Clint Smith said, “You’ve gotta have a light, because shooting in the dark sucks.” I’ll sidestep the whole ‘weapon mounted’ vs. ‘handheld’ tactical light debate and just cut to the chase: the pricey Streamlight TLR-2 HL weapon-mounted light is incredibly bright and rugged, and it even includes a red laser. If it has one flaw, it’s that the LED emitter might actually be too bright for some uses. But I think you’ll manage with it anyway . . .
I’ve had a Streamlight TLR-1 weapon light (the little one, on the right) for about three years. It spends its days attached to whatever Big Gun sits ready and loaded in my gun safe against the possibility that things might go All Stinky Bad in the middle of the night.
But I recently sent the old TLR-1 to the bullpen for a while, because Streamlight sent us a new TLR-2 HL for testing. It’s taken me a while (sorry, Streamlight!) but I’ve mounted it to rifles, shotguns, handguns and even an Airsoft rifle, and fired it in all kinds of lighting conditions at ranges out to more than 75 yards.
Fiat Lux. And lots of it.
The heart of the TLR-2 HL is a Cree C4 LED emitter, powered by two CR-123 lithium batteries and pumping out a literally dazzling 630 lumens. Unlike old Tungsten-filament Xenon bulbs which cooked themselves or broke their filaments under recoil, modern LED emitters are impervious to recoil and have service lifespans measured in tens of thousands of hours. The TLR-2 HL LED promises to last for 50,000 hours, which would take more than five years and $60,000 worth of batteries if you really wanted to test it.
There are a handful of brighter weapon lights out there (and they’re only slightly brighter) but they can’t touch the TLR-2 HL’s size and weight. It measures 3.4″ long, 1.5″ wide, and 1.8″ tall and weighs a bit under 5 ounces.
Indoors, those 630 lumens turn night into garishly illuminated day. If you find yourself in a situation like this one, you’ll be able to give the police a very detailed description of what any intruder looked like before he shit his pants and ran like hell. They’ll probably find him at an ophthalmologist’s office the next morning, being treated for retinal burns. The 650nm red laser dot is brilliantly visible to the naked eye in low-light conditions, but the spotlight saturated my camera’s sensor so it doesn’t show up in the photos.
I don’t have a device that measures lumens, so I compared the Streamlight against another tactical light of known brightness, the 650-lumen Powertac Warrior. My unaided eye wasn’t able to detect any difference in brightness between the two, and I’m confident the TLR-2 cranks out about as many lumens as it promises. It’s way brighter than the previous-generation TLR-1, as it should be.
The TLR-2 has a refractive lens that focuses the central beam for a longer throw. There are plenty of photons to work with, so it still provides excellent splash illumination as the picture shows.
The TLR-2’s light and laser functions are all controlled by the ambidextrous paddle and a protected 3-way toggle switch. The paddle rocks counterclockwise for a momentary on/off and detents clockwise for constant-on illumination. There are no intermediate power settings, but a quick double-tap on the momentary paddle will activate the strobe effect. The strobe can be disabled if it bugs you.
The partly-shielded toggle switch lets you select between light, laser or combination settings. The toggle is fairly stubby and fairly stiff to operate (no phallic jokes, please) and there’s no way to accidentally switch settings when you’re groping for the paddle in the dead of night. I’m not sure why the combo setting isn’t in the middle, though.
The ‘laser only’ setting probably won’t get much use. It’s not very helpful in outdoor daylight shooting, because like most red lasers it’s only really visible out to about 10 or 15 yards in full daylight. It works great at night, however. The light is bright enough to allow accurate shooting at extended ranges in complete darkness, and the laser helps you do it accurately as long as you’re at a location where you can do so safely.
Night shooting isn’t always a good idea. In many locations it’s unsafe, and in many others it’s illegal. You’ve got to be really dialed in for safety, because the four rules of gun safety remain in effect 24/7. The final rule, “know your target and what’s behind it” requires a lot more effort after the sun goes down.
Once you’ve scouted out your firing range and your backstop, however, the TLR-2 lets you walk it back to beyond 75 yards and still hit your reasonably-sized target with a rifle or carbine. I didn’t get to test the TLR-2 on an actual rifle at night, but we did clamp it to a 500 fps airsoft ‘sniper rifle’ and shot it off a buddy’s deck in full darkness. Tin cans were (slightly dented) toast out to 35 yards, and larger paint buckets were easy hits out to about 75 yards. We could identify and engage farther targets using the light and laser with the 4x scope on the airsoft gun, but it didn’t have the accuracy or the velocity to hit them consistently.
Rapidly engaging the closer targets was even more fun with a full-auto airsoft M4 pellet hose, and something I’ll probably never get to try with a real M4.
