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Thoughts on Thyrm’s Switchback after initial use

This is the Switchback, designed by Thyrm (pronounced \ˈthē-ə-rəm, ˈthir-əm\, like theorem) in collaboration with Chris Costa of Costa Ludus. The goal of the Switchback is to allow the user to use a handheld flashlight while maintaining a 2-handed grip on a handgun. Traditional flashlight techniques make you hold the light and weapon separate. Obviously you will be faster and more accurate, particularly under stress, if you have both hands on the weapon. That’s where the Switchback is intended to come into play.

Switchback - from Thyrm and Costa Ludus 1I will preface this by saying I was leery of the Switchback when I first saw it. I am one of those who is immediately skeptical any time I see the newest/greatest implement-accessory-doorkicker-thingamawhasit if it’s being touted by an “instructor celebrity”. Doesn’t matter who the instructor is – Costa, Lamb (either the viking or the giant), Jacques, Graham, Vickers, Fisher, whomever – and it even happens if it’s an instructor I know and respect. I mean no disrespect to them, but when they start talking I struggle not to hear the ghost of Billy Mays.

Occasionally this has proven shortsighted, but overall I think a healthy sense of skepticism (not cynicism) is a Good Thing.

The flashlight ring concept is not a new one. Matt Graham’s Combat Rings have been around for some time. Both Costa and Thyrm’s Andrew Frazier mention Graham’s invention when explaining how the Switchback was developed, and Raven Concealment released after-market flashlight rings about this time last year. While the Switchback is something of an evolution from those two designs, I don’t think it’s an obvious replacement. I think this will be an example of an accessory that is preferred or reviled without middle ground. Luckily all types are inexpensive and can be easily compared to learn preference (more on that later).

Thyrm’s Andrew Frazier comes from a medical design background, where he developed surgical implements. He was also a competitive and IDPA shooter. Costa needs no introduction here. Andrew and business partner Scott draw a parallel between the design of medical tools and the Switchback. Both are (ideally) designed for highly trained people in high risk situations. Costa was involved to provide further input and validation.

“We thought we had a good idea,” Frazier says. “but we wanted to make sure we were right about it. I’d taken a class with Costa, so we approached him…he helped us do some design work…we did a lot of prototyping and moved on from there. We wanted to emphasize shootabilty. “Something that allows as a natural shooting grip with an actuation that’s identical to what you’re used to if you’re using a weapon light on your gun.”

Switchback - from Thyrm and Costa Ludus 6The principle seems sound enough, and so far it has worked for me the way they intended. You hook your finger through the loop of the Switchback and either use it like a traditional handeld light, activating it with your thumb, or you apply pressure to the tailcap with your middle knuckle while leveraging against the loop’s “beak” with your thumb (which is up against the side of your pistol). The best way to describe it might be to call it a “Karambit hold”. You can use it with or without a light attached to the weapon, though for me stability was somewhat better without. If you typically shoot a pistol with a WML mounted, or if you shoot high thumb/thumb forward, it should be fairly easy to get used to. Personally I didn’t take to it right away but that is likely due muscle memory or just a basic lack of coordination on my part. I spent quite a bit of time with both an NLT SIRT gun and an airsoft pistol getting used to it and I’d need to spend more time on the range before being completely comfortable with it – but I definitely like it so far. I’ve spent almost no time using it with a long gun, though it can be done. That experience without a vertical foregrip is probably best described as though you’re holding a cigar with your support hand while presenting the rifle. If you’re using a typical VFG is should feel much the same as if you’re using it with a handgun.

Switchback - from Thyrm and Costa Ludus - rifleThe biggest advantage of the Switchback is the leverage it provides,, and of course the fact that you can switch from supporting the weapon to any of the search techniques I’m familiar with and back again. I am a ‘high and away’ FBI style searcher (a la Strategos International) but Harries, neck index, Surefire/syringe – you should be good to go with any one of them. I can’t think of anything as far back as Ken Good and Dave Maynard that the Switchback (or other light rings) wouldn’t work with. It’s easy to retrieve from a pocket, and because of the way it relates to your natural grip it’s fairly easy to index. That doesn’t mean it won’t take getting used to.

I’ve been flipping it around and playing with it for about 3 months now and I haven’t had any issues with it slipping free, coming loose or not working. That’s a result of  the inside lip, which keeps the Switchback from pulling free as well as friction provided by the installed O-ring (see below). The smaller one does remain in place more securely than the larger, at least with the two I’ve been using, mostly because the smaller is on a Surefire Backup, which has a clip that applies pressure and holds it in place. This does not affect how it functions at all; the larger one just rotates around the longitudinal axis of the light bu I may slip a second O-ring on the larger one to see if I can tighten that up a bit anyway. I prefer the small version’s lack of movement.

Let’s address a couple of things critics have mentioned online.

