A common question when it comes to personal defense is “What is the best weapon for self-defense?” And the answer might surprise you: a good flashlight. Whether a concealed carry permit holder in a non-permissive environment or new to the world of personal protection, a flashlight is an indispensable tool for low-light self-defense. But this versatile instrument isn’t just for illuminating dark spaces. A good tactical flashlight functions as an adjunct to a handgun or makes a great improvised striking tool. Understanding its full potential is key to enhancing your self-defense capabilities.

Why a Flashlight Is Crucial for Self-Defense

Situational awareness is a cornerstone of self-defense training that encompasses recognizing potential threats or causes for concern in your environment. True awareness involves being mindful of all aspects of your surroundings, including the terrain, surfaces that might affect your traction, available escape routes, potential obstacles, and sources of cover and concealment. Assessing these factors often requires a significant amount of light.

That’s why a flashlight is an essential tool that should be part of your everyday carry (EDC). It’s small, handy, affordable and incredibly versatile. Whether you’re navigating dark spaces or facing a potential threat, a durable, tactical flashlight can be invaluable.

First, a flashlight enhances your situational awareness. In low-light conditions, it’s crucial to see your surroundings clearly. A powerful beam can illuminate dark areas, helping you avoid potential hazards and identify threats from a safe distance. This heightened awareness can deter would-be attackers, signaling that you are alert and prepared.

A flashlight can also serve as a guide. If you’re ever injured or separated from a group, you can use it to signal for help or guide others to your location. The beam can attract attention and reveal your position, making it an essential tool in emergencies.

Flashlights can act as a warning device. If someone is encroaching on your personal space, aim your light at his or her hands or face to give you a clear view. This simple gesture can deter unwanted advances and announce your awareness without uttering a word. A bright light or strobe can temporarily blind or disorient an attacker, providing you with a critical moment to escape or access another self-defense tool.

Additionally, a flashlight can be used as an improvised weapon. Its sturdy construction allows it to double as a blunt object for striking if you find yourself in a close-quarters confrontation. With proper training, you can learn effective techniques to use your flashlight defensively. Choose a model with an easy push button for quick activation and keep it in an accessible location, such as a strong-side pocket.

And finally, a flashlight can serve as a distraction. In a threatening situation, you can use the beam to divert attention away from yourself. This can disorient an attacker, giving you precious seconds to escape or reach for another self-defense tool.

Flashlight Techniques for Low-Light Environments

Although crimes are committed at all hours of the day, studies have shown that violent crimes — murders, rapes and sexual assaults — and robberies happen more frequently at night, when criminals use darkness to their advantage. Even in the daytime, poorly lit areas such as parking garages give predators the edge. A flashlight, however, tips the odds back in your favor. 

In a real defensive situation, your first task is to figure out what is going on. If the ambient lighting doesn’t allow you to effectively assess the threat, you should use your flashlight to illuminate it. If you don’t see a weapon and you determine that the situation is not life-threatening, the progression of tactics previously described should make perfect sense. According to a study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about three out of four violent encounters would fall into this category. Statistically, only 25 percent of assaults involve lethal weapons and would legally justify drawing your gun.1

Defense from a Distance

If you aren’t able to avoid a potential threat altogether, the next phase of flashlight tactics is to use the light to disrupt the threat’s vision. Although a flashlight doesn’t fire a projectile, if it’s bright enough, it can temporarily blind an attacker from a safe distance. The human eye takes about 25 minutes to become fully adapted to darkness. Once it is, it is 100,000 times more sensitive to light than during normal lighting conditions.

If a potential threat comes out of the shadows, use your light to assess the individual from a distance and use verbal commands to keep him or her there. If the individual ignores your commands and tries to move closer, shine the light directly in the person’s eyes to temporarily blind him or her. Then seize the moment and make a safe escape.

‘Flash and Smash’

If temporarily blinding a potential threat with your flashlight isn’t enough to facilitate a safe exit, you can combine the effect of the light with physical strikes. For example, if an attacker ignores your verbal commands and approaches you aggressively, wait until he or she gets within range and shine the light directly into his or her eyes. Whether you disrupt the assailant’s night vision or he or she averts his or her eyes to avoid the light doesn’t matter. In the moment your attacker can’t see you, deliver a hard kick to his or her shin or groin, then make your escape. Although this “flash and smash” tactic is preemptive and involves you hitting first, when it’s preceded by strong verbal commands (that your attacker opts to ignore), it is highly justifiable. When it’s combined with something like a shin kick, it effectively compromises your attacker’s mobility — providing an opportunity for your escape — while still qualifying as a low level of use of force.

