Nothing is worse than having to work in the dark. Whether you’re casually relaxing at your campsite or making repairs in the middle of the night, lacking the proper illumination simply makes life more difficult.
Given this, there are few tools more important than a flashlight. Compared to the dim battery-destroyers of the past, flashlight and battery technology have developed a staggering amount in recent years.
Here, we’ll discuss some of the features that make up a great light and then look at some of the best tactical flashlight options:
Last update on 2020-07-06 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
- 1 Best Tactical Flashlight Reviews
- 2 Fenix PD36R 1600 Lumen USB Rechargeable CREE LED Flashlight
- 3 ThruNite TC12 V2 Handheld Flashlight
- 4 PowerTac M5 Tactical Flashlight
- 5 Streamlight 88040 ProTac
- 6 CREE XP-L LED 1050
- 7 Factors to Consider When Buying The Best Tactical Flashlight
- 8 Conclusion
Best Tactical Flashlight Reviews
Fenix is one of the most respected names in the flashlight realm and the PD36R only supports that reputation. Fenix did a lot right with this light, and precious little wrong.
One of the primary advantages of the Fenix PD36R is the inclusion of USB Type-C charging. Type-C is the newest charging standard and has significant advantages over the older micro-USB plug. First, USB-C is a multi-orientation port, meaning that it is impossible to plug the cord in upside down. Thus, the frustration of trying to ascertain the right orientation is eliminated. Further, Type-C is proving to be a much more robust connector than its predecessor. Lastly, this standard supports a higher amperage, allowing faster charging times. This light, in particular, can provide an impressive five hours of light after only a ten-minute charge.
Speaking of battery life, that is another aspect that the Fenix gets right. On its lowest setting, the battery can power this light for over 115 hours of continuous use. Beyond this, the PD36R incorporates all of the niceties that you would expect from a premium tactical light, including adjustable levels, a versatile clip, and easy-to-use controls.
But arguably the best feature of the Fenix PD36R is not as easy to quantify on a spec-sheet. The Fenix is simply a nice feeling flashlight. When you hold it, the care and attention to detail by Fenix are readily apparent. This is not the cheapest option available, but it is an extremely impressive package.
- Excellent build quality
- Easy to use
- Type-C charging
- Somewhat expensive
- Not as bright as some models
The ThruNite is an intriguing light, as it gets a lot right. In fact, for many users, it is an extremely good option. However, there are a few considerations that slightly dampen what would otherwise be a ringing endorsement.
The light output of the TC12 is excellent. ThruNite claims it outputs a maximum of 1,100 lumens, but from my testing, I would not be surprised if the true number is significantly higher. This is one of the brightest tactical flashlight options. If you are looking for a light to make darkness cower in fear, this is an option to strongly consider.
Another nice design choice is the battery itself. The TC12 uses one 18650 battery, which is a standardized form-factor for lithium-ion batteries. Most laptops and even Tesla vehicles use 18650’s as the basis for their power. This ubiquity has a lot of advantages. First, these tend to be some of the most efficient batteries on the market. But most importantly, they are extremely cheap and easy to replace should the need ever arise.
Regarding the battery, the charging of the TC12 is adequate but not ideal. This is a light that still uses a micro-USB connector. While there is nothing expressly wrong with this, it is a less durable connector and it will be considered obsolete relatively soon. It is completely functional, but Type-C would have been nice to see.
The controls of the ThruNite TC12 have some pluses, but also some drawbacks. The rear-mounted main switch for the TC12 is nicely engineered to prevent wear, and it provides a satisfying and reassuring “clunk” when depressed. However, the multiple modes that this light features (5 in all, including a strobe function) are accessed via a much smaller side-switch. This control proved to be somewhat difficult to manipulate, and on more than one occasion we found ourselves inadvertently shining a strobe light in the face.
The build quality of the TC12 is excellent, and the light output is a class leader. Further, the value of this light is impressive. This flashlight is an example of a product that is only a tweak or two away from perfection.
- Great value
- Battery life
- Standardized battery
- Cord is dated
- Side-control is confusing
The PowerTac M5 is, in many ways, a great flashlight. It is bright, the quality seems great, and the standardized battery is a nice touch. Further, it is water-proof, highly impact-resistant, and has a battery that lasts up to 25 days. So far, there isn’t much bad to say about this light. However, there is one aspect of this model that makes it very hard to fully recommend: the cord.
