase one’s ability to shoot, and they even make for good improvised weapons if the need arises.
Great article, in any case.
i am a LEO low light instructor and have tried all of the lights mentioned in the above article. The one light I found that puts out a true 950 lumens of bright white light with 5 variable settings, including strobe, is the Powertac E5. Great light for LEO, personal carry, and weapons mountable. They have a lifetime warranty and are indestructible. You can also buy 2 rechargeable batteries (which I would highly recommend) and charger for only 30 bucks more. Well worth the investment unless you have a lot of money and can afford to replace the CR123s all the time.