Using a Flashlight as an Impact Weapon

The size, shape and durability of a good tactical flashlight make it an ideal surrogate for purpose-designed martial arts weapons. And since a flashlight is first and foremost a lighting tool, it can be legally carried everywhere — even in non-permissive environments.

The most basic flashlight-striking tactic is borrowed from an unarmed fighting skill called “cycling.” With the light in your dominant hand and the bezel end extending from the bottom of your fist, use your non-dominant hand to parry, fend or simply index desirable targets spatially. Once you find something worth hitting, hammer down hard with the bezel of the light. Repeat the process as necessary, focusing on the nose, ears, temples, collarbones, sternum and any other handy, sensitive areas. If the attacker tries to block your strike, hammer his or her hand out of the way or parry it with your off hand to create openings for more strikes. If the assailant turns away, shift your attention to his or her kidneys and spine, hammering inward instead of downward.

Flashlight Tactics for Self-Defense with a Gun

If you do see a weapon or — based on other factors, such as multiple threats — determine that drawing your firearm is justified, what should you do with your light? The following methods allow you to maintain situational awareness and control while freeing your hands for other tasks, such as handling a firearm. 

Harries Technique

The Harries Technique is a classic and widely used method, particularly among law enforcement. To execute it, hold your flashlight in your non-dominant hand and your firearm in your dominant hand. Cross your wrists, pressing the backs of your hands together to stabilize both the light and the gun. This technique helps illuminate your target while providing a stable shooting platform, making it ideal for low-light shooting drills. The key is to practice this technique regularly to ensure smooth and swift transitions in high-stress situations.

Rogers/SureFire Technique

The Rogers or SureFire Technique involves holding a small, tactical flashlight between the index and middle fingers of your non-dominant hand. This grip allows you to use the same hand to support your firearm. By activating the flashlight with your thumb, you can maintain a two-handed grip on your gun, enhancing accuracy and control. This technique is particularly effective for low-light shooting as it allows for a strong, stable shooting stance while keeping your light and firearm aligned.

FBI Technique

The FBI Technique is ideal for situations where you want to avoid making yourself a target. Hold the flashlight in your non-dominant hand and extend it away from your body, typically above your head or off to the side. This positioning reduces the likelihood that an attacker will target your torso if they aim at the light source. While this technique may require more practice to aim accurately, it offers the advantage of misdirecting an attacker’s focus away from your vital areas.

Neck Index Technique

The Neck Index Technique involves holding the flashlight close to your neck, with the bezel end just below your jawline. This method provides excellent illumination of your surroundings while allowing quick transitions to other positions. It also enables you to maintain a low profile and quickly bring your light and firearm into alignment. This technique is particularly useful for scanning and identifying threats in low-light environments.

Modified FBI Technique

The Modified FBI Technique combines elements of the FBI and Neck Index techniques. Hold the flashlight above your head and slightly to the side, reducing the chance of becoming an easy target. This method allows you to quickly illuminate different areas without exposing your vital areas directly to a potential threat.

Mastering Flashlight Techniques for Effective Low-Light Defense

Low-light shooting drills are essential to maintaining your skills. Practice regularly with a qualified instructor and find a range that allows for low-light training. Remember, a flashlight technique is not just about illuminating your target but about using the light tactically to disorient and defend against threats. 

The flashlight is much more than a headlight for a gun. When it’s used properly, it is one of the most powerful and versatile defensive tools you can carry. Make the commitment to add one to your everyday carry arsenal and within a few weeks you’ll wonder how you ever got along without one.


This article is a compilation of previous blog posts authored by Ed Combs, Beth Alcazar, Eugene Nielsen and Michael Janich.


(1) Craig Perkins, Weapon Use and Violent Crime, 1993-2001, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sept. 1, 2003, 7, BJS.OJP.gov/library/publications/weapon-use-and-violent-crime-1993-2001.