Finding the best pistol light or hand held light to use with your concealed carry or home defense gun can be difficult. To help you through this process, we created this guide to narrow your choices down. It will also help you decide what kind of light is best for your situation.
Here is the bold, controversial, and probably unpopular truth: There is a better than average chance that you have never trained to shoot in low light and are woefully unprepared. There is a 50/50 chance that you don’t have a light accessible with your firearm and are woefully unprepared. Why? Because most people only train to shoot in good conditions at a range.
Last I checked, you can’t book your home invasion or schedule a time for your mugging. You have to be ready when the time comes and that means having every possible edge you can get. At a minimum, you should have no deficiencies that you can control.
Every major training school teaches light work with either a weapon mounted light or off-hand light. Wonder why? Let’s explore.
Why have a Light for your Pistol?
Acquisition and Identification
First, the obvious: Target acquisition and identification. You should have learned this as a part of basic marksman safety, but we don’t shoot at anything we can’t identify, EVER. That shadow could be an assailant, a neighbor, or your own grandmother. Simply don’t shoot if you don’t know, and unless you have some superhuman power to see in the dark, a light may be your best friend.
Gives an Edge
That should be a basic use that everyone understands, but it is far from the only reason. A good tactical light of at least 300 lumens can give you an edge. In the dark, that is like a camera flash straight into an attacker's eyes. That can buy you valuable seconds where you are not an easy target and they are. Those seconds can be what saves your life.
Those are the primary reasons, but there are some ancillary reasons why a light is a great idea. One is that it reduces recoil and muzzle flip by adding a counterweight. This can be a reasonable edge if you need it, and we take every edge we can get. The whole idea of carrying a weapon is to come out on top. There is no such thing as a bad advantage.
Lastly, having a good light is never a bad idea. This is the tail end of arbitrary uses, but on at least one occasion I used my weapon mounted light on an UNLOADED pistol to find a lost lug nut on an emergency tire change.
Carry Guns vs Home Defense Guns
Let me start this by saying that my Mossberg and most of my AR-15s have lights. The Glock 19 that I sometimes carry (and use for home defense) has a light. My Glock 43 has a TLR-6 that is either equipped, or I carry a light in a pocket. The Sig P365 that I sometimes carry does not, but I carry a handheld light with it. Every gun should have a light option should you need it. But there are some specifics between home defense and carry guns that should be noted.
On a carry gun, a weapon mounted light is by far the best option in most cases. It does add size, weight, and cuts down on holster options, but it deploys much faster than a secondary light. When you need a carry gun, time may not be a luxury you have. That light needs to come out as fast as the weapon does.
Sure, you can opt for a secondary light as I do with the P365. If so, you should carry it in a way that it can be deployed as quickly as you would one of your spare mags. Buried in a jean pocket is no way to go. Those with belt clips are great or get a mag pouch that has a flashlight holder.
Home Defense Gun
For home defense, you can forgo the smaller lights on your larger firearms and ramp up the power. I have a large piece of land and like a light with far more power to spot targets at a greater distance. These are lights that I wouldn’t particularly want to deploy in close quarters because they are bright enough to cause temporary blindness to both parties.
That is the primary reason I keep a standard pistol light mounted to the Glock. For indoor work at a moments notice, I know it’s ready. I only want the more powerful lights for longer range work when I need it.
Weapon Mounted vs Hand Held
Using a light is a discipline that needs to be practiced. Within that discipline are two different skills; the use of a mounted light and the use of a handheld. Practice both to proficiency. While you will develop an affinity for one over the other, you never know what may happen. Become a well-rounded and adaptable shooter.
Weapon mounted lights are smaller, lighter, and ultimately easier to use. This makes them the preferred option for most people and who can blame them. However, they are imperfect. Here are a few notable flaws to the weapon mounted light:
- If you can see it, you are pointing a gun at it. Not always a great thing if it happens to be old granny getting a drink.
- It will change your point of aim. You will need to practice with the light to get a good feel for how and to what degree this shift occurs.
- It takes more discipline to keep the batteries fresh. People are bad at checking these things and with the shorter battery life, you need to keep on top of it and make changing them a habit.
Handheld lights are the old school method and one that can be very effective. Many professional shooters still use this method, but it also has its flaws. Some of them quite extreme:
- You lose a point of contact with the gun. You always want as much control of the firearm as possible and a handheld light will always take some hand off the gun, no matter how you hold it.
- It’s a second device you have to worry about. It has to be deployed as needed, meaning it has to be where you can reliably get to it. Not borrowed by your wife to check under the fridge.
- It is a more complicated skill to learn well. You are trying to point two things in one direction at the same time. Some people have a very difficult time with this, usually because of hand size.
Regardless of the method you choose, get training and practice in both. Many trainers will offer this training as part of their curriculum. Some start very early with low-light work, while others will offer it at higher tier classes. The important thing to remember is to get the proper training with your light.
