Looking for the perfect Tactical Light - Part 3

Looking for the perfect Tactical Light - Part 3

One of the most important aspect of choosing the right tactical light are the features or in some cases the lack of them ;-)

I’m a strong believer that equipment needs to be of the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle. Equipment needs to perform under stress and the more whistles and bells we would like to have the more it will be a recipe for disaster. Look for the things you really need, not the features you would like to have.

Flashlights and in particular the more modern ones, house a lot of electronics and as we all know, these can fail. On the other hand, If we look at the performance of the lights in conjunction with the evolution of high power LED’s, we can’t really live without it.


In general, lights will be available with one or two of the following battery options:

  • Disposable batteries
  • Rechargeable batteries
  • Built in batteries

The last couple of years  a lot has been going on in the world of batteries. Due to different chemical compositions, these batteries have become more compact, better rechargeable, more reliable and still punch out an awesome amount of current compared to the typical disposable batteries like the AA, AAA, C and D cells we have known since childhood.

Some 15 years ago the first big evolution in commercial batteries came in the form of the CR123 and has since then been the standard power supply for a lot of military equipment like lasers, flashlights, NVG’s, …

Most advanced LED torches these days can be powered by rechargeable lithium batteries.

These batteries come in various sizes with “18650”s being the more popular / industry standard for most advanced high output devices. They have a high output, a long run time and can typically be recharged around 500 times.

Your typical Lithium batteries are volatile and can explode if shorted out in a bad way. “Protected” lithium batteries have an inbuilt protection fuse that runs down the side of the battery. In the event of a short circuit this fuse will blow before the battery will have a meltdown.

Like mentioned earlier these batteries come in different sizes. The most common available are:

  • 18650
  • 18350
  • 16650
  • 16350 / 16450 / CR123A

The first 2 letters refer to the diameter of the battery and the last three to the length, both in mm.

So if you are attentive, you should be able to use the 16350 as a reliable replacement for the CR123 battery. But watch out because there is an important factor you need to keep in mind = Voltage. 

Your standard CR123 provides 3 Volts, compared to the 16350 and all other Lithium types which provide 3.7 Volts.

Some flashlights, and in particular the installed driver, could have issues with the voltage. If you have a light that needs two CR123 batteries, thus 6V, and you replace them with two 16350, the voltage will be 7.4V. In some cases the driver can function between 3V and 9V. Then you even have the option to replace the two CR123’s by one 16650 battery. Always look at the voltage requirements of the flashlight.

In conjunction with rechargeable batteries you will also need an intelligent charger. These also come in different shapes and sizes, but one of my favorites is the Nitecore Digicharger D2. This charger can charge all of the mentioned Lithium batteries and even charge AA, AAA, … So it’s quite universal.

Some manufacturers tend to opt for built in rechargeable batteries. These are convenient and budget-friendly. Because they come built-in, you won't have to worry about buying extras and carrying them around. One major drawback of built-in batteries, though, is that once they die, the battery is dead until you can take the time to recharge with a micro USB cord.


Because a tactical flashlight is expected to be used in a tactical situation, it has to be able to face tough blows and take a lot of abuse. Tactical flashlights are made of strong, durable materials that won't bend, break or crack easily. A variety of different materials are available depending on your budget and the kind of use you expect to get out of your flashlight. Each carries its own advantages and disadvantages.

Plastic / Composite / Polymer:

These materials are becoming more and more rugged compared to their metal counterparts. Most flashlights made of composite won't be very technically advanced but that’s the way I like it = KISS. They do have the advantage of being lightweight and soft to the touch in cold conditions.

Stainless Steel:

Stainless steel is hard, resistant to corrosion and it lasts a long time. As a result, flashlights made of stainless steel are relatively inexpensive and built to endure (though they are a bit on the heavier side).


Titanium flashlights are both strong and lightweight. These qualities make them ideal for MILES applications. Titanium's versatility and convenience comes at a price, though — its price. It's very expensive compared to other alloys.


