Best Off-Road Lights: Add Safety and Enjoyment to your Nighttime Explorations
Don’t let a little thing like complete darkness get in the way of your off-road adventures.
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BY Alex Kalogiannis / LAST UPDATED ON December 21, 2021
Part of the fun of off-roading is facing the unpredictable. How prepared you and your vehicle are determines if your journey is an enjoyable overlanding romp or a dangerous, expensive disaster. Having a solid set of off-road lights mounted to your rig is a great way to prevent trouble when sunset sneaks up on you or if an emergency requires you to leave camp in the middle of the night—missing marshmallows, for example. There are loads of options out there, but I’m here to shine a light on the best kits available for your ride.
Wide range of light, a three-year warranty, and everything you need in one slick package.
- Increased range of visibility
- Three-year warranty
- Fixed, non-adjustable angle
- Lack of included instructions
- DRL mode might be too bright
Two bright, waterproof adjustable pods that deliver lots of bang for a few bucks.
- Affordable price
- Waterproof and shock-resistant
- Adjustable brackets
- Weak brackets
- Short spot beam range
- Spotty harness quality
Bright, modern LEDs wrapped in a charming old-school package.
- Old-school looks with modern performance
- Modular design
- Multiple beam modes
- Bulky look
- Big pod surfaces can collect snow and water
Why Trust Us
Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
I took a look at some of the best off-road light kits out there and judged them on a number of factors. These include price, brightness, ease of installation, durability, and compatibility. Off-road lights don’t need to just be bright; they need to suit your needs, be it a broad path or a spotlight. Sometimes it can be both, so flexibility counts, too. You can read more about The Drive’s methodology and mindset by following this link.
Best Off-Road Lights Reviews & Recommendations
Our Verdict on Off-Road Lights
Our picks for best off-road lights should banish any night-time driving concerns just as easily as they do the dark. The Rough Country Dual-Row Cree Light Bar is solid, and the Zmoon LED Light Pods are affordable, and a good place to start. The KC HiLiTES Gravity Pro6 LED Light Bar is great, plus we think they look cool.
What to Consider When Buying Off-Road Lights
Picking the right set of off-road lights isn’t as simple as picking the brightest hardware you can find and slapping them onto your truck. Do you need a wide pattern or something more narrow? How about a flood light or a spot light? How about both? You should also consider where you plan to mount your lights, how rugged they are for your purposes, and what type of light sources are best for you.
Types of Beam Patterns
Spotlight or Pencil Beam
This is a narrow, concentrated beam that penetrates long distances in front of your vehicle. It’s great for straight, high-speed situations but is even more useful for racing, rather than typical recreational use.
A driving beam pattern illuminates a much wider area than a pencil beam and gives the driver a much more useful view of the trail ahead. They provide more intensity and reach than typical high-beam headlights.
Fog lights provide a wide, flat-topped beam that brightens the area near your vehicle and gives a broader view of shoulders and curves. They are not designed for long-distance illumination but to supplement a typical low-beam headlight by giving the driver a more complete view of their surroundings. The flat top of the beam is designed not to reflect fog, dust, snow, or rain back into the driver’s eyes.
Flood lights, as the name implies, are designed to flood an area with light. They are typically used as work lights or area lights for a campsite or as reverse lamps, rather than to light your way down a road. However, this type of pattern is sometimes used for forward lighting at low speeds on Jeeps and ATVs.
Types of Light Sources
LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, have in recent years become the dominant light source for off-road and auxiliary lighting in general. LEDs provide long life and use very little power compared to halogen bulbs. They’re also resistant to vibration and pounding on rough roads. These lights produce a whiter light as compared to halogens.
Prior to the rise of LEDs, halogen bulbs ruled the lighting world. There are still many halogen off-road lights available, and they are generally less expensive than LED lamps. Halogen bulbs, although easily replaceable, do not last anywhere near as long as LEDs.
Yes, laser! For very high-end racing applications, laser diodes are being used by some manufacturers for super long-range lighting that shines about 350 percent farther than other light sources.
Types of Lights
A pod lamp is simply an individual lamp in its own housing that can be mounted on a bumper, grille, cowl, or roof. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes to suit individual tastes and mounting requirements.
A light bar houses a number of different individual lamps in one horizontal unit. They come in a variety of lengths and styles to provide different light patterns and output. They can be mounted on the top or front of a vehicle.
