Cyalume Chemlights: The crucial tactical light sticks for special operations

Tactical light sticks for professionals Tactical light sticks for professionals
Cyalume Chemlights are tactical light sticks for professionals (Photo: Spec Ops Magazine)

Chemlights are vital pieces of equipment used by the US military. These lightsticks are crucial in training exercises, tactical operations, and personal security and safety. Their primary function is to mark individuals, typically from behind, ensuring they are visible to friendly forces in low-light conditions, predominantly at night. Chemical lights, Chemlights, or tactical lights, as commonly referred to, serve various purposes within the military.


The company behind Chemlight Tactical Light is Cyalume Technologies. Originally designed for military and emergency applications, this versatile product has since found a broader range of uses. One of the key uses of Chemlights is for marking specific locations, signaling, and highlighting potential hazards. Their versatility extends to providing illumination in situations with limited ambient light. These lightsticks typically consist of small, cylindrical tubes filled with a chemical mixture that produces light when activated by breaking the tube. In addition to being durable and waterproof, they are also incredibly user-friendly, making them an indispensable tool in various military scenarios, including training exercises, search and rescue operations, and on the battlefield.

Design and Activation

Chemlights offer portability, making them an excellent tool for preempting danger or marking out specific areas. Their adhesive side allows for easy attachment to various surfaces, enabling additional information to be written on the attached patch. This feature makes them ideal for marking and identification purposes. Moreover, these tactical lights find wide-ranging applications across diverse situations, such as delineating hazardous environments, demarcating secure zones, identifying individuals, machinery, and equipment, and signaling dangers, obstacles, and challenging points of passage.

Activation of Chemlights is a straightforward process. By performing a simple twist motion, known as the “Bend and shake” technique, the lightstick’s chemical reaction is initiated, producing cold or chemical light. This phenomenon is achieved by combining two chemical compounds that undergo a chemical change upon bending the lightstick. The two chemical solutions mix and generate light as the internal bulb breaks.

Cyalume Chemlight in orginal packaging and various colors
Cyalume Chemlight in original packaging and various colors (Photo: Spec Ops Magazine)

Military use

These tactical lights meet the specific requirements of soldiers during operations and training. Originating over 45 years ago from the U.S. Navy’s initiative, the Cyalume light stick, now known as Chemlight, has become an essential piece of equipment for soldiers worldwide. It forms a standard part of every soldier’s gear, whether on the battlefield or in training. The ChemLight range by Cyalume includes a dozen or so products, each available in various sizes, glow times, and visible and infrared colors, effectively catering to the needs of armed forces concerning marking, lighting, and identification.

Infrared lighting is critical in highly strategic operations, especially by special forces and specialized police units like SWAT, RAID, and GIGN. This specialized personnel require discrete identification solutions during their operations, and Cyalume’s IR product range addresses this need by combining chemiluminescent technology with infrared light. The resulting infrared light is only visible through night vision goggles (NVG), providing an added level of secrecy and efficiency. Cyalume offers IR products in nearly every size and shape, further expanding their utility in specialized operations.

Bunch of chemlights with folding knife and CAT Tourniquet
Bunch of chemlights with folding knife and CAT Tourniquet (Photo: Spec Ops Magazine)

Chemlights, with their versatility, durability, and adaptability, have proven to be indispensable tools for military personnel across various scenarios. Their ability to provide visible light and infrared illumination ensures they are suitable for various applications. These chemical lights enhance safety, security, and effectiveness during military operations and training, from marking and signaling to illuminating dark environments.

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