Years of camping in remote locations and participating in night-time research has taught me the importance of owning the best-quality gear.
The Best Tactical Flashlights
Tactical flashlights can range from basic, brighter-than-average flashlights to military-grade, high-tech tools for soldiers and security professionals. This guide discusses your best options for mid-range tactical lights.
As a naturalist and researcher, I often spend nights in rainforests and other remote, sometimes hazardous places. I have used many different kinds of tactical flashlights, and I have learned which features truly matter and which are just bells and whistles added by a manufacturer hoping to lure in an uneducated consumer.
The lights in this guide were chosen because they make the grade, either from my own experience or from their features and ratings by serious users. These lights are not toys—they're tools. I hope this guide helps you make the right choice for you.
Lighting Up the Forest—My Experience
Starting in the late 1990s, I became interested in pursuing a fairly specialized field of biology that involved the distribution of tropical insects. My grandfather, and his father before him, were workers and researchers in this field, and so I came by this interest naturally.
My particular interest was in nocturnal, or night-flying insects such as moths and beetles. After many many nights finding and recording insects in dark fields and forests in the US, I obtained permits and designed a research project to do the same thing in Central America, first in Costa Rica and then in Panama.
My work (to be honest, for me it's really more like fun than work) when I'm in the field is essentially camping with a demanding activity connected to it. Since one good way to attract moths and other insects in a dark jungle is to set up a light, I have spent years obsessing over bulbs, battery packs, and flashlights.
When tactical flashlights began to get popular, I was overjoyed. There were so many options and so many good choices, and I desperately needed bright lights. Tactical flashlights have saved me, literally, from stepping on a poisonous snake in the middle of the rainforest.
I love sharing the things I have learned (in my non-jungle life I'm a high school teacher). I hope this guide helps you find the right tactical light. They're one of those things that are both extremely useful and extremely cool.
Number 1: FENIX TK35 Ultimate Edition Tactical Flashlight
I have the FENIX TK35 Ultimate at the top of the list partly because of the included batteries and charger. When I'm in the field I have zero access to electricity, sometimes for days. When I do get back to the station or a source of energy, I need all hands on deck to recharge and conserve power for lights and other gear. Staying charged is a constant battle, and if my batteries die in the middle of the night in the jungle, I'm in trouble.
A Good Demo Video of a Tactical Light
Number 2: ThruNite TN36 2017 Max 10000 Lumen Tactical Search Flashlight
This is another tactical flashlight that comes with a charger. I like this one for its excellent user ratings, but I like it even more for the sheer ferocity of its brightness, which is measured in brightness units called lumen. This light is one of the brightest commercially available hand-helds, with a lumen rating of ten thousand, which is lust a little less than the sun. Seriously, this light is all the brightness you would need for basically any situation. While I mainly use lights in a dense forest, which limits the "throw" of the beam, in an unimpeded setting this flashlight is capable of throwing nearly 350 yards, or the distance of three and a half football fields.
A tactical flashlight is simply a flashlight that’s been designed for tactical (i.e. military or police) use. Many tactical flashlights are designed to be mounted to a weapon for low-light shooting. They’re typically smaller than traditional flashlights, emit much more light, and are made of weapon-grade aluminum for maximum durability.
A Strange Encounter...
I had a tactical flashlight in the field for the first time in the late 2000s. I was camping in a pasture in a remote area of Panama, monitoring a light trap, and in the middle of the night, I had to get outside my tent to relieve myself. If I had owned a regular flashlight, nothing would have happened, but with my high-powered light, I caught a reflection—two bright eyes at the edge of the forest. My heart skipped a beat, as I imagined a leopard watching me, waiting for me to let my guard down. As I held the glowing yellow eyes in the beam of my light, they moved off to the side, and then I heard a low "mooooo." My hungry leopard was actually a cow.
I did make it back to sleep that night, lying in my tent, but it took a while.
Number 3: Surefire G2X Tactical Single Output LED Flashlight
I included this light in the guide because I like the bright yellow color. I have dropped flashlights while working in the jungle understory, and the last thing you want to do be doing is fishing around with your hand in the vines and muck, not knowing what you might grab—or what might grab you. So while it might seem unusual to make a powerful, high-quality light like the Surefire G2X with such a bright color, in practice the yellow polymer casing of this light is one of its best features.
