Selecting a Tactical Flashlight

Flashlights have come a long way in the last few years. I remember going on field training exercises in the Army, carrying a two-cell right angle flashlight and trying to see with it. I also remember buying one of the big Maglite flashlights and being thrilled with being able to see more than a dozen feet in front of me. But even those powerhouses have to take a back seat to what manufacturers are offering today.

These flashlights first became popular with police departments, but have quickly spread into other markets, including the survival market. Tactical flashlights so far outperform anything else on the market, that there’s really no reason to buy anything else.

Tactical Flashlight Construction

The modern tactical flashlight is based upon recently developed high-intensity LED technology. These LEDs are capable of putting out an enormous amount of light, while still conserving battery power much better than the old incandescent bulbs did.

What makes a flashlight a tactical flashlight is that it is designed and manufactured to give the user an advantage in a tactical situation. Actually, they provide a number of advantages, including a bright enough light that it can stun an adversary, flashing light to disorient, a machined aluminum body which can be used as a striking weapon and even the fact that holding something in your hand makes a punch more effective.

The flashlight body is made of machined aluminum for strength. It has a protective bezel around the lens, which may be smooth or scalloped, depending on the particular design. The switch is a push-button, covered by a rubber seal, and located in the end of the light opposite the lens.

Understanding the Specs

The trick to buying a tactical flashlight is in understanding the specifications. Those can be a little complicated the first time you look at them. However, they will tell you a lot, allowing you to compare the various models available on the market.


Beam distance refers to the maximum distance that the flashlight’s,beam can project with any hope of providing illumination. At the stated,range, the lighting level provided will be 0.25 lux. This is about the,equivalent to the light provided by a full moon on a cloudless night. The,beam distance is affected by both the light output and the beam intensity, as,the reflector plays an important role in determining beam distance. 

tactical-2One of the nice things about LED tactical lights is that the bulb doesn’t break every time they are dropped. They can actually take quite a bit of abuse and still continue working. This rating, measured in meters, is the distance that the flashlight can be dropped onto a concrete slab and still expected to function normally. In testing, the glass lens cannot break at that distance either. 

tacitcal-3This is probably the most important specification to keep an eye on. Lumens tells you the total amount of light that comes out of the front of the flashlight. Beware of manufacturers that don’t list the lumen output, as they are probably not very high output, even though the marketing material makes it sound like they are.

tactical-4The peak beam intensity is the brightest part of the light beam coming out of the light. This is different from the light output in lumens, which measures all the light put out by the light. This only measures the brightest part of the light.


While LEDs are much more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs, the large amount of light that these flashlights put out, causes them to use a lot of electrical power. This rating tells you how long it will take the batteries to drop to the point where the light output is 1/10 of the original level. Most of the time, the light will quit functioning before the batteries reach this point. Flashlights with multiple light output levels will give you multiple run times, one for each light output level.


How resistant the flashlight is to water. There are three ratings used:

- IPX4 – The flashlight will perform under splashing water.
- IPX7 – The flashlight has been tested to perform submerged 1 meter under water for 30 minutes.
- IPX8 – The flashlight has been tested to perform submerged more than 1 meter under water for 1 hour.


    While not normally considered a specification, the type of batteries that the light takes is also important. Some of the brighter flashlights use special rechargeable batteries, rather than common ones. Others use Lithium-ion batteries which can be hard to find.

    Considering that you’re buying this flashlight for survival situations, batteries can become a major consideration.

    Common battery sizes (AA, AAA) will be much easier to come by during a crisis situation. That makes flashlights using these sizes of batteries preferable over those that use some of the more exotic battery choices. However, you will probably be limited by the maximum brightness that the flashlight can provide.

    Selecting the Best Light for You

    To me, the starting point in selecting a flashlight is the brightness that it produces. I generally concentrate on the light output in lumens, because this tells me the overall light that the flashlight will produce. It is possible for a higher peak beam intensity light to actually be lower in overall lumens. The only time that would be useful is for very long distance. Some lights that provide very long beam distances do so by creating a very tight beam, concentrating the light that the flashlight is producing. Others may provide brighter total light, but not as much distance, because of a wider beam.

    Most tactical flashlights provide two to four settings. These will be different light levels of constant output, plus one flashing output. To date, the highest rated output I’ve seen is 1600 lumens. The actual setting used is selected by the number of times that the switch is pressed. Some require a full press, while others only a partial press to select.

    The battery issue is a major concern for survival situations. I have solved the battery problem by having more than one tactical flashlight. My brightest light uses Li-ion batteries, which I keep a stock of on hand. Even so, I know that I will eventually run out of them and probably not be able to get more in a prolonged survival situation. Therefore, I have another tactical flashlight, which has about half the actual light output, but runs off of standard AAA batteries. I also stock those. Since they will be easier to acquire in a long-term post-crisis situation, that will become my main flashlight when the other batteries run out.

    A Final Thought on Tactical Flashlights

    This is one of those areas where there’s no such thing as too much. I actually have a bunch of tactical flashlights, ranging in cost and quality from $3.95 all the way up to $120.00. Each room in the house has an inexpensive tactical flashlight hanging in a clip on the wall or in a cabinet. That provides us with quick emergency illumination in the case of a power outage. I also have lights in all my cars.

    My better tactical flashlights are in places where I will be most likely to need them; my office, beside my bed, in the car I usually drive and on my pistol belt. That way, I always have a good flashlight close at hand. When I leave the house, I carry a good tactical flashlight with me.

    Dave Steen

    About The Author: Dave is a 58 year old survivalist; father of three; with over 40 years of survival experience. He started young, learning survival the hard way, in the school of hard knocks. Now, after years of study, he's gray-haired and slightly overweight. That hasn't dimmed his interest in survival though. If anything, Dave has a greater commitment to survival than ever, so that he can protect his family. Click Here To Read More About Dave

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