Story and Photos by Tim Stetzer, Photos by Tim & Emily Stetzer
When I was a kid, one of the coolest flashlights around was the old military angle head lights, with its olive drab plastic body and multicolored lenses. I can remember using them camping and playing flashlight tag in the summers. I also remembered that they were kind of bulky – using two D cell batteries – the beam was miserably weak, and they tended to break easily if dropped.
Years later, when I actually went into the Army, although those same lights were available, most of us used a Mini Maglite, which was brighter, way more durable and much smaller – being a two AA design. It was still an incandescent bulb though, which meant it was still not super bright, and the bulb was still prone to breakage when dropped (even if it was better in that department than a GI light).
It was also a two-hand design, with its twist on head, and lacked the coolness of the angle head design. Neither light had exceptional battery life either, so you always had to pack spare batteries in the field, whether it was camping or on a Field Training Exercise. I remember packing spare bulbs for the GI angle head light too.
Fast forward to 2020 and Streamlight has a light that has the angle head form factor, in a package that’s smaller than both the GI light or the Mini Mag, and outperforms both in terms of output, durability and battery life.
Let’s take a look at what the ProTac 90 has to offer.
The ProTac 90 is a compact light, well suited to EDC use or as a lightweight option in the woods or on the trail.
It sits right around 3.75 inches long and weighs in at +/- 3 ounces, depending what battery you use. Yep, you have a choice of batteries with the ProTac 90. It uses either a single AA battery, in Alkaline or Lithium, or a single CR123A lithium battery.
The body of the light is machined aircraft aluminum construction, coated with a black anodized finish. It is IPX7 waterproof to 1 meter for 30 minutes and 2-meter impact resistance tested – meaning it should survive falls better than my old incandescent lights.
The bulb uses C4 LED technology, with a 50,000-hour lifetime, and is impervious to shock. That’s over 5 years of continuous runtime before you need to swap bulbs, which in reality means a lifetime of normal use. The ProTac 90 also uses a specialized optic that produces a blended beam to give you a good mix of flood and throw.
The 90 uses Streamlight’s TEN-TAP® programming, which gives you a choice of three operating modes with the factory setting: high/strobe/low, high only, or low/high. However, you can customize the settings, if the base options don’t suit your needs.
Light output depends upon the type of battery used. A CR123A lithium battery gives you 300 lumens on high, and 40 lumens on low. With an AA Alkaline or Lithium Battery you get 125 lumens on high, and 40 on low.
Battery life depends on the setting and battery used:
The ProTac 90 comes in a clamshell package with a two-way clip installed, a nylon pouch for belt carry and an included Energizer alkaline AA battery, as well as a Streamlight branded CR123A lithium battery. MSRP is $68.00, although street prices seem to be running under $40 most places.
I’ve been using the Protac 90 for a number of months now, as an EDC and around the house light. It’s handy and compact, and easily dropped in my jacket pocket when the weather was cooler. It also clips onto the shoulder and chest straps of my day pack, or onto the MOLLE webbing of some of my work bags.
At right around 3 ounces, it doesn’t add much to my daily carry load and is downright unnoticeable clipped to a pack. You can also use the included pouch to wear the light on your belt or fasten it to your pack or bag, if that’s your inclination.
The angle head form factor is comfortable to use. When I grip the light in a hammer grip the lens is pointing wherever I point my fist, and my thumb falls naturally on the momentary switch, making controlling the light intuitive. You can also set it up on a table, or other flat surface, and point it towards the area you need lit.
As mentioned above, the factory default setting is one tap for high, two for strobe and three for low. I like a light that comes on in high mode, so this worked out well for me and I didn’t mess with the programmable feature at all. A light press gives you momentary light, in whatever mode you’re in, and a hard-positive press turns the light on. It’s a hard enough press that you won’t activate it inadvertently in your pocket.
Although I tried the 90 with both the provided Alkaline AA and a CR123A cell, I stuck with the AA for my routine use – 125 Lumens proved plenty for utility purposes and I was honestly surprised how bright it seemed. I think I’ve gotten used to higher lumen tactical lights, so 125 sounded dim but in actual practice it was plenty.
Most things I was using it for were in the house or within 20 or 30 feet, so that 125 worked out well. It’s plenty of light without washing things out. In the attached pictures you can see that it lights up an interior stairwell just fine – which is one of the longest stretches that I have in my house. Outside, I can hit the wood line off of my back deck, which I measured off at about 60 feet. The shot down my driveway is a touch over 100 feet and, again, the 125-lumen beam lit things up just fine.
I really like the idea of a light that can use multiple battery types too. While the CR123A gives the best output, the cells can be expensive, especially if you try to buy them locally at the hardware or electronics store. AA’s, on the other hand, can be picked up reasonably priced, just about anywhere – and can often be scrounged from other devices, like kids’ toys or remote controls, in an emergency. That’s a big reason that I like multi-cell or AA only lights for use in emergency kits.
I wouldn’t classify the ProTac 90 as a tactical light, from a shooting perspective, but it can work in that role if need be. I experimented with it using my Smith & Wesson 686, which is an occasional camping and trail companion. The angle head and switch position don’t allow use with most of the conventional flashlight techniques, but it does work in a sort of modified Chapman style (holding the light in the offhand, up along the gun) or a modified Harries technique (with the wrists crossed and the light flipped to the side).
While the 90 is a great utility light, Streamlight has other options that make for better shooting lights. In a pinch though – such as if I had the 90 with me while camping and something came rummaging around the campsite at night, posing a threat – the 90 and the modified Chapman or Harries techniques would work.
I’ve long been a fan of Streamlight flashlights and have used variations of them for decades – including a couple decades of law enforcement work. The new ProTac 90 brings you the handy functionality of the angle head design, in a lightweight and compact package. Couple that with a multi-cell capability and excellent light output and you have a light that is well suited to EDC, camp and utility use – or emergency use for power outages and natural disasters.
With a common street price under $40, it’s a very affordable light and one you could buy multiples of, to drop in your cars, your pack and your bug out bag. K&G
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Body: Anodized machined aircraft aluminumHeight: 3.78 inchesWeight: 2.8 ounces with a CR123A; 3.1 ounces with an AA alkaline; 2.7 ounces with an AA lithiumLED: C4 LED technologyBattery: One CR123A, AA Alkaline or AA Lithium cellOutput: 300 Lumens on high with a CR123A, 125 Lumens with a AA cell, 40 Lumens on low with either batteryRuntime: CR123A – High 1 hour 45 minutes, Low 14 hours, Strobe 2.5 hours. AA Alkaline – High 2 hour 45 minutes, Low 8 hours 15 minutes, Strobe 3.5 hours. AA Lithium – High 5 hours 30 minutes, Low 15 hours, Strobe 8 hours.Waterproof: 1 meter for 30 minutesImpact tested: 2-meter impact resistance testedWarranty: Limited Lifetime WarrantyMSRP: $68.00
Streamlight – Search for availability at local storesTacticalGear.com
Tim Stetzer lives in Western Pennsylvania with his wife, 2 kids, and too many cats. He has over two decades of law enforcement and criminal justice experience, and is a police academy instructor. He is also a veteran of both the Army and Air Force Reserves and has been an avid outdoorsman since his youth in Boy Scouts where he first became interested in knives. Tim has written for various gun, knife and outdoors publications since 2006 and has designed or helped design a number of custom and production knives during that time.
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