You have locking differentials and low gearing. You have gobs of suspension articulation, more armor than an M1 Abrams, and run beadlocks so that you can lower your tire pressure to single digits. But as you start to run harder and harder trails, maybe you have thought about getting rid of your Jeep for a rock buggy. We are here to tell you, in no uncertain terms, that it is not necessary-or even advisable. You don't have to give up your heater, sealed interior, or street-legality in order to run the really hard trails. Here are some tips to take your Jeep to the next level, but don't blame us if some sheetmetal gets damaged in the process.
For years, conventional wisdom told us that shorter wheelbases are better because of their maneuverability. But as rockcrawling obstacles became progressively taller, the short wheelbases were at a disadvantage. Starting with a small Jeep and stretching the wheelbase for better climbing ability, along with improved approach and departure angles, gives you the best of both worlds.
The steering box limits how far you can move the front axle forward, while the fuel tank limits moving the rear axle aft, but fortunately the aftermarket has addressed both of these issues. GenRight Off Road and Blue Torch Fab are just two of the companies that offer stretch kits for CJs, YJs, and TJs.
The downside to a stretched wheelbase is that it results in a degraded breakover angle. The best way to counter this is to clock the transfer case so that it fits up between the framerails, although this might require sheetmetal modifications or a body lift. Teraflex and AEV both make skidplates for several model Jeeps that are completely flat and span all the way across the framerails to slide over obstacles.
One of the best things that competition rockcrawling has given us is "sticky" tires. Like a drag slick, these tires are single-purpose and aren't intended for daily driving. BFGoodrich and Maxxis both make competition rockcrawling tires, but don't offer them to the general public. Interco is the only company you can purchase these from, in either 37-inchTrXus MTs or 42-inch IROKs. Be warned though, the added traction can take its toll on axleshafts and drivetrain components.
While the NVG241 Rock-Trac transfer case in the Rubicon offers a six-pinion planetary, wider chain, and an excellent 4:1 low range, the one thing that it lacks is the ability to power just the front wheels. The older Dana 300 transfer case could be modified to provide this ability just like the aftermarket T-cases such as Advance Adapters' Atlas II or the STaK transfer cases. The ability to "front dig" allows more maneuverability on tight trails and can help counteract longer wheelbases but you'd better make sure your front axleshafts and U-joints are up to the task. Cutting brakes can even be added to each rear wheel for even tighter turning.
Water the Tires
Adding water or lead shot to your front tires can make the difference between scaling a dry waterfall or going over backwards. The extra weight improves traction and lowers your Jeep's center of gravity. Unfortunately, it also limits the speed your Jeep can safely travel to under 25 mph and can wreak havoc on front axleshafts if they are not strong enough to handle the added stress.
If you are a loyal Jp reader, you have likely seen us stuff 35-inch tires, and even 40s on Jeeps with no suspension lift. Keeping your Jeep lower provides better off-camber ability and lowers your center of gravity. AEV and GenRight are just two of the companies that have designed kits offering larger fender openings that allow you to run larger tires without lifting the suspension or body.
Even with a low stance, soft suspensions can unload on steep climbs and cause your Jeep to go over backwards when the axle and suspension move away from the chassis. Attaching your winch line to a D-ring on the front axle and compressing the front suspension can help keep this from occurring. Don't suck down the front suspension all the time though, as it negates much of the travel of your suspension.
Less weight makes for improved performance, greater visibility, and is easier on parts. Leave your doors, windshield frame, and spare tire in camp and your Jeep will perform better on the trail. Plus, it is free! For even less weight, take only the essential spare parts and tools and split up necessary items amongst the vehicles within your group.
Another free suggestion, and the one that is by far the most fun, is to spend more seat time in your Jeep. Nothing else will make it perform better on the trail than this. Knowing exactly where your front fender is, if your diff can clear that rock, and how sharp you can turn are just a few of the things that you should be mindful of each time you hit the trail.