was originally published on this site
After taking a look at a dozen different 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.
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 a durable flashlight with up to 800 lumens, a compact design that can fit just about anywhere, and more than 15 hours of light on AAA batteries, then the Lumify X9 is your model.
It also comes with an option to switch over for a rechargeable battery, strobe functions including SOS signals, 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!
Top Tactical Flashlights Compared & Reviewed
#1 Lumify X9 – Editor’s Choice/Best Usability
Lumify’s flashlight is compact and powerful.
Brightness Test: 315 lux at 10 feet
- Very easy to use
- Compact, rugged design
- Multiple battery options
- Dependable battery life
- Light modes can take time to learn
- A little small for full-room illumination
Design of the Lumify X9
Arriving in its own foam-padded case, this Lumify flashlight is trying hard to be elite – and backs it up with an excellent design or the modern user. This is one of the most compact tactical flashlights that we’ve seen, easy to hold in your hand, drop in a coat pocket, or loop around your belt without the weight being an issue. It also comes with a small holster if you prefer this method, although it’s not necessary
The on/off button is recessed in the back of the flashlight, which is a little awkward for fast use but helps keep the design trim and water resistant, which are important bonuses. The flashlight concentrates the beam with a simple push/pull method that can narrow the beam from a tiny spot to a large circle as you need. You can also hold or tap the on/off button to switch between a strobe and an SOS light, although this takes some practice to get just right.
As for the frame, it’s made of military grade aluminum and largely impervious to any accidental damage – the compact design also helps here!
Performance of the Lumify X9
Lumify surprised us with a light that’s particularly reliable: Even after 15 or so hours of constant use, the light remained bright enough for use in dark spaces, an excellent rating for such a compact flashlight that can create up to 800 lumens.
Note that Luminify’s model has several energy source options: We used the three AAA battery option, but you can also buy a specific rechargeable lithium-ion battery for the model if you want to recharge your battery every day. This type of versatility in batteries is nice to see, even if it means going to some extra work when you need to switch.
Overall, the Lumify X9 has such a focus on usability that it’s easy to recommend for a variety of uses and situations.
The major criticism we found is that, due to the compact nature of the light, it faces some difficulty in lighting up large dark spaces (entire rooms, etc.), making it more useful in nearby illumination or confrontations.
At the broadest light beam setting, the model produced, on average, 315 lux at 10 feet. This is again a surprising powerful rating for such a small flashlight, and another reason we made it our top pick!
View on Lumify
#2 5.11 XBT D3 – Brightest and Heaviest
5.11’s patrol flashlight may be just what you’re looking for.
Brightness: 340 lux at 10 feet
- Excellent illumination
- Great battery efficiency
- Bulky, heavy design
- Requires D batteries
Design of the 5.11 XBT D3
The XBT D3 is made in the model of traditional, patrol-style flashlights that were quite common back in the day, and so probably looks very familiar to many buyers. However, the model has been updated with an integrated circuit, a low/high power mode, a more ruggedized design with better gripping, and three XMLB LED bulbs.
This is all good news, but you still have to account for the weight, which is rated at 32 ounces with batteries. That’s a lot of heft for a flashlight, and that makes it more difficult to carry around or store. If you’ve used these patrol flashlights in the past you know what to expect here, but if this is your first tactical flashlight purchase, you may be disappointed with how heavy this flashlight can feel after a couple hours. On the plus side, the size and weight make this model a defensive option where compact models really aren’t, so that heft isn’t all bad news.
Performance of the 5.11 XBT D3
This 5.11 model far and away beat the rest of our reviewed models when it came to battery longevity. Even after 40 hours of constant use at a high level, the flashlight still managed to put out a beam with enough illumination to be usable (although significantly less so than at the beginning). That’s far better than the stated specs, and we were duly impressed.
The price, of course, is those three large D batteries that you need to use in the flashlight. They add a lot of weight, some extra maintenance, and of course an ongoing cost if you regularly use the flashlight and need to replace the D batteries regularly.
This traditional model is a little annoying, but the big benefit is a lot of luminescence. Rated at 1231 lumens and casting 340 lux at 10 feet, this is the brightest flashlight we reviewed, and excellent for pumping out a lot of light into large spaces when necessary. Those batteries fuel particularly powerful, long-lasting LED lights that are a vast upgrade to the old bulbs of more traditional patrol flashlights, and makes this 5.11 model an easy recommendation – as long as you don’t mind carrying it around.
View on 5.11 Tactical
#3 Streamlight Protac HL USB – Best Recharging Flashlight
Streamlight’s USB model charges like a smartphone; via USB – and it has a built-in battery.
- Handy USB charging
- Multiple light modes
- Useful clip
- Less illumination at a distance
Design of the Streamlight Protac HL USB
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 recharge option that’s particularly easy to use in our high-tech times, and far better than replacing clunky batteries.
The 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.
Performance of the Streamlight Protac HL USB
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.
View on Amazon
How We Tested + Understanding Brightness in Terms of Lux & Lumens
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!
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.
How We Choose the Top Rated Tactical Flashlights
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).
Sometimes a heavier flashlight can be its own asset.
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.
Tactical Flashlight Reviews Buying Guide
Heavy-Duty Flashlights: Rechargeable vs Traditional Batteries
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:
- Familiar replacement option, and easy if you have access to a lot of spare batteries
- More weight or heft to the flashlight
- More dependable beam strength over time – new batteries give reliable maximum brightness
USB Rechargeable Batteries:
- Less expensive and easier to maintain
- Regular charging prevents slow dimming seen with traditional batteries
- Flashlights can be smaller, more compact, and easier to store
What is a Strobing (Flashing) Flashlight
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.
Lumify’s SOS strobe is a unique case of additional value.
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.
What is a Tactical Flashlight?
Streamlight’s USB recharge fits in well with the always-ready nature of these flashlights.
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.