Like titanium, aluminum flashlights are lightweight. They are not quite as tough as titanium but they will still function after multiple impacts. Aluminum is an inexpensive material out of which to build a flashlight, making aluminum flashlights a very cost-effective option.

Switches and modes:

The switch turns the torch on and off, and in some cases also controls the modes (e.g. strobe, high, med & low -for torches that have modes). Most switches are located at the rear tail cap of the light, but can also be found towards the front of the torch handle torch where you would place your thumb. I tend to go with the switches located in the tail cap because this work with most of the low light positions like FBI, Neck index, Harris, …

Most switches are covered with a replaceable rubber membrane that makes them waterproof and long lasting.

Some brands opt to protect the tail cap switch with a raised edge so to avoid accidental activation of the light. This is a good option but keep in mind that user with bigger thumbs and/or gloves may find it more difficult to activate the button.

There are two types of switches:

Momentary: you press and the lights turns on, you release and the lights turn off.

Clicky: you need to push down on the switch and hear and feel a click to turn on the light. If you release the switch the light stays on. To turn the light off you need to click the switch again an release

Within these two types there exists some other useful features. With a twist-momentary tail cap, you can use it several ways. Fully tightened down, it's constant on. If you back it off a bit, you can press the rubber switch for momentary. If you unscrew it a little further, the light will not come on anymore. Useful for storage and transport. It's how all twist-momentary lights operate.

I also found that the Surefire EDCL lights have a very thought-out feature concerning the momentary switch. If you press softly ( fine motor skills), like when checking an ID, you get a low power output. Once you push hard (gross motor skills under stress) the light shines at full power.

Some brands opt to house a mode circuit into the light and control them with the main switch. Often you can program certain commands to turn on certain modes. e.g. hold down the switch for 2 seconds and it goes straight to strobe etc. This is a bad idea in my opinion because if you need a certain mode (e.g. full power) in a stressful situation you will have trouble finding the mode you need. A possible solution for these kind of situations and if you really need the different modes in one light, I would suggest to look for a light that has a second switch to program or memorize the function of the main switch or a light with a mechanical switch that needs to be rotated to use a specific mode.


The Surefire tactician for example has a rotating head where you can switch between the high and low output mode.

But like I said before, spare yourself the frustration and keep it KISS!


Lanyards come also in all kinds of flavors and typical in some kind of paracord 550 form factor. Of course these are great for your standard light retention but are these up to a tactical situation?

If you plan to use a lanyard in an austere situation, I suggest to use at least some sort of breakaway safety in case you get caught somewhere with the lanyard or the suspect/threat gets hold of your light and tries pulling it towards him. I would also strongly suggest never to hang your light with the lanyard around your neck. This is asking for trouble.

During the years of teaching Low Light classes I gathered some really good ideas concerning the ideal lanyard and I came up with the following low cost solution = Shock cord.

The shock cord lanyard consists of about 50cm of shock cord, a cord stop and a hook.

You can fit the lanyard in two ways. First of is putting it around your wrist and closing the cord stop around it. When turning your thumb inwards you can take the light in your hand and you are ready to do business. When in need to let loose e.g. weapon manipulations, you can quickly pick it up again. When someone grabs the light or your lights get stuck somewhere, the amount of stretch that will be caused by pulling will let you free your hand.

An alternative solution with the shock cord lanyard is fitting it to you hand. The light always stays in the same position and you have enough “finger” to manipulate your firearms.


Another interesting feature is the Crenelated and Strike Bezels. These bezels are already featured in the design of the head or preinstalled by the manufacturer. In some cases third party bezels are available. The crenelated bezel gives you an extra protection for the lens but can also be used as a tool for breaking glass and of course in a self-defense situation. The downside on these kind of bezels is that is can get hooked up in your pocket and add a little more length to your light. Nevertheless in the business where you need a tactical light, this is an interesting feature to consider.

Conclusion / Advice / Considerations:

If you have read part 1, 2 and you are still reading this, I can consider that a tactical flashlight is an important tool in your everyday job.