Off-Road Lighting Key Features
Since you're going to be off-roading with these lights, they need to be able to withstand vibration, impact, and a variety of weather conditions. As a result, they should be constructed with high-quality materials. Look for lights that have durable lenses and high-quality housings and mounting brackets. Also, make sure they're water- and dust-resistant.
Brightness and Beam Pattern
Choose the type of beam pattern that will put light where you want it, based on the type of driving you do. If you want to throw light far down the road, choose a long-distance or spot beam driving pattern. But if you want to light up road edges and curves closer in, you will want a wider array. Brightness is measured in lumens, but there can be variable consistency in that measurement, so be wary of using lumens as a sole criterion in which lamp to choose.
Before spending your hard-earned cash on a set of off-road lights, think about where you want to install them. Light bars and pods should be mounted in an area where they provide the best performance. Whether you’re going for a high position on the roof or roll bar, or down low on the bumper or grille, make sure you have a solid mounting surface that won’t shake with the vehicle’s movement. The lights you choose have sturdy, appropriate mounts to fit the location you want.
Look for lights with an IP67 rating, which indicates they are waterproof and dustproof. Cooling can be an important consideration for longevity, so make sure lamps include proper heat-dispersal methods such as heat sinks, fans, or flow-through venting. Finally, check to see if there's a warranty.
If you're not mechanically inclined, it may be a little challenging to install a set of off-road lights on your vehicle. The good news is that most manufacturers provide detailed instructions on how to set them up, or you can find some handy videos online.
Brands to Know
KC has been around for more than 50 years. Headquartered in Williams, Ariz., the company has pioneered innovations in off-road lighting since its inception.
Rigid Industries is a Phoenix-based company that was launched in 2004. By 2014, the company had been named to Inc. magazine’s fastest-growing companies list for two years in a row. It is considered to make some of the best lighting solutions in the business.
Baja Designs has more than 25 years of lighting development and innovation with race-winning technology for off-road and street use. Based in San Diego, Calif., they are pioneers in the laser lighting field.
Hella is a well-known German automotive company that got its start in 1899. The company produces lighting and electronic components. It makes a variety of different lights, including headlamps and interior lighting.
Based in California, Auxbeam has been around since 2008. The company produces a wide variety of LED lights and accessories, including off-road lights, driving lights, and motorcycle lights.
Off-Road Lights Pricing
- $20 to $100: One of the best things about off-road lighting is that it can be quite affordable. You don't have to spend a lot of money to get increased visibility. However, lower-priced systems may not offer the performance or durability of more expensive models.
- $100 to $350: This price range will net you some seriously impressive off-road lighting solutions. High-powered lights with large lumen outputs and substantial mounting systems can be found here. You’ll also find larger lighting options in this price range.
- $350 and more: This is where the best of off-road lighting lives. These are the best in the industry, backed by a lifetime warranty, and guaranteed to withstand wear and tear. This price range is usually reserved for the most serious off-road warriors who need a premium lighting product.
Tips and Tricks
As with anything you do for decades, you pick up a few tips and tricks along the way in terms of selecting the right product, and using it. That’s the case with us and off-road lights. To help you bridge the information gap, here’s a selection of what we’ve learned along the way.
- Look for lights with an IP67 rating, which indicates they are waterproof and dustproof.
- Make sure lamps include proper heat dispersal methods such as heat sinks, fans, or flow-through venting.
- Look for brands with long warranties.
- Find installation videos online to help with setup.
- Pick a lighting system that won't drain your battery.
You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.
Q: Are off-road lights street legal?
A: The short answer is no, but the degree differs from state to state. The legality of an off-road set of lights could depend on a number of factors such as brightness, light color, and even where they’re mounted. You’re free to use them off-roading and on private property, but check your local laws first.
Q: How many lumens do I need for off-road lights?
A: At minimum, 6,000 lumens should get you in the ballpark. If the goal is to maximize visibility ahead of your car, there’s hardly an upper limit. It’s really the pattern that factors into things.
Q. What is the brightest off-road light?
A: The current champ in this field is the Nitro Maxx LED light. Nitro has worked the optics to the point where it can fully illuminate objects more than a mile ahead. Go for these if your goal is to upset neighbors, blind drivers, and disrupt the sleeping patterns of nocturnal creatures.