Every man needs a good flashlight – it’s a basic piece of gear with immense practicality.
Let’s look at the best tactical flashlights you can buy in 2020.
Do you need an ultra-bright and dependable flashlight for self defense, home defense, or patrol duty?
Or maybe you just want a practical Every Day Carry (EDC) flashlight that can also be used for self defense?
You need a flashlight that won’t let you down when your life is on the line.
Shown here is the NITECORE MH25GTS Rechargeable Tactical Flashlight (Buy on Amazon) – it is our top pick for best tactical flashlight.
We’re going to describe in detail the things you want in a tactical flashlight.
And we’re going to show you a range of options to fit any budget.
Let’s get started.
Don’t want to read it all, here’s our top picks.
What is a Tactical Flashlight?
First of all, what do we mean by tactical flashlight?
A tactical flashlight is a light intended to be used for self defense, military, or law enforcement purposes.
Handheld tactical flashlights are often used along with a pistol, but they can also be mounted to a weapon and used as a weapon light.
Tactical flashlights have special features to make them valuable in this role.
For instance, the LED bulbs used in tactical flashlights are capable of extremely bright output – enough to disorient an attacker or suspect.
Tactical flashlights are also tough and reliable – they have to be, as your life may depend on it.
In this article we are going to focus on handheld tactical flashlights – as those are the most useful for EDC (Every Day Carry) use as well.
But, many of these will work as a weapon light with the right accessories to mount them to a picatinny rail on a rifle or pistol.
Parts of a Tactical Flashlight
Before we tell you why these flashlights are so great, let’s get some basic terminology out of the way.
Here’s an overview of the essential parts of a tactical flashlight.
All flashlights have a bulb – that’s where the light comes from.
In the past Xenon bulbs were popular, but the best flashlights now use LED bulbs – which are just as bright (or brighter!), but longer lasting and requiring less power.
Another essential item of the flashlight is the reflector – this is the part that concentrates the light output from the bulb and turns it into a directed beam.
A light without a reflector is more like a lantern!
The lens is a transparent, tough cover for the bulb and reflector – and prevent those items from being damaged.
While we are on this topic let’s talk about how we measure illumination.
The brightness of a flashlight is measured in lumens.
A flashlight shining at 1,000 lumens is twice as bright as a flashlight shining at 500 lumens.
Most of the flashlights we’ll recommend here can output 1,000 lumens, or more.
This is due to those high efficiency LED Bulbs and the light concentrating reflector.
In a flashlight, the bezel is the rim that fastens the lens to the reflector and bulb assembly.
In handheld tactical flashlights, the bezel is often toothed or serrated in a way that will make it a more effective improvised striking device.
Think of wielding the light in “icepick” grip, and delivering a hammer fist blow.
A weapon light tends to have a regular, smooth bezel. After all, you’re not going to strike anyone with it – it’s not a bayonet!
The bulb and reflector assembly is connected to the body – which is what contains the battery, internal circuitry, and switches.
The body is normally made of aircraft grade aluminum – it’s tough and lightweight.
Nobody wants a heavy flashlight.
Further anodized aluminum is popular – this is done by subjecting the metal to an electrochemical process that gives a corrosion resistant and durable finish.
Within the body is where the battery or batteries are held. There are different types of batteries used with flashlights – and we’ll discuss the relative merits of each shortly.
Compressible rubber o-rings should be present to keep water out of the battery compartment. A good tactical flashlight must be waterproof.
Many tactical flashlights will have a tactical ring on the body. This is used to secure the flashlight in the “cigar grip” that is commonly used when wielding a flashlight and a handgun.
The “cigar grip” lets you use a two handed pistol hold, but you use the 2nd hand to also hold the flashlight.
The other thing you’ll note about the tactical “ring” is that it isn’t really a circular ring – it is squared off. This prevents the flashlight from rolling away when set down.
On the body is normally a side switch.
The tailcap (end of the flashlight) may also house another switch – the tail switch.
The tail switch is easy to locate by feel when holding the flashlight in the “icepick” grip.
The switches allow you to turn the flashlight on or off, and to change modes – such as brightness levels, strobe, etc.
The functions provide by each switch (on/off or switching modes) differs by flashlight model.
Lastly, there are many accessories that might be used with a flashlight, such as a red filters for preserving night vision, lanyards that attach to the tailcap and ensures you don’t lose the flashlight, and more.
Flashblight Bulb Types – LED vs Xenon
In the past Xenon bulbs were popular for their brightness – but they simply can’t match the advantages of an LED lightbulb.
Xenon bulbs can be very bright but they work much like any other incandescent light bulb.
LED bulbs provide light through a much simpler mechanism.
