5 Best Tactical Flashlights Under $100 [2017]

Flashlights are one of the best self-defense tools you can carry.

Tested Flashlights
Tested Flashlights

Why?

83% of our senses come from what we see through our eyes, and about 50% of the time, violent crimes happen at night time when our vision is limited.

Having a bright flashlight allows you to identify the threat, momentarily blind an aggressor’s vision, and buy you extra time to take appropriate actions.

This isn’t just a roundup of Amazon reviews…we purchased all of these and subjected them to daily-use, drop-testing, and water submersion tests.

Tactical and EDC Flashlights Dunk Test
Tactical and EDC Flashlights Dunk Test

Plus…pictures of the actual light spread pattern which matters a lot more than pure output.

We’ll start with what we consider to be a “tactical flashlight” and compare 5 of the most popular ones under $100 to see which one is really the best.

If you can’t wait, here’s our picks for the Best Tactical Flashlights:

What is a Tactical Flashlight?

Besides being a well rounded flashlight, we believe tactical lights provide users the strategic advantage during a potentially dangerous situation.

Best Tactical Flashlights
Best Tactical Flashlights (L to R: MH25GT, TN12, PD35 TAC, MT10A, ProTac 1L-1AA)

Tactical flashlights usually have a tail-activated switch to allow the users to turn it on quickly.  They are bright enough to momentarily blind an aggressor, and they are built to sustain tough environmental abuse.

Our Selection Criteria

Given current LED lighting technology, we prefer tactical flashlights to have at least 500 lumen, a good amount of downrange reach, yet still small enough to be easily held in one hand while operating a handgun in the other hand if needed.

Harries Method of Flashlight and Handgun
Harries Method of Flashlight and Handgun

Once we got the criteria set, we looked for flashlights from a reputable brand with on average 50+ reviews and 4.5 stars on Amazon.  We also consciously picked a flashlight from different brands, so there’s a fair share of diversity and fairness with each manufacturer.

As for price, we limited it to $100 or less for the flashlight since we want for the best-bang-for-the-buck.  If price is no object…we recommend the Surefire P3x Fury Tactical ($250).

What is a Lumen?

Lumen measures the amount of light being output by a source within a given area and time.

The higher the lumen, the brighter the light is.  One lumen equals to the amount of light received at a square foot area one foot away from a candle light.

Much Lumens
Much Lumens

A 100W incandescent light bulb generates about 1600 lumen.  And a typical headlamp of a car outputs about 700 to 1200 lumen.

Not that helpful…so we will have pictures of the light pattern from our backyard.

Batteries

Often overlooked…the type of battery will matter a lot.  From cost to performance and time between recharges…what battery a tactical flashlight uses will sometimes make or break the decision.

Besides the traditional alkaline batteries (AAA, AA, C, D Cells), most of the modern flashlights these days take the following common batteries to increase power and weight efficiencies:

CR1233V lithium high output battery commonly used in high performance electronics.  A quality CR123 battery can carry up to 10 years of shelf life, and usually cost around $1 to $2 per battery.

CR123 and 18650 Batteries
CR123 and 18650 Batteries

18650 (18mm by 65mm): 3.7 V rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.  These are also the batteries used in the Tesla Model S sedans. They typically cost $3 to $6 per battery. Many flashlights would take either a single 18650 battery, or 2 CR123 batteries.

AA Battery vs 14500 Battery
AA Battery vs 14500 Battery

14500 (14mm by 50 mm): 3.7 V rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that are the same size as traditional AA batteries. They typically cost $2 to $6 per battery.

Scoring Criteria

We decided to score the flashlights based on three categories:

  1. Lumen Output
  2. Ease of Use
  3. Ease of Carry

For ease of use, we look at how easy it is to turn on and off the light, to switch between various modes, and how easy it is to hold a pistol while using the light, etc.

For ease of carry, we looked into various carrying method including holster carrying, pocket clip carry, or simply keeping the light in a pocket, etc.

Enough talking…let’s see our first contender on the list!

1. Nitecore MH25GT: Best Long-Range Tactical Flashlight

Best Long-Range

Nitecore MH25GT

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • Pros: 452m beam distance, mini-USB charging, body twist mode changing
  • Cons: Larger bezel size
  • Ease of use: 8/10
  • Ease of carrying: 5/10
  • Lumen: 1000

This is one of the longest-range lights we have seen in the market so far…with a max range of 452 meters or almost 1500 feet.