Depending on what kind of job you are doing, you need to know what you require from your gear. Considering this, you need to know what you really need in a tactical flashlight and not what you fancy. The best tactical flashlight is the one that suits you and your needs best. What may be the best tactical flashlight for me may not necessarily be the best tactical flashlight for you.

After reading previous parts we all can conclude that the perfect tactical flashlight needs to shed plenty of light. The more the better because light is information.

The beam needs good balance between through and spill in order to use it for identification and enough punch to blind a suspect.

It needs to be KISS in relation to manipulating the light. My preference goes to a momentary switch. If you need to let go the light, it will turn off. Otherwise you’ll be "lighthousing" everything and everybody around you. A clicky is not bad but needs extra training. To avoid "lighthousing" you need to train a double click and keep it holding in. Then when you drop the light, it will shut off. Clickies are great when you want to have positive control of your switch e.g. during a search, but in my opinion you are better of with a  rotary momentary switch where you can actively keep the light on but turning the tailcap.

Avoid all the different modes! Keep KISS. You know why. The only real mode that is optional is a strobe function. If you are really in to strobe consider a separate switch to activate it. I will be discussing the use of strobe in a future blogpost.

Your light needs to be built like a tank. Different materials have pro’s and con’s. It’s really up to you to choose what you want and depends on your budget.

Look for a light that can both use rechargeable and disposable batteries. Your main power supply would be the rechargeable ones but keep the disposable as back up in case you need to quickly change out batteries. Look for a light that uses 16650 or 18650 batteries but can also run on CR123’s (use with adapter in 18650 housing). Avoid internal, non removable batteries because once they run out you are in trouble. The main brand of 16650 I go with is Keeppower. These have the extra over current protection installed and the price vs quality a great buy. And they don’t lie concerning the capacity (mentioned in mAh) compared to some other brands.

Choose a light that can provide you with a valuable means of self defense in a situation that surely requires it.

Use a lanyard. May I suggest the shock cord lanyard?

And the question is, does this perfect light actually exists?

As you probably know already, I have a weakness for Surefire lights. I bought my first Surefire (G2Z) in 2001 and it stills runs today keeping in mind that I have done some LED updates since then. Surefire has a top notch after service and could even provide me after 18 years of using my light with a free replacement of my broken tail cap.

To me personally, my perfect tactical light is the Surefire G2Z Combat Light and its modern counterparts. During the years I bought some other models like the 6P and Tactician. But the G2Z is still my "goto" light.

Below you can find some of my favorite lights I have been using. From left to right:

Nitecore P10GT

  • 900lm
  • 20500 candela
  • 18650 battery
  • High, Mid and low power
  • Clicky with memory but setup with second switch
  • Strobe function
  • Strike bezel
  • Good balance between spot and spill

Surefire G2Z (Custom OSRAM Flat White Led, same as Modlite OKW)

  • 680lm
  • 69000 candela
  • 16650 and CR123 batteries
  • AMC7135*8 driver
  • 1 mode
  • Momentary switch
  • Strike bezel
  • Very tight spot and reduced spill
  • Composite body

Surefire G2Z (Custom CREE XP-L HI V3 Led)

  • 1100lm
  • ? candela
  • 16650 and CR123 batteries
  • AMC7135*8 driver
  • 1 mode
  • Momentary switch
  • Good balance between throw and flood with a powerfull spot
  • Composite body

Surefire 6P (Custom CREE XP-L HI V3 Led)

  • 1100lm
  • ? candela
  • 16650 and CR123 batteries
  • AMC7135*8 driver
  • 1 mode
  • Momentary switch
  • Good balance between throw and flood with a powerfull spot

Surefire Tactician

  • 800lm
  • 3200 candela
  • 16650 and CR123 batteries
  • 2 mode output level with mechanical switch (head)
  • Momentary switch
  • No spot and only flood, good for EDC and search



There is no replacement for practice and skill refinement. Know your equipment and train with it. The basis for any deployment system or technique is manipulation skills and ultimately the further refinement of those skill sets should be your goal. Become familiar with your lights operational controls and know when to use it.

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