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No Shots In The Dark: A Guide To Weapon Lights

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The darkness has always put humans a little on edge. The unknown and unseen danger of the dark has been biologically wired into our DNA over thousands of years, because most of our sensory information is obtained through our sight. We don’t like what we can’t see.

Throughout history, mankind has consistently innovated new and more effective ways to light up the things we can’t see. Putting the power of light in your corner gives you the advantage over darkness and whatever might be lurking in it.

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a bright light shining on you from the dark, you’ve felt the power imbalance that comes along with that scenario. Being confronted by a figure you cannot see, presumably standing behind a light that is disorienting and often painful to the eye immediately puts you in a different frame of mind than you would even be if you were confronted by a shadowy figure with no light at all. The light provides the advantage.

Putting a weapon light on your rifle or pistol immediately shifts that power balance in your favor when confronted with a defensive situation, or even simply just proactively assessing your surroundings at your home and property. Weapon lights with colored LEDs or lenses can make nighttime hunting or varmint control easier as well, as they allow you to see more clearly without spooking your target.

Basic firearms safety tells us to always be sure of our target, and what’s behind it. If you have made the decision to employ a firearm as a measure of personal or home defense, what happens when the sun goes down? Or worse, the sun goes down and the power goes out?

The value of clearly seeing what is in front of you, be it a threat to your safety, or a wild hog annoyance, should be considered a necessity for anyone who owns a firearm. Training with these light systems should also be considered non-negotiable. Maybe the thought of putting a light on your rifle or pistol has never even crossed your mind, or you have long thought of a weapon light as a luxury and not a necessity. Maybe you have a weapon light on your primary defense firearm, but you’ve never given thought to training yourself how to effectively use it in specific situations. Whatever your case may be, the facts are clear. No one is immune from the possibility of having to take defensive action in the dark, and if you’re going to be prepared, be prepared for every possible scenario.

We are going to break down why a weapon mounted light is an absolute necessity, what you need to know when shopping for one for your firearm, and some of the basics to have a grasp of when it comes to being effective at using them.

night target practice

How Bright is Bright Enough?

When shopping for a pistol or rifle mounted light, you will need to understand the terms that are used to measure what the light does. These terms can often be confusing, and not having a grasp of what they mean could result in you being improperly equipped for the situation at hand.

When shopping for a light, you’ll see two values that indicate the strength of the light, but the measurements describe two different capabilities of the light.

Lumens indicate how much light output a flashlight or weapon light will give you. Think of it like an engine’s overall horsepower. It is roughly equal to the amount of light received by a one-square-foot area at a distance of one foot away from a candle light. So as the distance from the light increases, more lumens are needed to illuminate the same area. For example, a 100 square foot room in a home would require roughly 1000 lumens to be fully illuminated.

The other measure is Candela. This is sort of like torque in our engine analogy; it’s a measure of what your power can do when you focus it. One candela is the light value of one candle, or a flame on a wick. Candela is used to measure the brightest part of the light’s beam, rather than the overall output of the light itself. Meaning the higher the candela measurement of a light, the more capability it will have to throw light into the distance.

So, what do these measurements mean to you as you’re shopping for what weapon light is best for your situation? Lumens and Candela can help you understand the three main characteristics of a light pattern and distance of illumination. The three characteristics of light patterns from weapon lights are throw, flood, and spill. Throw is the light’s ability to reach out to far distances, like when you’re trying to see what’s across a field or in a tree line. Flood is the light’s ability to illuminate a wide area immediately in front of you. Spill is the effect produced in a light with a combination beam, where ambient light surrounds the intense spotlight center giving you “best of both worlds” performance.

To understand how Lumens and Candela can inform your understanding of how a light will perform, let’s give an example. If two weapons lights have a 500 Lumen output, but one light has a higher candela, its concentrated beam in the center of the light will be more intense, and constitute a larger percentage of the light’s overall lumen output. A 500 Lumen light with a higher Candela rating will send more of it’s power out into the distance, allowing you to see further. The 500 Lumen light with a lower Candela measurement will cast more of its lumen output into the spill light, making the center spotlight less powerful but offering more ambient light immediately in front of you. Often times, if lumens are equal, the light with a higher candela rating will appear to be brighter, because the center is so much more intense. This is especially true if you were indoors and shining each light into a wall from a short distance, as the intense center from the higher candela light will reflect more. Each of these values, as well as what they mean to you, is important to consider when selecting the best weapon light for your AR-15, pistol, or specific application.

