Rifle Light Selection
Alongside a solid sighting system and a sling, a weapon mounted light is often considered an essential attachment for any serious-use long gun. After all, it is dark half of the time. With the plethora of options on the market it can be hard to decide which light is right for you. While not all encompassing, this article will cover some common terms, touch on some options, and give comparisons of light performance.
Head - the front of a light where the beam comes from
Tailcap - rear of the light that houses the button/switch that activates the light
Body - holds the battery, head and tailcap all together and has mounting posts
Lumen vs Candela
These are the two measures by which a light’s performance is measured by. In simple terms: Lumens are the “brightness” of the light, Candela is the “intensity” of the light and is directly responsible for its ability to “push” the light to distances and through obstructions such as smoke in the air. There is also a light’s Kelvin number, though this is not an important factor in this scenario. Most lights are advertised based on their lumen output though as we will see below candela is arguably the more important factor.
The most common mount footprint is the Surefire Scout footprint, this gives a plethora of options for mounts. I would recommend using an Arisaka Scout Mount of your choice. If you prefer a quick detach option, American Defense Manufacturing has scout mounts although these will require picatinny to work. If you have a proprietary footprint then you are likely stuck with what the manufacturer provided you with. Mount your light as far forward as you can and still be able to comfortably activate the light. Mounted too far rearward the muzzle will cast a shadow.
Yet again there are a plethora of options for light activation from tailcaps to remotes and various other buttons on the market. Recently I have begun converting all my lights to tailcap only activation. Remote switches work very well, when they work, otherwise I see them being an additional failure point. Plugs can be accidentally pulled out of the light, cables can get caught and severed, tape switches can come unattached from your rail at an inopportune time, all rendering the light inoperable. Mixing and matching tailcaps with lights and tape switches from various companies can actually be a hindrance, reducing the performance of the light. Tailcaps like the Surefire DS00 give you both a plug for a switch as well as a tail cap button backup if you decide to go the tape switch mount.
Size and weight - The Cloud Defensive lights are very large and heavy, Arisaka Lights are very small and light. How much are you willing to trade size and weight for output?
Batteries - Dual Fuel lights take either a rechargeable 18650 or (2) cr123a giving you options for batteries. Micro versions are available for most lights, these only take rechargeable 18350 batteries and will cut your light’s run time in half.
Waterproof - Any light you pick should have a waterproof rating of IPX7 or better, though I have learned through the death of my Surefire x300 care must still be taken. Check the seals on your lights, replace o-rings as needed.
Customer service - These lights should be very durable, though they are still an electronic device attached to a firearm and things can fail. I have dealt with Cloud Defensive Customer service and had a great experience, fixing the light no problem and having it back in a timely manner. Surefire on the other hand…
Light caps - 100 Concepts light caps are inexpensive, prevent negligent discharges, and protect the lens from carbon and impact damage. I would recommend picking one up.
ComparisonsIt was a misty night and I used that to test the lights I had on hand, since I have them and use them I included two pistol lights and my handheld light. For reference: the chicken coop in the center of the beam is 60 yards from where I am standing, the yellow building is 10 yards left and 45 yards from where I am standing. These photos are not exactly what I saw with my eyes, in-person each was slightly clearer than shown below.
Surefire 640 turbo 700 lumens 100,000 candela
Arisaka 600 Malkoff E2XTL Head 500 lumens 55,000 candela
Cloud Defensive Rein 1.0 1400 lumens 60,000 candela
Surefire x300u 1000 lumen 11,300 candela
Cloud Defensive MCH 1700 lumens 40,000 candela
Streamlight TRL7-A 500 lumens 5,000 candela
Comparing the Arisaka 600 directly to the Cloud Defensive Rein 1.0, the Rein has nearly triple the lumens of the Arisaka yet their ability to perform are nearly identical due to their candela being almost equal. The Surefire 640 Turbo boasts a whopping 100,000 candela which pushes through obstructions the best, yet this light is so bright at this distance it washes out the target making it extremely difficult for me to see any details.
If you don't have a weapon light yet I hope this gives you some things to consider, and not to consider, when looking at options. If you already have a light, maybe this gives you something to improve upon or try something new. Moving forward I will be sticking with Arisaka and Cloud Defensive lights with simple tailcap push button activation. For me they are the best combination of the considerations above.