What are ditch lights and why are they useful?

For a really great explanation of ditch lights paired with real-world examples of how they’re useful, check out the KC Academy video below that we did to cover this topic. For more detail and expansion on ditch lights, continue reading the rest of the article.

Ditch Lights Defined

The reason behind calling a particular set of lights “Ditch lights” is inherently simple: they simply light up the ditches or sides of the trails. Typically, the intent behind using these auxiliary lights is to enhance periphery vision so that it is easier to identify upcoming obstacles, animals, and other potential hazards.

“Ditch lights” is the most commonly used term for lights that achieve this effect, but there are some other common names for them that you may hear on the trails. These all stem from where they get mounted onto the vehicle, and the terms include a-pillar lights and cowl lights.

Mounting Locations for Ditch Lights

Due to where the lights get mounted, they are oftentimes one of the first aftermarket lighting upgrades that people will install onto their off-road vehicles. These lights get mounted onto vehicle-specific brackets that place the lights at the bottom corners of the windshield and just above the hood on the rig. The vehicle that they are going on will determine the mount itself, but in general, trucks like Tacomas, Raptors, etc will often have a bracket that gets mounted to the hood hinge in the engine bay, whereas Jeeps will often take advantage of external mounting locations like the windshield hinges.

Aiming your Ditch Lights

When it comes to aiming your ditch lights, there are two schools of thought: 1) Kick the lights out to the sides with enough angle so that they actually light up the ditches, and 2) aim them straight forward so they provide some long-distance light.

In reality, there are some pros and cons to each of these scenarios, so let’s explore what those are to help you decide which is best for you. And hey, if you’re stuck deciding what to do, the good news is that you can easily swivel them around and try each out for yourself.

Aiming ditch lights towards the sides of the trail

With a rig that is well-equipped with other lights that provide adequate light ahead of the vehicle that covers the short and mid-range distances, your vehicle and night vision will be best suited for more coverage on the sides of the trails. If your headlights are old and crummy, then getting lights to the sides of the trail instead of straight ahead might not be as ideal.

  • Enhanced periphery vision
  • Less hood glare
  • No enhanced distance lighting
Aiming ditch lights straight ahead

Again, if your headlights aren’t the best (Jeep TJ owners with factory headlights, I’m looking at you!), then aiming your ditch lights straight ahead might be better to give you a bit more useable short and midrange lighting. Technically there’s now a bit of a naming conflict if you aim them forward but still call them “ditch” lights, but we’ll let the forums debate on that.

  • Enhanced distance vision
  • More hood glare
  • More reflection of light back to your eyes from dust/fog/snow/rain/etc.

Best Beam Patterns for Ditch Lights

Your beam pattern selection will largely depend on where you intend to aim your lights. If you aim your lights straight ahead, a spot beam pattern that concentrates the light in one tighter location would be best.

If you angle your lights outwards to give more horizontal coverage, then a combo beam or a spread beam pattern is best. Lights in our FLEX ERA Family utilize the lens to control the beam pattern, and make it really easy to change from a spot beam to a combo beam in order to experiment with what you like best.