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Best Weapon Light: Evaluation and Review

Why you need a light on your weapon

The reason is actually quite obvious: so you can see what you’re shooting at, duh! While this concept was once purely for SOF operator types, the market is now awash with options at every price point and for every weapon system, you can think of. Whether you need a light for your EDC, nightstand gun, or duty weapon, there is absolutely a light out there that can help you gain the upper hand when you need it most.

A Quick History Lesson

We’ll cut to the chase and keep this in the “modern history” realm so I don’t have to try and explain how a chap in the 19thcentury would affix a lantern to his firelock to fend off the ruffian highwaymen.

Remember when the boys from Pagoda Troop, 22ndSpecial Air Service stormed the Iranian embassy back in 1980? Well, me neither… but this raid didn’t just start the Western world’s love affair with MP5s, it also showcased an early weapon mounted light in the public’s eye. In this case, it was essentially a giant mag light fixed to the top of an MP5. No need to aim during a hostage rescue, right? Either way, those SAS troopers knew back in ’80 the value of being able to observe your target for proper discrimination (followed quickly by judicious prosecution).

Fast forward 8 years to 1989, when the second generation of badass commandos in the form of the US Army’s very own 1stSFOD-D rescued Kurt Muse from Modelo Prison. Larry Vickers, one of the assaulters on this mission, has publicly discussed his weapon set up: a CAR-15 with an old school Aimpoint and a QXL dive flashlight he affixed to his lower handguard with hose clamps. Huge, but at least LAV could aim AND illuminate the Panamanians he was shooting. Gotta love progress, right?

Of note, Surefire, one of the companies heavily featured throughout the article, developed the M310 in 1985. The M310 is a pistol mounted light that is big and clumsy but is essentially what we have today in the form of pistol lights.

Types of Weapon Lights

For the purposes of this article, we’ll break it down into three categories: weapon lights for long guns, pistols, and specialty. I’ll discuss the criteria for an evaluation in each category, followed by specific types of lights complete with specifications and prices.

Best Long Gun Lights

This is the category for rifles and shotguns. Out of one of these lights, you generally want something that can be actuated remotely (but not all the time), long battery life, and a longer range of focused lumens. Adjustable bezels can allow you to focus the brightness for when you’re outside or create greater dispersion indoors depending on your needs. For this evaluation, I did my best to compare like items (2x battery system vs 1x battery system, etc).

 

Surefire M600DF

This is what many consider to be the golden standard for carbine lights. It’s dual-fuel (DF in the name), meaning it can accept either 2x CR123 batteries or the Surefire SF18650B lithium-ion rechargeable battery. This light gives you a long-range and wide dispersion, as well as many different mounting and activation options.

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Specifications

Max output: 1500 lumens

Length: 5.56”

Weight: 5.15 oz with batteries

Run time: 1.5 hours

Price: $269 at Primary Arms

Pros

-Output of 1500 lumens makes it one of the brightest on the market

-Dual fuel gives you the option to use disposable 123s or a rechargeable Surefire 18650

Cons

-Price is up there for sure with an MSRP of close to $300, though the street price is around $270.

-You have to buy a tape switch if you want to activate it remotely

Streamlight Protac HL-X

Streamlight is an economical alternative to everything Surefire does. While Surefire is, in many ways, the industry leader in lights, Streamlight is an excellent company that offers less-expensive products. Which brings us to the actual light: the Protac HL-X. This is essentially Streamlight’s answer to the M600DF in that it also uses CR123s or a rechargeable battery.

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Specifications

Max output: 1000 lumens

Length: 5.43”

Weight: 6.40 oz with batteries

Run time: 1.25 hours

Battery type: 2x CR123 or 18650

Price: $106.26 at Primary Arms

Pros

-All mounting hardware is included with the light, including an M1913 mount, a momentary activation button, and a tape switch. The light is also compatible with all Scout light MLOK or Keymod mounts.

– Price. You can purchase 2x Protac HL-Xs for the price of one M600DF

Cons

-Less bright and less run time than the M600DF

-Tape switches are finicky with Streamlights. Ask me how I know…

Cloud Defensive OWL

The Cloud Defensive OWL (Optimized Weapon Light) is a great, albeit fairly new entry into the long gun game for lights. It’s a completely self-contained unit that’s actually quite innovative. It’s reversible and extremely easy to mount, making it a great option if you’re planning on using the light on multiple carbines.

