Streamlight TLR-3 Review: Is This Weaponlight Worth It?

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By Drew P •  12 min read
pistol flashlight review

As I sit here typing this out, I have a neat little self-defense package nestled on my hip, residing there quite comfortably:  A Smith & Wesson M&P Compact in .40S&W, with a Streamlight TLR-3  light clamped happily on the accessory rail. The light looks like it grew there, the balance is great, the weight light. It’s a wonderful little carry setup, really so much so that it doesn’t leave me any excuses to NOT have a daily-carried weapon mounted light on the gun that goes with me everywhere.  The small size of the Streamlight is the key; it makes it possible to have a comfortable-to-carry, powerful, accessible illumination source that is very concealable.

Streamlight TLR 3 Review

What It Is

Tactical Flashlight for Pistols

The Streamlight TLR-3 is the most diminutive of the Streamlight Tactical Gun Mount series of weapon-mounted lights.  Streamlight has made a serious name for itself in the illumination market, perhaps even coming close to dominating the weapon light market.  Their product offerings for weapon-mounted lights range from the TLR-1 HL with a turn-bread-into-toast-at-25-paces 630 lumen output all the way down to the tiny TLR-3 and TLR-4 (which looks to be a TLR-3 with a red or green laser incorporated into it.).

The TLR-3 is definitely aimed at the compact handgun market, with dimensions that only measure 2.32 ounces with the supplied CR2 battery, and just shy of 2 ¾ inches long.  However, despite its small stature, it produces a very impressive 125 lumens of white light from its C4 LED, and does so with a 1 ½ hour run time, where light intensity then drops to the 10% output level. I’ve shone this light into mirrors, and had my son shine it in my face (with the light off of the gun, of course) with the lights off, and will tell you that the brightness is quite sharp and disorienting.

The light also boasts a waterproof rating of 30 minutes at 1 meter depth, and a 160-degree operating range, from 40 degrees F below zero to 120 degrees above. The casing is a tough Glock-like polymer (unlike other Streamlight models which are anodized aluminum) with an aluminum bezel that houses the lens.  The paddle switch that actuates the light is ambidextrous, and can be accessed from either side; it has momentary and steady on settings (no strobe.) All in all, it’s a whole lot of light that doesn’t take up much room for not a ton of money – the standard models will run you about $75 or so, with the specialized mounting ones (like for an H&K USP) making your wallet about $90-100 lighter. Plus you get the Streamlight name and the limited lifetime warranty that comes with it.

  • White light illuminator
  • Using Lithium batteries
  • IPX7 waterproof to 1 meter for 30 minutes
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What You Get

Survival Gear Review

Your shiny new TLR-3 comes complete with a fresh battery and a set of mounting keys, if you purchased it new in the package.  The mounting keys are a jumble of specific parts that are installed on the light housing to ensure the light is mounted properly on the accessory rail of your handgun.  If the spacing isn’t correct, the paddle switches that wrap around the trigger guard to activate the light could be driven into the front of the trigger guard, making operating difficult if not impossible, or the transverse could happen: the paddle switches could be too far away from your thumbs/fingers to activate the light without switching your firing grip. Luckily, the instructions have many guns listed; if your handgun has a rail, it’s likely on the list.  Find the lettered key (my M&P uses the “E” key, for example), and install it into the body of the light per the instructions.  The light is tightened onto the rail via a screw on the left side of the TLR-3 that can be snugged down with a coin, screwdriver, or your fingers.

Unlike other Streamlight offerings, to access the battery case on the TLR-3, you must unscrew the bezel of the lamp; other Streamlight lights pop open from the tail end to insert the batteries. The single lithium-ion CR2 battery (a deviation from the normal CR123 batteries of many lights) powers the light, and pops in positive (+) side first, towards the paddle switch. The bezel then screws right back on, over the rubber O-ring that seals the whole system up.

Self Defense

survival flashlight

Being smaller and lighter is a good thing, generally. The light looks and feels at home on smaller-sized guns such as my M&P Compact or a Glock 19/23, or even a 26/27, for instance…but it also does not look or feel out of place on larger firearms such as a Sig Sauer P220 or 1911.  I’ve run this light at the range with my Remington 870 and my AR-15; recoil has no affected the performance.  The very light weight doesn’t affect the balance of whatever arm it is mounted to, and its 125 lumens is quite useful in most self- and home-defense situations. (generally, you don’t need to light up an entire parking lot from 100 yards.) This light absolutely illuminates any room in my house with no problem, and it is bright enough to discern targets across my lawn at 60 yards.  That’s not awful for a light that’s 2 ¾” long and only takes one battery.

Also Read: Surefire G2X Pro Review

TLR-3 for your pistol

However, this light weight and small size comes with a price. The polymer battery case is certainly more prone to cracking or shattering than its bigger, aluminum-bodied brethren. If you read reviews of the TLR-3 on Amazon, you’ll find that the main body of complaints with this light are due to the fact that the thumb screw on the side can be over-tightened, possibly cracking the case.  I have not seen this with my own personal TLR-3; however, knowing this ahead of time, I make sure that I only snug the thumbscrew down finger-tight.  I don’t use a screwdriver or coin to tighten it down, and it certainly stays tight enough to stay on the gun during extended range sessions.  I have yet to have this light rattle off of any rail is was mounted to, not even when subjected to 12-gauge recoil.  Snug is good, seriously tight is bad.

