The 10 Best Off Road Lights
The History Of Off-Road Vehicles
Before we begin to understand off-road lights, let's first take a look at that piece of equipment for which they're intended: the off-road vehicle. At its most basic, an off-road vehicle is any type of vehicle that is built to drive off paved or graveled surfaces, and is generally characterized by having large tires with deep treads, flexible shocks and suspension, and other elements that help make traveling over rough and rugged terrain easier.
The first off-road vehicle — or, at least, the first vehicle specifically designed for driving off-road — was the Kégresse track, a modified Packard Twin-6 equipped with special caterpillar tracks built by a Russian inventor in the early 1900s. Versions of the machine were soon adopted by the French military, but also used in overland expeditions in places like Africa and Antarctica. In fact, the earliest off-road vehicles, which eventually also included the Jeep and the heavy lorry, were primarily used for military purposes — it wasn't until after WWII, when large surpluses of army equipment were released to the public, that they found a consumer market.
Today, off-road vehicles take as many forms as there are functions for them. There are off-road utility vehicles, also known as UTVs, which are used in work environments like farms and ranches to tow equipment and carry materials. There are dirt bikes and small all-terrain vehicles, also known as ATVs, which are used widely for recreational purposes and exploring difficult-to-access areas. And then there are full-size, off-road-ready cars and trucks — think brands like Jeep, Land Rover, and Humvee — that are specially designed and factory-made to be more rugged and powerful then other vehicles, and can also be easily customized with aftermarket parts to further achieve that end.
Off-road vehicles have also given rise to several different types of motorsports, among the most popular being rallying, desert racing, and rock crawling.
Why Off-Road Lights?
Because off-road vehicles are used in a variety of situations and environments, it's common for owners to customize their rigs for better performance. If you're riding often through arid, sandy desert, for example, you can improve your vehicle's handling by setting it up with wider, more heavily treaded tires. Similarly, if you're traversing rocky, uneven ground in the mountains, you may want to upgrade its suspension to give you a smoother ride.
But one thing you'll likely need regardless of where you take your machine are lights — and not just your standard, stock variety. While most off-road vehicles will come equipped with some sort of basic headlight system, it's usually not very powerful, which means it may leave you straining your eyes in the dark to see the path ahead. That's not only inconvenient, but also dangerous, since driving off-road even in the daylight can be a treacherous affair.
Off-road lights, then, are an important accessory to invest in both for performance and safety reasons. But they can they can also serve as aesthetic enhancements to your personalized car or truck — depending on your own particular tastes, a sprawling, 52-inch light bar on the roof or grill of your pick-up could look pretty cool.
Since off-road lights can come in as many shapes and sizes as the vehicles they're attached to, there are a few factors to consider before buying one. Because of their increased efficiency and durability, LEDs are the most commonly used sources in off-road lights today; they're also usually the most affordable. Other lights use halogen or xenon bulbs, which are less efficient and durable, but are often available in higher wattages, making them brighter per unit. High Intensity Discharge lights offer the highest levels of output per watt of power when compared to LEDs and halogens, but are also the most expensive.
In terms of design, halogen bulbs are often found in spotlight-style lights, which can produce powerful, focused beams for penetrating through serious darkness. LEDs, meanwhile, are often used in light bars, which are long and narrow and can illuminate wide swaths of area at the flip of a switch. Other general light categories include fog lights, which emit a low, shallow beam that is ideal for hazy and rainy conditions, and work lights that project a long rectangular beam best for agricultural applications.
Power — measured in watts — is another variable to keep in mind, and can range from as high as 300-watts per unit to as low as 18-watts per unit.
Other Uses For Off-Road Lights
Despite the name, off-road lights aren't exclusively for lighting your truck's way in the woods. Many products are also marketed for use on a variety of other machines, including boats and marine equipment, tractors and lawnmowers, RVs and campers — anything that might be operated more safely and efficiently with a little extra illumination.
And, as previously noted, they're not only for utilitarian purposes: many car and truck drivers simply appreciate the look of off-road lights on their vehicle, even if it never leaves the paved comfort of the highway.
Of course, whichever kind of off-road lights you choose, and whatever you decide to use them on, it's essential to first determine their compatibility. Some off-road lights, for example, are made for specific make and model vehicles, while others are more multi-functional. They should also come with all the hardware needed for proper mounting and installation.