Today's tactical officers use advanced technology, including LED handheld flashlights for patrol. Accessories such as lights can prove to be critical for officer safety in the field. Tactical Response sought six of its readers to test six different handheld LED lights. The testers are tactical officers who used the equipment in tactical training, operations and other opportunities. They came from a wide cross-section of law enforcement, including both rural and urban departments and both large and small departments. They came from all over the country, including: Maine, California, Illinois, Indiana, Texas and Michigan. The field test took place during late-winter, early spring and the testing period was 10 weeks. Tactical Response Magazine asked six of the top LED handheld light manufacturers to submit lights for testing and review. Each manufacturer sent a handheld light that would serve as the main patrol flashlight for general duty, uniformed patrol. The choice of which flashlight to submit was completely at the manufacturer's discretion. TR asked for the light to be "patrol-oriented" with an LED light and handheld, as opposed to weapon-mounted. The light may have a barrel switch, tailcap switch, or both; the light may be either replacement battery or rechargeable battery; the light output should be "near" 200 lumens; the light may be either single output, dual output or variable output; the light may have a strobe feature, but it is not a requirement.
The areas of evaluation rated by users included: Ease of Carry; Run Time; Ergonomic Fit; Brightness; Features; Flexibility of Light Output; Switch Function; Practical Use; Durability; Beam Distance; and Beam Width. The following flashlights were tested: 5.11 Tactical's ATAC L2; Brite-Strike's BD-198; Pelican's 7060; Streamlight's Stinger DS; Surefire's G2X Tactical; and ASP's Triad 4. The lights were rated using a scale of 1-5 (1 = Poor, 5 = Very Good). The reviewers were also asked for their overall opinion of each light. Following is a detailed description of each light and a summary of the results and how each light ranked.
The ATAC(tm) L2 Tactical Flashlight has a two-Lithium battery power source. Powered by (2) CR123A batteries, the ATAC L2 Tactical Flashlight throws 222 ANSI FL1 lumens of light in a smooth tactical beam pattern while providing four hours of run time on HIGH and 74 hours of run time on LOW. The tactical Intelligent Switch is designed to silently cycle through all three light modes (High/Low/Strobe) using only the Momentary-On function to prevent the "Click" sound from potentially giving up an officer's location. The Rotary Dial Lock-Out Switch allows officers to instantly lock or unlock the light with just one hand using their thumbs to prevent inadvertent activation. Another tactical feature is the Break-Away Lanyard designed to free the user's arm from the flashlight in the event of an emergency. It is compatible with the 53144 - ATAC(tm) Belt Clip/ Holster Accessory and tested to ANSI FL1 Standard. The MSRP is $85.00.
Reviews on the ATAC L2 varied in the Ease of Carry category: Officer David Nicholson, Ontario, Calif. Police, commented it was a "great carry light, worked on Molle vest." However, Sergeant Anthony Pinette, Brewer, Maine Police, said, "The light is too small and does not stay secured in the holster." In terms of Run Time, none of the reviewers experienced any problems. For Ergonomic Fit, most of the testers felt the ATAC L2 was comfortable, as Nicholson said, "Great size and fit for extended building searches." However, Pinette felt differently: "too small... the attached clip is uncomfortable."
In the Brightness category, 5.11's ATAC L2 scored high from a majority of the reviewers. "Terrific light output for such a small diameter light," Officer Steve Tracy, Park Ridge, Ill. Police, noted. In the Features department, Officer Juan Duran, Chicago Police, liked that 5.11's light offered low, high and strobe settings: "Excellent features, locking option a plus." In Flexibility of Light Output and Switch Function, most of the testers praised 5.11's flashlight: "The ATAC L2's very bright light output was more than enough light and was easy to switch to dim when needed," Patrol Deputy Sheriff Brad Slaughter, Denton County, Texas Sheriff Office explained. Officer Kathleen D. Vonk, Ann Arbor, Mich. Police, agreed: "Endcap was perfect. Gloves didn't hinder function, and it did not accidentally turn on."
In Practical Use, scores varied quite a bit, with descriptions like: "very easy to control and switch between features" and "switch was too sensitive." All the officers scored the ATAC L2 high in Durability: "Aluminum body makes this light very reliable and rugged," Duran stated. In Beam Distance and Width, Slaughter commented on how the ATAC L2 holds a good beam for around 35 yards and has a fixed focus when interviewing witnesses.
