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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Ramblings on Illumination Tools

Other than a good pocket knife or multi-tool I find that a "tactical flashlight" is one of my must used everyday carry items.

When I write these entries, I like to think back from my first experiences with illumination tools. It helps me to remember some seldom thought of memories and gives me insight as to why I choose what I choose.

Back in the 70's the standard flashlight was the ones that were packaged with those (iirc) Rayo-vac Black Kat batteries. These flashlights were metal, silver,ribbed and were either two 'D' or 'C' battery powered. It always seemed one showed up yearly in my birthday present inventory. It really didn't make a difference if you already had several, you would get more and welcome them. Part of the reason you were glad to get them, is because they were unreliable, so you may have five but only two or three would work correctly.

Looking back I can believe how little light they produced, but being a kid, it sure beat total darkness and I was happy to have it to make sure they was really not a monster under my bed.

I don't believe my flashlight choice changed until I found myself at Fort Sill, Oklahoma in boot camp. Suddenly I had a USGI angle head flaslight (2D), a PT flashlight with wand for those 0430 runs, and a Camoflague Mini-Mag (2AA) with red and blue filters.

The Mini-Mag light is what impressed me the most. No it wasn't much brighter than the 2D cell lights, but it was much easier to carry. I found myself carrying this flashlight with me in my civilian life too, since it was so handy.

Those first impressions of the Mini-mag lights sold me on Brinkman Flashlights and I purchased a 3D and 5D maglite. While these were no where as handy as the mini-mag lights, they were considerbly brighter! When something goes bump in the night, you can bump it back with a maglite!!!

While the 3D and 5D were some of the brightest flashlights I owned, I wanted something brighter. I experimented with both corded and cordless spotlights and while very very bright they were never handy as the little mini-mag flashlight.

A quick detour since we are on the subject of cordless spotlights. In my experince it doesn't make much difference what kind of cordless spotlight you get, they seem to be made at the same factories in China. The ones I prefer are the ones for sale at my local Lowe's Hardware store for twenty dollars. Everyone wants the biggest and best but I assure you a one million candlepower spotlight is more than adequate for most users. Over time that sixty dollar spotlight will wear out just as quick as a twenty dollar one with the same use.

For preparedness minded folks, illumination and lots of it allows you to assess storm damage at night and other times when a portable bright light is needed. I have used my spotlights to survey the road to spot hazards before work the next day to see if I had to cut my way out.

Now back to smaller illumination tools... My first real tactical light was a little Brinkman xeon bulb powered by two CR123A lithium batteries. The cost was about twenty dollars at the local Wal-mart and rank right up there with Surefire's two lithium cell lights in brightness. I carried two Brinkman Lithium xenons (not at the same time) for about a year before I purchased my first Surefire. The Brinkmans are very impressive and today are over four years old. My wife actually prefers the Brinkmans to Surefires mainly because she doesn't like the Tactical light switch of the Surefires.

My next light I briefly mentioned from before is a Surefire Centurion C2 (2 CR123A lithiums). It is built extremely well and was designed for the law enforcement/military market. This was the flashlight that I carried for many years with my CCW weapon and currently resides on my night side table.

I also have a Surefie Z2 but prefer the C2 over it because of the belt clip. Other than a different case and rubberized grip(Z2), the C2 and Z2 perform the same.

Often these tactical flashlights produce to much light when all you need is a little LED to find the keyhole. Blinding yourself with your own tactical light can be a problem if that is what you are using to find that keyhole!

Before I ever heard the term and practice of carrying a "soft light", I was carrying a button cell battery LED on my keychain. No one invented the concept, they just coined the term "soft light". For those of us who carried tactical lights, we already knew that it would ruin our night vision if you used it on something mundane.

