Springtime is Here

Springtime. The end of hibernation and the start of blue skies dominating over grey. Just the warm thought thinking about open-air exploration in your Jeep Wrangler thaws any hesitation to get out there for another year of trail conquering. There are boulders to master. Fallen branches to snap like toothpicks – You know the feeling.

But don’t be tempted to spring into spring too quickly. Before you go play, there’s a little work to be done. Let’s first take care of your soft top (and your hard top) to make adventures as fun as ever.

Your spring must-dos:

  1. Your hard top and freedom panels need somewhere to nest for a spell. Somewhere safe. Stuffing them into a garage corner or tossing them into the shed won’t cut it. Protect them well. Wrap them tightly in solid tarps and tuck them into good storage space, or try Bestop’s Hoss Cart.
  2. Make sure every component of your hardware is well accounted for. Are you missing a latch? Or a bracket? Even one missing piece could be detrimental to your ride and your safety. Find them all.
  3. Inspect your soft top for any unexpected holes. Mice, rats, squirrels, raccoons, and other four-legged varmints have nasty tendencies to dine on twill. Bad enough that they do this. It’d be even worse if you found out during heavy rains.
  4. Bathtime! Clean the top by first washing it with warm water and mild dish soap, and then drying off with a quality microfiber cloth. Bestop also recommends using a good Vinyl Fabric Cleaner, followed by a Vinyl Protectant to repel dirt and mildew.
  5. Before you go bask in the spring sunshine, your soft top gets first dibs. Lay it out flat on the driveway whenever the temperature reads 72° or above. As the material warms, it becomes more elastic and more flexible to put on your Jeep Wrangler. Colder weather makes it more brittle and shrivels up. Prevent this.

Why to Say Yes to Soft Tops

Becoming a Jeep Wrangler owner doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a rite of passage. You salivate over the freedom, the fun and the open-air.

But rolling down windows to inhale fresh air isn’t going to cut it – equipping your Jeep with Bestop® soft tops and accessories will. Hesitating over getting a soft top? It happens. We conquer some common myths the same way we conquer boulders on the trail.

 

  • MYTH – Soft tops take all day to install. 100% disagree. Take our Bestop® Sunrider for Hardtop. With this flip-back, half-top, it’s a matter of first removing your Freedom Panels. Then you simply install and tighten door rails, the deck assembly, caps and screws, and rear brackets followed by a fast latch. That’s it, a quick 45 minutes out of your day for an entire year of yessssssssss!
  • MYTH – Soft tops are noisier than a hard top. Actually, during several field tests – including one conducted by auto-aficionado Stacey David – the Premium Black Twill material is actually quieter than a hard top.
  • MYTH – Soft tops leak. Again, not true! Over the years Bestop has perfected the engineering of a soft top, so you don’t have to stress over whether water will get on the inside of your vehicle.
  • MYTH – Folding up when rain suddenly comes takes too long. That’s even quicker. It’s a matter of flipping back the soft top from right inside your cab, then closing. Then latching.
  • MYTH – Soft tops are either on or off. There’s no middle ground. Bestop top models like the fastback Trektop or all-new Supertop Ultra (available this summer) can go ‘bikini-style’. This way, everyone sitting in the front soaks in some Vitamin D while the backseat passengers can stay nice and shaded.

 

  • MYTH – Soft tops are for only hard-core fans. Big misconception here. Soft tops are an everywhere, everyone thing. Mountains. Beaches. Urban jungles. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you go. It only matters that you wake up all five senses to the elements you let in.
  • MYTH – Covers don’t last. They get shredded. Maybe with older prototypes back in the 50’s, but it’s definitely no longer the case. Premium black twill lasts a good decade – maybe longer. In fact, it’s the same fabric that is used in high-end luxury cars and convertibles. And Bestop backs it up with a limited lifetime warranty.

 

You have all the answers – Now all that’s left is to go find one that’s right for you, and we know just the place. Bestop.com

Trail Prep 101

No matter if we’re prepping for a quick outing to our favorite local wheeling destination or gearing up for a cross-country adventure, our pre-trip ritual looks the same. While spending an hour or so going over our rig can sometimes seem tedious, it has saved us hours of potential headaches and money over the years. As is often the case, we rarely need to use our bag of tools, spare parts, and thankfully, our fire extinguisher. However, we’re sure the moment we leave any of the aforementioned items sitting in the garage, we’d need them!

While each vehicle is different, when it comes to off-roading, there’s a general checklist of items that every wheeler must have and things they should check over before heading to the trail. To help guide you on your next wheeling journey, we’ve put together a list of pre-trip rituals that have helped us over the years. In addition, we’ve added in a few tips and parts that have made our ‘wheeling adventures even easier.

