Got a Light? A Tactical Flashlight May Be Your Most Useful Defensive Tool

Editor’s Note: The following is a syndicated article by author Ed Combs that first appeared in USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine Volume 13, Issue 3 April 2016 under the title, “Got A Light? The Tactical Torch.” 

With the possible exception of the jacketed hollow-point projectile, I don’t believe there’s a single defensive technology that has progressed as far in the last 30 years as the modern flashlight.

What even 20 years ago would have only been in the hands of extremely high-level federal employees is now available for less than $50 delivered to your door. It’s been a long road for those who might even remember the days of carbide lamps attached to the front of hats. Now it’s to the point that we almost take modern flashlights for granted. A flashlight the size of a roll of quarters that’s bright enough to temporarily blind an attacker is common today, but that wasn’t always the case.


The D-cell Maglite reigned supreme in the law enforcement world for decades, and for good reasons. First and foremost, it’s of very high quality and can withstand the knocking around that is the lot of a duty belt tool. Second, it’s a dynamite impact weapon, especially if your department bends to political pressure and removes standard batons from your duty gear. I’m not kidding; as I once heard a law enforcement DAAT (defense and arrest tactics) instructor quip, “Flashlights used to be pretty normal, but then the city council took your batons away and what happened? The 4-cell Maglite, that’s what happened.”

This aside, the old reliable 4-cell is actually much better suited to unarmed (or “unarmed” with air-quotes after you’re holding a Maglite) self-defense. Not only have many, many other options surpassed it in actual lighting utility, it’s … well … it’s a metal tube filled with D-cell batteries. It’s heavy, it’s bulky and, as I was reminded every winter while directing traffic, it gets downright frigid on a cold day. If you are absolutely barred from possessing a firearm, a 3- or 4-D-cell Maglite is a good impact weapon option. If you’ll be carrying a concealed sidearm, you can do much better.


While many folks are quick to simply ask which flashlight law enforcement officers in their area use and then go buy one, there can be some difficulties in doing so. Though I too usually adhere to the attitude of “find someone who uses it for a living and ask which he prefers,” you have to be certain you’re asking for info on the right flashlight.

You see, most law enforcement officers carry at least two flashlights at all times: a belt-worn duty flashlight and a backup or backups. The light worn on the belt — the duty light — will be extremely powerful and anywhere from 10 to 16 inches long. Though that might seem odd in this day and age of tiny super-powered units, there’s an explanation.

When issuing a citation, that officer needs all of the hands that he can get, and one of them has to be kept free in order to draw a weapon if necessary. Hence, his duty flashlight has to be long enough for him to hold under his non-dominant arm, pinned between his elbow and torso so he can then hold the citation in the hand that’s in front of the beam and keep his dexterous hand free in case of emergency. This is the type of flashlight that you can consider a “nightstand light” — a light that you won’t have to worry about trying to carry around all day in your EDC but that would be an excellent flashlight to keep around the home (or in the vehicle) in case of a potential lethal-force encounter.


I consider a tail-cap activation switch basically essential for a primary defensive EDC flashlight. Even more importantly, the tail button should not only turn the light on and off but should allow for momentary activation, thus allowing the user to send extremely short flashes of light with very slight amounts of pressure and without having to worry about turning the light all the way on and off over and over again. The benefit of this is, of course, one-handed operation. If you need to use both hands to operate the light, it will only be of so much use to you when you have it in one hand and a pistol in the other.


I’m not a huge believer in there being a strict lumen limit on EDC flashlights, but I will go on record that I believe brighter is better. The only time that dimmer is better is if you will be spending a decent amount of time reading off of white sheets of paper — ask any military vet or LEO what happens when you shine a 100-plus lumen light onto a packing manifest or ticket book and they’ll laugh, squint their eyes and then feel around like they’re blind. For such lighter-duty lighting duty, even the glow of a cell phone is preferable to a tactical light. Your night vision will be spared, and you won’t immediately broadcast your personal position like a lightning strike.


I’d like to go on record as the man who brought the term “Crime Disco” to the tactical world. It came to me one night while patrolling a campground in search of an individual who was even more dangerous than he was intoxicated, and when I lit him up next to a tent that he was trying to start with his truck keys … well … it was one of those moments of inspiration in the field.