LEDs use diodes and electrons to create light – rather than a filament and gas.
In fact, LED stands for Light Emitting Diode.
LED bulbs are smaller and lighter, they last longer, and perhaps most importantly they consume significantly less power.
And minimum power draw is always important in a handheld, battery powered device.
Lastly, they are less fragile. The tactical flashlight needs to be able to withstand the recoil of a weapon firing.
LED bulbs are also more drop resistant – it’s easy to break the filament in a Xenon bulb if the flashlight is dropped.
And that’s why you should only be considering LED tactical flashlights.
Battery Types – Lithium vs Lithium Ion vs Alkaline
There are several types of battery in use in flashlights nowadays.
Regardless of what type of battery your flashlight uses, the important specs are the capacity – as measured in mAh (milliamp hours) – and the maximum continuous discharge, rated in current (A – amperes).
Most consumer flashlights use a regular alkaline battery – such as a AA sized alkaline battery.
The specs can vary, but a typical AA battery might have 700-900 mAh capacity and around 2.0 Amps of current.
But for tactical flashlights there are better options – as we can have a brighter light and longer life thanks to higher power output from the right battery.
CR123A batteries are short, stout lithium batteries. These are 3 volt batteries, as compared to the typical 1.5 volts provided by a AA battery.
The Viridian CR123A batteries (Buy on Amazon) are made for tactial lights and weapon lights. They provide 1,750 mAh of capacity.
The CR123A are not rechargeable.
The CR123A is a better choice for high power output, but the CR123A are less commonly found, and are more expensive when compared to the AA size.
They do offer excellent shelf life – some can be stored for 10 years or more. You simply can’t do that with an Alkaline battery.
Lithium Ion (or Li-Ion) batteries are also now a popular choice.
Lithium Ion batteries are rechargeable and they have a high “energy density” which means more power per weight.
They can be recharged hundreds of times typically, but will wear out eventually.
Li-Ion batteries also have excellent shelf life – they self discharge very slowly.
These are purpose made to power high-output devices – like tactical flashlights.
They have 3,500 mAh capacity, and provide a staggering 10A of current.
That is A LOT.
They provide voltage over 3v, typically 3.6V. They are a great choice when you need high power output – such as when powering a bright light for long periods of time.
The is a High Performance variant of the 18650 battery, and is also very popular for tactical flashlights for all the same reasons.
It is from NITECORE, who makes several of our recommended flashlights.
These also provide 3,500 mAh capacity, and 8A current – which is enough for the NITECORE Tactical Flashlights.
So, in summary – what kind of battery do you need?
For the maximum in performance you want a Lithium-Ion battery of the 18650 type.
These are far more expensive than AA, but they are rechargeable and they offer the performance needed.
Personally, I prefer rechargeable batteries. Endlessly buying CR123 batteries is a pain, and they are expensive.
The best flashlights can accommodate more than one type of battery – this lets you use what you have on hand at the moment.
We would always recommend you have one or more high-quality spare batteries on hand for a serious tactical light.
Our Picks for Best Tactical Flashlight
OK, that’s enough theory.
Hopefully you are now armed with enough knowledge to compare one tactical flashlight to another – and decide which is the best for you.
Here’s our picks.
Best All Around Tactical Flashlight
If money is no object, and you want the best versatile tactical flashlight, the NITECORE MH25GTS Tactical Flashlight (Buy on Amazon) is our pick.
First of all, this flashlight is bright – 1,800 lumens in turbo mode.
It also has an impressive 332 yard throw.
Throw range or throw distance is how far the light will be projected.
It also has 5 different brightness levels – this is the secret to making a good tactical flashlight that will suffice for EDC purposes.
The ultra-low brightness setting can be used for up close reading.
And this particular package also includes a red filter – for preserving night vision.
Further, it also has a random “strobe” mode for disorienting potential attackers or suspects, and a beacon mode, and SOS mode as well.
Thanks to mode memorization – it’s easy to get back to the last mode you used.
- POWERFUL 1800 LUMEN BEAM - Upgraded to be even brighter, the NITECORE MH25GTS offers an incredibly 1800 lumen beam with 332 yards throw ideal for hunting, camping, exploring, emergencies, tactical and everything in between.
- MODES FOR ANY TASK - Whether you're using Turbo for searching and inspecting or ultralow for up close reading, there's the right output for the job with 5 brightness levels. 3 special modes including randomized Strobe add even more functionality.
- EASY ACCESSIBILITY - Get easy access to the outputs you use most with mode memorization and direct access to Turbo and Ultralow outputs.
- BUILT-IN USB CHARGING - Recharge the included NL1835HP battery at home or on the go using the built-in USB charging port. Compatible with laptops, power banks and solar panels, the MH25GTS makes sure you're never without power again.