Specifications

Max output: 1250 lumens

Length: 5.255”

Weight: 11 oz with batteries

Run time: 1.5 hours with included battery

Battery type: 18650

Price: $339.99 at Primary Arms

Pros

-Extremely user-friendly to mount. You can remove the tail cap and light head to make it ambidextrous.

-It’s very bright. While it ‘only’ has 1000 lumens, the OWL makes its money with candela (candela is essentially the brightness at the target distance), which is twice as bright as the closest competitor.

Cons

-It’s a sizeable light. Proponents will say that it’s a smaller package than competitors’ lights once you include a tape switch and cords, but the OWL is about as girthy as my Geissele MK16 rail (almost, but not quite).

-Laser compatibility is very tough. With how the OWL mounts, it’ll feel most at home at 12 o’clock. If you also use an LA-5, DBAL, or MAWL laser, you’ll have to get creative.

Inforce WMLx Gen 2

The Inforce is on the lower end of the cost spectrum (the Streamlight Protac is less expensive), but it’s still a very good light. It’s very light, at just over 4 oz due to its polymer construction and there’s no need for a tape switch for activation as it has a fixed pressure pad at the rear of the light body.

Specifications

Max output: 800 lumens

Length: 5.32”

Weight: 4.02 oz with batteries

Run time: 1.5 hours with included battery

Battery type: 2x CR123

Price: $140 at Primary Arms

Pros

-Compact and lightweight with still decent performance. Perfect for short to medium ranges on a lightweight build or SBR. I actually mount one on my helmet at work since it’s so lightweight.

-Built-in safety. This is actually an underrated feature, but the Inforce has a bar that you can flip over the pressure pad to ensure you don’t have what’s called a ‘white light negligent discharge.’ It can really ruin your day when you’re in the stack and it’s wrecked by a cellmate who decides to compromise the assault force.

Cons

-It’s not bright enough to make distance engagements. It’s fine indoors, but you can’t really properly ID anything past 75 yards outdoors, at least not enough to make a righteous engagement.

-Unless you mount it at 12 o’clock on your carbine rail, you’ll need to buy a 45-degree mount to put the pressure pad in an intuitive position.

Bonus Section

All of the above lights use 2x CR123 batteries, but Surefire, Streamlight, and Inforce make lights that only use 1x CR123 as well. Check out the Surefire Scout 300, Streamlight Protac Rail Mount 1, or Inforce WML for more compact (and usually less expensive) lights. You’ll lose some in brightness, but you’ll gain some weight savings and rail space on your carbine. I use a Surefire Scout 300 at work since we do a lot of CQB, but it’s still plenty bright enough to use outdoors if my NVGs crap out on me.

Pistol Lights

You guessed it; this is where we’ll talk about lights you can mount on your pistol. Size, weight, and ease of activation are what I value in a pistol light above brightness (but what good is a light if it doesn’t illuminate your target anyways?) I’ll use a Glock 19 for comparisons as it’s perhaps the most common EDC pistol for civilians and LEOs alike.

Surefire X300U

In my opinion, this is the absolute standard for combat pistol lights. It’s bright, durable, and easy to manipulate. It’s also versatile and bright enough that you’ll see many people (Larry Vickers prominent among them) who use the X300U on their carbines as well. The “A” version slides on with some nifty pull tabs while the “B” version uses a T-slot that requires a flat head screwdriver, Leatherman, or shell casing rim to tighten. (I went with the X300U-A version myself)

 

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Specifications

Max output: 1000 lumens

Length: 3.50”

Weight: 4.0 oz with batteries

Run time: 1.25 hours

Battery type: 2x CR123

Price: $269 at Primary Arms

Pros

-It just flat out works. I trust my life to this light and there’s no higher praise than that.

-Bright enough to use outdoors no problem and indestructible.

Cons

– If you plan on using this light on your concealment pistol, it’s definitely big.  On a Glock 19, the x300U extends 1 3/8 “ past the muzzle.

Streamlight TLR-1

Streamlight does it again and offers a light extremely similar to Surefire’s offering at a much more attainable price point. On my ODA, we actually had both Surefire X300s and Streamlight TLR-1s with some teammates preferring the TLR-1. The activation on these lights is extremely easy and the light is more than usable at pistol distances.

