How to Compare Tactical Flashlights

How to Compare Tactical Flashlights

Not every handheld and battery-powered light source is the same and picking the wrong one can have dire consequences in a survival or self-defense situation. I interviewed Michael F. Dineen, Streamlight vice president of sales and marketing, recently as part of my series of stories on how to compare tactical flashlights. I started with some background on the ANSI/PLATO FL 1 2019 standards his company and other major players in the industry honor.

GJS—Streamlight is a member of PLATO, but meeting those standards has to be time consuming and tough. Without giving away costs, can you put that into perspective for readers?

MFD—Streamlight was actually instrumental in forming the original coalition of flashlight manufacturers to create the standardized tests and uniform rating system, so we are extremely committed to this process. Providing standard measurements is indeed very time consuming and demands many hours of rigorous testing for each product by our engineering team. The end result is that customers are able to rate and compare the most important features of our lighting tools, including lumens, peak beam intensity, beam distance, impact resistance, run time, light output and water resistance.

If you’re wondering how today’s tactical flashlight has evolved into its current form, here’s a quick look.

GJS—How rampant are false output claims in the lighting industry?

MFD—Compliance with the ANSI/PLATO standard is voluntary. While most leading U.S. manufacturers have been adhering to these guidelines for more than a decade, some companies, including some foreign- based manufacturers, do not comply with the standard. The real key to industry-wide adoption of the standard is consumer demand for this information at the point of sale. By choosing only products that display these ratings, customers can be assured that their flashlights will perform as advertised. Why buy a product from a company that does not display these critically important measurements? 

GJS—Are the false claims encountered more often in products on store shelves, or bargain basement Internet sites?

MFD—The most common misuse of the ANSI standard is found on the Internet.  The online platforms such as Amazon, eBay or Walmart have not risen to the challenge of dealing with this issue. It really is a false advertising issue in that some claims made by the less than reputable sellers are not even possible, and yet there is no restriction in the online environment to deal with it presently.

GJS—Any tips readers should use to avoid being ripped off?

MFD—Not unlike other things in life, if it sounds like it is too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. Also, pay attention to how the ratings act together.  If a company says its flashlight gets 5,000 lumens, but it only runs at 5,000 lumens for 30 seconds to 2 minutes, this is important to know. A more reputable company might explain how it achieves 1,000 lumens but for a longer period of time.

GJS—Tips for how to compare tactical flashlights in regard to the output in lumen, lux, or candlepower and which are more important?

MFD—A lumen is a unit of luminance.  As used in reference to flashlights, it represents the total amount of visible light emitted by the incandescent bulb or LED of the flashlight. While a flashlight’s lumen output is a key metric to evaluate, it doesn’t tell the whole story. Lumens are a measurement of all the light inside the beam angle—not necessarily brightness. The light’s candela or peak beam intensity, on the other hand, measures its down-range “throw,” and represents the brightest spot in the light’s focused beam.  So you need to focus on both measurements to evaluate overall brightness.

Final Note

 Manufacturers are not required to be a PLATO memberor adhere to its testing protocols. Here’s a link to companies that have voluntarily enrolled, if you’re curious. The organization’s icons often appear in marketing materials or on a product’s web page, but it may not appear on the packaging—where space is at a premium. Here’s a link to the artwork to look for and what each means.

As for an ironclad set of tactical flashlight standards, there really are none exclusive for law enforcement or self-defense purposes. The PLATO standards simply provide yardsticks for accurate comparison between portable lighting sources. Impact and water-resistant ratings are a good place to start when shopping for a self-defense flashlight. Of course, that performance will work well if you’re looking for a long-lasting unit for camping.