Some flashlights are more bling than they are useful, some flashlights are more useful than they are bling, and some flashlights are a little of both. The HDS Systems Executive happens to be both with an emphasis on utilitarian.
HDS Systems has been around for many years and spans an impressive 20+ discussion threads on CPF. I don’t know all the fine details, but Hondo has a great write-up on HDS’ history. Suffice it to say HDS flashlights are well-known among flashlight aficionados and have an impressive following of individuals that swear by them. This review is probably inherently biased because I’m one of such individuals. HDS Systems is run solely by Henry D. Schneider and Hogo who was recently employed. Brief history aside, let’s move on to the flashlight.
Here is the product page. Pricing starts at $241 for the base Executive and goes up from there. I highly recommend a custom configuration. This opens the door to a lot more options of your choice: UI, LED, bezel, lens, battery compartment, lens, and attachment. My model of the Executive is the base model with CR123a battery compartment, silver bezel, UCL glass, and 140 lumens (the current base model is 250 lumens).
There are also some very cool aftermarket add-ons such as tritium bezels. Oveready has also done some limited-production runs. PC: Mark Dickinson
This is how they come packaged straight from HDS Systems:
Sturdy clamshell packaging. There is an extensive user manual and quick-read card included inside. Hogo has informed that all flashlights now ship with a single sheet of directions with the advanced manual online.
As you can see, there is space in the packaging for a clip if you so choose to order one. I have had several HDS clips, but generally opt to holster-carry the flashlight. Note that if you order the 18650 or AA tube the flashlight will ship in a different packaging.
Design and Execution
The body of the flashlight sports the tried-and-true tapered design. This allows for easy articulation and a variety of holds. The entire body of the flashlight itself is knurled. I would describe the knurling as not aggressive, but “just right”. It has a great feel to it that ensures a good grip but still feels comfortable to hold. I think that the knurling has changed over time, but I can’t be sure. If I recall correctly, Hogo has said that no two vendors have replicated the same knurling exactly. Either way, the knurling is my favorite of any flashlight I have owned.
The bezel of the flashlight is stainless steel. A problem that plagued Henry’s early lights – the Novatac series – was the bezel. This has since been remedied. A nice touch to the bezel are small crenellations. These allow you to see if the flashlight is turned on when it is face-down. Alternatively, the crenellations can be used as an impact weapon although I don’t recommend this. On the bezel is also a serial number for identification purposes.
The tailcap of the flashlight covers an e-switch. My particular Executive uses a recessed switch, but a protruding switch is also an option for easier activation. The drawback of the recessed switch is that it’s easier to switch on and you lose tail-standing capability. You can put on a clip by removing the O-ring, putting on the clip, and then replacing the O-ring.
The inside of the flashlight is extremely sturdy. The spring in the center ensures zero rattle and the battery compartment accommodates a wide variety of cells (no 18350 cells unfortunately). You can see that there is a sticker on top of the spring – this indicates the output level of the flashlight. HDS flashlights are individually calibrated to the exacting OTF lumens specified when you purchase. This extra step is just part of what justifies the high cost though.
If you look on the side of the body you can see that durable ACME threads are used, these ensure zero cross-threading. But it’s not so much about what you can see than what you can’t see. HDS flashlights are legendary for their durability and a large part of this durability comes in part not only from the heavy-set construction, but also the potted electronics. Potting refers to electronics that are sealed in an exoxy so as to make them shock and waterproof. Many manufacturers such as PFlexPro and Elzetta make use of potted electronics to maximize durability.
The electronics and driver of the flashlight itself are also super advanced. While the HDS Rotary makes the Executive’s UI look downright menial, the Executive UI is still one of my favorites. The programming is very intuitive. You can program up to four output presets and a variety of other behaviors such as mode memory, beacon, and a timer. There’s even a hidden “Easter egg” AKA candle mode. The HDS accepts a wide range of battery chemistries, something you won’t find on a lot of other flashlights. I won’t bore you with all the fine details, but the HDS Executive’s programming is excellent and allows for numerous options.
While there’s a lot that goes into making the HDS Executive one of the toughest, most advance flashlights out there, there’s some factors that can be considered drawbacks. First and foremost is the size of the flashlight. When you compare it to other CR123a flashlights like the Olight S1 Baton and Foursevens Mini MK II, the HDS absolutely dwarfs them.
I don’t have a S1 Baton on hand, so the Mini Mk. II will have to do.