I’m making an educated guess, but based on this airsoft testing I think a careful varmint or predator hunter could use the TLR-2 HL to illuminate and take game out to 100 yards in places where it’s safe and legal.
The TLR-2 HL also works brilliantly (clever, huh?) at closer ranges. When Joe Grine and I went camping last month, I mounted it to my Ruger P95 for a little night shooting with a real gun. With the laser and light activated, we were consistently riddling tin cans at 25 yards in full darkness, which is almost as well as we could do in daylight. The laser helps a lot.
The Streamlight is powered by tandem CR-123 batteries, clamped securely inside the aluminum main housing. Streamlight advertises a 1.25 hour runtime for the main light, which I haven’t actually tested using a timer. I’m sure I’ve got about an hour’s use out of the included batteries, which I’ve been running for at least three months of intermittent use including airsoft and camping testing.
That’s pretty good battery life for a light of this brightness. You won’t find yourself using this weapon-mounted light as a utility flashlight, because anywhere you point it will have a gun pointed at it also; fellow shooters don’t tend to like that.
The TLR-2 has a larger heat sink than the less-bright TLR-1 and also has small cooling rings built into the bezel, but they can only keep the unit at a comfortable operating temperature for 5-10 minutes of constant or nearly-constant activation. After that it becomes uncomfortable to touch. Streamlight promises that this won’t damage the unit, but you won’t want to leave it on for half an hour.
The battery cover is removable without tools, and can be replaced with an optional cover (available from Streamlight) that’s wired for a remote on/off switch. I didn’t find that I really needed a remote switch, since the paddle switch sits right under your support-hand thumb when you attach it at the 9:00 position on a quad rail like this. (And stay tuned for a review of the M&M Industries’ M-10 carbine, shown here.)
Like earlier TLR’s, this one uses Streamlight’s excellent spring-loaded 1913 rail clamp and no-tool-necessary tightening screw. It mounts and unmounts securely and easily, and without having to put any part of your hand forward of the muzzle of the long gun or handgun it’s mounted to.
If you haven’t used one before, you simply loosen the captive screw using your fingers or a coin/cartridge case/screwdriver/whatever, and press in on it to open the 1913 rail clamp. Position the light on your rail, release the screw, and re-tighten it. You’re done, and it’s not going anywhere. It comes with several replaceable rail inserts which let you custom-fit it to Glock, S&W and Beretta rails as well as standard Picatinny rails.
HK owners are still screwed, but what’s new about that?
The TLR-2 HL is hella strong. The main body is machined aluminum (with a high-impact plastic laser module), the lens is shatterproof, the mounting clamp is bomb-proof, and the whole unit is IXP4 water resistant.
I like to hear ‘waterproof to x meters’ instead of ‘water resistant’ but an IXP4 rating actually means something. Technically it means that water splashing against the unit for five minutes, at a rate of ten liters per minute, will not infiltrate the unit and will have absolutely no effect on its operation. This is far more protection than IXP 1 through 3, which are only proof against dripping or spraying water at much lower volumes.
I didn’t put the TLR-2 HL to any purposeful abuse, but I took it camping and shooting in the drizzle and the baking sun. It still looks and functions as brand-new, which is the same as my years-old TLR-1 which I originally purchased for its ruggedness.
It’s compact, it’s rugged, it’s rainproof and it’s insanely bright. About the only point of criticism is that it’s fairly expensive: the MSRP is about $350, but street price is as low as $260. That ain’t chump change either way, but the Streamlight ‘HL’ series (for ‘High Lumen’) offer at least three times the brightness of earlier Streamlight weapon lights.
If you need its features and can afford it, the TLR-2 HL is strongly recommended. And if you crave the brightness and rugged construction but don’t like lasers, the TLR-1 HL gives you all the lumens for half the money.
Ratings (out of five stars)
Brightness * * * * *
You’ve got to go really big and heavy to find any kind of tactical light with significantly more power than this one. Just don’t dazzle yourself indoors with it.
Features * * * * 1/2
A green laser would increase daytime visibility. Streamlight has a green laser TLR-2, but the spotlight is only 1/2 as bright as the HL.
Ergonomics * * * * *
Streamlight kept the controls simple and right where you want them. Anything more would be too busy and too confusing for stressful use.
Mounting * * * * *
I prefer the Streamlight mounting clamp and screw to any other rail attachment interface I’ve ever used; I even wish they’d license it for scope mounts. It connects and disconnects with one hand without tools, and it can’t catch on straps or gear like QD levers can.
Ruggedness * * * *
Probably impervious to physical abuse, but I haven’t abused it enough to verify that fifth star.
Overall Rating * * * * *
Now that’s a weapon light. Pricey, though.
Manufacturer’s link here.