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After taking a look at a dozen of the best tactical flashlights from the top brands in the business, we focused on one big question: how well does the flashlight perform when you need it most? That’s really what the best tactical flashlight is all about. And as an extra tip, be prepared with more than just a flashlight, carrying things like the best survival knives to keep yourself prepared.
After measuring brightness, timing how long the batteries lasted, dropping lots of flashlights on the pavement, and similar tests, we’ve finally come to a conclusion. If you want an 850 lumens LED flashlight with a compact design that can fit just about anywhere, and more than 20 hours of run time, then the Streamlight ProTac HL USB is the best flashlight on the market. It also comes with an option to switch over for a rechargeable battery, strobe functions including an SOS mode, and several other useful features that’s we’ll discuss below. You can also check out our other top picks, learn more about tactical flashlights, and find quick links to make a purchase! These flashlights are great for camping. Just pack it with your best water bottle and other necessities to always have it with you.
Related: You may also want to pack the best marshmallow roasting sticks too.
Award: Top Pick/Best Rechargeable
WHY WE LIKE IT: The Streamlight Protac HL USB is powerful and convenient, featuring enough brightness to light your way with ease and a handy rechargeable battery to keep you going.
One of the first things you noticed about this Streamlight is that it’s strictly a USB charge model. How does this work out in practice? Pretty great! Connect a USB cable from your computer, laptop, battery charger, spare battery, or another source: the flashlight quickly charges up, and you are good to go! It’s an efficient rechargeable tactical flashlight that’s particularly easy to use in our high-tech times, and far better than replacing clunky batteries. This LED light operates using a tail switch, and the lithium-ion battery holds up well, with around 20 hours of powerful use (after which a recharge needs to boost the battery back to brighter levels. The single LED-powered bulb is rated at 350 lumens on the medium setting, but it has the lowest lux rating on our list at 40 lux across the surface of our sensor, at around 10 feet. That makes this compact flashlight well-suited for more enclosed spaces and up-close uses. Add this to your best survival gear for reassurance that you have a reliable flashlight for all scenarios.
The Streamlight is a powerful tactical flashlight also includes a strobe mode and a low/medium/high mode for saving money or raising the brightness. The anodized aluminum is very durable, but for water resistance, you will want to keep the USB sleeve tightly closed and double-check it if it is raining. This model also comes with a removable pocket clip and a nylon holster. The pocket clip is particularly handy and durable, a strong addition if you want to clip this light on a belt or strap rather than worry about a holster. Also, check out the best headlamp.
Related: You may also want to check out the best UV flashlight just for comparison.
Award: Honorable Mention/Best Brightness
WHY WE LIKE IT: Fenix is a big name in the tactical flashlight game, and for good reason. The Fenix PD35 Tac is ultra-bright and ultra-compact for better portability and versatility.
The Fenix PD35 Tac flashlight is one of the most elite options we’ve tested. It features an excellent, durable design for the modern user. This is one of the most compact tactical flashlights that we’ve tested, and it’s easy to hold in your hand, drop in a coat pocket, or loop around your belt without weight being an issue. As for the frame, it’s made of aircraft-grade aluminum that has a Type III hard-anodized finish. The flashlight is even fully submersible in water up to 6.5 feet. Another water-resistant option is the Cree LED Flashlight 18650 which can be submerged in water for up to 30 minutes.
Fenix surprised us with a light that’s particularly reliable, with the highest brightness rating of any of the lights we tested. 1,000 lumens of brightness can light up any environment in which you find yourself, large or small. You get a variety of different brightness settings, including a strobe mode. Note that the Fenix has several energy source options: a single 18650 lithium-ion rechargeable battery or two 3V CR123A rechargeable batteries. This type of versatility in batteries is nice to see, even if it means going to some extra work when you need to switch. The Fenix PD35 Tac is one of the best LED flashlights we’ve tested to date. Another everyday carry flashlight is the CRKT Williams Tactical Flashlight that measures just over 4.5 inches and provides up to 320 lumens of brightness. If you’re looking for more power, there’s also the NEBO TORCHY Rechargeable 1000 Lumens, which has four light output modes and a turbo mode. Also, read about the best water purifiers for camping.
Award: Best Budget/Best Lightweight
WHY WE LIKE IT: If you’re looking for a lightweight tactical flashlight that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, look no further than Vont LED tactical flashlight. With a durable, compact design and anti-slip surface, the Vont flashlight is perfect for almost any application.
