What makes a flashlight tactical?

MarkusFlash

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There are a number of features typical for tactical lights; I hope I got them right. Tactical is not always better for the regular customer yet some typical features of tactical lights are highly useful to almost any user of flashlights. My video could be helpful if you have to pick a light and want to go into some important details beyond raw light output:

 

XR6Toggie

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I disagree that strobe is important. I mentioned in another thread but if you are in the police or military and need to defend yourself in a physical confrontation then you are going to use something far more reliable than a flashing light. The only time I use strobe is in combination with a wand to direct traffic. Same with a crenellated bezel. If I used a crenellated bezel against someone and injured them I would be in a world of trouble as they are not issued and I am not trained in its use.

Tactical to me is an overused word that is often put in front of other items like ‘knife’ or ‘pen’ to justify a price increase. I think of them as work lights and non work lights.

A work light for me should have the following characteristics:

Durable

It should stand up to wear and tear. Type II vs type III anodising isn’t a big deal but it should be able to withstand drops and water to a degree.

Simplicity

Activation and mode select should be straightforward, whether that’s push for momentary/twist for constant, push on or off and twist for hi-lo or just push on or off and tap or hold for mode select. There should be a simple way to get the light on straight to high mode. Different brightness levels are ok but too many clicks to cycle all of them starts to interfere with the utility of the light.

Effective light

It doesn’t have to be able to start fires but it should be decently bright and hold that level for a good period of time without too sharp a decrease.

Easy to power

Rechargeable and primaries both have their place. I think the primary work light should be rechargeable and this should be via a cradle where you put the light in and don’t have to worry about it. Removing a battery to charge isn’t the end of the world but it’s better if you can whack the light in a charger in the car or office and not have to worry about it.

Easy to carry and access

The light should be easy to carry on a vest or belt. It also needs to easily deploy from its holder. I think open top holders are the best.
 

MarkusFlash

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Rechargeable and primaries both have their place. I think the primary work light should be rechargeable and this should be via a cradle where you put the light in and don’t have to worry about it. Removing a battery to charge isn’t the end of the world but it’s better if you can whack the light in a charger in the car or office and not have to worry about it.

The charger should not be a open and unprotected USB-port. A magnetic charger will work or even a USB-port that is very well covered (i.e. Zanflare Z1). That is true for any light intended for hard use. Those rubber lids are a terrible weak spot. In any instance a second set of batteries or a spare 18650 needs to be available.
 

bykfixer

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What makes a flashlight tactical?
Well first look up the word "tactic". It's definition is focused around military type use. So many a light maker realizes that and place features they know will appease all of the arm chair GI-Joe's who watch war on their tv screen while wearing their 3C ball cap backwards. They tout their strobe featured will thwart off Godzilla himself and it's so bright you can cause a blind person to squint at 150 meters.... the sculpted bezel feature can stop a 375 pound drug crazed attacker with ease... and if you order in the next 10 minutes we'll include a 2nd one at no cost...

But tactical falls into a broad spectrum of goals, not just military. So do tactical flashlights. Duty would be more accurate. But tactical will do. But what "tactics" are used in a users duty? Search & Rescue folks use differing tactics than say, a foot patrolman. An EMS person uses differing tactics than a fireman. Hunters use tactics to bring home the prize or feed their family. In military a sniper uses different tactics than an urban room clearer. Regular citizens use a different tactic for finding the dog who ran off or lighting under the sink while fixing the garbage disposal. I could keep going here.

Point being the term tactical flashlight could be practically anything. But all should have a few common features.

Grip. Easy to hold onto. Some tactics require quick deploy from a holster. Others require max grip in hurried situations with wet hands. Ideal is able to do both.

Activate. Ease of on off. Some tactics require constant light while others require a stealth approach. Ideal is one hand ability.

Output. The beam. Some require lighting of distance, others a broad light to illuminate a smaller area well. A conical beam can do well at both.

Adjustment. Amount of light. Some need all the brightness a battery can muster for short periods. Others require extended run time. Still others need a lot less light or find certain color filters added provides an optimal output while performing a given tactic. A traffic wand, a red, blue, or green lens cover.

Modes. Changing output. The simpler the better. Some lights give simple hi/lo. Some add a strobe. Others let you decide on a bunch of variety. Know your tactics and pick the best interface for your needs/purposes.

Fuel. Primary or rechargeable. The ideal here is both. But with numerous ways to refuel your light, again know your needs and pick the one that best serves.

Refuel. Speed is key. This includes battery swap. The faster better. So if the point of battery removal has less threads precious time is saved in hurried scenarios. For hunters no biggy. For military it can save lives.

