Optimized Weapon Light (OWL) [GEAR REVIEW]
Purpose Driven Design
Traditionally, mounting lights to rifles was an afterthought using crude mounts or adhesive tape. Over time, mounting options began to evolve and become more purpose driven. However, the idea was the same: make a device that interfaces between a gun and an ordinary flashlight.
Another problem with mounting ordinary flashlights to rifles was the ergonomics of the activation switch. So, companies began to develop “pressure pads” or “tape switches” that were wired to an aftermarket tail-cap for the flashlight. This enabled the end user to place the pressure switch in a location that would not compromise their grip.
The problem with these tape switches helped solve the problem somewhat but it came at a price. Their tiny cables experienced high temperatures from hot barrels, they would get hung up on gear, and it was more parts to track. More and more solutions were introduced to help stow these wires, mount the switches, and the entire process for adding illumination capabilities to your rifle got more complex and more expensive.
Cloud Defense sought to fill this gap by creating a weapon light with the purpose of being a weapon light. They designed the Optimized Weapon Light (OWL). The OWL eliminates the need to retrofit an ordinary flashlight to your gun because the OWL is not an ordinary flashlight, it is specifically designed to be mounted to a rifle. The light, mount, and pressure pad are all integrated together into one system. Understand, this light is intended solely to be mounted to a gun so using it for handheld use would not be practical or ergonomic.
Some readers have probably noticed that my front back-up sight is mounted behind the OWL, reducing the sight radius. I mounted them in this configuration because the OWL light was given a higher priority than my back-up sight.
For a while, I didn’t even have back-up sights mounted to this weapon, but the Jarhead part of me wanted redundancy. Two is one, one is none.
Nonetheless, with the reliability of EoTechs, it is unlikely I will need to use the back-up sights compared with how often I use the OWL, so the OWL was given prime real estate.
Nearly every tactical light on the market, and many other tactical electronics, uses CR123 batteries. OWL, on the other hand, runs on either the Samsung 18650 30Q or the Sanyo 18650 GA.
If you have never heard of these batteries, never had I. However, Cloud Defense’s reasoning behind adopting these two batteries was for their functionality. The Samsung can be used when you need maximum output but lower run times, while the Sanyo can be used for maximum run-times with more conservative output. There also seems to be a lot of companies transitioning to these “ISR” type batteries.
When you purchase and OWL, it comes with the Nitecore Professional Charger. These chargers detect the type of battery docked as well as its unique recharging needs before automatically selecting a charging mode.
NOTE: DO NOT USE CR123 OR 16340 BATTERIES IN THE OWL OR IN THE CHARGER. THESE BATTERIES WILL CAUSE A CATASTROPHIC ELECTRICAL FAILURE OF THE OWL AND VOID THE WARRANTY.
Brighter IS Better
Weapon mounted lights serve two purposes, to increase your situational awareness and to serve as a less-lethal weapon. I have heard people say that a tactical light can be too bright, but I have not experienced this. I believe that brighter is better for illumination and for shutting down a threat using non-lethal means.
Yes, a very bright light can shut down a threat. It both robs them of their situational awareness and can be intimidating. For more details on how a light is a great less-lethal option, read this post.
At 50,000 Candela and 1,250 Lumens, the OWL is one of the brightest and longest ranged weapon lights on the market.
If you have ever purchased a flashlight, you probably have seen that flashlight’s advertised Lumen output. Without getting into a bunch of detail, lumens (lm) generally refers to the total amount of visible light produced by the light source. Think of it as light potential, because the light then must be focused correctly. Therefore, lumen advertisements do not paint the whole picture.
Candela measures the intensity from the light source. This might sound like the same thing but candela can be thought of as the hot spot at the center of the beam, while lumens is the flood around the edges (see image below). Forgive me if there are any optics engineers, who are offended by my analogies. Candela can also effect the “throw” of a light source, which is basically how far away the beam can still help you identify objects.
