In search of a tactical torch

This month’s column looks at flashlights. I had to convince my editor that an article on flashlights is relevant to firearms. Yeah, yeah, I know. I write the Firearms Tactics column. OK, this month, I’m testing light cannons. How’s that? (Editor’s...


This month’s column looks at flashlights. I had to convince my editor that an article on flashlights is relevant to firearms. Yeah, yeah, I know. I write the Firearms Tactics column. OK, this month, I’m testing light cannons. How’s that? (Editor’s note: I admit I asked for a bit more detail than usual, but I like to think I was easily won over!)

Like the handgun, flashlights for law enforcement can be divided into three major categories: duty, off duty and special purpose. There is a little overlap, but for the most part flashlights are purpose-built. I’ll cover off duty and special purpose lights will be covered in a subsequent article.

Duty flashlights

I define a duty light as one designed to be carried on the belt, suitable for a number of assignments. They must be able to provide intermittent light (momentary switch), and full output for a sustained 2 hours. Officers can go from searching an open field to a house and get reassigned to direct traffic or process a crime scene in the same shift. Their light must be portable enough for the officer to stuff into a pocket or on the belt to get over that chain link fence.

Duty lights should be able to withstand a full immersion for a few minutes, about the equivalent to dropping the torch in the mud and rinsing it off. Every torch on my duty light list is waterproof, which means each can handle a full immersion for a specified period.

A good duty light should be competently sealed by O-rings or a similar mechanism, which is an important safety feature plus something that adds to the longevity of the product. Many of the products in a drug lab can be ignited by an errant spark.

A duty light should be able to survive simple shocks, like rolling off the vehicle hood onto the pavement, and things that challenge its structural integrity, like being pinned between the driver seat and the console during a pursuit. Scientists use various methods to measure the intensity or energy of a light source. The two common units are lumens and candelas. The candela is a measurement of intensity of a light source, measured at the source. The lumen measures the amount of light projected in a given area, measured at the projection. They really don’t readily translate, but not to worry, most manufacturers provide the lumens and candelas of their products.

The lights tested range around the 150-350 lumen output. This is bright enough for making a traffic stop, without blinding the officer when he opens a closet door and encounters a bright white wall.

I think the most useful information for a patrol light is the subjective test. That is, comparing lights by shining them down an alley or inside a warehouse works best for most officers. I will do this in my reviews, but readers should know that form factors and features are most often going to trump light output. For example, the Pelican 7060 LED has a tail switch and a barrel switch, as opposed to one or the other on many similar models.

There are two major form factor types for a duty light: mid-sized (about 7-12 inches long) and full-sized (12-20 inches long). I like the mid-sized ones, because they make shooting easier. When I test flashlights, I take them to the range. You should, too. The flashlight is as essential as any other safety equipment item like the baton or handcuffs. One should be particular about its features, limitations and form factor. Not every flashlight works for every officer. It really depends on the officer’s assignment and habits.

I have always preferred using a flashlight for shooting rather than having a dedicated light. There are a few good products out there, but some gun-mounted lights change the shooting characteristics of the gun. Often, a deliberate method of marrying the light in one hand and the handgun in the other to create a stable, two-handed platform works better and adds flexibility.

Shooting

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