Best Pistol Lights
Here are our choices for the best pistol lights on the market today
- Streamlight TLR Series
- Streamlight TLR-1
- Streamlight TLR-1S
- Streamlight TLR-1HL
- Streamlight TLR-6
- Streamlight TLR-7
- Surefire X Series
- Surefire X300 Ultra
- Surefire X300V
- Surefire X400
- Olight PL Series
- Olight PL-1 II Valkyrie
- Olight PL-2 Valkyrie
- Olight PL-Mini 2
- Inforce APL Series
- Inforce APL Gen III
- Inforce APLc Compact
There are dozens of brands of weapon mounted lights out there. Picking one can be a daunting task, especially if you are unfamiliar with the brands available. We could not possibly include them all, but here are a few of the most reliable and best performing options.
Streamlight TLR Series
When it comes to options, Streamlight has a mind-boggling number of models that have their own strengths and weaknesses. You could easily fill several articles on their weapon mounted lights alone and still not get everything. They have a light for every person and every purpose. Currently, they are the industry leader in gun mounted lighting technology. Here are a few of their options:
Streamlight TLR 1
The Streamlight TLR-1 is the industry standard for what a light should be with waterproof construction, momentary/steady on, and tool-less attachment. With two CR123 batteries, you get 2.5 hours of run-time at 300 lumens. This light does everything a light should do and does it very well.
- Streamlight TLR-1S – This is the same light but adds a strobe function. While I am not personally a fan of strobe a number of pro shooters and shooting schools advocate strobe lights.
- Streamlight TLR-1HL – This is the high lumen variant of the TLR-1 that peaks at 800 lumens and a run time of about 1.75 hours. If you need some extra punch, this is a great light to go with. I have one of these on my Glock 19 and I love it! I highly recommend this light!
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The Streamlight TLR-6 lights are some of the lightest lights you can get. You can get these in a few different formats from weapon specific rail mounted options to a universal kit that connects to the trigger guard of most popular carry pistols.
A single CR1/3N battery will get you run time of about an hour at 100 lumens. Most models are available with a laser if you want the option. This light is a little low on power, but enough for close work. I put one of these on my Glock 43 from time to time.
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The Streamlight TLR-7 is perhaps the most versatile TLR weapon mounted light with 1.5 hours of run time at 500 lumens. It still comes in under 3 ounces with the included CR123A battery. It has a strobe function, tool-less attachment, and safety switch. Standard mode is a momentary on, with the option of steady on if needed. The TLR-8 is the same light with the addition of a laser.
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Surefire X Series
Surefire may not have invented the weapon light, but they revolutionized it. For over 20 years, they have been the giant of the industry that everyone else was emulating. While several other companies have further innovated the light, this remains the standard by which others are measured.
Surefire X300 Ultra
While the Surefire X300 Ultra was not Surefire’s first weapon light, it is still their flagship. Putting out a 600 lumens using two CR123A batteries, this light will project a narrow beam for up to 1.25 hours.
This is one of the brightest and farthest casting pistol lights on the market. It will fit most any rail system and is compatible with Surefire’s many remote systems. Or you can stick with the on-board momentary/steady on switch if that is more to your taste.
- Surefire X300V – For the more tactical of you wanting some IR on your light this would be for you. While most of the time these are found on rifles, nothing is stopping you from strapping this on to a pistol as well.
- Surefire X400 – Though it is a different series, not much separates the 400 series from the 300. In this case, it is just a laser.
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Olight PL Series
Olight makes perhaps the best budget weapon mounted lights on the planet. They may not rank quite as high as the titans of light production above, but they are still very good quality and a fraction of the price. They should be considered a second tier light, but one that can be trusted to work when it counts.
Olight PL-1 II Valkyrie
The Olight PL-1 II Valkyrie is a solid light that checks all the boxes of what you need to have in a weapon mounted light. It puts out 450 lumens and will run up to an hour on a single battery. Its most endearing quality is its size. At just 3 ounces and just 3 inches long, it suits most compact and full-sized handguns. It is perfect for indoor and light outdoor use. Comes with momentary/continuous on and strobe.
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Olight PL-2 Valkyrie
If you really want to up the power, the Olight PL-2 Valkyrie is the PL-1 on steroids. Maxing out at a blinding 1200 lumens for an hour plus on two CE123A batteries, this light has the power without a doubt. It has the same modes, controls, and features as the less powerful model, but functions just as well.
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Olight PL-Mini 2
The Olight PL-Mini 2 is a pretty advanced light and a huge value for its price. It maxes out at 600 lumens and has a beam distance of 100 meters. A notable feature is the ability to charge the Mini externally. Something that has been neglected by other companies.
A huge feature of this light is the convenience of charging it by connecting the light directly with the included magnetic USB cable. There is no need to remove a battery or plug into a port that will wear out over time.
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Inforce APL Series
Inforce lights are made in America by Americans and even though they are new, they are putting out some good quality lights. They may not have the reputation or history, but they have the desire and knowledge to create great quality products.
Inforce APL Gen III
For their flagship model, the Inforce APL Gen III does very well. With three generations behind them, this light has continued to improve with each generation.
With 400 lumens of output for up to 1.5 hours on a single charge, this is a light that can function indoors and outdoors with equal effectiveness. The only modes are momentary and continuous, but that covers the bases without adding any fluff. There is no strobe option on an Inforce APL light.