The smart chip technology of the ASP Triad light automatically recognizes battery strength and adjusts the driver to compensate for any increase or decrease in voltage. The light maintains a consistently brilliant beam. The three-position rotary collar locks the light, provides intermittent illumination, or allows constant-on activation. The Lithium power cells have a 10-year shelf life. The self-contained Parabolic Reflector Assembly is metalized and gasket sealed. Each Triad is precision machined from high-strength aerospace aluminum. A satin-black hardcoat finish is accented by a durable foamed vinyl grip, and the O-ring is sealed for water resistance and is performance tested under the most severe conditions. The MSRP is $100.00.
"This flashlight is compact and easy to carry; with the clip I am able to carry it on the front of my tactical vest without using a special holder," Nicholson said when asked about the Ease of Carry for the Triad 4. Most of the reviewers didn't have any issues with the Triad 4's Run Time. In addition, "The cushioning around the aluminum body is very ergonomic, very comfortable to hold," Duran commented.
All the testers thought the ASP flashlight was bright. "Phenomenal brightness for such a small light," Tracy said. One of the only complaints from the reviewers was no dim feature. On the other hand, one officer called the Switch Function "perfect." In the Switch Function category, a few officers said they liked the locking feature. Scores differed on Practical Use, as one officer said the rotating tail-cap was complicated; "no one will remember, especially under stress." Most officers agreed on the Triad 4's Durability, describing it as "very reliable, very rugged." In Beam Distance and Width, although ASP's light was not adjustable, "it felt just right," according to Duran. Other testers said it performed well during traffic stops.
Brite-Strike(r) "Tactical Blue-Dot(tm)" tactical LED flashlights were designed by police officers for police officers(tm). The body is CNC machine milled from a single billet of high-grade aerospace aluminum. The proprietary black anodized finish exceeds Mil Spec class two type III. The unique tri-sided body is more ergonomic for better gripping. The front crenelated strike crown is blunted and the rear crown is more aggressive for maximum effectiveness in applying pressure point control techniques. The pocket clip is specifically designed for line officers and is reversed from other tactical lights. The clip features a greater clearance for fast draws from either a BDU pocket, duty belt or six-pocket police pant. It also allows for quick mounting on a uniform epaulet, and quick removal when needed. The beam is a brilliant white light with a wider "spread" for a flood effect, which illuminates the entire area of a vehicle on a motor vehicle stop. The MSRP is $200.00.
Most of the reviewers said the BD-198 was small and easy to carry. Run Time was "good for routine patrol work," Slaughter said. However, in the Ergonomic Fit category, reviews differed. "The small light made it difficult and uncomfortable to operate," Pinette commented.
The BD-198's Brightness scored high for almost all of the testers. "Amazingly bright white output from such a small light!" Tracy exclaimed. Despite the absence of an intermittent feature, most officers scored the Brite Strike light well in the Features category. In Flexibility of Light Output, Pinette felt it had too many options. For example, "I would accidentally turn on the strobe when I intended to have just a solid beam," he explained. On the other hand, Slaughter "was able to see on traffic stops, inside vehicles, and for checking buildings."
Some of the reviewers had trouble with the Switch Function on the BD 198 due to being too recessed: "Good, but much more difficult with gloves on," Tracy described. Most of the officers gave the Brite Strike light high scores in the Practical Use and Durability categories, even in cold weather. "This light never failed. It was dropped twice and kept working," Duran noted.
In Beam Distance and Width, Tracy gave the BD 198 rave reviews: "Outstanding power, reach and throw... Just about perfect beam with its focus."
The Pelican 7060 tactical / patrol LED flashlight employs new dual switch technology that allows the light to be activated by either a body-mounted patrol switch or a tail-mounted tactical switch. The dual switches, which include a momentary mode, allow the user to grip the light in several positions and still control activation. The light incorporates rechargeable Lithium-Ion batteries for maximum brightness, and it is also lightweight compared to standard batteries. The MSRP is $210.00.
Regardless of the large size of the Pelican 7060, a lot of the reviewers scored it high in Ease of Carry. "The Pelican was the largest of the flashlight test and was still easy to carry," Slaughter stated. Run Time scored high as well, with the 7060 running six to 10 hours nonstop for some of the officers. When describing Ergonomic Fit, one officer "liked the grooves on the handle for easy grip" and it "felt great to hold free-hand or during night-fire." However, Slaughter disagreed: "The Pelican hand was not comfortable and when gripping the flashlight tight it's almost painful."
The 7060 scored well in Brightness. "Brightness was incredible for such a compact flashlight," Nicholson said. In the Features category, some officers liked the double switch design, and in the Flexibility of Light Output, a lot of them wished there was a dim feature as well.
