What’s an off-road vehicle without a good light bar? Boring, for starters. Also, not a true off-roader because if you want to go bombing around wilderness trails in the darkest of night, you need more than the headlights the factory gave you. Frankly, your life could depend on it.
Like so many great car accessories that improve your travels, the best light bars are easily obtained for your truck, Jeep, or whatever car you’ve jacked up with oversized tires for adventure. And they make your vehicle and your weekend fun options infinitely more versatile because you’re no longer restricted to roads or well-worn beaten paths. The world is yours! But before you plunk down money on the brightest and best light bar you can find and try to slap it on your Wrangler, there are a few things you should know.
What Makes a Good Light Bar?
There’s a little homework to be done before you plunge into the light bar shopping cart. Numbers are important here, most notably:
- Lumens: This is the measure of visible light your bar gives off. Higher means brighter.
- Watts: This is how much electrical power the light bar will be pulling from your battery, which can be significant, especially if you’re relying on your battery to power other accessories away from civilization.
- Lux: Often abbreviated simply to lx, this is the measure of light intensity or the amount of light on a surface per unit area. One lux equals the illumination of a one square meter surface area one meter away from one candle.
- IP rating: The ingress protection, or IP rating, is the measure of protection against the intrusion of dust or liquids. And off-roading is nothing but dust and liquids, so that you will want a light bar with an excellent IP rating. The first digit is the protection against dust (scale of 0 to 6), the second is against liquids (scale of 0 to 9). Look for an IP67 or above to ensure your light bar can withstand the elements.
- Measurement: This is easy — you must ensure your light bar fits your car.
More Things to Consider About Light Bars
- Can you install your own light bar? This depends on your technical acumen, ability to deal with electrical wiring, and willingness to potentially drill holes or otherwise mess with your vehicle’s body. It’s the latter part that always gives the most pause. There is the “anybody can do anything with the right YouTube instructional video” school of thought, but our advice is to drop a few extra bucks and let a pro do it.
- Are there laws I need to consider? Yes, actually. Anyone who’s ever been blinded by some jerk showing off his 15,000-lumens light bar on a two-lane road can tell you that these are not meant for regular traffic and are almost always illegal to use in normal traffic. Some states — California, for instance — require that your off-road lights be covered when not in use. Do your research and see what the local laws are like where you live. (And buy a cover if you need to.)
Covering your light bar to avoid getting pinched is easy. Finding the best light bar for your vehicle is harder. That’s where we come in. Check out SPY’s picks for the best light bars available in 2022.
1. KC HiLiTES Gravity Pro6 LED Light Bar 50-Inch Combo System
Even people who aren’t off-roaders probably know what KC lights are. We’ve heard them referred to as a catch-all name for any light bars, like Kleenex or Dumpsters, which happens when you’re one of the industry leaders in any given field. Their top-of-the-line light bar, the Gravity Pro6 LED Light Bar 50-Inch Combo System, blast forth with 19,616 lumens and 6,700 lux while pulling 160 watts of power. That’s a formidable amount of light.
These lights have the old-school KC look, with round rally lights covered with the classic KC logo, but this is a modern take on an old classic. They can be set up in an arced or straight configuration, and the light can be customized to throw Spot, Driving or Wide-40 beam patterns. The IP68 rating means you can go bombing through water without worrying about sudden blackouts. You’ll pay for the quality, for sure. But you’ll get every nickel’s worth out of this excellent light bar.
2. Rough Country 50-Inch Black Series Single Row LED Light Bar
Rough Country, as you can probably tell from the name, specializes in all things off-roading and deals in products that help you live the “lifted lifestyle,” as their website says. So light bars are right in their wheelhouse, and they have over 84 different kinds of off-road lights available on their site. We like the Black Series Single Row LED Light Bar for its basic design and powerful output — 19,200 lumens of light on demand whenever you need it.
Since they hug close to the roof of your vehicle and create a small space between the frame and the roof, light bars are known to occasionally cause a whistling or other sound when you hit higher speeds. Rough Country’s 50-Inch Black Series comes with their Light Bar Noise Silencers to eliminate those sounds and also includes a snap-on cover for when your lights need to be stashed on normal roads. Die-cast aluminum housing and an IP67 water- and dust-proof rating, with Rough Country’s Moisture Breather tech to reduce moisture build-up behind the lenses, make these perfect toppers for your four-wheeling adventures.