MH25GT Hill Shot 20 Yards
MH25GT Hill Shot 20 Yards

The larger diameter in the bezel allows the light to merge into a strong focus beam down range.  If I had a ranch or a large yard, this would be my preferred light to secure the perimeter at night.

Plus it comes with a lot of goodies.

Nitecore MH25GT Accessories
Nitecore MH25GT Accessories

Often time navigating in the dark, you want to preserve the night adapted vision with the low light setting.

This also allows you to stay low profile and avoid being detected by the enemies as a vulnerable target.  Yet the moment you detect movement far downrange, you need the ability to quickly switch to a stronger light to clearly identify the threat.

This light quickly toggles between two user selected settings by twisting the head and tail of the light, making this light very easy to use in such tactical maneuver.  I set my MH25GT to toggle between the 1000 and 50 lumens, for tactical and night sight preserving purpose.

MH25GT Beam Spread
MH25GT Beam Spread

One can observe a very focused beam even distance down range.

MH25GT Wall Shot 20 Yards
MH25GT Wall Shot 20 Yards

The light takes a standard 18650 Li-ion rechargeable battery or 2 CR123 batteries.

The bezel (front end) of the light is slightly larger than the rest of the body, so we found the ideal carrying method of this light to be holster carrying.

The mini-USB charging is another neat feature of this light, as you do not need to purchase any extra battery charger, nor do you have to carry a dedicated charger when traveling.

MH25GT USB Charging
MH25GT USB Charging

The side of the flashlight opens up to allow user to plug in the mini-USB head for charging.  There’s a small red light that indicates the charging status.

2. ThruNite TN12 2016 XP-L: Best Overall Tactical Flashlight

Best Overall

ThruNite TN12 2016 XP-L

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • Pro: Affordable, ease of carry and use, 0.4 lumen firefly mode
  • Con: Light gets hot in Turbo mode (minor)
  • Ease of use: 8/10
  • Ease of carrying: 6/10
  • Lumen: 1100

The ThruNite TN12 light delivers an overall well-rounded feature for the users. At less than $50, this light is compact, lightweight, and sturdy.

ThruNite TN12 Accessories
ThruNite TN12 Accessories

The light takes a standard 18650 Li-ion rechargeable battery or 2 CR123 batteries. 

It has several modes:

  • Turbo 1100 lumens
  • High 435 lumens
  • Medium 175 lumens
  • Low 18 lumens
  • Firefly 0.4 lumens.

Holding the side mode switch for 1 second turns on the strobe mode.

I usually kept it in the High 435 lumens setting since going to Turbo mode is only one click away.

TN12 Beam Spread
TN12 Beam Spread

I personally use the thumb to turn on the light, and use my pinky to activate the mode switch button on the side.  If you toggle between various modes often, it may help to mentally memorizing the 5 different modes as you switch between them.

It has a more spread out and even area of light.

TN12 Hill Shot 20 Yards
TN12 Hill Shot 20 Yards

The 0.4 lumen firefly mode is the perfect camping piss light.  It allows you to preserve your eyes to the adjusted night vision.  It also conserves the battery in emergency situation, allowing you to run your flashlights up to 74 days as rated.

The manufacturer has warning against running the light at Turbo for more than 10 minutes.  We obviously  went ahead and tested it.

TN12 Wall Shot 20 Yards
TN12 Wall Shot 20 Yards

At around 3 minutes, the bezel of the light becomes noticeably hot.  And around 6 minutes it becomes very uncomfortable to touch.  I stopped the test at around 8 minutes because I didn’t want to push the limit and damage the light just yet.

All in all, the price and even beam spread make it our best overall pick.

3. Fenix PD35 TAC: Best Overall Tactical Flashlight (Premium)

Best Overall (Premium)

Fenix PD35 TAC

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • Pros: Ease of carry, mini-USB charging battery
  • Cons: Min output 8 lumens, hard to locate mode switch button without looking
  • Ease of use: 7/10
  • Ease of carrying: 6/10
  • Lumen: 1000

The well-rounded Fenix PD35 TAC light delivers an overall great experience.

Fenix PD35 TAC Accessories
Fenix PD35 TAC Accessories

There’s a couple combos out there, and the light itself is around $65, but we recommend getting it with the 18650 Li-ion rechargeable battery that allows you plug in a mini-USB directly for charging, so no more separate charger is needed!

PD35 TAC USB Charging
PD35 TAC USB Charging

A nice feature when you’re traveling or don’t have a battery charger.  Alternatively you can also use 2 CR123 batteries for power.