The size is a point of contention to some, but I think the size of the HDS Executive is apt. I actually find it a lot harder to use flashlights like the S1 Baton and Mini Mk. II because of their diminutive size. You also have to worry a lot more about losing a flashlight that small. If you compare the HDS Executive to some other similar flashlights, you’ll see that the size isn’t really all that bad.
From left to right: HDS Executive, Elzetta Alpha, Surefire EDCL1-T.
Another issue that seems to come up a lot around HDS flashlights is the output. The brightest HDS flashlight only pushes out 325 lumens and the base model only puts out 250 lumens. If you think that’s low, heck, mine is 140 lumens. But let me just say this: I’ve never wished I had more output from my 140 lumen HDS. The emitter in my specific HDS is a Golden Dragon so the beam has much more of a throw than most flashlights, but still has enough swath for peripheral vision. Additionally, because each emitter is actually calibrated to the stated OTF lumens, I’ve found that my HDS outperforms many of my 300+ lumen rated flashlights in real-world use.
I think that it’s easy to forget how privileged the flashlight world is today. It was only several decades ago that 50 lumens was considered “tactical brightness”. The contemporary market is flooded with manufacturers pushing out the latest, brightest flashlights; we take for granted our kilo-lumen pocket rockets. But let me just leave this here: the lumens race is a fool’s race. By sticking to lower outputs, HDS flashlights maximize the longevity of the LED and strike an optimal balance between runtime and output. One thing in particular you’ll notice about many kilo-lumen pocket flashlights is that they have an insanely fast step-down – not so with HDS flashlights.
My HDS Executive is one flashlight I’ll never sell. I have my favorite flashlight and grail flashlight, but this is my “if you could only have one” flashlight. The total package that is the HDS Executive is something that – in my opinion – simply isn’t found anywhere else. From the flawless knurling to the potted, advanced electronics the HDS is a refined workhorse. When I press that button, I simply know that my light will turn on.
From left to right: McGizmo Haiku, Okluma DC1, HDS Systems Executive, and Oveready BOSS 35.
In my eyes, there is simply no other flashlight as robust or reliable as my Executive. Even my Elzetta Alpha which touts a 5 meter drop rating and 10 meter waterproof rating doesn’t feel as robust. And please don’t even bring Armytek into the equation. The Armytek flashlights I have owned with a 10 meter drop rating and even higher waterproof rating felt cheap and poorly constructed. There’s also probably the fact that one of my Armyteks broke from a two foot drop onto carpet. In such a respect, I want to make something very clear: there is a distinction between specs on paper and actually holding something in hand.
Hogo has numerous videos online of himself abusing HDS flashlights. There’s an “unboxing” videowhere he shoots an HDS flashlight out of its packaging with a shotgun at almost point blank range. You can also find old abuse HDS abuse threads with images of an Executive that was thrown and dropped hundreds of times. You definitely won’t see that with Armytek flashlights. To be fair, Elzetta also has a few similar videos, but let’s be honest: it’s the Malkoff drop-in putting in the majority of the work.
Let’s also not forget the warranty and customer service aspect. I can lend my own experience to this. When there was a cosmetic defectin some bezels and clips, Henry replaced them free of charge no questions asked. All HDS flashlights carry a lifetime warranty for the original owner of the flashlight. It is also my understanding, however, that HDS Systems has always given customers the benefit of the doubt when flashlights are sent in for repair – even when said customers are not the original owner. Hogo himself is extremely responsive on CPF and I like the new direction he’s taking HDS towards with respect to the group buys and Facebook activity. Here is a photo of my HDS with Thor’s Hammer (Hogo’s leather business) holster:
And as for my aforementioned Armytek that broke from a two foot drop onto carpet, I didn’t even bother to call it in for warranty. I already knew from others’ experiences that the “hassle-free” warranty was B.S. and that I was going to have to go through a lot of loopholes to get my light serviced.
I don’t think there’s any question in my mind that this is the flashlight to buy if longevity and durability are paramount. The HDS Executive is built to last a nuke (in fact, it actually is EMP proof) and pretty much whatever you can throw at it. Generally most people either love HDS flashlights or hate them, but I’m pretty ambivalent amount my stance. It’s still not my favorite flashlight because it lacks some bells and whistles that others have, but the Executive gets the job done every time. I’ve had five or so HDS flashlight and this is the one that has never been put up for sale. Currently, I’m in a group buy for an HDS with a 219c 4000K which I’ll probably get in the Rotary format, so we’ll have to see if that becomes my new go-to flashlight.