It started with a pirate story. I was chatting up an old sea captain and asking how folks might take countermeasure against the threat of pirates (think Somali-like, not Disney-like). He explained that most pirating these days in North and South American waters is either drug related or opportunistic. To avoid the former, avoid anything associated with the drug trade. To avoid the latter, harden your target a little bit. I was particularly interested in the non-firearms related aspects of this, since when cruising on the ocean, many ports of call are in countries with less than friendly firearms laws. Saving a discussion of the relative risks of defying the laws/needing a firearm for self defense/ending up in the local jail of some banana republic on weapons charges for another day, I wanted to know what my options were.
He told me that since the overwhelming majority of the opportunistic pirating would be by barefoot young men approaching an anchored boat at night with a small dinghy with outboard motor. Capitalizing on the barefoot and night components, he told me about one trick used by some yacht owners anchoring for the night in new waters. Taking a roll of all weather carpet and putting a series of carpet tacks or small nails through the carpet so that it could be easily unrolled at night on deck, he told stories of intruders jumping on deck, letting out a screech, and jumping overboard. No confrontation required! In the morning the roll of spiked carpet could be easily rolled up and stowed until needed again. This sort of low-tech, simple technology solution appealed to me.
Of course he described the various options for legal weapons on board the ship, from spear guns (turns out many countries even have restrictions on these!) to machetes (best tool for opening coconuts, and not at all considered suspicious) to gaff hooks (pulling big fish on board). Pepper spray, as ever, is an option, with certain restrictions by country, and the fact that wind and proximity may affect the defender as well as the attacker.
The idea that most intrigued me however was the flashlight. Maybe I should use a different word, flashlight conjures up visions of that plastic yellow c-cell clunker sitting in the kitchen drawer that you got for $5 at the hardware store and casts a pitiful light when it works at all. No, he told me about the million candle power spotlights that many boats carry as night time navigation aids. Sit one of those in your cabin. You already locked and barred the door to the cabin securely when you retired for the evening right? So odds are after a few minutes of unsuccessful efforts, the would be pirates will simply take what ever was of value close at hand on deck and leave, but should they succeed in getting in to the cabin, flipping the switch and blinding the intruders with the incredible light of one of these spotlights will buy you a very significant tactical advantage to strike back in what ever fashion you have available to you.
Tucking all this spiffy knowledge away for the day when I can weigh anchor and sail off into the sunset on my own boat, I went on about my day to day life. Then I was faced with the prospect of moving to a new region with substantial restrictions on firearms ownership by law abiding citizens, despite a very high level of violent crime. What to do? Pepper spray, sure. I guess. It just doesn't leave me feeling very secure. Then I got the flashlight.
Not the 10 pound, million candle power marine spotlight, rather the small, compact, LED tactical flashlight. After much research, I settled on the Streamlight ProTac HL. Now I have no relationship to this company and don't get any benefit, financial or otherwise from pushing it, and other companies exist that produce similar products, most notably SureFire. But let me tell you a little bit about my StreamLight and why I think it rocks as an adjunct to “unarmed” defense.
First, the size: it is just 5.4 inches long and weighs only 5.6 ozs. Small enough to fit in my pants pocket comfortably, or wear on my belt if desired. Now the real draw, the light. This thing puts out 600 lumens,and 16,000 candela on high setting. That is some incredible blinding light, even more dazzling when on the optional strobe setting. Turning on with a single push button in the tail, it is one-hand operated and can be turned on and off for brief instants with gentle pressure on the button for tactical point illumination without the clicking noise if you don't fully depress the switch. A nice feature. It can be programmed to turn on “high” only, or to have a “high” and “low” function you can switch between, with the low being 33 lumens and 800 candela...still amazingly bright relative to most regular old flashlights, but much more practical for working use that the “high” setting. The amazing brightness of the “high” setting actually makes it difficult to use for general chores, as it so washes out everything in its' beam and takes away from night vision with the reflected light of your surroundings...as well as sucking up battery power. Finally, it has a strobe setting that, at max illumination, is nothing short of staggering. I handed it to my wife one night and tried to “attack” her while she blasted me with the strobe and it was disorienting and painful to be sure.
