How to Choose the Best & Brightest Tactical LED Flashlight

Flashlights are miracles of technology. They can fit in your pocket, light up the night, and are extremely useful. But what makes some flashlights better than others? How can you tell whether a flashlight is really great or not?

Let’s take a look at the qualities that separate the best tactical flashlights from the rest.

Light Output

One of the most important things you need to check when you buy a flashlight is how much light it emits. This is measured by lumens. The higher the lumen count, the brighter the flashlight.

The problem is that many flashlight manufacturers claim that their flashlights have a lumen count of 1,000, or even 2,000, when in reality, they simply don’t.

Even an original single Cree LED chip (XM-L and XM-L2) won’t give you this kind of output. In fact, even in the best of cases, you’ll only get around 388 lumens

We’ll show you what we mean. We took the screenshot below straight from Cree’s own website. You can see that even the popular XM-L T6 LED, at an electrical input of 1,000mA, which is what most flashlights have, only gives out 388 lumens. And even at 2,000mA, which is rarely found in flashlights, you only get 692 lumens.

In other words, not even close to that high promise of 1,000 lumens.

Real CREE Lumens values

Let’s take a look at several other popular flashlights and how many lumens they really give:

  • The XM-L Q5 LED – around 150 lumens
  • The XM-L T6 (very common) – around 335 lumens
  • The XM-L U2 - between 400 - 600 lumens
  • The XM-L2 U2– 500 to 700 lumens
  • The XHP 35 - Reaches around 1500 lumens
  • The XHP 50 - Reaches around 2500 lumens
  • The XHP 70 - Reaches around 3500 lumens


  • The LED light bulb used in the flashlight will give you a rough estimate of how many lumens you actually get.
  • Most “1,000+ lumens” flashlights use the XM-L T6 LED, which will give you only around 335 lm. Only the Extreme High Power (XHP) class LEDs can reach 1000+ Lumens.
  • Be careful when buying flashlights from manufacturers making unrealistic lumen output claims. Buy from manufacturers that deliver the lumen output they claim.
  • Look for third-party test reports confirming manufacturers’ claims.


Some flashlights offer a zoom feature and others don’t. Flashlights without a zoom feature will shine more light in a small, fixed area.

Flashlights with a zoom feature sacrifice a small portion of their lumen output when zooming in, but can also light up a larger area, making them more versatile than zoom-less flashlights. The benefit of this versatility far exceeds the small loss of lumens output while zooming in. We recommend choosing a flashlight with a zoom feature.

Water Resistance

Much like the exaggerated claims about lumen output, many claims regarding water resistance are not necessarily true. For instance, we have found that many flashlights that have a protective O-ring sealing the battery compartment don’t have one on the lens, leaving the LED vulnerable to water penetration. Make sure the flashlight you buy is properly sealed with an O-ring on both ends!  

Size and Weight

Our suggestion is to choose a flashlight that provides you with all the necessary features you need in the lightest, smallest form. This will allow you to carry it around easily and operate it easily with only one hand.

Belt Clip

A belt clip on a flashlight makes carrying it around much easier. Also, if you have your flashlight on your belt clip, you can reach for it quickly in case of emergency.


Most flashlights use 3xAAA batteries or a single 18650 battery. But not many people know that only 4xAAA batteries get you the same lumen output as an 18650 battery.

But much like the unreasonable claims about lumen output, flashlights that come with an 18650 battery don’t always have the mAh capacity they claim to have. It’s often much lower, and the battery is not always protected from reverse charging, meaning it could get damaged.

Your best bet would be to look for a flashlight that also has the option of using the high-capacity 26650 battery. Better yet, look for a flashlight that comes with a high-capacity, protected 26650 lithium battery. This will allow you to get more than twice the run-time between charges.


Many chargers supplied with flashlight kits are not so great. The majority of them, are not UL compliant (American Safety Standard), and, on top of that, they work slowly with a charging current of around 500mA. So it can take you up to 5 hour to charge a high capacity 18650 battery and up to 10 hours for a 26650 battery.

Make sure that your charger is UL compliant and that it’s charging current is at least 1000mA.

Lithium batteries and chargers work great for tactical flashlights. But as we saw with the recent problem of the exploding Galaxy Note 7s, they can also be dangerous, so don’t play games when it comes to safety! 

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