Choosing a Flashlight For Night Fighting

Choosing a Flashlight For Night Fighting

I was very fortunate to attend one of the Strategoes Low Light Instructor courses while I was employed as a police officer.  That particular Strategoes course was a week long course that trained me to become my department’s trainer and subject matter expert on low light engagements…in other words, night fighting for the police officer.  While I am now retired I’m fortunate to have decades worth of training to fall back on when times are tough and I thought I’d share some of what I learned about choosing a flashlight for night fighting both during that week and through my dual law enforcement and military careers.

When I first started out in law enforcement, flashlights made by MagLite and Streamlight were really our only flashlight product choices.  I carried the rechargeable MagLite along with a Mini Maglite as part of my every day kit.  Even as a rookie, I intuitively knew that just like a backup gun, one should always carry a backup light.  A problem with those early ‘tactical lights’ was that they would only last about an hour.  Once, while I was searching for a burglary suspect my light actually grew so dim that it finally went out… potentially, a very dangerous situation.

Surefire 6PThe Mini Maglite wasn’t much help either because of the limited volume of light it put out, nor was it very tactical.   In fact, if you dropped either my primary or backup flashlights the bulb was likely to shift or break making the light unusable.  Not a very good situation to be in when you really need a light.  Then something revolutionary happened, Surefire released the Surefire 6P.  This light used two lithium CR-122 batteries to put out 65 lumins of light from a 5.2 inch, 5.2 ounce package.  This light was a huge technological leap, but back then the batteries were expensive and there weren’t yet any rechargeable CR-123 options.  Then Streamlight came out with the Streamlight Stinger.  Boy, it was a very good light with perfect switches, an adjustable lens, and it was rechargeable.  But even these true, tactical flashlights would only last for an hour or so of continuous use because we didn’t yet have the LED technology we do today.  For a while, I continued to carry the MagLite at night and used the Stinger as a backup… but that Stinger was always on my belt night and day.

What To Look for In A Flashlight For Night Fighting

After that Strategoes Low Light Instructor class I bought myself a Night-Ops Gladius.  Boy that light was everything you would ever want.  It was adjustable up to 120 lumens, had a strobing feature to disorient an opponent.  By the time that the Gladius came around the lithium batteries had finally become affordable.   Over time, more flashlight manufacturers entered the market, existing manufacturers expanded their product lines and Surefire in particular came out with numerous flashlights that weren’t just affordable…they also did their jobs pretty well.  As time went by there weren’t just more tactical flashlight choices but the lights also become brighter.  Now there are so many tactical flashlights that it is hard to choose from. [Andrew’s Note:  I remember that damn Gladius, it was so bright it was disorienting even during the day and he’d hit us with it at drill when we least expected.]

So what do you look for in a flashlight for night fighting?  If I was back on patrol duties I would still carry a rechargeable flashlight as my primary light to keep the cost down because even though lithium batteries have become much cheaper it would add up to some serious money if I were to use it night after night.  However, even though I’d carry a rechargeable as my primary, I would also carry a lithium powered flashlight for my back up.

Switches

Flashlight switches and the way that flashlights operate are a big deal for me or anyone trained to fight with flashlights at night.   Surefire has several lights that you must continue to depress the button in order to keep the light on.  I don’t like those at all.  My preference is for lights with a two stage switch.  In a two stage switch you push gently for momentary flash and then push a little harder to have your flashlight stay on.  I have also come to like flashlights that are switched on the end or tail of the flashlight.  There are certainly other options, but with my style of flashlight usage and firearms training, that is what I prefer.  Some larger flashlights have side switches.  They work fine for just shining a light around, but are difficult when your plan to operate a handgun while using your flashlight…especially if you are forced to shoot off-hand (non-dominant handed).

Streamlight Protactical 1LAdditionally, make sure to stay away from flashlights that you have to cycle through multiple light features (instant on, constant, strobing or lumen level) to get the light you want, all these flashlights do is give the other guy a chance to react to your presence.  Having said that, there is one cycling flashlight, the Streamlight Protac Tactical Flashlight 1 (PT1L) that I don’t mind because the first push is the brightest setting and I usually start there.  When I want the other functions, I am not in as bad a situation to start with and have time to choose the appropriate function.  The Gladius flashlight I mentioned previously is operated by turning a knob to select your function.

