Back in April I talked about the great ammo debate and how bigger does not always equal better. Today I am going to jump into another debate of a similar comparison, only this time I am talking lumens and flashlights and not caliber choice.
In the past five years there has been a trend among flashlight manufacturers to produce small lights with a huge lumen output. Prior to this some of the brightest hand held flashlights you could find maxed out between 120 and 200 lumens. The first compact flashlight I purchased as a police officer was a Streamlight Stinger and it maxed out 90 lumens. I thought that thing was the best flashlight on the face of the earth. I cleared more buildings, located more suspects, and found more drugs with that flashlight than any other flashlight that I own; all with a sub-standard (by current specs) 90 lumens of brightness and less than 90 minutes of run-time on a charge.
Two years ago I retired my standard Stinger for a Stinger LED when it was issued by my department. The LED version was bumped by Streamlight to a total output of 325 lumens on its brightest setting, and while that much light has a use, it’s a very limited use and not very practical for an Every Day Carry (EDC) light or a weapon mounted light. I find that I rarely use the full 325 lumens and often opt to use it on the medium power setting of 175 lumens.
Brighter is NOT Always Better
I know what some of you are thinking as you are reading this – “why would the flashlight companies keep increasing the output of the lights” and the simple answer to that is so they can sell you more flashlights. One of my Lieutenants always talks about how many different types of fishing lures places like Walmart and Bass Pro sell, and his theory on that is they were never meant to catch more fish; they were designed to catch more fishermen. The same holds true for flashlight companies. It is a simple business model designed to bring you back for the latest and greatest the company has to offer.
So now that we have that out of the way, let’s get into just how many lumens you really need. As a police officer I utilize my flashlights for searching buildings, cars, and the great outdoors, and based on my personal and professional experience I think that 200 lumens is the absolute max you will ever need for an EDC flashlight or weapon mounted light. Could you get by with more or even less? Absolutely you could in certain situations but I am talking about one light to do almost anything indoors or outdoors. Some folks will probably disagree with this but I am basing my opinion on real world, in the field, experience. 200 lumens has more than enough power to identify any intruders in your home while have a blinding effect on them and also have enough power to light up things out in the distance if you are outside.
So why is brighter not better? The simple answer is light reflects and depending on what you are doing and where you are doing it the light just might reflect back into your own eyes effectively killing your built in night vision. This could be a fatal mistake if this were to happen when someone has broken into your home and you come face to face with them and blind yourself with your new 10 million lumen light. Would the brighter light work better outside? Possibly, but even then there is a point where too much is not good. If your light throws out too much light it can wash out whatever you are trying to identify and that could be the difference between you shooting a potential bad guy or your neighbor who came outside to see what was going on.
For those of you visual learners out there (like me) here is a great video put together by Travis Haley and Haley Strategic where Travis talks about lights and even gives a really good demonstration at night. It is a little long and some of the information is a repeat of what you have already read but it does a great job of adding a visual to the information.
Which Light Should I Buy?
I know it will come up so I thought I would take a minute to talk about what light to buy. And that is not a real simple question to answer because there are some many out there with a lot of features that I like. So I will try to be somewhat general and say to look for a light in a size that you are comfortable with and that has an output of at least 100 lumens and a max of 200 lumens. If it has other features such as adjustable brightness or a multi function switch (momentary, strobe, etc) they are just icing on the cake but not always necessary.
As far as brands I have become a huge fan of the INFORCE lights. I own a WML and plan to add an APL, and 6VX to my collection in the near future. They haven’t fallen into the high lumen marketing like the other companies so you can’t go wrong with any of their lights. I also own and have experience with Surefire and Streamlight and they also make quality products that are in use by law enforcement and military forces worldwide.
Contrary to popular belief, you CAN have too many lumens. If you look to any of these brands and stay away from some of their offerings that have off the charts lumen ratings, I don’t think you can go wrong.