2 Best Pistol Lights for IDing Targets [2021 Expert Review] Home / Pistol Anatomy / Rail / Weapon Lights

2 Best Pistol Lights for IDing Targets [2021 Expert Review]

Image of Bryan Hill, Founder of Pistol Wizard Bryan Hill / July 09 2021

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.

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. 2 Best Pistol Lights

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 use a light, fail to ID their target, and shoot anyway.

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 ID the target, what they're holding in their hands, and 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 outstanding for everyday use around the house, at work, etc.

The moment you believe a deadly force encounter is immiment, it's time for the WML.
A pistol light 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.

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 rail-mounted lights for compact and 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. Surefire makes a great keychain light, and Streamlight has a convenient pocket light you can carry everyday, no problem.

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.

Safe Controls

Momentary-On Switch. It must be quick and easy to reach. This is a must-have for defensive use.

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.


  • 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, 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.

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. 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 the attacker is in lower light conditions, like a night burglary, it will take less lux to blind them.


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

How to Use a Pistol Light

Here's an overview on how to use the switches on the Streamlight TLR-1 and Surefire X300U from Bill Blowers , a SWAT officer of over 20 years and a USPSA Master.

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

2 Best Pistol Lights

The best gun light for your pistol is a close call. Many rate the Surefire X300U-B as the best, but the Streamlight TLR-1 HL is very close, and costs much less.

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  1. Luminance Information Is Required for the Accurate Estimation of Contrast in Rapidly Changing Visual Contexts (2020)
  2. Handgun WMLs Are Mandatory (2019)
  3. P&S and InRangeTV Present: Weaponlight Comparison 2019 (2019)
  4. Surefire X300U 1000 Lumen WML Review (2018)
  5. Streamlight TLR1 HL Review (2017)
  6. Effects of absolute luminance and luminance contrast on visual discrimination in low mesopic environments (2016)
  7. Luminance contrast and the visual span during visual target localization (2013)
  8. Basic Vision: An Introduction to Visual Perception (2006)
  9. Integrating neuronal coding into cognitive models: Predicting reaction time distributions (2005)
  10. Handbook of Psychology, Experimental Psychology (Ch. 4) (2003)