AR-15 Weapon Lights

The consensus is simple, weapons lights are a vital piece of equipment, and yes, you do need one on your AR. Every AR you may one day depend on for anything more than a range toy needs a weapon light. Every prominent expert on the subject agrees. The fact is, you are far more likely to need to identify something instead of shoot it. It’s also a fact that whatever or whoever you’re shooting at will be under some cover of darkness. Even during the brightness of day, imagine needing to go into an unlit building with uncertainty around every corner.  

Remember this: You cannot shoot what you can’t see. Are you willing to take a shot on something that you think is a threat? You’ve got to be 100 percent sure before you take that shot.

Thankfully, putting a quality weapon light on your AR is both easy and affordable. There are just a few simple things you need to know as you purchase. You can rest easy knowing that every light you’ll see at has these bases covered.  

Our advice is to buy once, cry once. You can get into a quality light with all you need to mount and control it for well under $150. It would seem wise to buy the light you can most afford, knowing that you can quickly transfer it to different firearms down the line.

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Weapon Lights – Lumens & Candela

Lumens measure the total amount of light output. Meanwhile, Candela is a measure of the brightness of the light at any given point. Lumens are basically the output of the light. Consider Lumens as like the spill and Candela as the throw. In your research, you may notice that there’s been a lot of push lately by a few companies to talk about Candela. Lights with a high Candela are ideal where you need more throw, perhaps on a rifle equipped with a low power variable optic.

While it is good to know what the Lumens and Candela of the weapon light you are looking for are, do not let that be the final factor in your purchase. You should also be looking at the light’s durability, how it mounts, how it is activated, and what sort of power it runs on.

Weapon Lights – Battery Basics

For a long time, the go-to battery for many weapon lights was the classic non-rechargeable lithium CR123A battery.  While there are newer batteries on the market, that does not mean that using CR123As puts you at a disadvantage. I run a Streamlight that uses CR123As for my home defense rifle, and it serves me very well. The batteries are proven, reliable, and have been used for years. I swap out CR123A batteries once a year, as they are affordable and plentiful.

That said, recently, another battery is becoming more common. This battery is rechargeable Lithium-Ion, and can potentially offer more power. These batteries are called 18650s…there is also a slightly smaller version called the 18350.  

In the battery industry, how you identify a battery is this: 18 is the diameter. 350 is basically a 35mm battery, and the 0 just means its cylindrical. So, a 18350 battery is 18mm in diameter and 35mm in length. A 18650 battery is going to be 18mm in diameter and 65mm in length.

The most important thing to know is that the 18650 is a very energy-dense battery that facilitates tremendous output. A 18650 at 50 percent charge has more energy potential than two brand new CR123 batteries. 

As time and technology move on, you can expect more and more weapon lights to use these power-packed batteries.

Weapon Lights – Mounting

To a beginner, mounting a light to an AR might seem slightly intimidating, as there are so many options available. To mount the light, you will utilize your Picatinny top rail, or you can mount it to your rifle’s M-Lock or Keymod rail using an adapter. 

Arisaka Defense is one company that makes very high-quality lights (which we will discuss below) and various mounts. You can choose either an offset or inline mount, depending on your needs.  

Offset mounts are a utility option, offering a more comprehensive array of compatibility with different handguards and additional clearance compared to the inline mounts for top rail-mounted accessories. The design places the light in the 2 or 10 o’clock position, so this is the go-to mount if your handguard only has M-Lok or KeyMod slots on the 3 and 9 o’clock sides.

The Arisaka Inline Scout Mount is arguably the lowest profile mounting solution we offer. If you want the lowest, sleekest option, then the Inline is the way to go.

These mounts connect to the body of your light via screws. Ring mounts are also a viable option for mounting a weapon light. Examples of ring mounts include the Presma 1″ M-LOK Flashlight Ring Mount, Aim Sports Inc. 1″ 45 OFFSET M-LOK LIGHT / LASER MOUNT, or the ODIN Works 1″ M-LOK Flashlight Mount.

Weapon Lights – Turning On and Off

The most basic weapon light is turned on or off by a push button “clicky button” housed within the light’s tail cap. Many choose to simply manipulate a weapon light this way, using their thumb to press the button when they need to illuminate an area. It’s simple, direct, and some feel it is more trustworthy and dependable, as wires and switches can potentially bend or break.

For those who prefer a more elegant, streamlined approach, a “tape switch” is often used. A tape switch is a pressure pad mounted to the rail of your firearm, sometimes via tape or a zip tie. 

