I'm not a survivalist. In the occasion of a zombie apocalypse, I would likely be the first casualty. Without a steady infusion of Robusta, what's the point? So imagine me, avowed prey, scrolling through online forums populated with hunters, former-Marines, and doomsday preppers.
Before I began my search, I owned one flashlight—if you count an iPhone—and I wouldn't have dreamed that a flashlight could summon help, stun an assailant or batter him senseless. My friends, I have seen the light, and it is bright.
So what makes a flashlight tactical? First, it's much brighter than your average plastic clunker. Tactical flashlights
typically feature LED bulbs rated at 1,200 lumens—that's about as bright as your vehicle's high-beams, compressed into a five-inch baton. Units bundle preprogrammed modes, ranging from low-, medium-, and high-beams, a strobe function suitable for a rave and an SOS mode which blinks Morse code. All of which may seem like overkill, if you only use a flashlight to find the fuse box when the lights go out—but nonetheless cool.
The casing is like something out of The Terminator. Forget the plastic tube of three-volt batteries. A tactical flashlight features aircraft-grade aluminum or machined-stainless steel with rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. You can telescope the lens to flood a space with light or throw a concentrated beam on a single object. The edges are beveled such that the flashlight can be weaponized, should the occasion arise. And, thanks to airtight casing, you needn't worry about your assailant's viscera (or water) permeating the unit.
I tested units from three of the top tactical flashlight vendors, N-GAGE, EcoGear and Solaray. The truth is, despite subtle innovations, they're remarkably similar in specs, design and pricing. At $50, the N-GAGE NGPRO-12 Flashlight Kit is probably the best value of the trio. It comes with a nylon belt carrying case and a surprisingly bright solar-powered keychain unit. It also integrates the latest LED tech, which supposedly produces 20 percent more lumens. (In practice, it's about as bright as the others.)
The Solaray ZX-1 Flashlight Kit ($60) looks remarkably similar to the NGPRO—so much so that I often confused the units—however, the texturing on the barrel gives the best grip. Solaray claims to use a special reflector design that enhances the intensity and distance of the beam, but, again, they're all pretty damned bright.
Finally, EcoGear FX offers TK130 LED Flashlight Kit ($55), my personal favorite if only because it appeals to my vanity: The TK130 is used by the FBI, Homeland Security, Special Forces and a host of other law enforcement. It also has a distinctive look. The body is compact and angular, with ribbing along the sides that makes it look like an assault rifle. It even comes with a pocket-sized flashlight that packs a wallop.
The truth is, you don't have to be a doomsday prepper to want a tactical flashlight. Sure, they're—pardon the pun—flashy. But they're also a conversation piece, which is more than I can say for my aging iPhone.