Keep It Super Simple
Weapon lights should be simple and intuitive to operate. You do not want to remember the exact sequence of taps for the light to discharge a specific way. When you press the button, the light should turn on and when you release it should turn off, that’s it. If you need to process the exact sequence of taps to discharge a specific brightness level, this is using up scarce bandwidth.
The simplicity of the OWL would also make it a great piece of issued gear for Military and Law Enforcement. Rather than keeping track of lights, mounts, tape switches, etc., the unit/department would only need to track one piece of serialized gear. Speaking of, they offer a Professional Discount Program Military and Law Enforcement.
For most tactical applications, you do not want a light to remain on, as this can give away your position. The OWL implements this momentary-on feature whenever you press the pressure pad for more than a few milliseconds. When activated, the light turns on at full power and shuts off when the pressure pad is released.
There are some applications where constant on may be useful. To activate the constant-on mode with the OWL, simply press and release the pressure switch quickly.
For all the things I love about this light, this is one thing I wish OWL would change in their next version. Occasionally, I will accidentally activate the constant on while training and I wish there was either some sort of lock-out function or two pressure pads as seen in the image below. I saw this image on Cloud Defense’s Facebook page.
Cloud Defense, if you are reading this, please consider adding this or some constant-on lockout modefunctionality in the next generation OWL. Or possibly a constant-on button on the back of the light or mount.
Activation Real estate
Pressure pads are great because they allow you to activate the light without compromising your grip, as you might need to do when depressing the button on a flashlight tail-cap.
However, the problem with these pressure pads has always been that it added more complex and delicate parts to your rifle. The cables would get hung on gear, burned due to a hot barrel, the pressure pads would fall off, etc. Pressure pads were a Band-Aid and an afterthought.
Cloud Defense decided to integrate the pressure pad into their mount, killing two birds with one bullet.
One of the most ingenious design features of the OWL is its ability to mount on either side of your rail. Both the head and the tail-cap can mate with either side of the main tube.
In addition to being reversible, the ergonomics of the OWL enable you to activate the light from either side without compromising your grip.
In the event you crack the lens, it can be swapped out with a replacement by simply unscrewing the bezel. However, considering the durability of this light, I do not think you will need to.
Many set screws for picapicatinny rail mounts require you to either use a flat head screw driver, the edge of a rifle cartridge, or are very bulky so that you can hand tighten them.
The OWL has an integrated tool head built into the tailcoat for tightening the set screw. And it’s not gimmicky, it works extremely well.
There’s durability and then there’s “let’s see what we can do to this thing before it breaks.” By “we”, I mean YouTubers who are willing to beat and abuse a $350 flashlight just to see what it can take. I watched one video of a guy abusing the OWL worse than if it was dropped off a cliff. The OWL continued working well after the other more popular brand quit. Here’s a video of them abusing one of their lights.
Now, does this mean that your light will endure this type of abuse? Probably not, but it indicates that the OWL is just as durable as the other trusted brands.
I typically use the term “water resistant” when discussing an electronic device’s ability to continue working in wet environments. However, I am using the term Water Proof because of some of the insane water testing Cloud Defense does on the OWL.
In one test, they submerge an OWL to a simulated depth of 200+ feet for over an hour with the light still working.
If that wasn’t enough, they filled the light with water before submerging it in a drum of water. Yes, they filled the inside of the OWL with water and it continued working.
Length: 5.3 in
Weight: 11 oz
Coating: Hardcoat anodizing, Black Nitride, and Gold-plated electronic contact.
What Are YOUR Needs
Ultimately, whether the OWL is right for you will be dictated by your unique needs. If you do not have a rifle or shotgun with a railed hand guard, then the OWL will probably not do you much good. If you typically shoot at night with night vision, then the OWL might help if you need a visible light option but may just serve as unnecessary weight.
If you are like most citizens or law enforcement with a AR-15 type firearm, this light is likely perfect for your application.
By the way, if you have an AR-15 type rifle that you plan to use for any form of self-defense, then you need a weapon mounted light on your rifle.
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