Tactical flashlights are some of the smallest, most portable, and most powerful flashlights available. They provide light in the darkness, one of the most basic needs for survival. Humans are incredibly dependent on their visual sense, so having a high-quality source of light on you at all times is preparedness 101.
We recommend you go with a durable and powerful flashlight so you know your light is always just as ready as you are to deal with a serious situation.
To help you out, we combed through the dozens and dozens of different tactical flashlights and hand lights out there. We can say with authority that these are ten of the toughest and best tactical flashlights money can buy.
1. Fenix PD35 V 2.0 – 1000 Lumen
The Fenix PD35 V 2.0 is the updated version of the company’s wildly successful PD35 tactical flashlight. It builds on the rock-solid design of the original with a much longer runtime on the lowest setting and improved throw distance for the beam.
Why we like it: The PD35 was already one of our favorite tactical flashlights. The improvements made to the V 2.0 give it some of the best overall performance of any flashlight we’ve seen. It’s able to run on both rechargeable and primary batteries, offers excellent durability, and has the brightness you need in challenging conditions.
Flaws: It was actually hard to find things we didn’t like about the PD35 V 2.0. We finally settled on the lack of a strike bezel on the bulb side. It has one on the reverse side but we would have liked to see it on both for those who hold the light in an underhand grip.
2. Streamlight ProTac 2L-X – 500 Lumen
The Streamlight ProTac 2L-X is sturdy, powerful, and dependable. It’s made from lightweight MIL-SPEC anodized aluminum and features all the most in-demand features for a tactical flashlight. These include dual strike bezels, a tail button, instant-on, and a powerful strobe mode.
Why we like it: The ProTac 2L-X is that rare combination of excellence and affordability. It’s one of the lowest-priced top-level tactical flashlights out there and includes build quality and features missing on some lights twice its price.
Flaws: The programmable tail button is great if you like to customize your light, but can get confusing if you prefer a simpler control setup. We had to sit down with it for a while to figure out just how to turn on every light mode reliably.
3. SureFire G2X Series LED Flashlights – 600 Lumen
SureFire is a name every prepper is sure to be familiar with. They make some of the best military and weapon lights available, with a focus on durability, performance, and dependability. The G2X series of LED tactical flashlights show their expertise in spades. It’s available in three versions: Pro, Tactical, and Law Enforcement. The biggest difference between them is whether it offers a low light setting or is purely a high-powered tac light.
Why we like it: If you want a reliable light that’s easy to use and extremely rugged the G2X is the way to go. Its design is dead simple to operate and has at most two settings, with some versions literally having only a single on/off click.
Flaws: The lack of a low power mode on the tactical mode can limit you if you want to use this as an everyday utility light as well as a tactical flashlight.
4. Pelican 7600 Rechargeable Tactical Flashlight – 944 Lumen
Pelican is better known for its protective rifle and gear cases than flashlights, but they’ve come up with a real winner with the 7600. It has a durable anodized aluminum body plus some unique features we didn’t know we wanted like multiple light colors and
Why we like it: Besides the physical features, which are excellent, the 7600 is backed by Pelican’s legendary lifetime guarantee. If you manage to break your 7600 at any time after you bought it they’ll replace or repair it no questions asked.
Flaws: The 7600 uses the older body-mounted charging system for its micro USB rechargeable battery rather than batteries with built-in charging points. It’s not a huge thing, but it does introduce another point of failure or water ingress into the body of the flashlight.
5. NiteCore P12 Rechargeable Tactical Flashlight – 1200 Lumen
Nitecore recently updated their classic P12 rechargeable flashlight, itself a titan of the tactical light world. The new version includes a 20% increase in brightness and an upgrade to the newest 4,000mAh 21700 rechargeable lithium battery. This massively increases its run time on the lowest power settings and gives you greater flexibility in how you power it.
Why we like it: The P12 is ultra-durable, easy to program, and offers a glove-friendly all-metal side control switch. It provides an extremely bright light on high with a good run-time from its larger than average battery.
Flaws: NiteCore’s upgrade to the 21700 battery improved battery life, but also required the battery compartment to be resized. To use standard 18650 or CR123A batteries you have to plug them into an adaptor. The P12 comes with one, but we definitely wouldn’t want to fiddle around trying to find the ‘safe place’ we stowed it six months or a year ago when we bought the light.
