I have been informally testing the new Fenix PD36R for the past two weeks. It is an excellent light, and if you aren’t feeling like reading all about flashlights then you can stop here and go buy that one, it is solid. It is broadly useful in any number of applications, to include the tactical/self-defense environment, and that is the one that I’m most interested in.
Before I get into what I did and my general recommendations, let me discuss what I want out of a “working” or tactical light. By “working” light, I mean a light that I’d use on patrol, put in my pocket for defensive uses, or put on the nightstand.
In general, a light can accomplish the following things:
Control (suspect or threat)
Positive ID (suspect or threat)
Now some lights can accomplish all of those things, and some lights cannot. In general a cheap flashlight that you buy at Walmart may do some of those things, but it certainly won’t do all of those things well. I should also mention weapon lights, which are awesome, but they aren’t useful for things like searching or navigation, especially in a non-tactical environment. So even if you have a weapon light, you still need a tactical light.
For a tactical light, I want a light that has a high output and can give me that high output without having to switch through numerous modes. Some flashlights have a user interface that can be quite complicated, and for that reason alone, those lights aren’t useful for a tactical application. When I hit the switch, I want all the light, and I want it right now.
I also want something that is sized such that I can get a full grip on it, but I don’t want anything so big that I can’t clip it to a pocket or to my armor as needed. Something around 5-6” long, and nothing greater than 1.25” in diameter is a good size. While some bigger flashlights are certainly usable in a duty capacity, they certainly won’t fit into a pocket. While I wouldn’t choose a flashlight as a primary impact tool, this size light lends itself to a fist load and/or palm stick if you must use it like that in a pinch. All of the lights that I recommend have some amount of crenelation on the bezel, which can be used, to quote my friend Joe from Aklys Defense, as a “DNA sampler.” While I’ve played with aftermarket bezel rings with exceptionally exaggerated crenelations, I don’t recommend those for anything that you’re going to pocket carry, unless you really like having holes in your pockets. Further, something exaggerated like that will possibly attract the undue attention of a supervisor if you carry it at work and they may balk. (Ask me how I know.)
Lastly I need some amount of durability. A real working light will likely get dropped, and it will certainly end up getting wet, if not completely submerged, depending on what sort of conditions you find yourself in. If a flashlight can’t survive the general banging around that a work light encounters, it is worthless for me.
Now, let me discuss the Fenix PD36R specifically. It fits into a pocket, although it is a bit bulky. It easily fits on a duty belt, and it can certainly be clipped to a pocket, belt, or your armor. If you’re going to use the clip as a primary means of attachment, you’ll want to do my zip-tie mod: take a zip tie and secure the clip to the flashlight body. Otherwise the flashlight body can pop out of the clip if you bump it hard or it gets snagged on something. Now this means that if you really snag it hard, you may bend the clip, but I’m willing to put up with that to retain my flashlight.
The Fenix PD36R is 5.35” long and 1” in diameter. It weighs 3 ounces. The max output is 1600 lumens (claimed) and the low output is 30 lumens. You can recharge it without having to remove the battery through a USB-C port that is protected by a rubberized cover. Claimed waterproof level is IPX68, or submersible to 2 meters for 30 minutes, if you want that translated to English. Claimed drop resistance is falls of 1.5 meters on all angles. You can see all of the specifications on the web page.
I have been using the PD36R for various lighting tasks as well as playing with it in dry fire. It has accompanied me at work and at play. Even after using it almost every day for two weeks, it still has over 85% of the battery capacity in reserve, at least according to the indicator. While I have no means of measuring light output, I am inclined to believe their claim of 1600 lumens. It is visibly brighter than two other lights I have with claimed outputs of 1500 and 1000 lumens, respectively. I haven’t been doing destructive level testing with this light, but my experience with other Fenix lights is extensive. I’ve now owned five different Fenix flashlights, which I’ve used at the house and on duty. Those have all survived drops, getting wet, and the casual neglect that I’ve cast upon them, including letting them get dusty and dirty.
While I have yet to have a Fenix flashlight fail on me, I do have two friends who have had to use Fenix’s warranty service. Both had excellent results and a relatively rapid turnaround. The most recent of those times my friend was good enough to document the actual timeline of the entire situation:
Monday, 7/8 Completed online form to fenixlighting.com
Wednesday, 7/10 Fenix lighting sent email advising they had forwarded request to fenix-store.com
Thursday, 7/11 Fenix-store responded with return code, flashlight shipped to them via USPS
Thursday, 7/18 Received notification email that repair has been completed
Friday, 7/19 Received notification email that flashlight has been shipped back via USPS
Monday, 7/22 Flashlight received
In addition to the diagnostic & repair information included in the email of 7/18, paperwork shipped with the light also indicates that contacts were cleaned and o-rings lubricated.
The communication at every stage was much appreciated.
So while I can’t guarantee that any given thing made by humans is infallible, it is nice to know that if you have a problem with a Fenix light, they will take care of you.
I should also mention that I talked to an electrician who used nothing but Fenix lights. He pulled one out of his pocket that looked like it had been dropped multiple times a day as well as getting ran over by vehicles. He mentioned that most of the times he had dropped this light he was up on a ladder when it fell, so it had endured multiple drops from serious height. It looked worse than I have ever seen a flashlight, and it was still fully functional. He told me that even if he demolished that one, he’d go buy another due to his positive experiences with their product.
My newest list of recommended lights:
Streamlight ProTac HL-X
This list is in order of my preference. I have biased it based on output and price point. Note that the Surefire is the most expensive, but that is because it is made in the USA, the others on my list are made in China. If you are sensitive to area of manufacture, then the Surefire it is, but it is also $124-$180 depending on the vendor. The Fenix comes in next at $99, and the Streamlight ProTac HL-X is the low cost winner at $70-$99 depending on vendor. If you want rechargeable, the Surefire is not an option.
I have not tested every available light out there. I have tested some that had some desirable features but lacked in others. For instance, the Olight M2R sounds really good on paper, but once I got it in hand the user interface was sub-optimal. The thumb switch was entirely recessed, which made it more difficult to use, and in tactical mode it gives you 1500 lumens with a gentle press and strobe with a hard press. Under any sort of stressful/adrenalized situation, you’d be using nothing but strobe. Great if you want it, horrible if you don’t. I have also found that the Olight series of lights seems to have more manufacturing defects than the others I’ve mentioned, requiring me to use their warranty service multiple times. So that is why you won’t find that particular light on my list of recommendations.
Please note that the list of recommendations included in this post is current as of July 2019. New developments and changes will obviously alter this list over time. This is also my personal (Jay) list, and not indicative of what any other member of JDC thinks. If you have any feedback on this article of any sort (positive, negative, want to take me to dinner, buy me another light to test, etc.) then please feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.