Tech Tuesday: Trail Lighting

As the days get shorter and shorter heading towards December here on the West Coast it becomes more and more difficult to not end up out on trail in the dark. When you do find yourself out on the trail once the sun has gone down you will very quickly realize the value of having some good lights on your rig. For those who don’t have any auxiliary lights on your rig, this is for you.

Just this past weekend I found myself out in the rain on trail in the dark and I thought about how much I rely on the lighting on my rig and how difficult some tasks would be without it. First and foremost, forward facing lights, of course most vehicles on trail these days have headlights, although not all, but it is absolutely something you need to be able to navigate trails in the dark. One thing that has become hugely apparent in the past few years of the Jeep JK Wrangler production is how awful the factory headlights are and it has created a very large market for the aftermarket upgrades out there. Having a good set of headlights is not only useful on trail but will make your life on the road a whole lot more enjoyable. Once you have some decent headlights, a solid set of fog lights is normally a good idea for trail usage. Something that lights the ground an surroundings close to you in a flood pattern is generally what I suggest so that your headlights are letting you see down the trail but your fog lights are what lights up the details your about to drive over. My rig has a set (2) of Rigid Industries SRM’s, a very simple and cheap 2 LED light system that is low profile and weighs nearly nothing. I have them mounted as low and far forward as possible to specifically light up obstacles directly in front of me. Although some people do like the idea of having a ton of lights all over their rig, I find that lights are generally a fragile (and expensive) item that is almost always in harm’s way so the very minimum amount of lights to get the job done is what I aim for. Of course there are light bars and light systems out there to suit anyone’s needs and with almost every popular vehicle now having light bar mounting kits available it is becoming more and more common to see 50” LED light bars on trail rigs. While a massive light bar might be an amazingly bright option to have on trail I know that my rig sees too much abuse to have something that fragile and valuable mounted in harm’s way. But with mounting kits for windshields and bumpers and everything in between and the availability of so many different size and shape lights, there is something out there for everyone.

The next set of lights that I use very commonly are my rock lights, two sets of 6” single row LED light bars (one set mounted towards the front of the vehicle facing backward and the other mounted towards the rear of the vehicle facing forward) that are for wheeling in the dark so you can see what is under your vehicle while on an obstacle. Since installing my rock lights I have also realized that they are incredibly useful for working on the Jeep in the dark and especially for loading my Jeep on my trailer in the dark. I definitely advise some form of downward lighting to anyone who plans on taking their vehicle out on trail in the dark because seeing what is under you can be a very difficult task without it. If you are considering a rock light set up there are a few kits out there that include everything needed or you can get 4-8 small LED lights and wire them up to a switch inside the vehicle, the only thing you need to figure out is where to put them so that they are out of harm’s way and won’t get smashed by a rock while on trail. The smaller the light and the more tucked away the better as long as it is still able to light up the intended area.

After rock lights the next lights that I find the most important on trail is reverse lights, especially for the large amount of Jeeps outs on trail these days that generally have a tinted rear window and a large spare tire mounted to the tailgate. As is there is nearly no seeing past a spare tire, add to that a darkly tinted rear window and being out on trail trying to reverse at night surrounded by rocks and trees and you quickly see that it pays off to have a decently bright set of reverse lights. The amount of times I have reversed into a tree or stump in the dark on a trail is ridiculous, another use for rock lights on my rig doubles as a partial reverse light assist. Not only will be able to see rocks and stumps behind you help keep your bumper looking how it should, it can also be a safety hazard for any foot traffic or other vehicles around if you are reversing blind. Seeing behind you is definitely an important piece of the night wheeling puzzle.

Everyone you speak with will probably have a different view on lighting, some people cannot have enough lights on their trail rig while others only rely on headlights. It is a personal preference and something that is going to differ depending on what each individual does with their truck. If you are looking for a good set of LEDs for auxiliary lighting, reverse lights, rock lights, LED light bars or anything in between, swing by the show room here at North Shore Offroad and check out all of the great options we have out on display for you to test out and find what is best for your application. Most importantly get out there and enjoy yourself.

Zack Arnault