Tactical flashlights differ from typical household flashlights in several unique and important ways. The most notable, or at least noticeable, difference is likely the sharp edges on the base, handle, or bezel of the tactical models, the purposes of which are not always apparent.
Why Do Tactical Flashlights Have Sharp Edges? Depending on the location of the edges, they can:
- Increase grip
- Allow heat dissipation
- Break glass
- Be used as a personal defense weapon
- Add aesthetic value
Most (though not all) tactical flashlights will include one or more of these functionalities, and many models offer all of them and more. Let’s take a look at why each of these features is included and, more importantly, how to use them.
Sharp Edges Aid in Heat Dissipation
Another crucial factor in tactical flashlight design is thermal management. Every LED (light-emitting diode) creates heat during operation, increasing the internal temperature of the flashlight, which reduces the amount of light they produce. That reduction, in turn, creates uneven light output.
To ensure a strong, steady light, excess heat must be transferred away quickly and efficiently from the LEDs.
The more compact a tactical flashlight is, the quicker it can build up excessive heat, especially when used continuously over a long period of time. The addition of sharp vertical edges, referred to as heat fins, strategically placed along the handle and bulb housing, creates more surface area for dissipation and helps channel heat away from the LEDs and other internal components.
A well-designed light will heat up isothermally (meaning that all parts increase or decrease in heat at nearly the same temperature, no “hot-spots.”) Isothermal control spreads the heat evenly to all parts of the flashlight, minimizing the temperatures around heat-sensitive components.
Metals have the most efficient thermal properties, making all-metal flashlights more desirable than cheaper versions made from plastic.
Aluminum, or aluminum alloys, do a far superior job of dissipating heat evenly than do steel or even titanium. This is why the highest-rated tactical flashlights are typically built with an aircraft-grade aluminum alloy, and the inclusion of metal heat fins increases that efficiency in higher-output models.
Sharp Edges Help with Glass Breaking
Pressure-point glass breaking tools were originally designed for law enforcement and first responders who needed to be able to quickly break through door windows or windshields to reach victims in auto accidents.
The sharp-edged strike-face around the head of the flashlight on tactical flashlights is designed primarily for breaking glass. A sharp point exponentially increases the amount of pressure being applied to a very small spot. This focused pressure causing even heavy automobile glass to shatter when enough force is applied.
No longer just for first responders, glass-breaking tools can now be found on keychains, multi-tools, and, of course, tactical flashlights, and are available to anyone who may be concerned about the risk of being trapped in a vehicle following an accident.
How to Break Glass with a Tactical Flash Light
- Look for a spot around the edge of the window glass, away from the center of the window. The middle is the most flexible spot and is designed to flex instead of breaking when in an accident. This means it can withstand a great deal more force before shattering that the more rigid areas around the edges.
Corners, where the glass is held firmly in place along two edges, are your best bet. Also, the top corners tend to be slightly more shatter-resistant than the bottom corners.
- Whenever possible, wear a protective glove and glasses, or at least use some form of impromptu protection from flying glass. Have anyone inside the vehicle do the same, or at least close their eyes and turn away.
- Mentally aim for a spot on the other side of the glass (just like when karate-chopping a board), avoiding any occupants of the vehicle, and drive the sharp point of the bezel through the glass with a chopping motion, exerting as much force as possible to the blow.
If your tactical flashlight is equipped with a glass “punch” (a cylindrical metal end that comes to a sharp point) enough pressure to break an automobile window can usually be applied simply by using one’s body-weight, placing the point against the glass, and leaning on it.
Sharp Edges Turn a Flashlight into a Personal Defense Weapon
Personal protection is another key facet in tactical flashlights.
The sharp-edged bezel is designed, secondarily, for self-defense and often has a crenulated lip, like the top of a castle wall, with the raised sections sharpened and with pointed corners. This feature is referred to as the “strike face.”
Combined with the overall heft of the metal casing, these features fashion a formidable impact weapon in a practiced hand. The crenulation of bezels can vary, from subtle crown-like indentations to prominent and razor-sharp metal teeth.
A tactical flashlight, when used as a hand weapon, is a form of Palm Stick defense. A palm stick refers to any small, solid object that can be carried easily and can amplify the strike-force of blows delivered in hand-to-hand combat. Using this type of flashlight is vastly superior to other forms of palm sticks, as you have the added benefit of a blinding-bright light to identify, blind, and disorient your attacker.