4×4 Bolt Check

Going off-road puts significantly more stress on your 4×4’s components versus driving down the highway. This can equate to bolts working their way loose over time. An easy way to keep track of what’s happening under your vehicle is by breaking out your tool set and doing a bolt check. The first time you do this, it’s going to take you a couple of hours. However, here’s a tip to make life easier moving forward- paint mark your hardware. A simple paint mark will allow you to see if any of your components have come loose with just a quick glance. This can make trail repair and diagnosis exponentially faster and prevent it all together.

Fluids-Check, fill, stock

You probably learned to check your engine oil when you got your first car. However, that’s only a portion of the critical fluids used to keep your 4×4 running properly. If it takes fluid, check it. From your coolant to your differentials, a few minutes here will save you serious time and prevent failure. Also, if you frequently drop your 4×4 into mud and water, make sure you’re changing (or at the very least checking) your differential fluid frequently. As the lowest lubricated part on your vehicle, it can be easier for water to get in and wreak havoc on your differentials internals.

Tools

As you’re performing your bolt check, take note of the tools you used. This will be helpful when crafting a tool bag to carry with you. If your Jeep or 4×4 requires a special size socket or wrench, be sure you have it. Nothing is worse than having a spare part, but not being able to install it due to not having the correct tools.

First Aid Kit

Any time you mix heavy metal, nature, and man, there’s bound to be a scrape or two. Going off-road is more physical than many people realize. This is especially true for your spotter/co-pilot. Be sure to have a small first aid kit onboard for when then inevitable trail boo-boo happens.

Recovery Gear

At the very least, your rig should always have at least one properly weight-rated recovery strap and a set of removable shackles. If you have a winch, we recommend making a tree savor, winch weight, and snatch strap part of your recovery bag as well. A good pair of gloves will be an added bonus. Pro Tip- Make sure you or your co-pilot can access your recovery gear quickly. Often times on the trail, seconds count.

Hydration

Always pack plenty of water. It’s easy to lose track of time when you’re having fun on the trail, but dehydration off-road is a real problem. We like to use refillable water bottles and fill one or two with ice. A few trail snacks is great to have, but without question, water is what you want the most of.

Trail Table

After decades of wheeling, we’ve found one of the nicest things you can have on your 4×4 is a flat spot to work on. This will not only serve as an excellent place to work on your trail failures, but can double as a lunch bench. On our JK, we use the Bestop RoughRider Tailgate Shelf. We like that it simply bolts to the JK’s stock tailgate and folds out of the way when not in use. It’s easy to clean and extremely handy on the trail.

Fire Extinguisher

With any luck, you’ll never have to use a fire extinguisher. We’ve unfortunately had too many times and were thankful we had them. A simple extinguisher with an ABC rating from your local hardware store is cheap insurance. Yes, you can get more complex and expensive extinguisher systems, but we’ve had great luck with the type shown here over the years. We recommend having two. One mounted near you in the cockpit and another at the rear of the vehicle.

Air

The cheapest way you can make your 4×4 ride smoother and perform better off-road is by lowering the air pressure in your tires. However, you need a good plan for getting the air bag in whenever you are done. A small portable air compressor is money well spent. Be sure to get a proper air gauge that can read into the single digit range, and a valve core remover will make dropping pressure even faster.

Beyond the Basics

Think of this list as a starting point. Each vehicle and set of circumstances will be different. If you’re wheeling in the winter, always carry spare clothes and a warm blanket in case you have to sleep in your rig overnight. Going to be spending a lot of time with your Sunrider folded back? Of course, sun protection needs to be on your list. Before satellite trackers became so effective, having a map was one of the most important tools you could carry. In some regards, it still is (no dead batteries to worry about!).

Kane Creek Trail Review

Come along for the ride on Kane Creek during the Dynatrac/Bestop/Falken Bunny Run at Easter Jeep Safari 2019! This trail has become significantly more difficult in past years and now is rated a 7 out of 10 on the difficulty scale set by Red Rock 4 Wheelers who rate most of Moab’s trails.

Our Top East Coast Off Roading Destinations

The east coast of the United States all too often gets left out when it comes to bucket list places to wheel. Sure, Moab, Utah, is hard to measure up against, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end-all, be-all place to explore off-road. The biggest difference between east coast and west coast wheeling (aside from a little mud) is the abundance of government land. Out west, you’ll find tens of thousands of government protected acreage for you to explore.

Moving further east, it’s more limited. This is one of the reasons that privately owned off-road parks make up the majority of great wheeling for states near the Atlantic Ocean. Just like you’ll find out west, the off-road parks in the east can vary significantly in difficulty. Add in a good rain shower and the mud element will make things exponentially more challenging. With that being the case, we’ve put together a list of five of our favorite wheeling destinations that offer everything from basic overlanding backroads to hardcore rock crawling.

