Today’s tactical flashlights complement a personal defense handgun quite nicely. In fact if you carry a gun, you should definitely carry a good flashlight. Seeing and being sure of what you’re shooting at is part of responsible armed self-defense.
Thirty years ago, cutting edge flashlights were SureFire 6p units that put out a whopping 60 lumens of light. Today’s lights of similar size crank out 1000 lumens or more, making them more effective and useful in far more applications.
My affinity for flashlights started in my youth. Call it fear of the dark from childhood or love of signaling the space station from the ground as an adult, I love a good light. While I no longer experience darkness anxiety, I still experience giddiness over good lighting products.
In my world, flashlights get used many times a day. Whether it’s finding something in a dark place or using the light to read something without reading glasses, a good flashlight is indispensable.
And then there’s the role they play in the use-of-force continuum.
For almost ten years, EagleTac (now EagTac) lights rode in my pocket. Reasonably priced (to me), the lights give good value and performance. However in my experience, with hard daily wear, multiple units of three different models all began to fail after a few months or so.
Yes, they have a lifetime warranty…if you ship them to Taiwan (or is it China?) for repairs. I did that once, paying significant shipping costs to do so. Instead of getting back a shiny new product, they replaced some of the guts and they still weren’t 100%. Color me underwhelmed and unimpressed.
Down to my last couple of mostly-functioning EagleTacs, I decided to find replacements. In talking with a fellow flashlight fanatic and firearm trainer Jason Shimmin of Peoria, he turned me onto the Olight Warrior X Pro. My initial impressions were very positive. Then additional pre-purchase research also led me to the Fenix TK16.
In the end, each made it into my hands for about $100 delivered.
Yes, a C-note for a lighting tool is real money. On the other hand, these are real lights, not the alkaline battery-powered toys found in big box hardware stores.
First up, both lights use a relatively new (to me) 21700 size lithium rechargeable battery. The bigger cell provides a lot of current to generate a lot of light, and they’ll run quite a while on a charge. Don’t be surprised to see this 21700 cell become the new norm in high-performance lights.
The other thing they share: scalloped bezels for DNA core-sampling of bad guys’ tissue when necessary. These are both smoother and more rounded than I’m used to, but sharper bezels (like those on EagleTacs) wear holes in your pants. Also, as we’re comparing/contrasting the two, Mr. Fenix has a smaller body and is a smidgen lighter in weight than the Olight.
Here are the pros and cons of each of the lights after carrying them in opposing rear pockets for a couple of weeks.
A soft touch of the tail switch gives 300 lumens and a harder press gets you 2250 lumens for a couple of minutes before it rolls back to about 1000 to avoid overheating. It’s super easy to recharge with the proprietary Olight magnetic cap. I love that. It also vibrates momentarily upon activation when the battery falls to 30% capacity. Love, part II.
Criticisms: It’s a bit on the large side and heavy for a pocket light…to put it charitably. I’m used to carrying fairly big flashlights, but not everyone wants this much bulk clipped in their pocket, especially if you wear jeans. (Ahem, is that a flashlight in your pocket?) Ladies are not going to want to put this monster in their purses, either.
Another gripe: the beam is also a great deal tighter than I prefer.
But here’s the biggest complaint, one that borders on a deal-killer for tactical use. If you don’t hold your momentary press long enough (about a second) you may enter into the “hard” stay-on mode that requires a second press to extinguish the light.
When this failure to turn off happens, no matter what you’re trying to do, the Olight harshly resets your OODA loop. That would be no bueno in a gun fight, both from the distraction angle and how lights can become bullet magnets.
The first thing everyone notices is how the TK16 has two buttons on its tail cap, one large and one small one. The small one gives instant access to a 3100 lumen strobe. That’s a “WHOA!” moment the first time you fire it up, especially indoors. It can disorient some aggressors and can allegedly even cause seizures in some people. I love having that option instantly available.
The much larger button, with a light press serves a momentary activation switch. When conditions require a LOT of light, there are up to 3100 lumens inside just waiting for you to set them free. A harder press gets you into a “hard” on/off mode. When the light is in hard on mode, the smaller switch lets you select from five brightness levels. Or hold the small button down and it will shift into strobe mode.
Criticisms: Again, it’s a little on the large side, but it’s smaller than the Olight. And it has some heft. Another criticism: In a small room with light colored walls in the dark, you’re liable to blind yourself with light splashing back if you’re not judicious in applying that strobe.
In everyday carry use, if you press the wrong button by mistake (you can tell the difference by feel due to the different sizes of the buttons), like in a dark restaurant trying to read the menu, you’ll become the center of attention. In this scenario there is a bright spot (pun intended): your temporary blindness will preclude noticing the annoyed looks from your neighbors. Also, one almost needs two hands to switch brightness modes, but it’s workable.
The bottom line: I know a hundred bucks for a flashlight represents big-time money for most of us. If you have the coin and you don’t mind a larger-bodied flashlight, you likely won’t be disappointed with the TK16. You might even be dazzled with it. Literally. It has earned its spot as my primary carry light now.
As for the Olight: It’s relegated to backup status for the time being.