- OUTDOOR PACKAGE with RED FILTER - This bundle includes a NITECORE NFR34 red filter used for preserving night vision, hunting, and other tactical applications.Other package contents include NITECORE NL1835HP rechargeable 18650 battery, LumenTac battery organizer, micro-USB charging cable, holster, pocket clip, tactical ring, lanyard, spare o-ring, instruction manual, and warranty card.
This flashlight uses a powerful 18650 Li-Ion battery.
It’s rechargeable – and what is even better – for convenience this flashlight has a built-in micro-USB charging port.
That is the ultimate EDC option for recharging – no more fumbling around for a specialized battery charger.
Even with the micro-USB charging port it is still waterproof to the IPX8 standard and can be submerged up to 2 meters.
In addition to the NITECORE NFR34 red filter this package also includes a NITECORE NL1835HP rechargeable 18650 battery, LumenTac battery organizer, micro-USB charging cable, holster, pocket clip, tactical ring, lanyard, and spare o-ring.
See it in action here:
You’ll see that it also has a very aggressive toothed pattern on the bezel – in case you need an improvised striking device.
The package recommended above includes all the accessories you would need – holster, lanyard, tactical ring, red night vision filter, USB charging cable, etc.
The only other item we’d recommend is a 2nd spare 18650 battery.
This flashlight will also work with two CR123A batteries.
Best Long Range Tactical Flashlight
Want more throw range?
The Nitecore MH27 Rechargeable Flashlight (Buy on Amazon) boasts an impressive 452 meter throw distance, at double intensity.
What is most impressive is that throw range is even better than you’d get with a wide diameter reflector search flashlight.
This would make a great search flashlight – long range in a compact package. The head diameter is only 1.57″.
It has all the great features you’d expect in a premium tactical flashlight – 1,000 Lumen brightness, USB Charging port, toothed bezel, tactical ring, and more.
It also has red, green, and blue auxiliary LEDs.
Red for night vision preservation, green for reading or search, and blue for blood tracing and verification.
Those auxiliary LEDs are meant for close range work – the lumen output is fairly low.
You wouldn’t use this as a hunting flashlight, but for other close up work it would be great.
No filters to lose, nothing to fall off the flashlight.
An 18650 battery will provide the best runtime, but this light can also use two CR123A batteries – with a drop in runtime.
Need UV output for verifying currency and IDs?
There’s also a MH27UV Tactical Flashlight (Buy on Amazon) that has Ultraviolet output too.
The MH27UV can produce 500mW ultraviolet light at 365nm.
- Rechargeable LED Flashlight
- CREE XP-L HI V3 LED, 1000 Lumens
- White, Red, Green, Blue Outputs
- Includes FREE Andrew & Amanda Pen
- ships out within one business day by Andrew-Amanda
Best Simple Tactical Flashlight
Maybe you don’t want a bunch of modes or switches to worry about – you want bright or not bright.
But, you want reliability too.
The SureFire E2D LED Defender Ultra (Buy on Amazon) would be an excellent choice.
First of all, it only has a tailcap switch. One switch – two modes of output – high (1,000 lumens) and low (5 lumens).
Beyond that, this is a no-frills high quality piece of gear.
SureFire has been making tactical and self defense flashlights for years – and they make a quality product.
The special strike bezel (SureFire describes it as “crenellated”) can be used for defense.
The tailcap gets a similar scalloped treatment.
Powered with two CR123A batteries.
Simple, tough, and reliable.
- Two output levels: 1, 000 lumens high for maximum light, 5 lumens low for extended runtime
- TIR lens produces tight beam with enough surround light for peripheral vision
- Coated tempered window resists impact, maximizes light
- Dual-output tailcap click switch: press for momentary-on high, click for constant-on high, return to off then press or click again to select low
- High-strength aerospace aluminum body, Mil-Spec hard-anodized for extreme durability
Best Cheap Tactical Flashlight
OK, those flashlights are really nice. But, they are not cheap.
Here’s our budget tactical flashlight option.
The SOG Dark Energy Flashlight DE-02 (Buy on Amazon) is both simple and cheap, but it’s from a name you can trust : SOG.
It runs on two CR123A batteries and provides 263 lumens from the LED bulb.
263 isn’t as much as our other choices, but tradeoffs have to be made for a budget flashlight.
263 lumens is still pretty bright.
A belt clip and 2 CR123A batteries are included.
