What is a Tactical Flashlight – and How Do I Use it?

A flashlight might not seem like much at first, considering they are a household item that gets used in blackouts, at night, or to look into dark places. But as an everyday carry tool, tactical flashlights have more uses than you expect, and when you don’t have one with you when you need it, you are left in the dark.

I first started carrying a small tactical flashlight when my mobile phone started to develop a severe battery draining issue. I did this as I thought I would try to expand into the tools I use my mobile phone for, and one of those was primarily as a flashlight. After carrying the flashlight for a few weeks I was growing more and more surprised at how useful it was to have one.

While I enjoy the concept of every day carry, it is my enjoyment of survival gear and multifunctional tools that make the collection of gear I might use every day more fun. But without a doubt, with every mention of EDC gear I have seen, there is always a tactical flashlight involved, purely because they are a practical item that can be used in so many various situations.

As a child, I used flashlights more like a fun toy rather than a practical preparedness item. It was something I would use to check up on the chickens at night, or as a fun game of hide and seek in the evening. That use developed more as I learned about the various ways of using a flashlight in the wilderness, from signaling for help or using the lens of a flashlight as a means of starting a fire with sunlight. As flashlights developed, so did my use with them as I moved on to use them in the military, using their strobe effects attached to a rifle during urban training exercises, and their red light functions for light-sensitive field exercises to read maps.

In this day and age, tactical flashlights are far more compact than the larger brick lights I would use back when I was a child. And while they might be much smaller, they also pack a lot more lighting power (lumens) than what they larger units could previously yield. These new compact flashlight innovations are just an added reason as to why they have a position in everyday carry sets across the world and why they are a very valuable tool for preppers.

The difference between a normal flashlight and a tactical flashlight?

Tactical flashlights serve a much different purpose to household flashlights, their history and development have been made to serve a different market. Tactical flashlights were originally developed to be used in conjunction with a firearm to assist with target identification in areas where there is limited lighting. Rather than wielding a separate flashlight, it would allow a marksman (law enforcement, security, or military) to aim a weapon and illuminate a target at the same time.tactical flashlights

For police and security, tactical flashlights were a great innovation as they could offer a concentrated light beam which could temporarily blind an assailant or suspect, assist with target identification, and, with the much bigger tactical flashlights such as the Maglight, it could be used as a blunt weapon much like a police baton. This field of use meant the tactical flashlight had to be constructed differently, as household flashlights are often made of cheaper materials such as plastic, and would not be able to provide these same uses for those specific industries.

Tactical flashlights would also extend into further military use, where instances might permit lower lighting filters to be used, such as red light filters to preserve a person’s night vision as well as being able to illuminate an object. Some tactical flashlights can also be used with infrared filters, which when used in conjunction with night vision operating equipment, can serve as a marker or illuminate objects or areas to only night vision wearers. This is also used with laser sighting for weapons, which is standard practice for the military to use precision aiming at night.

Know the Anatomy of Your Flashlight

It is always better to know everything about your flashlight. You should work out the power settings, the internal settings, the metal constructions, and so on. This will help you to plan how you can use your flashlight as a weapon.

For example, if your flashlight does not have strong power settingsflash and smash would not be the best idea. So, you should know your flashlight and study the way that it works, too.

How can you use a tactical flashlight?

Tactical flashlights offer a mode of uses that household flashlights don’t. One of its best uses is as a self-defense option. As tactical flashlights are not considered weapons in comparison to other self-defense tools such as pepper spray, they can be carried on to air transport, meaning there is no issue with this item as everyday carry tool for travelers. While I have already listed a few ways to use flashlights, here are some others that you might need one for.

1. Self-defense

Self-defenseHow can they be used as a self-defense tool? Primarily, almost all current tactical flashlights can concentrate and narrow their field of light into a singular beam. Because tactical flashlights already pack high lumens, they are incredibly bright. So bright that they will temporarily blind a person who might be about to attack you or threatening you. This is especially the case if it is night time as the attacker’s eyes will be more adjusted to lower lighting. Blinding an attacker in this manner will allow you to make an escape, which is the priority in all self-defense scenarios.

