Affiliate Disclosure

Stylized i character

None of our reviews are sponsored. We earn a commission when you purchase items through our links.

The Best Tactical Flashlight

Our team scoured reviews and worked with service personnel to narrow down the essential features you need in a reliable flashlight. The best tactical flashlight for under $100 is the extra-bright Klarus – XT11GT, which gives you instant access to two output levels and also charges with a standard Micro-USB cable. If you want a smaller light, the Acebeam – EC35 can also work as a back-up charger for your phone, or choose the new Foursevens – Quark for an even slimmer package. If you want some extra gadgetry in your flashlight, the bargain-priced Lumintop – FW3A features three emitters and a driver design that will crank out as much power as can be contained in such a compact package.

Our Top Choices

Best Overall


Klarus

XT11GT

See Price at Amazon

Best Bonus Features


Acebeam

EC35 Gen II

See Price at Battery Junction

Premium Quality


Foursevens

Quark QK16L MKIII

See Price at Prometheus Lights

Brightest Output


Lumintop

FW3A

See Price at Amazon

Our team scoured reviews and worked with service personnel to narrow down the essential features you need in a reliable flashlight. The best tactical flashlight for under $100 is the extra-bright Klarus – XT11GT, which gives you instant access to two output levels and also charges with a standard Micro-USB cable. If you want a smaller light, the Acebeam – EC35 can also work as a back-up charger for your phone, or choose the new Foursevens – Quark for an even slimmer package. If you want some extra gadgetry in your flashlight, the bargain-priced Lumintop – FW3A features three emitters and a driver design that will crank out as much power as can be contained in such a compact package.

How we selected flashlights to test:

When we picked a set of lights for our initial review of rechargeable flashlights in 2017, we chose designs that would suit a broad audience. We focused on more affordable lights and ranked for tint and long run times rather than features that will stand out to someone carrying a duty light or trying to stay safe in a dark alley.

After we checked the latest flashlight recommendations from the flashlight nerds — budgetlightforum.com, candlepowerforums.com and flashlight sub-Reddits — we also checked in with the tactically minded enthusiasts on YouTube and at gear-oriented hangouts like usualsuspect.net. Handgun and duty forums mostly focused on the big-name distributors that also make weaponlights, and when we talked with friends who carry a light for security, border patrol and sheriff duty, we learned that they mostly picked whatever was available at their favorite ranges or gun shops.

We consulted training materials from top unarmed combat instructors like Michael Janich and found that the most common recommendation was not to pick the biggest flashlight or the light with the sharpest “strike bezel,” but to pick a light you can carry with you every day and fully incorporate into your training. The 6-D-Cell Maglights of last century might still work as a bludgeon, but they’re not tactical in any way that matters.

There are so many excellent lights available at such low prices, we set a budget of $100 for each light but rarely exceeded $60. This eliminated some well-known brands like Surefire and bleeding-edge semi-custom designs like the HDS Rotary and TorchLAB BOSS, but we’re glad we didn’t pass over any of the excellent budget-friendly lights we did find.

After compiling the list of important features below, we compared all of the top lights recommended by enthusiast reviewers to see which models best fit the criteria, and we assessed availability and overall popularity before buying the top candidates.

Important features to consider

A forward-clicky tail switch: If you ever want to use your light for signalling or to make momentary flashes, this style of switch will activate the light with a momentary press. Reverse-clicky switches require a full press and release to get output. There are advantages with each, but most people who want an always-ready light prefer the forward-clicky type.

Instant access to maximum output: Training programs all encourage you to make full use of the intense output from a tactical LED flashlight to keep the upper hand in an engagement. If you have to fumble through four settings to get the output you want, you’ll lose crucial seconds and maybe even your own confidence.

Instant access to strobe: If you want to disorient someone, a bright, flashing light in the face will do the trick nicely. Our expert from border patrol says he doesn’t prioritize a strobe mode when buying a light, but he’s been thankful he had it on a few occasions. People who aren’t expecting to use a light in a confrontation, on the other hand, will want to find a light that never forces you to cycle through a strobe mode when changing output levels.

Instant access to dim output: Effective use of a flashlight sometimes means getting a peek in a corner or under a table without giving away your position or reducing your adapted night vision. “Moonlight mode” or “firefly mode” (ideally less than 1 lumen) on a flashlight gives you just enough light to see up close, and many lights give you easy access so you don’t need to flip through other modes to get there. One of our experts says he uses low modes far more than the others when tracking on dirt trails.

Battery types

Battery Type: While it can be very helpful to have a light that accepts common AA-type alkaline or nickle rechargeable cells, this limits the output of your light and the run time. Newer LED emitters and drive circuits can give you very useful output from these cells, but if you want the brightest lights the new standard is lithium-ion chemistry. These cells come in many shapes and sizes, but the most common is an “18650” (18 mm diameter by 65.0 mm long) package. Our favorite emergency battery charger, the easy-to-carry Folomov A1, even lets you use these lithium-ion flashlight batteries to charge a phone.

