Handguns have become modular weapons and it’s rare to find a compact or duty sized handgun that isn’t equipped with a picatinny rail system. These rail systems are used to attach accessories. The most common accessory will be a pistol light.
The tactical market is large and weapon lights have carved their way into it. They’re here to stay and the industry has responded positively. Pistol lights have gotten brighter, smaller, and even cheaper. There are tons on the market now and we are here to help you find out which combination of features is right for you.
Not only that but to make it easy we are even going to give you our top picks for best pistol lights.
Table of Contents
Lumens and Candela
One of the first things you’ll want to know before buying a pistol light is their degree of brightness. Brightness is measured two different ways, by lumen and by candela.
A lumen measurement is the most common but not the most accurate. It doesn’t factor in beam intensity, or the focus of the beam. A tightly constricted beam that’s 200 lumens will seem a lot more powerful than a 200 lumen wide throw beam.
Candela is a more accurate measurement and takes into account how the beam is reflected and spread. This allows you to have a better idea of just how powerful the light is compared to other candela powered lights.
Most companies are now including both measurements, and candela is starting to catch on with more and more companies. The higher either measurement is the brighter the light is.
A bright lumen rating for pistols is going to be 800 to 1,000 lumens. The candela ratings on those high lumen lights is often 12,000 to 15,000 candela.
Is brighter always better?
No, not always. If you are going to be using your light indoors you need to consider just how that will affect you. Too bright of a light into enclosed of an area will reflect off of windows, screens, mirrors, white walls and more. This will make seeing challenging and destroys natural night vision.
If you are outdoors you may need the extra range and brightness a higher lumen light possesses. You’ll need to see further, and see clearer to identify targets effectively.
In fact using too low powered a light will challenge your ability to establish positive identification. The 5th golden rule is know your target and what lies beyond it. If you can’t identify it you don’t ‘know’ your target.
So you need to establish a good baseline of power for both indoor and outdoor use and determine where yours is more likely to be used.
Also keep in mind that pistol lights have to be somewhat small to fit on a handgun. This means you are limited in battery size and power. The more powerful the light is the shorter the batteries will last.
Police and military members should consider battery commonality when it comes to picking a weapon light. To keep logistics simple it’s a good idea to try and use as few different types of batteries as possible.
So if your night vision takes CR123 batteries, but your pistol light takes CR2 batteries, and your rifle light takes double As you are making your life a lot harder.
Home defenders should focus on finding a light that takes easy to find and reliable batteries. Having to special order batteries via the internet can be a real hassle, especially if they are expensive. Luckily the industry is standardizing and in our list of best pistol lights you’ll only be dealing with common batteries.
If you are wondering what do you mean modes, isn’t it just on and off? Well sit back, it’s time to learn. Yes there is on and off and those are self explanatory. Some lights have a few different modes you should know about.
A momentary option gives you the ability to flash the light on for only a second or even less. Most commonly a momentary option is built into the on/off switch in some way. It allows the light to stay for as long as you hold the switch. This used to simply flash and area when necessary.
Strobe is a setting that turns the light on and off rapidly. It’s used defensively to disorientate an attacker. Strobe settings have fallen out of popularity a bit. The strobe effect is good at disorientating, but if it hits a reflective surface it can affect the shooter.
Some lights will have a built in laser aiming unit. They can have their own controls or settings or come on when the light is on. It’s best to understand how to use this tool because you don’t want to turn the laser on when you need your light and vice versa.
This is a big one a lot of people don’t think about. Will your gun and pistol light combination have a holster option available? This is one big reason why choosing the best pistol light is important. The best pistol lights are being used by military and police forces and that created a market for holsters that fit these lights.
It’s wise to research some of your options and figure out what works with your gun and carry method. I’ll do a little work for you and add some of my favorite options that are compatible with some of the lights on our best pistol lights list. Also make sure your pistol safe is big enough for a gun and light!
Size and Ergonomics
Lastly we are going to address size and ergos. Handguns are varied and come in almost all size and shapes. A compact single stack 9mm like the Walther PPS has a rail for a light, but is something like the Streamlight TLR 2 really appropriate for such a small gun? Hardly.
You need to match your light’s size to your gun’s size and purpose. A miniature light on a full sized handgun is equally a bit of a waste.
Ergonomics refers to how the light is used. On your particular gun is it easy to reach the on/off switch? Can you run through each mode easily?
If not it might not be for you. Remember in a violent situation the last thing you want is to be fumbling with a weapon light. You want, and you need it immediately.
The Streamlight TLR 1 is one of the best lights on the market. It’s a full size pistol light designed for full sized handguns. Streamlight produces the TLR 1 in 300 lumen and 800 lumen models for home defense or duty use.
The systems are also modular enough to be mounted to rifles with the rifle kit. The 300 lumen model has a 2.5 hour runtime and the 800 lumen models lasts 1.75 hours.
The TLR 1 comes with several different rail keys that give you options for every oddball rail systems pistol manufacturers use. (That’s a rant for a different article) The lights can have up to three main modes, permanently on, momentary on, and strobe.
The TLR 1 features a nice parabolic reflector that increases the overall intensity of the light. It’s also built with the average width of human eyesight in mind and fills that gap well.