In a book on Israeli street survival, author Eugene Sockut recommends carrying a small tactical flashlight when walking to the car at night, and how to hold the flashlight if an attacker is about to engage you. There are also various other techniques to use a flashlight in a defensive position such as the FBI technique and the Eye Index Technique.

2. Illumination

IlluminationTactical flashlights can come in small, convenient sizes to carry in your handbag, backpack, or just in your pocket. This means that if you ever find yourself walking home on your own at night and you feel like you might be in danger, or just in an area that feels unsafe to you, you can walk with the flashlight in your hands and when your path gets too dark, you can light it up quite easily. With a tactical flashlight and narrowing the beam, it can cover a fairly good distance too.

Not only does this help with safety against potential attackers or thieves, but it also helps in ensuring that you can walk on a path and know that each step you take won’t be an ankle roll or an invisible hole that you would have seen had it been lit up.

3. In emergencies

There is no doubt that when the power goes out, the first thing we all look for is a flashlight. Generally, it’s somewhere tucked away in the back of a kitchen cupboard or under the sink. Or perhaps you have a blackout kit that you have made up for emergencies like this? For me, I generally keep my flashlight in my pocket which spares me the effort of fumbling around in the dark and finding furniture with my shins.

4. Starting a fire with a flashlight

This can be done in a few different ways. The first one is only for a survival situation as it involves breaking the light bulb. This should be done carefully as it is only the outer glass that you want to break, not the inner filament. If your filament is intact, you can use a little bit of tinder in the top of the light around the filament and switch the light on. The second method is to use the protecting glass lens from the cap of the flashlight to magnify the sun during daylight onto tinder. The third method is one that is only available to some tactical flashlights that have highly concentrated lumens. If this is shone onto tinder it can burn a flammable material.

5. As a utility tool

utility toolOne of the design specifications of a tactical flashlight is to be sturdy and durable. Many of the current brands of tactical flashlights have versions that are used in law enforcement and military industries. For instance, a large Maglite can serve as a weapon because of its hard exterior and thick, long, handle. However, with the serrated edges that duty-made tactical flashlights come with, they can be used to break through a car window, either to get in or get out of one in a rush.

6. Signaling for help

When it comes to a situation where you might be in an emergency, lost, or need to signal drivers on the road for help, the main things we have at our disposal are sound by yelling and movement by waving our hands. However, a flashlight can replace a lot of those functions when they become unusable at night time. Using your hand in front of a flashlight, or as mentioned previously a flashlight on a phone, can signal your need for rescue to people in a surrounding area, especially when it is pointed towards the direction of likely path of potential rescuers or search parties. For instance, while driving on long roads in country areas, I have seen people waving flashlights that might need help. If the situation is safe, I will pull over and help. A flashlight is also an essential way of using morse code or just signaling for help if you are ever lost in the wild.

Learn the SOS morse code using your flashlight. It will not only save you from enemies but will also help you in unexpected situations. It might take you a bit of time to get used to the morse code, but it’s worth it.

If attacked by people, try to find a safe spot. From there, you can try to send out the morse code. However, you should be careful with it. Make sure that the attackers cannot find the source of the light. Then, you have to wait patiently until help arrives.

What makes a good flashlight?