While this article focuses on the east coast, keep your eyes peeled for future articles for different regions of the country.

 

Uwharrie National Forest

Located an hour’s drive outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, is one of the most diverse outdoor recreation areas in the entire state. From camping, hiking, watersports, and of course, off-roading, Uwharrie National Forest has plenty to keep you busy. The trail system there ranges from easy to difficult, but most can be conquered on dry day with a mildly equipped Jeep Wrangler. The majority of the terrain is mix of rocky hillclimbs and the occasional steep ledge.
Add in a good rain shower however, and even your most basic trail can be challenging thanks to the clay surface layer. Be sure to stop by the Eldorado Outpost and pick up your pass and grab a map before you hit the park. The off-road trail portion of the park does close from December 15th to April 1st, so plan accordingly. Info: fs.usda.gov

Windrock Park

While Nashville may be Tennessee’s biggest draw, for outdoor enthusiasts, Windrock Park is the place to be. With 73,000 acres of usable land, Windrock Park has become a magnet for Jeepers, ATVs, and mountain bikers across the U.S. The 300 miles of trails include everything from a basic gravel road to extremely difficult boulder-filled path that will leave your 4×4 with some serious battle scars. As is the case with many of the places on our list, rain will elevate the difficulty significantly. We highly recommend the on-site cabins for a great place to stay and close proximity to the trails. Windrock also plays host to a variety of off-road events throughout the year, which is a great way for first timers to get a proper guided tour of the trails. While the park is open year-round, book early as camping spots can fill up fast. Info: windrockpark.com

Gulches ORV Park

For those located in South Carolina, wheeling doesn’t get any better than the Gulches ORV Park. Set just off the winding backroads of Waterloo, South Carolina, the 80 acre park is jam packed with trails. With over 40 trails on the property intermixing, it’s easy to bounce around from trail and obstacle quickly. There’s a good mix of large climbs and rock obstacles to mix your technical skills and throttle finesse. Give the location of the trails, it makes for a great place to spectate and wheel. Due to the soil type and location, the park can be closed during heavy rains. So, be sure to check the weather and give them a ring before you head that way. Info: gulchesorvpark.com

The Flats Offroad Park

Sitting conveniently right off of Interstate 40 in Marion, North Carolina, is one of the wildest and most enjoyable privately owned off-road parks in the east. It’s called the Flats Offroad Park and they have 70 acres of steep and challenging trails. From rock bouncers to bone stock Wranglers, you can find enough terrain to keep you entertained, no problem. Though you need to be a member to have year-round access, every few months the park opens its gates to all wheelers for an open ride. These four-day stretches are a great way to get acclimated to the park and look into what it takes to become a member. Info: Facebook.com/TheFlatsOffRoadPark/

Rausch Creek Off-Road Park

You can’t mention east coast wheeling without acknowledging one of the most notable wheeling destinations- Rausch Creek Off-Road Park. With over 3,000 acres of land in Pine Grove, Pennsylvania, Rausch offers little something for all skill types and 4×4 levels. There’s free on-site camping and a host of events to help those new to the park (and wheeling) get their bearings. Rockcrawling is the primary draw, but there’s much more to the park then just basic boulder driving. No matter what skill level, Rausch Creek has something to offer. Info: rc4x4.org

Bonus Area -Beasley Knob OHV Trails

If you align more with the overland crowd, then we highly recommend you check out the trails around Northern Georgia. Places such as Beasley Knob offer a great mix of scenic trail wheeling and off-road challenges along the way. This region of the state is also very popular with adventure bike enthusiasts, so you’ll see plenty along the way. Most of the trails will take you through the Chattahoochee National Forest. With the heavy tree coverage during a summer, it’s a great place to fold back the top and leave the doors at home. Info: fs.usda.gov 

The Best 4×4 Trails in Moab & Other Staff Picks

The very name Moab conjures up images of red rock cliffs, Jeeps, and adventure. The town is most famous for hosting Easter Jeep Safari, but there are 4×4 events in Moab nearly every week of the year from spring through fall. It is easy to see why, with plenty of lodging and camping options, great food, and more 4×4 trails than you could ever run in a week. This is true whether you are a novice off-roader in a stock 4×4, or a grizzled Jeeper in a heavily modified rig. We have been going to Moab for years and still have only scratched the surface on all of the trails in the area, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have opinions about which ones are best.

