Streamlight's latest iteration of the Protac 2L line brings higher lumens and rechargeable batteries to the popular EDC light.
Since about 2013 or so, I've had a Streamlight Protac 2L in my left pocket from the time I wake up until the time I go to sleep. It's like a pocket knife or a smart phone. Once you have it, you'll be wondering what you ever did without your EDC light.
The first generation Protac 2L I bought some time in 2012 or 2013. It was around $50 and pushed about 180 lumens. Most top-tier handheld lights from Surefire and Streamlight at the time might have maxed out at around 300 lumens or so. It ran on 2 CR123 batteries and had an average run time of about 2.5 hours in my use. When Streamlight launched the 2nd generation of the Protac 2L with around 260 lumens, I bought it simply because I wanted a brighter light. The great thing was, I didn't lose any battery life or have to deal with having a larger body. Now, the generation 3 Protac 2L pushes 350 lumens.
Slipping it in and out of my pocket was just as easy as the first model, and it proved itself even more useful by having Ten-Tap programmable mode. These lights will come out of the box as High - Strobe - Low. You can switch it up in a few ways. I prefer to leave mine on 'military mode', which is Low - High. You rarely need all those lumens for daily tasks, and you can blow out your ;night vision' using so much light. It can usually be accomplished with low mode, which is now 40 lumens on the Protac 2L-X. I have never needed to use the strobe mode, so I generally forgo it.
But as much as I loved the generation 1 and 2 Protac 2L lights, it always bothered me that CR123 batteries were so expensive. Unless you're buying in bulk, you could be looking at $3.00 - $4.00 every time you need to change your batteries. With as much as you find yourself using an EDC light, the cost can stack up quickly.
It was much to my relief, then, when in 2017 Streamlight launched the Protac 2L-X Gen 1. The base package that included (2) CR123 batteries cost the same as the current gen Protac 2L, but added the ability to accept rechargable 18650 batteries.
The body of the Protac 2L-X is larger than the Protac 2L, but not by much. It still fits nicely in my pocket, even if it is slightly bulkier in print. When Streamlight was looking into crafting a rechargeable Protac 2L model, they found that the current generation could actually run on 18650 batteries, but that the current was too high from the rechargeables for the CR123-built circuitry to handle. (An 18650 battery will not actually fit in the 2L body, though.) In order to prevent the circuitry from burning out while using rechargeable 18650s, they had to make a more robust body to accommodate the more robust power source.
Streamlight Protac 2L Gen 1 v. Protac 2L-X Gen 1
These two are my own lights I have been carrying around. On the right is the first generation Protac 2L that runs on 2 CR123 batteries. On the left is my current EDC light that is with me in the office or on a mountain peak. I carried the Generation 1 for about 3 years, then the Gen 2--virtually identical--for 3 years. Last year, I got the 2L-X.
As you can see, my lights get daily finish wear, and are on occasion airborne or used as a hammer. While this would be a ridiculous test to put them through, all 3 of my lights are still in perfect working order, aside from when I shattered the lens on my generation 1 2L on the side of a mountain in Idaho in 2014. That mountain also took my pocket knife, a vertical rifle grip, and my girlfriend's pride. My generation 1 2L does still give me 180 lumens on-demand, however. I haven't replaced the lens, and I've never even had a tailcap replacement. The only thing I have ever changed out on any of my Streamlight products are batteries.
I think that really speaks to the durability you're getting from Streamlight. Surefire has always been considered the top-tier brand for absolute quality when it comes to lights. I don't dispute that. My own experience with Surefire has been nothing but positive. You do, however, pay for it. When your gear isn't simply issued to you and you're buying it out of pocket, the equation can shift.
The current generation Protac 2L-X (as we sell it) comes with a rechargeable battery that you can actually plug directly in to a micro USB cable--no cradle needed, although that is an option you can get, which I do recommend. The best part about having an EDC light that runs on 18650 batteries is not just that they are rechargeable, but that my Protac Railmount HL-X rifle light runs the same battery. That means I always have a backup for either one should the need arise when I'm carrying both anyway.
The current generation Protac 2L-X pushes 500 lumens, rated to a 3.25 hour run time when using the 18650 rechargeable battery, although you can still get 2.75 hours of run time out of it if you're using CR123 batteries. It also has a 6,800 candela power rating, which is something to consider when buying a flashlight.
Candela power is akin to how far your flashlight's beam can meaningfully go. The reason you can find a "1000 lumen" light at the gas station for $10 is that on the off-chance that light is actually pushing 1000 lumens (it's not), it isn't pushing it to the wall next to you. Cheaper lights have no beam control and immediately disperse over a wide area, giving you absolutely no depth to your beam.
This is why it seems like expensive lights work better than cheap ones, despite having the same 'lumen' rating; they actually do work better.
The Streamlight Protac 2L-X is rated to 165 meters, or 6,800 candela power. As someone that prefers to operate in darkness but that likes to check that nothing else is out there in the dark with me, I can verify that this light will illuminate anything in 9mm range. You can still see what's in the dark on an adjacent mountain, and I have on more than one occasion spotted some wildlife out for a walk with me.
I have lost both of the pocket clips on my original 2L lights. For whatever reason, they were never very securely attached to the body of the light. The Protac 2L-X has never lost the clip, and it seems to be much more secure on the larger body. Plus, the longer wrap-around 'S-shape' of the clip actually works a lot better. It attaches to the midsection of the light, rides up to the tailcap, and drops back down about another inch and a quarter. This design keeps the pressure from your pocket or pouch material from tearing the clip off of the light while keeping it securely attached to your pocket. It also has a beveled lip for easy 're-holstering' against your pocket or pouch.
If you're picky about your gear looking spotless, you might be disappointed by the finish. While I do carry mine every single day all day long, you might expect Streamlight to have provided a finish that doesn't wear as easily against soft pocket cotton material. I generally do prefer my gear to be clean and spotless, but this is an area that it really doesn't matter to me personally. Consider that the finish is being rubbed every single time you move your leg or bounces in the pouch. If you're using this light for duty, you can probably expect to be taking it out, putting it back, and generally having a lot of movement in whatever way you're carrying it. The finish is reasonably durable on the sunken parts of the body where there is less contact, but the higher points will wear away. I haven't seen any rusting or tarnishing of any kind whatsoever, and probably won't since it's aluminum.
So is this light worth $50-$80 (depending on the package you buy)? I don't know of any other handheld EDC light that provides this much value for less than $100, fully-featured. 500 lumens, multiple mode settings, IPX7 waterproofing to 1 meter for 30 minutes and 2 meter impact resistance. Rechargeable 18650 batteries that last for years and can be swapped in among other lights you own.
I honestly didn't expect a sub-$100 light to stay alive this long. But given what I have put my Streamlight Protac 2Ls and 2L-X through, I will continue to bet my life on them every day. One of these days, I expect one of these lights will have enough flying time to get a pilot's license.
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