6. Olight S1R II – 1000 Lumen
Olight is a relative newcomer to the EDC and preparedness world but has been making waves with some really cool products. The S1R II is a durably built little tactical flashlight that nonetheless offers brightness comparable to the top-level lights. It also offers some really nice features like multiple beam colors that we didn’t expect to see on a light of this size.
Why we like it: Getting 1000 lumens out of a flashlight the size of your thumb is unheard of. It also features an innovative charging system that allows it to use smaller rechargeable batteries without compromising the integrity of the flashlight’s body.
Flaws: The squat and thick shape make it awkward to hold for longer periods of time. It’s too short to grip properly in your palm yet too thick to be comfortable in your fingers.
7. Fenix PD25 – 550 Lumen
The Fenix PD25 is the more portable version of the larger and more powerful PD35. It’s about half the size and weight of the PD35 yet still provides the same brightness and performance of much larger tactical flashlights.
Why we like it: At just 1.6 ounces in weight the PD25 is closer in scale to the low powered AAA flashlights than it is to all up tactical flashlights. Despite this, it provides brightness and throw distance that compares very favorably to some of the top-ranked lights on our list.
Flaws: The brightness and portability of the PD25 came at a cost. Battery life. At its highest setting you get just over half an hour of use before having to replace the battery. You get substantially more on other settings, but this is still an issue.
8. SureFire Titan Plus – 300 Lumen
The SureFire Titan Plus is a small yet powerful flashlight designed with EDC in mind. It’s made from a durable and impact-resistant nickel-plated brass with a specially designed reflector. This gives it incomparable durability and brightness for its size and power source.
Why we like it: Extremely compact and powered by an inexpensive AAA battery yet able to provide brightness comparable to full-size tactical flashlights. It’s incredibly portable and perfect if you’re looking for a smaller and lighter EDC tactical flashlight.
Flaws: Like many other small yet powerful tactical flashlights it suffers in battery life. On the highest setting the Titan Plus needs a recharge or fresh battery after just an hour.
9. Streamlight MicroStream – 45 Lumen
The Streamlight MicroStream is an ultra-portable tactical flashlight designed with utility use in mind. It’s made from MIL-SPEC aircraft-grade aluminum and weighs barely an ounce yet provides a useful amount of bright white light with just a AAA battery for power.
Why we like it: Not every tactical flashlight needs to be a blinding miniature sun. The MicroStream offers useful amounts of light with a reasonable throw distance in an extremely affordable and portable package. You can buy five or six MicroStreams for the cost of a single more powerful tactical flashlight and keep them spread throughout your home and vehicles.
Flaws: At its size and with its inexpensive power requirements it’s far less bright than other tactical flashlights. Most of the higher-ranked lights on our list are at least 10X as bright as the MicroStream.
10. J5 Tactical V1-PRO – 300 Lumen
The J5 Tactical V1-PRO is a quality entry level tactical flashlight. It’s made from anodized aluminum and offers a 300 lumen light powered by a simple AA battery. It’s also dirt cheap and has a body that includes strike bezels and many of the other physical features we look for in a tactical flashlight.
Why we like it: Not everyone can afford to drop a big chunk of change on a flashlight. The V1-PRO offers a bright white light with adjustable settings and a durable and impact resistant body. It’s cheap enough that you can purchase multiples for the same price as a single higher-end tactical flashlight.
Flaws: Basically every aspect of the V1-PRO is of lower power or lower quality than comparably sized tactical flashlights from major brands. Given its exceptionally affordable price and generally good track record for performance we think that’s an acceptable trade-off.
What’s new with Tactical Flashlights
Who should buy a Tactical Flashlight?
Tactical flashlights provide a substantial amount of value to just about anyone who owns one. Below you’ll find more details on who can benefit the most from a quality light.
Every day carry enthusiasts – When we talk about EDC items a flashlight is right up there with a folding knife and a multi-tool in importance. There are few items that you’ll find more useful across your day than a compact and powerful flashlight.