We mentioned above that one of the most important features for a rechargeable light to have is a standardized cord. Specification varies, but as long as the cord can be easily replaced or substituted, the test is passed. Sadly, the M5 fails in this regard. The charging cord for the PowerTac M5 is a circular magnetic ring that attaches to the side of the flashlight. At first, this seems like an elegant solution, but testing revealed some issues.
First, the magnet is not as strong as it should be. On numerous occasions we left the light to charge, only to return to find that the charger cable had become disconnected. Further, simply plugging the light is not enough to begin the charging process. Rather, you must plug it and then remember to depress the power switch. This is an unintuitive method, and greatly increases the likelihood of a dead flashlight when you most need it.
It is a shame that a simple design oversight can impact a product so significantly. In so many ways, this is a great light. But in one crucial way, it isn’t.
- Very bright
- High build quality
- Nice beam
- Charging cord
The Streamlight takes an interesting approach to the tactical light game. Streamlight is a leader in EDC flashlights. In fact, one of our most used personal EDC light is a Streamlight Stylus. Thus, we were fully prepared to love the 88040.
There are two headlining features of this model: dual battery options, and programmability. They are both interesting ideas, but perhaps less successful in execution. The 88040 is designed to function as a rechargeable light using its two included CR123A lithium batteries, or a standard AA. This allows the batteries to be swapped if you do not have the time or facilities to recharge the light normally. However, when using an AA as the battery source, the light was difficult to screw back together. Further, the light output is diminished somewhat under AA use. Given that the output of this light is an already relatively weak 750 lumens, this was not ideal.
Further, the programming aspect of the 88040 seemed like an unnecessary gimmick. The idea is that if there are two modes you use more than others (say, strobe and medium brightness), you can program the light to toggle directly between those two modes. This is not a terrible idea, but the execution proved clunky and difficult to perfect. It was not a deal-breaker, but also not a worthwhile innovation.
This light is a nicely made light by a reputable company. However, given the cost, complexity, and overall low output, this may not be their best showing.
- Well-known brand
- Dual battery options
- Relatively dim
- Confusing to use
Based in Durham, NC, CREE is the manufacturer of the vast majority of LED units in high-end flashlights. Given their ubiquity, it is nice to see them coming to the market with a flashlight entirely of their own design. We are happy to say their efforts do not disappoint.
To be clear, the XP-L is a basic light. It lacks an adjustable focus, and it only has one output mode. However, this is a product that does basic well. The build quality appears to be top-notch, the USB charging worked flawlessly, and the beam it produces is one of the best. At 1,050 lumens, this is one of the brightest tactical flashlight models on the market. It may not have all of the bells and whistles, but it is a strong attempt at a bare-bones light.
Luckily, the comparative lack of features is reflected in the price. This is unquestionably a fantastic value. The CREE XP-L may not have the most extensive laundry list of modes and settings, but if you are looking for a great light at an excellent price, strongly consider this option.
- Great output
- Simple to use
- Great quality and value
- Non-adjustable beam and output
Factors to Consider When Buying The Best Tactical Flashlight
One of the most rapidly developing categories is the “tactical” light. These are units that are built with serious abuse in mind to be used in extreme conditions. Despite this, there are still numerous factors that separate the great models from the just-alright.
Recharging a Tactical Flashlight
One of the largest improvements over tactical flashlights of yesteryear is rechargeable batteries. In the past, keeping a flash-light stocked with batteries was an expensive, inconvenient, and environmentally questionable process. Luckily, the field has become significantly more accommodating.
Modern flashlights typically contain lithium-ion or nickel-cadmium batteries. Both of these options have advantages, but the lithium-fueled lights tend to be lighter and more efficient. In either case, the ease of recharging is a crucial factor.
Some flashlights require the use of a proprietary cord. This not only elicits the inconvenience of having to keep track of one more items in your bag but it also means the light is rendered useless if you ever lose or damage the cord. Thus, the best tactical flashlights will be those that use a standard micro- or type-C USB port, allowing you to simply use the phone charger you already keep on hand.
