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Gear review: Streamlight ProTac HL

I bought my first Streamlight back in 2013, after many years of being a die-hard SureFire fan. I still have several G2s scattered around my various bags and Pelican cases that I use when traveling, and they’re still great. For a long time I carried a 6P LED, and was very happy with its performance over the years. But I wanted something that would do dual-brightness, and had significant output for those times when I really, really needed to set something on fire light up a large area, but would be small enough for everyday carry. At the time, SureFire didn’t really make anything that I felt would really work, so I turned to Streamlight, another of the high-end manufacturers that cropped up making LED lights after Maglight missed the LED train. After a bit of poking around, I found the ProTac HL.

ProTac HL 1

ProTac HL 2

The ProTac HL feels like a very nice flashlight, it’s hefty and has a good “hand feel”. The housing is made of anodized aluminum, and since mine gets heavy use, you can see where this is starting to get scuffed off. This isn’t really a problem, aluminum doesn’t rust, and I’m not going to expose it to gallium anytime soon, so the scuffing is just cosmetic. You’d have to make the outer coating out of some bizarre carbon-nanotube / diamond amalgam to keep someone in my industry from scratching the outer surface, anyway. Around the top shroud of the light there are flat surfaces cut into the housing to keep it from rolling around when you set it down. They’re not very pronounced, though, so the light tends to roll of any not-truly-level surface, or from any kind of slight bump. Not really an issue for me, since I almost never lay the flashlight on the ground to do any kind of work – I just hold it in my teeth or squeeze it between my head and shoulder like an old phone if necessary.

The light itself is produced by a single white LED sitting on a tiny circuit board, and there’s probably some heatsinks underneath and around, and the aluminum body itself acts as a heatsink too – the light heats up appreciably after several minutes of continuous runtime at full power. The flashlight has two power settings and a strobe function, and two different operation modes that let you access those functions, and one changes the mode by tapping on the rear switch a certain way. The modes are low, bright, and bright, strobe, low. Personally, I find this a bit limiting. I would never put strobe right in the middle like that, but I suppose that may appeal to some users. What I find just a bit baffling is that there are only two operation modes. I find myself usually wanting to save battery power for the times that I really need the full face-peeling six hundred lumens that this light is capable of outputting, and so I generally run it in low power mode, which is usually adequate for my needs. However, if I set the light so that the low power setting comes first, I lose the strobe function. If I set it so that I can use the strobe, I have to tap the power button three times before I can use the light. For this reason, I almost never use the strobe function – despite its usefulness as an attention-getting burst of light for loud environments, because of the annoyance required to get to the low power mode. This is really the only downside of the light. The switch is well-made and has a nice clicky feel – it has none of the contact issues I’ve had with Surefire buttons in the past.

There isn’t much to the optical system: it’s just a bare LED with a lens over it, probably to reduce the native Lambertian output angle of the LED chip itself down to something more manageable, a reflector, and a clear front lens. Streamlight does not make color filters for the light, but there are some aftermarket filters one can buy, if that’s important. A blue filter would be nice for me, but I’m not sure that I’m consistent enough to carry it unless it could somehow magically stay clipped to the bottom of my holster. The body does have a clip, but I never use it. Streamlight does make a holster for this light, but I’m not a fan of nylon holsters that close with Velcro, or nylon in general – it’s just not sturdy enough, so I got a faux-leather Surefire holster that fits it perfectly. It’s just the right amount of compression to keep it from falling out in case I’m hanging upside-down in a truss, yet not too much that I can’t slip it out very quickly if I drop something important under a road case or something. The light runs on lithium 123 batteries, which I prefer for their longer runtime compared to standard alkaline AAs, though they’re a bit more expensive.

All in all, it’s an impressive bit of flashlight engineering, and the complaints I do have are pretty minor. It’s a great touring flashlight.

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