Think about all the situations you encounter that would be improved by a flashlight. Everything from dropping your keys at night to fiddling around under the hood of your car is made infinitely easier with an EDC tactical flashlight.
Even better, tactical flashlights are designed to provide the most power in the smallest package. Most are less than six inches long and can fit in a pocket if needed. They even make several models specifically designed with EDC needs in mind. These have reduced battery life or power but can fit in the palm of your hand and slip into any pocket.
People who carry a concealed weapon – If you consistently carry a concealed handgun adding a tactical flashlight can greatly increase your capabilities. A lot of dangerous situations take place in low-light conditions. Having a quality tactical flashlight on hand allows you to identify threats much earlier and can even help defuse the situation before they push you to use deadly force in your defense.
Proper use of a flashlight with a handgun is so important that many of the biggest names in defense and tactical shooting have developed their own styles. Everyone from Mike Harries to Massad Ayoob has their own little twist on the best way to utilize a flashlight to improve accuracy, impact, and overall safety (1).
With enough practice at the range, the beam of the flashlight can even be used as an intuitive aiming point for close-quarters attacks.
People concerned with effective home defense – Contrary to popular belief, most burglaries don’t take place at night. Burglars prefer to break into your home during the day when it’s less likely that people will be around to stop them (2).
Unfortunately, many criminals are often after other things than cash or valuables. These are the true predators, the ones with appetites too disgusting to reflect on, and the ones you need to be prepared to guard your family against.
To keep your family safe it’s essential you have a powerful light source that’s totally under your control. You need to be able to swiftly clear the rooms of your house to make sure that there are no threats.
Many people claim a handgun or rifle light is the best way to do this but fail to think about the potential downsides. Clearing your home means identifying everyone there. We don’t know about you, but we wouldn’t want to have to point a shotgun at our family’s faces to know that it’s really them.
Having a separate tactical light allows you to quickly identify your loved ones without putting them in the line of fire.
People building a get home bag or bug out bag – A powerful tactical flashlight is an essential item to include in any get home or bug out bag. It allows you to operate far more effectively in low-light conditions or within a building that’s lost power.
Many of us work in office buildings every day. Think about how hard it would be to get from your office down to the main floor if the lights suddenly went out and you were forced to navigate in darkness.
Then there are the psychological benefits of having light in sudden darkness. There were reports after 9/11 of people trying to rip the flashlights out of others’ hands because of just how powerful a comfort it was (3).
Adding a tactical flashlight to your bag by itself makes you more prepared to deal with emergencies and everyday hardships than most of the people around you.
Police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and other emergency services workers – If you’re an emergency services worker that answers calls, you probably already know the benefit of a high-quality flashlight. Most police officers carry one as part of their duty equipment every day, and for good reason.
If you haven’t been issued one by your superiors we highly recommend you go out and buy one. It’s one of the most useful items you can carry.
How we ranked
To rank the best tactical flashlights we looked at six key criteria. These were brightness and throw distance, battery type and life, durability, modes, ease of carry, and affordability.
Brightness and throw distance – The actual quality of the light a flashlight produces is paramount to its effectiveness. Tactical flashlights are designed around brightness and throw distance. Brightness is measured in lumens and gives you a basic measure of how much light a flashlight produces in total.
Throw distance determines just how far that total light production will go. For tactical flashlights, we looked for both adequate lumens and a long throw distance. That means a very bright and focused beam of light (4).
Battery type and life – With modern tactical flashlights there are several battery options available. Some of the most common include lithium and alkaline primary batteries and NiMh and Li-ion rechargeables. Primary cells are the single-use disposable batteries most people keep in a drawer somewhere.
For flashlights, we’re usually talking AAA/AA alkaline batteries and high-end lithium batteries such as the ubiquitous CR123A. The biggest benefit to these batteries is their low cost and wide availability.
You can pick up these batteries at just about any store for a very affordable price. We highly recommend you keep a backup stock of primary batteries for your tactical flashlight.
Rechargeables can be as simple as AAA/AA or as advanced as a 18650 Li-Ion battery with an integrated charging port. If you use your flashlight frequently you’ll save a substantial amount of money with rechargeable batteries for a negligible performance difference.