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Inforce APLc Compact
The Inforce APLc Compact is simply the smaller version of the APL for a subcompact pistol. It does lose a lot of power with the decrease coming in at 200 lumens. The run-time is similar as are the modes. No strobe, just a decent, steady beam. If you need this for a Glock check here.
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Handheld Light Options
For every company making weapon lights, there are two making handheld lights. These range from utter trash to some really solid lights. Just like with the weapon mounted options, we aren’t going to include them all, just give you a look at a few of the trusted models out there.
Much like with the weapon lights, Streamlight offers a confusing amount of tactical lights. Some have drastically different features as well as power. In tactical lights, they offer about 30 different models, but we will just cover a couple of the better options.
Streamlight PROTAC 2XL
The Streamlight PROTAC 2XL is an amazing little light that can produce 500 lumens despite being just 4 ounces and 5 inches long. It can run off either CR123A or 18650 batteries and gets 30 hours on low or 3.25 hours on high. I opted for the 18650 battery because it is USB rechargeable and you can still use the CR123As when needed.
One of the best features about this light is that you can program the modes you want available. For tactical situations, that would probably be high only, but other options exist for versatility. This is my favorite light I own.
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Streamlight PROTAC HL 3
If you want something with a little more power, the Streamlight PROTAC HL 3 will give you 1100 lumens with many of the same great features. On low you can run the light for over 40 hours, on high it’s just 2 hours. It is programmable and if you opt for the 18650 battery, USB rechargeable.
The light is larger at 7 inches long and weighs a little more than half a pound...so this would be for home defense as I wouldn't want to carry it in a pocket.
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Following suit with the weapon lights, Surefire is a definite contender for some of the best lights out there. It isn’t just about lumens, run time, and all the extras. With Surefire, it is about military grade construction and rock solid durability. Like Streamlight, they offer dozens of models, but there are a couple that stand out as great lights for tactical use.
Surefire 6PX Tactical
The Surefire 6PX Tactical is a Surefire staple and a light that has been around since their beginnings. It has changed over to LED, but otherwise is much the same. They offer this in different setups, but for tactical use go with the Tactical model.
The output is 600 lumens for about 1.5 hours of use. Weight is 5 ounces with the CR123A battery installed and length is just over 5 inches.
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Surefire E2D Defender
Right out of the gate, there are two models of the Surefire E2D Defender light, the tactical one has only a single mode and the EDC model with high/low. For a carry light, you are better off with the tactical.
At just 4.2 ounces and 5.5 inches long, this light puts out a whopping 600 lumens for up to 2.75 hours.
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Just as with their weapon lights, Olight produces a number of solid lights that work well for tactical situations. Their prices aren’t as much of a cost savings with handheld lights, but the quality is worth the price. There are a few models by Olight that I like, but one stands out as being the leader of the pack.
Olight M2R Warrior
The Olight M2R Warrior is a fairly standard sized light at just 5.25 inches long and weighing 5 ounces. In tactical lights, this is a common form factor. What is uncommon is the nearly 2 hours of constant 1500 lumen output. That is in turbo mode, but there are 6 modes all the way down to 1 lumen which will run for 25 days.
While the added modes add to the versatility, they take away from a tactical light where you want power at a button press. To get around this, Olight uses 2 buttons. The one on the tail cap will fire straight into full turbo, while the side button gives you the other options as well. It runs off an included 18650 battery that is rechargeable.
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Holsters for Pistol Lights
We have finally reached a time with the prevalence of Kydex holsters, where you can get a holster fitted specifically to the model of firearm you carry. Once you add a weapon mounted light, all that goes out the window. Companies that produce holsters to fit your exact pistol and light combination are decidedly rare. How do you address this?
Whatever you do, don’t go the usual route and get some nylon universal holster. All they do is universally suck at retaining your firearm. You need a holster that is designed to fit your gun and, in this case, your attached light. There are a few companies that make holsters that fit the bill.
Below are a few brands that make some models that accept lights:
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Some companies are now producing holsters which use the trigger guard as the main point of retention. This means they can leave all of the space forward of the trigger guard open to accommodate a variety of lights. These types of holsters are not the best option, but are better than a generic soft holster.
One lesson to take away from this is to stick to the name brand lights. If you buy some cheap, offshore amazon light you will have a much harder time getting a holster for it. And by the time you do, it’s likely to be broken anyway.
Also, be sure to check out our article on the Best Concealed Carry Holsters!
Normally a conclusion sums up the article, but let’s take this a different way. Here are a couple important notes to take to heart:
- Tactical lights are important
- Be sure to train with your tactical light
Improper use of a tactical light in a tactical situation can be a fatal error. Just last week in Ohio, a cop was shot in the chest with a .380 when approaching a house. His light gave him away due to improper use.
Before you carry your light, you need to know when and how to use it. There is no substitute for professional training. Get it and practice the skills they teach.
If this article has helped you decide on a light, be sure to check out our Recommended Gear page to see what else we suggest to improve your concealed carry experience.
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