Flashlights is not something I write about a whole lot, but that is a mistake I am going to rectify going forward. I own a ton of flashlights and use them quite extensively and frequently. Some are weapon mounted and some are handheld. I have flashlights from Surefire, Streamlight, Inforce, 4Sevens and a few others. When preparing to write this I did a quick inventory and realized that easily more than half of all flashlights I have are from Fenix, some hailing from quite a few years ago and still going strong. I think the only Fenix light that gave me any problems at all was an older model that had an alkaline battery leak inside. I was able to get it open and working after replacing the tail switch. That was hardly the flashlight’s fault and since then I only use lithium batteries in my flashlights. I am fairly certain I have another three or four Fenix lights squirreled away in different bags, but these are the ones I could assemble for a brief photoshoot quickly. They are not in any sort of chronological order here, but you can see a silver P3D on the right and a couple of E15s that live in my various travel bags. An old headlamp and LD20 are always in my car (if you have ever had to change a flat tire in the middle of the night you’ll understand why I have these in the car). Old TK11 has been to a good number of night classes. The rechargeable UC35 V2.0 was recently purchased and intended to be sitting in the drawer of my bedside table. The PD35TAC might replace it and will be going on all my regular travels. To be clear, I have a ton of other flashlights as well, some for handheld use and a bunch mounted on weapons of all sorts. If Fenix had a better way to mount the flashlight to a rifle, I would definitely try the PD35TAC there. They do sell a picatinny mount for their flashlights and an extended pressure switch, but after a ton of experimentation, I decided that I strongly prefer to mount flashlights closer to the handguard via KeyMod or Mlok at either 1 o’clock or 5 o’clock positions. In terms of brightness, PD35 TAC with its 1000 lumen tactical mode would do quite well on a rifle, I think.
While the subject of this review is the Fenix PD35 TAC, toward the tail end of this article I’ll go into a bit more detail of what I am looking for in a tactical flashlight and lament profusely that such a thing does not exist. PD35 TAC almost gets me there, though.
This is officially the first time I got a flashlight partially because it is pretty. To be fair, I was going to pick up the regular PD35 Tactical flashlight anyway and then I stumbled onto the Patriot edition. It is one of many patterns Fenix makes as a part of their Elite Cerakote Series and I happened to like this one. The American Flag cerakote coating on this Patriot PD35 is excellent and seems to be quite durable. Aside from vanity, there is a practical reason why I ended up with the cerakoted version: it stands out a little from all the rest of the stuff in my messy workbag. This has been my EDC light for a few weeks now and it still looks exactly the same as it did when I got it despite being slipped in an out of a bunch of different pockets, pouches, rolled around on the floor of the workshop and subjected to all sort of other daily abuse. It even survived my pre-teen kids who press every button eight million times per second simply because they are bored. I have been using it in both Tactical and Outdoor modes with reasonable success in different lighting conditions and for different purposes. It is a really good general purpose light and it works quite well for tactical applications in a pinch. If you look at the UC35 V2.0 and PD35 TAC next to each other it may not be immediately clear why I got both. A brief look at the specs will clear it all up.
Here are the UC35 specs I pilfered from Fenix website:
Look at how the output in lumens and intensity and candela differ between the two. For example, when both are set to 1000 lumen output, UC35 is rated for 17,700 candela, while PD35 for 10000 candela. Candela and lumens are related: candela is lumens per steradian (solid angle). Number of lumens represent the total amount of energy that comes out while candela also takes into account how that energy is distributed. That essentially means that PD35 throws the light at a substantially wider angle and when you actually use the lights, it is clear that UC35 concentrates most of the energy in a comparatively narrow angle, while PD35 spreads it out a fair bit more. For reaching far out, UC35 is a better choice, but for tactical use where you want to minimize blind spots not very far from you, PD35 is better.
While the 1000 lumen turbo mode sounds very impressive (and it is quite bright), the high mode with 500 lumen output is what caught my attention. There is a trend with flashlights to go brighter and brighter. It is great for marketing because bigger number is better, right? To support that, there is a whole brigade of internet authorities pontificating how their latest and greatest ultrabright flashlight can incinerate the intruder’s eyeballs from a mile away on a rainy night. I am beginning to wonder if they have ever tried to use those flashlights indoors. For defensive use indoors, I need a flashlight that has a nicely uniform output so that there aren’t any blind spots. It also has to be bright enough to temporarily blind an attacker when I pulse it on for a second and not so bright that it blinds me. Most indoor walls in the US are painted in some sort of a light color. Some time, for entertainment purposes, turn off all lights at night, let your eyes adapt to the dark, and flip on your 1000 lumen latest and greatest while standing in front of a white wall. Now, if you are outdoors, sky is the limit, without all that reflected energy coming back at you, there is a definite benefit to more light: you can see further and disorient an adversary from a longer distance. I use fairly powerful lights on my rifles, but on a handgun I tend to stick to something in the 400-500 lumen range. With a reasonably wide illumination field like on the PD35 TAC and other high quality tactical lights that’s about the maximum I can use without severely degrading my own ability to see at night. For the non-tactical version of PD35 and for the UC35, the High mode is 350 lumens and next step up is the 1000 lumen turbo mode. Another thing that is different in the PD35 TAC is the tactical mode. In the regular mode Fenix call “outdoor” the tail cap switched the light on and off, while the small button just behind the lamp assembly toggles through different modes in a sequence. The flashlight remembers the last mode you used, so if you turn it on again, it comes back in that same mode. That is exactly how I use it: I make sure it is on High and turn it off. Then a half press on the tail cap gives me that momentary activation I want and the light is off the moment I release it. For defensive purposes, I do not want the light to stay on any longer than absolutely necessary. The tail switch on the PD35 TAC, unfortunately, is of the press/click variety where a full press clicks the light on, requiring another click to turn it off. I would have much preferred a clickless button that is momentary on only. Permanent on can be achieved by some other means. The tactical mode has an abbreviated number of settings: 1000 lumen, 60 lumen and strobe. It does not really do anything useful for me, unfortunately, since in that mode repeated activation of the tail switch switches between outputs. That is the exact thing I do not want. I know there is a school of thought out there that you want to be able to switch between modes with the tail switch only. Perhaps, it works for other people, but that is not how I use tactical lights. Utility lights is a difficult ball game, of course.
There are flashlights out there that have simple momentary on tail switches, but with the obsession on the brightest possible output, small single battery lights usually spit out in the ballpark of 500 lumens, while longer dual cell ones are often double that. Therein lies another problem for the nitpicky and paranoid people like me. I want to be able to use the flashlight as a kubotan in a pinch. For that, it has to be five or six inches in length and single cell flashlights are all shorter than that.
PD35 TAC is nearly perfect size for me to use as an impact weapon if I have to and, in the outdoor mode, the tail switch only turns it on and off. It is not perfect, but it is close. 500 lumen high output mode is just about right for tactical indoor use. 1000 lumen turbo mode is available if I am outdoors and low output modes save battery and give me enough light for utility use when camping or looking for something at night.
PD35 Tactical is a really solid general purpose light that doubles as a tactical light better than most, so I am sticking with it for now.
If I were to design a perfect tactical light, I would have it roughly the same size as PD35 and equip it with a momentary only tail switch and three output modes: full blast for outdoor use, ~500 lumen for indoor tactical use and ~50 lumens for when you do not need to blind anyone. Mode switching would be done by some means other than the tailcap and permanent on by something else entirely. For example, you can have the lamp assembly rotate between three different settings corresponding to three brightness modes and tail cap can rotate to turn the light permanently on, leaving the tail switch free for momentary only operation.