Fantastic, amazing…and useless “tactical” lights

Boy, has the LED cost/performance curve been falling off the cliff the last few years.  You can now get a 600 lumen bright white “torch” (as the Brits say) that fits in the palm of your hand.  For less than a box of ammo.  Sometimes much less.  Which is good news because we should all have a bright tactical light with us all the time, most particularly when we’re carrying.

But unfortunately, most of the new lights on the market, including the high-quality ones, are tactically useless.  Scratch that, they’re dangerous.  For three reasons.

The switch  This is the biggie.  Most of these units have dual-function momentary/constant on tail cap switches.  Press a little for momentary-on, harder to click to constant-on.  Which is suicidal.  Your light gives you away, and draws fire.  You need to blip and move; blip and move again; blip and move some more.  Even if you understand this and try to press lightly, under stress you will press hard and become a bullet magnet.  I’ve been to lots of LE light-use seminars and courses, and all but one didn’t understand this — they all taught the traditional Harries, cigar, etc. holds and the use of a light that was usually on, and in any case not bilpped with the ferocity of Irish-dancing feet. Suffice to say, they were all taught in one-way shoot houses or structures.

The only place where the proper and effective use of a blipped light was taught used to be the old Surefire Institute under the direction of Ken Good, and it’s lineage of schools.  The technique they taught was a ferociously aggressive, wild movement of the light hand coupled with a spastic all-directions blipping of the light.  The result was that while you knew that someone was “out there” with a light, you had no idea where or how close.  It was fantastically effective.  Back in the mid-90s I attended a course at the SIGARMS Academy where the Surefire boys were teaching.  The turned the lights off and split us up into teams.  I was initially sent back into the multi-room plywood “house” to be the BG lying in wait for the entry teams.  Then they forgot about me and didn’t rotate me out…which turned out to be very educational.  I was easily able to “kill” every cop on every team that came in looking for me, even the SWAT guys.  Then the Surefire guys came in, and they were literally in my room, illuminating me, and shooting me before I even knew they were there.

Yeah, it’s that good.  But the technique is difficult to learn and complex to perform.  TANSTAAFL.  And it most definitely requires a momentary-only tail-cap switch.

Size  Did you hear about the new gun that just came out?  Through a combination of engineering and FM* it holds 15 rounds of 9mm, but is only 2 inches long, 1.5 inches high, and 1/2 inch wide.

What’s that you say?  A device an be un-ergonomically too small?  Whaddayaknow?  Wonder if that applies to torches?

Output  I’ve read people, who bother to investigate this stuff, claim that once you get past 200 lumens a light can be too bright.  That’s because indoors with light, reflective walls, the splash-back will degrade your vision while providing no increase in BG-locating ability.  I don’t know if this is true because I haven’t tested it (I think my brightest light here is 400 lumens) but it sounds reasonable.  Certainly 200 lumens is a whole lotta light, and past some point you can have too much of a good thing.

Basically, Surefire got it right the first time around: a 5-inch tube, a little less than an inch around, with a momentary-only tail-cap switch.  Stick a 200-lumen head on it and you can see a man at the end of a football field, manipulate it in your hand easily, not blind yourself indoors, and, if you put in the time and effort to learn Ken Good’s stuff, use it effectively for mano-mano combat, if you’re so unlucky as to have to.

P.S.  Yes. military and SWAT teams will often constant-on their M4-mounted lights as they enter.  That’s different.  1) They are using rifles and it’s often harder (without the right light and more training) to independently blip a light off and on.  2) they are storming a place, not trying to be stealthy, and they try to do so when their target is asleep.

(*)   FM is a technical term that engineers use; it stands for fuckin magic.




8 thoughts on “Fantastic, amazing…and useless “tactical” lights

  1. Amusingly, both you and Grant Cunningham posted articles related to lights today, so I’ll ask both of you the same question. Where can I find a good source of information about selecting a light? If I am honest, I really don’t understand some of the concepts like flood, spill, etc. Are you aware of a decent site that covers the basics along with some recommendations for the various attributes ( seems to cover the terminology, but without giving much more info)?



