You’ve been out on the tail all day and you’ve worked yourself further away from basecamp than you thought. With the sun sliding down towards the horizon faster than anticipated, you realize that you might not make it back before dark.

Driving over rough terrain in the darkness isn’t only challenging, it can be downright dangerous. Is that a dip in the road or a 100-foot drop? Fortunately, you’ve outfitted your rig with the latest in vehicle-mounted lighting to figure that out and get you back to home base safely.


KC HID lights combines a high-voltage ballast to energize two electrodes sitting inside a sealed hub. 

When you decide it’s time to shop for off-road lighting, consider what your intended use will be. Is it mostly for slower nighttime exploring on some of your favorite trails or high-speed bombing down sandy washes? Your application will determine the light pattern and type of light you need for your pursuits after dark.

Modern off-road lighting comes in three flavors: halogen, high-intensity discharge (HID), and light-emitting diode (LED). Each has its purpose and these lights vary by shape, dimension, cost and performance.

Halogen lights use a tungsten filament encased in a round, sealed bulb with a polished reflector. Inside a filament resides an inert gas used to keep the bulb from darkening over time, as would happen with a standard sealed bulb. The front lens of the bulb can be formed to provide a specific beam pattern as needed. Halogen lights are typically the least expensive type, and their bulb life ranges from about 50 to 300 hours, depending on power rating.


Rigid Industries RDS-Series light bars were designed to conform to curved windshields. 

High-intensity discharge (HID) lights use two closely-spaced electrodes inside a sealed bulb, which contains a noble gas. A ballast module is used to step up the vehicle voltage to create an intense light discharge within the gas mixture between the electrodes. HID lamps are more power-efficient than halogen lights, and run somewhat cooler. With no filament to wear as with a halogen light, HID lights can last for about 3,000 to 5,000 hours of use.

As far as technology goes, halogen and HID advancements are all but dead. Light-emitting diode (LED) lights have become all the rage in recent history and are now seen most everywhere. In these, electrical current is passed through a semiconductor junction that causes light to emit. This technique of producing light is by far the most efficient of the three types; plus, LED lighting can be produced to emit a variety of colors and hues of white light.

Unlike halogen and HID lights that use a single point of source per light, off-road LED lights typically use multiple (sometimes many dozens of) individual LED sources to compose a single LED light assembly. One advantage to using an LED bar (and quality counts) over halogen or HID lighting is the smoothness of light distribution over the beam pattern. With multiple sources working to produce the beam, you get a far more consistent blanket of illumination from an LED bar.


KC Gravity Pro6 lights directs 100 percent of the light into the reflector resulting in no light loss. 

LED technology continues to advance from not only aftermarket light suppliers but from the vehicle manufacturers, as they continue to develop LED headlight solutions and push them into mainstream offerings, and not just high-end vehicles. LED substrates continue to improve in efficiency, and thus, power capability. Today’s LEDs can produce more output using less space, as well. It wasn’t long ago that LED lighting simply couldn’t compete with HID units for racing applications. As of late, LEDs have proven they have a place in high-power lighting, and they’re here to stay.


KC Hilites Flex LED line is a modular lighting system that allows you to create an array of LEDs of any size you want. Lights can be linked or stacked to gain the array you need, including the use of spot- and spread-beam light patterns.

With LED lighting, there are generally two types of optical technology that light manufacturers use to create the projected beam of light: lens optics and reflector optics. These are the means by which the various manufacturers obtain their beam patterns and lighting output. Lens optics use a medium to manipulate the beam. These offer a smooth/uniform beam but are typically limited by existing, ready-made optics that may not provide good automotive beam patterns. Reflector optics use reflectors to refract the beam, offering an intense beam and custom patterns, depending on reflector design. However, efficiency may be limited by how much light is redirected by the reflector.

To view the complete LED Light Buyer’s Guide please pick up the current issue of TREAD which is on newsstands now.

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