2018 10 WeaponLights PA ultimate light


Deciding which weapon light is the best for you will largely be dictated by the scenario you will be using it for. With the knowledge of what different types of lights can achieve, thinking through your particular set of circumstances is going to help you determine your choice of light.

When most people think of weapons lights, they envision a pistol-mounted light for use in home defense situations. This isn’t the only application where a weapon light comes in handy, but let’s discuss it first.


In this scenario, a weapon light will be used in intermittent bursts as you move through your home, lighting up areas of negative space and attempting to ensure that it is clear of any threats. This issue at hand for this type of light is striking the proper balance. Lights used in this application need to have enough light output to effectively do the job without having so much light output that it interferes with your own ability to see and determine that your home is free of threats. More light is not necessarily always better. Backsplash of light off of lightly colored walls or in small areas of a home can over-expose your eyes even as you point the light away from you, causing the same disorientation for yourself that you’re hoping to deliver to any potential aggressor.

For this scenario, a light with medium output power and a larger cone of light diffusion is a better choice than a spotlight beam alone. In a room inside your home, a wide beam that can light up larger areas of a room with good efficiency — allowing you to scan with just your eyes — is more favorable to a spotlight style light which will necessitate an area-by-area scan of a room with the light itself. A combination light that effectively combines both a good amount of floodlight and spotlight can achieve similar results with the added benefit of a longer throw for hallways or down a staircase. The other advantage of a wide cone of light that has enough lumen output in this particular scenario is that if an intruder can be disoriented anywhere within the cone, rather than needing to be directly in a narrow beam. If you are clearing a room with a narrow beam and started scanning on the wrong side of the room, you won’t disorient the intruder and you’ve just exposed yourself with the light’s source.

2018 10 WeaponLights Travor Light


We briefly touched on the benefits of having a weapon light attached to your rifle for nighttime hunting and varmint control, especially with colored lens filters. But what if your primary home defense weapon is an AR-15, SBR, or AR pistol and you find yourself securing your home from the outside? If you live in a more rural setting and wish to investigate the area surrounding you home after the sun goes down, you’re going to have much different light requirements than someone who is indoors, inspecting areas of their home in the dark. In an indoor setting, a wide cone of light that evenly distributes the light’s lumens over the entire cone may be advantageous to lighting up a room or small hallway. Additionally, indoors, too much light can result in a degradation of your own ability to see during momentary bursts of usage. Outdoors, however, you will need those lumens – and likely more of them – to be projected more densely, in a concentrated beam of light that can reach out to further distances. The tradeoff is that less of the immediate area around the light will be illuminated. However, if you are outdoors and have eyesight acclimated to the low light environment, using a more concentrated light beam at further distances will often allow your eyes to remain able to perceive the immediate environment without illumination. Outdoor light usage can present many more various situations with their own sets of demands for your weapon light. While a light that combines a wide cone of illumination with a denser, inner beam of light to reach further distances will not be as capable as dedicated lights for each function, in this scenario, a combination light is a good solution. Being able to do a pretty good job at both near and far applications in one unit on your rifle or handgun is advantageous over choosing a light that does one or the other.

What Will You Choose to Light Up the Dark?

If you’ve taken one thing away from these past few paragraphs, hopefully the most significant thing is the fact that a weapon mounted light should be considered a vital piece of your home defense and overall preparedness solution. But what’s the best AR light or pistol light for you? We’ve laid out some of the most trusted and highest quality weapon mounted lights for both pistols and rifles. Keep your particular needs and performance requirements and use this knowledge to make an informed decision.

Pistol Mounted Lights

Rifle Mounted Lights

If you’re looking for some additional flexibility, a popular solution for a weapon light configuration is to mount a high-quality handheld flashlight onto a rifle with a special mount. The benefit to this is that you get a EDC (Every Day Carry) flashlight to carry with you all the time – something we’ll discuss further in future articles – as well as the capability to mount your light on your rifle as a weapon light. We’ll put some of those options below as well.

If you have any questions about what weapon light is best for you, how they work, or about any other firearms related topic, our in-house customer service and firearms specialists team is standing by to help, right here in Houston, Texas. Just give us a call at (713)-344-9600 or email and we’ll be glad to help.