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Light 'Em Up

Light 'Em Up

Tips on choosing the right gun-mountedlight for your pistol.

The first weapon-mounted lights weren't particularly user-friendly. The jury-rigged units SWAT cops bolted on their entry guns were effective, but they were too cumbersome to be of use to the armed citizen or patrol officer. However, those elite units quickly proved that the tactical and safety advantages of weapon-mounted lights were too many to ignore.

Today's shooters have a much greater selection when it comes to size, quality, features and mounting systems than I ever thought possible when those first lights came on the scene. Unfortunately, there are so many choices that selecting the light that best fits your needs and your pistol can be confusing.

The first thing to consider when selecting a weapon light is what type of rail your pistol has. If your pistol has the Universal Standard Rail, a light made for Picatinny-spec rails won't fit correctly. SureFire's new X300 comes with an adapter for both systems, while Insight's SSL-1 has an adjustable rail interface. Insight Technologies' M3 and M6X lights may be ordered with one of four rail interfaces, including the new S&W rail and Insight's flexible Rail Grabber interface.

Keep in mind that if your light is not designed for your rail, you may be able to install it, but it won't fit properly. Make sure you get a light with the correct interface.

If your pistol doesn't have a rail, you're not out of luck. Dawson Precision and SureFire, for example, make good aftermarket accessory rails for some Beretta, SIG and HK models, as well as 1911s.

Size should be your next consideration. Most lights are perfectly suitable for the majority of pistols, but a more compact light, such as Insight's X2, is a better fit for smaller guns such as Springfield's Micro-Compact. A bigger light will work, but compact lights sacrifice little in terms of performance and look better on smaller guns.


Once you decide on a package, you have to decide what level of performance you need. Here, two factors--light type and brightness--are closely related.

All weapon-mounted lights use either incandescent bulbs or LEDs. I prefer LEDs for several reasons. First, LEDs emit a very white light compared to incandescent bulb's more yellow beam. Because LEDs are easier on batteries, they have much longer run times. LEDs are also as close to recoil-proof as you can get, while incandescent lights require shock-isolated bezels to withstand a steady diet of full-power loads.

Incandescent bulbs used to be much brighter than LEDs, but LED quality has improved so much that you no longer have to sacrifice output to get the advantages LEDs offer.

For example, SureFire claims its new X300 has a max output of 110 lumens and 2.4 hours of run time. Insight Technologies advertises 80-plus lumens and a 90-minute run time for its SSL-1 LED light, and Streamlight advertises 21„2 hours of run time and 80 lumens for its TLR-1 model.

All are bright enough to illuminate just about any room and far exceed 65 lumens, which is generally considered the minimum output for temporarily blinding an opponent at close range.

Most weapon lights are operated by a rear-mounted rocker switch with momentary and on/off settings. However, they do not work well for people with smaller hands and are not as intuitive as I would like. Contoured, extended switches such as SureFire's Dev Group switch are the perfect solution in my opinion.

These switches are attached to an arm that mounts to the back of the light. The arm follows the trigger guard and angles down the front strap. The small piece that rides the front strap contains the momentary pressure switch. This is the setup I use on my light-equipped pistols.

If your budget can stand it, you might consider a light with an integral laser. Streamlight, Insight and Glock all offer lights with integral lasers. I haven't used one enough to attest to its durability, but the Insight M6X I have has held up very well so far.

Finally, I recommend choosing a light made by a better-known manufacturer. You might save a few bucks with a no-name brand, but there's no telling what you'll get. Stick with a trusted brand.

As the number of weapon-mounted lights on the market continues to grow, choosing the right one will become increasingly difficult. But everyone who uses a handgun for home defense should take the time to select the right light for their weapon and add one of these valuable tools to their tactical toolbox.

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