Specifications

Max output: 300 lumens

Length: 5.43”

Weight: 3.39 oz with batteries

Run time: 2.5 hours

Battery type: 2x CR123 or 18650

Price: $146.13 at Primary Arms

Pros

-The run time is an hour more than what you get with the Surefire without changing batteries.

-It’s a shorter light than the X300 and only extends past the muzzle of a Glock 19 by ½”.  My experience is that if your holster is made for a Surefire X300, it will also fit the Streamlight TLR-1.

Cons

-Durability. Guys have used them in combat, but we have to replace more of these than the Surefire models (mainly the lenses break). Full disclosure, our stuff gets knocked around a lot more than the average person, so don’t let this necessarily keep you from making this purchase.

Inforce APL Gen 3

Inforce’s submission is the smallest and lightest presented, requiring only one CR123 and weighing less than 3 oz. It’s also the dimmest light at 400 lumens, but it’s extremely compact. Essentially, if you have a threaded barrel on a Glock 19, it will fit flush.

Specifications

Max output: 400 lumens

Length: 3.01”

Weight: 2.83 oz with batteries

Run time: 1.5 hours

Battery type: 2x CR123

Price: $120 at Primary Arms

Pros

-Lightweight and compact. I mean, the thing weighs as much as 4x .45 ACP rounds according to Inforce.

-This light is the easiest to use. The paddles on the side are perfectly textured and you merely press the paddle to activate, unlike the X300 and TLR-1 where you have to swipe the paddles up or down. You basically sweep the paddle with your trigger finger on the way past the trigger guard.

Cons

-Durability. It’s the only light on the pistol list that’s polymer, but there’s at least one isolated instance of poor battery life and flickering. One of my teammates uses his for EDC and hasn’t had either of these issues.

Specialty Lights

These are purpose-built lights for specific purposes or weapons systems. Think about the replacement forend on your MP5 or 870 that has a light on it. I’ll mainly talk about lights for the Remington 870 and Mossberg 500/590, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t throw in an MP5 light solution for the boys from Hereford (the boathouse is made of red brick for the movie buffs out there).

Surefire DSF-870 or DSF-500/590

These are specifically made for the Remington 870 or Mossberg 500/590 series (easily the two most common shotguns in LEO squad cars in the U) and has a dual output feature, allowing the user to switch between 200 or 600 lumens. It’s essentially a light that’s built into a forearm for your shotgun with 2x switches on each side of the forend: one for momentary and one for constant on, for both right and left-handed shooters.

Streamlight TL-Racker

The Streamlight offering looks quite similar to the Surefire version, but with a brighter light and a different activation system. With the TL-Racker, it gives you 850 lumens and uses a single switch pad on each side of the forearm for constant/ momentary activation. If you want to use the light momentarily, press and continue to press the activation pad. When you release it, the light will turn off. If you want to keep the light on, push the switch and release quickly. Versions for both the Remington 870 and Mossberg 500/590 are available.

Surefire 328/628 LMF

These Surefire lights are for Heckler and Koch MP5s or HK 53s (essentially a 5.56mm version of an MP5). The 328 LMF offers you 300 lumens while the 628 LMF offers you 600 lumens… both can be had at the same price. These lights are ambidextrous but still different than the racker lights Surefire offers. On the SMG versions, the right side of the light features a long, thin pressure pad (just like the TL-Racker) that serves as a momentary only activator. The left side of the forend features two buttons: one for constant and one for momentary (just like Surefire’s shotgun lights). These are definitely niche lights, as MP5s are generally in the hands of LEOs or very few elements within the US military. However, who doesn’t want to own a sweet piece of history by having an MP5 clone?

 

Best Lights for Concealed Carry

So after reading the pistol light section, you’ve got a good idea of what you want. While any of those lights (Surefire X300, Streamlight TLR-1, and Inforce APL) are all great lights for concealed carry, I’d like to offer up three additional lights that are perfect for concealed carry. These lights are smaller, lighter, and offer a great companion to your favorite EDC pistol without altering the profile much.

Surefire XC-1B

This is a fantastic light for a couple of reasons: it’s tiny and it runs off AAA batteries. The AAA battery is extremely common and inexpensive. I’ve gotten to the point to where I always travel with CR123s because sometimes it’s tough to find them while away from home and impossible to find them overseas. You get 300 lumens in an extremely compact package that doesn’t protrude past the muzzle of a Glock 19.