Freedom to Conceal and Carry Tactical Flashlights
Unlike firearms or bladed weapons, anyone can carry a tactical flashlight in their pocket, just about anywhere that weapons are restricted and still have an effective means of personal defense available to them.
A sharp-beveled flashlight makes a terrific palm stick for defending yourself. In this way, it’s actually far superior to any palm stick because you can find and blind an assailant before striking them with it clutched in your hand.
How to Defend Yourself with a Tactical Flashlight
The most commonly advised defense method, when using a tactical flashlight, is to disorient and temporarily blind your assailant by shining the ultra-bright light in their eyes, and then pistoning the flashlight forward in a stamping motion, striking the face with the toothed edges of the bezel with as much force as possible.
Not only is this going to hurt a lot, but a forehead strike is likely to cut skin, and even minimal headwounds tend to bleed profusely. Once in your attacker’s eyes, this blood will further blind them and cause stinging pain, allowing you a greater opportunity to escape.
The fact is, you may not even need a crenulated bezel on your tactical flashlight to use it for self-defense.
Just getting hit in the face with what is essentially a short, metal billy-club is going to cause a lot of pain, which goes a long way towards diminishing an attacker’s resolve. A sharpened bezel simply allows for more soft-tissue damage and bleeding.
Techniques to Maximize Personal Defense
When using a tactical flashlight for personal defense, there are a few tips you should keep in mind.
- Always keep the flashlight in your dominant hand so you can put as much power behind your strike as possible.
- If you are forced to engage with your attacker, a quick, hard strike to the face with the toothed bezel on your tactical flashlight should incapacitate them enough for you to get away.
- To maximize your chances of getting away, low, hard kicks to the groin or knees can also slow them down, and can seldom be blocked, as your attacker won’t be able to see them coming with the blinding light in their eyes.
And perhaps the most important tip is to dominate the face, as self-defense experts call it. This means when faced with a potential threat, you should first shine the flashlight directly in their face. The brightness of a tactical flashlight is quite painful on unsuspecting eyes, and will likely cause your assailant to instinctively raise his hands and to look away.
Optimally, an unexpected light of this brightness will result in three to four seconds of complete disorientation and semi-blindness. This reduces their ability to aim or target you for further attack.
Those few seconds provide you the time to either escape or attack. In a physical attack situation, experts recommend flight whenever possible and as soon as possible, as further contact with an attacker also increases the odds of further injury.
In other words, if you can run…run!
Holding a Tactical Flashlight
Also, keep in mind that tactical flashlights are designed to be held differently than a household flashlight. Most place the on/off button at the base of the handle (called a “tail-switch”), where it can quickly be controlled by the thumb when held in a closed fist.
This also places the sharp-edged bezel along the outside edge of your hand and requires the user to hold the flashlight parallel with their shoulder.
Originally, this design allowed the light to be behind, or just below, a handgun, and level with the operator’s eyes, to illuminate the line of fire. It also happens to be the optimal position to strike out towards an assailant’s face, with the maximum amount of force.
In fact, in some situations, a tactical flashlight can be preferable over a firearm, as they are:
- Easier to conceal (and don’t require a license to do so)
- Lighter in weight and less bulky
- Less noticeable (IE: less likely to cause a panic.)
- Incapable of “accidental” use and/or striking the wrong target.
- Typically, it can be carried in locations like public or government buildings that enforce a no-weapons policy. *
* Be sure to check the local laws, in advance.
The Sharp Edges Offer Some Aesthetic Value
For many, aesthetics is probably the least important of these features, but it is important, nonetheless.
If your goal is to have a tactical flashlight for E.D.C. (Every Day Carry), a light that you’re proud of, and find aesthetically pleasing, is much less likely to be left at home on your dresser.
Let’s face it, tactical flashlights with their sharp edges and bezels, customized grips, and futuristic, flat-black finish just look and feel cool. In fact, many owners and collectors of tactical flashlights even refer to themselves as flashlight geeks.
Tactical Flashlights Have Increased Grippability
The ability to securely grip your flashlight can be critical. A flashlight that’s dropped in the dark, in the outdoors, or in the stress of an emergency situation (you know…when our palms get sweaty) can easily be lost or even broken; in both cases rendering it useless and leaving you, the owner quite literally in the dark.
