Thursday, February 7, 2013

Palette's Product Reviews: Kel-Tec CL-43 Flashlight

The Kel-Tec CL-43 is a teeny-tiny flashlight that, at 420 lumens,  packs one hell of a punch.

My first encounter with this tiny titan is documented in "Hangin' with Oleg, part 2":
Let me tell you how bright 420 lumens is. When Oleg showed it to me, it was still inside a white cardboard box. The cardboard was neither glossy nor matte; it likely had the same albedo as a sheet of printer paper. The flashlight was secured to the inside of that box with its clip.

When I pressed the "on" button, the light hit the lip of the box straight on. All I saw was reflected light because the lens was facing away from me.

The mere reflection of 420 lumens caused me physical pain, and I was seeing spots for minutes afterward. I think a direct blast from one of these will stun a human and probably incinerate small woodland creatures.

Naturally, I've asked Kel-Tec to send me one for review.

I've since gotten my hands on one of these, and it's everything I had hoped it would be:
  • It's small enough to fit in the pockets of my jeans, and my tiny Hobbit hands can easily grasp and manipulate it. 
  • The beam will light up any room in a house, because whatever isn't directly in the beam's path will be illuminated by the light bouncing off the walls. 
  • And the directions specifically state "Do not place CL-43 light lens-down on a surface while light is on, as damage to the lens or surface may result", which lends some credence to my hyperbolic assertion above about starting fires. 
  • I must confess that I have not stress-tested this product, because I don't like the notion of destroying things just to see how much they can take. However, I can tell you that this light stands up to normal use and abuse, and short of smashing it with a rock or throwing it off a roof I don't see how you could permanently break it. I expect it's possible to crack the lens (although it's set well back from the outer lip by a good 1/8th of an inch) but I don't know how strong the lens material is.

At roughly 4" long by 1.5" wide by 1" diameter, this isn't the smallest tactical light around. Neither is it the brightest, as 500 lumen lights are available (see Brigid's excellent review of the Defiant 550), and at $140 it certainly isn't the cheapest.

However, what makes the CL-43 so impressive is that it sits at the Venn intersection of bright, portable, and versatile. Sure, there are smaller lights; but can any pocket flashlight beat 200 lumens? (If so, can you get one without breaking your wallet?)

Sure, there are brighter lights, but will they fit in your pocket? (The Defiant 550 sure won't.) Heck,  you can even grasp this light in the same hand as your pistol.

Can you mount your pocket flashlight onto an accessory rail?

Disclaimer: the rail adapter is not yet available for purchase. I received one with my CL-43 because I specifically asked for it. I have every expectation that such an accessory will soon be available from Kel-Tec, but the point remains that it is designed to be rail-compatible, so other mounting systems might also work.

And if the price tag of $140 is too much, you can also buy its brother, the CL-42, for $80.

No doubt many of you are asking "What is the functional difference between the CL-42 and 43?"  I know I sure did. This is the response I received from Kel-Tec:
The CL-42 is your standard issue flashlight with push button on the back. The CL-43 has more tactical applications (being able to hold it effectively with a weapon and still use trigger finger to operate). It also has more battery life. The $60.00 extra is basically for the battery life and the tactical applications. The majority of people will likely want the CL-42.

So there you go.I think that $80 for a 420-lumen flashlight that fits in your pocket is an amazingly good deal.

Other pertinent information:
  • Uses three CR123 Lithium batteries  (AA battery adapter is in the works for the CL-43)
  • Run time of 3.5 hours
  • Made from machined 6061 aluminum
  • Weighs 3.8 ounces with batteries
  • Comes with pocket clip and lanyard ring
  • Available in black, yellow, olive drab, coyote tan, and safety orange (CL-42 is black only)
  • Designed, developed, and manufactured in the USA

Edited to add:  I have been asked if this flashlight comes with a strobe function, and the answer is "No, it does not."  I am not entirely sure if this is a flaw, however, because 420 lumens in the eyes is going to cause temporary blindness, so is a strobe truly necessary?

My Recommendation:  A+

Had I the money, I would buy a CL-42 for everyone in my family.  I have also mounted my CL-43 to my home defense weapon:

Clearly I'm no Oleg Volk, but it gets the point across.

I trust my safety, and the safety of my loved ones, to its operation. If that ever changes I will announce it in this blog, but until then, that's the highest compliment I can give.

Obligatory Middle Finger to the FCC:  I got this product for free and Kel-Tec didn't pay me anything for my review.