Other features of this light place it among the elite tactical lights in its price range:
- Durable, corrosion-resistant polymer-body
- High-efficiency LED—virtually immune to failure since there's no filament to burn out or break
- Perfectly pre-focused 320-lumen beam
This light has a 93% 5-out-of-5 rating on Amazon, and excellent reviews on sites like lightslanterns.campinggear.info.
This light has one feature that may only matter to me -- since I often need my hands to grab insects and frogs, I frequently find myself holding the light with my teeth. Metal flashlight hurt, so I really like plastic-covered numbers like the Surefire G2X.
Safe and Secure With a Super-Bright Flashlight
One very practical use for a tactical light is for car safety. Having a light in your glovebox can make a difference when you have to walk to or from your car in a remote or sketchy location. There's something to be said for having 700 lumens of blinding light when in your hand when you're feeling a little freaked out about the neighborhood you're in. And if your car breaks down, a tactical light can literally be a life-saver. Visibility in mist or fog is less of a worry if you have a super-powerful flashlight to help other motorists and even emergency vehicles see where you are.
Number 4: Life Gear Highland Series 700, 200 and 80 Lumens Tactical LED Flashlight Set, 3-Pack
I like this set simply because of the value -- you get three separate flashlights, in three power levels, which means you can pick and choose depending on the setting you're in. These lights—which have an interesting look—offer many benefits for both security workers and home-owners in need of a powerful tactical light
All three lights have a durable construction. The main light offers high, low, and strobe modes, and a red emergency light on the handle. All three feature rugged aluminum construction, which according to the manufacturer makes them suitable for law enforcement.
- The main light can be set to high, low, or strobe mode
- Red tail emergency light can be set to glow or flash
- Aircraft-grade aluminum construction with a shatterproof lens
- Backed by a limited one-year warranty
I especially like the red emergency light on the end of the flashlight, which is powered by a separate button and draws from separate batteries, which are included. Since I am often in remote areas, an emergency beacon like this would be welcome -- it can be set to glow and used like a flare, or set to flasher mode and used like a beacon.
Number 5: The Best Budget-Conscious Choice—Larnn Led Tactical Flashlight
This was one of the first tactical flashlights I owned, and I had zero issues with it. It's plenty bright for any non-jungle situation, and it fits nicely in the palm of your hand. Mine seemed to last forever before it needed new batteries, and even though I put it through some tough treatment it never stopped working or needed repairs. This is one tough flashlight, and judging by its truly excellent user rating (400+ reviews, 4.3 out of 5 stars) I'm not the only one who likes it.
If you do decide to go the budget route for your tactical light, be aware that many low-priced lights are cheap imports that are literally not worth the money. A flashlight is one thing that you truly need to rely on, and I have been left standing in the dark with a flashlight that crapped out enough times to know.
Other Ways in Which a Tactical Flashlight Can Help You Stay Safe
Identify Potential Threats
People thinking about hurting or robbing you often use darkness for hiding and surprising their victims. If you shine a bright light in the eyes of someone coming out of the darkness, they're basically blinded and you can get to safety.
Use As An Improvised Weapon
Some tactical flashlights have a serrated or toothed bezel. If necessary, these lights can be used as a cutting or bludgeoning weapon for self-protection from attackers.
If a potential criminal knows you have a tactical light, they very well might think twice before trying to make you a victim. From a criminal's point of view, someone without a powerful light in their hand makes for a more appealing target.
Waterproof Tactical Lights
Virtually all quality tactical lights are waterproof. Boating and canoe trips are all situations that often call for a super-bright light, and aside from simply dropping the light in water, there are heavy rains and dew to contend with. A waterproof light doesn't seem important until you need one, and I have had lights fail from being out in the rain. The cumulative damage of moisture—which has a way of always getting in under the lens cover—is another way that water is the enemy of being able to see in the dark.
The following sources were used for this guide:
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Dianna Mendez on December 18, 2017:
One needs at least two good flashlights in their home. Thanks for the information on these products.
Wesman Todd Shaw from Kaufman, Texas on November 25, 2017:
I so adore a great flashlight. I've got a friend who's always buying another one, and I'm ever so jealous of his flashlight collection.