Review: Streamlight PROTAC HL headlamp + PROTAC 90X flashlight

Two great tools for making light when light really matters
PROTAC HL headlamp and PROTAC 90X flashlight
Photo: Shane Townsend

It’s near midnight. Heavy clouds and a thick canopy conspire to choke all light from the waning crescent moon. We’re desperate for clues, but the night’s pitch is deep and dark.

The search dog pants and paces in her box. The dog’s handler unloads her and steps off the road. He and our third team member click on their headlamps and hand lights, illuminating the trees and terrain ahead of them as they walk into the woods. I bring up the rear, watching for a moment. Then I click on my long-trusted headlamp and my beast of a 4 D cell barrel and step in behind them to begin our search. As they walk, the dark scoops back around them like water around a rock and sets in between us.

In this moment, when there’s something real on the line, I realize my lights are failing me. For the rest of the night’s search, I struggle with poor illumination and I beat myself up for having not brought the right tool for the job. And I hope the cost won’t be a lost clue.

The next day, I talked to some friends in the fire service and law enforcement and other outfits where light is more than a luxury. Streamlight was the consensus.

Although I’ve been unable to respond to a night search with these lights, I’ve put them through their paces as I’ve hiked in and out of fishing spots, looked for and found deer tracks and trails, night fished from a canoe, navigated power outages, located camo game cams hung in the woods, worked on the pickup and in crawl spaces, read bedtime stories to my daughter, and performed general other nocturnal tasks as needed on the homestead.

Here’s a bit of what I learned about the pair from Streamlight: the PROTAC HL® HEADLAMP and the PROTAC® 90 X USB/PROTAC® 90 X.

What Works

Brightness & The Beams
Used alone or as a pair, these lights are bright. And, they give you a good balance of wide and narrow beams. The strength of the beam is adjustable on each. And, through Streamlight’s TEN-TAP® Programming you can set the lights to meet your preference. For example, if you want the light to come on at its brightest, you can make that happen. If you prefer the light to come on with a gentler beam, you can make that happen. And, if you just want it on high always, you can do that, too.

The Headlamp:

High: 635 lumens,184 meter (m) beam distance, runs 1.75 hours
Med: 105 lumens, 76 m beam distance, runs 8 hours
Low: 20 lumens, 33 m beam distance, runs 36 hours

The Handheld:

High: 1,000 lumens, 171 m beam, runs 2.5 hours
Med: 300 lumens, 91 m beam, runs 4 hours
Low: 65 lumens, 42 m beam, runs 21 hours
Strobe: 2.5 hours

Hands Free
Both lamps help you do what you need with both hands. The headlamp obviously does this. The 90o handheld lamp is equipped with a clip that you can—for example—fasten onto your chest to free your hands for the activity of the moment.

Streamlight ProTac HL Headlamp
Image credit: Streamlight

The handheld light looks too small to perform as advertised. It might fit inside the battery compartment of the big magnum lights we’ve used for years, (the ones that are one part illumination device and one part bludgeoning instrument). But these two lights—the handheld and the headlamp— which claim up to a combined 1,635 lumens (for reference most indoor artificial light is around 600 lumens), fit together in my hand. And, while the headlamp is not the smallest, it’s plenty small—especially considering what it brings.

The handheld is under 5 inches long and under 5 ounces in weight. The headlamp is just under 7 ounces in weight.

Construction & Weather Resistance
The lights are sturdy. Really sturdy. I’ve used them in the rain. I’ve dropped them several times. And, they’re fine. The tech talk behind this: The headlamp is IPX4 water-resistant, so it protects from splashing water from any angle. The handheld is IPX7 water-resistant, so it’s waterproof in up to 1 meter of water for 30 minutes.

Streamlight ProTac 90X Flashlight
Image credit: Streamlight

A Couple Other Notable Attributes
The headlamp is adjustable so that you can get the light where it needs to be and dodge a stiff neck. The handheld comes with that removable clip that can be attached to a MOLLE system, vest, backpack, belt, etc. It also comes with a pouch that can likewise be attached as needed.

Variety in the Line
These are two of a long line of specialized lights from Streamlight. So, if these don’t do what you need, another set may well get it done.

What Doesn’t Work

I’ve not found anything about these lights that flat doesn’t work. But, here are some things to think about as you consider your options.

The handheld light gets pretty warm over time when you run it on High. But, if it’s clipped on to your gear you don’t notice.

Light comes at a cost no matter the make of flashlight. Batteries are expensive. And, you never get as much life out of any light. Pack spares.

Final Word

These are good flashlights and together, the PROTAC HL® HEADLAMP and the PROTAC® 90 X USB/PROTAC® 90 X are a damned good system for making light when it matters. They’re small, powerful, and solid. I’ll trust them on a search. I’ll trust them with my family. And I’ll carry them on the water and in the woods.