A lot of people have been asking about tactical lights lately and, like tactical scopes, there are too many to choose from. I’ll try to give you a few points to consider when shopping for tactical lights that will hopefully narrow down the options.
I wouldn’t consider any light that is not LED. Regular lights have bulbs that will eventually burn out… probably when you need it the most. With the new, high-power, LED lights on the market, I just don’t see any reason to buy anything else. The LED will last a lifetime so all you need is extra batteries to keep it running.
2) Switch Type
What type of switch do you want? Most people think they want something with a remote pressure switch shown on this Insight M3X below.
Personally, I am not a big fan of remote switches unless the light also features a “constant-on” switch. The remote switch illuminates the light when you squeeze or put pressure it. This is OK for brief episodes of illumination, but if you are searching a large building, or varmint hunting, holding that switch down for more than a few seconds becomes annoying. I like a switch that you can push on and then push again to go off. Additionally, pressure switches can easily turn on the light inadvertently. Most lights designed for long guns come with remote switches, but you can use the “handgun” model lights on long guns. I use the lights designed for handguns on my rifles because I prefer the switches that come on them over the remote switch. The exception to this is the Insight Technology Long Gun lights. They come with a remote switch, but also have a constant-on switch – which is one of the features that makes them my favorite lights.
How are you going to mount your light on your weapon? Where do you want it positioned? Once you put the light on your gun, will you be leaving it mounted or do you need “quick release” mounting so it can easily be removed?
Almost all of the lights out there mount to picatinny rails. The tubular type lights will come with rings that mount around the body of the light and attach to the rail. Many others, like Insight and Streamlight, come with integrated mounts. The big thing to be aware of is how fast you can mount or dis-mount the light from your weapon if you cannot leave it mounted all the time. For example, if you have a holster that will not accept your handgun with the light mounted, and you plan on attaching the light when you need to do building searches and then removing it to re-holster (not a good idea) then make sure you get a light with a quick release mount. My recommendation is to buy a holster that fits the gun with the light mounted.
Most guys want the most powerful unit on the market. Doesn’t matter if it’s a truck or a tac light, we just want the most powerful one made. Well, with lights sometimes you can have too much power. Most tac lights on the market today are so bright that they “wash out” your night sights. If you’re running an EOTech and you have the illumination set really low, because its dark outside, and then you turn on the light, it can also wash out your reticle leaving you with nothing to aim with. These lights are so bright, that when used inside, the reflection coming off walls, etc can wash out your sights or aiming reticle. This is something you need to be aware of and test it so you know what to expect.
I consider Surefire to be the originator of the modern tac light. Back when they first came out, most of their models were putting out about 65 lumens…. which is bright enough for typical self defense or tactical situations. Of course everything now is much brighter than 65 lumens and I think this is mainly overkill. There are situations that warrant the high output of today’s lights; hog hunting, searching large warehouses, border patrol type activities, etc. So don’t feel bad about buying a 65 or 90 lumen light. It will most likely be bright enough for any practical need.
My Favorite Tac Lights:
These are not listed in any particular order.
Insight M3X LED
The Insight M3X is an excellent light. It’s available in both handgun format (as shown here) and a long gun version with a remote switch. But like I mentioned above, it has a constant on switch so this is one long gun light that I really like.
Be careful when shopping for M3X though and there is a standard version and a LED version. Make sure you buy the LED version.
The M3X is made from polymer, is super lightweight, yet very strong and rugged. The version shown here has the ambidextrous rocker switch on the back. Push it one way for momentary activation and then push it the other way for constant. The slide-lock mount allows the light to be mounted or removed in seconds. Very easy!
Peak Output: 125+ Lumens
Run Time: 2 Hours
Interface Options: Slide-Lock®
Dimensions: 3.4”L x 1.6”W x 1.5”H
Weight: 3.3 oz. w/Batteries
The Streamlight TLR1 is one of my favorite lights. It’s rugged, powerful, and inexpensive (as lights go). It has an aluminum body so its very tough and puts out 135 lumens. It has more of a permanent mounting system. See the round bolt head on the side with the slot in it. This is the mounting bolt. Loosen it and the mount opens up, put it on the rail, and then tighten it back down. You will probably need a flat head screw driver to get it tight enough to stay on the weapon.
It has a rocker switch similar to the M3X above. You can purchase a long gun back plate and remote switch for it as accessories.
Impervious to shock. Will not break or burn out!
Extremely durable anodized aluminum housing
Waterproof to 66 feet
Up to 2.5 hrs continuous run time
This GunTec light puts out an amazing 300 lumens. The light is integrated with a vertical grip so there’s no loose wires, etc hanging off your gun. I highly recommend this light for tactical rifles and shotguns. If you hunt hogs at night, this is the light you want!
It also features dual LED “navigation” lights for those times when you need to see where you’re going, but don’t need the full 300 lumens of the main light. It features built in pressure switches an has a constant-on switch on the back of the light.
You will be surprised to know it sells for under $200! The light body is made from aluminum and the grip is polymer. The entire unit, with batteries, only weighs about 15 ounces!
The Insight WL1-AA is the first tactical grade light to use AA batteries. Just about every other light on the market uses the CR123A lithium batteries. That’s one of the reasons I really like this light. I also light it because of its sleek, low-profile design, and it puts out 150 lumens.
The WL1-AA is available in the version shown here and the long gun version with a remote switch. The info from Insight lists it as having a quick release mount, but the latch is so tight that I have trouble getting a fingernail under it to open it very quickly. Of all the lights I’ve listed here, the WL1-AA is probably my favorite because of it’s small size and the fact it takes AA batteries.
It has a polymer body and ambidextrous rocker switches on the back.
Peak Output: 150+ Lumens
Run Time: Up to 90 minutes with Lithium batteries
Waterproof: Rated to 1 meter for 5 minutes
Interface: Quick Release Rail-Grabber™
Dimensions: 3.618”L x 1.435”W x 1.74”H
Weight: 3.4 oz
If you need a light for the little sub-compact, concealed carry handguns like the Springfield XD or Glock 26/27, etc, then you’re pretty limited on what will fit your gun. The Insight X2 was designed specifically for these sub-compact handguns.
Peak Output: 80+ Lumens
Run Time: 60 Minutes
Fits sub-compact handguns like Springfield XD, Glock 26, 27, S&W M&P sub-compact, etc
Interface Options: Slide-Lock®
Dimensions: 2.4”L x 1.4”W x 1.6”H
Weight: 1.7 oz. w/Battery