The ProTac HL is rated as water resistant to 1 meter deep for 30 minutes, is impact resistant, and has a slightly crenulated striking bezel that would make it even more unpleasant for any would be attackers. The negatives? It uses the CR123A batteries, which are of course both more expensive and less available than the usual AA batteries. There are other tactical flashlights which do use AA as well as some that use AAA batteries, including some by StreamLight and SureFire among others, but none I could find that offered 600 lumens. If you don't think you need that extra little oomph and value the ubiquity of standardized batteries perhaps one of these other models would be better for you. Finally, the price: I know private security folks who all carry issued SureFires that are nice enough, but cost hundreds of dollars. I got my StreamLight online for about $70 and I've had it for several months now; it has become a part of my every day carry and I've used it in a variety of conditions from below freezing to humid and tropical and it hasn't given me the least trouble. To be fair, battery life isn't great, at only 1.25 hours on the highest setting (and if you leave it on that long the front lens will get more than a little warm!) and 2.5 hours on strobe. Low will get you 18 hours. But continuous operation is not what this little monster is for, it is for immediate bright blinding light to disorient your assailant or for you to illuminate and observe suspicious circumstances from a safe distance (I can easily light up an adult from 100 yards away to the point of easily identifiable characteristics). At this job it excels.
Here's ,my situation: my shift ends at 11:30 pm, and I have to walk some distance to my vehicle to head home at night. It isn't the best of neighborhoods even in day light, and tonight some guy who wants to make a quick buck is going to try and roll me for my wallet. If giving up my wallet means no one gets hurt, okay, I'll swallow my pride and let it go. But it is hard to get that guarantee ahead of time. All I know is this guy came out of nowhere and is acting shady and coming closer in an aggressive posture. I am “unarmed” since this jurisdiction has seen fit to ensure that only criminals here have guns, and I don't want to pepper spray him just yet, since he hasn't overtly threatened me. So I pull out my flashlight and light him up, 600 lumens in the face, blinding him for the time being and giving me time to get off the center line and in a loud voice demand he stop and come no further. Or maybe time for me to run like heck while he is bewildered by the light. Or maybe increase his bewilderment by smashing the crenulated aircraft aluminum striking bezel against his head. What ever the circumstances dictate, I have gained an important tactical advantage by temporarily blinding my opponent and giving myself time to take the initiative, what ever that may be. Or say it was all a big misunderstanding. He was just walking toward me in a hurry with his hoodie pulled up muttering because he had a fight with his girlfriend and was distracted and didn't see me there. No one has to go get pepper spray washed off or stitched up from being bludgeoned or eviscerated from your choice of improvised weapons. The blinding is powerful, but it is also temporary.
A few other considerations, for what they are worth: while you can't fly with pepper spray or knives in carry on baggage, some/most tactical flashlights will pass, provided the serrations on the bezel don't make it appear to your friendly TSA agent like a primarily striking weapon. But the ProTac HL should be okay. Flashing someone with an incredibly bright light makes it harder for the person being flashed to identify you. This works well for me, since I am in a relatively small community with a high gang presence and don't want to be identified and targeted later. It may also make it appear to the person being flashed that you are a law enforcement officer, since that is what most people associate with such bright lights. This could be a good thing or a bad thing for you, depending on your circumstances.
At any rate, “unarmed” defense is an important topic and highly dependent on individual circumstances. Lights however should be a part of every preppers every day carry and emergency preparedness plan. Not just for TEOTWAWKI, but for when your tire blows out in the middle of a moonless night with no street lights around. Or ten thousand other little everyday circumstances. StreamLight has a huge product line with all kinds of lights for different applications. Another light in my every day carry that I have to put in a plug for is the Photon Micro, a single LED light on my key chain with an on-switch (many similar products must be kept squeezed to be on) that has saved me more times than I can count, and for under $10 one of the best deals in preparedness equipment going, and which incidentally I first learned about from this site. In fact both of these products are gifts that I gave to various family members for Christmas last year.