What Makes a Flashlight Tactical?

As the name suggests, tactical flashlights are flashlights designed to be suitable for tactical use, oftentimes with a firearm. Flashlights are essential in low-light conditions to allow the user to identify targets and improve awareness of his or her surroundings. They are often used by law enforcement and the military but are also critical for home defense and survival situations. 

Tactical flashlights are used for a variety of purposes, including:

  1. Searching dark areas
  2. Identifying targets
  3. Distracting or disorienting an attacker
  4. Signaling for help


To fulfill their intended use, tactical flashlights typically have certain features. 


Some tactical flashlights are meant to be mounted onto weapons, both long guns and handguns, while some are meant to be held. They are usually small in size in order to be lightweight when mounted on a weapon and to be convenient to carry. Sometimes tactical flashlights can be larger and heavier if they also double as a club. 


Tactical flashlights also need to be durable to sustain the harsh conditions that they are often used in. Thus, they are made out of strong aluminum alloy and anodized to increase durability and corrosion resistance. 


A bright, high-lumen light is vital for the basic purpose of a tactical flashlight. Having a bright light is important for being able to assess a situation and identify people or objects when it is dark. It allows the flashlight to be used both offensively and defensively by allowing the user to temporarily blind and disorient opponents. For comparison, the flashlight in a smartphone typically maxes out at about 40 lumens, whereas a tactical flashlight can have at least 500 or 1000 lumens, and sometimes even more. That’s a night and day difference!


To enhance the effectiveness of the light, tactical flashlights can include a strobe mode. A strobe light is a light that pulses on and off frequently, creating an effect that confuses the brain’s ability to determine the position and motion of objects. It can be highly disorienting to opponents, although it should be noted that strobe lights can also diminish the user’s ability to detect minute movements made by the target. Strobe lights can also be used in survival scenarios to communicate or signal for help.

Crenulated Bezel

Although not required, some handheld tactical flashlights have crenulated or scalloped bezels around the rim of the head. They enhance the capabilities of flashlights by allowing them to be used as an impact or striking tool. Crenulations increase the amount of pain inflicted by striking an opponent by focusing the impact force onto smaller surface areas.


A flashlight attached to a firearm eliminates the need to reserve one hand for holding the flashlight and frees up that hand to do other things. Lights can generally be mounted on accessory rail found on pistols or Picatinny rails on long guns and handguns. They may also come with a remote switch button pad to make it easier to activate the flashlight while handling a gun.

Useful Terms to Know

Lumen - the SI unit of luminous flux, which is the total amount of light emitted by a source.

Candela - the SI unit of luminous intensity, which is the amount of light emitted by a source in a particular direction. For example, a flashlight’s beam of light would have more candelas than a light bulb and would be perceived by an observer as being more intense.

Lux - the SI unit of illumination, which is equal to one lumen per square meter.

Beam Distance/Throw - the distance from the source at which the light beam is 0.25 lux. It is equal to the square root of the product of candelas multiplied by four. 

Runtime - the amount of time until the brightness of a light source drops to 10% of the initial brightness.

Anodized - describes metal coated by a protective layer by an electrochemical process to form a durable and corrosion-resistant surface.

IP Rating - stands for ingress protection rating. It is a standard for classifying the protection provided against dust and water.