Moab is basically split into four quadrants, with the Colorado River running east-west and Highway 191 running north-south through town. The northeast quadrant is encompassed by Arches National Park, which is definitely worth a visit to for its breathtaking scenery and unique geologic formations. The northwest quadrant contains famous trails including Gold Bar Rim, Golden Spike, and Poison Spider Mesa, along with the more mellow Long Canyon and Gemini Bridges. The hardest trails in Moab can be found on the southwest side of town, and include Moab Rim, Cliffhanger, Behind the Rocks, and Pritchett Canyon. If those intimidate you don’t fear, White Rim, Chicken Corners, and Lockhart Canyon are also in this quadrant. The La Sal Mountains are to the southeast of Moab, and between town and the mountain range lie Hell’s Revenge, Fins N Things, Porcupine Rim, and Steel Bender.

Harry Wagner’s Picks

All-Time Favorite Trail – Hell’s Revenge

To me, Hell’s Revenge is the quintessential Moab trail. It has sandpaper traction, pucker-inducing ledges, beautiful scenery, and challenging obstacles. The fact that most of those obstacles, such as Hell’s Gate, the Escalator, and Mickey’s Hot Tub are option make this trail a great choice for a variety of vehicles and skill levels. Plus, it is super close to town at the Sand Flats Recreation Area (there is a fee, but it is modest) and can be run in a couple of hours. There isn’t much shade on this trail so our preference is to get an early start, run in to the overlook of the Colorado River at the top of Hell’s Gate, then run over to the hot tubs before checking out Escalator on our way out.

Most Overrated – Kane Creek

This trail is really popular, so hear me out. My gripe with Kane Creek is that for the most part it is a long dirt road with some cool water crossings. If that was all it was I would highly recommend it for less modified vehicles. The issue is that sixteen miles from town you encounter Hamburger Hill, which has ledges that are getting taller and more difficult every year. I feel that the rest of the trail is pretty boring in a built rig, but driving all the way out to tackle Hamburger Hill doesn’t make a lot of sense. You could just go to Potato Salad Hill behind the city dump and have a similar challenge without taking all day to do it.

On My Bucket List – Rusty Nail

I’ve run Gold Bar Rim to Golden Spike to Poison Spider once before, and that made for a long day. I would love to add in Rusty Nail in the future, although the photos I have seen of No Left Turn terrify me. I’ve done Cliffhanger plenty of times so I figure it cannot be much worse than that, but I would like to find out for myself. Rusty Nail is only 1.9 miles long and basically an optional harder trail off of Gold Bar Rim. Where Eagles Dar is a similar optional spur off of Golden Spike that I would like to add in at the same time. Guess I have a reason to go back to Moab again!

Favorite Place to Eat – Quesadilla Mobilla

There are a lot of great places in town to eat, but the popular locations like the brewery get packed during EJS. Currently my pick is actually a food truck located right in the center of town. Quesadilla Mobilla has amazing food at a reasonable price. Since it is a food truck all of the seating is outside, but you are in Moab so is that such a bad thing? The Enchanted Chicken is my favorite, but I haven’t tried anything there that I didn’t like. For breakfast the Love Muffin is my pick, but Eklectica and the Moab Garage are great options as well.

Favorite Place to Stay – Pack Creek Ranch

If I am camping I try to stay along the water, since dry camping for more than a few days can be tough. Hunter Canyon Campground on the way to Kane Creek is the most beautiful camp spot in my opinion and has lots of shade (a rarity around Moab) but it is small and fills up quickly. It is also kind of far from town, so I usually end up camping along the Colorado River east of Moab. There are several campgrounds in this area right on the water, but not a lot of shade so bring an EZ-Up or awning.

If I am getting lodging, Pack Creek Ranch at the base of the La Sals is my favorite. Again, it is a little far from town but being 2,000 feet higher in elevation than Moab it is typically cooler, and it only takes 15 minutes to get there from the south end of town. There is no cell service at Pack Creek Ranch, but I think that is part of the appeal too!

Cassie Hughes’ Picks (Bestop Marketing Specialist)

Favorite Trail – Pritchett Canyon

When it comes to picking my favorite trail in Moab it gets a bit challenging. Pritchett is a top one on my list, as it is challenging rock crawling that is continually changing each time I go. For example, During EJS 2018 the lines I took on Chewy Hill were nowhere near the lines I needed to take during our Fall trip that year in November. The downside of Pritchett is the exit… a very long bumpy ride out, with no obstacles or flat areas to really go fast. If I am looking for a beautiful yet fun ride, I can’t go wrong with Moab rim. I usually try and hit this around sunset for some stunning views and fun wheeling.

Most Overrated – Top of the World

Top of the World hands down for me. I’ve done this trail twice and that is enough for me! With the trail head north of town, it takes some time to get to. It is also a very long and bumpy trail, with no difficult rock crawling or obstacles. The view at the top is always breathtaking, but not worth the trek up or down if you have already run the trail once.