- Features a cool white Cree R5 LED bulb with an optical grade polycarbonate lens
- Ipx-7 protected against water immersion
- Full on, full off switch
- Features a Cool White Cree R5 LED bulb with an optical grade polycarbonate lens and textured aluminum reflector
- (4) Operation modes for use in different circumstances, momentary on, full on (100-percent brightness), low (40-percent brightness) and strobe
Flashlight for LEO and Security Officers
For LEO purposes the previous flashlights are generally OK options.
The Klarus XT11GT 2000 (Buy on Amazon) is reasonably priced, yet very complete option.
It uses 18650 batteries and is rechargeable via USB for convenience.
Tactical Flashlight Accessories
These accessories are helpful and will help you to get the most out of your tactical flashlight.
Red lens filters are popular. These are a simple diffuser that tints the light red. This helps to preserve night vision and would be used with the lower brightness light modes.
Green lens filters are also available.
Why would you use a green lens filter? These are primarily for feral hog hunting. The hogs visual spectrum isn’t good at picking up the green light, but it provides a good contrast for the hunter.
A lanyard attaches to the tail cap and can then be looped around your wrist. This enables you to momentarily let go of the the flashlight and then retrieve the light quickly.
Also available is a tactical lanyard, such as the .
These use a longer coiled elastic to give you more flexibility, but to still keep the device within easy reach.
A holster attaches to your web or duty belt and usually has a velcro flap to secure the flashlight when not in use.
Similarly a pocket clip can be attached to the flashlight and can be used to keep the flashlight within easy reach when not in use.
Spare o-rings ensure you can replace this critical waterproofing item should you lose the original. These are a compressible rubber ring that ensure a water tight seal between the end cap and the body.
A micro-USB charging cable ensures that re-charging batteries is quick and convenient – using any USB power source – whether it be a wall charger, laptop, or USB car charger. I much prefer this option as compared to having to use a dedicated battery charger.
Of course, to use this option your flashlight or batteries must have a micro-USB charging port.
Handheld Tactical Flashlight vs Rail Mounted Weapon Light
OK, we’ve been looking at handheld tactical flashlights.
Let’s now look at a dedicated weapon light and talk about the differences.
The Streamlight 69250 TLR-2 Tactical Light (Buy on Amazon) is a very good weapon light that will work with rifles and pistols.
First of all, it is rail mounted.
You mount it on a picatinny rail. It is not meant to be used handheld.
Being that it is going to be hanging off the end of a weapon – it’s very light – only about 4.7 ozs.
Similarly to our handheld tactical flashlights it uses an LED bulb (300 lumens brightness), powerful and long lasting Lithium batteries, and is easy to use.
This particular model includes a daylight visible green targeting laser also.
It will get about 2.5 hours runtime when using both the light and the laser.
You can run the laser and light, just the laser, or just the light.
And if you don’t think 300 lumens is bright enough, the Streamlight 69261 TLR-2 High Lumen Rail-Mounted Tactical Light (Buy on Amazon) provides 800 lumens – and a red laser.
The “HL” stands for “High Lumen”.
Is a handheld tactical flashlight better than a rail mounted weapon light?
The handheld light is more versatile. You can point it where you aren’t pointing the weapon.
You obviously can’t do that with a weapon light.
On the other hand, the weapon light lets you use your preferred grip on the weapon with no distractions.
You can use a two handed grip with the light and weapon (“cigar grip”) – but it’s not the normal way you’d shoot the pistol.
At the end of the day – you have to decide what is right for you.
Maybe you really want a headlamp instead
Here’s one more illumination idea. For hands free illumination you can’t beat a headlamp.
The TACTIKKA + Ultra-Compact Headlamp (Buy on Amazon) is well respected in the military.
It’s bright at 250 Lumens.
It has a red filter for night vision.
It’s good for 260 hours of runtime – and can use regular or rechargeable batteries.
Lastly it’s available in the most common colors to match uniforms – black, a multicam looking style, and coyote brown-ish.
Another great headlamp option is the Princeton Tec Headlamp Remix Pro MPLS (Buy on Amazon).
It has a bright LED for white light, and 3 dimmer LEDs for red night vision.
This uses CR123 batteries.
You don’t have to use the headband with this one, it will mount to a bump helmet or ballistic helmet NVG adapter.
So that’s one reason you might prefer this model.
It’s also available in Multicam.
Best Tactical Flashlight – In Summary
The best tactical flashlight will have defense oriented features (like a tactical ring, serrated bezel, etc.), it will be very bright, and be very dependable.
We recommend choosing a model that uses an LED bulb and high quality Lithium or Lithium Ion batteries.
Having a handheld tactical flashlight with multiple brightness levels means you can also use it as a great EDC (Every Day Carry) flashlight.
This is doubly helpful, because then you are sure to have it on you if and when you need it.
Last update on 2020-07-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API