If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, work in the military or law enforcement, or need a robust, rugged torch for work, then you’ll find a well-made flashlight a really useful gadget to carry around with you.
The main pricing difference is down to the power of the light source, normally a cluster of LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) or xenon bulb, measured in lumen (normally in the range of 100-1000 lumen). Additionally, the construction is really important, with premium price models constructed using an aluminium body with an anodized finish and waterproof switch gear.
I only cover tactical flashlights on this site, so this means that the torches are built to withstand a rough treatment in a tough environment. Many models have a range of mounts, from a simple clip to fit your pocket to a weapon mount that locks into place on standard size rails on a weapon.
There are a number of major manufacturers, each with their own leading brands such as UltraFire, UTG and FordEx. These each produce dozens of different models with a wide range of features that can be confusing – so I’ve written the best tactical flashlight reviews to help you choose the right one for you.
Since you’re visiting my site, you’re probably researching types of flashlight and are planning on buying a new unit or searching for the best price. To help you, I’ve put together my unique interactive chart of tactical flashlights below. I’ve also written reviews and analysis of the main flashlights on the market to help you decide if a particular model is right for your work or activity.
Best Tactical Flashlight Comparison Guide
|Flashlight||Brand||Light power||Weight||Adjustable focus||Mount||Price||Rating out of 5.0|
|TC1200 1200 Lumens CREE Tactical Flashlight||1200 Lumens||5.6 oz||No||None||$$$||4.9|
|Fenix PD35 850 Lumen CREE XM-L2 U2 LED Tactical Flashlight||850 Lumens||3.0 oz||No||Clip||$$$$||4.9|
|UTG Defender Series Weapon and Handheld Tactical Xenon Flashlight||126 Lumens||5.6 oz||No||Weapon rail||$$$||4.2|
|Streamlight 88031 Protac Tactical Flashlight 2L with White LED||180 Lumens||4.8 oz||No||Clip||$$$||4.7|
|Nebo 5569 ProTec Elite HP190 High-Powered Firearm Light||190 Lumen||4.8 oz||No||Weapon Rail||$$$||4.1|
|SOLARAY PRO ZX-1 Professional Series||1200 lumens||5 oz||Yes||Weapon Rail||$$$||4.9|
|Vizeri VZ230 Tactical Flashlight Hi-Lumen Precision Focusing||230 Lumens||3.7 oz||Yes||Weapon Rail||$$||4.8|
|Streamlight 88040 ProTAC HL High Lumen Professional Tactical Light||600 Lumens||5.6 oz||No||Clip||$$$$$||4.8|
|Streamlight 69240 TLR-4 Compact Rail Mounted Tactical Light with Laser Sight||110 Lumen||2.9 oz||No||Weapon Rail||$$$$||4.6|
|Surefire P2X Fury Defender LED||500 Lumens||5.8 oz||No||None||$$$$||4.9|
Included in the chart are:
- Pictures of the Flashlight
- Flashlight brand and model
- Power of the light source – key to the lighting power of torch is the type of bulb/light-source and the power in lumens.
- Price – these are approximate prices on Amazon.com. These often change based on special offers, promotions, availability and season. To help you, I’ve grouped the pricing on this matrix with $=under $10, $$=$10 to $30, $$$=$30 to $60, $$$$=$60+
- Rating – the average user rating on Amazon.com which is another great way to see what other buyers think of the product
(Tip: to sort the grid by a particular column, just click on the heading of the column)
The flashlights on this chart are only the most popular or highly rated torches available on the market. There are literally hundreds and there’s no way we can list them all.
Features of a Tactical Flashlight
Most flashlights have similar main features – their quality and power are the way to differentiate (and better quality, more power normally means a higher price!). At the business-end of the torch, there are four main construction elements to look for:
This is the (normally metal) surrounding to the lens at the front of the torch. A bezel can often be unscrewed to clean the lens or to replace the lens with a lens in a special color (eg red for night-time work)
The reflector is the shiny metal or plastic internal surface that helps focus and direct the light out through the lens. An efficient reflector is essential to make sure that none of the light source is wasted.
The glass (or plastic) lens at the front of the torch focusses the light to the pattern for this model. Some flashlights allow you to focus the beam manually (from a narrow beam to a wide floodlight).
Light source / LED / bulb
The electrical component that generates the light. Read the section below for more about light color, types of light source and their advantages.
The Light Source
The current trend sees most popular flashlights using an LED (Light-Emitting Diode) light source. This technology has developed over the years to become a dependable, powerful and pure light source. Compared to a comparable traditional filament or incandescent bulb, LED light sources last longer, use less power and provide a more powerful output.
Alternatives to an LED include halogen or xenon light sources: both provide bright, pure and powerful illumination (and are used in some high-end vehicles). Comparing these to LEDs and the main difference is that LEDs don’t use a heated filament and a glass bulb. This makes them more impact and shock resistant than glass-based units, making this important for tactical or other torches that will potentially take a battering in your sport or profession. LEDs are robust, making them a great choice for tactical flashlights (which often have to take knocks or cope with rough handling).
Lifespan of a bulb
We’ve covered some of the differences between light sources, but from an economic point of view, lifespan is key. Most LEDs have a lifespan of 50,000 hours or more – with some advanced (and expensive) units claiming a lifespan in tens or hundreds of years.