Color. Gloss can matter too. For stealth dark and shine free is best. A dark black is easier to spot when dropped than natural HA. Really. Very few things in nature are dark black. So in low light a black body would stand out more. Some tactics require bright colors. An underground worker needs to find their light quickly.

Durability. That holds true for nearly anything in life. Do we want to eat a durable steak? Probably not. Yet a light that can withstand dust, water, drops, battery swaps (thread wear matters), heat, cold etc etc is very important regardless of your tactics.

I'm out of ideas here. But will say that the FirstLight "Torque" series are probably the closest thing to a true tactical flashlight made yet. Their shape and style are unorthodox yet with practice the three button system on top can be manipulated with your thumb like a video game controller. It holds fast like a pistol. Provides quick deploy belt/vest slider system. Has rapid change battery feature, uses primary or rechargeable, has a nice conical beam, colored LED option, multiple strobe options and is small enough to use David vs Goliath if need be.
 

MarkusFlash

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@bykfixer

Good point about different jobs requiring different tactics. However, I still would apply the term "tactical" more specific in areas that require dealings with hostile elements. The term "duty flashlight" on the other hand seems to be broad enough to encompass every possible professional use of flashlight. If you work in the arctic you will have different requirements from someone working in a hospital setting; on a oil rig you will need a explosion proof light, a diver needs diving lights, a miner needs maximum endurance and absolute reliability, CSI units good UV-lamps, a inspector might need excellent color rendition, search and rescue extremely powerful lights and so on - duty lights therefore come in all different shapes and often with requirements that totally differ from each other or even contradict each other.

BTW I use my duty light mostly in a hospital setting. However, I found lights that lean heavy towards the "tactical" direction more useful than others. Over the course of many night shifts my light gets dropped frequently (rugged build), sometimes search and rescue around the facility is required (good throw & brightness), constant on/off operation is common (forward clicky, good ergonomics) and endurance is required as well (good thermal management). Therfore many tactical (style) lights fit my bill very well although I do not deal with hostile elements that would require the use of a flashlight as means of self-defense.
 

bykfixer

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You sharpened my point to perfection Markus.
Thank you!!

I have never had to punch a bobcat with my flashlight bezel or duck from flying bullets so no need for stealth 'tactics' but...
Tactical bred flashlights are what I use the most for "duty" purposes. Rugged reliability with a tactical beam tends to fill the need very often.

I just feel the term tactical has become watered down so badly that folks these days believe the hype all too often and end up thinking things like the size of the USB cord define whether it is suitable for "tactical" use.

I think the term "duty" light more accurately describes the various platforms available. But to John Q Sofalurker the word "duty" invokes a sense of boredom versus the term "tactical"... so that word has become the catch-all word in a highly competitive (albeit flooded) market.
 
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MarkusFlash

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You sharpened my point to perfection Markus.
Thank you!!

I just feel the term tactical has become watered down so badly that folks these days believe the hype all too often and end up thinking things like the size of the USB cord define whether it is suitable for "tactical" use.

That is why someone might detect a satirical subtone in my YouTube video, tactical toilet seat and so on ;-) And I do kind of loathe those pronounced "strike bezels"... But there are worse things out in the market, like flashlights with a taser or lights that are shaped like a club. Nothing tactical or practical about this stuff.
 

Cobraman502

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So what likes encompass these characteristics. Only reason I won’t buy surefire is its primary only.

I have a custom made convoy S2 + that puts out 1200 OTF lumens and is running very stable from a h17f driver with lucidv2 firmware. My “tactical” setting is 2 modes. Low and high with double tap to strobe.

The driver is potted so that should increase durability a bit. Only thing is no charging from in the light which is not a priority for me.

I like the Malkoff lights but they are too big for my needs.
 

Boris74

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Tactical? What makes a light one?

Use a light in conjunction with a tactic. When I was an 11B I used an energizer hard case L head 1AA 70~ lumen light. Still have it. Searching houses, buildings,them dark shadows in vehicles. Worked perfect for a couple tours mingling with the locals. It defines tactical flashlight. Also had a LED Lenser V2 for every tour mounted on my rifle and it still works. Both are the only tactical lights I own, but it think a solid 80% of the lights I’ve bought from them days had the word tactical used in some way on packaging.

Todays tactics vary greatly but a tactic is to walk around the back of the house so I don’t spook vermin going out to end them so I guess my S1R is a “tactical” light.
 

idleprocess

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The Surefire G2 - and any other light with a similar model of operation - is pretty much the epitome of a tactical light in my book. Physically robust, puts out an intense spot of light, and is easy to use under duress. It's really in how the switch works - it doesn't latch. With the tailcap in the standard position, the switch can only operate in momentary mode - you need not worry about it going into continuous operation at an inopportune time. The switch operates with a coarse movement easily performed under stress. It takes an entirely different movement to engage continuous operation - a movement that cannot be done accidentally when using momentary operation.