Emitter type and tint: There are a few big manufacturers of flashlight LED emitters, and by far the most popular is Cree. If you want a high lumen output for a good price, you’re often looking at Cree – XP-L lights that have a blue-green tint. If you care more about seeing true color under your flashlights (yes, some people are tint snobs), a few flashlight makers are using carefully selected emitters. Nichia and SST are two manufacturers that sell affordable emitters with good color rendering index ratings, but you’ll almost always sacrifice some efficiency and peak output to get that perk.

Built-in charging: Since most of us have adopted a daily charging routine and have access to USB-compatible charging ports nearly everywhere, flashlight makers have started adapting this system for charging cells without having to take them out of the light. If you’ve got a team of people who all need fresh batteries every day for duty lights this might be a silly way to charge them, but for most people it’s a very convenient way to keep a flashlight ready.

Tail standing and reversible clips: If you need to use a light hands-free, standing it on its tail end to bounce light off the ceiling can be very useful. Better still, a pocket clip that opens toward the back of the light can be used to clip it to the peak of a ballcap-style hat — Just don’t try it with a duty-issue Stetson. These are a situation-specific features, but they’re handy enough that we looked for them.

Lockout mode: For pocket carry or any time you leave a light where kids might find it, it’s good to have an easy-to-use mode that disables the main output. This will save your battery for when you need it, and can also keep you from accidentally burning your leg with a high-output flashlight.

1

Klarus - XT11GT

See Price at Amazon

The Klarus – XT11GT won our selection for best affordable tactical flashlight by cranking up the maximum output to 2000 lumens and giving us instant access to the most useful modes. There’s even a USB-charging circuit, so it’s easy to keep this light ready for whatever situation comes your way. This is all included in a light that sells for less than $70; just a few years ago some of these features couldn’t be had for any price.

The killer feature here is a dual-button tail switch. The big center switch always gives you maximum 2000-lumen output, but there’s a secondary paddle switch that can be programmed to activate a disorienting strobe light in “tactical” modes, or it can start the light at a 10-lumen low level for “outdoors” use. The side switch lets you change to middle output levels and switch between programmed modes, but you can disable that altogether by holding it for five seconds, or disconnect the battery for storage by unscrewing the tail cap slightly.Read more…

The reflector on this light is slightly bigger than the others on this list, but it still carries well in full-size pockets compared to other lights with this much power. We’d love to see the output level of the “low” mode dropped to 1 lumen or less, but that’s a minor quibble.

Pros

  • Bright enough to serve as a searchlight
  • Two tail switches give you instant access to the modes you need
  • Small enough for your pocket
  • USB charging is very convenient

Cons

  • Slightly bigger than other lights in this category
  • Blue-green tint
  • “Low” setting is a bit bright at 10 lumens

2

Acebeam - EC35 Gen II

See Price at Battery Junction

If you need to carry a flashlight every day but wonder if it’s worth the pocket space, the Acebeam – EC35 Gen II is more compact than our top pick and offers the option to use the internal battery as a phone charger.

Output from the Acebeam is average for modern lights this size at 1100 lumens, but you’ve got instant access to maximum and minimum levels from the clicky tail switch and a long press on the side-mounted mode switch. We’re happy to report the tail switch isn’t hyper-sensitive like some tactical lights, but you can disable it with a half-twist of the tail cap just in case.Read more…

Using this light as a USB power bank requires an accessory cable that gives you a USB-A charging port, which is unfortunate considering the possibilities offered by the could-do-everything USB-C port on the side of the light. It’s a future-proof choice for charging the light, anyhow.

Pros

  • Good output levels from an affordable flashlight
  • All the modes you need and with minimal fuss
  • Built-in USB charger that can also charge your phone
  • Good balance of size, output and price

Cons

  • Requires accessory cable for power bank function
  • Doesn’t tail-stand well
  • Blue-green tint
  • Other lights this size are brighter

3

Foursevens - Quark QK16L MKIII

See Price at Prometheus Lights

If you want the best small tactical flashlight, you’d expect some compromises to get a pocketable size. Well, Jason Hui took that problem and threw all his years of design experience at it to bring us the nearly perfect Quark – QK16L MkIII.  Jason has made a name for himself with the amazing (and expensive) Prometheus custom-made flashlights, but in 2018 he bought the floundering 4Sevens company to bring his expertise to the masses.

This light has premium features in all the right ways: The color-accurate Nichia emitter is focused by a carefully-designed reflector that gives an ideal balance of a bright center spot and even fall-off coverage for mid-range visibility out to a few hundred feet. On the best mode (number four) the first click gives you a 1-lumen moonlight mode, and a double-click gives you maximum output of about 700 lumens. This is about as good as a flashlight user interface can get with one button.Read more…

This edition of the Quark takes a slim 16650 cell, and the body is shorter than a two-AA design. It’s the most pocketable light in our group, especially when you add the tail stand cap. This snap-on plastic accessory adds a rim around the tail switch, which makes it only slightly more difficult to press the switch in use but nearly impossible to turn the light on accidentally in your pocket.