This extended lifetime of an LED source compared to alternatives means that it’s likely you will never need to change the light source in your flashlight. This means no more spare bulbs or searching for replacement parts
Efficiency of a light source
If you look at the efficiency of a light source (comparing its light output to its energy consumption), you’ll see that LED devices are some of the most efficient devices available. A side benefit is that the light output doesn’t change with variations of input power – which means you’ll get bright, near-constant illumination while on long night shifts without running the battery down.
Light purity: Color temperature
The purity of the white light from a flashlight is described as its color temperature. This really explains the range of different colors within the spectrum emitted by the light source. The wider the spectrum, the warmer the color temperature. The narrower the spectrum, the purer the white light and so the colder the color temperature.
This is measured in Kelvin with a higher Kelvin value of a light source describing a whiter light (that the moves towards a bluer the light). This is not a measure of brightness and typical values for the Kelvin scale are:
- Warm White: from 2600 K to 3500 K: incandescent light bulbs.
- Natural White: from 4000 K to 4500 K: typical fluorescent lighting.
- Daylight White: from 5000 K to 5500 K: noon day sunlight.
- Commercial or Cool White: above 6000 K: industrial applications, hospitals.
If a light source is yellowish, it’s on the warm side, whereas blusih light is on the cool side.
For a flashlight, we’d suggest between 5000 to 7000 K as a good range to provide illumination in the natural color of objects.
Who Benefits From A Tactical Flashlight?
A top-quality flashlight is not cheap, so make sure that you are spending your money wisely. If you do any of these activities or jobs, you’ll really benefit from a professional-grade flashlight.
- Outdoors enthusiast:
- trekking, camping, fishing, hunting
- truck driver, fire-fighter, farmer
- weapon-mounted flashlights
- Law enforcement:
- police officer, security guard
You might keep a small torch by your bedside table – the sort you can buy at any hardware store – they’re incredibly convenient, but for specialist tasks you should look for a high-performance or tactical flashlight.
Which is the Best: Top 5 Tips to Choose the Best Flashlight
- The body of the flashlight should be made from aluminium.
- The case should be finished with type III Hard Anodized coating.
- The battery or power source should be a high-capacity battery such as CR123A, RCR123A or 18650.
- The bulb is normally LED, but some use a xenon bulb; for either look for light output power of at least 100 lumens.
- The spread of the light should have a center beam with efficient peripheral lighting.
One of the key characteristics of any flashlight is the amount of light output by different light sources – and how efficiently the light travels through the optics of the torch. These two factors are described using the ‘luminous flux’ of a flashlight, which is measured in lumen, a measure of the power of light. The partner measure is the luminous intensity, which is measured in candela, a measure of the intensity of the light source.
The relationship between lumen and candela depends on a number of factors including the angle of the beam of light. For example, if you focus the light from your torch into a tighter beam, it has a reduced beam angle, so the luminous intensity (brightness) will increase without increasing the amount of light (flux or power).
Flashlight manufacturers often specify the power of torches in lumen but rarely give the candela intensity since (as I mentioned above), the intensity depends on the beam, which depends on the design of the optics and reflector within the flashlight.
Flashlight Modes and Brightness
Most tactical flashlights have a range of settings that provide multiple brightness modes (as well as special features such as strobe and SOS beacon). When choosing a torch, it’s worth remembering a few key features about the brightness levels of your torch:
- If a flashlight has a brightness setting that outputs 250 lumen, it’s bright enough to blind someone.
- Following on from this, if the person’s eyes are accustomed to the dark, the brightness of the beam needs to be just 100 lumen.
- In very low-light conditions, and if your eyes are conditioned to the dark, you can view using a low level torch at just five or six lumens.
Quality of Light Output
A feature of your tactical flashlight is the quality of the light. LED light sources produce a very uniform light in a narrow color band; in comparison, incandescent light bulbs produce various quality of light distribution and across a wider spectrum (often much warmer light than an LED or halogen light source).
Poor quality of light output from a flashlight is often down to the output of an incandescent bulb or its filament. The intensity of the beam depends on a narrow angle of the beam, which also relies on the reflector – which also extends the reach or throw of the beam.
- Most flashlights use a mirror-like reflector around the light source to try and focus the light. High-end torches often use a reflector with a textured surface that helps smooth our any light source imperfections.
- The reflector is also used to focus the beam of light and, if you’re choosing a new tactical flashlight, go for one that offers a tightly focused center beam. It normally means the beam will have better reach and is especially important if you’re using your flashlight mounted on a weapon for targeting.
What is a Tactical Flashlight?
A tactical light is a flashlight that has been constructed for a specific purpose. This type of light can be hand-held or is designed to fit on and be used with a weapon or firearm to help low-light identification of targets. This allows a marksman to both illuminate and aim at the target.
If the light is mounted to a weapon, the beam of the light shines out in parallel with the bore of the gun – as the marksman move the weapon, the beam of the light illuminates potential targets.
In addition to being used with a weapon, tactical lights also work as a method of non-lethal force, used to temporarily blind and disorient targets. Most models include a range of operating modes (typically 3 or 5 modes) that includes both a steady beam of light and a highly disorientating strobe flashing light.
The light source is normally LED, which have very high intensity pure white light (although colored filters and infra-red light modes are available on some models). Some models (such as the UTG Defender) use a xenon bulb – which has some disadvantages compared to an LED (it runs hotter, uses more power but has a very bright, white light).