If you’ve read any of several of my earlier posts on tactical flashlights, you’ll already know I’m a fan. I carry one on a daily basis, and I’ve found it to be more useful than any other piece of gear I carry. Part illumination tool, part self defense weapon and part strategic tool to level the playing field—a flashlight is one useful thing to have on hand. The difference in a tactical light and your garden variety flashlight largely come down to durability, lumens (brightness) and portability.
I’ve been carrying the sort of de facto standard in flashlights – a SureFire E2D Executive Defender for a couple of years. It’s a solid, dependable unit. It’s survived drops, falls, a washing machine HD cycle (don’t ask). It’s always there when I need it. But I’m a hard man to please. It’s got a Xenon bulb—not an LED. So it loses points on durability. And the crenelated bezel is an integral part of the light—which means I have to check it when I fly. I don’t anticipate that I’ll ever be in a mid-air emergency, but I can tell you if I ever am, my flashlight is going to play an integral role in my survival. Therefore, I’m still searching for my perfect tactical light.
And then I came across the Leupold MXc line of modular flashlights.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Leupold lights are the packaging. Lemme put it this way: if the lights are as tough and durable as the packaging, these things will last several lifetimes. I hate vacuum-formed, clamshell packaging to begin with. But this stuff was several orders of magnitude harder to crack than your typical Made in China special. As it turns out, this is just about the only flaw (if you can call it that) in the Leupold product. Their packaging is really hard to open. That’s it.
Once you get the product open, it’s off to the races. Unlike every other Tom, Dick and flashlight maker out there, Leupold decided that taking the GrrAnimals approach to flashlight design makes sense. Want a shorter light? Use a one-cell tube. Need better battery life? Go to the two-cell tube. Want an aggressively crenelated bezel? Screw one on the front. Need a flashlight that segues between a battery-saving mode, hi-beam mode, and a strobe mode designed to disorient, distract, and disturb the bad guys? They got that covered.
I reviewed three models from Leupold – the MXc 111, the MXc 321, and the MXc 421. Think of them as pre-configured lights made from their mix-and-match parts. The concept is, well, brilliant.
All three lights are seriously overbuilt. And extraordinarily well thought-out. I can’t tell you how many sets of CR132A batteries I’ve gone through by having my SureFire turn on inadvertently in my pocket (the equivalent of butt-dialing). Oftentimes, I can’t tell it’s on before it’s too late. Leupold solves this by engineering their tailcaps so that a simple 1/8 of a turn cuts power to the bulb. This is amazingly cool. They also have a modestly-crenelated bezel – one that’s not so obvious as to stop you from getting on a plane with it. Add a lifetime guarantee, what they call TrueWhite LED technology, sapphire glass, and you’ve got a package that’s worth the asking price.
The MXc 111 is a short, one-cell light. It’s the runt of the litter, with 30 lumens max output, 6 hours of runtime and waterproof to 40 meters (that’s about 120 feet for you landlubbers). Like the others in the MXc line, it features a clip and a lanyard hole. It’s small enough to hide in the palm of your hand. My biggest gripe with this one: the 30 lumens thing. It’s serviceable as a utility light, but I wouldn’t want to carry this one for defense.
The good news: six hours of battery life. The 100 series head gives you on/off, but sacrifices a low-beam mode and the strobe functionality. It also has the same reversible clip that the others offer. By making the clip reversible/removable, Leupold has solved a concern I had with my E2D – what happens if the clip gets sprung/bent (it has, several times) or broken off (only a matter of time).
The MXc 321 is a convertible. It comes with two body tubes. You can go with the single battery length or double, for extended life. There’s but one clip, but it’s removable. You an reposition the cap up or cap down carry. Here we move up to 70 lumens, but drop down to 5.5 hours of battery life – with two batteries. But we add a low beam/high beam setup that can save on battery life (as long as you’re willing to use a low beam for something).
The crown jewel: the MXc 421 Tactical Multi-Mode Package. (There’s a 521 and a 621, but they are not significantly different from the 421.) It’s got everything you could want in a carry light. A removable, crenelated, screw-in bezel, a low-beam/high-beam/strobe head, and a whopping 120 lumens of blinding output. What’s the catch? That would be the max run-time of two hours on high.
But Sweet Mother of All That is Good and Holy, this is one fine light. Seriously – this sucker would blind a statue at 30 paces. tap the tailcap three times (quickly) and you switch from low to high to strobe in a…um…flash. (Sorry. Flashlight humor. Couldn’t resist.)
You can also order a red or blue screw-on lens for the units. The red is indicated for map reading or hunting (many animals can’t see light in the red spectrum). The blue lens is great for following blood trails – obviously useful for hunting, but I’ll leave it’s tactical use up to your imagination.
So what will all this flashlight goodness set you back? Well, that’s a good question. It seems that Leupold scopes are easy to find. Their flashlights . . . not so much. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that they are the best kept secret in the tactical industry. Why? I dunno. SureFire’s got mindshare. Maybe Leupold just hasn’t gotten around to making a big marketing push on ’em. They should.
For the record, the 111 lists for $129 but you can find them for under $100. The 321 lists for $165, but I’ve seen it on the street for $129, and the 421 lists for $179, with a street price closer to $149.
If you’re a regular reader of TTAG, you know we make it a practice to practice brutal honesty in our reviews. We don’t needlessly tear a product down, but we’re also never gonna be lapdogs for the industry.When it comes to any carry tool, you’ve really got to carry it to tell if it performs as expected. So, as a public service to our TTAG readers, I’m going to carry the MXc lights for 30 days, and then make another report on how they fared.
Frankly, I don’t expect any surprises – Leupold has a well-deserved rep for quality, and these lights have the look and feel of something that was really well-planned from the get-go. But I’ll give ’em some real-life experience and report back on how they take the punishment.