For combat sports or tactical situations in dark conditions, how do you like to use your flashlight?

Is it mounted to your weapon using a railing system, or do you prefer to keep it in your hand?

Do you know which way is better?

In this article, we take a look at the pros and cons of a weapon-mounted light vs handheld, to find out which option you should be using.

Let’s light things up, so you’re not in the dark any longer.

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Mounted vs Handheld Light – The Short Version

So, you’re desperate to know the answer, right?

Here it is in a nutshell:

You should use both.

Handheld flashlights are more versatile, offering a broader range of uses in multiple situations – including non-threatening occasions, such as locating your car keys.

Mounted flashlights can give you the edge in a threatening situation, saving time, and additionally keeping one hand free should you need it to engage.

But the two aren’t mutually exclusive, and you should carry both and alternate depending on what the situation calls for.

There are more top-tips and advice coming up when it comes to using mounted and handheld tactical lights – so I highly recommend you keep reading.

police force with flashlights in dark

Tactical Flashlight Uses

The best tactical flashlights on the market (follow that link for some great examples) can be used in a variety of different ways in the field.

When used in conjunction with a weapon, they are primarily designed for illuminating and identifying targets in low light conditions.

However, they can also be used in self-defense and EDC (Everyday Carry) , particularly the handheld models at the link above. I also like to carry a tactical pen for similar reasons.

Not only are they highly durable, with a weighty heft that can be used as an impact weapon, but a bright flashlight is going to buy you time by blinding, and disorienting a potential assailant.

They can also be used as a deterrent for criminal activity, as well as being handy if and when you need to signal for help.

Look for flashlights that have a high lumen rating for such purposes. Lumens are a measurement of the total quantity of light emitted by a source per unit of time.

The higher the lumens, the brighter the light.

Pro-tip – for self-defense purposes (just to be on the safe side) you should look for something that’s around 1000 lumens, which is about the same brightness as a standard car headlight.

But it’s not all about potentially dangerous or emergency situations.

Both mounted and handheld flashlights are useful when playing combat sports at night. Attach one to the barrel of these awesome airsoft rifles, for example, handy when exploring those dark corners.

You probably don’t need something powerful enough to blind your opponent, however – it is just a game, after all. Maybe dial the lumens down for combat sports use.

And they can be handy to keep on your person whenever you need a little light in your life – searching the glove compartment in the dark, when you’re out camping, during a power outage…

tactical waterproof self defense led flashlight

Even a mounted flashlight can be used without the weapon in such situations, so they’re both very practical items to own if you’re in the military, law enforcement, or into combat sports and/or EDC.

And a good flashlight should always be part of your range bag essentials, and you can follow that link to discover a practical checklist for your shooting loadout.

Mounted Flashlight Advantages

Mounted flashlights come with some attractive advantages for military and law-enforcement personnel in the field.

Perhaps the most obvious one is the ability to simultaneously identify a target, and take a shot at the same time.

Once established, having a mounted flashlight trained where you’re willing to use force will save time and give you the edge.

A mounted flashlight keeps an extra hand free – which can be useful for multiple reasons, in any given situation. Not least as having additional help in an engagement.

Mounted flashlights are typically more compact than handheld versions – most notably for use with pistols and other such smaller sidearms.

Even when not attached to your firearm, they’ll take up less space in your gear, even if you are using one of these spacious tactical backpacks, for example.

When it comes to a pistol-mounted light vs handheld, a mounted flashlight is highly recommended on your home defense gun.

Statistically, intruders break in at night, and having your welcoming committee in a nice package and ready to go is going to save time.

The video below offers some quality insight into how you properly use a mounted flashlight in a shooting situation.

Mounted Flashlight Disadvantages

There is, unfortunately, a significant disadvantage to using a mounted flashlight on its own.

Where you aim your gun, that’s where the light goes.

Obviously, not every situation requires the barrel of a lethal firearm pointing at it. You’re not going to make many friends going after a child’s lost kitty in this manner, for example.

Of course, you can always remove your mounted flashlight and use it independently of your weapon – but that can be a nuisance, and can take a bit of time, which might be a problem depending on the circumstances.

Remember – you don’t actually need to shine the light directly at someone or something to identify them/it.

Pointing the light at the floor or feet of an individual will still help illuminate them, without the risk of an accidental shooting. You can then swiftly raise your firearm if you need to take the shot.

But while pistol-mounted flashlights are more mobile, using a mounted flashlight on a shotgun or rifle for the sole purposes of illumination is going to be cumbersome and unwieldy.

Mounted flashlights will also increase the profile of a firearm – which might make it trickier to store and/or draw.

Then there are numerous reports of accidental shootings with weapons used in conjunction with mounted flashlights – usually when referring to the on/off setup.

person in tactical jacket and holding tactical flashlight

In the heat of the moment, pulling the trigger instead of turning the light on is much more common than you might think – especially when using a pressure switch positioned near the trigger itself.

