The Flashlight: An Effective Tool for Self-Defense


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[dcs_fancy_header color=”#000000″ fweight=”bold”]Recently, a woman mentioned that she didn’t feel completely safe in town after dark, but was not yet comfortable with carrying a handgun. I asked her, “Have you considered carrying a flashlight?” Most people would answer ‘No’. In fact, most people don’t even think of a flashlight as a defensive tool. However, when properly employed, a flashlight is not only an effective deterrent, it can be an essential part of an everyday carry kit.[/dcs_fancy_header]

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I often tell people, “If you carry a gun, you should consider carrying a flashlight.” (I don’t say you must because nothing is absolute. You don’t even have to carry bullets for your gun if you don’t want to.) It goes without saying that the most likely scenario for a violent encounter is in the dark. A statistically significant portion of defensive handgun uses happen after dark,or in dark areas. If you end up in one of these scenarios, it’s imperative that you know what you’re shooting at. A flashlight allows for confidence in accuracy by illuminating your target, as well as allowing for visual confirmation of a potential threat. ‘Be sure of your target’ is no less true in a defensive scenario than anywhere else. With the threat of a lawsuit or criminal charges over a wrongful shooting, it might be more critical here than at any other time to know exactly what you’re shooting at. In the dark, that isn’t going to happen without the aid of a light.

However, the flashlight is far more valuable than simply for illumination in a defensive shooting. A light is lower on a use-of-force continuum than almost any other tool, and is can be used as a deterrent or to disorient a suspicious individual. Because you can use a light even before any threat appears, it can be used to prevent a possible encounter from developing.

"If you carry a gun, you should consider carrying a flashlight…"

As many handgun instructors have preached, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings. If you are observing your environment and looking for potential threats, someone looking for an easy mark might decide to move on to someone else. If you have to cross an unlit area, or move down dark streets, using your flashlight for navigation might be enough to deter an opportunistic attacker. If something does go down, you’ll know your surroundings and see them coming.

In a more deliberate scenario, a light can be directed at an individual acting suspicious. Say you’re crossing a parking lot after a movie, and some seems to be following you, or maybe they’re moving in at an angle towards where you’re headed. Put the light on their torso, illuminating their hands, or even directly towards their face. Combining the light with a loud “Hey, man, what’s up? Do you need something?” might deter an attacker. It will also make you more noticeable to others if something else happens. Even if your suspicion was misplaced, you haven’t truly done anything, and there’s honestly no harm done. I’d rather say, “I’m sorry, I couldn’t see you”, than get jumped by someone at the last minute.

I recommended a flashlight to the woman at the beginning of my post because I believe it is an effective deterrent. A powerful light in an attacker’s eyes can disorient and open an opportunity to escape. Would I recommend that she learn to carry a handgun, and become proficient? Absolutely. But before she gets there, she can pick up a compact, powerful flashlight and carry it today. That light can make a dark city street a little brighter and even a little safer. Even if you carry a gun for protection, a light may be all it takes to get you home without incident, which is all any of us really want after all.

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About Adam Bower

Adam Bower runs, and writes gear reviews, tactics articles, and opinions on the mundane. You can find him at, and on

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  1. How many pockets do I need?

    I’ve been told by various people that I should carry a gun, spare magazines, a backup gun, a knife, a canister of pepper spray, a flashlight, a decoy wallet/wad of cash. In addition to this gear I also carry a real wallet, keys and a smartphone. This stuff is starting to take up a lot of pocket space. Maybe I need a Batman utility belt.

    • David, (my name too) you need to consider getting SOME specialized gear, namely a decent gunbelt. Even an inexpensive one like an uncle mikes helps carry a load much better than a regular belt or a pocket. If you have to carry nothing more than a pocket gun and a couple of mags that’s one thing (for concealment) but at night a flashlight can be extremely helpful, and they are very compact at this point.

      • Yeah, I’ve got a gunbelt, IWB holster and mag carrier. I got a knife recently, but I mostly consider it a utility item and not a self-defense item. Thanks for the recommendations.

    • David, I carry everything I choose to in 4 pockets. For me, it’s about how useful the item is, how often I’d use it, etc. A light is utilitarian even when it’s not in self defense. Both a light and pepper spray are ‘less lethal’ options, but I can use a light to clean out my car or walk on a trail.

      People will recommend you use this, or that, but you read their experiences and opinions, and the best thing is, you learn from them and choose how to prepare yourself.

    • Damn, there are a lot of “Davids” here..

      Surefires are great if A) you already have one or B) are willing to spend the money on them.

      For people just buying lights and those not wanting to spend a lot of money on one I usually recommend Streamlight. I probably have 5 or 6 different Streamlight models and they are great.

  2. I haven’t been able to find a flashlight with good “form factor”. I want to carry one in my weak side pocket, clipped like pocket folder knife. it’s got to be bright and durable, and almost unnoticeable when i’m grabbing keys/phone/change in the bottom of the pocket.

    • T, I carry an Olight T20. It puts out just over 500 lumens, (listed), but is half as fat as a G2/C2, etc. It’s quite slim, so it rides like a pocketknife in the support pocket or rear hip pocket.

  3. What is the purpose of the jagged scalloped edges on this flashlight? My first guess was that one would shove it into an attacker’s eyeball and give it a quick twist!

  4. Dorene: They are referred to (unofficially) as ‘DNA collectors’. Seriously, if you have to use it as a striking weapon, there is practically no way that it’s not going to end up catching some skin or clothing fibers. That may sound gross to most people; but to forensic investigators it’s a goldmine (just ask them how often they glean useful evidence from under people’s fingernails).

    My EDC (every day carry) includes a light just like the one pictured (but in black ), which sits on my left hip beside the most unobtrusive folding mulitool I could find (a Leatherman ‘Wingman’), while pocketed are a handful of keys, and a flat wallet-friendly mulitool ( ), and… wait for it… something else that I keep concealed. Lest some folks here think that is just enough hardware to call me paranoid (or at least ‘overprovisioned’), there is also a spare car key sewn into the lining of my left (western) boot. Yes, I was in the Cub Scouts, and they kicked me out. 🙂

  5. I discovered the 4-sevens brand flashlights and just aaded a “quark tactical” model that has a “burst” function. the initial output when the switch is thumbed is in the area of 900 lumens.
    ANYONE who gets a facefull of that is disoriented and seeing spots / unable to effectively advance an attack.
    Their other “weapon suitable” lights are configured internally in such a way as to be impervious to recoil which will render the batteries and flashlight circuitry in lesser lights damaged -or- broken/dangerous due to the inherent movement of a battery against the simple spring used on most lights. I think the world of their products and have been buying no others for self-defense & weapon mounted lighting since learning of 4-Sevens.

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