Simply put, a flashlight is a handheld portable lighting device. It puts photons where you point and may even be mounted on a weapon.
A tactical flashlight, on the other hand, has a greater lumen and candela output than an ordinary flashlight. They are usually smaller and much more powerful than what you may think of as a traditional flashlight and are meant to take a fair amount of abuse.
Materials and features
One of the requirements of a good flashlight is its ability to withstand harsh conditions. Most handhelds in use today are constructed of aluminum or Nylon 6, a knurling of some sort on the body, and have a rear click switch that offers constant on and momentary modes. A parabolic reflector allows for a beam pattern that produces a bright hotspot for distance and noticeable side spill to illuminate a large peripheral area. Quality flashlights will use a white LED and measure their light emissions through Kelvin (K). A rating of 5000K is equivalent to direct sunlight and is optimum when bright illumination is needed. A more detailed explanation of the Kelvin color temperature can be found here.
Lumens and Candela
Lumens are a measurement that tells you the total amount of light emitting from the LED. It is important to note that the lumen number does not correlate to what you may see at a distance from the focused beam once the LED is placed into a reflector or any other type of optic. Candela can be described as the amount of light that is emitted in a certain direction. Typical modern flashlights use a parabolic reflector but there are many other types of optics that may be used such as Fresnel lens, convex lens, or Total Internal Reflection (TIR) lens. Modern high-performance flashlights usually have a lumen measurement from 500 to 1000 lumens and a candela from 25,000 all the way up to 60,000 or higher while utility flashlights have brightness levels anywhere from 25 to 100 lumens and very low candela.
Batteries and battery life
Lights producing a high number of lumens require CR 123a or rechargeable Lithium-Ion batteries, which are more efficient at delivering energy than a typical AA or other alkaline battery. However, because of the power consumption a high-powered flashlight uses they may only last up to 2 hours on its highest settings. In contrast, a regular flashlight which typically only has an on-off switch, can usually last ten hours or longer on regular alkaline batteries.
Professional grade flashlights typically have IP (Ingress Protection) ratings, which indicate how well-protected a device is from water and in some cases, it defines how impervious it is to solid objects such as dust. Ingress Protection ratings begin with the letters IP followed by one or two numbers. The first number tells you the level of ingress of a solid object and the second letter dictates how impervious it is to water. Some flashlights may even have an IP68, which is highest IP rating for both dust and water resistance. A more detailed explanation of IP ratings can be found here
Besides Law Enforcement, Military, and armed citizens, tactical flashlights are usually seen in the hands of search and rescue workers, survivalists, mechanics, outdoorsmen and others who value their high intensity beams and ruggedness. The once rare tactical light is so commonplace and affordable today that it has by and large taken the place of the regular flashlight for home use. This is especially true because most will not bother buying low-lumen flashlights simply because everyone has phones that do just as good of a job as a regular non-tactical flashlight from just a few years ago. Many tactical lights on the market today are equipped with the strobe function, which is meant for either signaling or self-defense, something the designers of typical flashlights are not concerned about.
The first reaction of most gun purists to this photo might be “ew, someone put a rail on a classic firearm.” Then they realize someone put a rail on a classic firearm. Gun owners with M1911s, Browning Hi-Powers, M9s and so forth usually shy away from accessories like weapon lights because they don’t want to go through the hassle and expense of buying a rail for their weapon. Many of them logically believe that mounting a flashlight involves buying a very specific rail and paying a gunsmith to mount it then waiting several days to get the weapon back.
The truth is that a gun owner is more likely to use his weapon at night, or at the very least in a dimly lit parking lot. Undesirable elements need darkness to conceal their activities, and it would be wise to mount a pistol light for situations like this.
Thankfully, the folks at Recover Tactical have a solution to the rail problem that requires neither a gun smith nor a drill or any other special tools. Recover’s rail systems are attached with simple Allen keys or screwdrivers, and in the case of their systems for the M1911, act as both a grip and a rail. Recover Tactical offers a variety of grip and rail systems for firearms other than the M1911 such as the Glock and Sig platforms, M9/92FS, Browning Hi-Power and S&W Shield. For a price point of about $25, there are few better options.
Using the Recover Grip and Rail, I mounted Inforce’s WILD2 pistol light without any trouble at all. Designed for toolless installation, the WILD2 can be removed from its box and secured onto any 1913 or Glock Universal Rail by hand. Its ambidextrous paddles were easy to reach, and I barely noticed any difference in weight from the WILD2 while the ridges of Recover system provided a more stable grip.
The Recover Tactical rail system. Also comes in green and black.
Both the WILD1 and WILD2 fit perfectly on a Recover rail system without issue. With the addition of a powerful weapon light, the only major change I needed to make to my loadout was a new holster, and there were plenty of affordable choices available online.
I am a believer in the phrase that it’s better to have and not need than to need and not have, and having a pistol light is a great insurance policy. Whether you’re checking on whatever tripped over your living room sofa at 2am or anticipating the worst from a car that blocked you off in the middle of a dirt road in the middle of the night, a pistol and flashlight combo is the common sense decision.
Whether walking into a dark room, a poorly-lit alleyway, or an area with known threats in the dead of the night, if you value your life, you’ll need both your flashlight and your weapon. Enter with just your weapon, and you’ll be shooting blind. If you enter with just your flashlight, you’ll not only be unarmed but you’ll tell everyone in the room where you are.
