The headlamp is a standard piece of camping equipment for any outdoor enthusiast. Newer LED models are lightweight and have long battery life. A headlamp shines a precise beam of light exactly where you want it, and keeps your hands free for other tasks. But there's one major drawback that annoys me to no end.
Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone while wearing a headlamp? It's not a fun exercise keeping keep those blazing lumens out of your friends' retinas. You end up staring down at your shoe tops and you always manage to blind at least someone no matter how hard you try to avoid it. Not to mention that every time you turn your head, everything outside the beam is plunged into darkness.
One of the great advantages of overlanding as an adventure platform is that you don't have to settle for a less than optimal camping experience, and this includes lighting. Headlamps are great, but utilizing your vehicle to create efficient, useful, and pleasant camp lighting is a no-brainer way to level up your campsites. A well-lit camp is not only a more orderly and relaxing place to be, it's also a safer one.
Strategies for Building a Camp Lighting System
Let's boil down our lighting options into two general categories - direct and indirect lighting. Direct lighting does what it says. Like a headlamp, a direct lighting source shines a focused pattern of photons on a specific location. It's great lighting for areas in camp that are task intensive, or tend to be very dark when the sun goes down. Kitchens are a perfect example - strong direct lighting on your stove and sink ensure that you'll cook everything right the first time and avoid sliced fingers. Other areas, like in engine bays or for writing and work tables, can benefit from dedicated direct lighting sources, as well as deep in drawers, access hatches, and cabinets where light has a hard time penetrating.
Indirect lighting diffuses a pattern of light across larger areas. This wider track of illuminated real estate is perfect for general camp lighting. We love indirect lighting mounted under the chassis. Reflecting off the ground, these light sources radiate outward in a pool of light to show the way around camp. By preventing the light from shining directly in your eyes, they keep your eyes adjusted to the dark, but still make it much easier to avoid stumbling into ladders, boxes, and awning guy wires. A group of trucks circled together with these subtle puddles of light make for a really cozy, and dare we say it, sexy-looking campsite (not to mention a safer one). Their effects make great Instagram fodder, too.
Like with most aspects of building out your overland kit, planning your lighting system thoroughly before installing it is key. I have one overhead direct light source on the outside of my Defender that only ever seems to shine on the back of my head or straight into my eyes when I'm trying to get things done around camp. Its mounting position was not well thought out, and it's fixed in place. Particularly with direct lighting, it pays to experiment with where and how the beam is aimed and how much adjustment is possible. My wife and traveling partner is about 12 inches shorter than I am. She needs lights aimed in far different ways than I do. You can play around with awning lighting, moveable spotlighting, lanterns, and different color filters (like red to preserve night vision and yellow to discourage insects) to create the exact mood and utility you want in your campsite. The possibilities are endless.
A final consideration for building your lighting solution is power. Most modern LED camp lights draw very little power. But nighttime is often when we see our largest power draw in general - lights are on, devices are charging, and we're constantly opening and closing the fridge while making dinner, increasing run time. With no solar charge and your engine off, you're always working with a power drawdown when you get to camp in the evenings. Be sure to calculate your total electrical wattage with any new lighting you install included and plan accordingly for your charging system.
With those ideas in mind, let's highlight (to use a term) some really cool lighting products here at the Overlander shop.
Vision X's Overland light is a versatile way to light up your campsite on your overland vehicle. You can easily attach the Vision X Overland at multiple points on your vehicle to illuminate your campsite or a stopping point on the trail. With their low profile design, the Vision X Overland mounts perfectly beneath most rack systems using 60/40 flood optics perfect for area lighting. With only 15 watts of draw pushing a massive 1140 lumens, you can easily light up a campsite for hours without running your vehicle. Watertight and dustproof, the vented housing prevents moisture buildup, which ensures long life for the LEDs.
Back up into that primo campsite without a care in the world after equipping your rig with a Rigid Industries Ignite LED Back-Up Light Kit. Small but packing a lot of power with 1000 raw lumens, these lights cast a wide, dense beam and are available either as a flush-mounting or surface-mounting assembly. It uses spot, flood or diffused beam patterns for a variety of applications.
These compact and convenient LED lights are waterproof and can be mounted virtually anywhere to create the lighting solutions you need all over your vehicle. All you is needed is 12 volt power. They have a 180 degree optic to illuminate your cab, engine bay, wheel wells or anywhere else you need a bright and smooth light. They work perfectly for creating the under-chassis indirect light pattern you need.
The Baja Designs S2 Pro LED Light offers an incredible 2450 lumens out of a tiny 3 x 2 inch housing; for its size, the S2 Pro is quite literally the brightest LED light ounce for ounce on the market. It can be mounted where traditional lights would never fit. Moreover, it only draws 21 watts so your electrical system will barely know its there. This LED is perfect for all your adventures! The lighting pattern pattern is equipped with both wide (42 degree) and spot (6 degree) optics to provide you with a smooth blend of light for both near field applications and distance.
Questions about camp lighting? Have you come across any cool hacks for installing light sources on your rig? "Enlighten" us down in the comments!