Many of my self-defense students have questions about flashlights. As with most categories of equipment that fall within the tactical or self-defense genre, there are too many options to truly capture the whole topic with a short article. What I would like to do, however, is hit some of the more general issues that are not common knowledge for most people. This article does not cover every possibility or situation; I’m only trying to give enough general knowledge to enable someone who has no experience of any kind to feel like they can begin looking for the right light.
Let’s start with a brief sum-up of why flashlights make such beautiful tools. Most people think of a tactical flashlight and immediately think of the big MagLite that can be used to knock out a Yeti. I want to point out that if someone attacks me, I’ll be all too happy to hit them with just about anything I can get my hands on. While a large MagLite is an option, a good flashlight can be used much more effectively, and it won’t have to be something that you need a backpack to carry. A good led flashlight can control, disorient, and confuse an attacker in low to everyday light situations. So, indeed, it is the delicate part of the flashlight that is the key to making it an excellent tool.
When shopping for a flashlight, you will find two main lighting methods – incandescent and LED. Incandescent is the light that most people are used to seeing. It consists of a single filament light bulb that sticks through the head of the light at the base of the lens housing. The bulb is protected by a plastic or glass cover. These flashlights can burn quite brightly, but remember that, in a way, they are burning. They produce a lot of heat and can be fragile; their filaments may not take much abuse. These lights will flood an area with almost yellowish light. The beam usually can be focused or unfocused to achieve the desired light ring. The versatility of the beam size is a good feature, but the user needs to know how to change the focus for a given situation quickly. There are exceptions to every rule, but simple, incandescent lights will cost a little less to purchase.
Light-Emitting Diode (LED) flashlights are the other readily available type. Light engineering is beyond this article’s scope, but you need to know how to compare the two lights. If incandescent light could be compared to a standard 60W light bulb, an LED would be compared to the light emitted by the screen on your iPhone. Therefore, there are usually multiple LEDs in the head of the flashlight. LED flashlights give off light that has a slight bluish tinge. Because there are more individual light sources, the light emitted is usually a little more evenly distributed throughout the beam. Very little heat is produced while these lights are on. Another big bonus is that they are harder to break with a bump, hit, or shock of some kind. For this reason, you’ll find that many weapon-mounted lights are LED since they handle the wonder of the firearm discharging rather well.
A final technical consideration for a flashlight is its lumen level. Lumens are the measure of how bright a light appears. For the most part, the 50- 80 lumens range is perfect for seeing things in the dark. But for self-defense, I usually prefer the 150-180 lumens range, possibly even more.
When picking a flashlight, several vital questions should be considered. If you address these questions while researching your light, you’ll have one that’s better suited to your personal needs and likes.
The first question you should consider is the size of the flashlight. Will the flashlight be able to be worn or carried easily without getting in the way of my everyday routine? For this reason, I tend not to have the giant flashlight I can find, and plenty of pocket-sized lights are powerful.
The next question is about getting your hands on the flashlight. Will I be able to access it quickly and in the dark without needing to look for it? This might seem common sense, but I’ve seen it overlooked many times.
Another question has to do with function. Does the light have a good track record of being used in the situations I’m planning to need it for? I wouldn’t want to take a two-dollar essential chain flashlight with me in a dark forest with many obstacles. There’s not enough power to the light to show me the things I need to see, and there’s almost no range to them.
If I need the light to produce a large amount of light, will it be enough to stun or blind someone for an instant? Again, I look for the capability to hit that 150 or higher lumens range, but I also try to pick one that doesn’t ALWAYS operate in that range because sometimes I need a flashlight.
With flashlights, as with any other item with a high failure rate, if you carry one… carry two. For things that can fail you, it’s always a good idea to have a backup. I take two flashlights on me, or I have one nearby that will be easily accessible, perhaps in my vehicle or in an outside pocket of my pack that I can quickly find.
Some people want to know what flashlight I prefer. I tend to like LED lights, have a thumb pressure control switch with the ability to leave the light on somehow if I choose, and have at least two settings – one around 50 lumens and the other around 180 lumens. I would rather spend a little more money on exactly what I want, knowing it’ll be around for a long time, rather than get something inexpensive that I might have to replace too soon. Many manufacturers offer a wide variety of lights. As you research and choose a lamp that meets your needs, I suggest you also ask whether others with similar needs and requirements choose the brand you are considering.