  1. 420 lumens is incredible, especially for $80. My 250 lumen Nebo Reline is blinding as it is. I think I need a CL-42. Especially if they develop a AA adapter. 

  2.  So far as I know, the AA adapter is only for the CL-43. However, this might change once they bring it to market.

  3. I'm starting a new job next week and I'm going back to doing lots of work in a datacenter.  Years ago I carried a 2AA mini-maglite on my belt and it was at best, adequate.  So I'm thinking that one of the new fangled "tactical" flashlights may be the best way to go.  One of the top requirements is that it have a belt holster and be similar in form factor to a mini-maglite.  Suggestions?

    Over the years computer racks have gone from being light colors, like beige, now they are typically black or dark blue.  It's pitch dark inside most racks these days.

  4.  Get a Nebo Blueline.  Small, bright, basically a "tactical Maglite," and costs under $20.  It doesn't come with a holster, alas, but I suppose you could just buy a spare at a flea market somewhere.

  5. I'm kinda liking the CL42.  

    Have you found any problems with the button layout of the CL43?  

    I haven't seen many flashlights that put it on the front like that.

  6.  Not really, I just hold it like a pistol. It feels natural.

  7. My only concern, which I posted on another blog that showed the light (no review) is having something that isn't a gun which operates with a "trigger pull" motion.  Especially if it is in my hand at the the same time my pistol is out, both pointing at something I may just want to look at, not shoot.

    The two hand hold shown in the picture seems tailor made for a sympathetic unintended trigger pull.  I would prefer that activating the light had a totally different feel (and digit) than pressing a trigger.

    Might be a non-issue, but I wouldn't have thought folks would be accidentally shooting people they meant to simply Taser due to hand confusion either.

  8. Great review! I really enjoy hearing your perspective on things. :-)

  9. +1 on Matthew's comments about trigger finger activation, I was really excited about the design when I saw it at Oleg's until that dawned on me. There is pretty good proof that sympathetic finger contraction can happen with high stress which is why people train for the high finger index on the side of the frame and why weapons lights should normally not be activated by the trigger finger.

    However, as shown with the PF9, you could activate with the middle finger even when being used in the off hand with a very similar trigger finger indexed all the way out along the barrel of the light. This would be the way I would train to use it with a firearm.

    FWIW, 420ish lumens is one of the standard Cree LEDs now, you are seeing a lot of 2 CR123 light that level. My Jetbeam PC25 and Olight M20X are both at that level. I'm a sucker for them because they have side buttons for strobe/mode selection.

    400+ lumens is almost too much indoors since if you have white/light color walls it can splash back and kill your night vision if you are one that believe the light is only for IDing/disorienting and not for on all the time searching.

  10. That's a fair comment, and one I'd not thought of. Only thing I can say is that if you are concerned it is an issue, practice with it beforehand and figure out if that's likely to happen or not.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  11. While I am a fan of my Kel-Tec shotgun, the CL43 leaves something to be desired. It is a good concept. However there are issues with it. I got to play with one at 2013 SHOT show. One of the Booth Babes at the Keltec booth had an orange on. I tried it. It was not 420 lumens. I think she said something like 180. I chalk this up to possibly being a preproduction version.

    One of the biggest issues I have is battery consumption and the battery door. There is a door that you have to unscrew to change out batteries. Unless you carry a small screw driver on you all the time, it is slightly inconvenient.

    And yes there are bright pocket lights out there.

    The Sunwayman V11R and V10R lights are magnetically controlled. Like the SureFire Titan, you can "dim" the light from 1 lumen up to 500 lumens*.

    It runs on one CR123 li-ion battery and puts out 190 lumens for 1.5 hours.

    If you drop in a RCR123 aka 16340 (rechargeable li-ion) it puts out 500 lumens of light. Run time is reduced to 25 mins and it is not recommended to run the light for longer than 5 mins.

    How does that compare to the CL-43? Well pros and cons. The Sunway man lights have a AA extender that you can use to run a single alkaline battery and get 80 lumens if you are desperate for batteries. Run time is much lower than the CL-43 however we dont know what kind of performance the CL-43 gets. Does it taper light output to get better run time? Or does it run regulated and flat and then dies when there isnt enough juice in the battery?

    One great thing about the CL43 is the design. I like the unconventional switch position.

    Although First-Light tomahawks are a bit more ergonomic and have auxiliary LEDs as well as strobe features.

  12. You said no strobe, but do either of the lights have a high/low mode or just a single setting?

  13. That's an excellent question!  It has just the single setting.

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