Of course, there is no point in having a tactical flashlight if it is not durable, bright, or able to maintain its output for long periods. If it wasn’t any of those things you may as well just buy a regular household flashlight. For what we are after, we need to look for several things in our flashlight. Having used two great flashlights, I would consider the following to be indicators of a quality flashlight:

  • Extremely bright and powerful lumens;
  • Ability to be focussed into a small blinding beam or wide to cover large areas
  • Constant light brightness for long periods;
  • The overall time before the light begins to fade;
  • The reliable durability of the light itself;
  • Functionality in a wide scope of temperature and weather (water-resistant)
  • Robust body

For personal preferences, you should decide if you want a compact flashlight that can be used as a weapon in self-defense or to break glass (for escaping a car for instance), or if you want to find a flashlight that is more compact, easy to carry and discrete. I find something in the middle is the best to have. I have used larger Maglite flashlights and I have a smaller compact tactical flashlight which is more akin to the penlight, however, I could not settle for either so I tried something in the middle and was happy with the fact that I could still carry it around every day, but still be able to use it as a sturdy tool if needed.

Fenix PD35
The on/off button of the Fenix PD35 I use, which has a half-press option.

Some other considerations, which again come down to preference, are how the flashlight is constructed. Of course, all tactical flashlights can be durable, tough, and innovative, but there are some design functionalities that I might like that you might not. For instance, I like the flashlight to have the on/off button on the top. This means I can hold it at eye level like an icepick and switch the flashlight on with my thumb, which is a prime defensive position for the flashlight. I also like the flashlight to have a button that doesn’t have to be pressed to have it shine, but instead can shine with my thumb pressing into it. This allows me to create my strobing effect with the flashlight by rapidly tapping the button.

One other consideration is the batteries your flashlight takes. For me, I stick with flashlights that only use AA or AAA batteries as they are in almost every convenience store and supermarket, and they are found in most other devices that take batteries.

What are the various ways to hold a flashlight?

Several techniques come into play depending on the situation with flashlights. For most, the favorable options of holding a flashlight tend to be either in the icepick position at eye level or in the underarm position as if you had just pulled it out of your pocket. There are many other ways to hold a flashlight, which we will go into a little more detail below.

While these techniques are primarily to be used in conjunction with shooting a weapon, they can also be used without a gun when you are in a defensive stance or a possible attacker situation.

The FBI Technique

This technique is to ensure that if anyone is going to aim at you, then they will shoot the light as that is where they think you are coming from. The method is to hold the flashlight away from your body, out to one side, and up with your non-shooting hand.

While this technique might seem like an innovative idea, it is better for search situations, as once you fire a shot, your gun’s muzzle flash will give away your position.

The FBI Technique

Neck Index Position

Neck index allows you to transition from the FBI Technique to shooting. Because there are minor flaws with stability and accuracy in holding the flashlight out with one arm in the FBI technique, the neck index requires that you draw the flashlight in as you start firing.

With this position, you can transition to a flashlight position that would stabilize a weapon with two hands for more accurate shooting.

Neck Index Position

The Harries Technique

The Harries technique uses a more stable firing position for a pistol, as the firing hand rests on the hand holding the flashlight. this method allows the firer to simultaneously aim and illuminate or blind a target.

The Harries Technique

Surefire Technique

This technique requires a much smaller flashlight as it is held between the index finger and the forefinger much like a syringe. The rest of the hand provides cupping around the grip of the pistol as it would if you were not holding a flashlight at all. This position adds a lot more stability to the firing position and a stronger grip for recoil issues. If the flashlight is too large the light will naturally point towards the ground which will still illuminate targets but will not provide the blinding effect that a smaller flashlight would.

Surefire Technique

What are some good tactical flashlights?

There is no doubt that there are a lot of tactical flashlight manufacturers out there, but there are some that are better than others. And I am not just talking about expensive Porsche brands either. I deem a brand to be pretty good if they can make a $20 flashlight that easily competes against a $200 flashlight, and there are plenty out there, which is why it pays to shop around.

Fenix PD35
Fenix PD35

So which tactical flashlights would I recommend for you to take a look at? I am only going to recommend the ones that I have used, specifically for the reason that while there are a lot of good ones out there, I haven’t used them outdoors or to do arduous tasks, but for the three that I have used, I can say that they all performed very well.

