Survival & Personal Illumination: Tools, Technology & Tactics

Self-defense and survival-conscious people usually have some commonality in the way they think about threats. We tend to focus heavily on carrying the tools that we think we need to counter the largest perceived threats, in the worst situations imaginable. Like you, I know many people who carry a pistol, a spare magazine, and an edged weapon as part of their personal EDC gear. Many of these people have all kinds of gadgets and gizmos in their EDC kit like: the latest / greatest JHP ammunition, RMR- pistol optics, the latest / coolest kydex holster, flamed titanium key chain pry bars, you name it, they got it…except: ‘a flashlight”. If you ask why they don’t carry a light as part of their kit, you get a variety of answers from, “I only carry one at night”…or “if I think I will need it, I’ll bring one.”…or “I’d rather carry more ammo”. In my opinion, the best way to achieve practical self -defense and survival preparedness is to accept the realities of the statistics: What am I mostly likely to become victim of? Training and preparing for the most likely scenarios seems logical, but most people’s personal choices in EDC gear don’t usually reflect those realities. Many people spend the majority of their time and resources tailoring their EDC kit for “gunfights” of which the probability of ever happening is very low. However, statistics do show that the overwhelming majority of violent encounters occur in environments of low light or darkness. This is a reality that has not changed over time, and when the facts are examined, it all makes sense. Violent assaults usually take place in hours of darkness or in places of low light: So then…why not carry a light in your EDC?

Why Carry a Light?

If you are statistically most likely to be in a defensive situation in low light or no light conditions, identifying a potential threat or target becomes very important. You can’t usually hit what you can’t see, and if you are going to make the decision to shoot, then you better be sure you are shooting the bad guy or… you WILL BE the bad guy. Carrying a flashlight certainly makes this process much easier. Carrying one all day guarantees you’re covered in places that you might not have expected to be in like parking garages, subways, basements or underground areas. The odds of you getting into a shootout requiring a reload are many times less than the odds of you being involved in a defensive scenario in a low light or no light conditions. Yet so many people refuse to realize the importance of carrying a light. For the average person, carrying a flash light is statistically more important than having a second magazine. From a survival perspective, carrying a flashlight in your EDC can give you an enormous advantage if you are trying signal, communicate, or make your position known. If you are going to carry a light, here are some things to consider:

How bright is bright enough? Today it seems like manufacturers who are producing any type of hand held or tactical light are in a race to see who can make the smallest most powerful hand held light. The highest output light is not always the best for defensive applications. For most individual civilian applications anything between 150-300 lumens is ideal, in my opinion: This plenty of light to use for searching and scanning as well as enough to cause temporary blindness and disorientation in both defensive and offensive applications. This is enough light to give you some range and power, while not becoming a bullet magnet, or a giant “here I am sign”. In my own experience, hand held lights with outputs of 300 lumens or more become a potential liability when searching and scanning inside dark structures. The potential to over illuminate an area, back light yourself, or become blinded by your own light that has bounced off a reflective surface become issues to consider and avoid. The more light you have the more difficult this can be to manage, especially if you have complicated switching modes.

In a recent article posted on about improvised weapons, I talked a little about the use of the flashlight as an improvised striking weapon. Hand held lights can be an excellent striking weapons if used properly. In combination with a pistol or edged weapon, a hand held flashlight becomes an excellent force multiplier when used as a non-lethal weapon option. Lights can cause temporary blindness or blunt force trauma from strikes. As a side note: Remember that the more “tactical” your light looks the more attention it may draw if you are using as an improvised weapon or low profile weapon when moving through high security areas.

Features &Things to Consider:

1.) LED vs. Incandescent: I tend to favor LED lights as incandescent bulbs will break if you use your light as an impact weapon. They are more rugged, and last longer and provide the most output.

2.) Switching /Button Location: Tail Cap? Flush or exposed button switch? …or side-mounted button. There are advantages and disadvantages for each, but I think a tail-mounted push button is the most versatile for all applications.

3.) Light Output Modes: What is best? A multi-function light that has: High / Low / On / Off / Strobe…or something that is just 1-2 power levels and On / Off. There are always advantages / disadvantages to any type of equipment, but I tend to find that the simpler something is, the better it will work under stress, and the less likely you will be to select the wrong setting at the wrong time.

4.) Battery Type: AAA, AA, CR 123? Rechargeable batteries. Lithium vs. Alkaline batteries: Know which types work best in your light. How often should you change your batteries? Obviously, depending on use a good rule of thumb is every 6 months or so. I consider my lights life support equipment, and change out my carry magazine ammunition and batteries every six months.

5.) Retention:  I like lights with good quality pocket clips. It makes the light much easier to carry and deploy. Some people like lanyards, or belt pouches. Pick the option that best suits the way you live, but do have a way to carry your light. Doing so makes it much more effective. For anyone carrying a handbag… DON’T keep the light buried in your handbag where it will take precious time to locate it. Having it is NOT enough, especially in a survival situation. Be able to index and deploy it quickly, just like you would any other weapon.

Cost: You DO NOT need to spend $200 to get a high quality held light that has enough lumens and the features you need for an awesome EDC light. With that said, there is also a lot of junk out there that is not suitable for defense or survival applications. There many products available in the $45 – $75 price range that provide a great balance of features for the money. Currently, my personal favorites are Streamlight and Surefire, but there are many good brands to choose from these days.

There are many things to consider when making the right choices for personal EDC illumination. Regardless of what make and model light you choose, or what features it has, or how bright it is: The bottom line is that actually “having” a light in your EDC kit at all times makes you much better prepared for the statistical probabilities that you will likely encounter. Hopefully, you’ll never need your light in a bad situation, but if you do you won’t be left in the dark!

Article by contributor Robert Rudis

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