This is a feature on the lamp itself that allows for a strobe, or extremely fast-flashing, phase of the light. This becomes exceptionally useful when confronting a threat in the dark, as the strobe light is extremely disorienting and can even lead to loss of balance or seizure.

Similarly, some models feature “Beacon” modes, which facilitate long-term distress signaling by turning the head or tail cap. Doing so causes the flashlight to blink either a steady pulse or actual S.O.S. Morse code signal for hours on end without requiring the user to sit there getting a finger cramp.


Since the flashlight is operated in the non-weapon-hand, manufacturers began to get field reports about what actually happened when users of their products were involved in violent encounters. One experience was almost universal: The flashlights were being pressed into service as impromptu impact weapons. Picture yourself standing facing a potential threat with a tactical flashlight in your off-hand and nothing in your dexterous one. If the individual before you begins to charge, what are you going to do? Well, you’ll likely start to move in some direction (preferably laterally), either go for your primary weapon or at least get your dexterous hand up to defend yourself and strike your attacker with the chunk of steel or aircraft aluminum that you’re already holding in your off-hand.

After this reality became common knowledge, light makers began engineering pointed scalloping into the faces of their products — sarcastically called “DNA Collectors” in some circles — that are specifically designed to open a cut over an attacker’s eye during a self-defense incident. Similarly, other manufacturers began outfitting their units with carbide glass-breaking points as an added safety measure, especially for those who operate in environments with canals or other large bodies of water into which automobiles often find their way.


It’s impossible to discuss tactical flashlights without discussing batteries, and it’s a sore subject with some. On one side, there are those who believe nothing but 123As will do in a tactical light — you know, those odd little camera batteries that look like you took an AA, squished it into a squatter shape and sold it for $4. Others are a little more forgiving.

Over the last few years, more and more lights stoked on AA batteries have entered the market at very reasonable prices that are more than bright enough for EDC use. The difference is usually in intensity of beam. For an ultra-bright yellow beam that is so bright the unit itself gets hot enough to set your pants on fire, it’s hard to beat the 123As. However, for economy — if you can put up with a slightly bluer light at an intensity that isn’t guaranteed to scald the hair off a hog carcass — the AA units are often more than enough. Like with your sidearm, it’s going to be a matter of personal preference.


Selecting an EDC light can be a daunting, confusing proposition. The main guideline I’d strongly recommend you follow is to neither spend $10 nor $1,000 on an EDC light; those ends of the spectrum will just not be worth the money you’re spending. Depending on your tastes and desire to spend money, something between $40 and $400 will almost certainly accomplish what you need done (and, as always, if you ever have any questions, please feel free to contact us here at

The modern tactical flashlight is the single most important piece of emergency lifesaving equipment that literally anyone can walk into a store and buy. Predators prefer darkness; deny them of it.

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{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Vic June 15, 2019, 9:40 am

    Long ago sitting in a Homeland Security Class in a Federal Building.. The power went out.. True to form there was no emergency lighting as required..

    Well in a room of First Respondents.. there was simply patient silence.. an easy “A”

    A min went by two, thrree, four….I turned on my Flashlight.. Got up and left..

    Class dismissed.

  • Irish-7 June 15, 2019, 12:28 am

    I’ve been a flashlight advocate for decades, keeping a 4 D-cell Maglite in my vehicle and the 2xAA model in my pocket. I have traded the AA Maglite for several smaller, brighter “tactical” lights. I now have a Taclight on my belt and either a Nebo or Cree (single AA) in my pocket. There is also a tiny (single AAA) Maglite on my key chain.

  • Chriscraft36 June 14, 2019, 11:43 am

    After retiring as a LEO (40+yrs) , I am now simply required to protect those close to me and myself. I spent many years as a patrol officer, detective, VIP protection and supervision. I always had a 3 to 5 (d-cell ) light in my vehicle. Also, when they became available, I added a pocket light. A 2 battery (123 battery) still goes with me everywhere. I’ve had no problems getting through TSA or any other security protocol. It makes for an ok impact tool when nothing else is available. Always on my nightstand in hotels and cruise ship cabin. I’m very equipment particular. Wish manufacturers would keep controls more simple. Never really needed a strong. If I wanted a dimmer light, I partially cover the lens with a finger. When I wanted a light, I wanted a bright light without having to remember to move a switch or tap an end switch X times. Bottom line – It’s a pretty good article. A good light is so valuable . Need one and don’t have one- I think you will agree.

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