Why did I go through three flashlights? As mentioned before, my first flashlight was the Maglite 3-Cell Flashlight, while it is significantly large (12.3in) it is a bright, long-lasting, durable flashlight that can be used as a self-defense tool and utility. Because I found this more so as a household tactical flashlight rather than one suitable for everyday carry, I decided to branch out into much more compact flashlights, however, I would recommend this one for the car or the house as a heavy-duty flashlight.

The two flashlights I went for that were a little more compact than the Maglite were the Fenix PD35 and J5 Tactical’s V1 Pro. I bought both of these as I was after a flashlight that was more compact and more suitable as an everyday carry item.

The Fenix is 5.4 inches and the V1 Pro is just under four inches, so they were quite similar in size. I first took an interest in the Fenix as I had friends who used the same flashlight and it a flashlight that would be a bit more investment but for a bit more quality, (it cost me just under USD$80). I also picked up the V1 Pro at the same time as it is a very cheap flashlight at less than $15 and has a lot of great reviews, but it is nowhere near as bright as the Fenix and was not a brand I had recognized.

J5 Tactical V1 Pro
J5 Tactical V1 Pro

Aside from being a considerable difference in pricing between the Fenix and the V1 Pro, the Fenix was a 1000 lumen flashlight while the V1 Pro was a 300 max lumen. This means that the Fenix can create a considerably more powerful light beam and have that blinding effect. Don’t get me wrong, the V1 Pro can still deliver quite an impact and is still a very bright light, but in terms of strength, the Fenix has it hands down. The Fenix’s distance can hit out well over 600 feet, while the V1 Pro struggles to make half of that, which just goes to show what the extra money would buy.

Despite the comparisons I was able to make between the Fenix and the V1 Pro, I will say that as EDC flashlights they both serve their purpose in illuminating dark areas, being a compact, multifunctional flashlight, and being able to be used in a variety of ways as well as having that function of producing a blinding self-defense light, having a tough, durable shell, and being able to last a long time. The stark difference between the two, being the fact that the Fenix is considerably more powerful than the V1 Pro, is a reason to make the extra expense, but this is something you would have to think about in your prepper budget.

I hope this helps you with any information you required on flashlights, and more specifically, tactical flashlights. If you have any more questions, or are interested in the topic and want to talk a little further about them, pop a comment in down below.

9 thoughts on “What is a Tactical Flashlight – and How Do I Use it?”

  1. Thanks for the descriptions of the various hold positions. Guess the “Harris” works better for me, though I’ve got some smaller flashlights that could work with the Surefire. Need to practice that one.

    As for the list of other uses, #4 seems to be a hold-over from much earlier times. How many modern tactical flashlights still use an incandescent bulb? All of mine are Cree LEDs.

    • No problem Mic. The surefire still doesn’t work for me as I can never get a small enough flashlight that I am actually happy with. I think I’d have to use a penlight.

      And I am glad you pointed that out. My old Maglite uses a bulb, and I know there’s a lot of others that use the old school heavy wielding flashlights. But you’re right, it seems as time goes on LED will phase out incandescent flashlights, that’s for sure.

    • Exactly – it’s Cree xml-t6 powered or its junk no matter what the price. 18650 lithium battery is 3.7v perfect to power xml-t6 LED. Alkaline batteries are primitive and ancient today. Solar chargers for 3.7v lithium are plentiful.

  2. My dad had an angled tactical flashlight and I was curious how the “red filter” worked? Does it really aid in reading maps? Does it have other uses? These newer tactical flashlights are wonderful additions to my bag. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and practical uses on this subject! ^Eric

  3. The military uses red light headlamps as well as red handheld flashlights. Although they can vary by design and specific features, the fundamental focus on a red light is the same. There are three reasons why the military uses red light for their flashlights: to preserve and improve night vision, to reduce a person’s light profile, and to send out signals.

  4. there are some ways to use a tactical flashlight for self-defense: Give SOS Signal, Stun the attacker, Strike the attacker, etc.


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