Offroad lighting – how to choose the correct lights

Offroad lighting – how to choose the correct lights

10. September 2020 Off By Kenny

When choosing vehicle lighting, sensible planning is very important, otherwise the probability is extremely high that the desired result will not be achieved.

Very often we hear about cases, where someone has bought any LED lights and has installed them with a lot of effort for wiring and the installation of the switches in the interior and then – although sometimes a lot of money is spent for this – is dissatisfied.

Often other lights are then bought – usually more expensive lights – but often the problem is not solved by this.

The reason for this is that:
The problem is not a “problem” at all. The user just did not know that there are completely different lighting systems that are designed for completely different purposes. One wants a light that illuminates the area directly in front of the vehicle, so that when driving slowly through the terrain he can see the surroundings very well and does not hit a root or a thick stone anywhere. The other one, however, would rather have a light that illuminates the gravel road at 150m, which he wants to drive on at 80km/h. These are of course completely different requirements. Both can be fulfilled, but not with the same lighting!

So what kind of lighting is available?

Basically we distinguish between these categories:
– Environment lighting (also: area light, scene light, diffused light)
– driving light, fog light (also: driving light, fog-light)
– High beam (also: flood light)
– Ultra high beam, high speed illumination (Spotlight, Hyper-Spot)

Which luminaire for which purpose?

Ambient lighting:
As the name suggests, ambient lighting illuminates the surroundings, directly around the vehicle. The range of the light is usually limited to a few meters. The area of application for this lighting is therefore, for example, working close to the vehicle. Ambient lighting is often also referred to as work lighting
Typical application examples: Reversing at night, illumination of the immediate surroundings of the vehicle during very slow off-road driving in the dark, repairs, use for camping or overnight stays, hunting and hunts, marker light for security
Can be used at travel speeds below 20km/h

Drive light, fog light:
The normal driving light has the task to illuminate the area directly in front of the vehicle, up to a distance of about 30m-60m. So you are able to recognize obstacles which are directly in front of the vehicle. The fog light has the special feature that it is mounted very low down, so that no glare is caused by illuminating the water drops in the air. The driving light illuminates the area in front of the vehicle relatively broadly, so that also bushes and trees at the edge are quite well recognizable.
Typical application: Normal driving at speeds below 60km/h

High beam:
The high beam is quite strongly focused and shines very far forward, far in front of the vehicle. Its primary purpose is to enable you to recognize distant obstacles at an early stage when driving at high speed, thus giving you the opportunity to brake or swerve. The surroundings around the vehicle are hardly illuminated at all by the high beam, which makes off-road driving in difficult terrain a really tricky business only with high beam.
Typical application: Driving at high speed where you want to be able to see far
Necessary at higher speeds, over 60km/h but of course also useful at lower speeds to have a good overview.

Ultra high beam:
The ultra high beam generates an extremely bundled light beam and sends it far in front of the vehicle. So it is possible to see extremely far and you can also drive at very high speeds with a reasonable degree of safety. Ultra-high beam lights are known, for example, from the typical rally vehicles of the Dakar or similar events. Several very large headlights mounted on the roof of the vehicle or in front of the radiator grille and shining far into the night. But the ultra high beam is only really useful if you really intend to drive at very high speed. As the only light on the vehicle the ultra high beam is almost useless, it dazzles others extremely and can hardly be used in traffic. Therefore it is only a very special additional lighting.

Light is not equal to light – Configuration of a lighting concept

The above explanations show clearly: Light is not equal to light.
One user is looking for a lamp that illuminates the area around the vehicle so that he can break up his prey in the light after the hunt or circulate his vehicle safely through a narrow rocky path. The next one is looking for a light with which he can drive along a dirt road at increased speed without blindly rumbling through the potholes. Both are completely different requirements.

But what is the best? Of course it depends on the application. In general, however, we recommend a combination of different lights – a lighting concept, so to speak.

Intelligent lighting concept

A sensible lighting concept can look like this, for example:

1. Ambient lighting: ambient lighting does not necessarily have to be installed in such a way that it is directed directly forward. The beam angle of the ambient lighting is very large. Often they are also attached to the side of the roof rack so that they shine slightly obliquely forward, but at the same time they also illuminate the area next to the vehicle. Also at the rear one or even two environment lights make sense, because you want to have a good view even when reversing.

Ambient lighting is helpful when working or driving slowly off-road


2. Driving light: The normal driving light can be optimally supplemented with, for example, two driving lights (e.g. in the front grill or on the front guard). This gives you a little more light at the front and you can still see well even at higher speeds. Some LED bars are also designed as driving lights and serve excellent purposes.

3. High beam: High beam can be mounted very well in the radiator grill as well as on the roof. I myself would prefer to mount it on the roof, the position is nice and high and you can also light over smaller obstacles without creating an extremely long shadow. Furthermore, with high beam on the roof rack you don’t have the problem that the whole hood appears in brightest light because the light is so strongly bundled that the hood is not illuminated at all (but this often happens with ambient light on the roof rack). Sometimes the bright hood is even disturbing because the eye gets used to the brightness or reflections appear.

A good mounting place for high beam is the roof rack

4. Ultra high beam:
Well, the ultra high beam is more of a thing for the rally drivers among us, or those who just think it’s cool. I myself don’t drive around at such high speeds in the dark that I really need it. But of course it does look cool ­čśë


With light, it is absolutely essential to pay attention to what the lighting should do exactly for a purpose. If you want ambient light you will be unhappy with a spotlight and vice versa. Often it does not only depend on the price, because sometimes there are already relatively good lights for relatively low prices.
But often we hear opinions like: I ordered a cheap Amazon LED bar and it does not shine 30m far – now I need an expensive branded LED bar, because I want to look into the distance. But this does not always have to be true, because if both LED bars are designed as ambient light, even the most expensive branded LED bar will not be able to fulfill the user’s goal.

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All information as always to the best of our knowledge and belief, but without guarantee!