Project Backcountry Access


Above, our project Jeep doing some family-friendly wheeling in Hatcher Pass, Alaska.


Why a Jeep Wrangler?

John Muir pretty much said it best when he opined, “I’d rather be in the mountains thinking of God, than in church thinking about the mountains.” Finding time to get into the mountains is the trick, especially for those of us with day jobs, friends, families and the other myriad commitments of a full life. And while Gearflogger is and will continue to be focused on human-powered backcountry adventure, we recognized the need for an efficient, reliable and safe way to get there in the first place. Hence, Project Backcountry Access.

So last year there was no question Gearflogger needed to go motorized to make the most of our time outside. The question was, on what platform? We wanted top-shelf offroad performance plus reliability and livability since it would be a daily driver. It wouldn’t hurt for it to have high resale value in case we decided to switch horses at a later date. After considering the Toyota Tacoma and Land Cruiser, various flavors of Land Rover, and other Jeep models such as old Cherokee XJs and newer Grand Cherokees, we settled on the Jeep Wrangler. Any of other choices would have been fine, but the Wrangler just seemed to turn up the best value, even at the inflated used prices we were looking at. So last Fall we bought a used Jeep Wrangler JK, and then spent the winter bleeding cash – and occasionally actual blood – wrenching on it. Jeeps are endlessly customizable, and below we share with you some of our choices and the thinking behind them.

As you gear up your Jeep, you will not be alone. Beyond the capability and value, Jeep Wranglers have an unmatched level of aftermarket support. Parts and advice are ridiculously prevalent, and because being a Jeep Wrangler owner is all about community be prepared to spend hours talking to complete strangers about everything Jeep. Learn and use the Jeep Wave. Think about timing your next mountain bike trip to Moab to coincide with the Easter Jeep Safari. Read and get inspired by other blogs like The Road Chose Me and Jeepsies and of course the invaluable boards at JK ForumJeep Forum and Wrangler Forum

And with that, we proudly add a new tag to our reviews: Jeep. So read on, gear up and above all: Get Out!

Choosing a Jeep Wrangler: Rubicon Versus Sport

OK, let’s just state up front that the trim on this Jeep – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Edition – comes with extra cheese. It’s a marketing tie-in to a video game that we’ve never played and never will. However! It was the only used Wrangler Rubicon we could find at a decent price ($33K with 36K miles), likely because even the dealer – a small rural one in this case – didn’t know it was a Rubicon, since unlike every other Rubicon the COD doesn’t splash the label across the hood. A second mark against it was the color: black on black, not in our top three or even five colors. But again, the price. Wranglers hold their value stupidly well, and even with the advent of a brand-new Wrangler this Fall we figured we could get more for less. Also there are some fun plays on the name: Mall of Duty, Call of Booty, you get the idea.

So what did we end up with? The Rubicon is the top trim in the Wrangler lineup, and standard Rubi upgrades include:

  • Bigger tires (32 inch)
  • Dana 44 front axle
  • 4.10 axle gearing plus 4 to 1 transfer case for a 73.1 to 1 crawl ratio
  • front and rear locking differentials
  • Electronic front stabilizer bar disconnect
  • Rock rails (frame mounted, but still…)

Dan Edmunds has a great comparison of the math for buying a Rubicon versus Sport Wrangler. Basically it comes down to how much you want to modify your Jeep. If it’s a lot, even on the Rubicon, get a Sport and save money on expensive components you’re going to swap out anyway. If it’s more modest mods you have in mind – outside of the lift, winch, etc. you’ll have to buy no matter what – get the Rubi. Since we wanted more of an overlanding setup that emphasizes reliability and moderate offroad capability (keeping in mind “moderate” in a Rubicon is “excessive” for just about anything else) over, say, mudding and rock crawling. Oh, and did we mention this will be a daily driver that the five-foot-nothin’ SheFlogger and 6-year-old LittleFlogger will be riding in?

Call of Duty MW3 Edition Extras

The COD: MW3 Edition adds some accessories from high-end aftermarket company American Expedition Vehicles. These were annoyingly inferior to the ones you can buy yourself from AEV, presumably because they had to cut corners for mass production (i.e. profit):

  • AEV front and rear bumpers, but with no winch mounting plates or bull bar
  • AEV hood, but with no heat reduction or snorkel cutout
  • AEV steel front skid plate

In addition, our Jeep had pretty much all the comfort and convenience options, including the fancier navigation system with the big screen – great for the aftermarket rear-view camera we had to install since the Wrangler lacks a factory option; a factory autostart; heated side mirrors and front seats; and a 2-inch hitch receiver with a 4-pin trailer towing system.

All in all, these are worth somewhere in the neighborhood of an extra $2,500 for the AEV mods and a little less than that for the factory options. Call it $4K minimum, so it’s COD for us.

The Winter of Wrenching: Essential Mods

We bought the Jeep in late October 2016, just about the time the first snow hit the ground in Southcentral Alaska. In between daily driving duty alongside the SheFlogger’s 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland (bumper sticker: my other Jeep is a Wrangler!), much wrenching was done, assisted by much lubrication: Midnight Sun Pleasure Town IPA for us, and lithium grease, loctite and WD40 for the Jeep. The essential mods in our mind are also not coincidentally the most expensive:

  • Tires. The most beastly offroad vehicle is absolutely nothing without the right shoes. If you only do one thing to your vehicle it should be good tires. We chose BF Goodrich All Terrain T/A KO2 tires in 33 inch size. About $1,500 installed.
  • Lift. We went with a smaller two inch Mopar lift – actual lift closer to three inches, but who’s measuring? – which should be enough to clear 35 inch tires in case we want to go a little bigger in the future. About $2,100 installed.
  • Winch. Because Jeep and AEV skimped on the front bumper we had to purchase the winch mounting plates – about $300 – plus the winch itself. We went with the Quadratec Stealth Q9500is with Dyneema synthetic rope. Drop another $500.

So for in the neighborhood of $4,400 we were good to go, after gearing up appropriately of course. Hey, we’re still under $40K right? At least until…

The Complete List of Modifications

The beauty of a Jeep Wrangler is the endless ability to customize it exactly to your liking and objectives. Companies like Quadratec and Extreme Terrain will happily send you a multi-hundred page catalog of Jeep porn for your bathroom reading collection. We’ve divided our Jeep gear reviews into the categories below, or just click here to see all reviews with the Jeep tag.

Wheels, tires and suspension



 Hi-Lift jack and accessories







Note to readers: As of November 1, 2022, Gearflogger no longer participates in affiliate programs or accepts commissions on links to products. We’ll find some other way to make money. Maybe get a real job. Maybe not.