Getting the two confused happens all the time, even more so when in stressful situations.

Many law-enforcement departments have banned the use of pressure switches near the trigger and guard as a result.

Either way, a mounted flashlight should never replace a handheld version – just supplement it – and proper training should be had before active use.

Handheld Flashlight Advantages

The main advantage of having a flashlight that is totally separate from your sidearm – or any other weapon – is you can point it in any direction – without aiming a gun barrel.

If you’re simply trying to light up a dark area, or perhaps you need to shine your torch where there’s no threat, you obviously don’t want the business end of a firearm to follow suit.

Waving the end of a gun around because your flashlight is attached to it is dangerous, provocative, and irresponsible.

And as mentioned above, accidental, often fatal shootings occur all the time when using a flashlight mounted to the weapon, and mistaking the trigger for the ‘on’ switch.

tactical gear and guns

With a handheld light, you have two, distinct, separate units that you shouldn’t be getting confused about.

Typically, handheld, tactical flashlights will offer more features than their commonly smaller mounted counterparts.

Strobe effects are highly useful to disorientate an attacker and are arguably more common on handheld flashlights than they are on mounted.

Aside from this, handheld flashlights are simply much more practical than mounted versions and offer multiple uses in everyday scenarios.

But just as with mounted lights, you should be well-trained in their use when it comes to pairing them with weapons.

Check out the video below for some professional top tips and advice on handheld flashlight techniques when shooting.

Handheld Flashlight Disadvantages

The main disadvantage to using a handheld flashlight is that you need a hand to use one – which means, if carrying, you have both hands already engaged.

That’s a no-brainer, right? Would you like to know a possible solution?

If you’re not using a mounted flashlight, why not try a tactical headlamp instead? Perfect for keeping both hands free, and shining a light automatically wherever you look – without pointing a gun at the same time.

And there’s another downside to handheld lights. Depending on your reactions, it might take longer to light up a dimly-lit area (with your weapon ready) than it would with a mount or headlamp.

For combat purposes, mounted flashlights will have the edge when it comes to speed and reaction time.

Finally, handheld flashlights are commonly larger than mounted versions and take up more space in your pocket, purse, or tactical carry-on as a result.

The Verdict

In the battle of the handheld vs weapon-mounted light, there is only one, practical conclusion.

Get them both.

Depending on the situation, they will come into their own if used correctly and safely.

Alternatively, get a handheld flashlight that comes with compatible attachments for your weapon, so you can use them independently of one another if you so choose.

Still, it’s very useful to have one on your sidearm, and one on your person, or in your belongings as a backup.

Pro-tip – Just to reiterate, whatever you decide is right for your loadout, it’s essential you have ample training in low-light shooting before a potentially dangerous situation arises.


What’s the best mounted flashlight?

The best mounted flashlight for me might not be the best for you – it just depends on your loadout and setup.

I would highly recommend you check out this article on the best tactical brands on the market, as they will be able to point you in the right direction when it comes to this kind of gear.

What’s the best tactical flashlight?

Likewise, follow the link above to find out who makes quality tactical products, or visit this link on the best self-defense flashlights currently on the market – perfect for EDC.

Are self-defense flashlights legal?

Yes, absolutely. You have the right to defend yourself, and tactical flashlights are permitted by law in every state.

Should I put a light on my AR-15?

If you think you’re going to be in a situation that requires one, why not? It’s vitally important you can identify a legitimate target as a last resort, and a mounted flashlight will help you do so.

I would highly recommend also having a handheld light, too, as you don’t want to be waving an AR-15 around just to find your keys.

Are weapon lights necessary?

Do you actually need a weapon-mounted light or not?

It’s a good question.

It depends on what you’re using them for. Let’s be real here if you’re not in the military, law enforcement, or security sectors, it’s unlikely you’ll need one other than for home defense at night.

You’re not going to be regularly storming buildings in the dark, are you?

Of course, if you happen to enjoy playing airsoft in low-light conditions, then adding a tactical weapon light is great for adding realism to games.

Many of these awesome airsoft pistols have railings, so you can do just that.

That said, if you are in any of the above professions, then I would say 100% that weapon lights are necessary to correctly identify and neutralize a threat.

Potentially lethal encounters happen in the dark all the time, and the ability to properly see either friend or foe is essential.

Do I need a tactical flashlight?

You don’t need one, per se, but I would highly recommend owning one – with or without a firearm.

Tactical flashlights are better in almost every way to ordinary versions, not least because of the highly durable materials used in their construction.

Check out this article on what makes tactical gear so special for more information.


Military, law enforcement, security personnel, bodyguards, and combat sports enthusiasts continue to debate about a weapon-mounted light vs handheld.

But in the end, I think they’d all agree that it’s useful to have both.

Let me know your thoughts on the matter in the comments below. What do you use? Have I missed any crucial information? Is there an alternative?

Stay safe out there!