We all know that a tactical flashlight lumens rating is the first specification we look at when we decide it’s time to purchase a new tactical flashlight. We can’t help but notice it because every tactical flashlight manufacturer will prominently display lumens rating in their marketing material. Let’s face it. We aren’t buying a tactical flashlight because we love the side switch. We are buying it because we need a certain level of lighting output to match our specific application.
The truth about tactical flashlight lumens ratings
First things first. What are lumens? I could tell you this: The lumen (symbol: lm) is the SI derived unit of luminous flux, a measure of the total quantity of visible light emitted by a source. SOURCE: Wikipedia
Or I could just say that the more lumens the more light you should expect from your flashlight. There’s more to it than that and I’ll touch on these topics later in this post. The bottom line is the lumens rating for a tactical flashlight gives you an indication of the level of illumination you should expect from it.
Turbo mode (aka high) is designed for minutes of use, not hours
I think it’s really important to note that regardless of the overall lumens rating of a tactical flashlight the amount of time you’ll be able to run it at maximum output is minutes, not hours. Specifications can be misleading. If the specs say Turbo mode will let you can run your flashlight for two hours, you need to know this won’t be all at once.
Every well-designed tactical flashlight has built in temperature protection. It’s meant to ramp down your flashlight output when in turbo (aka high mode) to keep you from accidentally frying the flashlight circuitry and LED.
Hey! This 2000 lumen tactical flashlight is brighter than this 3000 lumen tactical flashlight!
So here’s the deal. Lumens alone doesn’t completely determine how “bright” the flashlight will appear. You’ll hear the term “flood” and “throw” used to describe the illumination characteristics of a tactical flashlight. So what does this have to do with tactical flashlight lumens output?
I have a 3200 lumens output tactical flashlight that has a great deal of flood. I have a 2000 lumens tactical flashlight with a ton of throw. Is the light output markedly different? Yes. But, due to the design characteristics of the flashlights, the one with flood (at 3200 lumens) actually appears less bright than the one with a great deal of throw (at 2000 lumens).
What is flood?
If a tactical flashlight is described as having “flood” it just means that it does a good job equally illuminating the center of your field of view as well as the sides. Typically, a tactical flashlight with flood characteristics will have a shallower reflector that uses an orange peel finish.
What is throw?
If a tactical flashlight is described as having “throw” it means it will concentrate the beam of the flashlight in a narrow pattern. It will do a great job at lighting up the center point of your field of view, but to do this it sacrifices even side-to-side lighting. It’s designed like this maximize the beam distance (or commonly called throw). Tactical flashlights with a great deal of throw may have a somewhat narrow and deep reflector design that uses a smooth silver finish.
Cheap tactical flashlights and lumens accuracy
In a perfect world the off-brand $19.95 tactical flashlight claiming 2500 lumens would be a reality. I’m just a believer in you get what you pay for. If you want to maximize your chances at nabbing a cheap, yet super bright off-brand flashlight I highly recommend consulting budgetlightforum.com. I’ve learned about a few off-brand flashlights that turned out to be real bargains. I will say that most of the time cheap and lumens accuracy don’t go hand-in-hand, so I choose to stick with name brand flashlights whose reputations hinge on being lumens accurate.
The chase for more tactical flashlight lumens output
The real question is how many lumens do I really need? Manufacturers are taking advantage of advanced LED designs and more effective power sources to overdrive their flashlights and squeeze out far more lumens from a standard size tactical flashlight than ever before. For example, three years ago the lumens output average for a pocketable tactical flashlight was 1000 lumens. Today 2000 lumens isn’t uncommon. The Klarus XT11GT is a great example of this.
What you choose is dependent on your lighting application
Let’s be realistic. If you switch on a 650 lumens flashlight in a room with no ambient lighting it’s super bright. But, there are just so many options with higher lumens output there really isn’t a reason not to go with something higher.
The key is the type of illumination you need. If you think you’ll only buy one high end tactical flashlight I’d suggest going with a flashlight that exhibits a well-balanced flood and throw. If you need it to really be a laser to light up items at great distances get something with a ton of throw.
Great tactical flashlight reviews with beamshots are your friend
The best way to determine if a flashlight (and lumens output) is right for your situation I highly recommend reading reviews that include beamshots. That’s why I almost always include them in every review I write.
If you buy your tactical flashlight from a site (like Amazon.com) that has plenty of buyer comments you can learn about the light quality as well. Nothing will ever tell you more than great beamshots, though. So seek those out in flashlight forums as well.
A quick tactical flashlight lumens FAQ
What does the tactical flashlight lumens rating mean?
It’s an indicator of the amount of light output you should expect from your tactical flashlight.
What is tactical flashlight flood?
A tactical flashlight that has flood has good edge-to-edge field of view illumination.
What is tactical flashlight throw?
A tactical flashlight that has throw is designed to focus most of the light in the center of your field of view so objects at a distance can be better illuminated.
What effect will a smooth silver tactical flashlight reflector have?
A smooth silver reflector on a tactical flashlight is designed to increase throw to maximize lumens output for long distance lighting applications.
What effect will a silver orange peel reflector have on a tactical flashlight?
An orange peel reflector on a tactical flashlight is designed to spread light evenly across your field of view.
Tactical flashlight lumens ratings conclusion
Hopefully, this quick primer has helped you understand more about lumens, what tactical flashlight lumens really mean and how tactical flashlight design can affect those ratings.