March 28, 2012
By James Tarr
I was last a uniformed police officer in the 1990s, and at that time the rechargeable Maglite was the pinnacle of personal illumination devices. It was big and heavy enough to hit people with because, in order to provide enough illumination and battery run time to be useful, it simply had to be large. Now the consumer marketplace is filled with "tactical illumination devices" light and small enough to fit into a pocket, and they keep getting better and brighter.
The latest company to push the speed of light is Crimson Trace with its new Lightguard series. The Lightguard clamps around the trigger guard and accessory rail of your pistol, and is very narrow and light. The version I received weighs just 1.5 ounces according to my scale. It is constructed of a dense and strong polymer, with a protected glass lens for the light.
Okay, big deal—just another weapon light, you say. Wrong. What makes the Crimson Trace Lightguard stand out is its pressure pad switch for instantaneous and instinctive activation. When installed, this activation switch located at the top of the grip just underneath the trigger guard. This rubber pad is positioned so as to be underneath the middle finger of your firing hand, and a normal squeeze of the grip is all it takes to activate the light.
The Lightguard requires no gunsmithing to install or modification to your pistol, although it is not quickly detachable. There is a very small on/off switch at the front of the unit to prevent accidental activation while in storage. It is flush to prevent the switch from being bumped in a holster.
Currently, the Crimson Trace Lightguard line is available for full-size frame Glock 9/40 pistols (Glock 17/19/22/23/34/35), Smith & Wesson's M&P pistols, the Springfield Armory XD and XDM—and the company just announced models available for 1911 pistols.
It's an LED light with a 100-lumen output, which is amazing considering how small it is. One hundred lumens is enough to light up any size room in a house or momentarily blind anyone close enough to grab you
LEDs are the "in" illumination technology because they produce much brighter light than incandescents and are a lot more durable than traditional bulbs—plus they run much cooler. For a comparison, if you have an old AA-powered Mini Maglite, pull it out and compare it to any mini LED light you might have hanging on your keychain. Not only will that little LED be tougher, it's probably brighter as well; the original Mini Maglite produced less than 10 lumens of light.
Batteries have improved as well. The Lightguard is powered by a CR2 lithium battery that provides two hours of run time, and like all Crimson Trace products it has a three-year warranty.
The Lightguard has two halves that clamp around the pistol's trigger guard and frame rail. One half houses the light/battery. Two small screws lock the halves of the unit together. A battery is provided with the unit, as well as two high-tech looking swabs for cleaning the lens.
Most weapon lights are universal and mount to the pistol's accessory rail on the front of the frame, and the problem with traditional weapon-mounted lights is that you really need two hands on the pistol to manipulate them properly. The toggle switch on the back of these units is best worked with the thumb of the support hand. Move the switch one way for momentary light and the other to switch the light to stay on.
While the toggle switch can be maneuvered with the trigger finger of the firing hand, this is not fast, easy or instinctive. If you have a light like this, I hope you've trained in its use, especially activating it in the dark while stressed. Also, any light that stays on is a potential target for an intruder, but turning a toggle-switched light on and off with just your trigger finger is a real pain. What is instinctive and easy is simply squeezing down on the pistol, and with the Lightguard's pressure pad the activation is simplicity itself.
Having a light mounted on your handgun is so much more convenient and easier to operate than having a flashlight in one hand and a gun in the other. Plus, having a flashlight attached to the pistol in the nightstand means there is only one thing to grab for in the dark when you hear glass breaking.
There is another advantage I see to the Crimson Trace Lightguard system. It is small and light enough to put on a carry pistol. An ounce and a half is nothing, and it is narrower than the slide of any of the pistols it fits. While I don't think a Lightguard-equipped pistol would be able to fit in most standard holsters (except for perhaps a generic pancake style), by the time you're reading this or shortly thereafter I expect holster makers to be offering models to fit pistols equipped with the Lightguard. (The Lightguard is also compatible with Crimson Trace's Lasergrips, so if you wanted to have both on your pistol you could.)
Just remember there is one serious disadvantage to having a flashlight mounted on your pistol: It means that whatever you're pointing your flashlight at, you're pointing your pistol at. This action can violate the "Don't point your weapon at anything you're not willing to destroy" rule of safe gun handling, and it's something you need to consider.
I requested a Lightguard model to fit a Springfield Armory XDM 5.25 I had on hand for testing. Installed, the Lightguard looks like a part of the pistol and adds no discernable weight. It is no wider than the frame. I can hold onto the pistol without accidentally triggering the light, and yet with just a slightly tighter squeeze the flashlight pops on.
Experimenting with the Lightguard in my house, I discovered that at a distance of eight feet it projects a roughly six-foot wide circle of light on the wall. The circle was evenly illuminated with no dark spots, and there was a bright 18-inch center.
I spoke with Crimson Trace's Iain Harrison, and he said the company designed the Lightguard to throw a wide pattern to maximize its utility for use inside buildings. Crimson Trace has also done extensive torture testing. Harrison put 1,000 rounds of .40 S&W through a Glock 22 wearing a Lightguard in one day with no ill effects—other than sore hands.
To be honest, I am still shocked at how bright the Crimson Trace Lightguard is. It is literally small and light enough to hang on a key ring (if it had a loop), and yet it performs better than most weapon lights twice its size and weight. At $149 for all current models, it is competitively priced.