What I Learned about Flashlights at a Low Light Pistol Class
It’s also an activity that hugely benefits from having a flashlight ideally configured for the task. Here are my top take-aways from the class, based on my own experience and observing the other students; A specialized light for the task is ideal. A common flashlight that might be fine for walking the dogs or finding the keys we dropped isn’t going to cut it. Because of the one-hand hold, the light’s ergonomics (and where the switch is located) is vitally important. Key take-away: a tailcap with a single switch that can be easily reached and intuitively operated with the thumb is the way to roll.
The need for precise control of on/off operation. We didn’t just turn the lights on and leave them on, as that would be a really bad idea if the other guy is tracking our movement. Being able to quickly paint the target with light to place a few rounds, then immediately turn the light off to move is an important fundamental. It was during these drills that I learned having a light with an easy-to-control momentary function with a partial press is important. Just as important, the switch should not be easily latched (clicked) to constant-on, because when we need it off, we need it off NOW.
Tiny lights are tough to use. Lights much shorter than four inches become difficult to properly grip and control. A compact EDC light is good, but there are limits to what is practical for this activity. Depending on hand size, the sweet spot is between four and five inches in overall length, plus or minus a quarter inch or so.
Programmable lights suck for this task. For this activity, when the switch is pressed, maximum output is needed. Not firefly mode. Not strobe. Not Nordic SOS mode. I lost count of how times I saw the programmable lights in attendance activate in some mode other than all the lumens, right now. When we’re under the gun, a single output light 100% guarantees we get all the lumens, all the time.
Flashlights get dropped. We ran drills that required clearing pistol malfunctions and changing magazines with the light off. Needing both hands free for these tasks, people struggled getting flashlights in and out of pockets quickly. If they tried holding the light in-hand or under an arm, the light would frequently hit the floor. My flashlights had lanyards, which allowed me to conduct these drills with two free hands while positively retaining the light, and quickly getting back in action. My lanyard design has evolved based on what I learned at the class and since.
Lumens are important, but candela is king. As we increased the distance from the target, the amount of light dropped off rapidly. What was fine at 21 feet became a struggle at 60 feet. At longer distances, a wide beam became a disadvantage. A more focused beam (high candela) is a definite advantage when we need to see the target (or the bad guy) at longer distances. At all distances, candela is the measure of brightness, not lumens.
But I think the most important take-away from the experience is this simple fact:
A flashlight that is perfect for shooting targets with pistols in the dark is also perfect for one’s unarmed personal safety.
Being able to quickly, intuitively, and without fuss light up the dark and see what might be there is incredibly useful for maintaining situational awareness.
Whether we carry weapons for self-defense or not, a properly configured flashlight can be a huge advantage for ensuring our personal security when out and about in low-light spaces.
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