The Best AR-15 Flashlights Of 2018: The Definitive Guide (In-Depth Reviews)

flashlight mounted on AR-15

If you have to shoot in low-light conditions, you’ll need a good light for your weapon. But before you run out and purchase the first AR-15 flashlight you can find, you’ll want to compare some of the best models available.  

We’ll look at some of the best AR-15 lights that fit different needs and serve various purposes below.  

 

 

The Top AR-15 Weapon Lights of 2018: Outdoor Empire Reviews

These are our top recommendations for AR-15 weapon lights in 2018:

  1. Best affordable: Get the Monstrum Tactical Rifle Light (Read 390+ Amazon customer reviews)
  2. Best AR-15 light for the money: Get the Streamlight TLR-3 (Read 740+ Amazon customer reviews)
  3. Best overall: Get the Streamlight TLR-1 HL Long Gun Flashlight Kit (Read 80+ Amazon customer reviews)

*Looking for a specific feature? Check out our quick-reference chart below:

Product Monstrum Tactical Rifle Light
Monstrum Tactical Rifle Light

Cisno 1000
Cisno 1000

Streamlight TLR-3
Streamlight TLR-3

Streamlight PolyTac
Streamlight PolyTac

Streamlight TLR-1 HL
Streamlight TLR-1 HL

Surefire Compact Scout Light
Surefire Compact Scout Light

Light Intensity90 lumens1000 lumens125 lumens120 lumens800 lumens300 lumens
Weight2.5 oz6 oz2.32 oz4.2 oz4.18 oz4.8 oz
Length3.7 in5.2 in2.71 in5.22 in 3.39 in4.10 in
Battery Type1x CR123A3.7v 18650 3V CR2 Lithium3 V lithium2x 3-volt CR123 lithium1x CR123A
Material6061 Aircraft Grade Aluminum6061T AluminiumImpact-resistant polymerHigh impact nylon polymer bodyMachined aluminumMil-Spec hard-anodized aerospace aluminum
Control OptionsPressure switch / press button Pressure switch Rear switchButton Pressure switch / standard rear switch Pressure Switch
Intended UseHome defenseHunting Home defense Tactical / home defense Tactical and home defenseTactical and home defense
PriceCheck PriceCheck PriceCheck PriceCheck PriceCheck PriceCheck Price

 

Best Affordable AR-15 Lights 

High-quality AR-15 lights needn’t cost a fortune to help you see better in low light conditions. Two of the best low-cost models are detailed below.  

Monstrum Tactical Rifle Light  

Monstrum Tactical Rifle LightThe Monstrum Tactical Rifle light is designed to be a functional, but affordable AR-15 light. The light itself is made from aluminum and then anodized black or flat dark earth for a camouflage tactical appearance.  

The Monstrum Tactical light is only 90 lumens, but this lower power is better suited for indoor use. It’s less likely to reflect and cause the user blindness.  

The 90-lumen light is perfect for indoor use and home defense. The light attaches to any Picatinny rail system and even comes with a detachable remote pressure switch you can wire to a forward grip for easy on and off access.

This makes it an excellent light for home defense since it’s so easy to access.  

The Monstrum Tactical Weapon light is great for the price and is one of the few truly affordable and reliable weapon’s lights on the market.

This tactical light is better suited for home defense rather than hunting or duty use. In the home, it’s bright enough to get work done, but not bright enough to blind you.  

  • Lumens – 90  
  • Weight – 2.5 ounces 
  • Control Options – Pressure Switch / Press Button  
  • Intended Use – Home Defense  

 

 

Cisno 1000

Cisno 1000The Cisno 1000 is a powerful and affordable weapon light that would be perfect for hunting and use for outdoors shooting in general.

1000 lumens is much too bright for inside the home. It reflects and could cause discomfort in close quarters. Using it outside is pretty much giving yourself a piece of sunlight.  

The Cisno 1000 looks and acts more like a traditional flashlight, and utilizes a QD mounting system to attach it to Picatinny rails.