That polymer case may also be more susceptible to breakage when subject to serious abuse.  I have yet to see one break under normal wear and tear, and in a year of daily use including a couple “oops!“ drops from waist-height onto hardwood floors, there hasn’t been a single problem.  Freezing it and then throwing it onto a concrete floor will probably yield results in the damage department, but that is a bit extreme.  If your handgun with this light spends most of its time in a holster or on the range as 99% of these lights probably will, I don’t see there being a problem.  If you want a light that’s as durable as it gets, I’d probably look into one of the aluminum-cased offerings from Streamlight….just know that it will come at a higher actual cost, more battery usage, and larger dimensions.

streamlight battery

Also, that single CR2 battery, while it makes the light very small, means the run time is quite limited.  The 125 lumens will last for a while (an hour or so at full 125 lumens or so), then taper down slowly as the battery life drains.  Therefore, the light will not last as long as, say, the TLR-1, which has 2.5 hours of run time and a much higher light output. The CR2 batteries are also a bit tougher to find on drugstore shelves, but you can find them online for pretty good prices.  CR2 batteries also have a 10-year shelf life, like other lithium-ion batteries you use around the home or on your weapons, so stock up on a few for your personal stores.  You really don’t have weapon-mounted lights on for long periods of time; the battery in your light should last a while.

Holsters for guns with weapon-mounted lights can be a bit tougher to find as well, but there are many custom kydex holster makers (like the early Furlong Custom Creations holster in the pictures) that can make a bewildering array of holster styles to come up with exactly what you want.

  • White light illuminator
  • Using Lithium batteries
  • IPX7 waterproof to 1 meter for 30 minutes
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Long-Term Results

I’ve been swapping my TLR-3 from gun to gun for about a year now, though primarily it resides on my M&P 40C. It serves nightstand duty every night, then gets plopped into a kydex IWB holster where it sits in my pants waistband for a healthy chunk of the day. It’s been slung under lots of guns as they’ve been shot and run through training courses, and it still works beautifully. The top of the anodized aluminum bezel has a blasted-off scorched appearance (a must-have for all the Chairborne Rangers who need that “worn-in operator look”) from the muzzle blast on my M&P.  It has a couple scratches and dents from use, and the lens occasionally has a slight residue from firing large amounts of hand loads with dirty powder (though the bean shines right through the soot, I usually wipe it off quickly lest it stain or tint.), but all in all, it definitely has stood up quite well.  I’m still on my original battery (like I said, most weapon mounted lights don’t get used much), and everything works as it should.

water proof streamlight tlr-3

I mounted it on my Sig P220ST and dunked it under a foot of water for a few pictures (which I think came out pretty cool), and when I pulled everything apart to check for leakage, there wasn’t a drop of water to be seen anywhere but the outside of the light. Not too bad for a handled- and holstered-daily polymer-bodied light.  But HOW does it carry?  I can write glowing reviews that say, “Hey, yup, it’s wicked bright!”, but since this light is obviously meant to the daily-carry crowd, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you if it played nice when stuck in a holster on your body for hours on end.

The M&P by itself is a slick little carry pistol: easy to carry, not heavy, sleeker than a Glock.  As such, it was a joy to use with an inside the waistband holster sans light.  So, naturally, as the added light meant added bulk and added holster to cover the additional handgun accessory real estate, I was a bit skeptical about how a bigger holster would work out in real-life usage.  I got Jeff, at Furlong Custom Creations, to whip me up a slick little holster, and after rigging it with IWB clips, I went to town carrying it in that fashion.

Also Read: Compact Flashlight Comparison

Streamlight TLR-3 Review

The result?  Surprising to a guy who never until now carried a gun with a weapon-mounted light.  The additional width of the paddle switch really didn’t bother me at all (which made me pretty happy), and the extra length of the light past the muzzle was hidden inside my pants. (with the same holster and outside the waistband loops, the light did make the holster visible past the hem of a T-shirt or jacket.)  The less than 3 ounces of extra weight was negligible. The only real issue I came across was during at-home or on-range training sessions; the light made it substantially harder to re-holster without looking down to align things properly.  Even still, once in a while it will still catch up on me. However, in the exponentially more important category of draw speed, it doesn’t hang up, (an attribute that goes out to a well-made holster, as well.) it doesn’t slow you down, or keep you from finding your sights.  The paddles are very nicely placed for a quick strobe or a steady on with my support-hand thumb.


To sum it up: I thought it would be a complete pain in the ass. It’s not. So therefore, there is really no excuse not to have a light on your carry pistol…not even cost: less than $75 for a top-quality light is a no-brainer. Got a revolver? They make rails for those too. No excuses. Yes, it’s battery-reliant. Yes, it’s got a polymer case. But it’s my opinion, based on a solid year of hands-on use, that the benefits far outweigh the few small detractions for this light. It’s a winner in my book.

  • White light illuminator
  • Using Lithium batteries
  • IPX7 waterproof to 1 meter for 30 minutes
Check Price on

All Photos by: Drew

Drew P

Along with Joel, Drew is one of the co-founders of SurvivalCache. Drew has been immersed in the firearms and outdoors culture since birth. He now is a factory-certified armorer for several firearms manufacturers, as well as an experienced DuraCoat finisher. He currently works with a local firearms training facility as an on-call armorer and gunsmith. Read his full interview here.