Brightness / Lumens

How bright is bright enough when it comes to a flashlight for night fighting? We start off with the definitions:

Candlepower:  Abbreviated as cp, candlepower is an obsolete unit expressing luminous intensity, equal to 0.981 candela.  It expresses levels of light intensity in terms of the light emitted by a candle of specific size and constituents.

Lumen:  Abbreviated as lm, Lumen is the International System (SI) of Units designation for  luminous flux.  Lumens are a measure of the total ‘amount’ of visible light emitted by a source.  Luminous flux differs from power (radiant flux) in that luminous flux measurements reflect the varying sensitivity of the human eye to different wavelengths of light.  While radiant flux measures the total power of all electromagnetic waves emitted, lumens is a measure of the power of that portion of the electromagnetic spectrum which the human eye is able to perceive.

As mentioned above, candle power is now an obsolete term and while we used to measure our flashlights in terms of candle power, the industry has now changed to the lumen standard.  The first Surefire Flashlight I bought, the Surefire 6P and it projected 60 lumens.  That seemed to be the standard for quite some time but then tactical flashlight output slowly crept up to 100 lumens and then 120 lumens.  Most of my flashlights are still in that range and the reason that the technology stayed around 100 lumens for so long is that was didn’t want to overwhelm the flashlight’s user with too much light in a night fighting situation.  The thought was that when you went from low light to sudden brightness it would adversely affect the flashlight’s user as well as the flashlight’s target.  Fast forward 10 years and the new paradigm for fighting flashlights is the more lumens the better.

Surefire P2X FuryWhat changed?  Well, like many of the things we are indoctrinated into believing… once we had personal experience working with these higher power tactical flashlights we discovered that the benefits of the increased lumens more than made up for any negative effect on the flashlight’s user as long as he or she was careful of reflective surfaces which could bounce your light back at you.

I recently purchased a Surefire P2X Fury Flashlight. I bought the EAG/Single Output model which is rated at 500 lumens.  I love it.  I wish that I’d had it when I was working the street.

[Andrew’s Note:  The Surefire 6P is the model I carried in Iraq after suggested it to me and trained me in the tactical use of flashlights.  It still sits in my bedside table today and is the light I most frequently grab when I go off to investigate bumps in the night.]

Durability

Now for the best test of a fighting flashlight:

Step 1:  Take that flashlight you love and just spent a small fortune on and throw it down on a hard surface.

Step 2:  Repeat Step 1 four more times.

If your flashlight survives you have a good flashlight and remember that you want a good flashlight as your life may depend on it someday.  I know what some of my readers are going to say that after spending $100-200 on a flashlight you want me to do what…but YES…that is my recommendation!  That was the first thing I did on my Surefire Fury after I purchased it and it proved itself worthy.  Some of newer ‘tactical’ flashlights that put out a good beam of light just won’t hold up to this.  I still have a Streamlight PT1L that I’ve washed five times and still throw down onto the concrete floor every time I teach a night fighting class.  It is still working fine.  I carried this flashlight as a back up to my Gladius when I was a detective.

Conclusion

Most of my flashlights now are lithium.  I sold my MagLite as I don’t want anything that big anymore.  My Streamlight is now buried in a box and needs new batteries.  In fact, I’ve gotten rid of all of my rechargeable lights because I don’t use a flashlight everyday like I used to.  However, while I don’t use a flashlight every day, I still carry one.  I carry that flashlight everyday just like I carry my gun.  My flashlight goes with me every time I leave the house.  I hope that this primer helps you know what to consider when you choose your next night fighting or potentially night fighting flashlight

For what it is worth, Surefire and Streamlight are what I buy today.  The others just don’t seem to hold up to my usage.  I will end this article with the two tactical flashlight rules that I live by:

  1. Never give up your light to anyone
  2. Always have a backup

Andrew’s Note:  Have a firearms or armed tactics question?  If so, Ask Infidel.

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