The Handheld Tactical Light

A handheld tactical light is another piece of essential equipment that those, who are seeking to be prepared for any eventuality, should always have on their person.

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In a recent post I talked about the fact that carrying a handgun is only a start to being fully prepared to defend oneself and loved ones, and that other equipment, such as intermediate use of force options, are needed. A handheld tactical light is another piece of essential equipment that those who are seeking to be prepared for any eventuality, should always have on their person. Emergencies and survival situations don't always involve a physical threat from man or beast.

A tactical handheld light can be defined as a high quality, compact, LED illuminated, flashlight normally powered by lithium or rechargeable batteries, and usually constructed of high strength aircraft grade aluminum. An effective handheld tactical light projects enough lighting power to fulfill the three functions of what I call the "Illumination Triad". Those three functions are Illuminate, Identify, and Incapacitate.

There are a lot of "poser" tactical lights available from big box retailers or smaller, tactically astute retailers as the local convenience store. Any flashlight illuminates-even junk ones will work for the short time they last before self-destructing. Basic illumination can be defined as that amount of cast light which allows one to find their way in a darkened room or along a darkened path without injury. On the other hand there is the fine Mini-Mag Flashlight from Mag-Lite is of outstanding quality, and now has an LED lamp and increased beam power. It is a great general purpose or backup light, in fact, it was the first backup light I carried on my person while working as a full time cop. It does a great illumination job, and is USA made. However, it does not have enough light to fulfill the other two functions, and its twist on/off switching method pulls it out of the tactical light category. Note that Mag-Lite does manufacture a line of true tactical lights.

The Identification function means that the light you are using is also bright enough to accurately identify friend or foe-a critical capability inside your home or out. Lights that are capable of doing so start out at 120 lumens, and go up from there. Nothing is more tragic than mistaking a friend for a foe simply because you are using a cheap or low power light.

The Incapacitation function is, strictly speaking, the purview of the most powerful of the tactical handhelds. The Incapacitation effect only occurs when the light is pointed directly in your opponents face, and stays there throughout the encounter. This level of temporary Incapacitation means that your opponent's night vision is overpowered to the point that they are temporarily disoriented. Achieving an incapacitation effect requires tactical lights of 200 lumens or more. Lights with an output of 600 to 1000 lumens are even more devastating to someone who is dark adapted. Lights with a strobing capability will disrupt a suspect's balance without interfering with your ability to shoot. Incapacitation by light also allows you time for friend or foe identification.

Carrying a handheld tactical light isn't just about its use in combination with a firearm, but about overall preparedness and having a solid survival mentality. I carry one with me wherever I go and truth be told, it is used for mainly mundane tasks. However, the situation that sparked my commitment to never be without one was not so mundane and happened because I was without one.

Some 15 years ago, I was in a four story building on a college campus while off-duty when the power went out. This normally wasn't a huge deal except for the fact that the maintenance personnel did not keep up the maintenance on the backup generator which meant that there was NO emergency lighting. People were trapped on fourth floor and could not make their way down the pitch black stairwell. Being the only cop in the building, it was up to me to assist. I felt my way down floor by floor without a flashlight, and propped open the doors at each level so people could exit the building safely. After that experience, I vowed that I would never be without a flashlight on my person, and was carrying a small light the very next day.

What light should you choose? As for specific lights, keep away from the aforementioned un-brand junk lights. They only provide a false sense of security. Stick with American companies such as the aforementioned Mag-Lite, as well as lights from Surefire, or my personal favorite Streamlight. These are the lights that cops tend to use. In most cases I prefer non-rechargeable lights powered by CR123 batteries, with a minimum of 200 lumens of output. A tail cap switch is a must. The switch should be capable of momentary off and on, constant on, reduced power, and last, but not essential, strobe modes. Keep spare batteries on hand at home, in your vehicle, or your gear bag. CR123's have a ten year shelf storage life. Pick a light you can carry in a pants pocket. They don't need to be huge to be effective. Have one for home use and one for the street if you can afford it.

One more thing, that tactical handheld does you no good if you don't have it with you. Don't leave home without it.