There are times and situations where a flashlight just doesn't cut it. Every time you're using a flashlight, you're multitasking. That means you're using your free hand to do something else and you'd rather have both hands freed up to focus on the task at hand. It could be the difference between life and death, on whether or not you can protect yourself, on finding your way or staying stuck, or just a matter of convenience. There are situations where you just need both hands to deal with a perp, set up your gear, or manage the everyday tasks made more difficult under the cover of darkness, even if it's just fixing a flat.
So, how do you choose the right hands-free light for your needs with so many factors to consider? Most are familiar with headlamps, but they aren't always the most practically placed illumination for tactical purposes. Wrist lights, helmet lights, tac-vest lights, and PDF lights are all designed for a specific need, but they're not all created equal.
In addition to where it clips on or attaches, there are a couple factors to consider when deciding on the right hands-free light for your needs. We've compiled this brief guide of factors to consider when choosing a light, along with a handful of our favorite tactical, everyday, and emergency options.
Flood light - Flood light, or wide angle beams, are great all around lights. These beams are ideal for open rooms or outdoor use, doing general repair work, and campground tasks. Flood light beams generally do not cast light for long distances.
Spot light - Spot lights cast their beams for longer distances in a smaller, tighter diameter. They are better for searching, targeting, and spotlighting in the dark.
Most hands-free lights today use LEDs and their output is measured in lumens, which are a gauge of the quantity of light dispersed in all directions by the source. Generally speaking, the higher a lumen count, the more energy is being burned. Lower lumens will retain their battery life and beam longer at the sacrifice of light brightness.
As mentioned, most lights come in either flood light or spot light, or a combination of the two. Additionally, every light is designed to channel light its light to a target area. They're usually tested by the manufacturer to gauge the distance the light will cast. The number of lumens will determine the output, or brightness, of a light, while the beam distance determines how far that output will reach to a given surface.
Hands-free lights are generally lighter than their handheld flashlight counterparts of comparable strength. Generally, they should be so light that you don't even know that they're there. They should become like an extension of your body, whether worn on your wrist or affixed to your helmet. Still, the weight of any light largely depends on its strength. The brighter the light and the longer its intended to last, the more battery power it will need. More battery=more weight.
Every light has an on and off switch with at least one mode, but most have two or more=high and low.
Strobe (flash) - Strobe modes are blink rapidly and are intended for use as an emergency signal. Depending on the model, the strobe mode may have multiple flash rates with slow and fast frequencies.
High, medium, low (combo) - High levels are a lights brightest option and can often have near-blinding effect. Low levels are intended more for discretion, energy conservation, and light-duty tasks. Medium levels are a blend of the two, designed for multipurpose use.
Boost - Boost modes, or zoom modes, are found on some lights and can put the beam into an "overdrive" mode for a short period of time for maximum brightness. This powerful effect can be used for self-defense or to quickly illuminate a target. This mode comes at the cost of draining the lights battery quickly.
From a brand known for their top of the line flashlights, the SureFire Compact WristLight 2211X is one of the brand's lightest and most affordable designs to date. With an nearly indestructible LED, the Compact WristLight uses SureFire's trademarked MaxVision beam with three levels of brightness ranging from 15 to 300 lumens, making ideal for a variety of low-light tactical and everyday work tasks.
Police and military personnel will appreciate the design and fit of the 2111X when strapped to your second hand support wrist, allowing the beam to line up perfectly with your handgun. Both the high (300 lumen) and medium (60 lumen) light modes are bright enough to obscure a perp's natural night vision in tactical scenarios, while the low setting provides more discretion and easy handling of gear loading and low-light maintenance tasks. By default, the single button on the 2111X emits the highest light's highest output mode, but that can be programmed to go from high to low to low to high depending on your preferences. Additionally, a separate head strap is available to convert the Compact WristLight into a headlamp for times when you'd prefer the light to sit further back on your body and really free up your hands for the tasks at hand.
Tactical users will love the light's recoilless, impact resistant, rugged polymer body with an easy-access single pushbutton and adjustable nylon strap to use both on bare skin and the sleeve. There's an integrated "fuel" gauge to tell when the 2211 Compact lithium-ion battery needs charging via its micro-USB port (included). In a league of its own, there aren't many hands-free tactical lights out there that pack the power and versatility at this price point as the Compact WristLight by SureFire.
