Choosing a backup flashlight
A backup light should be a light that mimics a duty light in its basic operations
PoliceOne recently had a discussion on the P1 Facebook page. The question was: “What is your recommendation for a back up flashlight?” I have two, actually: The Brite-Strike EPLI and a 4Sevens Quark. The EPLI is a 2xAAA penlight that is brighter than most full sized duty lights, yet pocket sized. The 4Sevens Quark MiniX is the stubby version with similar features: bright, multifunction and tiny. Both have simple interfaces and use power efficiently.
How should you define a backup flashlight? A backup light should be a light that mimics a duty light in its basic operations: Momentary switch, a usable beam and ergonomics that agree with handling a firearm. Select a backup light that will allow you to continue searching a warehouse or an open field without hesitation when your primary goes down.
I like designs that agree with my gun and light method, which calls for a flashlight body at least as long as the width of my palm but no longer than the length of my hand with a switch in the rear. The Quark AA Tactical is about right for me, but most users will like the Quark MiniX.
Remember the Basics
Many officers shopping for flashlights overlook the most important aspect of the beam: The spillbeam. The center beam may light up an alley, but the spillbeam will keep an officer alive.
To prove it, try a little night shooting with your usual technique. Since the most likely scenario for an officer involved is at night, every officer does regular night shooting practice, correct? It doesn’t take long to figure out that the bright center rarely centers the sight picture. The brain tries to make sense of this picture, so night shooting takes training to stay on target, without trying to center the beam, or shoot the center of the beam.
Dedicated gun lights throw a whole different set of problems into the mix that I won’t get into here.
The spillbeam has to be sufficiently bright enough to align the sights. It also has to spread enough (and be bright enough) to light up a protective area of the backyard or warehouse one is searching. The center beam is for suspects, but it is politically incorrect to direct it at non threats. That’s what a spillbeam is for. I think Brite-Strike and 4Sevens both do this well.
Boutique flashlights are popular. They have all the functions of tested law enforcement flashlights except they were not designed to be used under the worst circumstances. These circumstances include times when fine motor skills are completely diminished or some sort of viscous substance like blood or oil covers the tool and and the officer still needs to make it work.
Flashlights most be shock resistant and water resistant. Most shoppers think that stiff springs in the tailcap will help the flashlight resist shock. This is only half of the equation. What happens in a dropped flashlight is the battery inside the tube pistons against the heavy spring. The equal and opposite reaction slams the captive projectile into the most delicate part of the flashlight, causing more damage than ever. Better products actually isolate the shock in the battery tube, minimizing the damage more fragile parts.
The new high output LEDs are mounted on small circuit boards or something similar. The quality of this area is critical. A light could be high output, but if the process is second rate, a few bounces on the concrete will demonstrate why we buy name brands. The connective material is important also. Manufacturers advertise the use of gold contacts because it has a high conductivity.
Strobing is an excellent tool. Anecdotal results in the field suggest that strobing can be used to distract a suspect. However, if your light takes several motor manipulations to go from strobing to non-strobing, it’s not very useful.
The best method to switch from steady beam to strobing is to have a single switch that can change from mode to mode without having to go through some sort of confusing sequence. Simplest is best.
Brite-Strike is a company founded by Law Enforcement officers for Law Enforcement officers. Their Tactical Blue Dot series torches have responsive recessed switches and bodies milled from single aluminum billets. Their reflectors are textured machined aluminum and they use quality LEDs in quality mounts.
The Tactical Blue Dot series of flashlights have just the right amount of spillbeam and consistent concentration in the center. The BDRC-HLS model is a rechargeable duty light that can cast a 220 (peak output) lumen beam. I like bodies of these lights, but they precision mill relatively crisp edges, which most officers like, but I don’t. They fill an officer’s hand, but still fit in the pocket.
The 4Sevens Quark series (reviewed here) uses programmable presets. One can program two presets, which are accessed by rotating the bezel. I leave mine set for strobing, with the second preset on the brightest steady beam. This is a simple, reliable setup.
I use Nextorch NTR 123A cells in my flashlights that take such cells. I get about the same performance from The non-rechargeable ones. I’ve been using them for approximately eight months and have had an opportunity to cycle each cell approximately 30 times. Really, the only difference between these cells and the disposable version is the way that they taper off quickly when it’s time to charge them. They don’t give you much warning like their disposable counterparts which get dimmer. They just drop off altogether. Since the N123A cells are almost the same price as the disposable ones, rechargeable is the way to go.
I short cycled the charging time and left light burning for an hour at a time. I recommend these cells, even for gun mounted applications.
Be sure to read the manufacturers warranty information when using rechargeable cells. The Nextorch cells are 3V, but inferior products can run as high as 3.7 V. Without a protective circuit in the flashlight, this can overrun the LED (not overdrive, overrun) and void the warranty. This is another good reason to purchase a reputable flashlight.
Nextorch makes tactical lights also. I have a Nextorch K1, one of the smallest and brightest AAA lights on the market.
511 Tactical Series
I got a sneak peek at 511 Tactical’s ATAC L1 Tactical Torch this past month. This is a 1xCR123A Torch with Hi/Low/Strobe and a rear rotating lockout and a momentary switch. Since I am a pocketable back up light kind of guy, this one also fits the bill.
I had a training officer who told me one time that if someone assaults you, whatever is in your hand is fair game: Feed it to them. While all bets are off “in the hole”, I would tend toward conventional impact tools. That is, I do not think of a flashlight as a viable off duty tool, just as I would not carry my iPhone or pen with the same intent. Having said that, if a person has a harmful intent, my exterior is spiny like a porcupine. So is my flashlight.
Officers, your flashlight should be like your gun. Never exercise the “lowest bidder” ethic when purchasing one.