3 Best Pistol Lights for Home Defense [2024 Expert Review] Home / Pistol Anatomy / Rail / Weapon Lights

3 Best Pistol Lights for Home Defense [2024 Expert Review]

Image of Bryan Hill, Founder of Pistol Wizard Bryan Hill / March 21 2024

Imagine you had to respond to a bump in the night with nothing but your underwear and a pistol. How do you tell what's going on and control the situation? A pistol light might be all you have.
Streamlight TLR-1 HL

A pistol light attaches to your pistol's rail.They can ID targets, blind threats, and offer a light source and two-handed shooting at the same time.

Do you need one? How do they compare against flashlights and other options? How do you know which ones are good or not?

On This Page:

  1. Are Pistol Lights Worth It?
  2. Pistol Light vs Handheld?
  3. Pistol Light or Laser?
  4. Pistol Light and Holsters?
  5. What Makes a Good Pistol Light?
  6. How to Use a Pistol Light
  7. 3 Best Pistol Lights
  8. References

Are Pistol Lights Worth It?

If you're carrying a pistol, some sort of light is mandatory. Why?

If it's too dark to ID a target, you must not shoot. Every year, tragedies occur because people fail to carry a light, fail to ID their target, and shoot anyway.

A pistol light lets you get the upper hand at night. If you shine a bright light at someone's eyes at night, you'll blind them for a moment.
A male squinting from a bright light in his face, his hand forward trying to block it out. Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/shang-lumpia/2738405208

Without a light, you'll take much longer to identify:

  • The target
  • What they're holding in their hands
  • What they intend for you
If they mean you harm, they have the advantage. A strong light turns that around, giving you time to ID them and respond appropriately.

A downside with pistol lights is to do this, you have to point your pistol very near your target. If they're harmless and you point the pistol right at them, you could be in serious legal trouble.

It seems like flashlights would be better, right? We'll see.


Pistol Light vs Flashlight?

In a gunfight, handheld lights force you to shoot one-handed. Does that make a WML better? No. You don't have to choose between them. Both is best.

Flashlights are great for everyday use around the house and at work. Some are great right before a life-or-death fight.

The moment you believe a deadly force encounter is imminent, it's time for the WML.

A pistol light shouldn't be used for anything else. You risk legal trouble if you draw a gun and aren't legally justified. Even with proper WML techniques, you're still at risk.

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.


Pistol Light or Laser?

For compact and full-size pistols, you can have both. The best setup is a Crimson Trace laser grip with a pistol light. If you can't get laser grips, the Streamlight TLR-2 HL® G is a pistol light with a green laser built in.

Pocket pistols are a different story. There's not enough room on them to fit a laser grip, and you have to choose either a light or laser. Weapon lights for pocket pistols are much weaker than lights for larger pistols. The iron sights on pocket pistols tend to be awful, too.

So which is it? You have a choice:

  • 2 flashlights + laser, or
  • 1 flashlight + pistol light
How do you carry 2 flashlights? It's easy. Any flashlight 4" or shorter can be clipped onto any clothing: A pocket, your waistband, your collar, etc.

If that doesn't work for you, get the pistol light instead.


Pistol Light and Holsters?

A major issue with pistol lights is finding a holster. However, our recommended holsters are largely compatible with our recommended pistol lights.


What Makes a Good Pistol Light?

Holster Compatibility

If there aren't holsters that fit your gun and light combo, choose a different light.

Most holsters made for weapon lights fit one of two lights:

  • Streamlight TLR-1
  • Surefire X300
Why? Those two lights have dominated the industry for almost 20 years. They've been upgraded many times with new internals, but the same outer body. They've survived the worst torture tests in the lab and the battlefield. They're trusted by professionals. They're here to stay.

If your weapon light is one of those, you're good on holsters. If your light is made to be compatible with holsters for one of those, you're good.

Otherwise, find out what holster you're getting for your light before you buy anything.

Safe Controls

Avoid switches that push inward towards the pistol's frame.

Why? When you push a switch with your left hand, your right hand sometimes flexes the same way. This is known as "muscle co-activation". If your finger is on the trigger, you'll get a negligent discharge (ND). A live example:

This guy got a hot brass casing down his back. As he grabbed for it, his gun hand also clenched. Muscle co-activation is the #1 cause of fatal NDs by police.