On My Bucket List – Kane Creek

I don’t really have a trail left that I would consider “bucket list” in Moab. However, I would like to run Kane Creek again with far less than 50 Jeeps! It was a longer trail but kept your interest between steep drops, water crossings, and a few boulder climbs. This trail with a smaller group would be a great time, especially after a few rain storms!

Favorite Place to Eat – Pasta Jay’s

My favorite in Moab is Pasta Jay’s – hands down. Let’s be honest, who doesn’t love some good pasta? The wide variety on the menu fits perfect for anyone in your group, and it tastes amazing! Peace Tree Café is also a great option for breakfast/Lunch or even a quick stop for a smoothie.

Favorite Place to Stay – Depends

My favorite place to stay really depends on what I am doing in Moab. If I am working all week for EJS, a condo in town is ideal. You can walk to most of the restaurants as sometimes parking is a nightmare, also being able to shower all week is nice then having to interact with customers and coworkers J If I am heading out with a smaller group of friends, camping at Kane Creek is amazing. Plenty of trees for shade, close to some good trails and the best part – zero cell service! When we go with larger groups, we rent a house on the outside of town that has plenty of parking and places to sleep.

Lee Loughery’s Picks (Bestop Marketing Specialist)

Favorite Trail – Trifecta

When it comes to picking my favorite trail in Moab it gets a bit challenging. Pritchett is a top one on my list, as it is challenging rock crawling that is continually changing each time I go. For example, During EJS 2018 the lines I took on Chewy Hill were nowhere near the lines I needed to take during our Fall trip that year in November. The downside of Pritchett is the exit… a very long bumpy ride out, with no obstacles or flat areas to really go fast. If I am looking for a beautiful yet fun ride, I can’t go wrong with Moab rim. I usually try and hit this around sunset for some stunning views and fun wheeling.

Most Overrated – Hell’s Revenge

Is it sacrilegious to list Hells Revenge here? It’s just flat out too popular and heavily trafficked.

On My Bucket List – Flat Iron Mesa

I had electrical issues and had to bail out halfway through Flat Iron Mesa once. I need to return to finish the trail.

Favorite Place to Eat – Zax

Peace Tree for breakfast/lunch, Zax for dinner.

Favorite Place to Stay – Condo

While camping there is beautiful, several full days of wheeling earns one a proper bed. Condos are the way to go in Moab.

Jeeps & Backcountry: Ten Must Have Trail Items

The greatest thing about driving a Jeep isn’t just the ability to go anywhere, but the freedom of knowing that you can go anywhere, even if you are just on your way to work. The bad part about owning a Jeep? While those narrow dimensions make Wranglers perfectly suited for tight, technical trails, they also make it a challenge to pack everything you need inside your Jeep for longer trips into the backcountry, or even for just daily driving. While care should be taken to only bring what is necessary on longer trips and packing heavy items securely and low inside the vehicle, there are some items that you should have with you at all times. These items don’t take up much space and fortunately they won’t break the bank either. These are our Top Ten items to have in your Jeep at all times. None of them cost over $100, and several of them are under $20, so you have no excuse not to have these items with you at all times. Be prepared for adventure, wherever you may find it.

10) Insect Repellent

Getting outside means being exposed to the elements, and in many environments that includes bugs. Some are harmless, some are annoying, and some want to suck your blood. Literally. Insect repellent will keep them at bay. We like the natural kind since it doesn’t feel as greasy on our skin, but sometimes when the ‘skeeters are really thick there is no replacement for a healthy dose of DEET.

9) Zip Ties

GZip ties (or cable ties) are one of the least expensive items on this list, yet they serve so many purposes. They can be used to secure sway bar end links out of harm’s way, keep a radiator hose out of the fan, or bundle wires together. You can even put one on your friend’s driveshaft as a prank if you want to drive them nuts on the trail. We like to carry extra-long zip ties and just cut them to length, rather than having multiple sizes to keep track of. Be careful when you cut the extra material off though, if you don’t cut them flush the pointy end can be razor sharp.

8) Multitool

Multitools don’t take the place of a full bag of tools, but they don’t take up nearly as much room or cost as much. One of our favorites is the Leatherman Crunch, which has a built in set of locking pliers that are perfect for loosening a rounded bolt or pinching off a broken brake line. The Crunch costs a little over $100, but there are plenty of other multitool options out there from Leatherman, Gerber, and more than can be purchased for as little as $25.

7) Ratchet Straps

Ratchet straps are a great way to secure your gear and ensure that it stays put, even when travelling over rough roads. These straps have other uses as well though. Need to move an axle back into position after fixing a broken track bar? Want to keep the suspension from fully articulating when changing a flat tire? Ratchet straps can be used for these tasks and more.

