By Guy J. Sagi
SureFire has a hard-earned reputation for innovation and producing quality gear that is duty tough and functional, but last year the company introduced something that left more than a few scratching their heads. It took a while to arrive, but the company’s new $495 WristLight is finally available. It comes with a built-in, rechargeable Li-ion battery, produces a maximum output of 180 lumens, weighs a stout 3.62 ounces and is rugged enough to put a bad guy in a world of hurt if you hit him with that arm. It serves as a backup light for law enforcement and can complement handgun use in low- or no-light situations, but the return on investment for civilians escaped us during testing.
At 2.254 inches long, 2.052 wide and .997 tall at its tallest point, it’s not something you’d want to wear all day. It’s big and guaranteed to attract superhero, web-slinging jokes around the water cooler. For military and law enforcement personnel who routinely pull long shifts in the nighttime hours, however, it could pay big dividends.
One is None
The self-defense and tactical shooting community has an old saying that, unfortunately, is pretty true. “One is none and two is one” reminds shooters that sooner or later, perhaps at the worst possible moment, your gear will go down and you’d better have a backup.
Flashlights break. They roll behind nightstands. They migrate to the bottom of a car’s console, drop out of duty belts and batteries die mysterious and unexpected deaths. When that happens, the SureFire WristLight is, literally, at your fingertips to identify that shadow across a darkened room, or in the case of law enforcement, clear an abandoned warehouse at night.
A backup or supplementary light source on your wrist makes response much faster than heading back to the cruiser or searching through a shooting bag for another flashlight, but activating either of the .337 inch long and .195 inch wide switches reliably under stress could be a challenge. The slight stature minimizes the chances of inadvertent activation, but finding their location without looking might prove problematic when wearing gloves.
Turning on the WristLight with bare fingers is intuitive enough that it allows you to keep your eyes on the threat. Simply run your finger along its side, stop when you feel the slight .1 inch elevation change and rubberized texturing, then push. Pressure from the sides or even steep angles typically did not activate the tested unit, although it was forgiving enough that perfect placement atop was not mandatory (with enough pressure). Either the sides of the rubberized exterior are stiff enough to prevent activation from angles other than nearly perpendicular, or some sort of interior element forms a protective recess for the switch.
Things were different with gloves. Centering a finger on the sweet spot was no longer an effortless affair. Fine motor skills are the first thing to disappear when under stress, so taking your eyes off the threat may be required for activation. Successfully depressing the switch, obviously, took a little more pressure and longer, non-tightly fitting gloves block some of the light.
The WristLight has variable output settings, 180, 60 and 15 lumens. Run times are 1.25 hours, 4 hours and 13 hours, respectively. One press of either of the two switches activates the high-power mode. Depress a switch two times fast and output is 15 lumens. To turn off the unit, hit either of the buttons again.
By holding both buttons down simultaneously, the WristLight will toggle between low, medium and high outputs. Release the buttons at the desired level. The unit will then produce constant light at that setting, although keeping both pressure switches fully depressed while the unit is rolling on a wrist can be a challenge. In cold weather with gloves, it will probably be nearly impossible.
Coverage from the WristLight at its maximum setting was wide and broad during testing. It lit up small rooms extremely well and did a great job across a living room, spilling light into an adjoining kitchen. Bear in mind, though, this is not designed for long-distance illumination.
This will undoubtedly vary by shooter and grip, but the center of its pattern did not index with point of aim during testing. The WristLight can be relocated on your arm, so its not a terminal flaw, but don’t be surprised if right-handed shooters find the brightest illumination to be to low left. It’s something to bear in mind when suiting up, although the lens provides enough side lighting to make it perfectly functional even when slightly off.
During drills with the handgun, the light rotated slightly on the arm. Snugging the .925 inch-wide nylon wristband was an easy solution, but it still moved a little. Discipline will also be required to avoid altering grip in a misguided effort to co-witness point of aim with the center of lighting if the two are slightly off.
The back of the support hand catches a significant amount of illumination, too. Bad guys often shoot at lights pointed their direction, so backlighting any portion of your body is a concern, although not as much of a one as not having any light at all.
Bear in mind LEDs get hot and heat conducts through metal, like the hard-anodized aluminum used for the WristLight’s body. It didn’t get scorching hot, but it did get warm.
The unit survived shooting drills with the kind of aplomb you expect from SureFire products. For those who don’t know, the SureFire story began back 1979, when Laser Products Corporation was established. The company provided shotgun laser sights to the LAPD and L.A. County Sheriff’s Office during the 1984 Olympics and the next year the company rolled out its first SureFire-labeled weaponlight. SureFire’s reputation grew so fast that in 2000 Laser Products Corporation became part of SureFire LLC.
Unlike most other tactical lights, the WristLight doesn’t run on 123A batteries. Instead, an integral (read non-replaceable by the consumer) Li-ion cell provides all the power.
Recharging takes place through a micro-USB port found at the back of the unit. That external electronic connection pretty much precludes waterproof claims, and SureFire hasn’t made any that we know of. Initial charging of the test unit required two hours, but the company’s literature warned to expect it to require three hours when the cell is completely empty.
One of the more handy features on the WristLight is an LED on the back of the unit SureFire calls the fuel gauge. If it’s glowing bright green after you turn it on, the battery is fully charged. It’s time to get worried when the color changes to yellow and if it shows red, you’re battery is dead. It sure beats nasty surprises.
The red light comes on when you first plug the WristLight into its charger. When full, the light turns green. You can leave the unit plugged in after a full charge and, according to SureFire, it will not damage anything.
The military and law enforcement applications are obvious, but the advantages of a wrist-mounted light over a flashlight or headlamp for civilians are hard to find. You’re not going to have time to put it on during a home invasion. And it might be roughly the same weight as some popular wristwatches, like this Casio that was used for comparison, but the added height of the LED housing makes it twice as tall and more cumbersome. So the odds are pretty good you’re not going to put it on before your daily commute, at least not routinely.
There are much better tactical flashlight options out there for civilians, many of them in SureFire’s line. Those in uniform who routinely patrol the night, however, in areas where fingerless gloves are an option and long-sleeves are not mandatory, will see the WristLight in a different light.