Pros

  • The latest refinement of a pioneering LED flashlight design
  • Beam color and pattern are practically perfect
  • Slim and short for easy carry
  • Tail stand ring also prevents accidental activation

Cons

  • Lowest output of this group
  • Ten flashes gets you into program mode, so no signalling
  • Skinny 16650 cell type has lower capacity
  • No built-in charger

4

Lumintop - FW3A

See Price at Amazon

The Lumintop – FW3A is a community project that came together because of two key players on the flashlight discussion boards: A machinist whose username is Fritz15 and a programmer known as Toykeeper. Lumintop put together a light based on Fritz15’s design, and we have the geekiest light that can still qualify for tactical use.

The interface (programmed by Toykeeper to meet her own needs and the whims of other flashlight enthusiasts) gives you moonlight mode slowly ramping up toward higher levels if you hold down the non-clicky tail switch, or instant access to maximum output with a double-tap. Using other modes pretty much requires you to carry around the manual with the light, but those two functions are very easy to use once you learn them.Read more…

After reading about it for a year and spending two weeks of quality time with this triple-emitter fully programmable powerhouse, we’re impressed and terrified. This is a compact light that can pump out 2800 lumens, if you buy the version with a “cool white” XP-L HI 3D emitter, or 1600 lumens with a more color-accurate SST20 emitter. In either case, maximum output is limited by the battery current and how quickly the drive circuit gets too hot. (Both of which can be tweaked or modded.)

Pros

  • A duty-carry-capable light you can tinker with
  • Three emitters for output limited only by safety concerns
  • One of the smallest 18650-cell lights available
  • Includes an excellent battery, still less than $60

Cons

  • Output is limited by safety circuits
  • A little too easy to get stuck in non-tactical modes
  • Feels more like a luxury product than a military-grade tool
  • No built-in charger

5

Olight - M2T

See Price at Amazon

The Olight – M2T is the latest tail-click design from a factory that has been manufacturing lights for other brands for a long time. Now that they’ve hit their stride as one of the premiere design houses in their own right, this model (and its bigger brother with a magnetic charging dock, the M2R) commands a lot of attention among reviewers.

The Olight gives you everything you need, including the second-best beam pattern for long-range use. The tail switch gives you maximum power, with a strobe if you hold it down instead of releasing at the click. The side button gives you access to a moonlight mode reliably (with a two-second press) and all the modes in between. The Olight switch feels mushy, though, so we prefer the others above for reliable response when it counts.


6

Streamlight - ProTac HL USB

See Price at Amazon

The Streamlight – 88054 ProTac HL USB comes from one of the top players in tactical flashlights, with a legacy of reliable-but-affordable duty lights and weapon lights going back to the 1970s. Streamlight has kept up with the times, bringing reliable, bright LED emitters to their lineup and now offering USB charging internally.

The two factors that slipped the Streamlight lower in our ranking are a higher price and a low-output mode that’s bright enough to kill your night-adapted vision. The low, high and strobe modes (with an optional setting to give you only low then high in two clicks) are easy to use and functional, but if it weren’t for the USB charging this light wouldn’t have made our list. A nice touch is that the charging port cover is a sleeve that slides up and down the barrel rather than a delicate little rubber insert you’ll break after a few months.


7

Thrunite - TC12

See Price at Amazon

If simple, affordable and bright are your three top priorities, then the Thrunite – TC12 might be a good pick. At only $45 (high-capacity battery cell included) it offers good output specs and includes a built-in USB charge circuit. The output is impressive, though the tint is greenish-blue and uneven across the beam even if you pick the “neutral white” option.

The modes on this light don’t give you any real perks, though: A tail click turns the light on at whatever mode you used last, and the side switch cycles through moonlight, low, medium, high and maximum output. Holding down the side button when the light is on gives you strobe, so at least you won’t trigger that accidentally.


8

Fenix - PD35 Tac

See Price at Amazon

If you like the simplicity of the Thrunite but want higher quality and a simpler interface, the Fenix – PD35 Tac is a very similar design but with a duty-oriented mode that gives you instant access to maximum output on the first press. Neither light has instant access to a low-output mode, but also note that Fenix uses 8 lumens for the lowest setting where Thrunite goes down to a more useful 0.5-lumen moonlight mode.

The Fenix emitters are more carefully selected for tint, so the neutral white isn’t greenish-blue like the Thrunite. Note that it’s not as bright, either. For maximum color accuracy, the Foursevens or the Lumintop with SST emitter are slightly more consistent across the covered area. You don’t get a battery in the box with this tactical edition of Fenix’s PD35, and the much more expensive USB-recharging version doesn’t have a mode with instant access to maximum output.


Daniel Jackson, Writer

Daniel is a Canadian farm boy who grew up to be a nerd with a literature degree and too many hobbies to count. He emigrated from Canada to California in 2013, and now writes for Your Best Digs full-time. Daniel remains unapologetic about Canadian spelling, serial commas, and the destruction of expensive travel mugs.

More Reviews