How to use a flashlight for self-defense

flashlight in the dark

We asked on Instagram, as part of our #gearquestions series, “If you could only take one with you: flashlight or pocket knife?”. We received a lot of great responses, with the majority of folks choosing a knife. We want to highlight the fact that depending on where you’re going and what you’re doing, a quality flashlight should always be in your pocket as well.

We always recommend a flashlight as part of your Primary EDC. It allows you to have light when you need it, both for the mundane (“Where are my keys?”) to more serious situations. We’ve mentioned light as a force option before, but have never elaborated on it and we feel it’s not discussed nearly enough. 

If you carry a quality light as part of your Primary EDC, this article is for you. If you don’t carry one on a regular basis, maybe this article will convince you to do so.

Note that this article is specifically written in regards to the use of light. We know that a flashlight can be used in other ways as a self-defense tool, but we wanted to focus on how you can use light, on its own, as part of a well-rounded EDC.

Why a flashlight is important to an Intentional EDC

See better in the darkness

surefire and streamlight

You can find a lot of information regarding the use of light related to law enforcement or other first responders. Having a dependable source of light with adequate output is critical to the job. However, when it comes to the civilian world, that type of information is not as readily available.

In a worst-case scenario, you walk out of a well-lit restaurant late at night only to find yourself entering a drastically darker environment. Your eyes have not had a chance to adapt to the dark and something bad happens. Off to the side, you hear a voice making demands and your not quite able to decipher what’s going on.

Your vision plays a major role in your situational awareness…it’s a vital component. What kind of things can affect your vision? Age, smoking, drugs, medication, alcohol and many other factors detract from our ability to see clearly, even under the best conditions. Add in a lowlight situation and your ability to make sense of things is further diminished.

A flashlight can give you an advantage in a dark situation, especially if your eyes haven’t had time to adjust. It gives you light in the darkness.

Carry a concealed firearm responsibly

edc consisting of concealed carry weapon, flashlight, pocket knife, pen, notebook, and keys.
If you are a responsible citizen and conceal carry, a flashlight is a critical tool you can use to identify your target, backstop and beyond.

If you are someone who frequently carries a concealed firearm, you should always have a source of light with you. Part of being a responsibly armed citizen is that you must be able to identify your target, backstop, and beyond. Without being able to create light on-demand, you are not able to do this. There should never be a situation where you find yourself pressing the trigger without positively identifying a threat. 

A flashlight helps enable you to process critical information and make the right decision when the time comes.

It gives you options

A flashlight is just another item in your EDC, just like a knife, multitool, or firearm. It gives you another tool in your toolkit. You’d grab your knife if you need to cut something and you’d grab your flashlight if you need to see something. 

Creating light is a critical ability and your flashlight gives you the ability to do this on-demand.

The kind of flashlight you carry is up to you. Depending on your job description, activities, hobbies, etc., you may end up carrying anything from a compact to a full-size, or maybe both. Each one has a specific application and has pros and cons. We need to carefully consider our options and be intentional when deciding what to carry, where to carry it, and how to carry it.

Keep in mind, flashlights are battery-operated, mechanical pieces of equipment that will inevitably fail. Don’t bet your life the light you have been carrying around for the last three months will work when you need it to. Make sure your equipment is always in proper functioning condition. If possible, carry a backup.

How to use your light

Some of these may be obvious and some may be a little more obscure. We will relate these to the scenario mentioned earlier. 

You are walking out of a well-lit restaurant late at night only to find yourself entering a drastically darker environment. Your eyes have not had a chance to adapt to the dark. Off to the side, you hear a voice making demands and you’re not quite able to decipher what’s going on. If you have that light as part of your Primary EDC and it’s readily accessible, this would be a good time to deploy it. Better yet, you should already have it in your hand anticipating the environment you are entering.

You pull your flashlight and activate the tail switch while pointing it in the direction of the voice.  At the corner of the building you see a person who appears to have come out of the alley. Now that you have identified the person you have a little better grasp of the situation. You have just used your light to locate a possible threat in a dark environment.

So, you have now identified the person who caught you off guard and you begin using your light to identify any possible weapons. You immediately direct your attention to the hands. Both of the person’s hands are exposed and your able to easily identify they are empty. The peripheral light (spill) has allowed you to see there are no other individuals in the threat’s immediate area.

At this time, you ask the person what they want and you see they are starting to posture their body into a bladed position. You situational awareness tells you this is not a good sign. The person then changes body position again and starts to move in your direction. 

At this point in time you take your light and focus the beam (hot spot) directly on his face and eyes, greatly diminishing his ability to see. In fact, you have just blinded that person for several seconds and it will take him a minute or more to regain his normal vision. He no longer has the full ability to see clearly and mount an attack and he is probably in a state of confusion.