It’s an impact weapon: Well, it’s obviously not, though I suppose you could stroke somebody with it if you needed to. It’s plastic – if it was intended to act like as an impact weapon my guess is it would have been made of sterner stuff. If you’re going to carry a flashlight as a potential striking implement there are many better choices  out there (the Gerber Cortex would certainly give someone a satisfying thump, and a Defender E-2 with strike bezels is a perfect tool for providing a tune-up). The use of a Switchback (or for that matter the Graham Combat Rings, RCS Rings or any of the others) should be predicated on what you’re doing with it and why. If you’re a LEO from an agency that is short-sighted enough to forbid the use of  WMLs, for instance, a flashlight ring is a great tool; likewise if you have a WML mounted but want a backup in case it goes down. If you’re not carrying a handgun, there’s no point in using a Switchbacked flashlight in the first place.

Mall ninja light flips: The issues some people have with flipping the Switchbacked-light from one position to the other seem to be largely predicated on some notion that said spinning is done to look cool. I understand that, because the first time I saw it I thought, WTF kinda tacticool crap is he doing? After practicing with it though (switching from search to gun and back), and seeing how it improves shooting on the range, I got over it. There are some very good reasons to have a ring on your light, regardless of which breed is your preference. Focusing on the spinning-flippery of the Switchback or any other light ring for the sake of calling attention to the spinning-flippery is short-sighted naysayer bullshit, and to my chagrin I was nearly guilty of it.

Magazine changes: It was my experience that mag changes were hampered somewhat, even with practice, but not so badly that repetition won’t correct the problem. However, I still cannot perform one without the risk of a “white light ND”. That’s something to be aware of, though if you’ve been in a gunfight that might not be your first concern. I average a light activation about once every 2-3 mag changes with the larger Switchback, 1 every 4-5 with the smaller one. This can be mitigated by adjusting the tailcap position of the light, essentially balancing ease of activation vs. resistance to ND (negligent discharge). This is not a deal-breaker for me (and probably wouldn’t be for most people), but is definitely something to be aware of.

Support grip – This is much more significantly than any issues with the mag change, I have difficulty reestablishing my support side grip after a mag change (if I’m using a Switchback). Currently I can comfortably switch from searching to shooting with the Switchback, but after a mag change I find I’m better served going back to holding light and weapon separate or going 2 hands on without the light. Again, this is my personal experience. Further training and muscle memory could and should mitigate this. Some of you would not have this trouble at all; some of you would look like Drunk Uncle with nunchuks.

Switchback - from Thyrm and Costa Ludus 2No breakaway – There are some who take issue with the fact that the Switchback is solid and will not break away under torque or pressure. My thought is that it is certainly possible that someone could get hold of the light with your finger in it and use it to break your finger, but... I’m not sure that’s likely enough to outweigh the advantages.  I don’t know that there’s any more risk of physical injury with a Switchback-flashlight in a physical confrontation than there would be if you were carrying a knife in your hand. One might also make the argument that someone grabbing at a flashlight attached to the finger of a hand supporting a pistol is asking to get shot. It’s definitely a concern though, and one to take into consideration.

I haven’t yet used a Switchback under extremely challenging conditions. As with anything I might be staking my life on, I want to see how I perform with it under stress. I’d be interested to see how I liked it after a full week with Mark Warren and Vaughn Baker, for instance, and I’m looking forward to trying it (and the Combat Rings and the RCS Rings) at a Graham Combat course soon. Ultimately I think the Switchback is a nice add-on with great potential, but it has a couple layers of preference over it. First you have to decide if you like a flashlight ring at all, then  you have to decide which one you want. Luckily this isn’t one of those pieces of kit that’s built of unicorn horn polished with dragon semen,  so you can try them all out inexpensively.

Note: for the purposes of my initial evaluation period I used a small Switchback on a Surefire Backup and the large one on a P2X Fury Defender – I had intended to try it out on my Pelican M6, but it has been lost in the Closet of Doom, never to be found. Both of these Switchbacks were provided by Thyrm, who incidentally advise the Switchback will work on a number of different models (numerous Surefires, the Streamlight Polytac series, Pelican M6s, some Nitcores and Elzettas – if you have a question about what lights are compatible, contact them with questions. They will not work on any light larger than 1.004 in. in diameter.

Switchback - from Thyrm and Costa Ludus 3Mechanics – The Switchback is very easy to install – you’ll rotate the tailcap off, drop the (provided) O-ring down over the end of those light styles that require it, add the Switchback (takes minimal effort, but you need to pay attention, see the video below) and then replace the tailcap. The O-ring is typically used with momentary switch lights; I haven’t yet transferred one over to one of those lights that require multiple switch activations to hit strobe mode, but I will hopefully be able to do so in the next few weeks. Stand by for further on that, but my guess that successfully utilizing such a feature would largely be dependent on gaining familiarity with it (i.e. training and repetitions, which I personally need more of).

I think Chris Costa is spot on when he says, “It works, I think it’s intuitive and it’s easy to use. It’s not the end all be all, but if it suits your needs, use it. Somebody may eventually come out with something better than the Switchback and if they do, I’ll use it.”

In the meantime, I think it’s worth the try.

You can pick on up here on Thyrm’s website or find out more on their Facebook page and of course you can check out the Costa Ludus page.

Here are a few more videos about the Switchback.

Installation (Switchback Small):

Installation (Switchback Large):

Switchback - from Thyrm and Costa Ludus 4

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