It's entirely possible for a markedly more sophisticated flashlight to produce this sort of simplicity, but most flashlights marketed as "tactical" so rarely do. Often as not they use the same single-switch UI that their not-marketed-as-tactical counterparts use with 16 brightness levels, strobe, SOS, beacon, double/triple clicks, short/long clicks, etc. Some of these issues can be handled with programming, but many cannot.
 

TurkishCoffee

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Nothing makes a flashlight "tactical", it's a marketing word. I roll my eyes every time I hear it.
 

xxo

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Depends on how you define tactical, for me tactical would relate to the use or potential use of various levels of force, up to and including physical deadly force to resolve a conflict or potential conflict (ie actual military, law enforcement, security, self defense use) for some it seems tactical is just something that looks kewl, is used by Navy SEALs, as seen on TV!


Personally, I want a tactical light to have:

- Dead simple momentary operation.

- No modes unless well "hidden" and do not get in the way of simple momentary operation.

- No strobe, SOS, moon modes or other stupid stuff. IMHO strobe is especially dangerous since it disorients the stober as much as the strobie and can lead to tragedy if you fail to notice someone going for a weapon while you are strobbing them or if the strobe causes you to imagine a weapon that was not there.

- Extreme reliability/ durability - needs to work every single time without being coddled.

- Good secure grip/ergonomics so that it can be used quickly under extreme stress.

- No sharp "crenelated bevels" or other spikey nonsense to catch on clothing or hang up on a draw.

- Something that dose not look like a Klingon war club or other fantasy weapons - a flashlight should not be weaponized (or at the very least should not look like it is). For the most part, a flashlight is not a weapon, though it may be used in conjunction with one......flashlights should look like flashlights and be used as such. As XR6Toggie pointed out you could get in a lot of trouble using a flashlight as a weapon if you are in law enforcement and as a civilian you could get in trouble as well if your flashlight looks more like a weapon than a lighting tool should you use it as such as a last resort when a proper weapon that you have been trained on was not available. Also a mean looking flashlight might be a No Go for travel when a more innocuous looking light is no problem.

- Should not be run on Li Ion (particularly protected cells or multiple Li Ion cells) in favor of CR123s. CR123's or Energizer Ultimate Lithium primaries are the most reliable and can stand up to the largest temperature extremes. If you really NEED to go rechargeable, go with lights specifically designed to use the rechargeable batteries/battery pack that you are using along with the specified charger, these are not the kind of things you should cheap out on or depend on anything that is even a little bit sketchy.

- A good secure holster or clip to carry it that allows quick deployment.
 

MarkusFlash

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- Should not be run on Li Ion (particularly protected cells or multiple Li Ion cells) in favor of CR123s. CR123's or Energizer Ultimate Lithium primaries are the most reliable and can stand up to the largest temperature extremes. If you really NEED to go rechargeable, go with lights specifically designed to use the rechargeable batteries/battery pack that you are using along with the specified charger, these are not the kind of things you should cheap out on or depend on anything that is even a little bit sketchy.

The Energizer Lithium AA's are indeed almost a game changer: With those cells AA-powered lights can be considered for very hard use, long term storage and extreme temperatures. A good 18650 still delivers more punch for the weight and especially the unprotected versions are cheap. The Panasonic 18650B comes with 3400 mAh and now they go up to 3600mAh. Most lights that take 2x CR123A also take a 18650cell which makes everything even better. But I do love those Energizer Lithium AAs, they always go in my emergency/backup lights.
 

blueridgeman

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The Surefire G2 - and any other light with a similar model of operation - is pretty much the epitome of a tactical light in my book. Physically robust, puts out an intense spot of light, and is easy to use under duress. It's really in how the switch works - it doesn't latch. With the tailcap in the standard position, the switch can only operate in momentary mode - you need not worry about it going into continuous operation at an inopportune time. The switch operates with a coarse movement easily performed under stress. It takes an entirely different movement to engage continuous operation - a movement that cannot be done accidentally when using momentary operation.

It's entirely possible for a markedly more sophisticated flashlight to produce this sort of simplicity, but most flashlights marketed as "tactical" so rarely do. Often as not they use the same single-switch UI that their not-marketed-as-tactical counterparts use with 16 brightness levels, strobe, SOS, beacon, double/triple clicks, short/long clicks, etc. Some of these issues can be handled with programming, but many cannot.


I have a hi-vis yellow G2 with a Malkoff M61, that is indeed a tactical light - it is small, it is simple and I keep in in the center console of my vehicle, right beside my Glock 43.
 

richbuff

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"What makes a flashlight tactical?"

When the Marketing Department decides to market the product to law enforcement.

