Less-Offensive EDC Tools

How a Flashlight Can Save Your Life

Tom’s regular rotation of daily carry lights. Clockwise from top: Fenix PD36R,
Streamlight Wedge, Streamlight Stylus Pro USB and Streamlight PocketMate.

The parking garage was darker than normal. That light at the top of the stairwell was busted. No surprise, if the public bathroom on the ground floor is any indication, maintenance in the city’s public parking garages takes a distant second place to fixing that pothole at the end of 2nd Street. No reason to panic … yet. Nothing unusual about the light being smashed given the copious scrolls of graffiti on the walls.

Halfway from the stairwell to my car, I spot a man kneeling on the concrete, leaning one hand against a parked car. I’m guessing he’s drunk and returning his last few drinks to the floor. As I ponder his situation, another man appears from the opposite side. He asks, “What’s with that guy? Drunk?” I reply in the affirmative; it sure appears to be the case. To get to my car, I need to pass fairly close to Mr. Bourbon Breath. As I continue forward, I notice the second man angling to intercept my path on his way to the drunk’s location. I also notice he’s moved his hands into the pockets of his sweatshirt.

At this point, my hackles are going into hackle-up mode. Is it go time? I haven’t seen a weapon, and neither man has made any kind of direct threat. The drunk starts talking to the second man when suddenly it occurs to me he doesn’t seem very drunk for someone supposedly getting sick from a long night out.

It’s decision time. I can’t get to my car without walking past these guys and I’m a good 50′ from the stairwell. I’m carrying a concealed pistol, as always, and a pocketknife, again as always. Don’t leave home without either, right? Here’s the problem. If I draw my gun, even pointing it at the ground, I’ve brandished a firearm. Not only a legal no-no, but I also couldn’t prove in a court of law I was facing imminent bodily harm. A reasonable person would likely agree it was a suspicious situation, but no rational, law-abiding citizen would condone drawing a weapon at this point. Besides, bringing a weapon into a still benign encounter might escalate a non-event into something far more serious. If I had something like pepper spray I might be able to discreetly slip it into my hand, just in case. I don’t.

There’s no excuse not to carry a light. The Streamlight Stylus Pro USB is virtually
the same size as a pen. This rechargeable delivers 350 lumens and has a low mode
for general-purpose use. A single pushbutton operates everything.

What Would You Do?

This really did happen to me. Fortunately, the strange encounter took place in the West Orlando Firearms Training (W.O.F.T.) “garage” as a low-light training exercise designed specifically to help learn how to navigate encounters in that gray zone of uncertainty. Talk about training you can actually put to use every day.

The Streamlight PocketMate is a USB-rechargeable keychain light with a
surprising output of 45 (low) and 325 (high) lumens. A generously sized
button turns it on, two clicks for blast mode.

Less-Offensive Options

We talk about firearms for self-defense, and less-lethal options to a lesser, but still respectable degree. What we never discuss is non-lethal — bordering on non-offensive — tools and techniques.

What mental, skill and hardware tools do you have in your self-defense arsenal that won’t hurt anyone? Or that won’t even give cause for a call to law enforcement by witnesses or the subject of your interest?

Do you have a way to evaluate a sketchy situation without escalating a non-event closer to an actual fight? How do you deal with someone getting too much into your personal space who won’t listen to firm commands of “Give me some space, man!”

USB-rechargeable lights are now plenty reliable for defensive
use and more convenient than battery units.

The Right Answer

Here’s how I handled the ambiguous parking lot situation. I whipped a high-powered flashlight from my front pants pocket and raised it at the two individuals, saying something along the lines of, “It sure is dark in here, isn’t it? I’m just heading to my car. Have a nice night.”

Yes, I raised the blinding beam to their eye level, taking a more circuitous route to my car at the same time. In the dark environment, this fairly benign proactive move bought me a few seconds to make up some ground toward my car while slightly disorienting the two guys in the lot. They technically weren’t out of a potential fight, but they were seeing plenty of spots instead of eyeing my suitability as a potential victim. The aggressive but less-offensive move of bringing a bright light into the situation was enough, in this case, to encourage them to choose another victim.

What if the situation was as it originally appeared? The drunk was in fact drunk, and the second man was just a dude heading to or from his car. Oh, and his hands were cold, so he stuck them in his pockets. My “accidental” light in the eyes move would be considered annoying, possibly bordering on obnoxious, but no one would call the cops saying, “That guy just whipped out a flashlight! And he pointed it at me!”

One more thing: When we’re talking lights that output many hundreds (or in some cases a thousand or more) lumens, you have a tool usable in daylight conditions, too. No, you don’t need a light during daylight hours to “see” things, but it still serves a useful purpose in a defensive capacity.

In the “don’t try this at home” category, take a quick peek at the bright side of a good light in the middle of the day. You’ll see spots and it’ll foul up your vision for a hot second. If it messes with you in broad daylight, it’ll mess with a suspicious character as well.

Who says rechargeable batteries need to be round? The Streamlight Wedge
has a flat profile and clip allowing discreet and comfortable front-pocket carry.
Tom keeps his on his support side.

Intentions Detector

A reliable, simple and bright light is a great multi-purpose tool to help the armed citizen bridge the uncertainty gap between an encounter not feeling quite right and something more serious. It can also help you evaluate a situation by introducing a new variable, forcing the other individual to “put up or shut up.”

If the guy on the city sidewalk at night approaches you to ask for some spare change, a light in the face may annoy him to the point of calling you some unflattering name. If the whole thing was a ploy to close distance in advance of a mugging, you might have just sent a very strong signal you’re prepared and aware, causing him to rethink his choice in victims. If he continues with initiating a violent encounter, you’ve already turned the tables just a bit, or at least leveled the playing field more by creating some confusion and causing him to react to you. It just might buy you the time needed to access a real weapon or escape as appropriate.

Rock the switch on the Wedge for 300 lumens. Press forward for a 1,000-lumen burst mode.
It couldn’t be simpler.

Gear Tips

We’re blessed with a plethora of solid gear from which to choose these days. It’s easy to find a reliable light with plenty of output — I have four different ones in my rotation, each with its own purpose. Before investing in your own, consider a few things.

Reliability is paramount. You’ll be carrying this light around day and night, so don’t skimp. Buy a quality brand like the Streamlight and Fenix models shown here. They work and keep shining after many knocks and dings.

As for battery versus USB-powered, take your pick. Once upon a time, rechargeables were not to be fully trusted, but times have changed. All four of the lights shown here are rechargeable with USB cables. They work. Just be a big boy or girl and remember to recharge as needed.

Simpler is better. In my low-light training, I often found myself inadvertently switching operating modes when using lights with lots of features. For your defensive light, see if you can find one that’s either on or off, period. Forget different power levels, strobe effects and automatic Morse code signaling. Those features are great for a general-purpose light, but too complicated for a gross motor skill “fighting for your life” light. This is why I carry the Streamlight Wedge in my pocket every single day. A single rocker switch turns it on — bright. If I intentionally or inadvertently press the switch forward, it gets even brighter. Same with the PocketMate on my keychain.

For higher-intensity applications, the Fenix PD36R ranges from a utilitarian 30 lumens to a blazing 1,600. A thumb button allows easy change of brightness and enables a strobe feature. If you ever need to signal the International Space Station …

The Bottom Line

A light offers far more defensive value than simply seeing in the dark. Used properly, it can create a distraction, buy you time and even help flesh out another person’s true intentions during an ambiguous encounter.

How about carrying one all the time? 

For more info: Streamlight.com, Fenix-Store.com, WOFT.com

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