Once no brighter than a birthday candle, LED lights have become retina-searing fireballs. LED is short for light-emitting diode, and while LED bulbs have been around for decades, the technology that allows them to shine brightly after dark is a relatively recent arrival.
Bright LED-generated light isn’t the whole story, since HID lights and many halogen lights provide plenty of night-piercing illumination. The main attractions offered by LED lights are long bulb life, low amperage draw, and overall ruggedness. Compared to halogen and HID lights, LED lights are much more shock-, vibration-, water-, and dust-resistant. Unlike HID lights, which typically need a minute or more to warm up and reach full brightness, LED lights produce full illumination power as soon as the switch is flipped. Good news all the way around.
There’s more, though, and thanks to compact bulb size and comparatively cool operating temperature, it’s possible to place multiple LED bulbs fairly close together. In turn, this makes for lots of options when designing off-road LED lights. Square, round, or rectangular, LED lights come in many shapes and sizes. Today’s LED off-road buyer has a ton of choices, so we’ve assembled a collection of LED lights for your perusal. Rather than simply photographing each light in the studio and listing the specifications, we took it a step further by field-testing each light.
How We Tested
Our first challenge was finding a suitable spot. We needed to get away from the glare of city lights, and we needed a location that offered a combination of flat, open ground and recognizable objects in the distance. For consistency’s sake, we used the same vehicle to test every light: our 2004 4Runner.
Using a pair of jumper wires, we connected each light directly to the battery. The jumper wires are thick 12-gauge stranded wires, so there’s no risk of amperage loss. To make sure the battery’s output was consistent we left the engine running while we tested.
To measure light output, we used a lux meter. What is a lux meter, and more importantly, what’s a lux? Lux is a contraction of the term “luminous flux.” When measuring lux we measure light intensity, and one lux means one lumen illuminating one square meter.
Using our lux meter, we checked lux readings at three distances: 6 feet, 60 feet, and at 177 feet. Why 177 feet? That was the distance to the fence you’ll see in the photos. Camera settings were also kept consistent with our Canon 50D, equipped with a Canon L-Series 16-35mm f2.8 lens, set to ISO 400, a 3.2-second exposure and a 5.6 f-stop.
We tested round lights first. They are typically used in pairs or greater numbers. To keep our lux readings as pure as possible, we shut off the second light and tested one light only. You will also notice an end wrench in each product photo. It’s there to provide a sense of scale and measures 16 inches from tip to tip. There were more lights to test than we could fit into a single issue. This month, we’ll showcase round LED lights. Next month, we’ll move on to light bars.
One More Thing…
Lux readings alone don’t tell the whole story. Different types of after-dark off-roading call for different types of light. Rockcrawling and general trail riding calls for a much different lighting recipe than high-speed running in Baja. Do you need to see rocks 10 feet away, a deep rut 100 feet away, or a sharp right-hander a quarter mile away? Check out these lights and evaluate your needs. We’re sure you’ll find the perfect LEDs to take you from dusk to dawn. A lux reading is not the final word in lighting performance.
ARB Intensity Lights
Packed full of LED bulbs, the ARB Intensity Lights are well named. These things are bright! The densely spaced bulbs need proper cooling, so ARB provides the Intensity Lights with a large aluminum heat sink that has integrated cooling fins. Intensity Lights are meant to be used as a pair. One produces a flood pattern, while the other is a long-range spotlight. Since Intensity Lights are designed to be used as a pair, the light pattern photo shows both lights lit. Our lux meter readings were taken one at a time, with only one light lit.
Floodlight lux readings:
6 feet: 13,500
60 feet: 195
177 feet: 21
Spotlight lux readings:
6 feet: 56,000
60 feet: 650
177 feet: 98
ARB (800) 761-8192, www.arbusa.com
Baja Designs Squadron and Squadron XL
The Baja Designs Squadron and Squadron XL are compact, but this is a case of big things coming in small packages. The Baja Designs Squadron is 3 inches by 3 inches, while the Baja Designs Squadron XL is a bit larger at 4.5 by 4.5 inches. Both lights use beautifully CNC-machined aluminum housing faces, and the Baja Designs Squadron XL also features a CNC-machined rear housing. Both Baja Designs Squadron models feature optional lenses that change the beam patterns, and are weather-sealed and exceed MIL-STD810G requirements. Single lights were tested here, so the light pattern photos show the performance of one light for each style.
Squadron lux readings, tested with Driving lens:
6 feet: 1,500
60 feet: 74
177 feet: 17
Squadron XL lux readings, tested with Driving Combo lens:
6 feet: 3,000
60 feet: 84
177 feet: 25
Baja Designs (800) 422-5292, www.bajadesigns.com
Hella Rallye 4000 LED
Hella’s red-ringed HID’s are unmistakable, and now the blue-ringed Rallye 4000 LED announces Hella’s LED technology to the off-road world. Three LED bulbs are used in conjunction with highly refined reflector optics. The housing and mounting bracket are made from die-cast aluminum to provide off-road ruggedness and dissipate heat.
Rallye 4000 LED lux readings:
6 feet: 37,500
60 feet: 505
177 feet: 59
J.W. Speaker TS3000R
The look of the J.W. Speaker TS3000R is unlike any other light we’ve seen, but the distinctive lightface throws a lot of lux. The heavy-duty die-cast housing includes a micro-adjustable mounting foot and large cooling fins. We tested the TS3000R with a driving beam (a pencil beam is optional) and a polycarbonate lens (a glass lens is optional). The TS3000R is made in the USA and snap covers are included.
TS3000R lux readings:
6 feet: 10,200
60 feet: 250
177 feet: 33
(262) 251-6660, www.jwspeaker.com
J.W. Speaker 8655F
The J.W. Speaker 8655F is really a work floodlight, but it’s well suited to slower-speed trail situations where you need a superior view of your immediate surroundings. Like the TS3000R, the 8655F has a unique look, robust construction, a micro-adjustable mounting foot, and a finned heat sink. The J.W. Speaker 8655F is made in the USA.
8655F lux readings:
6 feet: 1,540
60 feet: 23
177 feet: 2
(262) 251-6660, www.jwspeaker.com
PIAA LP 530
The PIAA LP 530 is sold as a pair complete with a pre-wired harness including a fuse and a switch. Compact and easy to place on a bumper or light-mounting bar, the PIAA LP 530 uses rearward-facing LEDs and advanced reflector technology. The lights can be operated with the guards in place, but we removed the guards for our testing to ensure they shined as brightly as possible.
LP 530 lux readings:
6 feet: 5,600
60 feet: 82
177 feet: 10
(800) 525-7422, www.piaa.com
PIAA LP 570
The PIAA LP 570 is a 7-inch-diameter driving light that features PIAA’s rearward-facing LED technology combined with advanced reflector design to precisely focus the resulting light beam. The polycarbonate lens is virtually unbreakable and it is further protected by PIAA’s shine-through guard. The cast-aluminum housing connects to the vehicle via a micro-adjustable polycarbonate mounting clevis.
LP 570 lux readings:
6 feet: 14,000
60 feet: 270
177 feet: 38
(800) 525-7422, www.piaa.com
Truck-Lite 80275 lamp with 97980 housing
We’re mentioning the exact part numbers because this lamp is first and foremost a motorcycle auxiliary lamp. Mount the 80275 lamp into the 97980 rubber housing and you’ve got a rugged auxiliary light. The lamp itself has a die-cast aluminum housing and a polycarbonate lens. This is an attractive option from a source you may not have previously considered.
Truck-Lite lux readings:
6 feet: 316
60 feet: 6
177 feet: 1