The light is large, but it’s necessary to pack in those 1000 lumens. It’s far from heavy, or bulbous though. It’s lightweight for its size and especially for its power.  

Included with the light is a pressure switch for easy activation while shooting. To top it all off this light is waterproof, making it even more of a perfect outdoor light for hunting or recreational shooting.  

  • Lumens – 1000 
  • Weight – 6 Ounces 
  • Control Options – Pressure Switch  
  • Intended Use – Hunting  

 

 

Best AR-15 Light for the Money  

Anytime you are in the market for a new AR-15 light, you’ll want to get the most value for your money. The two lights examined below both fit this bill and provide exceptional value.  

Streamlight TLR-3

Streamlight TLR 3The Streamlight TLR-3 is compact enough for a handgun but powerful enough for a rifle.

This ultra-compact light weighs nearly nothing and is powered by a single battery. It comes from premium light maker Streamlight but is priced quite low when you consider its performance.  

This lamp comes with a mostly polymer frame, but is still quite durable and strong. This mini light throws 125 lumens in a wide pattern.  

This makes it an exceptional light for home defense. It’s high power, its low price, and Streamlight’s reputation means it’s a light you can depend on. It’s even waterproof up to a meter for 30 minutes.  

The C4 LED technology is Streamlight’s high-performance bulb and will burn at peak brightness for 50,000 hours. This miniature light uses a CR2 battery that powers the light for 1.5 hours. It’s a low runtime, but the compact design and small battery necessitate it.  

  • Lumens – 125 
  • Weight – 2.32 Ounces 
  • Control Options – Rear Switch  
  • Intended Use – Home Defense 

 

 

Streamlight PolyTac 

Streamlight PolyTacAnother Streamlight shows up in this list more than once for a reason, they make amazing weapon lights. The PolyTac differs from the TLR 3 by being a larger, full-sized weapon light.  

The Streamlight PolyTac uses a QD mount for Picatinny rails that are detachable, and you can swap the mount for different types.

The PolyTac is equipped with the same long-lasting, and incredibly bright C4 LED that lasts for years of continuous runtime.  

The PolyTac is compatible with a pressure switch but doesn’t come with one. It does have a momentary n and constant on option for discreet use.

The 120-lumen brightness level does make it better suited for indoor use and home defense. The PolyTac has a runtime of 3 hours which makes it quite capable for extended use.  

The PolyTac is an affordable and high-quality weapon light that is perfect on a rifle platform like the AR-15. It’s modular, easy to mount and last forever.  

  • Lumens – 120  
  • Weight – 4.2 Ounces 
  • Control Options – Button  
  • Intended Use – Tactical / Home Defense 

 

 

Best Overall  

If you aren’t particularly constrained by a tight budget, you may be interested in the finest AR-15 light you can find. The next two lights are both strong contenders for that title.  

Streamlight TLR-1 HL Long Gun Flashlight Kit

 

Streamlight TLR 1 HL Long Gun Flashlight KitI know it’s another Streamlight, but they make such awesome weapon lights. The TLR-1 long gun kit is designed for the AR-15. It takes the TLR-1 body and attaches a high-powered spotlight to the design.

The bright spotlight makes it perfect for hunting coyotes ( see our recommended coyote hunting lights ) and rabbits. It’s superbly bright and sends a beam of light to cut through the darkness wherever it shines.  

The rifle kit includes a Pressure switch module for easy use, and it can be swapped for a traditional switch when necessary. The body design allows it to be mounted and dismounted with a single hand and it mounts without issue to any Picatinny rail.  

The TLR 1 rifle kit weapon light is waterproof, tough as nails and capable of taking whatever you can throw at it.  

  • Lumens – 800  
  • Weight – 4.18 Ounces 
  • Control Options – Pressure Switch / Standard Rear Switch 
  • Intended Use – Tactical and Home Defense  

 

 

Surefire Compact Scout Light

Surefire Compact Scout LightNow when it comes to tactical use, inside the home and out the only way to go for serious operators is Surefire. The Surefire Compact Scout Light is an industry standard for hardcore tactical use.