Hence, being both armed and able to see is essential for dealing with threats in a low light environment. Over the decades, police, military, and self-defense professionals have developed several techniques for using flashlights with handguns. Some of them emphasize stability, while others emphasize light control or safety. In all these grips, it is important to ensure the flashlight does not obscure the firearm or vice-versa.
The most famous of these flashlight pistol grips is the Harries technique. Pioneered by Michael Harries, a US Marine veteran and prolific marksman, this technique was widely utilized by the LAPD SWAT before it caught on with the wider shooting community.
In the Harries technique, the flashlight is held in an icepick grip, with the shooter’s thumb on the tailcap. The hand with the weapon is set on the flashlight hand with the wrists nested together, which helps support the weapon. It’s important to note that the elbow of the flashlight hand should not be “chicken winged” out to the side and instead should be kept close to the body, without having the forearm completely vertical. If the elbow is flared too far out, you make yourself a bigger target and compromise your support of your weapon. If your elbow is in too close, you lose some of that support.
Reloading from this position is easier than it might seem. Unlike some of the other grips, the index finger and thumb can still be used to manipulate magazines, and with practice, a reload with the flashlight hand can be just as fast as an empty-handed reload. In the case of other grips, it’s much harder to get a hold of one’s magazine and rack the slide with the middle and ring fingers (see photo), but it can still be done.
There’s only one thing wrong with the Harries method. If someone lacks training and is not used to the technique, there is a very real possibility that in the heat of the moment, if a shooter sees something out of the corner of his eye, he may break his stance, sweep his flashlight to the threat putting his hand in front of his weapon and fire, shooting himself.
The Chapman technique prevents this. The technique is named after Ray Chapman, whose long career in the Marines and law enforcement gave him the foundation he needed for sports shooting. It is probably the most comfortable flashlight grip for pistol shooters who utilize the weaver stance, where one’s shooting arm is nearly fully extended and pulling on the weapon while the support hand is bent at the elbow, pushing on it to provide support.
In this technique, the flashlight is held with only the thumb and index finger, while the rest of the supporting hand pulls on the weapon for stability just like a regular two handed grip. The downside of this grip, however, is that it makes reloading awkward since the thumb can’t be used to pick up a magazine. Racking the slide would be equally tedious for the same reason. Another downside to this technique is that it limits the shooter’s range of motion in the same way the weaver stance does.
The Ayoob technique, by contrast, allows for much greater movement. This particular method was invented by Massad Ayoob, a Syrian-American former police captain and martial arts expert. The technique involves holding the flashlight in a sword grip, with a finger on the on/off switch (on the body of the flashlight) for activation. The thumbs of both hands touch, and the flashlight is held in place by the fingers of the weapon hand and the palm of the support hand. This makes it possible for this grip to be used in either the weaver stance or with arms extended.
While the Ayoob technique allows users to hold their weapons in both the isosceles and weaver stances, it is purpose designed for flashlights with buttons on their bodies rather than on the endcaps of modern tactical lights. For those, the syringe grip is more appropriate.
With the Syringe Technique, the flashlight is held between the index and middle fingers with the middle or lower part of the thumb on the endcap switch. The weapon hand is braced by the lower fingers of the flashlight hand to steady it, giving this grip the stability and of the Ayoob technique.
The Neck Index, on the other hand, is something completely different. In this one-handed technique, the flashlight is held against the user’s jaw in such a way that the light moves together with the user’s head. If the flashlight is a large Maglite type light, the body can be rested on the user’s shoulder, in the optimal position to be swung at an assailant if necessary. This is one of the most common techniques for one-handed weapon grips.
The FBI technique, meanwhile, allows for more freedom of motion while at the same time offering a small degree of protection through deceit. In this stance, the flashlight is held far away from the body. This is done so that the user’s exact position is obscured. Any bad guy that sees the light will be less likely to hit the user. At the same time, the flashlight hand and weapon hand operate independently of each other. Just like the Neck Index, this also means that the user will be shooting one-handed.
Whatever flashlight technique you prefer, there are a few universal truths that anyone doing low-light shooting should consider. One should always bring any spare batteries, especially those who work in the dark often, since most high powered flashlights only work for a few hours at a time.
On the topic of room clearing with a flashlight, Sergeant Paul Sneck of the Finnish Defense Force, who served in a close protection role during a UN deployment in Lebanon with additional experience in maritime security in the Caribbean, states that since most ceilings are white, it would be sound to point your light directly upwards if you want to illuminate the entire room, since white reflects light. Furthermore, if your flashlight is the only source of light in the room, the strobe function can be useful for moving from cover to cover. Sneck likens a gunfight with a strobe light to “fighting in a disco” since the rapidly flashing lights make it hard for your opponent to see you.
Any potential dangers in low light environments need to be met with a firearm you’re familiar with and a dependable, versatile flashlight like the InForce TFx. With 700 lumens on its high setting and a peak beam intensity of 12,000 candelas, this flashlight can be used as a self-defense measure in its own right, since 200 lumens even in broad daylight is enough to cause temporary blindness. Combined with a good weapon and used with proper technique, you should have everything you need for a self-defense scenario in the dark.