You have just controlled that person’s actions with an effective use of light. This disruption in vision provided an obstacle to whatever he had planned to do. However, if this person ends up not posing a threat, you can immediately remove the light from the persons face and eyes.

An important thing light offers is more time.

Now that you have bought yourself some time what are you going to do? In this scenario, it might not be a bad idea to step back into the restaurant you just walked out of. 

What if you are in a location like a dark parking lot? Since you have gained some precious time, you can use your light to gain distance and to navigate the dark environment to a position of safety. Removing yourself from the situation should always be your goal. In a worst case scenario, you have gained the time to draw your concealed weapon if the situation calls for it.

If you have ever been hit in the eyes with a bright light, you know how uncomfortable it is. A person’s natural instinct is to cover their eyes with their hands, shut their eyes or to turn away from the light. We are firm believers in using a quality flashlight in certain self-defense situations.

When used properly it can be very effective. No special training is needed when used in its simplest form. Simply activate the light and point the beam in the threat’s eyes. Now, with that being said, training in the use of a flashlight, especially paired with a weapon, is critical. 

As a side note, a flashlight can also be used as an impact weapon if the need arises and you have no other options. Keep that in mind when making your choice in a self-defense flashlight. Be cognizant of the fact you need to be properly trained in order to prevent serious bodily injury unless deadly force is justified. With adequate training, you have an increased chance of controlling a threat via pressure points, nerve bundles, etc. However, I digress, that’s best saved for another article.

Flashlight Considerations

There are three considerations when picking a flashlight for less-than-lethal use of force applications:

1. Lumens

selection of edc flashlights

When using a flashlight as a self-defense tool, we recommend a light with “a lot” of lumens. What does this vagueness mean? It means you need as many lumens as possible to achieve whatever it is you are trying to do. What exactly are you trying to achieve?

You are trying to gather as much information as possible to enable you to solve the problem you are facing. 

There are a lot of recommendations on the web as to how many lumens you need. This is very subjective. You will also find a lot of opinions stating you can have too many lumens and you will blind yourself, etc.

After 11 1/2 years of using “light” professionally as a tool, I’m not sure I believe this. If you are carrying a light and you feel it has “too many” lumens, you are not trained to correctly use it. Proper training can eliminate these problems.

On the flip side, you can find yourself needing way more lumens than you think. What if the subject is backlit and you are looking into the brightness? That could be a problem if you don’t have enough lumens. Personally, I err on the side of having as many lumens as practical and mitigate any potential issues by proper training.

What is a lumen? If you’re new to flashlights, you may be wondering what a flashlight lumen is. Similar to measuring distance in miles, a lumen measures how much light is emitted. As you shop for a good flashlight for self-defense, look at the maximum number of lumens as well as the maximum lumens for each mode.

2. Modes

When looking for a light for less lethal use of force, we prefer a flashlight that only has one output when you activate it. A lot of newer flashlights offer a multiple mode feature, which allows for super-bright “turbo” or “max” light or a “low” or “moonlight” mode (and anything in-between, including strobe, SOS, and other modes). The benefit of this type of a flashlight is they offer flexibility for different situations. 

One of the downsides is that some multiple-mode flashlights force you to cycle through each mode every time you turn the flashlight on, which is not ideal for a self-defense situation. If you have a multiple-mode flashlight, ensure that it’s programmable. You need to be able to hit that switch and count on it being on the mode you need. 

3. Switch

flashlights with tactical tailcap switches.

Having a light that is easy to turn on and off is critical. You cannot be fumbling in the dark trying to turn your light on. You want a switch that:

  1. Is in the same place, no matter how you grab your light
  2. You can turn it on with one-hand
  3. It’s ambidextrous, in case your strong hand is injured or can’t reach your light

With these three requirements, we recommend a tail cap switch for a self-defense flashlight.

In contrast to a twist activation, a tail-cap switch gives you quick access to light. The button is always in the same place and if you’ve programmed your light to always turn on in its brightest mode, you’re able to quickly and effectively deploy your light and use it.  


If you don’t currently carry a flashlight and you commit to carrying one every day for a full week, you’ll find yourself using it much more often than you think. A flashlight can come in extremely handy looking for lost items under the seat of your car, going for an early morning run, navigating to the trashcan at night or locating your dog who is running around your backyard in total darkness.

Odds are, you may never need to use your light as a force option. That’s okay. As a matter of fact, that’s what we want. However, having an Intentional EDC means you have the gear, situational awareness, and Mental EDC to be better prepared just in case. 

Do you carry a flashlight as part of your EDC? Which one do you recommend?

Cody Martin

With over 18 years of federal law enforcement, training, and physical security experience, Cody focuses his time nowadays on both consulting and training. He regularly advises individuals, groups, multinational corporations, schools, houses of worship, and NGOs on security threats while conducting customized training as needed.

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