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5 Best EDC Flashlights of 2021 to Light up Your Life

Image of Bryan Hill, Founder of Pistol Wizard Bryan Hill / October 30 2021

Flashlights are the most underrated self defense tool. Modern flashlights are powerful enough to blind attackers long enough to give you the edge, even in daylight.


In this guide, we'll cover what makes a good EDC flashlight, flashlights vs. pistol lights and lasers, and use science to show how flashlights (or pistol lights) can make the difference in a self defense shooting.

On this Page:

  1. Why Carry a Light?
  2. Flashlights vs. Pistol Lights
  3. What Makes a Good Flashlight?
  4. What Makes a Good Light?
  5. How to Use a Flashlight in Self-defense?
  6. 5 Best Rechargeable EDC Flashlights

Why Carry a Light?

Defensive Edge

Real gunfights last a few seconds, and whoever gets the first good hit usually wins. Being just 0.10 faster than your attacker could be the difference in coming out unscathed, or getting maimed or killed.

Studies have shown that reaction times increase by up to 0.25 sec and search times increase by up to 0.88 sec when going from well-lit (photopic) to dim (mesopic) lighting. And these experiments are much more simple than a gunfight.

When it's too dark, iron sights are slow to acquire. You can't ID your target or what it's doing with its hands. But this also happens while a powerful light is shined in your eyes.

A strong light wipes out the disadvantages of darkness and turns it upon your attacker.

If a predator is considering you as a target, and you respond with a powerful light, that's a clear signal you aren't the easy prey they thought you were. Early use of a light when dealing with unknown contacts can prevent a deadly fight.

Safety

When you carry a pistol, or use one for home defense, a light is a safety feature. Why? If it's too dark to identify a target, you must not shoot.

Every year, there are cases of a homeowner shooting at a dark shape in the night, only to realize it was a family member. Don't be that guy. ID your targets with a light before you choose to shoot.

Quality of Life

Flashlights are handy to have on hand. You'll be amazed at how often you use them once you start carrying them. An EDC flashlight is one you can carry with you all the time, everyday, without any discomfort.


Handheld vs. Weapon-Mounted Lights

In a gunfight, handheld lights force you to shoot one-handed. Does that make a weapon-mounted light (WML) better? Not exactly...

Flashlights are outstanding for everyday use around the house, at work, etc., and before a deadly encounter: Searching, IDing an unknown contact, or using the light to control or disorient a non-deadly threat.

The moment you believe a deadly force encounter is immiment, it's time for the WML. They shouldn't be used for anything else. Even if you use proper WML techniques, you risk legal trouble using a WML if you aren't legally justified in drawing a firearm.

Two is one, and one is none. If one light goes dead, the other one ensures you have light when you need it most. Carry a handheld, and put a WML on your pistol.

What Makes a Good Flashlight?

Tailcap Switch

Tailcap switches. On the left is an exposed switch, and on the right is a shrouded switch.

The tailcap switch is located on the end opposite of the light emitter. Nearly all defensive light techniques require a tailcap switch to balance fast use with retention grip on the light.

It must have a momentary-on or pressure switch feature, so you can use defensive light techniques. If a light is left on beyond when it's needed, it gives your position away to any attackers, or can light up the wrong stuff.

The switch must not accidentally turn on when you sit down. When accidentally on for too long, powerful lights can burn holes in clothes, purses, or seating.

How do lights prevent this? Activation buttons:

  • Are recessed in the light
  • Have a protective shroud around it (pictured above, right)
  • Take some effort to press (5-10 lb.)

Here's a quick test: Take your light and push its tailcap against a soft part of your body, like your waist (except the hip bones). Then push its tailcap against the back of your desk seat and car seat (the part where your back touches it). See how hard you can press it without it turning on.

If the light doesn't turn on, you have a light you can carry EDC without having to fear accidental activation. Just make sure the light isn't carried where it will press into something hard, like your hip bones.

Some defensive light techniques, like palm activation, need an exposed button:

However, palm activation isn't as useful if you have a weapon light.

More importantly, palm activation has some applications for military or law enforcement, but not so much for civilians. Why? Civilian self defense is a much different context. Palm activation frees up your fingers for reloads and clearing jams, but for civilians, reloading in a gunfight is extremely rare - like 1 in 2,500.

A recessed button is best for most EDC flashlights, but there are some good lights with exposed buttons, as you'll see below.

Convenient Size

What's convenient depends on how you carry it:
  • Keychain: 2.5" long x 0.6" wide (size of 1 AA battery)
  • Pocket: 4" long x 0.7" wide (a roll of pennies)
  • Belt holster: 5.5" long x 1" wide (a taller roll of quarters)
  • Purse: Between pocket and belt holster sizes, depending on purse size.