The best thing about the Vont LED tactical flashlight is its design. This is the most compact and lightest weight tactical flashlight on our list, while still maintaining its overall durability and reliability. In fact, this is one of the most durable options on our list with an excellent anti-slip surface, water resistance, and 10-foot impact resistance. Vont claims that the flashlight can even be run over by a truck without breaking. We didn’t test that situation exactly, but all of our drop tests yielded impressive results.
The Vont LED tactical flashlight is also super easy to use, although it can get annoying to cycle through all of the different brightness modes. You have to half-press the power button to cycle through modes and simply twist the front of the light to adjust the beam distance width. The Vont includes a belt clip as well for additional ease of use. If you need a reliable tactical flashlight on a budget, then you can’t miss out on the Vont LED tactical flashlight. Don’t forget to check out the best coolers for your camping trip.
Award: Best Durable
WHY WE LIKE IT: Durability is important for all tactical flashlights and the PeakPlus LFX1000 brings on the toughness. With a hard carrying case and durable housing, the PeakPlus is built to last.
Arriving in its own foam-padded case, this PeakPlus tactical flashlight is one of the most durable options we’ve tested to date. Its rugged design is built with a water-resistant, skid proof and anti-abrasion design, so you can be assured that this little light can take a beating without failing you in the future. We performed quite a few drop tests with the PeakPlus and were always pleased with the results we got back. The housing can get pretty banged up, but the light itself remains going strong.
One of the biggest stand out features of the PeakPlus LFX1000 tactical flashlight is its telescoping functionality that allows you to “zoom” the beam in and out. This allows you to adjust your lighting for a wide variety of different situations and applications. Simply pull the end of the flashlight out or push it in to adjust the beam’s width. And with a total of 600 lumens of brightness, the PeakPlus features a bright LED setup enough for most situations. The flashlight is battery-powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion unit that gives you around 20 hours of continuous use on the lowest setting. Also, read about the best sleeping bags.
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Award: Best Value/Best Water Resistance
WHY WE LIKE IT: If you’re planning on going out in the weather or around wet situations, the Goreit L2 Tac will stay protected with its IPX4 water resistance rating. It’s also the second brightest flashlight on our list.
Not all tactical lights are water-resistant, but the Goreit L2 Tac flashlight offers an impressive IPX4 water resistance rating. This rating means the flashlight is protected against moderate sprays of liquid from any direction, making it an excellent option for use in wet weather conditions. The Goreit flashlight also features a pretty durable design, although not quite as tough as other options we tested. The only thing about the Goreit’s design that we wish we could change is the location of the power button.
The power button is located on the side of the flashlight instead of on the butt, which isn’t as intuitive as we would have hoped. For easier use, consider investing in a tail cap switch. Aside from the side switch, everything else is easy to use here, including adjusting the beamwidth. Simply twist the head of the flashlight in either direction to widen or narrow the beam. Finally, we were especially pleased with the battery situation on the Goreit tactical flashlight. You have the choice of using the included rechargeable battery (and charging it via USB) or 3 AAA batteries. The convenience of having two power sources shouldn’t be underestimated. Check out the best tents so you can camp in style. Or, if you’re embarking on a hunting trip, take a look at the best crossbow.
If you take a look at the specs for tactical flashlights, including many of the features we discuss, you’ll see that the light intensity is typically provided in lumens. Lumens is an easy measurement to get: It measures the total amount of visible light that something produces. The more lumens, the more light the flashlight makes: Not that difficult to understand, and easy to compare! Flashlights can have a lumen output for a very bright, blinding effect, such as the NLGToy Tactical Flashlight that has a light output of 50,000 lumens.
However, we also measured our reviewed flashlights in lux, and we had a very good reason for doing that. Lux is the measurement of “illuminance,” a fancy way of saying the amount of light transferred to a surface (per unit area). One lux equals one lumen per square foot.
You can see how lux can be a particularly valuable way of evaluating something like tactical flashlights, where it’s important to consider how much a surface is illuminated for clarity, visibility, and so on.
Take the moon for example: On even the clearest night, a full moon really only shines up to one lux – it can’t really go beyond that. The sun, tends to shine for at least 10,000 lux. The difference in visibility between the two is obvious: lux, then is a great measurement of the intensity at which a flashlight operates when shining on a given surface.
