I Can See Clearly Now: Choosing the Best Off-Road Lights April 14, 2014

off-road-lights-light-bar If you’re into off-roading you probably have some good mudder tires, a suspension lift, and maybe you even a pushbar and a nice winch. All of these are great upgrades, but the one that most people miss, which should be easy to see (see what I did there?), is a good lighting upgrade. Choosing the right off-road lights isn’t just a good idea, it’s one of the best safety upgrades you can do and best of all, it makes your truck look pretty tough in the process.

What’s In A Light? Halogen vs. HID vs. LED

Lights are far more complex now than they have ever been in the past. Even the simple headlamp is a complex computer-controlled device that can turn as you turn the wheel to make sure you have as much visibility as possible. off-road-lights-halogen There are three main types of lights that you’ll see when upgrading and those are halogen, HID, and LED. Halogen lights are the most popular mostly due to their long life and low cost. The issue with halogen bulbs is that they’re enormously inefficient. While you probably don’t care about the power your car uses up for lights, the issue with inefficiency in lights is heat. Halogen bulbs create a pretty huge amount of heat that could be used for making light. When talking lighting heat equals wasted energy, so the hotter that halogen bulb gets, the brighter it could technically be. Since the bulbs get so hot, they are incredibly fragile to the point that you can’t touch a halogen bulb when installing it. Even the miniscule amount of damage your finger would inflict with its salts and oils is more than the bulb can withstand. So, to sum up halogen bulbs: Advantages:
  • Long life
  • Very bright
  • Variety of brightness options and sizes
  • Not very expensive
  • Inefficient
  • Easily damaged and broken by touch
  • Create a lot of heat
off-road-lights-hid Option number two is HID, or high-intensity discharge lights. Also known as xenon lights, these are a more efficient type of light than halogen and as their name implies, contain xenon gas. HID lights produce quite a bit more brightness with the same amount of power, which means they generally have aiming systems and are controlled by the car or truck when from the factory. Since HIDs are far more efficient than their halogen brethren they run at cooler temperatures and produce nearly double the brightness at the same power level. While halogen lights come as a single bulb, HIDs come as a bulb and ballast pairing. To sum up HID bulbs: Advantages:
  • Much longer life than a halogen light
  • More efficient, so less power, less heat, and more brightness
  • Better driver visibility
  • Very high cost versus halogen lights
  • Due to intense brightness, glare for other drivers on the road
  • Two-part system means more pieces to break
off-road-lights-led The third option is LED, or light emitting diode. These lights are the newest kids on the block and may very well be the best. LEDs require very little power to work and last for longer than both halogen and HID. LEDs also don’t emit heat along with their light, so mounting is as easy as it can be. LEDs are the smallest out of the three types listed here and because of this can be made into almost any shape you want. The biggest issue with LED lights is cost. Only luxury cars are currently coming with them standard but for off-road use there are some pretty nice applications. Advantages:
  • Small size means they can take on many shapes
  • Extremely low energy consumption
  • Very bright
  • Very expensive
  • While LEDs don’t create heat, their adjacent assemblies do
  • Most LED applications aren't road friendly

So Which One is Best?

So when you’re upgrading your truck’s lights, which type of light should you choose? Sadly it’s not as easy as saying one is always the best. The type of bulb is greatly affected by how it’s being used. For example, you can replace your stock lights with whatever the truck came with, but you can add a light bar to the front that can house driving lights that work like regular headlamps, only more and better. These are a great application for HIDs. Companies like Rigid Industries make high-powered LED light bars that can mount to the front or top of your truck to give a wide swath of light to the trail, but while these are bright, they can be so bright they can blind on-comers. The four major types of lights are:
  1. Driving Lights
  2. Fog Lights
  3. Spot Lights
  4. Light Bars
Driving lights offer a great combination of beam spread and length, and are most commonly mounted on bumpers or on roof-mounted light bars. Fog lights are great for when there is a lot of particulate in the air, including rain, fog, and snow. These shine down at a steep angle to light only the road directly in front of you. Spot lights utilize an intensely focused beam of light that, while visible over a far distance, have a narrow spread. These are best used in multiples to cover the entire trail. Finally, light bars are mounted in the grill or on the roof of your truck and offer a combination of the brightness of spot lights with the spread of fog lights. If you're on the trail at night, these are the best option.


So, what lights should you get? Ideally you should have a mix of each style of light as they all offer their own strengths and weaknesses but combined they give you a complete picture of the trail.

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