$190 is a lot of money to spend on a flashlight, but the Surefire Aviator A2 xenon/LED combo cost that. Luckily I got it on sale for $120 and couldn't have been happier at the time. Surefire had come up with a solution to the soft light/tactical problem. The Surefire Aviator had both a bright (not as bright as the other two CR123A lights)xenon and 3 LED bulbs ( I chose white LEDs). You could lock out the bright light for use in the cockpit (to read maps/instruments) and use the xenon bulb with LEDs blazing to inspect your aircraft prior to take off. The Surefire Aviator was designed for a pilot's use both inside and outside the cockpit, but alot of folks found that the A2 worked well for gun users. I used mine both for CCW and work use. It served me very well, but I still kept a keychain LED with me for a backup.

Then that darn Blackhawk company came up with the Gladius. At first glance the Blackhawk Gladius is your typical Tactical flashlight. It is when you notice the features that set it apart. First of all the Gladius uses a white LED, no xenon bulbs to burn out. IMHO up until the Gladius came along, purely LED tactical flashlights never threw their light very far.

I purchased the Gladius for $140 from http://www.lapolicegear.com/ Which was a special down from their regular price of $190.

When I received the Gladius, I thought it was broke, but found out that the battery cap/switch must be tight or the Gladius will not shine. The switch takes a little getting used to, but makes perfect sense after using it for awhile.

There are 4 modes to the Gladius. 1 a lock out mode to prevent accidental activation. 2 a programble dimmer mode where you can set the brightness to whatever you wish and dim or brighten as needed. I setup mode 2 to be dim since I can flip the switch to mode four and get full brightness. I find mode two my most used mode as I can use the exact amount of light I need. The switch acts like an on/off switch and dimmer in this mode and allows you to use it hands free if needed.3 is the strobe mode. This mode will disorient an attacker and hopefully buy you more time to accomplish your goals. I like the strobe mode and have tested it, but have never used it in a self defense situation. 4 is full power mode. Push in the switch and you are throwing out all 90 lumens of the Gladius's LED. Blackhawk refers to them as channels and in reverse order, I begin with the lockout mode as 1 because it makes more sense to me.

Some other features of the Gladius is that when the two CR123A's batteries get low they will blink. More frequent flashing while the light is on means less time is left. There is also a high temperature cut off safety feature. If you forget to turn off the Gladius it will power down if it gets too hot.

Currently the Blackhawk Gladius is my everyday carry light. I use it for work (white LED lights does't change the colors of color coded wiring), when my little one drops something under the table in a dark restaurant, finding a keyhole, using it to find my way around if the power goes out at night and as a tool in my tactical toolbox should I ever find myself in that situation.

I often get asked, "why do you carry a flashlight with you at all times???" The answer is, "so I will have it with me when it gets dark!" Often times you find yourself in situations where you need a flashlight even in daytime. What if you are in a building without windows at lunch time and the power goes out? Sure you can get by without a flashlight during daylight hours 90% of the time, but that other 10% is what bites you in the rear!

If you carry a firearm for protection, then you MUST carry a tactical light. You can easily blind an opponent and give yourself some valuable time to react. Unlike pepper spray, if you shine your light into someone’s eyes that you think is going to attack you, and it turns out it was an innocent person, then it is no harm done (other than maybe some harsh words about blinding them).

In conclusion, illumination is a very necessary tool for the survival and preparedness minded individual. It is also a must have item that you should have if you carry a concealed handgun. ZombieAxe says, “if you don’t carry an illumination tool, then you ain’t none too bright!!!”


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The information presented in this blog are things I know how to do and have training for. To duplicate any information or techniques within is solely at the readers risk and ZombieAxe, ZombieAxe's Ramblings or Google shall not be liable for any advice and information posted within that results in damage/loss of property, injury, loss of limb, or death. By reading this blog you, your family, your heirs and even folks that have not been born yet, have entered into an electronic binding contract to not hold any entity liable (especially ME!) but YOURSELF for any damage/loss of property, injury, loss of limb, or death from reading this blog.

FTC Discalimer,

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All material is copyright 2009 Zombie Axe and no material may be used without credit to the author in part or whole.

Zombie Axe