Tactical flashlights represent a truly effective form of portable lighting, and good quality units are far and away a major improvement over our first three types. Tactical designs cover a huge range of types due to the widely varied nature of tactical applications, but some common traits shine through. As the name implies, these flashlights are designed with tactical applications like law enforcement and military use in mind, and as a result are constructed of high grade composites or aircraft grade aluminum. They are usually waterproof and designed with high grade internal components to resist damage from impacts and shocks. Switches are push button designs intended to allow one handed operation of the light in tandem with a firearm, and lenses are high grade impact and scratch resistant glass or Lexan. Many tactical flashlights, like those from magnalight, offer different operating modes such as low, high, and flashing modes. Bulbs for tactical flashlights are typically of a higher caliber than common flashlights, with Xenon, Halogen, HID, and LED bulbs being the lamps of choice. Power for these tactical flashlights is usually provided via 2 alkaline D-cells, 2 rechargeable D-cells, or rechargeable NiMH or Lithium Ion battery packs, with the last being the most effective and long lived.
Output for different tactical flashlights varies widely due to a host of factors including bulb type, battery type and bulb wattage. Some common lumen output level ranges for tactical flashlights are as follows according to lamp types.
Xenon bulbs: 20 - 40 Lumens
Halogen bulbs: 25 - 150 Lumens
HID bulbs: 200 - 3000 lumens
LED: 100 - 1000 Lumens
It is important to note that there is some correlation between lamp type, lumen output, and operational battery life. Halogen and Xenon bulbs are basic incandescent lamps, and as a result have poor efficiency and short life. Xenon bulbs are the least efficient and as a result cause a fast decrease in battery power.
Halogen bulbs offer some increased efficiency as well as lumen output, but the increase in efficiency is offset by the higher output, resulting in an operational battery life similar to that of the Xenon. Hid bulbs offer the maximum amount of lumen output, period. Depending upon the type of flashlight and battery configuration, HID flashlights can put out well over a thousand lumens. HID bulbs have no filament and are highly efficient; however, they require a ballast and as a result take several seconds to reach their full power. Additionally, the extreme output of HID lamps, although highly efficient, causes them to drain batteries at a rapid rate. Most HID flashlights will operate for 1-2 hours before requiring a recharge.
LED lamps offer the greatest balance between lumen output and battery life. LED tactical flashlights often produce between 100 and 300 lumens and will run 5 to 20 hours before needing recharging. LEDs represent an extreme and highly variable end of the lamp spectrum, with ultra high end LED units producing up to 1000 lumens. LED output has a significant effect on battery life. Lower output tactical LED flashlights in the 90-180 lumen range will often run for up to 50 hours on a single battery charge. 500-1000 lumen versions usually last for approximately 2-5 hours before requiring recharging. For overall performance, LED equipped tactical lights are hands down the best choice, with lamps that will last for the life of the flashlight, long battery runtimes, and very good lumen output with little lumen drop off until the low end of battery life.