As law enforcement products continue to march forward, every once in a while we find that our progress has brought us back to our past. One of these “back to the future” situations may be the newest flashlights that use good old AA-size batteries.
In 1984, Mag Instruments (Maglight) introduced a flashlight which set the law enforcement world on its collective ear—the Mini-Mag. The Mini-Mag was powered by two AA batteries. It measured just less than 6 inches in length and could easily be slipped in a back pocket or carried in a holder on an officer’s gun belt. Officers around the country immediately clamored for the light. For the first time, they could always have a light on their belt ready for use when their larger main light went out, was lost or was simply not with them.
As good as the Mini-Mag was, however, officers soon began demanding more. They sought longer runtimes and better designs which were more in tune with how a light was used in combination with the tactics that survival-conscious officers were then beginning to implement.
In 1987, a company then known as Laser Products began marketing a revolutionary light that answered all of the officers’ needs. This light offered more lumens than even the standard three-D-cell-powered light that many officers carried as a primary light. Yet it was just as small as the Mini-Mag, i.e., just under 6 inches in length.
With the advent of this light, known as the 6P and produced by the company that later became known as Surefire, the stage was set for the rapid progression of technology. It was a veritable “arms race” among light manufacturers. Today, it is common to find officers routinely carrying lights that offer well more than 200 lumens of light in packages that easily fit in a pocket or small carrier.
With all of the overwhelming advantages, however, these newest lights may also have unique drawbacks. The most significant is cost, and not just the initial cost. The continuing cost of the batteries required to power these lights is the biggest problem in their day-to-day use.
The battery that normally powers these lights is the 3-volt lithium cell, typified by the Duracell 123A. Most of these small, high intensity lights are powered by one to three of these batteries at a time. Each battery costs from $2 to $4, depending on where they are bought and in what quantity. It is easy to see that the continuing cost of using these lights on an everyday basis can really start to add up.
But it is more than battery cost. This type of battery is relatively common at large retail stores. However, it is typically not available in as many places as the old size, standard batteries (i.e., the D, C and AA varieties). The limited availability of the 123A batteries does not normally pose a big problem.
At the same time, however, in some areas of the country, it is impossible to find a 3-volt lithium battery at 0200 hours. Even worse, imagine trying to find this type of lithium battery in emergency quantities during a natural disaster or civil emergency.
The need for an alternative battery that would allow for a flashlight of this size and type to produce the now-required amount of lumens (brightness) was an elusive goal that has been hotly pursued by many of the major manufacturers for the last several years. It has not been a breakthrough in a power source that has finally allowed this to happen, but rather the advent of a new generation of the Light Emitting Diode (LED).
While LED-based lights have been around for some years and need no introduction, suffice it to say that the newest generation of this technology now allows for a very bright light to be produced from relatively little power. Thus, just as years ago the AA-powered Mini-Mag proved itself to be invaluable to law enforcement officers, it is now possible that once again a AA-powered light will be a staple of the law enforcement equipment issued to every officer.
Within the last few years, companies that were already producing high intensity lights using a variety of other power sources have designed and brought to market a number of very good AA battery-powered LED lights. While there are many companies making such a light, some of the best come from well-recognized companies such as Pelican, Fenix, Streamlight and now, just recently, Surefire. Pelican
Known as a company that specializes in producing high-quality weapon and sensitive equipment cases, Pelican has long produced a well-respected line of flashlights, although it has not always been directed specifically at law enforcement. With the introduction of the rechargeable model 7060, an outstanding light developed in cooperation with the LAPD, Pelican announced its entry into the law enforcement illumination market in a huge way.
With the recent introduction of the 2360 LED, Pelican has brought to market a small, yet powerful AA-powered light which is more than suitable for law enforcement use. Measuring just 6.1 inches in length and producing 95 lumens, the 2360 emits a tight beam with a useable corona. The light itself is smooth to the touch and features a removable pocket clip. This extremely affordable light has proven itself to be very rugged in routine patrol use, just as one would expect from Pelican.
Fenix imports several high-quality, AA battery-powered lights into the U.S. at a reasonable price. Two of these lights are the E21, powered by two AA batteries, and the LD40, powered by four AA batteries. Fenix reports that the E21 produces 135 lumens on its maximum setting, and the LD40 produces 248 lumens on its maximum setting.
Both lights are well made and offer many good features. The E21 in particular is one of the smaller lights tested and easily slips into the support side pocket, ready for use when needed. The E21 produces a very bright beam with very little spill. This may be seen as a negative by some end users; however, those who use the light on a regular basis have found no fault in its quality. Overall, the light proved to be very user-friendly and met with approval by those who tested it.
A long-time favorite of many officers due to experience with Streamlight’s excellent SL20 rechargeable light, as well as its equally well-received Stinger series, Streamlight has now introduced the PT 2AA. This light, which is extremely thin in diameter, produces 120 lumens for 1.75 hours using the C4 LED and two AA alkaline batteries. The PT 2AA is adjustable for intensity, from the high of 120 lumens down to just 14 lumens, which it is reportedly capable of producing for 21 hours. The light also has a programmed strobe capability activated with a double push on the end-mounted operating switch.
Although slightly longer than other units tested, as stated, the PT 2AA is a very small-diameter light, being scarcely bigger than a common ball point pen. Officers who tested this light had universal praise for it, especially those who worked plainclothes or carried the light off duty. All found that they could slip the light into a back pocket where it would ride comfortably without notice until needed.
The light itself produced a very nice beam with a generous “hot spot” and a very large corona. The rubber tail cap offered positive tactile feedback and was easily operated, even while wearing gloves.
Surefire introduced the E2L AA Outdoorsman at the 2010 SHOT Show. While not directed specifically at the law enforcement or military market, the E2L AA Outdoorsman nonetheless offers the same high-quality construction as other Surefire products.
The E2L AA Outdoorsman is adjustable for intensity via the rear push button tail cap. The unit produces 80 lumens on its highest setting and just 3 lumens at its lowest. With a length of 6.5 inches and a weight of 4.9 ounces, the E2L is easy to manage either on the belt or in the pocket using the permanently mounted clip which allows for bezel-up carry.
The E2L AA Outdoorsman is unlike the other models tested in that it was intended to be a civilian outdoor light—not necessarily for military or police use. As such, its primary intensity setting, the first time the switch is activated, causes the light to operate at its lowest setting of just 3 lumens. It is the second push of the switch which brings the light to a full 80 lumens—exactly the opposite of how most law enforcement lights operate.
While the E2L AA is somewhat different in operation, it is still an extremely capable light for law enforcement purposes. The E2L AA Outdoorsman produces what we have come to expect from Surefire products: a uniformly focused beam with a corona that is extremely useable, all in a very rugged platform of the highest quality.
The rejuvenation of the AA alkaline power source for tactical lighting is a well-received alternative to the current state of the art options. Officers can have all the benefits of rugged, high-lumen lights but in a package powered by economical batteries that are available anywhere.
Scott Oldham is a supervisory sergeant with the city of Bloomington Police Department where he serves as the tactical team leader for that agency. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.