It has several modes:

  • Turbo 1000 lumens
  • High 500 lumens
  • Medium 200 lumens
  • Low 60 lumens
  • Eco 8 lumens

Holding the side mode switch for 1 second turns on the strobe mode.

The power switch is built solid, and very easy to turn on and off.  You press the button halfway and it goes to momentary on and off easily without issues. 

Since the mode switching button does not fully protrude out of the light, there are times when I found it hard to use my pinky to locate the button without looking at the flashlight.

PD35 TAC Beam Spread
PD35 TAC Beam Spread

Compared to the ThruNite TN12, this light is not as hot in the Turbo mode.  Per user manual, the light would automatically down switch from Turbo to High mode after 5 minutes of operation.  Because of this feature, I was able to easily leave the light on past 30 minutes without risking damaging the light due to heat.

PD35 TAC Wall Shot 20 Yards
PD35 TAC Wall Shot 20 Yards

Now if you’re someone who’s used to having a flashlight with moonlight/ firefly mode, the lowest output at 8 lumen may seem a bit too bright.  Waking up in the middle of the night, this flashlight may provide more light than needed for well adapted night vision eyes.

The light provides a well spread beam that’s sufficient to illuminate a whole room, and just enough concentrated light in the center to illuminate downrange.

PD35 TAC Hill Shot 20 Yards
PD35 TAC Hill Shot 20 Yards

It ticks off all the checkmarks we have for a great tactical flashlight, but due to its higher price-point with a rechargeable battery, we’re awarding it the Best Overall Tactical Flashlight in the Premium category.

4. Nitecore MT10A: Best Compact Tactical Flashlight

Most Compact

Nitecore MT10A

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • Pro: Compact, 920 lumens, red firefly light, takes both IMR 14500 and AA batteries
  • Con: None
  • Ease of use: 7
  • Ease of carrying: 8
  • Lumen: 920

The Nitecore MT10A is the compact EDC sized tactical flashlight with a very thoughtfully designed red light.

Nitecore MT10A Accessories
Nitecore MT10A Accessories

The light is about the size of an adult palm, and fits very nicely in the pocket.  I enjoy carrying this light in the pocket for EDC purpose, yet it’s bright enough to be used as tactical light with tail end switch.

This is my new favorite go to camping light as the red light feature allows me to travel in the dark without disturbing my night adapted vision, plus I can also travel invisibly in the dark since others won’t notice the red light from far away!

Nitecore MT10A Red Light
Nitecore MT10A Red Light

Note that to achieve the 920 lumens rated, you actually have to use these IMR 14500 batteries. They are the same size as AA batteries, yet provides much higher voltage comparing to the traditional AA battery.

MT10A Beam Spread
MT10A Beam Spread

The AA batteries will only push out 170 lumens.  The IMR 14500 batteries are about $4 to $10 depending on the quality and manufacture.

The light has several modes with the IMR 14500 batteries:

  • Turbo 920 lumens
  • High 500 lumens
  • Medium 180 lumens
  • Low 70 lumens
  • Lower 1 lumen
  • Red light (I would estimate it at around 0.5 lumen)

It creates a semi-focused beam that’s useful for searching and for general lighting up of areas.

MT10A Hill Shot 20 Yards
MT10A Hill Shot 20 Yards

After 3 minutes of using the Turbo mode, the flashlight will lower its output automatically to prevent overheating.

MT10A Wall Shot 20 Yards
MT10A Wall Shot 20 Yards

If you read into the manufacturer’s instruction manual, it would say “Do not use an IMR 14500 battery in low power.” Sounds strange, right?

What it actually means is don’t leave the light on until it dies.  It’s completely okay to use the IMR 14500 battery in the low output mode…probably a bad English translation here.

5. Streamlight ProTac 1L-1AA: Compact Simple Light

Most Simple

Streamlight ProTac 1L-1AA

  • Pro: compact, affordable, takes both AA and CR123, single button operation
  • Con: limited output modes (minor)
  • Ease of use: 8
  • Ease of carrying: 9
  • Lumen: 350

The Streamlight ProTac 1L-1AA 88061 is an easy to carry all around light.   It’s small enough to fit nicely in the pocket without noticing it.  And…the ProTac line has over 6600 reviews on Amazon with a 4.5 star rating!