Side/Admin Button

Tailcap switch

This turns the light on a lower setting than the tailcap switch, for use around the house, at the office, etc. It should be easy to reach, but hard to accidentally press.

It's nice to have. A light with no side switch can still be good. A light with no tailcap switch isn't worthy of defensive use unless it's your one and only option.

Pocket Clip

Flashlight pocket clip

A pocket clip is great for pocket or purse carry. It must have a strong grip, and the metal should be strong enough to not get bent out of shape.

No Lanyard

Flashlight lanyard

Lanyards may seem convenient, but they're a liability for a defensive flashlight. They can get caught on your gun or other stuff while clearing jams. If you have to clear a jam while holding a flashlight, use a one-handed technique if you have to keep using the light.

Otherwise, stow the light, or transfer it to your bottom two fingers, then use your index finger, middle finger, and thumb for racking the slide and/or reloading.

No Strobe

Unless you've been trained by Ken Good or one of his students, it's unlikely a strobe function will be worth it in real self-defense scenarios.

Why? For one, it doesn't disorient attackers as well as a powerful light constantly in their face.

The strobe also works both ways, and limits the info you have on your attacker(s) each time it cuts off. It's often better to have a powerful light constantly on your attacker(s), that you can cut on or off exactly when you want it.

If a flashlight has a strobe function, it should be easy to avoid or disable. If strobe easily comes on (like after holding the tailcap switch on for a few seconds, or on a button you can easily mash at the same time as the main tailcap switch), that flashlight is not for defensive use.

Unfortunately, that rules out some Fenix lights that otherwise would have made the list.

What Makes a Good Light?

These apply to both flashlights and WMLs:
  • Lumens, the overall light output. More lumens is better.
  • Max candela, or max intensity, for beam distance and blinding targets. The light on the right has more lumens, but less candela. In the bottom example, where the guy steps out, the light on the left could blind him (if the user aimed the light), whereas the light on the right can only ID targets.
  • Momentary-On (AKA Pressure) Switch. It must be quick and easy to reach. This is a must-have for defensive use.
  • Shock resistant to 1m or more.
  • Water resistance of IPX7 or better.
  • Dust resistance of IP5X or better.

Lux and blinding targets: Lux is candela divided by distance squared. In twilight lighting, it takes around 650 lux to cause pain when shined in the eyes, blinding them for a moment and causing a lingering afterimage of the light. If you have to choose between lumens and candela, ensure you have enough candela to blind targets at your expected engagement distances. For civilians, that means at least:

  • 4,900 candela for 3 yds
  • 13,500 candela for 5 yds
  • 26,500 candela for 7 yds
  • 54,500 candela for 10 yds
  • 122,000 candela for 15 yds
Most civilian self-defense encounters are within 3-7 yds. For home defense, check your home layout and find the longest distances you're likely to engage.

If it's darker, like in a night burglary, it may take less lux to blind attackers. Test out your lights in your own home, in your own expected lighting conditions, to see how well they ID a person, what they're holding, and whether they impair that person's vision, cause eye pain, etc. Also test them out in a parking lot, or other urban area at night.

How to Use a Flashlight in Self-defense?

Here's an overview from Aaron Cowan , owner of Sage Dynamics:


And highlights from a 16-hour low-light course by Zdeněk Charvát of Hard Task CZ:

These videos will get you started on home practice, but take a low-light course from a local trainer when you can to ensure you're doing the techniques right.


5 Best Rechargeable EDC Flashlights

The best EDC flashlight depends on what you're wearing. If you're in sports wear or medical scrubs, a 2" keychain light might be all you can carry. For most other outfits, a 4" EDC flashlight is doable, and for those who always have a purse, cargo pants, jacket, or belt holster, a 5" tactical light is the right choice.
  1. Best EDC Keychain Flashlight (2")
  2. Best EDC Flashlight (4")
  3. Best Rechargeable Tactical Flashlight (5")

Best EDC Keychain Flashlight (2")

When you have no pockets, the SureFire Sidekick is your backup. It'll fit right in with your car and home keys, (and maybe your OC spray, too) and it's rechargeable.

Its activation switch isn't ideal for defensive use, but it's much better than the twist-on activation found on most keychain lights. And unlike competitors, the Sidekick's activation button is recessed, so it won't turn on accidentally.

Updated hourly

SureFire Sidekick
$27.00
@ MidwayUSA
Compare Prices
300 lumens
1100 (blinds up to 4.25 ft.) candela
2.5"L x 0.6"W
0.13 oz
Side
  • Great size if you can't carry any other light.
  • No water, dust, or impact resistance.
  • Side switch has no momentary-on mode, not ideal for defensive use.