The Gerber Hands-Free Torch AAA Light is part of the Gerber Tools collaboration with adventureman Bear Grylls to bring high functioning tools and gear at affordable price points to the everyday consumer. At a hardly noticeable weight of 1.65-ounces (with battery), the Gerber Torch AAA Light makes a great starter, backup, or everyday carry hands-free option. With orange accents, the light isn't the most tactical or covert headlamp on the market, but its accessibility, size, and runtime more than make up for its relative indiscretion.
At its highest setting, the light only produces 25 lumens of light, but can run up to 8.75 hours. The lower setting is much more energy efficient at 8 lumens on a 15 hour runtime. As the name suggests, the Torch runs on a single AAA battery that keeps it lightweight and compact. But where some high-powered headlamps have elaborate straps and connective battery packs that add significant bulk, the Gerber AAA Light has a discrete sleeve integrated right into the elastic head strap to store an extra battery to replace at a moment's notice.
Available in black (for law enforcement) and desert tan (for military), the SureFire Helmet Light, 3V provides three colors of light in a variety of modes for a variety of tactical needs. The main light has three LEDs that 19.2 lumens of light at a 6 hour runtime on high, 5 lumens for 28 hours on medium, and 1.4 lumens for a full 48 hours on the lowest setting. Additionally, two secondary blue LEDs run at 2.5 lumens for 20 hours on high, 0.8 lumens for 48 hours on the medium setting, and 0.3 lumens for a whopping 96 hours on low. The blue light settings provide a tactical advantage when your natural night vision turns on in low-signature, extreme dark situations. Additionally, the light has a tertiary Identity Friend or Foe (IFF) infrared beacon light that operates at 1.72 mW and 120 hours of runtime.
The body of the SureFire Helmet Light is made of a rugged, watertight polymer and designed to fit snugly to any Modular Integrated Communications Helmet (MICH) with its low-profile rotating clamp mount. Users of thinner helmet models may find some wiggle room when attempting to apply the clamp securely. The mount has variable positioning with 20 presets for a full 360-degrees of rotation, and a simple press of the integral lever easily unclips the light from the mount to be used as a handheld, change the battery or attached to the SureFire Z71 MOLLE attachment clip (not included).
When it comes to use in tactical, whether law enforcement or military, operations, you want a light that's built to last. Fortunately, the SureFire Helmet Light 3V can run its seven unique settings on a single 123A battery, and the light is designed to keep up to even the most battle-tested uses for up to 10 years.
Not all hands-free lights are for tactical or everyday use. Sometimes, a single light can be the determiner of life or death, rescue or hopelessness. That's why Ultimate Survival Technologies (UST) created its line of personal locator lights, including the UST See-Me 1.0 Steady-On LED Light, a hands-free multipurpose light providing clear visibility and ensuring detection for emergency situations. The single LED bulb never needs replacing and produces 20 lumens of 360-degree light visible up to 3.4 miles (5.5 km) away in clear, dark conditions, exceeding the USCG required visibility for emergency beacons of one nautical mile.
The See-Me 1.0 is IPX7 waterproof rated, protecting it from total immersion for 30 minutes up to one meter, and the light will run up to 17 hours on 2 AAA batteries. A simple twist of the body beneath the bulb turns the beacon on and off, allowing for easy, single-handed activation in high-stress conditions when use of your hands are limited. In addition to floating, the light's lanyard and hook-and-loop strap make it ideal for a variety of setups including PFDs, tac-vests, packs, or attached to both recreational or emergency vehicles.
At less than 5 inches long and under 2 ounces, the UST See-Me 1.0 is the ideal multipurpose emergency beacon for everyday carry.
There you have it. The four hands-free lights mentioned above are just a few of our favorite options at DNA Tactical. We know that there's a light for every situation, but not all lights or created equal, nor are they all intended for the same purpose. From everyday carry to tactical, from emergency to discretion, every hands-free light is designed to carry out a specific task catered to the carrier. Make sure you check out our full line of hands-free light options to ensure you're never left in the dark.