The various types of light beams can be confusing, but they are really easy to understand when you see them together. The views in the accompanying graphic give you a birds-eye view of what each beam looks like on the ground. Standard headlights have a unique beam to illuminate the foreground well and then angle off to the right at a distance to minimize glare to oncoming traffic. The rest of the beams are symmetrical in their pattern.
The Lightforce Stryker 170 is just under 7 inches in diameter and comes with a 100-watt Xe
You’ll probably want something better than street-legal headlights for beating through the bushes. This is where your options really open up. What size, how bright, where to mount, how many, and so on. One of the most common off-road light patterns is a driving beam. These lights are designed to essentially be long-range headlights, with a pattern that is 3 to 4 times as wide as they are high. A spot beam is round, and may also be called a pencil beam. These generally reach farther but aren’t always as useful for driving as they are for finding something in the distance. If you use these for off-roading, you’ll want a high-quality headlight high-beam to fill in the middle distance well. All of the same bulb technology, including HIDs, applies to dedicated off-road lights making it easy to find something that fits your needs, your budget, and your rig.
This is the light pattern of the original headlights in a ’09 Jeep Wrangler. Pretty marginal, but this is also very typical of a stock headlight system unless you have a high-dollar rig with factory HID lights.
Here is the beam of the IPF 60/55-watt upgrade bulbs. The light is much brighter, and it is also crisper and has a pure white color. Not only does it reach farther, but it also fills in the foreground much better than the factory lights
Adding the factory fog lights to the IPF headlight fills in the section immediately in front of the vehicle.
We then added the Lightforce Stryker 170 spot off-road lights which illuminated the trees 1,000 feet away quite well. These lights pack a lot of power: these as well as the HIDs shown in the next photo will reach farther than 1,000 feet.
This shot shows the Rugged Ridge HID off-road. One big difference with the Rugged Ridge HID light is that the light was less focused, providing better light over the entire area. Lightforce offers a diffuser filter for its lights which provides a similar effect.
To Relay or Not To Relay
Most off-road lights have high amperage consumption which means a lot of power and running through the wiring. If the company you get the lights from recommends using a wiring harness with a relay, use it. In fact, companies are a lot more likely to help you out if there’s a problem later if you use their wiring kit with their lights. A relay allows you to isolate the high-amperage wires, keep them short, and avoid routing them through a switch in the cab. In this arrangement, the switch you flick to turn on the lights actuates the relay, routing high-amperage power directly from the battery through the relay and to the lights.
You may want to consider adding a relay kit if you upgrade the headlights to higher wattage bulbs. If you jump from 35-watt to 60-watt lights, there’s a significant amperage increase which can overheat a headlight switch or the factory wiring. Painless Performance makes kits for two- and four-headlight vehicles that use the factory headlight plug for activation, and all of the high-amperage power goes through the Painless wiring and relays. In addition to being safer, this will also give you brighter headlights because there is less resistance in the system compared to using the factory harness.
Types of lights that generally don’t require a relay are LEDs and most HID systems. These consume low amperage so the factory wiring and switches are not overworked.
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