Pelican's 7060 scored high in the Switch Function, Practical Use and Durability categories. "The switches worked flawlessly, switch positions are convenient," Pinette noted. Duran concurred: "On switches are easy to access / find." One officer even threw the 7060 against a wall and it took the abuse. In Beam Distance and Width, Vonk said this about Pelican's light: "Concentrated beam allowed for very good light at greater distances." Most officers agreed with this assessment. "The Pelican has a great beam and was able to light up an open field and could see people 80 yards away," Slaughter elaborated.
Streamlight's Stinger DS is a powerful, long-running, long-lasting LED with all the same great features as the Stinger LED with an independent full-feature tailcap switch in addition to the head-mounted push-button switch. The combination of a rechargeable battery and a 50,000-hour lifetime C4(r) LED results in a low operating cost.
Deep-dish parabolic reflector produces a long-range targeting beam with optimal peripheral illumination to aid in navigation. Additional features include: Up to 17,000 candela (peak beam intensity) and up to 180 lumens measured system output; 6000 series machined aircraft aluminum with non-slip rubberized comfort grip; Unbreakable Polycarbonate with scratch-resistant coating; O-Ring sealed construction. The MSRP is $215.00.
Sreamlight's Stinger DS is one of the larger lights out of the group, but it was still easy to carry for most of the testers. The charge on the Streamlight "had a very good Run Time; three to four weeks on midnight shift," for Vonk. Slaughter agreed: "The Stinger Run Time is one of the best in the field of law enforcement." In the Ergonomic Fit category, several of the testers commented on how the Stinger's rubberized and textured barrel coating helped with the grip. The majority of the officers praised the Stinger's Brightness and Features, due to the fact it has a barrel, tail-cap switch, strobe dim and is rechargeable. Despite no dim feature, in Flexibility of Light Output, "the flashlight felt right at both high and low settings," Duran said.
In Switch Function and Practical use, most of the reviewers said the Stinger was easy to use with or without gloves on. In terms of Durability, the Streamlight Stinger DS was used in rain, snow, cold temperatures. It was dropped several times and always worked for Vonk. Regarding Beam Distance and Width, "the beam is focused too tightly," Pinette commented. However, another tester thought its beam distance "was exceptional... great for traffic stops or inside searching."
The G2X Tactical from Surefire is a compact yet powerful polymer-body flashlight designed specifically for tactical use. It uses a high-efficiency LED-virtually immune to failure since there's no filament to burn out or break-to generate a brilliant, penetrating, pre-focused 200-lumen beam. The G2X is activated by Surefire's tactical tail-cap switch-press for momentary-on, twist for constant-on. The Nitrolon(r) polymer body is sculpted for a comfortable, secure grip and resists scratches, abrasion, and corrosion. A polycarbonate micro-textured reflector delivers a comparatively wider beam with generous peripheral light. Additional features include: Weatherproof-O-ring and gasket sealed; Includes high-energy 123A batteries with 10-year shelf life. The MSRP is $95.00.
In Ease of Carry, Pinette said, "This light was the most convenient to carry out of all of them." Most of the other testers agreed. They also liked the Run Time on the G2X. One officer used it for approximately one month regularly and did not have to replace the batteries during that time. Most of the reviewers rated Surefire's light high in Ergonomic Fit, because "the plastic coating makes it very comfortable to hold."
For its size, the G2X gave off a great amount of light and was very bright for the majority of the officers. Some of the reviewers commented on how Surefire's G2X does not have a dim or strobe feature, and the twist "on" tail-cap feature is difficult to access with one hand, Duran noted. However, some still thought the Flexibility of Light Output "feels just right" and is "adequate for most situations."
In terms of Switch Function, a few officers said the tail-cap switch requires the use of two hands to keep it on. "Not easy to turn on and off... Rotating end cap very stiff to turn," Tracy elaborated. The G2X performed well in Durability, even in below-freezing temperatures and being dropped.
Most officers liked the G2X's Beam Distance and Width. "Beam width is great, provides focused light and ambient light to see surrounding area," Nicholson stated.
The Pelican and Streamlight flashlights were the most preferred by most (but not all) of the testers. A lot of the officers praised the Pelican 7060's compact size and brightness, as well as its double switch feature. The Streamlight "lights up everything" according to one reviewer, describing its reach and throw in Beam Distance. As with any field test comparison, opinions differed due to personal preference, as evidenced by the wide range of scores for each category. We extend our sincere thanks to our panel of testers. Their time and efforts are greatly appreciated.
Jennifer Gavigan is the Managing Editor of Tactical Response, LAW and ORDER and Police Fleet Manager Magazines. She can be reached at email@example.com.