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Let’s face it: Tactical lights look cool and enhance the looks and feel of a firearm. But are they necessary or even practical to use? And if so, in which situations and on which firearms? Can’t you just get by with a regular flashlight? All these are good questions and the subject of much online debate.
Making sense out of weapon lights can help you find out if they’re right for you.
What Are Weapon Lights?
A weapon light is a general term for a flashlight system intended for mounting on a firearm. Alternative names include weapon-mounted light (WML), tactical light, tactical flashlight, and more.
Weapon lights allow shooters to see potential targets in the dark or in low-light environments. When turned on, a weapon light illuminates a wide area in front of them while aiming their firearm.
How to Choose the Right Weapon Light?
Weapon-mounted flashlights come in many different sizes and models, each with distinctive features. The five most important traits to review when considering a weapon light are the mounting system, light output, power source, and dimensions.
Depending on the firearm you wish to install it on, make sure your light is compatible with your firearm’s attachment points.
Most modern handguns feature a short length of Picatinny rail (or equivalents, such as the Glock rail) on the frame’s bottom.
Rifles and shotguns may feature one of multiple long gun accessory attachment systems, such as Picatinny rails, M-LOK, or KeyMod.
The measurement unit of luminous flux is the lumen. The higher the lumen count, the higher the quantity of visible light. A powerful light illuminates more brightly and has a longer throw (illumination distance).
You need a sufficiently powerful light output not just to see in the dark but also to see through heavy rain, fog, muzzle smoke, and other potential visibility-reducing elements. You can never have too many lumens, but a good minimum starting point is 500 lumen.
More advanced models may also offer multiple lighting modes, which can help manage battery power.
Consider the spread of the light beam as well; your weapon light should be able to project a sufficiently wide beam so that even objects illuminated in the spill can be clearly seen, but not so wide that it compromises the overall light intensity.
Ideally, a weapon-mounted light should also possess a system such as a pressure switch or a straddling lever, letting you operate it with one hand and leaving your other hand free for other things, such as door handles or your mobile phone.
Most weapon lights use commonly-available disposable batteries, such as CR123 or AA. Check which type your light uses, how many batteries it requires, and how much autonomy you can expect from fresh batteries.
Although a higher autonomy is always desirable, consider using weapon lights powered by batteries you already use in other tools and appliances, simplifying your logistics.
Some weapon light models are rechargeable, employing lithium-ion batteries and USB cables.
Although they are convenient, make sure the model you’re interested in comes from a reputable manufacturer with a good warranty, as the types of rechargeable batteries used in weapon lights are typically impossible to replace by the end-user.
Most weapon-mounted flashlights weigh 2 to 7 ounces. While it may not seem like a lot at first glance, this extra weight matters, particularly when looking for a pistol light.
Adapt the weaponlight to the weapon; just because it fits on the rail doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Smaller models should remain on handguns, whereas longer and heavier lights are better suited for your rifles or shotguns.
You can also use small weapon lights on long guns if you wish to minimize the weight impact, as long as it can withstand your firearm’s recoil.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Weapon lights are a force multiplier. Used correctly, they can give you a decisive advantage in a self-defense situation, particularly at night or in dark environments.
However, it is essential to be aware of what weapon lights can and cannot do and why you shouldn’t always rely on them.
Advantages of Weapon Lights
The most obvious advantage is the ability to illuminate an area in front of you, letting you see and identify targets positively. We all know the fourth rule of gun safety: “Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.” A weapon light lets you see your target, even in total darkness.
A light mounted directly on your weapon means you can access a light source and a firearm without the need for a separate flashlight.
Although the weapon light will add some weight to your firearm, it also means that you will be able to control recoil a little more easily, should you need to open fire. The added weight will keep your muzzle from rising too much.
Depending on the weapon light model, if you can adjust the light intensity or turn on modes such as strobe lights, they may allow you to blind and disorient potential aggressors, making it easier to subdue or stop them.
Disadvantages of Weapon Lights
The second rule of gun safety, “Never point a gun at anything you are not willing to destroy,” illustrates the biggest issue with weapon-mounted lights: the only way to see what’s in front of you is to point your firearm at it.
If you’re investigating a “bump in the night” with a firearm and weapon light pointed forward, only to find out that it’s just a family member getting up for a glass of water, you’ve unnecessarily endangered them.
For concealed carriers, choosing to install a light on their carry gun comes with several caveats.
Your carry gun will be heavier, and therefore, more likely to sag your gun belt down. Most importantly, you cannot use your regular concealed carrying holster with a mounted light, forcing you to invest in a holster that fits your specific combination of carry gun and weapon light, limiting your options.
The Wrap Up
Weapon lights are suitable for anyone interested in efficient self-protection. However, a weapon light does not replace a traditional flashlight. It is an excellent idea to have both at hand and transitioning from one to the other as the need arises.
Don’t forget to train and practice using your weapon light. Test it, learn to shoot with it at various distances, and practice regularly under low-light conditions until you can shoot as well as you usually can during the day.