Streamlight on Cap
Streamlight on Cap

One of the greatest advantage of this light is its ability to take both the AA (or IMR 14500 rechargeable batteries) and CR123 batteries. This makes the it an ideal light in a bug out bag, since you can find AA batteries everywhere.

Streamlight ProTac 1L Accessories
Streamlight ProTac 1L Accessories

It has three default mode

  • High 350 lumens
  • Strobe 350 lumens
  • Low 40 lumens (with a CR123 battery)

The operations are completely done through the single tail cap switch.  Some users may like its simplicity, while others may find it a hassle to switch between modes if you constantly having to cycle to the low light mode.

ProTac 1L Beam Spread
ProTac 1L Beam Spread

I personally appreciate the single button switch because that’s the only button I need to press for operation.

ProTac 1L Hill Shot 20 Yards
ProTac 1L Hill Shot 20 Yards

Comparing to some of the other lights outputting up to 1000 lumens, at 350 lumens, the temperature of this light does not appear as hot comparing to other lights. 

And I know…we wanted at least 500 lumens to be considered “tactical”…but we just loved this little light so much we had to add it in.

ProTac 1L Wall Shot 20 Yards
ProTac 1L Wall Shot 20 Yards

After 30 minutes of operation on High mode, the bezel of the light only feels warm, and the temperature does not seem to increase.

Our favorite pick for a small yet powerful tactical flashlight.

Water Submersion and Drop Test

To ensure all the lights live up to its manufacturer ratings, we subjected all of them to basic impact and water resistant tests.

We turned the lights on, then dropped the lights five times from about 5 foot high (~1.5 meters) to the concrete floor:

  • light facing down (3x): how it will likely naturally fall from your hands/pocket
  • light facing up (1x)
  • sideways (1x)
Tactical Flashlight Drop Tests
Tactical Flashlight Drop Tests

After the five drops, we ran a successful function check by cycling through the settings of the the lights to ensure they still work properly.

You can tell from the images that the lights do suffer minor scratches and dings on the surface.  But the lights all function just fine.

After the drop test, we subjected the lights to 30 minutes of water submersion in 1 foot deep room temperature water.

Tactical and EDC Flashlights Dunk Test
Tactical and EDC Flashlights Dunk Test

After 30 minutes, we took the lights out of the water and conducted a function test by cycling through all the light feature and output modes.

All Tactical and EDC Flashlights Working
All Tactical and EDC Flashlights Working

Again all lights have successfully passed the test!  You’ll see more than the 5 lights in this test since we also have a Best EDC Flashlights article coming soon.

Conclusion

Product engineering is always a trade off.  And depending on what you’re looking for, here we have different solutions for you! 

Best Tactical Flashlights, Size Comparison
Best Tactical Flashlights, Size Comparison (L to R: MH25GT, TN12, PD35 TAC, MT10A, ProTac 1L-1AA)

If you want a light that shines through distance, the Nitecore MH25GT would be your best bet.

Both ThruNite TN12 and Fenix PD35 TAC are your standard tactical lights, while TN12 seems to be easier to use and more affordable.

If you want a tac light that fits well in the pocket and has a nice red firefly light, go with the Nitecore MT10A.

And the Streamlight ProTac 1L-1AA would be an ideal light for someone who prefers single button operation.

How did we do?  Any that we missed that meet our criteria of at least 500 lumens, tail button activated, and under $100?

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17 Comments on "5 Best Tactical Flashlights Under $100 [2017]"

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Mcl67513
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Try Streamlight Protac 2L-X and HL-X. They have 500 lum and 1,000 lum respectively, both use 2xCR123A or 1×18650. From factor for the 2L-X is similar to 1L-1AA, just longer. HL-X has a bigger bezel.

Mcl67513
Guest

Form factor*

Nick
Guest

The Streamlight ProTac 1L-1AA is an amazing light…small enough that you forget you are carrying it. Cannot go wrong with it!

Johnn
Guest

What is the country of origin for each of these lights?

Joel B.
Guest

I know Fenix is based out of the U.S. Not sure about any of the others though.

Joe L
Guest

Thanks for the very detailed write-up. I’ve been looking at the Nitecore MH25GT for a while now, but haven’t taken the plunge yet. One note I might add about the 18650 batteries is there are two types. One type is flattop, which are used in e-cigs While the non-flattop are used in flashlights such as those in the article. The two are not interchangeable.

Jim M.
Guest

Great article! I don’t currently have an EDC tac-light. Are tac-light weights typically negligible? Is there a battery advantage in terms of weight?

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