6) Headlamp

Headlamps are a great at providing light at night while allowing your hands to remain free for tasks such as setting up camp or turning wrenches. We put ours around the rear-view mirror of our Jeep where it doubles as a dome light. Just remember not to blind your friends when you look at them with your headlamp on.

5) Gloves

A pair of heavy leather gloves come in handy for everything from dragging parts home from the wrecking yard to working in a hot engine bay. They are also particularly useful when stacking rocks, whether for your own vehicle or for a friend. Keeping a set in the door is a good first step, but you also have to remember to put them on before you bust your knuckles, not afterwards.

4) Tire Gauge

Many of those situations where you get in over your head can be remedied by lowering the air pressure in your tires. This creates a wider contact patch, effectively allowing your rig to “float” and providing more traction through increased rubber on the ground. There are a variety of air gauges and deflation tools on the market to fit any price point, and most are small enough to easily fit in the glove box. And even on the road, proper air pressure is critical to maximizing fuel mileage and ensuring your tires don’t overheat to the point of failure.

3) Sunscreen

Toss some sunscreen in the glove box, it doesn’t take up much room. We like to put ours in a Ziploc bag just in case it explodes as we gain altitude. You don’t want to regret a fun day in the sun, so remember to apply sunscreen in the morning prior to hitting the trail. If you have kids with you, make sure to protect their sensitive skin as well.

2) Wet Wipes/Toilet Paper

Wet wipes, baby wipes, call them what you want. We keep the 99 cent packages in the door of our rig to clean our hands after wrenching, wipe off kids’ faces after eating marshmallows around the camp fire, or to clean up before preparing meals. The small packages tend to dry out over time, but they are inexpensive enough that we just replace them on a regular basis.

Toilet paper has one very obvious use that comes in handy in the backcountry, but several other less apparent uses as well. Whether it is blowing the dust out of your nose or using dry paper as a fire starter, we always find a use for TP. We like to carry small tissue packages in the door of our rig since they take up less space than a full roll of toilet paper.

1) Water

Modern rigs have so many cup holders in them that it is almost become comical. Stuff those cup holders with water bottles to ensure that you always have water on the trail. Whether you are thirsty or your radiator needs to be topped off, you will never be without water. For longer trips when you bring an ice chest, freeze the water bottles ahead of time so they provide ice for the cooler and can be used for drinking as they melt.

Overlanding in a Soft Top with the Wrangler JK

Overlanding is all the rage, and it is easy to see why.

For the uninitiated, “overlanding” is vehicle-supported exploration that can span from a weekend to several weeks.  The goal isn’t to conquer the most challenging terrain, the point is to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and unplug.  Standard thinking is that you need a hard top and a rack complete with a roof top tent to go overlanding, but we are here to challenge that convention.  There are many times a soft top is actually more advantageous when out exploring.

One of the biggest advantages to overlanding in a soft top is access to all of your gear.

Rather than have to climb over seats or piles of gear to access what you need, a soft top gives you easy access to all of your equipment. This is particularly useful in our long wheelbase, two door Jeep that doesn’t benefit from a second set of doors. With the rear seats removed we have plenty of room for gear to support two people for a week or more, and with a soft top we can easily reach all of that equipment. Just zip out the side windows and reach over the tub to access everything from freezer fridges and cooking utensils to recovery equipment and camping gear. Bestop windows feature top of the line YKK scoop count zippers for easy removal or installation along with extended surface heat-sealing for strength and protection from climate extremes.

You may not need a heavy roof rack.

Storing your gear under your soft top keeps it protected from the elements, reduces wind drag for improved mileage, and lowers your center of gravity for better maneuvering at speed. And a soft top is lighter than a hard top, which provides its own benefits with regards to fuel economy and handling. Not convinced that you can travel that light with the entire family? Bestop has teamed up with fellow Colorado-based outfitter Rhino Rack on a roof rack for the JK Wrangler equipped with Bestop Sunrider for Hardtop for those who want to pack their cake and eat it too.

Of course, we aren’t talking about the ill-fitting, flapping soft tops of old.

Bestop’s latest generation of soft tops use components like premium 28-ounce multi-layer fabric that is durable to withstand branches as you explore that narrow trail and won’t ever rip thanks to the 135-gauge polyester industrial thread. Bestop’s modern rails don’t require any snaps and their tops utilize self-tensioning bows to resist flapping in the wind, even at freeway speeds. Today it is easy to carry on a conversation, and even talk on the phone, in a Jeep equipped with a soft top. Optional tinted windows keep your possessions discreetly hidden from view and help keep the interior of your Jeep cool when parked in direct sunlight.

