Pistol mounted weapon light comparison

You will often read that most critical incidents happen in low light situations and there are many options to help you deal with low light, including night sights, lasers, gold beads… But I believe that the most important addition you can make to your compact or larger*** concealed carry or home defense gun is a white light.

Like night sights or a laser, white light can be used as a rough sighting system, where if you light them up with the center of the beam the bullet should be pretty close, and it helps you identify your point of aim by making it possible to see the outline of your sights. However, a white light can do something nothing else can… Identify your target!

Once you have made the decision to carry a light the question comes down to which one.

This 4 common weapon light comparison can help you decide what is right for you…


Surefire x300

This particular light has been my home defense light for the past couple of years. At 180 lumens it is almost too bright for use indoors, but by bouncing the light off of a wall or ceiling you can provide enough light identify that the crash you heard was the cat knocking a flower-pot of the counter or your kids dropping the container of milk.

The x300 is designed for throw (not spill) and has a definite hot spot in the middle of the beam, this can easily be used for crude aiming but the spill is still sufficient to help you see what is going on around you.

The switch is stiff enough that it won’t be bumped on automagicly (I love that non-word) and can be molded into a kydex holster so it is held off. It can be manipulated by rotating it either up or down for constant on or pushed towards the front for momentary on.

Like all traditional pistol lights, the x300 does add considerably to length of the gun and will protrude past the muzzle on anything smaller than a Glock 34/35. This will cause a little soot on the lens, but if you are doing enough low light shooting for it to be an issue I urge you to move.

Unlike any other light in this test it never takes tool to install, uninstall or change the batteries (2 CR123’s).


Streamlight TLR1s

The TLR1 has always been the “working mans” response to the x300 and without getting into a purposely destructive testing I can’t say there is any reliability/performance advantage between the 2. There are however a 3 usability differences worth noting.

1) The TLR1 does secure to the gun with the use of a screw. I found that 2 full turns was the difference between not-coming off and easily removable and I could usually accomplish this with just my thumb because of the bumps on the screw head; however if I were going to mount it permanently on a pistol of rifle I would snug it down with a screwdriver.

2) This light has a defined hot spot just like the x300 and could be used for rudimentary aiming, but it also has a very hard edge at the edge of the beam. I’m not a big fan of that because it promotes target fixation/tunnel vision. No good.

3) The TLR’s switch can easily be rocked in either direction; with down via a right handed shooters trigger finger being constant on and down via the thumb a momentary on. This took a bit of getting used to because of my familiarity with the x300 but it is certainly doable. This particular model however was the TLR1s and the “s” stands for strobe. To activate the strobe required 2 quick touched of the momentary light and the strobe stayed on as long as switch was pressed.

Unfortunately there was no option for the strobe to swiched on and required a double tap on the light every time if you wanted to use it intermittently.


Crimson Trace Rail Master Tactical Light

While the Crimson Trace Rail Master is still slightly wider than my Glock it is the 1st of the 4 lights that doesn’t significantly extend past the muzzle (it is actually slightly shorter) so it is considerably smaller than the other 2 options. While it is much more concealable, it’s smaller size does affect its performance.

1) It uses a single CR2 instead of dual CR123’s like the bigger lights, which only powers it to 100 lumens versus the 180 and 160 in the previous options. I don’t believe this to be an issue though because splash in doors isn’t as bad and it is still past my 80 lumen minimum for a tactical light. It just won’t light up a room quite like the Surefire when pointed at the ceiling.

2) The smaller reflector combined with the large LED makes for a floody light with no discernible hot spot. These means it isn’t as good as the larger lights if you are sighting with it, but it still works for all the same reasons we can use the larger diopter on the AR rear sight.

The home run on this light for me is its activation. The Rail Master uses 2 paddles that can be activated with either the trigger finger or the support hand and is user programmable to be “Constant On”,” Momentary On” or “Strobe Only” (btw, this is cool enough to deserve both its own post and YouTube video).

One note of caution that might just be my issue… I find that I always want to manipulate the lights with my trigger finger, which works fine for constant on modes, but turns out the light when I want to press the trigger with momentary modes. If you are going to train to use a momentary light, practice activating the light with your support hand.


Crimson Trace Light Guard

The Crimson Trace Light Guard uses the same LED, reflector and battery as the Rail Master, so its beam is indisquishable so the only way to know I didn’t reuse the image is the better sight alignment and worse grip in this photo.

