We like lights but they can be a real pain in the dick. Weapon mounted lights are awesome, but it isn’t always practical to bring one to the party (nor is it particularly encouraged to pull a pistol whenever you need a light). Chris is going to cover something that augments your task light, allowing easier use as a weapon light, or simply gives you a better place to put it while shooting.
Several months ago I heard of a new product called the Switchback, from a company called Thyrm. The Switchback is a pretty cool concept: it’s a tactical flashlight accessory that lets you transition from holding the flashlight in your off hand in search mode, to holding your weapon in an almost-two-handed grip with the light illuminating your target.
I say “almost two handed” because your offhand thumb and forefinger are busy with the light, leaving only three fingers to assist with stability. Even without a full two-handed grip, it’s designed to be far more stable than any other method of firing with a flashlight (other than using a WML, of course).
To search, you hold it like this:
To shoot, you switch to this:
Simple, right? I thought so too. Then I tried it. I found out it is a great concept, but it’s not simple. There’s a formula to make it work right.
The first time I handled the Switchback, it seemed easy to use. Offhand trigger finger goes through the loop, offhand thumb presses against the projection at top of loop which presses power button against offhand middle finger and activates light. I practiced the grip many times at home, and it always worked fine.
So in June, I tried it out at a Graham Combat class. I was firing a Beretta Nano and had two sizes of Surefire lights, a Fury and a smaller Backup, with Switchback attachments. The power button on the Backup is momentary-only, meaning it can’t be left on, but the Fury can be operated in momentary or standard mode. I used both in momentary.
We were shooting at night, from behind vehicles. The positions were a little awkward, and the targets were about fifty meters away. That sounds far for a Beretta Nano, but it’s not. This sounds crazy, but earlier in the day Graham had walked us back from ten meters all the way to 130, and had us shoot steel silhouettes every ten meters. I made a first round hit with the Nano at 130 meters (and I sure as hell wasn’t going to tempt fate by firing a second shot). So I knew I could hit a target at 50 meters, no problem.
I lined up on the target with the Backup. The grip felt awkward as hell and I had trouble keeping the light oriented on the target, but I got the light in the right area, and squeezed the trigger.
I missed. And the light turned off. And the friggin’ thing hurt.
I kept trying. Same results, every time. I couldn’t keep the light on, couldn’t hit anything, and the damn thing hurt more with every shot. I switched to the Fury, tried different positions behind cover, and eventually tried just standing in the open to eliminate the unorthodox shooting stances. Nothing worked.
I was a little down, but figured I had the deck stacked against the Switchback that night. Fifty meters isn’t impossible but isn’t close, and it’s not very likely I’d use the Switchback or defensive pistol at that range. I was mostly shooting from unusual and uncomfortable positions behind cover, and the Nano has an unusual trigger guard slope, which may have affected my grip; on top of that I was tired from shooting all day and I was whiny, emotional and retaining water. Something must have gone wrong and messed up my Switchback experience; I mean, smart guys had designed it, and experienced guys were fans of it. So it had to be me.
I took it to a square range the next month to give it another try, this time with a Glock 27. I did my best, I swear. But I still couldn’t make it work.
Now I was depressed. I really liked the Switchback concept and wanted it to work, but it just wasn’t happening. I thought about writing a review then, but decided to hold off. Maybe something would change, the heavens would open and drop the secret to the Switchback on me.
As it turned out, the answer didn’t come from the heavens. It came from the almighty Glock.
I had quit carrying the Nano because it was having constant malfunctions, and went back to my trusty G27. But the G27 is like carrying a brick. So I was in the market for a smaller, reliable concealed carry pistol. I bought a Glock 42.
Not long after I got my G42, I took it to the range with the two Switchbacks. The Surefire Fury still didn’t quite work. But the smaller Backup light performed beautifully.
I fired about eighty rounds with the Backup. I was able to maintain a good grip, fire accurately (at close range), and keep the light on constantly as I engaged. I was carrying spare mags in my weak-side front pants pocket, and I was able to pull mags from the pocket, reload and rack the slide without taking the light off my finger.
I had unlocked the formula: hand size + correct light + the right gun = successful Switchback use.
In hindsight, this should have been obvious. I’m a short, thinly built guy with tiny hands (and feet, but I swear every other appendage is HUGE), and I should have started with a G42 and Backup light. On the other hand, guys who are ten feet tall, bulletproof and have fingers so thick they’re banned from practicing proctology will have better luck with the Fury and a larger pistol. I’m going to stick with the G42 and Backup for EDC.
I have other reasons to choose the Backup over the Fury. Besides being smaller and easy to carry, the Backup also has a retention clip independent of the Switchback; that means I can set the Switchback ring and retention clip to the most comfortable positions for however I decide to carry my light. The Fury, on the other hand, is considerably larger and has a fixed retention clip. I’d be happy to carry it on my police duty belt or in a pouch on my military plate carrier, but for EDC it’s impractical.
Having said that, the Backup’s Switchback froze up on me so that I can’t turn it anymore, and I don’t want to force it because I’m afraid it’ll break. Fortunately, it froze up in the right position for the way I usually carry it.
Now to address a major worry about the Switchback:
As a cop, the first thought I had when I held the light was “If I have a Switchback in my hand with my finger through the ring and I get in a fight with a suspect, the suspect can twist the light and break my finger.” So I experimented; I took a Switchback, stuck a soft wood dowel rod through it, and twisted.
The ring broke before the dowel rod. It was a totally non-scientific experiment and I couldn’t swear the ring would give before my finger, but I’m convinced carrying a Switchback is worth the risk.
But to reduce that risk, I’d suggest Thyrm add a breakaway hinge to the base of the ring. I’d also suggest they add an attachment point for a wrist loop, so the user can flick the light off his wrist for complex tasks, like cuffing a suspect, without dropping it. Aside from those two improvements, I don’t think the Switchback needs anything else. It’s a great idea, great in practice once you figure it out, and I plan on using it for a long, long time.
Cover photo not so shamelessly stolen from Firelance Media.
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