So, we made sure that all our reviewed flashlights were set to their standard beams, then positioned a lux sensor around 10 feet away and took multiple measurements to see what the lux rating was for that point of space – a good test for how much illumination you would get when shining a light at a person’s face, for example. It’s not quite as good at showing how well the flashlight would light up, say, the inside of a dark building, but that can be extrapolated based on the results.
Our tactical flashlight review process can be divided into three basic parts: light performance, usability, and battery performance.
Light performance, of course, refers to how well the light shines. Today’s flashlights often use clusters of LEDs and other methods to achieve a very bright, pure white light, unlike the flashlights of older times. We examine these lights with sensors, see how well they function up close and far away, and generally review how well they light up dark spaces (as well as any focus features, although these are relatively rare on tactical flashlights).
Usability refers to the design of the flashlight. How heavy is it? How easy is it to grip and operate quickly? Is it comfortable to store or carry around? This also touches on durability and how well the flashlight can handle drops, accidents, and rain.
Battery performance simply covers what kind of battery the flashlight uses, how long it lasts, and how easy it is to recharge or replace. These are important things to know if this will be a part of your survival gear.
The tactical flashlight world has faced a key question in the past several years: What type of battery is best? Today, there are two popular choices – good old-fashioned batteries, and USB rechargeable flashlights that typically use lithium-ion battery packs. Currently, the USB recharge option appears to be a more popular choice, but let’s break down the advantages of both.
Traditional D or C Batteries:
USB Rechargeable Batteries:
You will have noticed that the majority of tactical flashlights come with a strobe light option, maybe even a couple different strobe modes. If you are wondering why this feature is included and how it should be properly used, here’s what to know.
First, the strobe is primarily used as a defensive feature. Shine a strobe light in someone’s eyes, and there’s an effect that creates after images and induces disorientation. That could be an important strategic choice when dealing with a threat or providing backup for someone in trouble. Plus, you can use it at a distance, it’s relatively harmless for most people, and you don’t need a lot of training or precision to turn on a strobe and point it the right way.
This does have uses…but it also comes with some serious disadvantages, which is why you don’t see a lot of law enforcement organizations recommending strobe lights. The first problem is that the strobe light also makes it very difficult for you to see, and this can be dangerous. A threatening person may be able a number of fast movements before you are able to tell that they moved, and that’s bad news if they are rushing you or trying to pull out a weapon.
Additionally, strobe lights can cause seizures in some people with epilepsy, which opens up another can of worms that many people don’t want to deal with. As a result, strobe features are often unused in an official capacity, and you should be very careful when using them yourself. It’s a good idea to practice with the strobe features of your flashlight and understand how they work so you don’t accidentally switch the strobe on.
Scan information on tactical flashlights, and you may see a phrase like “RoHS compliant” advertised. What does that mean? RoHS is a standard, specifically the Restriction of Hazardous Substances standard. It was created by the European Union but is widely used throughout the world to help limit products with dangerous materials.
What sort of dangerous materials are we talking about? Mostly toxic metals like lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, and some toxic plastics – stuff that you really, really don’t want in your local landfill or leeched into the groundwater. Some electronics and light bulbs (especially in the past) have been made with materials like these. The RoHS compliance means that these flashlights do not contain such substances, and can be freely sold in countries that implement the RoHS.
Traditionally, a tactical flashlight was made to be used specifically by law enforcement or the military and was typically designed to be used alongside a weapon or attached to a weapon when patrolling dark areas. As a result, these flashlights had to be relatively compact, highly durable under a variety of circumstances, and very, very reliable. They also had to be easy to wear, equip, or generally carry around as needed.
Over the years, the tactical flashlight was adopted by other groups, like the mall and college security forces, private security for companies or office buildings, and so on. And then even later, neighborhood watch groups, preppers, and those concerned about family safety started adopting tactical flashlights as well, so there’s currently a surprising amount of demand for these elite flashlight products.
That demand has expanded the market, encouraged new flashlight technologies, and added a lot more variety to the types of tactical flashlights that you can find today. While we will be looking at tactical flashlights through the eyes of the individual consumer, many of the spec considerations and feature ratings remain similar for all target audiences. You need to see what you are doing in the dark so that you don’t see what you think is a ghost. But if you do see a ghost, I hope you have the best running shoes on your feet.