It uses a recoil-proof LED that spits 300 lumens of light at whatever you need to see. The light mounts to the rails via a QD mount from American Defense that’s very robust and designed to stay tight rough after round.  

The Compact Scout is made entirely from aluminum and is very, very strong. It’s designed for troops crawling in trenches and jumping out of planes.

The Surefire Scout light is equipped with both a pressure switch and a standard On/Off switch. It’s sealed against the elements with gaskets and O rings and is a light that expects to be abused.  

The Surefire name comes with a high price tag, but it’s worth every dollar.  

  • Lumens – 300  
  • Weight – 4.8 Ounces 
  • Control Options – Pressure Switch  
  • Intended Use – Tactical and Home Defense  

 

 

Importance of Being Picky  

When darkness surrounds you and suddenly the world suddenly becomes a much smaller place, you have to be able to depend on the light on your weapon.

The AR-15 as a platform is incredibly modular, but it’s only as good as its weakest piece. The last thing you need is your light to flick off the first shot you fire.  

The AR-15 is used for a variety of roles, including hunting and self-defense. In both situations, you are going to need to depend on the light on your weapon.

  • When hunting it means the difference between going home with a new trophy, or watching an animal’s butt escape into the brush.  
  • In a tactical situation, it could literally be the difference between life and death.

Not all lights are made equal and when things go bump in the night you want to be able to bump back without worrying about your light.

With a high quality, well built, and easy to use weapon light you can keep bumping back.  

Alternatively, you can pick up a low-quality model and bet your life on it.

If you’ve selected the AR-15 platform as your chosen rifle you are likely wanting something that can keep up with your gun.

You’ll need a light that keeps on ticking when you’re putting a lot of rounds downrange. The last thing you want is for the world to go dark when you need light the most.  

To help you be picky we’ve put together a how-to guide for choosing a weapon light for your AR-15 rifle.  

 

Choosing Factors

No matter your specific situation, you’ll need to consider a few key factors to end up with the best AR-15 light for your needs. 

Elzetta ZRX Picatinny flashlight
Elzetta ZRX Picatinny flashlight

What’s Your Rifle’s Purpose?  

This is the biggest consideration you’ll need to make when choosing a weapon light for your AR-15. What is your rifle being used for? This will determine the type of light, the power you need, as well as the overall price and design influence.  

Home Defense

A rifle designed for home defense has different considerations than a rifle made for tactical applications. The same could be said for a rifle made for hunting.

Some lights will work well in multiple scenarios, but you should always take the rifle’s main purpose into account.  

A rifle designed for home defense doesn’t need a superbly powerful light.

Using a flashlight indoors can be tricky. If it’s too powerful and it’s spitting too many lumens you are going to compromise your own vision. The reflections off surfaces can be a major hassle.

For primarily indoors use I’d advise you to go with something between 60 and 200 lumens. You’ll also want complete control over the weapon light with a pressure pad.  

You’ll also want a wide beam to maximize your peripheral vision. The wider the beam, the better the chance you’ll have of disorienting multiple opponents as well.  

Hunting

A hunting light needs to maximize its lumens count to ensure you have a long, and focused beam of light. You want a light that’s super bright, so you can see camouflaged creatures in the dark.

You’ll also likely be hunting out to a hundred yards and you’ll need that extra light range. Having a pressure pad momentary on and off, and a strobe mode isn’t necessary.  

Tactical

Tactical users want to maximize the life of their light on a single set of batteries. This means they may have a larger overall light to fit additional batteries or the batteries being used are bigger and more powerful.

They face some of the same concerns as hunters and need to maximize power output as well. Most tactical guns will need a filter option for when the user moves indoors.  

With both hunting and tactical lights, you want to maximize your reach with the beam and the intensity to extend the blinding effect to longer ranges.  

 

Brightness 101  

LaserMax LMR-MThe brightness level of your flashlight is measured via lumens. Flashlights range in lumens anywhere from 60 which is pretty low all the way to 800, which is quite blinding.