Durability – Tactical flashlights need to be rugged. They’re designed to do double duty as powerful light tools and secondary self-defense tools. Just looking at one you can see the design choices made to boost strength, impact resistance, and prevent damage to the bulb.
The most common materials we see are aircraft-grade aluminum or heavy-duty polymers. These are both able to take a beating and shrug it off.
Knurled grip points and specifically designed contact spots help you keep it in your hand and absorb the impact if dropped. We also looked for things like O-rings and seals to prevent dust or water damage (5).
Modes – Most tactical flashlights offer a variety of different settings and light modes. The best allow you to stairstep the brightness up to match your needs while preserving battery life. This is especially important given the intense power draw of maximum brightness mode.
Most tactical flashlights can only sustain the highest setting for an hour or two at most. Even then, the bulb and body of the light will start to rapidly heat up. Having a sensible low and medium power level makes it much easier to use them during everyday tasks while still providing that intense brightness when needed.
Another mode we like to see is a strobe setting. Proponents of the strobe cite the Bucha or flicker effect and claim that a strobe adds to the disorientation of an attacker. There’s evidence on both sides, with other types of strobe based weapons under development (6) (7). What we do know is that having a strobe definitely won’t hurt your chances and may serve as a more effective way to disorient or disable an attacker.
Ease of carry – As with any tool designed for EDC portability and ease of carry are extremely important. Tactical flashlights have to combine powerful lights, long-lasting batteries, and a body small enough to comfortably fit in a pocket or belt holster. After all, you don’t want to be lugging around a foot long Maglite if you can avoid it.
For ease of carry we liked to see slimmer bodies without jagged or protruding edges on the side. This allows you to quickly access your flashlight without fear that it will catch on your clothing. We also love the functionality that pocket clips provide. Not everyone can wear a belt holster or other high-profile light lock.
Several of the flashlights on our list were put there specifically because of portability. We felt a small sacrifice in power and battery life was worth it for certain situations.
Affordability – There are a lot of really, really high-end flashlights out there. Unfortunately, many of them have similarly high-end price tags. We always try to include the best bang for your buck in any of our rankings, and this one was no exception. While many of these lights are pricey, they all provide exemplary performance to match their value.
Several lights were specifically chosen for their lower cost and acceptable performance.
Brands we trust – With tactical flashlights there are a bunch of really great brands out there. A few we wanted to highlight were Fenix, SureFire, and Streamlight. They each specialize in making a range of flashlights for the professional and consumer market. One of them pretty much always has the current top-of-the-line tactical flashlight on the market, with the others offering a comparable product with slight tweaks.
If you’re willing to pay the premium for their best products they won’t let you down.
Things to avoid – The biggest thing to avoid with tactical flashlights is ‘tacti-cool’ features. You know what we’re talking about, those huge ‘impact’ heads, overly powerful beams, claims of blinding strobe effects, that kind of thing. While there are some quality off-brand flashlights it’s almost always better to spend a few more bucks and buy from a reputable brand.
That generic flashlight may look almost identical to the duty flashlight that’s twice the price, but if you dig a little deeper you’re likely to find things like poor soldering, cheap O-rings, and weak circuit protections that make it far more fragile than competitors.
Taking all these factors into account we created a weighted scale for comparison. All of the lights on this list will serve you well in the situation they’re most suited for.
Tactical flashlights are the most powerful lights available for their size – There are plenty of flashlights and spotlights out there that are more powerful than tactical flashlights. What there aren’t are flashlights as compact as them that are capable of producing such a shocking amount of light.
Tactical flashlights weigh just a few ounces and rarely measure longer than five to six inches. Despite this, they’re able to provide you with brightness, throw distance, and run time that you would have been lucky to get from a massive two hand torch just a decade or so ago. There are tactical flashlights available now that are so bright they can actually brown and burn paper at close distances (8).
Tactical flashlights are designed for multiple roles – One of the biggest benefits of tactical flashlights is how multipurpose they are. You can use them for self-defense, sure, but they’re also great as utility flashlights, emergency flashlights, camping flashlights, and just general around the house lights.