Specifications

Max output: 300 lumens

Length: 2.375”

Weight: 1.6 oz with battery

Run time: 45 min

Battery type: 1x AAA

Price: $269 at Brownells

Pros

-Lightest and smallest light Surefire has to offer, all while maintaining Surefire’s reputation for durability and performance.

Cons

-The only issue, as with a lot of Surefire products, the price point is high with an MSRP of $299.

Streamlight TLR-7

The TLR-7 is the brightest light in the “concealment” class, with an extremely respectable output of 500 lumens. They also utilized an activation system similar to the Inforce APL series, where you simply brush the recessed paddle with your finger en route to the trigger. The bezel of the TLR-7 is still rather large, but they reduce the overall length to match up with… the Glock 19! There’s absolutely a pattern here…

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Specifications

Max output: 500 lumens

Length: 2.15”

Weight: 2.40 oz with batteries

Run time: 1.5 hours

Battery type: 1x CR123

Price: $101.99 at Primary Arms

Pros

-Extraordinarily bright for the size of this light. I was quite impressed with it, especially on a single CR123 battery.

Cons

-Honestly, the only fault I can find with this light is how big the bezel is. The light head is the same size as the TLR-1, which makes it susceptible to crack or break, but that’s a stretch for an EDC light.

Inforce APLc Glock

While Inforce actually makes an APLc line that fits pistols with standard M1913 Picatinny rails, we’ll look at the model specifically made for Glocks. Like other Inforce lights, this model is all polymer and extremely light. This will give off 200 lumens and barely adds to the profile.

Specifications

Max output: 200 lumens

Length: 2.43”

Weight: 1.87 oz with battery

Run time: 1.5 hours

Battery type: 1x CR2

Price: $95 at Primary Arms

Pros

-Another solid light from Inforce that’s light and compact with a great activation system

Cons

-Uses the somewhat rare CR2 battery. I’d prefer everything to either run on the same battery or run off something common I can get at a gas station.

Light Accessories

A company that’s actually pretty awesome in the firearms and light industry, which has remained nameless until now, is Arisaka Defense. Arisaka actually makes a lot of different accessories that are all top of the line. You can even buy light bodies, tail caps, and light heads (all compatible with Surefire Scout series lights) in addition to MLOK and Keymod mounting accessories. MLOK has essentially taken over after the SOCOM tests, so you can get mounts that put your light at 45 degrees, in line with the rail system, or (my personal favorite) a mount compatible with an LA-5.

My current home defense carbine is set up with one of their inline MLOK mounts, Arisaka 300 series body (using one CR123), and Surefire tailcap and tape switch. Also check out Magpul, Haley Strategic, Daniel Defense, Knights Armament, etc. for light mounting solutions. The Streamlight Protac series and Surefire Scout series all use the same mounting systems, so a little standardization in the industry has helped the consumer out quite a bit.

 

 

Cloud Defensive doesn’t just make an awesome light with the OWL, they also make the LCS (Light Control System). This is the best way to manage your wires if you’re using a weapon light with a remote switch. I still use rubber bands (retaining/ retainer bands for all you jumpmasters out there),  electrical tape, or zip ties to manage wires, but that’s because I haven’t gotten around to buying the LCS. It essentially stores all your wires underneath the switch itself. It’s pricey but definitely worth a look to avoid the mess of wires on your carbine rail.

Using your Light and Helpful Tips

Most importantly, you need to train with your light. I found using a light on my carbine was very simple and intuitive, but it was a different story training with a pistol light. Initially, I started trying to hold down the paddle of my TLR-1 with my support thumb. That was terrible as every time I cracked a shot, the light would go off because my thumb would slip off. Now that I primarily use an X300, I started by flicking the paddle down as I present the pistol. It’s fine now, but it definitely took a lot of practice. If you opt for the Inforce APL/ APLc or Streamlight TLR-7, you won’t have that problem as it’s a very simple activation.

Something you might notice as you use your weapon-mounted lights is that they cloud up with carbon and soot after heavy use, especially on your pistol light or long gun light if you’re shooting unsuppressed. A pro tip is to keep some chapstick in your pocket and apply a thin film of chapstick on your light head. As it gums up with carbon, you can simply wipe off that layer and get back in the action. It works and it looks a lot cooler than wrapping a used sock around your light and holding it on with a rubber band… which I’ve seen.

 

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