There are weapon lights that can, of course, get even brighter, but these are special cases. As we talked about above brighter isn’t always better.  

In some situations, 60 to 100 lumens is absolutely perfect, especially indoors. Fewer lumens means fewer reflections, which helps you remain comfortable.  

Outdoors you can maximize your lumens to spot specific targets, and even blind opponents. Outdoors anywhere from 300 to 800 lumens is going to light up your life, and the potential jungle around you. 

Lumens is one measurement, candela is another, equally important measurement to remember.

Candela is the intensity of the light. It is the light source being emitted in one direction. It is what separates a spread out beam from a concentrated one.  

One of the biggest downsides to having a high lumen count is the drain on batteries. A high lumen count is going to drain your batteries dry in just a few hours. So, to get a long battery life you’ll need more batteries, which means a larger light.  

 

All About Batteries  

different batteriesSpeaking of batteries, you’ll need to make the decision between rechargeable and disposable systems. Rechargeable batteries are often built into the flashlights and they do have a certain level of convenience to them.

The downside is that when they die they are dead. There are no easy means to swap batteries on the fly.  

Disposable batteries mean you can keep the light going as long as you got the batteries. The downside, of course, being once the batteries are dead you’re up a creek without a flashlight.

Rechargeable batteries at least give you the ability to ultimately keep using your flashlight.  

Battery type is also a consideration if you are on a tight budget.

  • Double and Triple-A batteries, as well as CR123s, are actually pretty cheap.
  • Proprietary batteries are often expensive, as well as odd batteries like CR2s.

When researching a potential weapon light make sure you research the batteries it takes. As well as the runtime the light has a full charge of batteries.  

 

Durability vs Weight  

weapon light mounted on rifleWhen it comes to durability and weight you have to make some compromises. The more durable the flashlight the heavier it tends to be. Metal materials like aluminum are extremely strong but often weigh substantially more than polymers.  

Aluminum is strong and durable and can be easily waterproofed. However, when you mix aluminum with a high lumens light, and the batteries to power it you’ll end up with a heavy light.  

Polymers aren’t as strong as aluminum is, but they tend to be easier to waterproof. Modern polymer materials can be quite rugged, as proven by the Streamlight TLR 3.

These rugged polymers are often impact resistant and more affordable. However, when it comes to shear strength though aluminum is going to be the winner.  

Hunters would likely to prefer to keep their weapon’s lightweight, and would likely aim for a lower weight weapon light. Home defenders won’t likely mind weight due to the short period of time they’d be using their weapon.

Now, tactical users can go either way depending on their mission set.  

 

Controls and Options  

weapon light switchThe AR-15 is a modular rifle that allows you to mount a light just about anywhere you want. With that in mind, you have to ask yourself how much modularity means to you.  

A weapon light that comes equipped or can be fitted with a pressure switch allows you to really pick and choose where the light is mounted.

A pressure switch is simply an on button mounted to a wire that can be positioned wherever the shooter naturally grips the weapon.  

pressure switch
Pressure switch

Without a pressure switch, you have to position the weapon light in an area where you can reach with your hand.  

When it comes to flashlight options you should consider the different modes the flashlight has. A standard light beam is one thing, but alternatives are always nice to have.  

Momentary mode, for example, allows a user to quickly flash an area, which is often used in tactical situations to quickly scan the room. This allows you to avoid making yourself a target by keeping your light on.

Another mode is strobe which can be used to temporarily blind an opponent and render them temporarily disoriented.  

The above features are important for the tactical user and home defenders, but not so much for hunters or recreational shooters. Hunters may want a light that can utilize filters over the beam.

This allows them to turn the light different colors like red to maintain night vision and blue to spot the blood of bleeding game.  

Get some advice on where to attach the weapon light from the video below.

 

The Light Equipped AR  

Tossing a light on your AR-15 allows you to dominate the darkness and own the night. It’s always important to remember that purpose-driven weapon lights are the only way to go.

A Maglite in a scope ring is not a weapon light. Use the guide above to research and sniff out the perfect weapon light for you and your gun.  

Travis Pike
Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes

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