It attaches and detaches quickly without tools and is relatively simple to use. The TLR 1 utilizes two rear switches that are quick and easy to access with the trigger finger or support hand thumb. This is my personal choice and overall favorite weapon light for home defense and occasional carry.
The Surefire X300 is likely the number one choice of police and military units. Like everything Surefire builds this thing is a tank. It’s made to take abuse and will shrug it off. In my opinion when it comes to duty use this is the best light out there.
The X300 is made from high strength aluminum with an impact resistant polymer window. It’s anodized finish has the same strength as a mil spec AR 15/M4 rifle.
The X300 spits out 600 lumens of white hot light. Admittedly this isn’t the best light for a close quarters home defense light. It’s TIR lens is designed to maximize range with some thought given to peripheral vision.
It’s certainly a good solid choice for handgun hunters stalking game at night. The Surefire X300 covers ergonomics well to. It’s compatible with the DG pistol grip which acts as an auto on switch anytime the gun is grabbed. The standard rear controls are ambidextrous and the light has a momentary option if its needed.
The biggest downside is the 1.75 hour runtime is a bit short compared to the TLR 1.
3. Inforce APL
The Inforce APL is a very interesting design. Instead of featuring mostly round component it’s almost entirely flat. What’s the point of a flatter design? Well, it’s so you can pack the same about of power in a lower profile light option.
A lower profile means a smaller holster, and less overall weight. Less weight means a more balanced gun. Since most lights attach via the front of the gun a heavy light can make a gun front heavy, which could lead to dropped shots. This is especially true with one handed and weak handed shooting.
The Inforce APL weighs only 6 ounces with batteries in place. The APL comes in 200 and 400 lumen options. As a pistol light it’s comfortable on both full sized guns and compact pistols.
Its lightweight and low profile polymer design makes it a powerful choice for concealed carry. It does only have a 1.5 hour runtime, but keep in mind it’s only running a single CR 123 battery. That’s impressive for a one battery unit to be honest.
If you carry a small subcompact firearm like the Glock 26, the Walther PPS M1, or any other compact pistol with a rail the TLR 6 is for you. There is no need to sacrifice a light because you’re carrying a small gun.
The solution is to carry a small light. The TLR 6 is both a light and laser module. This mini light and laser adds hardly any bulk or weight to your gun. This is critical because if the gun is too big what’s the point of carrying a subcompact?
The TLR 6 weigh only 1.27 ounces and is only 2.3 inches long. It packs a 100 lumen light that can actually reach out impressively far due to the parabolic reflector. Since it’s for concealed carry it does work well inside a home or building.
The laser gives you one more option for aiming a small pistol in a low light situation. This is the best pistol light for any teeny tiny concealed carry gun.
5. UTG LT
If you need something a little more affordable the UTG LT is an option. It’s the budget choice for weapon lights and while it’s not a Surefire or Streamlight it’s not a bad choice. UTG has really stepped up their game when it come to their quality control.
The UTG LT is a 400 lumen light that runs off a single CR2 battery. That’s really the biggest downside to the UTG LT. Cr2 batteries tend to be expensive and somewhat difficult to find.
The UTG LT is made from anodized aluminum and can attach to any standard picatinny rail. The UTG LT features an ambidextrous on/off switch with both a permanent on setting and a momentary switch.
The UTG LT is nice and compact and a good choice for compact handguns like the Glock 19. The UTG LT offers an affordable alternative for home defense or for use on a truck gun.
Holsters and Compatibility
Finding holsters for pistols equipped with lights can be difficult. You have to be able to match gun and light and then hope its a quality holster. To make this a wee bit simpler for everyone I’ve gathered a few holsters that work pretty dang well with lights.
The Omnivore is Blackhawk’s newest holster and is a level two retention holster designed to be near universal. The Omnivore works quite simply. You choose which model aligns with which light you have and then check their compatibility list.
The Omnivore is compatible with over a 150 pistols and it supports the Streamlight TLR 1 or 2 or the Surefire X300. It’s a nice affordable, retention based option that’s compatible with the Serpa platform. This means you can rock a belt, paddle, leg rig, shoulder rig, and a MOLLE mount.
The Black Arch IWB hybrid is unique in the fact in that its a light bearing holster that is an inside the waistband option. This means it’s highly concealable. This Black Arch model is compatible with the Inforce APL.
As a hybrid holster it’s quite comfortable for everyday carry and Black Arch Produces the holsters for a number of different guns. The Black Arch IWB holster uses a mixture of suede and kydex to produce a comfortable but high quality holster.
The Tulster IWB holsters are designed primarily for appendix carry. The Tulster is an all polymer holster that’s made for subcompact guns equipped with the Streamlight TLR 6. This holster is made for comfortable carry of a subcompact gun equipped with a light. Tulster makes them for all popular gun models including the baby Glocks and the S&W Shield.
Light it Up
A solid pistol light will do wonders for your home defense and self-defense platform and a light is a must have if you operate and work in the dark. Without lighting your target up you can’t really be sure of what you’re shooting.
The best pistol lights are going to improve the versatility of your gun. Any from out top 5 pistol lights will serve you well in both duty and home defense. Just always remember your personal needs trumps every other consideration.