Another crucial consideration when shopping for a flashlight is battery life. A flashlight is rendered essentially useless if not charged. This is an area where there is a staggering amount of variance among brands. Some of the less-desirable models feature battery lives as short as a few hours. In contrast, top tactical flashlight models can often go days on end without needing to be recharged.
Whether you consistently stay in the field for extended periods or are simply against the inconvenience of constant recharging, make sure to select a light with a battery life that suits your needs.
Last update on 2020-07-06 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Maximum Light Output
Perhaps the most salient consideration when shopping for a tactical flashlight is the maximum light output. Light output is measured in lumens, a unit roughly equivalent to a small tea candle.
The number of lumens you need will vary based upon your use and situation. However, the simple adage “more is better” tends to serve well in this area. A moderately powerful LED flashlight will typically output around 1,000 lumens, which is equivalent to the light emitted by an 85-watt incandescent bulb.
This amount is simply a baseline, as some of the most powerful units can output significantly more.
Adjustable Light Output
While maximum brightness is an admirable goal, and useful in some situations, peak output is not the only consideration you should have. For many reasons, the ability to decrease the brightness of a flashlight is an equally important feature.
Often, the maximum output produced by a flashlight can be blinding if used in the wrong circumstance. Whether you are hiking, reading, or simply navigating a campsite, a much dimmer glow can be sufficient. This is not just a matter of being considerate to your neighbors. Decreasing the brightness of a flashlight can allow the battery to last much longer. Further, it can help preserve your night vision so that you are not blinded once you turn the light back off.
For these reasons, adjustable light levels are a must-have feature. Different models achieve these settings in different ways. Some units have a separate control for dialing the output, but we have found that the one-click models that simply toggle brightness modes using the on/off switch on the most convenient.
Beyond adjusting the brightness itself, an oft-overlooked feature of a premium flashlight is the ability to adjust the focus of the beam. A typical survival setup will often be called upon in a vast array of situations.
Sometimes you will need to light up an entire field, while other times you may need a focused beam of light to patch the faulty coolant hose on your truck. These situations call for a different focal point of light.
Because of the need for this adaptability, the best tactical flashlight will have a method to adjust the throw of the light from “flood” to “spot” and anywhere in between. Typically, this is achieved with a twistable lens on the front of the light. We have found that this is often a point of failure in poorly designed units.
Thus, when looking for the best tactical flashlight, look for one that incorporates a rugged method of adjusting the beam, with sufficient O-rings to prevent leaks or warping. Further, a knurled surface to make the adjustment easier with wet hands or gloves in a very nice addition.
Removable or Adjustable Pocket Clip
A pocket clip may at first seem like a small thing. However, if there is one lesson learned through studying EDC equipment, it is that the best tool is the one that you will actually carry. A tactical flashlight may easily have the longest battery life, or the brightest output, or the most intuitive features. However, if it doesn’t fit well in your pocket or gear-bag, chances are you will leave it on the bench.
The best lights have a pocket clip that is both sturdy and adjustable. Many models incorporate the ability to flip the clip so that the light can be carried on the outside or inside of a pocket. Further, being able to remove the clip entirely is a nice benefit.
The clip is often the first component of a flashlight to become damaged during severe use, so being able to simply order a new one rather than replacing the light is a great approach.
Now that we’ve discussed some of the most important considerations when shopping for a flashlight, let’s take a look at some of the options on the market:
There are largely two schools of thought when it comes to flashlights. Some prefer a well-featured light with increased options and flexibility. Others prefer a “push button, turn on light” simplistic approach.
For those looking for the top tactical flashlight option while demanding all of the features that a light can offer, look no further than the Fenix PD36R. While somewhat pricy, its impressive performance is undeniable. In contrast, anyone looking for a great value on a basic but highly-functional light should strongly consider the CREE XP-L.
- 1600 maximum lumens output and 283 meters beam distance.
- Powered by a High Capacity 21700 Rechargeable Li-ion Battery (included)
- 4-hour fast charging with 5V/3A USB Type-C charging port.
- Instant power activation with momentary tactical tail switch.
- Bundle includes EdisonBright charging cable carrying case
Last update on 2020-07-03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API