Gear Review: Streamlight TLR-1 on a Rifle

I’m getting ready for a low light 3-gun, and part of that is figuring out some way to see what I’m shooting. There’s a penalty for those using night vision, so the obvious choice was a flashlight of some sort. Being a cheap bastard I didn’t want to drop more than $150 on the thing, so very quickly my choice became obvious: the Streamlight TLR-1. But how well does it work on a rifle?

The TLR-1 was designed specifically to be a small flashlight that a shooter can mount to an accessory rail under their handgun. Its compact form factor and built-in rail make it fit, and the unique toggle switch on the tailcap allow the shooter to activate it with his finger. But the same reasons that make the TLR-1 ideal for handguns also makes it ideal for rifles.

The “standard” weapon light for an AR-15 is usually a regular flashlight fastened somehow to the forward handguard. I’ve seen everything from precision milled aluminum mounts to copious amounts of duct tape used, but the effect is the same: you now have a heavy piece of aluminum strapped to your gun. And while it may provide a blinding bright light for you to use, it also makes your gun heavier and slower to muscle around.

Having as light a gun as possible is essential in 3-gun competitions. Light guns means less effort you need to spend on getting the thing on target and hauling it around the stage, allowing you instead to use that energy to move faster than the competition. I learned that lesson the hard way, which is why my Pretty Princess AR-15 is taking a backseat to the stripped down .300 BLK rifle these days and I’m running Limited instead of Tac Optics.

The light weight is a nice feature, but the best part about this flashlight is its compact size. Being designed to fit on a handgun means that this thing takes up as little space as possible, which is perfect when you might need to slot your barrel between an obstacle on a stage and leaves the rest of the handguard free to “Costa grip” to your heart’s content. The fact that it’s a self contained package that incorporates the rail mount and flashlight into one single item helps keep that form factor small and seems to make it much more stable.

Another benefit of the handgun based design is that the flashlight can take a heavier beating than any flashlight intended for a rifle. While handguns fire a lighter round than rifles in terms of recoil, the way in which the guns are designed means that the recoil of a handgun is much greater than that of a rifle and can seriously damage sensitive electronics. Being designed to stand up to that kind of beating means that this flashlight will have no problems on a rifle.

One thing I have reservations about is the on/off switch. This is where the handgun based design becomes a little cumbersome, as the switch was intended to be operated on either side of the trigger guard of a handgun. The switch itself is a touch small so hitting that switch in a moment of panic can be hit or miss, but in general I’m usually able to tap the switch by going underneath the handguard with my non-dominant hand. It takes some getting used to, but having used it for the last few weeks I’ve become accustomed to how to operate it.

The only real gripe I have is with the runtime. My Surefire flashlight that I take on shift with me can run all night long without needing fresh batteries, but this one runs out after about 2 and a half hours. Admittedly the batteries are easy to find in your local drugstore, but I was hoping for a slam dunk here. So if you plan on having the flashlight on for over 2 hours be sure to have some spare batteries.

In short, the TLR-1′s light weight and small size make it perfect for mounting on a rifle. Whether you’re in need of some illumination thanks to a crazy bastard’s idea of a fun 3-gun or trying to spot a home intruder with your (IMHO ill advised) self defense rifle this is something you should look at having on your rifle. Being designed for a handgun doesn’t mean that it’s not also the perfect tool for the job for a rifle.

Specifications: Streamlight TLR-1

Weight:   4.18 oz.
MSRP: 
$193 (Closer to $100 retail)

Ratings (out of five stars)

Ease of Use * * * * *
It comes with an assortment of mounting options and has a standard rail mount attached from the factory. Slides onto any accessory rail with ease.

Feel & Function * * * *
A nice bright LED lamp, small lightweight design and acceptable switch mechanism. One star off for battery life.

Overall Rating * * * *
If you’re looking for a flashlight for your rifle this is a fine choice.

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About Nick Leghorn

Nick Leghorn is a gun nerd living and working in San Antonio, Texas. In his free time, he's a competition shooter (USPSA, 3-gun and NRA High Power), aspiring pilot, and enjoys mixing statistics and science with firearms. Now on sale: Getting Started with Firearms by yours truly!

23 Responses to Gear Review: Streamlight TLR-1 on a Rifle

  1. avatarJustin says:

    “Admittedly the batteries are much easier to find than Surefire’s special snowflake brand and they are smaller, but I was hoping for a slam dunk here.”

    Uh- Aren’t both CR123 lights? Using the same battery?

    • avatarcaffeinated says:

      I’m pretty sure they are the same batteries as well. CR123s…Speaking of which, I need another case of.

    • The TLR-1 asks for CR123 but Surefire has CR123a. I’m not sure of the difference between the two, but I didn’t want to chance putting the wrong battery in it. I’ll check it out.

      • avatarPatrick Carrube says:

        IIRC, the CR123A, CR123, 123A and just 123 are all the same batteries, although you will find with a high-draw piece of equipment there are huge differences in performance.

        I think it was supposed to make it easier to remember for the flashlight/camera crowd, but has simply added confusion to the mix. I recall hearing/reading a story about a person buying 12-quantity AAA batters b/c they tried to decode the name (and not realizing that it was an actual battery)…

        The naming “issue” is the same as it was long ago when LR6–>15A–>AA.