Most designers of popular tactical flashlights incorporate a technique known as knurling to increase the owner’s ability to grip the handle. This creates a rough texture on the surface of the barrel of the flashlight.
Tactical flashlights typically depend on one of three common designs to improve grip:
By tooling concentric ridges along the handle portion of the flashlight, a ridged allows the owner to maintain a firm hold on their flashlight at all times.
If you have your eye on a light with this type of grip, be sure that the on/off switch is located at the butt-end of the handle.
However, concentric ridged handles and twist-to-turn-on features don’t tend to work well together, so if you choose a ridged handle for your tactical flashlight, be sure it has a thumb-controlled on/off button.
Instead of those concentric ridges, a knurled grip is etched in a crosshatch pattern directly in the metal of the handle (a process known as knurling). By creating friction on a formerly smooth surface, a knurled grip greatly decreases slipping issues when the flashlight is twisted.
An aggressive, sharp-edged, knurling will provide a much greater gripping effect, as the flesh of the palm catches these tiny corners and edges, reducing the flashlight’s ability to roll in your grasp.
However, knurling can feel unpleasant if the edges are too sharp. Comfortability is a major consideration when looking for the tactical flashlight best meets your needs.
A light that that is uncomfortable, or even painful to hold, is less effective and, worse, more likely to be left at home.
Rubberized grips are another popular option, and they work extremely well in the right environments when wet and/or extremely cold conditions can make gripping a bare metal handle painful and even dangerous.
These types of grips can also add a measure of impact protection to the internal components of the flashlight.
The caveat being that exposure to conditions like extreme heat or cold can cause excessive wear, shrinkage, and even cracking of rubber grips, often in short order. They can also be more difficult to keep clean than a metal surface and can lessen your flashlight’s effectiveness as a defensive weapon.
What Makes a Flashlight Tactical?
While the term “tactical” has largely become a marketing buzzword in our modern society, its original designation, especially for military-grade flashlights, referred to tools, weapons and/or clothing used specifically by military and law enforcement personnel, and designed to be more rugged and more efficient in the field, than traditional civilian models.
Over the years, many tactically designed tools have also become popular with outdoorsmen, survivalists, and even everyday citizens, as they tend to outlast and out-perform the competition.
A tactical flashlight will typically have some combination of the following features:
- Designed to be mounted to a firearm for low-light shooting.
- Smaller and lighter in weight than traditional (home) flashlights.
- Able to emit significantly more lumens (brightness).
- Incorporates grip-enhancing scoring or other enhancements to increase grip.
- Built from weapons-grade aluminum or titanium alloys for maximum durability.
- Include additional self-defense and personal safety features like sharpened bezels, and window breakers.
Do You Need Sharp Edges, Bezels, and a Textured Handle?
If you’re looking for a tool with self-defense capabilities, you’ll probably want, at least, a heavier light with a sharp-toothed strike face. Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it, right?
As far as edges along the frame and handle, that’s all about personal comfort. A light that’s uncomfortable or even painful to use can cause hesitation in exactly the type of situations where you can’t afford to hesitate.
Be willing to compromise on other features, for a model that feels comfortable in your hand.
Note: If you’ll be using your flashlight in areas that are damp, wet, or have high temperatures, then the anti-slipping properties of a knurled or scored handle are especially important. You’ll want to make sure the casing is waterproof, as well.
Also keep in mind that a tactical flashlight with sharp edges requires an external leather or nylon sheath, as clothing damage and physical injury are almost certain if simply carried in a pants pocket.
The Right Tactical Flashlight for YOU
The best tactical flashlights not only offer steady and superior illumination, but they also offer reliable functionality, are built tough enough to survive extreme conditions, and can provide a practical, effective means of self-defense, should you require it.
The increased grip through knurling, glass breaking edges, and fins that help dissipate heat are additional features that combine to provide a tool that meets your challenges.
Really, finding the right tactical flashlight all comes down to where and how you, specifically, will be using it. In the end, a tactical flashlight should do for you exactly what it was originally created to do for military personnel.
That is, to reliably allow its operator to perform their necessary activities with greater efficiency, reliability, and with less effort.
Title photo courtesy of www.yourbestdigs.com
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