Of course, the biggest benefit of a soft top on your Jeep is not unique to the overlanding world; it is the ability to have the wind blow through your hair while you drive down the road, no matter whether it is paved or not. There are many vehicles that make great overlanding platforms, but only the Jeep Wrangler has a removable top that allows your senses to experience the site, smell, and feel that nature has to offer. Just zip out the windows, grab a map, and leave your worries, and your hard top, behind.

Michael Ray x Bestop Project Complete

With the help of Music City 4×4 in Nashville, Bestop Premium Accessories Group transformed Michael’s 2011 JK into a ride that’s more than worthy of cruising down country roads. Equipped with a Trektop Pro, Core Doors, Baja Designs lighting and PRP seat covers – this rig is guaranteed to turn heads.

Rubicon Trail 101

Every off-roader who has ever shifted into low range has either made the trek to the Rubicon Trail or has it on their bucket list. It is like mecca, and for good reason. Not only is the Rubicon a challenge to man and machine, it also boasts incredible beauty and remoteness. These are the qualities that inspired the staff of Roco 4×4 to come all the way from Florida to California for RAW in 2019. RAW is shorthand for Roco Adventure Week, an annual event organized by Roco 4×4 for their customers and suppliers. Each year they go somewhere different; very different. We aren’t talking about various mud parks in Florida. Last year it was Honduras. Next year is Morocco. But this year they started in Las Vegas and went through Death Valley and up the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Range in route to the Rubicon Trail.

Vehicle Preparation

All of the Jeep’s on RAW had front and rear lockers and at least 37-inch tall tires. As a result, they all made it through the trail in two days without a single mechanical issue. The trail was run over 60 years ago though by flatfenders with tiny tires. While the condition has degraded since then, you don’t necessarily need 37s and lockers to run the Rubicon. Having a more capable vehicle will allow you to complete the trail more quickly and comfortably. We recommend 33-inch tall tires and a rear locking differential as a minimum to enjoy yourself on the trail and not be fighting for every inch of ground gained. And you will definitely want front and rear recovery points and a strap no matter how built your rig is. Note that the less capable your vehicle is, the more time you will need to complete the trail and the more likely you will break something and need to repair it.

Having the right equipment with you is critical. We carry a full assortment of tools including sockets and ratchets, wrenches, screwdrivers, vise grips, and files. Still, our hammer and our multimeter are probably the tools that seem to get used the most on the trail. Fluids ranging from engine oil to gear oil to brake fluid are handy to have along. If we have experienced a failure in the past, whether it is a fan belt or a crank position sensor, we carry a spare of that part. We also have bailing wire, duct tape, ratchet straps, electrical tape, fuses, and epoxy with us. These items are relatively light and take up minimal space. We don’t carry spare axle shafts or third members, although we know people who do. There has to be an upper limit to how much room you have and how much extra weight you want to add to your vehicle.

What to Bring

There are no gas stations or grocery stores on the Rubicon, you must be completely self-sufficient for the entire time that you plan to be on the trail. There also is no cell reception, so plan on going dark from social media and only communicating with the outside world via ham radio. Just getting to the trailhead is a journey, either through historic Georgetown or up the treacherous Ice House Road. Both routes will consume a generous amount of fuel before you even shift into low range, so bring plenty of gasoline.

Similarly, bring all of the food and camping gear you will need to be comfortable in everything from triple digit temperatures to below freezing. The weather was perfect during RAW, but just two days later it was snowing on the Rubicon! For food, remove all excess packaging at home so you don’t have to carry it around, and remember you will always need to pack out whatever you pack in. We avoid plastic water bottles for large jugs of water and just refill our canteen for the same reason. we just need to heat up meals with little clean up in camp. We like to do food prep ahead of time and keep things simple. This gives us more time to relax around the campfire with friends.

Speaking of campfires, there are often restrictions during the dry summer months, so check ahead of time to determine if camp fires are permitted. If they are allowed you will still need a fire permit, which is available for free online at http://www.preventwildfireca.org/Campfire-Permit/.

For camping, you will want a tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad at a minimum. Make sure and set your tent up at home ahead of time so you know how it works rather than fumbling with it in the dark. We find a headlamp vital on the trail at night, even if you can set up your tent with your eyes close. We keep all of our camp gear together in one dry bag. This makes it easy to find in our Jeep and keeps the dust off our gear.

Loon Lake to Little Sluice

The Rubicon is 19 miles long and traditionally run west to east. During RAW the Rubicon was run in this direction from Loon Lake to Lake Tahoe. Towing your rig to the trail is an option, but it is discouraged since you will have to exit the same way you come in and towing up Ice House Road is a challenge to both vehicle and driver. Also, the trail is patrolled by the Eldorado County Sheriff, so your vehicle needs to be street legal and registered, or have a California green sticker. After leaving Loon Lake you wind through the trees and reach the Gatekeeper. This obstacle was modified years ago to make it easier, but can still pose a challenge. If you struggle on the Gatekeeper, consider whether you really want to continue on to the rest of the Rubicon Trail.