      • avatarBuzzy243 says:

        No difference. You can use the CR123 in the Surefire. I’ve used cheap, off-brand, CR123′s in my C3 Centurion for a couple years with no problems.  In general anything that has the words “Surefire” written on it is overpriced. This includes batteries.
        The flashlight nerds at CandlePowerForums.com have more info on flashlights and batteries than you ever wanted to know. If you’re interested in purchasing decent CR123′s without breaking the bank search CPF for “battery shoot out”. 

        I must admit that I have a bit of a flashlight fetish, so I enjoyed this post. I wouldn’t mind some more posts on EDC flashlights and/or weapon lights. 

  2. avatareric says:

    They also sell a pressure pad and replacement battery door if you don’t like the handgun style on/off switch.

    • avatarJSIII says:

      Yep exactly what I am doing with my SIG556 rifle in about another week. Going to see how well this works out, worst case if I do not like it the TLR-1 will go on one of my handguns.

  3. avatarChris Dumm says:

    The short runtime is a puzzler; older Streamlights like mine had inefficient Xenon bulbs, but had the same battery life. Perhaps the C4 LED versions are a bit brighter.

    • avatarcaffeinated says:

      The LEDs do run a good bit brighter. In fact some of them tend to be just a tad too bright for “tactical” use. If you accidentally sweep a white wall at night it can be just as disorienting to the end user.

  4. avatarMoonshine7102 says:

    Wouldn’t mounting the light on the left side of the rifle make it easy to manipulate the switch with your left thumb? Just an idea.

    • avatarcaffeinated says:

      I’ve actually found that if running without a front sight, mounting the light on the top rail helps me to force a good “roll over” support grip to contact the switch. This would probably work pretty well with an offset BUIS system.

      • avatarRopingdown says:

        That’s how I mount my SF X-whatever light, on an offset on the right side. It actually is convenient to my grip thumb (long Samson Evolution forend). I find the SF branded CR123′s last longer than other brands I’ve tried. Good thing, too. laugh. Everything I own, lights, sights, excessive gadgets., is CR123x. They store extremely well, and perform in very cold weather.

  5. avatarLLArms says:

    $190 for the non laser model? Did they have a price hike or something?

  6. avatarNR says:

    No comments about brightness? Lumens? Does that little light have enough “throw” to illuminate targets on a rifle range? Or are you only expecting close range work at this particular competition?

    Personally, I’d rather go with AAs.

    • avatarChainsawWieldingManiac says:

      Even the Sure M300 only puts out 110 lumens or so. I think you may be overestimating how much light output you really need to see the target.

      • avatarJames says:

        BLINDING the target is just as important as seeing the target, if we’re talking about a weaponlight. A nice side effect of this is that the bad guy will be inclined to bring his hands up to shield his eyes, giving you a good view of what’s in (or not in) his hands.

  7. avatarChainsawWieldingManiac says:

    My preference would be the similarly priced Inforce WML – the user interface is a bit more convenient for rifle usage, and it has a blocking lever. Nothing wrong with the TLR-1, though, just not the optimal choice for the price point.

    http://www.inforce-mil.com/wml.php

  8. avatareddie says:

    I’ve been running the TLR-2 on my Mossberg 500 (Lazerlyte tri-rail mount) and it works perfectly. I can work the controls with ease. The good thing about it is I can switch the light from my Mossberg to my Glock in seconds if I have to.

  9. avatarRyan Finn says:

    I’m running the same thing on My AR Nick and it works great. I have it on a Magpul MOE Scout Mount though, it puts it in the perfect position to activate it with my offhand thumb.

  10. avatarAccur81 says:

    More tactical light info would be great on this site!

    The Streamlight TLR1 is rated at 135 lumens, and the TLR1-S is 160 lumens. I think they make good short range rifle lights, and excellent handgun lights. Theres also an HP version (with a hideous large reflector) rated at 200 lumens. I’m not sure why this user didn’t like the runtime. Typical 65 lumen incandescent olde school tactical lights with 2 CR123′s burn out their batteries in about an hour. These Streamlights will burn, albeit at decreasing intensity, for several hours.

  11. avatarjohndoe says:

    aaannnddd why exactly is an AR15 “ill advised” for home defense? there is almost no better home defense gun for a variety of reasons. the only arguement i can think of against it is the typical newbie mistake of “rifle rounds penetrating more drywall than any other gun”. FACTS show otherwise, so if that’s your arguement, you might want to google some drywall tests.

  12. avatarA2Stippling says:

    I use a TLR-1s on each of my handguns (3 x M&P), on my 870 shotgun and my 10/22. I mount a TLR-1HL on my Colt 6920 using a Magpul MOE mount. I’m a lefty and I use the RIGHT side mount right now. However, I completed a low light carbine course last weekend and learned the hard way that having the light at the 3 o’clock was not preferred – just ordered the LEFT side mount today. (When “slicing the pie” I would sometimes shine the light on the wall and get some nice temporary blindness for my efforts)

    The TLR-1HL is crazy bright. It blew away all other lights…except for the TLR-1HP. Now, the HP is supposed to have 200lumen while the HL boasts 630…yet that HP was extremely bright! Mine made the other TLR-1 and other lights look silly…but it was way too much light (IMHO) to be used indoors.

    Agree that this is the perfect 3-gun light and outdoor light. Would I want to be aiming this at light colored walls in my house – no. Hence I chose to perfect my castle with handguns/shotguns…and save the carbine for outdoor protection and zombie hunting. Personal preference.

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