In part 1 of Overlanding 101 we discussed a big piece of overlanding and that is, where do I lay my head? In part 2 we're going to explore a few types of gear that really make your rig look cool, but do you really need it. The overlanding and 4x4 world has more aftermarket gear, parts, and amenities than one can fathom. I went through this phase with my second Jeep, a 2010 Jeep JKU Rubicon. I had an oversized roof top tent, high-end roof rack with one of those cute ladders, a 270 degree awning, storage containers, recovery gear, kitchen, water cell(s), extra fuel...you name it! Now, this post is not meant to dissuade the reader from getting what they need or want. My goal is to educate the buyer and encourage thoughtful consideration into how they move through their build.
My personal approach is this: I do not "decorate" my Jeep. I equip it for what I need, knowing my capabilities, and what I'm actually going to do with my rig.
So, what do you need? What do you want? How much weight does it add? If you're loading the roof things could get "tippy"...I've been there! Where will you actually be travelling? How will you actually use your vehicle? These questions and many more should be considered so let's get started!
To Winch or Not to Winch
On my 2010 Jeep JKU Rubi I had a very nice 12,000 lb Warn Winch with synthetic line. I was relieved knowing that if I got into a situation I could self-recover. Oddly, the four times I needed it over 17 years, three were to help others who had simply made poor decisions. The first was a guy slinging mud all over and buried his rig, the second was a young kid who tried to cross the Verde River and hydrolocked his Jeep, and the third, was recovering one of my rental rigs after clients decided (after doing donuts in the shallow wash) to try and climb out of it only to high-center the Jeep and get stuck. I'm not saying I haven't made my share of poor choices, but having aged a bit, I do not do donuts, I check depths before crossing, I avoid mud like the plague, and rock crawling is a thing of the past unless it is nominal and we want to get to that epic camping spot.
The guys I go out with for our monthly trips all have a winch and thus I couldn't justify dropping several Ben Franklin's on one knowing good & well that at any time, at least one would be availabe, at a minimum, and at times, potentially five! I do carry an old Hi-Lift Jack which can not only lift your vehicle, it can be used to assist in vehicle recovery. With proper rigging I can get out. I've installed winches on some rigs where the owner joked that I really didn't need to connect the power as they had no intention of using it!
To each their own. My wife gives me lots of latitude with my Jeep spending but I'd rather not push that envelope too much so I bailed on the winch install. Your call!
Light It Up
Another popular mod is off-road lighting. I see so many rigs with enough lighting they could be mistaken for a runway at night. I know that we will be doing some night driving to start off our long weekends and during the course of our travels. It offers a totally different feel to land at your campsite at midnight!
I have two LED ditch lights off of each "A" pillar and will mount two more on my front bumper. I will never see the need for a 48" light bar.
Gear Werks contributor, Mike Tapp, has a modest set up that has been well used. "A" pillar ditch lights, two yellow LED's to cut through dust at night, and he recently added two KC HiLites 4" LED flood lights atop his front bumper hoop. He also has LED headlights because as always, Jeep stock headlights just suck.
Gear Werks contributor, Mike Tapps' JK
Lest we forget rear lighting. I added Oracle bumper LED's into my rear bumper. My 2010 Jeep had a rear back up/work light and it was amazing to back up into a camping spot with that light on. It was, literally, a night and day difference.
Again, wants vs needs ~
This is another individual choice. I've never owned a pair. I've seen some awesome rigs pass me on I-17 laden with the roto-paks and the staple, traction mats. I thought about getting a pair to mount to my off-road camper but after 17 years of never needing them I decided against it.
By now you're probably thinking I'm a boring off-road enthusiast. Maybe so; but I've "done" the crawling thing and completed obstacles that I hope to never see again. I've had to call my wife three times when I needed off-road recovery. It's not fun nor cheap, plus in the arid areas we travel and in my experience, we're usually, if not always, on hard packed terrain. Rocky yes, but seldom where a traction mat would be needed. Consider your needs, assess your wants and do what you gotta' do!
The author navigating the trail enroute
to Swansea mine in Arizona
Navigation & Comms
Have you ever looked into your buddies rig and it looks like the flight deck of a Boeing Dreamliner? I have and wondered how their stock electrical keeps up with the charging. Now, I do have the Bulletpoint Mounting Solutions set up from my dash. It holds my cell and my iPad Mini; both in secure mounts and they do not go anywhere. I went through the tablet-type Garmin GPS phase, the handheld Garmin GPS phase, and even purchased a chart plotter years ago. You know, the type used by the Baja Trophy Trucks? Yes, I did that.
The Garmins worked well, however being IT challenged, synchronizing via the app and planning tracks and routes, I'll admit, I never got the full swing of them. Anyone you shared your tracks/routes to had to have that app. Add to that most of my crew uses Gaia and that was the end of proprietary GPS units. The chart plotter was in a league of its own and I sold it after six months.