From there the trail opens up in the Granite Bowl, offering spectacular views in every direction. The trail can be difficult to follow through here, particularly at night, but look for the reflective road markers to ensure that you are in the right place. The Rubicon Trail is under incredibly scrutiny and always at risk of closure, so it is important that everyone who visits stays on the trail and minimizes their impact. After the slabs the trail crosses Ellis Creek and meets up with the road to Wentworth Springs, an alternate entrance to the Rubicon. There are some great camping spots and even an outhouse in this area, it it is getting late in the day. Continuing on you climb Walker Hill before passing the optional Soup Bowl obstacle. Even if you aren’t interested in climbing up the Soup Bowl, there are typically buggies here putting on a show. Just after the Soup Bowl is one of the nicest camping spots on the trail on the left-hand side, with room for half a dozen vehicles. Shortly after that is the Little Sluice and Spider Lake.

Little Sluice to Buck Island Reservoir

The Little Sluice used to be the most difficult part of the trail, passable only by purpose-built rock buggies. These days it is still a challenge, but it is no longer the crux of the Rubicon Trail. Spider Lake is located just south of the Little Sluice and is a great place to relax and go for a swim. The water is relatively shallow, and as a result warmer than other bodies of water on the Rubicon. Note that much of Spider Lake is on private property, it can be accessed from just above Little Sluice but respect all posted signs.

The trail levels out beyond Little Sluice, but still offers plenty of challenges. As Buck Island Reservoir comes into view below the trail splits in two. Going right takes you down Old Sluice, which is one of the most difficult parts of the trail. It is extremely tight and the bottom of this section is pocked with huge rocks and equally huge holes. Going to the left takes you down the Indian Trail, which is a series of off-camber slabs that are a quicker way to reach Buck Island Reservoir.

Buck Island Reservoir to Rubicon Springs

During RAW the group from Roco 4×4 camped at Buck Island for the night. It took six hours to reach Buck from Loon Lake, but that was during a weekday with minimal traffic. Buck Island is the half way point of the trail, and makes an excellent place to camp for the night. Note that on crowded weekends in the summer this can become a part spot, with music and rev limiters blaring well into the night. The rest of the time Buck Island is very peaceful, with flat camping spots, outhouses, and chilly water to knock off the dust. There are several obstacles just past Buck Island Reservoir that are very challenging due to the smooth, polished granite and abundance of dust that makes traction hard to come by. If you are just starting for the day it is easy to get overwhelmed, so make sure your head is in the right place and focus on the trail.

Leaving Buck behind, the trail drops to the Big Sluice, arguably the most difficult section of the trail. Going down makes things easier since gravity is on your side, but it is still a challenge. A tree located smack in the middle of the trail is flanked on each side by rocks half way down the hill. The right line is easier, but too narrow for full-width vehicles. The left line requires a you to back up to snake around a huge boulder, but is a better choice for longer, larger vehicles. After the tree things don’t get any easier. The bottom of Big Sluice has a 90-degree right-hand turn that is full of huge, loose boulders. After that things get easier as you cross the iconic bridge to Rubicon Springs.

Rubicon Springs to Lake Tahoe

Rubicon Springs is on private property and must be respected as such. There are several buildings and structures on the property, including a helipad, stage, bar, and a cabin where the caretaker lives. There are numerous camp spots at the springs, and hundreds of Jeeps can be found camping here during Jeep Jamboree and Jeepers Jamboree. The prime campsites are right along the water where you can swim and relax on a hot summer day.

From the Springs you must climb Cadillac Hill to reach Lake Tahoe. The hill is named for a car (actually a La Salle, not a Cadillac) that rolled decades ago. The remains are scarce, but with a keen eye you can still find them part way up the hill. This is not the most difficult part of the trail, but it is the tightest and contains several off-camber sections and narrow trees that make passing difficult. During RAW we encountered traffic on the hardest part of Cadillac Hill, taking nearly an hour for the group of ten Jeeps to work their way past four Toyotas headed in for the Marlin Crawler Roundup.

Cresting Cadillac Hill takes you to the Observation Point, which is a great place to take a group photo with the trail in the background. This is also a great place to celebrate, which is exactly what the crew from Roco 4×4 did. From here it is another seven miles of bumpy, rocky road, but no real challenges compared to what you just conquered. Once back to pavement you can air up and unlock the hubs. The closest fuel is six miles north on Highway 89 in Tahoe City. The Bridgetender Grill in Tahoe City is a great place to enjoy a hot meal, bask in your accomplishment, and reacclimatize to society. And also to start planning you next trip back to the Rubicon for more rock crawling and camping.