Best EDC Flashlight (4")

The Streamlight Macrostream is rechargeable and small enough to fit comfortably in most pockets and purses, making it easy to carry all day, every day. The tailcap is somewhat exposed, but not enough to accidentally activate if it presses against something soft. Carry it in a place where the tailcap won't get pressed by your hip bone or something hard while sitting, or it may turn on.

The SureFire Stiletto is more powerful and versatile, with both a tailcap switch for defensive use and side buttons for daily tasks. What's the catch? It's as wide as two Macrostreams laid side by side, and costs more than twice as much. It also uses a non-replacable rechargable battery, but this isn't an issue unless you're looking for a flashlight you want to heavily use for over 5 years.

Which is right for you? Get the Stiletto if you can afford the price and fit it in your daily attire. If you have a TV remote with similar dimensions, see if you can fit that in your pocket, purse, etc. before you buy.

Updated hourly

Surefire Stiletto
$116.00
@ GrabAGun
Compare Prices

Streamlight Macrostream
$58.19
$48.89
@ GrabAGun
Compare Prices
650 lumens 500 lumens
4194 (blinds up to 8.33 ft.) candela 2000 (blinds up to 5.75 ft.) candela
4.5"L x 1.7"W x 0.9"D 4.5"L x 0.8"W
0.18 oz 0.14 oz
Tail, Side Tail
IPX7 IPX4
1m
  • Handy for daily tasks and self-defense.
  • On-switches are recessed enough to not turn on while seated.
  • Pocket clip can't be reversed.
  • Not rated for impact resistance.
  • Proprietary battery can't be replaced.
  • Tailcap design prevents most types of accidental activation.


Best Rechargeable Tactical Flashlight (5")

These are awesome rechargeable lights, made to go on a belt holster, cargo pants pockets, jacket pockets, and in medium or larger purses. They won't fit with every outfit in your wardobe, but when they do, they put all other lights to shame. When you can't carry them, keep them on the nightstand for home defense.

The Streamlight Protac HL-X is the toughest tactical flashlight for under $100. However, its bulk means it'll fit comfortably only in a cargo pocket, jacket pocket, or a purse. If those options don't fit your everyday wardrobe, the HL-X will spend most its time on your nightstand.

The Modlite PLH v2 is the top defensive light on the market today. The downside, other than cost, is that it's not great for mundane tasks: They have only one switch and one mode: TURBO. If you're considering carrying this all day, keep a 4" EDC light around for when you drop something under your desk or car seat.

Updated hourly

Streamlight Protac HL-X
$92.49
$86.79
@ GrabAGun
Compare Prices

Modlite PLHv2 (18650)
Compare Prices
1000 lumens 1350 lumens
27600 (blinds up to 21 ft.) candela 54000 (blinds up to 30 ft.) candela
5.4"L x 1"W (body) 1.4"W (head) 5.5"L x 1.19"W
0.43 oz 0.38 oz
Tail Tail
IPX8 IPX8
IP6X
2m 2m
  • Great value.
  • High and low mode for balancing defensive and utility use.
  • Head of the light is bigger, making it fit fewer pants pockets.
  • Ultimate flashlight power!
  • Compatible with SureFire accessories (pocket clips, etc.).
  • No side switch and only one brightness mode.
  • Can be too bright for daily tasks.

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References

  1. Luminance Information Is Required for the Accurate Estimation of Contrast in Rapidly Changing Visual Contexts (2020)
  2. John Correia: Lessons Learned from Watching 20,000 Gunfights (2019)
  3. Rōnin (Low-Light Pistol) Course -Arcadia, CA (2018)
  4. My 'Vanishing Victim' Drill using a Flashlight and Gun (2016)
  5. Effects of absolute luminance and luminance contrast on visual discrimination in low mesopic environments (2016)
  6. Fixation durations in scene viewing: Modeling the effects of local image features, oculomotor parameters, and task (2016)
  7. Understanding Candela, Tactical Flashlight Brightness & Beam Distance (2015)
  8. Luminance contrast and the visual span during visual target localization (2012)
  9. Characterising mesopic spectral sensitivity from reaction times (2006)
  10. Basic Vision: An Introduction to Visual Perception (2006)
  11. Integrating neuronal coding into cognitive models: Predicting reaction time distributions (2005)
  12. Handbook of Psychology, Experimental Psychology (Ch. 4) (2003)
  13. Evaluating Light Source Efficacy under Mesopic Conditions Using Reaction Times (1997)
  14. FACTORS UNDERLYING VISUAL SEARCH PERFORMANCE (1969)
  15. Loss of Vision from High Intensity Light (1966)


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