This pressure switch is connected to a wire connected to a replacement end cap that screws into the back end of your weapon light. You will often be required to buy your tape switch and the end cap it interfaces with separately.

Surefire is well-known for its tape switches, but one of the most popular lights, the Streamlight HL-X, comes pre-packaged with a tape switch and everything you need to mount. For the price, it is probably the single best option on the market today.

One more thing to mention is making sure that if you go with a tape switch, you have a way to keep everything nice and tidy to prevent snags. You can use electrical tape, rubber-band like Ranger Bands, zip ties, or something designed specifically for the task like the Cloud Defensive Light Control System (LCS), which is available for both Streamlight and SureFire.  

The Cloud Defensive LCS has a unique Patent-Pending design that utilizes a slot that ensures a snug, perfect friction-fit for the tape switch. Once installed, it is not coming out unless you want it to. Proprietary Integrated Cable Channels (ICC) are integrated into both sides of the mount, giving the user the ability to control excess cable spillage and making the mount ambidextrous and reversible. While not absolutely necessary, the LCS is well worth the purchase, as hanging, snaggable wires are just not acceptable.

Weapon Lights – What are Your Best Options?

Streamlight HL-X

If you’re new to weapons lights for your AR, there’s something to be said for keeping it simple. For the combination of cost, convenience, and ease of set-up, it’s hard to find a better solution than the Streamlight HL-X. It’s not the best or brightest on the market, and there might be more long-term reliable lights out there, but for many, the Streamlight HL-X hits the sweet spot. Frankly, for under 200 dollars, I think the Streamlight HL-X is the best choice on the market today.  

The Streamlight ProTac Rail Mount HL-X is a 1,000 lumen weapon-mounted light featuring a dedicated fixed-mount for Picatinny rails. It uses either a remote switch or a standard push button tail switch and can run on multiple battery sources. The light uses two CR123A lithium batteries (included) or one Streamlight 18650 lithium-ion battery. With your purchase, you get two CR123A lithium batteries, a remote pressure switch, an optional push button tail cap switch, remote retaining clips, double-sided tape, zip ties…which is absolutely everything you need.  

Cloud Defensive OWL

As a step up from the Streamlight, we arrive at the Cloud Defensive OWL. We mentioned Cloud Defensive earlier regarding the Cloud Defensive Light Control System (LCS). Still, for TRUE plug-and-play simplicity, there is currently no better option on the market than the completely ambidextrous Cloud Defensive OWL. The light is an estimated 1,250 lumen, 50,000 candela light that is fully ambidextrous, robustly built, and powerful…Designed specifically to compliment rifles.

Simply put, the Cloud Defensive OWL offers a one-piece integrated solution with optimized ergonomics. Shockproof. Dustproof. Waterproof and fully submersible. No external plugs or sockets that are susceptible to water/debris

Surefire M600 Scout Dual Fuel Weapon Light

For many, SureFire is the first name they think of when it comes to weapon lights. This reputation has been hard-earned over a long period. Today, SureFire designs and manufactures a wide variety of firearms accessories, from weapon lights to suppressors. As a leading manufacturer of rugged, powerful lights, SureFire is synonymous with excellence in handheld illumination.

There are many SureFire weapon lights on the market, but one we recommend at is the SureFire M600DF. The very well-rounded SureFire M600DF Scout Dual Fuel Light, powered by two CR123A lithium batteries or one 18650, is compact and extremely powerful. The recoil-proof LED emitter is focused by a TIR lens to create a blinding 1500-lumen beam for close to long-range applications and significant surround light for peripheral vision.

The click-type tail cap push button switch is shrouded to minimize the chance of accidental activation. Press for momentary-on, press further for constant-on. A remote tape switch (sold separately) may also be used.

The M600DF is machined from high-strength aerospace aluminum with MIL-SPEC Type III hard coat anodizing built for combat conditions without weighing your weapon down.

Finally, this weapon light mounts securely to any MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny rail via an integral thumbscrew clamp.

SureFire Mini Scout Light Pro

Suppose you’re looking for something a bit smaller to perhaps mount on an AR pistol or short-barreled rifle. In that case, The SureFire Mini Scout Light Pro offers the same ultra-compact design, 500 Lumen output, and shrouded tailcap as the standard model, but features a brand-new body design with a versatile mounting system.

The new light body mount can be switched from either Picatinny or M-LOK and allows you to orient your light at any angle to optimize ergonomics when using in conjunction with laser aiming modules or other accessories. 

