By Ralph Mroz
Tactical handheld lighting seems to have reached an inflection point – the market is now exploding with new manufacturers, new technologies, new products, and new classes of products, many of which are based on the exponential progress being made in semiconductor LED technology. The new lights on the market range from improvements on the original Surefire 6P-class tactical lights, to revolutionary new power sources, to whole new classes of lights. Here we take a very brief look at some of the different, interesting, and exciting new things coming down the pike in hand-held lights.
I need to stress that the right light for your needs may not be a new class of light or an exciting new light, but rather a plain-Jane “old-fashioned” tactical light. There’s nothing wrong with that! In fact, those lights are getting better, brighter, and less expensive all the time. But whatever your personal needs, the new lights described here will definitely find a place in law enforcement.
Brite Strike’s motto is “by police officers for police officers.” All LE models are designed to be high-end, best-in-class products and employ LUXEON LEDs. Bodies are made of 7075 aluminum, the same used in M16-A2 receivers. The pocket clip is on the bezel end, making pocket carry much less prone to “ADs.” The incredibly white LUXEON LEDs put out as much as 200 lumens from a 2-CR123A battery, with a wide and uniform corona. I’ve seen Brite Strike units thrown hard onto concrete floors with no change in their performance. The tail-cap design is first-rate; their momentary-on/constant-on switch is the only one I’ve seen that virtually cannot be turned constant-on by accident. Brite Strike makes one, two, and three battery models, with high, low, and strobing outputs.
A really neat (and inexpensive) product that Brite Strike makes are “tactical balls.” These are approximately 2-inch diameter balls with two bright LEDs inset in them and powered by watch batteries. They were designed as rolling distraction devices, as an alternative to pyrotechnic flash bangs. The light wobbles as the balls roll, and the balls stop with the light up, illuminating the area. They require no training, no certifications, and are completely safe. A suspect cannot help but stare at them as they enter a room. Not a replacement for flash bangs, but an interesting alternative.
First-Light makes those right-angle lights that strap to your hand that you’ve seen advertised. With 120 lumens available, these lights are made or first-class materials and have extremely well thought out control ergonomics. I had seen these devices at LE shows for two years, and never quite “got it” until last year when the light finally went on for me (no pun intended.) They allow you to grip a handgun or long gun with your normal grip, still have a bright light directed along the bore line, and control the light (high, low, dim, strobe, etc.) with intuitive and natural thumb motions. They also allow you to keep a two-handed grip on your handgun or long gun and search with the light independent of the muzzle, which is a huge advantage since “searching with the muzzle” is something that trainers have been rightly preaching against for decades.
Once strapped to your hand, they are very comfortable and don’t interfere with anything else you have to do, such as writing a citation. Finally, strapped to your hand, your light is always instantly available. The Liberator is the strap-on model, while the Tomahawk is the smaller model with a ring/finger attachment to the hand. I know officers who strap their Liberators on at the beginning of their shift and keep it there all shift long. Like me, it may take you a while to really appreciate this new class of device, but you really ought to check it out.
Pelican has been making news lately with the new 7060, the light it developed in conjunction with LAPD. This 8.6-inch, 130 lumen rechargeable LED light weighs only 10+ ounces with batteries and has both a side-body and tail cap switch. It is a good choice for those who prefer a mid-size light (a length somewhere between the old 4- or 5-cell Maglights and the new 5-inch tactical lights.) Pelican makes a huge number of lights of all sizes. Bucking the “smaller” trend, their new 8060 is a 190 lumen unit, 12.6-inches long, that’s rechargeable or can run off of four alkaline C-cell batteries.
Nightstick products by Bayco incorporates a forward-facing set of LEDs for “normal” light work, and also a set of side-facing (on the long axis of the light) LEDs for area illumination. For example, the NSR-9850 model has a 300 lumen tight-focused flashlight beam for long reach and 400 lumen wide beam floodlight for area searches. At almost 14-inches long and at 28 ounces, these aren’t small units, but they add a new function to the hand-held light.
5.11 Tactical, the well-known clothing and equipment company, has recently licensed a very exciting new capacitor-based light technology, which it will start to make available in early 2009. The company claims that its The Light for Life product produces 270 peak lumens in bright mode, 90 lumens in standard mode, and has a 270-lumen tactical strobe. It has no batteries, but rather capacitors hold the charge. It fully charges in 90 seconds(!) and delivers up to 23.5 hours of total runtime (98% uptime) in a 24-hour period. It is rated for 50,000 charge/discharge cycles with virtually no degradation and no memory effects even in severe temperature conditions. That’s one charge a day for more than 135 years. At 16 ounces, 11-inches long, and about 2-inches wide. the Light for Life isn’t compact, but if it delivers as promised, it will charge the way we power lights for a long time, freeing us from the constraints and expense of batteries.
Several extremely bright hand-held lights — so bright you think they must have recoil — are now available from Surefire, Xenonics Wolf Eyes, AE Light, LED Lenser, and Phoebus. Of course these companies also make a wide variety of less expensive lights, too. The 9.5-inch long, 20 ounce Surefire Dominator, with it’s 2.5-inch bezel, outputs 500 lumens. The 13.5-inch, 40-ounce, Nightfire3 from Xenonics, a company specializing in long-range lights for the military, allows you to see out to 1,200 meters! Phoebus, a manufacturer of both tactical and industrial lighting, offers the 500 lumen, 3 Cree LED, 11.5-inch, 16 ounce Lunetta 6.6 model. The Wolf Eyes Thunder Q5 puts out an incredible 780 lumens in a handheld unit. The AE Light 24W PowerLight puts out 1300 lumens in a 150-inch long 40-ounce package. LED Lenser’s X7 puts out 1000 lumens from its 4 D-cell body and large head.
The “traditional” players in this market: Surefire, Streamlight, Insight Technology, PentagonLight, Inova, and Blackhawk continue to produce lights of increasing brightness and function in both handheld and weapons-mounted configurations. High and low outputs, multiple colored lights and strobing are now common features on most manufacturers lights. New players on the scene include eGear, Novatac, and a host of others. Mainline LE vendors in completely different product areas such as Leupold & Stevens are also introducing lights these days, so there’s plenty to choose from. The once-standard CR123A lithium battery is sometimes replaced by good old alkaline batteries in some of these new units, near 200 lumens is becoming standard in today’s small tactical lights, configurability is increasing, run times are getting to be hours in length at high output, and costs are coming down.
These days, there’s no excuse for not having a good tactical light...or two or three...at your disposal.