    • Basically they refer to the amount of light that’s put out, the spread of the beam, and the distribution of the light within the beam. The article that Grant links to ( itself has some useful links.This channel – – looks very promising although I haven’t viewed much of it. If you want your eyes to glaze over, peruse Also, just google the terms. It’s not complicated or difficult to understand, so a half-hour should get you reasonably up to speed.

      But, it does get needlessly geeky pretty fast. Like a handgun, any decent unit from a major manufacturer will serve the average person well — just get a momentary-only tail-cap switch with one output only: full intensity. Administrative tasks can be handled by any of the good tiny 20 or so lumen itty-bitty lights that are dirt cheap.


      • Also – the breachbangclear post was concerned with rifle WMLs, mostly outside. I still hold that you can have too much light inside a typical structure with their white or light-colored walls.


      • Thanks. I think part of my probably is identifying what is geeky vs. what is relevant.

        I have certainly found that I like single output. My dad got me a light with 5 brightness settings, a strobe, and an SOS as a Christmas gift a few years back. I don’t even use it for finding my kids’ toy under the bed because it just has too many settings. My Target clearance light with the momentary push button and twist-for-constant-on tail cap gets way more use because it is easy.


  2. It seems to me that most civilians get far too worked up over lights. I am no longer military or LE or anything else, just an armed civilian. As such I carried a Surefire 6p for years. I attended several classes on light use including 2 from Surefire and after evaluating the techniques and my life I would have quit carrying a light at all if I hadn’t found myself using the light all the time for non tactical use. As far as defensive use is concerned, I don’t go into dark places looking for bad guys, so I have only been able to come up with four:
    1. To defend against falling down when I find myself in the dark.
    2. To illuminate dark places that make me nervous. ( IE. shadowy concealed areas around landscaping in a parking lot)
    3. To determine whether or not someone is a threat. (when there is enough light to see the person but not enough to identify them or see what is in their hands)
    4. To blind and distract a threat at close range.
    It seems most would add clearing their own home, but I know just enough about building clearing to know that I don’t want to do it alone. If I think there is someone in my home when I arrive, I’m not going in. If I wake up in the middle of the night and think someone is in my home I’m going no further than the top of the stairs and taking a covered position while my wife gathers the children and calls the police. From that position I can turn on every light downstairs and communicate with anyone who is down there if necessary. I still carry a flashlight every day. Currently that light is a Streamlight Protac 2 aaa. It is only 90 lumens and has a multi-function switch just like the ones you mentioned, but it does everything I think I need a light to do.


    • Agree. Currently the most tactical thing I do is walk my 2 pit bulls every day. But I want the light I bother to find a place to carry on me to have fighting capability. If I need my gun, I may as well have another fighting tool that leverages its capabilities. I can imagine a scenario where I have to go towards an assailant to aid or get to a loved one. It costs almost nothing to get a proper light/switch rather than one that that isn’t – it’s not like I’m raising the effort or cost bar to get a fighting light.


  3. I totally disagree. It’s funny that I had the same situation where I volunteered to be the bad guy for literally years. A great laboratory. I loved it. The odd part is that I had a totally different experience than you. I found that it didn’t matter how folks used the flashlight because I knew where they were. The difference is in lighting. The darker it is the more a person has to use the light in order to not fall over the coffee table or other furniture. Most folks have totally dark shoot houses with no or minimal furniture and then teach to that standard. Go into any room in my rural house that you have never been in before and there is enough light to make out a person entering. I can also hear your clothes moving against your body as you walk. The bad guy knows you are the home owner, police or whatever. They can empty the gun at you whenever they want.
    A light is necessary for identifying the bad guys as lethal threats. Everything else taught by the police/light industry gurus is smoke and mirrors. I’ve shot sims into many a strobing officer and shadowy officer. Not to mention the officers searching with the light when I wasn’t in the hard or soft corner. The light they used blipping just allowed me to smile and shoot them.
    If I could get back all the useless hours of flashlight training I did and put it into more appropriate training, I’d be a happy man.


    • If you haven’t been up against competent people in the Ken Good lineage of technique, then you haven’t experienced what I did. Shame that his stuff isn’t more widely disseminated, but I expect it’s because of the difficulty of mastering it.

      You are absolutely right about the difference between low light and the almost no light of most shoot houses, and the difference that makes for tactics and technique. Good point.


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