How to choose a weapon light 

If youre trying to make a decision about which weapon lights to buy, it is important to first identify the application for your weapon mounted light. There are countless options on ebay and some weapon mounted lights may be more appropriate for your needs than others. 

Step 1: Identify the type of firearm the weapon light will be mounted on. 

What platform is the tactical weapon light for?

Rifle light vs. Pistol light

  • Rifle light -  Rifle lights typically have a more intense hot spot for the beam pattern. The benefit will be a longer throw which projects the light further for long distance target identification.
  • Pistol light - Handgun lights typically have a wider beam pattern or "spill". The benefit will be more coverage of light at closer distances.
  • Some weapon lights can qualify for both platforms.

Step 2: Decide how much light output is necessary for your application. 

How much light output do I need?

  • Light output intensity is measured in three ways lumens, candela, lux.
    • Candela refers to the strength of the light emission or throw.
    • Lumens describe the amount of light that is radiated from the source.
    • Lux is indicated by the illumination intensity of an area.
  • Rifle lights generally have an output range of 400-1000 lumens to improve the ability to illuminate out at distance. Since pistol lights are intended for target identification at closer quarters they generally range from 100-600 lumens of light output.
  • Reflector characteristics can also vary from different manufacturers and affect how the light performs. A 200-lumen tactical flashlight from one manufacturer may have a more intense hot spot compared to a 200-lumen tactical flashlight that has more of a spill effect.
  • Something that should be considered is the possibility of too much light output. When confined to close-quarter situations light can bounce of walls and reflective surfaces and may become detrimental by degrading your night adapted vision.

Step 3: Understand the options available for mounting your weapon light accessories. 

How will weapon lights mount to my firearm?

  • Rifle mounting option – Most modern carbine rifles have rails which will accommodate for mounting accessories. The most commonly found style of rail is the Picatinny rail or MIL-STD-1913 rail which has been standardized by the US military. Typically, rail mounted lights are configured for this standard from the manufacturer. Surefire Scout flashlights and Streamlight Protac all come standard with Picatinny mounts.
  • Pistol mounting option – Handgun accessory rails can differ slightly from different manufacturers. Luckily, most handgun light manufacturers understand this and provide a number of components that will configure the integrated mount to the accessory rail of your choice. The Streamlight TLR-1 includes adapters that will make the light compatible with your tactical handgun.
  • Barrel mounting option – If your long gun doesn’t have a Picatinny rail, Key-Mod or M-LOK have no fear. Barrel mounts function by clamping around the barrel of the long gun and are secured by friction. This is the least ideal method for mounting a light but will get the job done.
  • Foregrip / forend mounting option – Whether you have a rifle or shotgun a foregrip may be an option you prefer. The weapon light is integrated with a grip which is held and activated with your support hand.

Step 4: Choose your ideal method for deploying the light and pick the light that accommodates the technique.  

What are the different methods for light deployment?

  • Constant on – Most tactical lights have a tail cap or toggle switch that will have a constant on functionality. This mode is most beneficial when the use of one arm is not available but the need for light is a necessity. Surefire lights all have constant on functionality as a standard feature.
  • Momentary on – The momentary on function is a secondary mode that most lights have standard. The Inforce WML has a switch that must be deliberately switch to activate the momentary only mode.
  • Tape switches that can be mounted to a rifle or shotgun forend is also an option which gives the user the flexibility to activate the light from a location away from where the light itself is mounted.

Other considerations...

Should I get a tactical flashlight with a laser?

  • Flashlight / laser sight combos arent for everyone but can aid the shooter when they choose not to use iron sights. Weapon lights like the Streamlight TLR-2 and TLR-4 or Surefire X400 sport integral red lasers.

Do I need to consider how much the flashlight weighs?

  • The material that the light is made of is the most important factor when considering weight. Inherently, Tactical lights with metal housings such as the Surefire X300 will be heavier that those with glass filled polymer housings. the Inforce APL and Streamlight TLR-3 are both weapon lights that utilize polymer housing for their lights but maintain a rugged durability.

What weapon lights do the military use?

  • Military issued industry standard weapon light brands include Surefire and Insight Technologies. These brands have been proven to be durable enough for military use.