I began assessing where I would actually be travelling and the answer was simple - local, or at least within the Southwest. My wildest overlanding trip was when a buddy and I took three weeks to explore the Baja Peninsula enroute to Cabo San Lucas and back. I had a couple of apps on my phone but for backup I purchased the Baja Norte and Sur atlas's. These are prepared by one guy who updates them every ten years and were indispensable. But, going back to my area of travel, despite dreams of doing it, I knew I would never overland parts of Africa or South America so my needs were much simpler.
I opted instead to get the annual subscription to Gaia and I've learned to use it well; and, for our types of trips, it works great. The laptop version is farely easy to manipulate and use when planning a trip. After synchronizing my laptop tracks and routes I open it on the Gaia app on my phone or iPad and there it is. Now, my iPad is an older one and wifi only, to enable GPS features I installed a GPS receiver that connects via bluetooth and now my old ipad mini is GPS capable!
My crew uses a dual band type radio for comms. Some are hand-held, others have them mounted inside their Jeep. Right next to their mounted GPS, iPad, smartphone, mounted charging station, and whatever else they have configured onto their control center. I have an outdated Garmin Rhino I use and can talk to them old school CB radio style.
Tires, Tires, Tires
I've been a BFG KO2 fan for years. These all-terrains are the perfect breed to cover rough terrain but then keep you steady on the highway. I don't need mud-terrain 'cause I hate mud and see it maybe once a year. I don't need snow tires 'cause we seldom see it as well. The all-terrain KO2 is right up my alley. I air down to around 20psi and they haven't failed me yet.
Another story, I had a neighbor, great guy, who bought and upgraded a beautiful, new 2016 Jeep JKU Rubicon. Crazy awesome lift, beautiful off-road lighting, bumpers, roof rack with LED's, winch, rock sliders, you name it, and it was on this vehicle. All of it was sitting on top of four 40" mud terrain tires that were so aggressive looking I wondered if they could extract him out of the pits of hell if he were stuck. Early on he'd cruise kinda' quietly by and I'd wave. Fast-forward about a year and you now heard him coming down the street two blocks away. The tires had become so cupped they sounded like a muted chainsaw...but they looked good! What did he replace with? BFG KO's...
My old 2010 had "almost" 40" BFG KM2's...mud terrains. They looked great but within that first year I wheeled it pretty hard and my drive to work was interstate. Despite regular rotations they started to scream as well. As soon as it was time I went with my first set of KO2's and never looked back. The stipling on the side and rugged sidewall offer plenty of traction for what I do.
I also don't regret going smaller, height and width. My current Jeep is on BFG KO2's at roughly 35". My crew all run 37's or larger and I get ragged on a bit but they can keep the larger tire. And to date, I've made it everywhere they have gone while averaging about 21mpg. And the best part? I don't have the major spray coming up from a tire that is wider than the fender. I now enjoy my window down, weather, maybe a little muddy forest roads with my elbow hanging out, and not getting slammed with mud and rocks.
Storage in general can be a challenge. Recovery gear, tools, kitchen, water, fuel, sleeping gear, and the list goes on. And that's just what to bring, then you have to think of how, and where, to store it. I have seen, and done, some of the worst storage mistakes ever. When I would take my very young daughter on camping trips a lot of things weren't properly stored or lashed down. We were never in an accident, but some of this stuff would have been very nasty projectiles had it happened.
But what is the ultimate storage solution? For me everything is inside of something, i.e. a bin, drawer or an appropriate mount, i.e. spare fuel can and holder. For general gear, I looked at some of the aluminum cases out there but their price point is a little rich for me. Once we set up camp we like to explore and although we are remote, I could see those things walking off if not locked in place. I tried the inexpensive tuffy boxes but their profile was too
tall. I have three plastic bins I purchased from the PX when I was in Iraq. I used them to mail my belongings back after my tour was finished. They worked for a while but water & dust can get inside so they're not ideal.
Another storage idea came to mind years ago when I visited a local military surplus
Wolfpacks by FrontRunner
store. They had these incredible aluminum bins for a fair price. I culled through and picked the best one I could find. They were obviously used but for the most part their seals were still good and they had solid latch points. Then came one of my lessons - I had packed it with recovery gear, tools, spare parts, & miscellaneous things for our next trip. When I went to lift it onto my roof rack it was a holy "I need another dude" moment. It was a tad heavy and on top of the Jeep...not fun! I used it a few times but the labor to get it up there plus adding that weight so high was not to continue. What I learned is I needed a well-built, waterproof & dustproof storage container that was smaller so as to keep it lighter.
The solution I found are the two Wolfpack bins I have by FrontRunner. They're a great size, water can't get in (I tried), they have lash points and the top latches securely in four places. In them I have miscellaneous gear, duct tape, tire repair kit, and compressor for airing up. They're a little old and beat up but still work. Kinda' like me.
This topic could go on a lot longer but I hope you get the picture. In the end it goes back to assessing your needs, wants, desires, and your long-term build goal. Crawler? Overlanding? Simpler Camping? State Park Camping? Dispersed Camping? Towing or Self-Contained? Whatever the answers are to those questions, run with it! In the meantime I'll be checking out your rig and telling myself, "I should've done that."