Have You Seen The Light?

It's no secret that bad guys and bad critters like to operate in the dark. Not only do bad things happen in the dark, the blackness is where horror stories come from.

Think about it, not only do we know that during the night is when we need protection; we create stories of bad things such as vampires and werewolves to remind us of that.

Early humans found fire and quickly learned it would do more than warm them and their food. It let them see in the dark and it kept the wolves at bay. Light means power and projects authority. If you don't believe that, just go stand out in public when it's dark and shine a flashlight around. Soon, folks will come up and start asking you what's going on. If you have light, you are in charge.

Next to good sense, the flashlight is one of the most powerful, non-lethal tools you can have. It takes away the predator's advantage, anonymity and night vision. When I was a cop I had to search a lot of buildings in the dark. Most often my flashlight drove the bad guy away, which is why we usually had another officer covering the back exit. With light comes power and with power comes safety. The better light you have, the safer you'll be.

Today there are literally hundreds of bright flashlights on the market. Some are as small as an ink pen and others as large and as heavy as a half-gallon milk container. You have to decide which light best suits your needs and fits within the constraints of your pocket book.

Here are three suggestions for flashlight selection:

1. Brightness
The amount of light a flashlight puts out is probably the first—if not the most important—aspect to consider. This is measured in lumens. The lumen (lm) is the measure of the light perceived by the human eye.

A common saying is that "God made all men and Sam Colt made them equal." While that has some truth to it, bright light can be an equalizer as well. When properly applied, bright light can shift the balance of the fight.

But there is more to light brightness than just the lumen rating; the best flashlights produce consistent illumination across the entire beam they cast, not just in the middle. Brightness comes from these consistent beams, the battery power, the bulb and reflector design. All flashlights are not created equal.

The question for the consumer is, how many lumens do you need? This of course depends on what you want a flashlight to do. The consensus is that tactical flashlights should have a minimum of 60 lumens. This is usually enough brightness to let you search out a building and/or create a safe zone outside. It's also enough light to temporarily interfere with an attacker's night vision, hopefully providing you with enough time to create distance or seek safety.

A weapons light might seem like a super-tactical tool, but on a home defense handgun it makes perfect sense because it frees up your support hand and eliminates the necessity to hold a flashlight in one hand and shoot with the other ... a skill some find very difficult.

I prefer at least 100 lumens. Humans cannot look into a 100-lumen beam, and if they do they will see a bright purple spot in their vision for a good while afterward. Just brief exposure to a 100-lumen flashlight will destroy your night vision.

If 100 lumens are good, then 200 lumens should be better, right? Well, yeah. But, as the lumen rating of a flashlight increases, so does the draw on the battery and the increase in flashlight size.

The Surefire Backup is a great compact flashlight that can serve as a tactical light or just an everyday light for things as simple as reading a menu at a dark restaurant.

Surefire makes a light they call the Hellfighter. It produces 3,000 lumens, is about the size of a roll of paper towels, and weighs 10 pounds. It will melt a vampire and burn the hair off a werewolf, but you won't want to carry it to town or even across the yard to the outhouse.

2. Batteries
For years we have relied on alkaline batteries for our flashlights. The upside to alkaline batteries is their cost; the downside is their durability. They are also prone to leakage. Ever opened up a flashlight to find a mess of white corrosion on the batteries and the contacts? That's alkaline batteries for you. Flashlights powered with alkaline batteries also die slowly and even degrade over time. In other words, their beam and luminosity starts to fade. It's easy to tell when an alkaline battery flashlight is going dead because the beam gradually peters out to nothing.

For a multi-purpose tactical/survival light, the Surefire LX2 LumaMax is a solid choice. With its dual output capacity it can perform many chores well.

Lithium batteries can provide as much as twice the output of alkaline batteries and they do not degrade over time. You can put lithium batteries in a flashlight, drop it in the console of your car, and 2 years later it will be just as bright and operational as the day you put the batteries in. There are two downsides to lithium batteries: when they die, they die fast, and they are 3-4 times as expensive as alkaline batteries.

3. Bulbs
The two most common flashlight bulbs are incandescent and LED. Incandescent bulbs provide high output for their size and produce natural-appearing light. They require periodic replacement and are not very resistant to impact. LED bulbs are made from solid-state construction, can last for a very long time, can vary in color, and are energy efficient and resistant to impact. They are more expensive than incandescent bulbs, but they deliver extremely long runtimes at low illumination levels.

The Right Lights
There you have it. The keys to selecting a good flashlight are the three Ls: lumens, lithium and LED. Choose wisely. You're not just buying a flashlight—you're buying a safety device. It needs to be dependable and bright enough to perform the tasks you will ask of it.

And remember, everything looks better with light on it. Well almost: There was this girl I met in a bar one night ...

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