Bright

  • Lumens, the overall light output. More lumens is better.
  • Max candela, or max intensity, for beam distance and blinding targets. Above, the light on the right has more lumens, but less candela. In the bottom example, the light on the left could blind the guy that steps out if the user aimed the light. The light on the right easily shows movement in the room, but it can't blind targets. It can only ID them.

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. Get enough candela to blind targets at the range you expect to fight in:

  • 8,700 candela for 4 yds (across a small room or office)
  • 13,500 candela for 5 yds (compact car length)
  • 19,600 candela for 6 yds (large car length)
  • 26,500 candela for 7 yds (garage)
  • 54,500 candela for 10 yds (large room)
  • 122,000 candela for 15 yds (warehouse)
Most civilian self-defense encounters are within 3-7 yds. That's 9-21 ft. For home defense, check your home layout and find how far you're likely to fight.

When it's darker, like in a night burglary, it may take less lux to blind attackers. Test your lights in your own home, in your own expected lighting conditions. Test them in parking lots, gas stations, and other places you're likely to be at night. See how well they ID a person, what they're holding, and whether they cause eye pain.

Your smartphone has a light meter on it. You just have to download an app to use it. Lux is a good one for Android. Luminos Meter is a good one for iOS.

Durable

  • Shock resistant to 1m or more.
  • Water resistance of IPX7 or better.
  • Dust resistance of IP5X or better.

How to Use a Pistol Light

Navigate with a Handheld Light

Navigate with a handheld light in your support hand. Drop it or stow it to get 2 hands on the gun when you need to fire.

Low Ready While Navigating

Let's say a handheld light isn't an option. Now what?

Navigating with a weapon light isn't the same as with a handheld light. For civilians, walking around with your gun drawn brings legal peril. You risk even more prison time if you point your gun at an innocent person.

It gets worse. When navigating under stress, you have more risk of shooting when you shouldn't. This applies even in good lighting. Why? It's the fear of the unknown.

You've drawn your gun because you have a reasonable belief that there's a deadly threat nearby. Death could be around the next corner. It's tempting to be ready to shoot it right away. But if it's an innocent person around that corner?

You shoot them and the person you were is gone, replaced by a version of you who has made a tragic mistake. A mistake you can't take back. You'll be facing PTSD and prison time. Your career and your family may never recover. You may never recover.

Facing death in the dark only cranks up that risk. What do we do about it? One way is using the Low Ready. Low Ready is:

  • Your hands are just below sternum level, 6-12 inches from your chest.
  • Your gun is pointed at a spot on the ground 1-2 yds away.
  • You can bend your wrists more or relax your elbows more to get the gun pointed down.
  • Like the Ready position, this should be relaxed and comfortable. You should be able to hold it for a long time.
Low ready cuts the risk to bystanders. It cuts your legal risk. It's "good guy" body language. It gives you more peripheral vision than with a presented gun. If someone jumps you up close, you have better control of the gun. The cost is around 0.20 seconds to your time on target if you need to shoot.

Avoid Backlighting (Backsplashing)

Don't let your WML light up any walls, trees, or other barriers next to you. If you do, the light bounces back, lighting yourself up. It's like painting a huge target on yourself. Compare backlighting on the left, with not backlighting:



More Info

Here's an overview on how to use the Streamlight TLR-1 and Surefire X300U from Bill Blowers . He's a SWAT officer of over 20 years and a USPSA Master. He has lots experience with these lights and he's more skilled than most.

And some tactics from Aaron Cowan , owner of Sage Dynamics:

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



3 Best Pistol Lights

  1. Best Pistol Light for $100 or Less
  2. Best Pistol Light for $100-$200
  3. Best Pistol Light for over $200

Best Pistol Light for $100 or Less

Best Budget Pistol Light: LA Police Gear SlideRail XWL

The LA Police Gear SlideRail XWL is a discount clone of the Streamlight TLR-1. It doesn't perform as well, but it fits the same holsters.

Unless you have a reason to get this, save up and get the Streamlight TLR-1 HL instead.

Updated hourly

LA Police Gear SlideRail XWL
$69.99
@ LA Police Gear
Compare Prices
800 lumens
11,030 candela (blinds up to 13 ft.)
3.5"L x 1.5"H"
IPX7
PHLster Floodlight (TLR-1)
  • Paddle switch for easy toggle or momentary on.

Best Pistol Light for $100-$200

Best Value Pistol Light: Streamlight TRL-1 HL

The Streamlight TLR-1 HL is cloned by many, and for good reason. It has great holster support, good controls, and good performance. Here's the old version of the TLR-1 HL with 800 lumens vs. the SureFire X300U's 1000 lumens:

Streamlight updated the TLR-1 HL. It has a reported 1,000 lumens, but tests show it's more.