When the Marketing Department decides to market the product to people who want a product that is marketed to law enforcement.
 

bubbatime

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What makes a flashlight tactical? If it is of the proper design to be used in a law enforcement, military, home defense, or personal protection scenario. If you are Joe Videogame Dude and don't know the first thing about "tactics" and couldn't fight your way out of a wet paper bag, then you probably have no desire or need for a true tactical light.

I'm ex LEO now. When I started patrol, I was issued an incandescent Magcharger. I thought it was huge and useless, and left it in my car never to be touched. I carried a single incan stinger on my belt, and thought I was hot stuff. Until I dropped it in a scuffle, the bulb blew, and I was now fighting an armed suspect, in almost pitch black, with no working flashlight. It was an eye opening experience.

After that, I added an LED light (Surefire I think) AND carried the Magcharger,for three total lights. I carried two lights during the day,and three lights at night for the rest of my career.

If I was in the game again, I would have at least the following:
1)Full size magcharger or similar style LED light. Perfect for tucking under your arm when taking notes,writing tickets.
2) Two cell Malkoff or Elzetta
3) A moonlight, less than a lumen,navigation light. Needed MANY times while trying to stealthily navigate, and I never had one unfortunately.
4) rechargeable Stinger LED or similar
5) something with strobe. Not really to disorient drunk idiots, but to signal drivers in dark conditions (perhaps at a crash sight) or to flag down the ambulance or helicopter to my location.

To me, a tactical light is uber reliable. That means many Chinese lights are out of the running. A light needed in a dire situation, and you like only have that one single light on you and it needs to work. Or perhaps I should take my own advice, two is one and one is none.
 
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Boris74

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I’ve always liked one tactic in particular. Moonlight use to not wake up the wife or others in the house when everyone is sound asleep. That would make my CMG Infinity Ultra 2 lumen LED Light my longest owned tactical light, been almost 20 years of tactical use so far. I use it less these days as my small Olights do less than a lumen increasing their tactical use of light even more.

Any tactic you use with a light makes that light tactical. Anything else and you been had by the sneaky marketing types who separated you from your money.

A recent tactic I took advantage of was buying a light that glows in the dark centraly located in the house. That sucker is very visible, you’ll find it in complete darkness when you need it. By far I think it’s the best tactic I’ve used with a flashlight in a long time.
 

bykfixer

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My favorite post in that one was #28.

To me a "true" tactical flashlight can have several features or none. It really depends on the tactics used by the particular user. SWAT dudes flying through a window after tossing in percusion grenades will get more from one kind of light than the lone police officer who is stalking a perp in a dark enviornment.
And I agree with Officer Bubbatime, that strobe is very handy for an attention getter or signaler. I suppose that could be more correctly called "flashing feature". But it seems we're stuck with the word 'strobe' for that feature... even by the true tactical light making companies like the big E, mr. Malkoff, Streamlight etc.

One trend I like see-ing lately is the use of higher output low settings and the ability to start on that one (if we choose it). Plenty of general use lighting with fuel savings in mind. Bascially an LED light that at startup puts out what used to be max output 10 years ago.

I'll mention an unusual need for a tactical light by a fellow who came to me looking for one. He owns a pecan grove. He has some 500 pecan trees (and swears if you don't pronounce it "puh-con" you're wrong). Well at about $5.00 a pound those things are lucrative to modern rustlers. He wanted a small light (vs typical D Mag) with a wide beam that reaches out very well and provides a bit of self defense ability combined with a stealth ability. He's not your average Joe Sofalurker, but an experienced combat Vet with several black belts in the martial arts. He wanted to replace his incan 6 volt light. I showed him some web sites as to what was available in early 2016.

He was an instructor at a bridge inspector class. At outset the instructors asked attendees to say a few words about themselves. I said "I'm a flashaholic". He said "see me after class today".

Anyway that was January. He reached out to me in April and enquired about a light I am very fond of and I made sure he got one. He picked it for the max grip and sharp bezel to coincide with the conical beam. I've reccomended Stingers to some, G2x Pro's to some, Maglites, Elzettas, and so on based on their particular needs as police officers, border patrol agents, low light trainers, retired officers, rescue folks and a couple of firemen. Being there are many tactical duties it's best to understand which type of duty would benefit from the huge variety of options available these days. I'm personally invested in a brand but if that one doesn't check the boxes for an enquiry I reccomend the one that does.

If they say "no Chinese light for me" I remind them that some of the best tactical items are being manufactured overseas in world class facilities, not due to corparate greed but in order to bring the best item possible at a budget friendly price. Many times those in harms way have low paying salaries. They deserve to have quality gear as well. Often times they cannot obtain those US made items simply because of price. I make sure those are the ones who don't end up with all those 'tacticool' items that may fail when it's life or death.
 
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