The M340C Mini Scout Light Pro Weapon Light uses a single CR123A battery to power the 500 Lumen light head. The Mini Scout Light Head utilizes a proprietary TIR lens that produces a highly focused beam at a high intensity with the soft surrounding light.

The rear tail cap switch offers momentary or constant-on function. It can be replaced with other SureFire Scout tail caps for use with remote switches. The entire weapon-mounted light is constructed from aluminum, hard coat anodized, and O-ring sealed to protect it from the elements. The Mini-Scout Light Pro 500 Lumen Weapon Light brings more versatility to your weapon system without a mount’s added cost.

Arisaka Defense 600 Series Momentary 500 Lumen 55k Candela Weapon Light

Another high-end and well-respected brand of a weapon light is by Arisaka. This company has developed an excellent reputation as the producer of a wide variety of mounts. Like the SureFire weapon lights above, Arisaka is truly duty-grade and has earned the trust of professionals who bet their life on their gear. The Arisaka 600 Series E2XT Light is an illumination package consisting of the Arisaka 600 Series Light Body, Tailcap, and Malkoff Devices E2XT Scout head. Simply add an aftermarket Scout mount of your choice for a complete lighting solution.

The new Malkoff E2XT heads utilize a TIR lens that focuses the beam and produces 55,000 candela and 500 out-the-front lumens. This provides a tightly concentrated beam for maximum distance, with a small spill for close range and peripheral lighting. For comparison, the latest Surefire 1500 lumen M600DF is rated at 16,000 lux. Run time is 1 hour with the provided 16650 lithium-ion rechargeable cell or 30 minutes with 2x CR123 cells. Malkoff heads are fully potted to withstand recoil during weapon mounted use.

The 600 Series Light will fit in almost any aftermarket Scout mount, as it retains the mounting holes and square lug interface on the underside of the light body.

Reptilia Corp TORCH 6V/18650 M-LOK Light Body

Perhaps this is not your first light. Maybe you already have a SureFire or Modlite weapon light head or tail cap, and you want to ‘build’ your own light. For those who want to take a modular approach to their weapon light, they would be wise to take a look at the Reptilia Corp TORCH 6V/18650 M-LOK Light Body.  

Just like SureFire and Arisaka, Reptilia is very well regarded by professionals. Machined from aircraft grade billet aluminum with Mil-spec Type III Hardcoat Anodized finish, the TORCH is optimized for use with top-mounted aiming laser devices. Featuring an integral uni-body M-LOK interface, it is not only low-profile but provides a robust M-LOK weapon light mounting solution.

Available immediately in both left- and right-hand variants, the TORCH Dual Fuel/18650 is compatible with the highly regarded Modlite heads and SureFire® M600DF Scout bezels and tail caps.

Weapon Lights on a Budget

If I’m betting my life on a weapon light and cost is a concern, my go-to light is always a Streamlight. That said, if your budget simply does not allow it, we completely understand that any light is better than none at all. 

Thankfully, some very affordable solutions promise to get the job done.

Presma 260 Lumens Tactical Flashlight w/ Remote Switch

The flashlight is equipped with a LED bulb that produces an ultra-high 260-lumen output powered by a pair of CR123As. As a result, you can wield your weapon safely and confidently even after the sun starts to set. To turn the light on and off, you can use the pushbutton momentary switch or the twist-on permanent switch, or you can opt for the remote pressure switch that rests in hand. Plus, the flashlight fits in hand as easy as on a weapon, so you can use it for handheld applications as well. 

Tactical LED Aluminum Fore Grip and LED Flashlight 

This 260-lumen tactical foregrip & LED flashlight powered by two CR123As adds versatility to your gun and offers you superior control. 

VISM Pro Series Flashlight Mod2

Includes a Picatinny rail mount. 3 Watt Bright CREE LED, 500 Lumen max output. Uses two CR123As, but is also compatible with 18650 rechargeable batteries.  

Weapon Lights – Conclusion 

As stated at the beginning of this article, any rifle you might ever use for anything more than a range toy needs a light on it. You can’t see what you cannot shoot, and all too often, the things that will stir us to pick up a rifle often occur in low or no light conditions. We know it’s not fun spending money on AR accessories when those funds could instead be used for ammo or something slightly more glamorous. But trust us…when you need a light, you’ll be thankful you thought ahead and bought one. Take some time, do some research, and if you have any questions, let us know. All of us at are here to assist.