The features that set these lights are apart are the thinner form factor on the light guard and the activation method.

The shape of the Light Guard makes it resemble a Taser and doesn’t increase the width of the gun at all. This means it will not change the way the gun carries for anyone that carries on their hip, although it could complicate appendix carry a bit.

It also uses the instinctive activation that Crimson Trace has made famous with their lasers. This means there is no constant on option other than just gripping the pistol and there is no option for Strobe (Although that would be nice… a switch inside maybe?).

I am convinced these are all great lights and I can see a use for all of them, but most likely my x300 will live on the rifle, the Rail Master will become the home defense pistol light and the Light Guard could be the ticket for the CCW pistol.

*** For really small guns like the Ruger LCP or guns with marginal sights like a J-frame, I prefer a laser.


How would you use these lights? Tweet me @BalloonGoesUp, message me on Facebook or leave a comment below and let me know what you think. If you liked it share it with your friends, and don’t forget to subscribe to the new newsletter!


  1. says

    Actually, since the CT LightGuard has to be assembled onto the gun, I would just keep it installed semi-permanently and have it do double-duty for CCW and HD – I have one on my own G19, and that’s exactly how I use it. CrossBreed’s SuperTuck is an excellent IWB holster made to fit the complete unit(which I have, and use for CCW), but I understand that Raven Concealment Systems also makes their modular holster for the same combo(which I may try out someday).

    For CCW, I appreciate that I don’t have to take the additional step of pressing/flipping the light switch with my trigger finger – I can draw, light the target, overwhelm his dark-adapted vision with blinding white light, aim, and fire using the exact same skills that I’ve learned over 18 years of CCW, 8 years of training and 6 years of IDPA competition without a gun-mounted light.

    There is a minor glitch with the system in that the light flashes on from my gripping the gun as I draw, but I don’t consider it to be a big deal – it doesn’t bother me as I draw to the target, and if it confuses an assailant and draws his focus to my hip and away from my face/torso, so much the better. Though, if I could change the system, I’d make the pressure switch require just a little bit more gripping-force to activate…

    • says

      Thanks for the comments Phil. My CCW guns don’t do double duty because my wife needs a HD gun when I’m not here (or even when I am) so my solution is 2 G19′s and I’m in the market for a 3rd (or a 23).

  2. says

    Well, you know the gals and I run the TLR-1S lights on our self/home-defense guns… we’ve been happy with them, they’ve held up while being on through hundreds of rounds fired in low light and at night over time… Similar to you, we have numerous Ruger SR9′s and SR9c’s so we don’t really remove the lights often or ever from the self/home defense guns when we have CCW guns without lights…

    I do usually carry a Surefire flashlight and an extra mag on the weak side for CCW… kydex holster holds the Surefire and the extra mag…

    Nice review, I found the info on the “floody” Crimson Trace lights interesting and not my preference… although I’m a BIG fan of CT’s lasers…

    Dann in Ohio

  3. says

    Hey dude;

    Key point with weapons-mounted lights is understanding their limitations, especially how to search with weapons-mounted lights if that’s your only option. The upcoming CT video, which I was lucky enough to be a part of, has some pretty specific training on those points.

    Alos, I’m of the option that MO’ LITE IS BETTER! The House AR from Spike’s Tactical has a prototype Streamlight TLR-HP on it that can throw the Bat Sign on the moon…

    Michael B

    • says

      I may need to check that out. 200 lumens isn’t as rediculous as some (The 500 lumen Surefire x300 ultra) and with the larger reflector it should have some serious throw.

      How does the spill taper off or does it basically throw a laser?

  4. MrSatyre says

    Just like there is no industry standard for the measurement of contrast ratio in television sets, there is no industry standard for the measurement of lumens or lux (different manufacturers use different measuring devices with different measurement parameters, requirements and goals, as well as being tested in vastly different environments).

    Would you consider running such a test again by comparing the light output of these lights with a brand-of-your-choice light meter? One brand’s 180 lumens could easily be comparable to another’s 300 or even higher.

    • says

      That is part of what I was trying to convey with my photos, but most flashlight companies have begun using the ANSI rating process for more consistency.

      I guess I should say my 80 lumen bar is 80 reputable company lumens.

  5. says

    I can draw, light the target, overwhelm his dark-adapted vision with blinding white light, aim, & fire using the exact same skills that I have learned through the Crimson Trace Light Guard.
    Practice makes a man perfect!! Although it is not a real gun ;)

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