I recommend the Streamlight TLR-1 HL at this price point.

Updated hourly

Streamlight TLR-1 HL
$184.99
$159.99
@ Primary Arms
Compare Prices
1265 lumens
13,070 candela (blinds up to 14 ft.)
3.39"L x 1.47"H"
IPX7
PHLster Floodlight (TLR-1)
  • Paddle switch for easy toggle or momentary on.

Best Pistol Light for over $200

The best pistol light money can buy is the new SureFire X300 Ultra or its Turbo version.

Which is best for you? It depends.

Best for Urban Use: SureFire X300 Ultra


SureFire X300U vs. X300T inside an apartment.

As you can see inside the apartment, you get much more awareness from the Ultra's extra lumens. The Ultra has enough candela to blind at up to 11 ft. That's long enough for most rooms in the apartment. And the Ultra's hotspot is bigger and easier to aim. The Turbo's extra candela isn't as useful in close range.

Best for Rural Use: SureFire X300 Turbo

The Turbo can blind (and ID) at much farther range:

At all distances, the target found himself blinded. This can change with the lighting conditions.

Which is Best for Me?

The Ultra (X300U) is better for urban use. The Turbo (X300T) is better for rural use.

Updated hourly

Surefire X300U-B
$332.00
$0.00
@ Rainier Arms
Compare Prices
Check price @ Amazon
$0.00 @ Rainier Arms
$323.00 @ Primary Arms
$323.00 @ Gritr
$323.00 @ Gritr
$323.00 @ Gritr
$323.00 @ Gritr
$323.00 @ LA Police Gear
$332.00 @ Primary Arms
$332.00 @ Gritr
$332.00 @ Gritr

Surefire X300T-B
$332.00
@ Primary Arms
Compare Prices
Check price @ Amazon
$332.00 @ Primary Arms
$332.00 @ Gritr
$332.00 @ Gritr
1395 lumens 760 lumens
7,733 candela (blinds up to 11 ft.) 56,190 candela (blinds up to 30 ft.)
3.6"L x 1.13"H" 3.6"L x 1.13"H"
IPX7 IPX7
PHLster Floodlight (X300U) PHLster Floodlight (X300U)
  • Rocker switch for toggling on.
  • Push switch for momentary on.
  • Best for urban use.
  • Rocker switch for toggling on.
  • Push switch for momentary on.
  • Best for rural use.

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References

  1. Surefire X300 Turbo VS Human (2023)
  2. SureFire X300 Turbo vs X300 Ultra – Side by Side (2023)
  3. Get a Light: Don’t Shoot Your Loved Ones! (2023)
  4. Surefire X300 Turbo: The King Reclaims the Throne? (2022)
  5. FBI Law Enforcement Officers Killed & Assaulted, Table 4 (2021)
  6. Most Durable Weapon Light? (2021)
  7. Pistol Light Death Match: 10 Go In, 1 Comes Out (2021)
  8. ANSI/PLATO FL 1 Test Report: Modlite PL350-PLHv2 (2021)
  9. Modlite PL350: How Many Lumens? (2021)
  10. Is the Surefire X300 Still King? | 5 Pistol Light Comparisons (2021)
  11. Full Size Pistol Light Shootout (2021)
  12. FBI LEOKA Statistics: 27% of Assaults Occur in the Dark (2021)
  13. RapidTables: Candela to lux calculator (2020)
  14. Luminance Information Is Required for the Accurate Estimation of Contrast in Rapidly Changing Visual Contexts (2020)
  15. Handgun WMLs Are Mandatory (2019)
  16. P&S and InRangeTV Present: Weaponlight Comparison 2019 (2019)
  17. Surefire X300U 1000 Lumen WML Review (2018)
  18. Streamlight TLR1 HL Review (2017)
  19. Effects of absolute luminance and luminance contrast on visual discrimination in low mesopic environments (2016)
  20. Luminance contrast and the visual span during visual target localization (2013)
  21. Basic Vision: An Introduction to Visual Perception (2006)
  22. Integrating neuronal coding into cognitive models: Predicting reaction time distributions (2005)
  23. Handbook of Psychology, Experimental Psychology (Ch. 4) (2003)
  24. FACTORS UNDERLYING VISUAL SEARCH PERFORMANCE (1969)


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