Even just in self defense, they fulfill so many different roles. They can blind and disorient attackers with their intense brightness and strobe effects. They can be used as makeshift striking tools because of their raised and reinforced bevels. Depending on the model tactical flashlight they can even be rail mounted and used as a long-gun or handgun light.
Buying a tactical flashlight gives you not just an excellent disaster and self-defense tool, it provides you with a high-quality light that you can use every day of your life.
Tactical flashlights are perfectly sized for every day carry – We’ve already covered how useful a flashlight can be as an EDC tool, but we know most of you probably wouldn’t want to carry around a foot long Maglite. Tactical flashlights provide the perfect mix of power and portability for everyday carry.
The smallest tactical flashlights are just an inch or two long and rarely weigh more than about an ounce. These have a lower brightness but still provide you with a shocking amount of light for something you can keep on your keychain.
If you’re willing to go up a bit in size you can find incredibly powerful lights about the size of your thumb that offer 500+ lumens and several beam options.
Tactical flashlights can blind and disorient attackers – The intense brightness provided by a tactical flashlight is an excellent addition to your self-defense tools. The light itself can blind them when held in a potential attacker’s face and help take one or both of their hands out play.
Think about it, what’s your first reaction when a bright light is shined into your eyes? You probably raise a hand up to shield them. That instant response can be all you need to get the drop on an intruder or mugger.
When you add in strobe effects a tactical flashlight can be a potent tool indeed. Studies have shown a potential link between brightly strobing lights and disorientation.
When a sudden bright light flashes in your eyes it can overwhelm the receptors and impair your vision. With continuous strobes, there are other effects like after images, an instant drop in night-vision, and a sudden fear response (9).
It’s important to keep in mind that there are potential downsides to strobing for the user as well. While definitely not as intense as the experience of the person on the bright end of the light, you’ll still have to deal with sudden flashes limiting your night vision.
Depending on the situation it may be better to simply go with a high power beam of steady light. It will still leave your attacker blinded while giving you an excellent view of them and their movements.
Q: What makes a flashlight tactical?
A: There’s no hard and fast definition of a tactical flashlight but there are a few features that most people look for. These include a rugged metal or polymer body, some type of impact protection, a powerful beam, and a more tactical look.
Q: Can you take a tactical flashlight on a plane?
A: Yes, though take this with a grain of salt. While TSA regulations clearly state that flashlights are acceptable in both carry-on and checked baggage your mileage may vary. Individual agents may try to claim it isn’t allowed so you need to be ready to ask for a supervisor (10).
Q: Are tactical flashlights legal?
A: Tactical flashlights are not currently classified as weapons in any part of the U.S. You don’t need any kind of permitting or permission to purchase or carry a flashlight pretty much anywhere. Use common sense here of course. Some federal buildings may enforce a more rigorous definition of what qualifies as a weapon as an example.
Q: What is the best tactical flashlight for self defense?
A: Any full-size tactical flashlight can make a quality self defense weapon in a pinch. Their primary role is as a tool to disorient and blind any potential attacker, with physical striking being a last resort. Go for lights with high powered maximum settings and strobe modes if you want the most defensible features.
Our pick for best tactical flashlight for self defense is the Streamlight ProTac 2L-X. It has a very bright high setting, strobe mode, and offers dual strike bezels for last resort defense.
Q: What tactical flashlight does the military use?
A: The U.S. military doesn’t currently have a standard-issue tactical flashlight. Different branches have different requirements and even with the branches, there are different mission imperatives for lighting. You’ll find different types of headlights, hand lights, and body-mounted lights depending on the branch of service and what type of unit you’re looking at.
Q: How bright is a tactical flashlight?
A: Tactical flashlights vary in brightness and beam distance depending on their size and manufacturer. Most full- size models provide at least 300 lumen, while some top of the line versions go over 1000 lumen. If you’re looking for more portability there are plenty of small and lightweight tactical flashlights that provide around 100 to 300 lumen.
Having a flashlight on you isn’t just useful, it can save your life. A quality tactical flashlight gives you the flexibility to go from camping to self defense in an instant.
They offer the brightness, durability, and battery life that allows you to blind or even strike an attacker without fear you’ll damage your light. They’re also portable enough that you won’t mind carrying one in your pocket as part of your every day carry.
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