3. Diode Dynamics SS5 CrossLink 8-Pod LED Light Bar
Intensity is the keyword for this eight-pod light bar from Diode Dynamics. The 4,800 lumens is roughly a quarter the brightness of the KC Gravity Pro6, but while Diode Dynamics does not give a lux number, they claim these lights can be seen from a full mile away. That’s the kind of thing that comes in handy in the wilderness. We love the easy customization, with eight backlight colors available via easy on-off click. Not all eight colors are of much use when you’re out on the trails — purple? — but it’s a fun feature, and, to the best of our research, this is the only light bar that provides multiple colors so easily.
Like the KC, the Diode Dynamics SS5 can be set up in arced or straight configurations, and Diode Dynamics offers a snap-on cover if you live in a state that requires one. The fact that Diode Dynamics doesn’t provide an IP rating has not gone unnoticed, but they say the SS5 CrossLink 8-Pod LED Light Bar is “torture tested,” and we have not found any user reviews to the contrary.
4. Nilight LED 22-Inch Triple Row Light Bar
BEST SECONDARY LIGHT
Off-roaders often do not live on one light bar alone. A big light bar across the roof and a smaller one mounted on the hood can give you comprehensive illuminating power to make those unfamiliar pitch-black trails far easier to navigate. The smaller light bars are often far less expensive than the big ones. Which is how you can find a powerful 22-inch LED light bar like this one from Nilight on Amazon for under $60.
Other great uses for this smaller yet still exceptionally bright and powerful array? Mount one on the roll bar of your ATV or road buggy, on the outside of your RV or camper for lighting up the campsite, or even on a motorboat for nighttime excursions. The Nilight LED 22-Inch Triple Row Light Bar is barely over 5 pounds and comes with one 12-foot-long wiring harness, making it far easier to install than a main light bar and more versatile. But we also love it as a hood-mounted sidekick for the main light bar on your truck or lifted SUV.
5. KC HiLiTES 238 Daylighter Black 100w Spot Beam Light System
OK, this isn’t a light bar. But these are the classic KC Daylighter smiley-face-covered lights you’ve seen on the roll bar or light-bar grille of topless Jeep Wranglers, dune buggies and other off-roaders since pretty much forever.
The Daylighter 100w Spot Beam Light System isn’t going to help you blaze trails in the dark. The two H3 halogen bulbs are a mere 250 lumens, which, as one Amazon reviewer said, is a candle compared to a bonfire. So they’re primarily decorative or for secondary lights on a vehicle already outfitted with a big LED light bar. They are helpful, as the pencil beam pattern makes an excellent spotlight. Mostly we love them as an inexpensive throwback accessory to give your off-roader some nostalgic cache.
6. Rough Country Black Series LED 40 Inch Curved Dual Row
A curved light bar gives you a more comprehensive range of illumination. Some LED light bars, like the KC HiLiTES Gravity Pro 6 and the Diode Dynamics SS5, can be set up in curved or straight configurations, but they are an array of individual lights rather than a bar. The Rough Country Black Series LED 40 Inch Curved Dual Row is a true bar, with 80 high-intensity CREE LEDs designed in a curved pattern to give you a super-wide, super-bright field of light.
Like the Black Country 50-Inch Single Row above, this Rough Country light bar gives off a massive 19,020 lumens of light. It has the same durable die-cast aluminum housing, IP67 waterproof rating and black panel design, and Noise Silencers and Moisture Breather tech. But it has two rows of LED lights instead of one — more brighter! The wiring harness has an IP68 waterproof rating and an inline fuse for two layers of protection against shorting out. Rough Country backs this great light bar with a three-year warranty in case you need any more peace of mind.
7. Baja Designs OnX6+ Straight LED Light Bar
Baja Designs takes special pride in its pro-off-road racing teams, so they know more than a little about light bars. Since their racers are paid to move fast over off-road terrain — sometimes at over 100 mph in the dark — they need their lights to project far and bright. Baja Designs took its previous generation light bar and upped the brightness of this latest model by 69%, giving the OnX6+ Straight LED Light Bar a healthy 12,460-lumens output.
Baja Designs also employed its trademarked High Speed Spot reflector to project that powerful light farther than virtually any other light bar on the market. The lenses and optics are replaceable, and the hardware is made from stainless steel. These lights are for you if you drive hard and especially fast off-road.