Choosing a Quality Tactical Flashlight
This article will describe critical components essential in any tactical flashlight. Using this information, you will be able properly to choose the best tactical light for your needs.
1) Construction Material – Aluminum
Typically most tactical flashlights are composed of Aluminum. Aluminum is a nonmagnetic, light-weight material that is corrosion resistant. It is good electrical conductor making it an ideal material to construct flashlight bodies. Aluminum flashlights are very durable depending on the type of coating that is applied to their surface (explained later). The weight of aluminum can either be an advantage when using the flashlight as an impact tool or a disadvantage when minimizing load out the weight. Additionally, in the extremities of cold and heat, the temperature of the flashlight body can affect the way it is handled.
2) Flashlight Finish – Hard Anodized Type III
The process of anodizing gives aluminum a stronger surface. In simple terms, hard anodizing immerses the finished bare aluminum pieces in an electrolyte and runs a current through the solution. By doing to, a thin coat of aluminum oxide forms on the surface. By cooling the acid solution to the freezing point of water and substantially increasing the electric current, the aluminum becomes hard anodized producing a much thicker coating that penetrates deeper into the base material. This finish is essential for tactical lights as is it substantially more durable and resistant to the harsh conditions faced by special forces teams. The standard of finish today is Type III Hard Anodized.
3) Power Supply – CR123A Lithium Cells
Regardless of how bright and reliable the flashlight, without the proper batteries, the light is worthless. Tactical lights have moved to the standard of lithium cells, mainly the CR123A sized 3V lithium battery. These batteries are ideal for mission use for some reasons. First, they are small, compact, and lightweight. Lithium cells can perform at extreme temperatures ranging from -40F to 140F. Their high energy density allows them to be used in devices that have the high current draw like high output LED flashlights. Lastly, they have a shelf-life of 10 years which allows them to be stored for long periods of time without any decrease in capacity.
4) Light Source – LED
LED technology has come a long way. Today, there are many high powered LED tactical flashlights and searchlights can produce hundreds of lumens and some nearing 1000 lumens. There are many advantages to choosing LEDs over xenon bulbs. LEDs are more durable and can withstand the shock experienced with heavy use and combat. They do not simply burn out and have life-spans in the thousands of hours. They are more efficient and can put out more light while having longer runtimes. Finally, they are versatile. The brightness of the LED is dependent on the current supplied to it. Many tactical lights have multiple light outputs so you can use the same flashlight on low illuminating a map to navigate then switch it to high to identify distant targets.
5) Light Output Quantity – 65-100+ Lumens Minimum
There is not an official standard for the number of lumens that a flashlight must product for it to be used tactically. Incandescent lights previously quantified the minimum output to be around 65 lumens. Today, many high powered LED flashlights easily put out over 100 real world lumens. The amount of output required to illuminate or momentarily blind a target depends on the ambient light as well as the distance from the light to the target. The true minimum is operator and condition specific.
6) Light Output Quality – Bright Hotspot with Smooth Side spill
The quality of light output is equally important as the amount of light a device produces. Due to the shape of the filament, incandescent flashlights tend to produce beam shapes with light and dark rings. With the latest technology of LEDs which produce a pinpoint source of light, the output is much better controlled. Additionally, instead of using smooth reflectors, today’s most advanced flashlights utilize computer generated, specially designed reflectors with textured or “orange peel” reflectors to smoothen out the light and dark spots. The ideal beam has a bright center hotspot for identifying distant threats fading out to a smooth side spill of light used to see peripherally.
7) Switch Operation – Reliable and Accessible
In a life or death situation, the switch on your tactical light simply must work. If you light does not switch on when you need it to identify a threat, or it does not switch off giving away your location in the dark, you could be putting yourself in danger. The switch should ideally have a momentary on where you lightly push the button to turn it on and release to turn it off. This is useful in techniques where short bursts of light give you the element of surprise as well as signaling capabilities. Finally, the switch must protrude out of the light and be large enough to activate while wearing gloves easily. Switches not specially designed for this purpose are difficult to activate under stressful conditions.