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Survival lights: We check out the 5.11 XBT A2 compact flashlight

Tuesday, November 1, 2016 11:52
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by Leon Pantenburg

I remember when my first Mini-Mag flashlight, some 25 or so years ago. It was a major technological advance for my backpacking and big game hunting activities.

Before that, there were a series of expensive, not particularly effective lights. And they were heavy. One was powered by D batteries and it was a ral boat anchor. Because they were heavy and bulky, there was always the temptation to leave them behind.

The 5.11 XBT A2 is a sturdy, rugged survival flashlight.

The 5.11 XBT A2 is a sturdy, rugged survival flashlight.

But the Mini Mag was compact, lightweight and powered by AA batteries. I used that light for the next 10 years or so, and the Mini Mag served heroically. It was in my hand on many hikes out of the mountains after dark after a long day of elk hunting. It lighted the way to and from the river on fishing trips. Most memorable is the time I field dressed a deer with it clenched in my teeth like a cigar. Drooling is not cool.

I eventually went to headlamps and have never looked back. But I was interested in the 5.11 XBT A2. This is the same company that distributes my favorite 511 pants.

Here’s the specs of the XBT A2:

  • Aerospace grade aluminum
  • 6.188″ long, 1″ diameter head, .938″ diameter body
  • Weight with batteries: 5 oz.
  • Cree® XPEB LED
  • Regulated circuit for maximum output
  • Limited Lifetime Warranty
  • 256 lumen output
  • 2.5 hour run time
  • 119 meter beam distance
  • Momentary and steady-on modes
  • Tailcap switch
  • Water- and impact-resistant construction

Like most of my lighting gear tests, the XBT is used on my nightly dog walks. This time of year, that means in the dark. The dog and I are out for about 20 minutes, twice a day, and that gives a lot of day-to-day use experience.

Here’s the good news:

Compact and easy to carry: I can leave the XBT in my coat pocket and basically forget it’s there. If it’s needed, I have the light.

Rugged: The light feels bulletproof, without being overly heavy and bulky. It won’t break if it gets dropped and it looks like it will take a lot of hard use and abuse.

The pocket clip and on-off switch are designed for people who use lights as part of their daily routine.

The pocket clip and on-off switch are designed for people who use lights as part of their daily routine.

Pocket clip: This is a big deal if you use this light at work. My Dad was a carpenter at the Iowa State University residence halls. He carried several tools every day including his KeySafe and a Mini Mag in his left breast pocket. He relied on the light several times a day. Anybody who uses a light frequently needs to have it close to hand, and this clip is one way to do that.

Batteries: AAs are available virtually anywhere. A plus for me is that the XBT and my GPS use the same batteries, so I don’t have to carry different sizes.

Water resistant: I don’t need a SCUBA light, but I do need a deer hunting light that won’t die if it is dropped into the creek. The XBT will do just fine.

Not so hot on:

No variable switch: This is going to be an attraction to some users. The light is either full on or off. You either get the 245 lumens of light or nothing. Personally, I like variable levels, since I like to read in my tent and the full beam is too brilliant. Likewise, if I’m following a clear trail in the dark, I don’t need the full brilliance. In fact, the dimmer lights don’t kill your night vision as much as the high beam will. I would also want the variable settings because they don’t require as much power.

It’s not a headlamp: I really like headlamps for hands-free use. But if you like this light and also want a headlamp, you can find elastic headbands that fit the light and convert it to no-hands use.

Somestimes you may prefer a hand-held light. For following a blood trail after dark or looking for a landing on the river, you may need to constantly move the light around. Your choice.

Do you need an XBT A2?

You need a good, rugged light when you get off the pavement. Within the perameters we’ve discussed here, the XBT is an excellent choice, and it will probably last you for a long time.

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