So you’ve got a Jeep Wrangler and you want to start an overland build. Overlanding is an incredible lifestyle, but there are some significant considerations, unique to Jeepers, that should be taken into account when building out a Jeep Wrangler for this purpose.
I live the overlanding life on the daily. I’ve done the research and hope you’ll take the time to read this. Hopefully I can save you some heartache and some coin in the process.
You should know this is a Jeep-specific article. If you’re looking for general information and my thoughts on overlanding, consider checking out these other articles I’ve written:
- What is Overlanding?
- How to Choose an Overlanding Roof Top Tent Setup
- Overlanding Resources Newbies Will Love
- Best Campground and Campsite Apps for 2019
There are more articles if you poke around my site. But for those considering overlanding in a Jeep Wrangler, the rest of this article is specifically for you.
Note: this article is specific to the JK, JKU, JL, and JLU models. If you’re building a Jeep Wrangler JT (Gladiator), then this article may have some points of interest for you, but some of it will not apply.
Assessing the Obstacles
We all know the Jeep Wrangler is a remarkably capable off-road vehicle with an incredible history.
But the Jeep Wrangler wasn’t designed with overlanding in mind.
The three main drawbacks for the Jeep Wrangler platform are:
- Payload capacity
- Cargo space
- Fuel economy
A friend of mine on one of the forums I frequent summed it up best when he said, “The Jeep Wrangler is one of the most capable vehicles (if not the most capable) ever built that can take almost nothing anywhere.”
He was right.
Though the Jeep Wrangler can take you pretty much anywhere you want to go, the payload capacity (how much weight you can carry), cargo capacity, and fuel economy are the most significant limiting factors for using this platform as an overlanding vehicle–by comparison to other options out there.
The good news is the Jeep Wrangler is the most modifiable vehicle on the planet. This is a game changer. Why? Because if you’re intentional about your Jeep Wrangler overlanding build, then you can have an incredible platform that’s superior in capability to most others.
Simply put, with careful thought and consideration, a Jeep Wrangler can arguably be the most capable platform on the planet for an epic overlanding adventure. (All the Toyota guys are rolling their eyes right now.)
The best way to start, when considering a Jeep Wrangler overlanding build, is to address the drawbacks I mentioned above. You need to figure out how to get past them effectively, economically, and efficiently as you build out your Jeep.
So let’s get started.
Obstacle #1: Payload Capacity
What is the payload capacity of the Jeep?
In a word: subpar.
If you are really new to vehicles in general, “payload capacity” refers to how much weight your vehicle can carry–including passengers and cargo.
More technically, it is a calculation of the maximum payload, which equates to the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) minus the vehicle’s curb weight.
Depending on the year, model, and trim of your Jeep Wrangler, your payload capacity might be anywhere from an abysmal 800 pounds to an almost respectable 1310 pounds. You’ll have to check on your own individual model, as I can’t cover them all here.
But as an example, the payload capacity of our 2014 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon is 1179 pounds. This means EVERYTHING we’re carrying, including passengers, extra water, gear, tools, recovery equipment…literally everything…cannot exceed 1179 pounds.
To put this in perspective, a 2014 Toyota Forerunner has a payload capacity ranging from 1495 to 1700 pounds! At its base capacity, a Forerunner would give us 316 more pounds to play with. On the high end of that spectrum, we would have a whopping 516 pounds more.
But personally, I’d rather have the capability and modifiability of my Jeep. For those so inclined, you have the option to tow an off-road trailer. Many Jeep overlanders do. So the Jeep platform versus any other platform is a trade-off, depending on what you want to be able to do.
The question that begs to be asked is: Can I increase the payload capacity of my vehicle?
The short answer is no.
There are some who will argue this response. But the truth is you can’t really increase payload capacity in a vehicle, without potential problems and significantly dangerous issues. You should plan your Jeep Wrangler overlanding build around the payload capacity your specific vehicle is rated for.
The good news is that it is possible to have a really nice Jeep overlanding build with all the gear you need to have, and to do it well, as long as you plan accordingly.
You have options.
The tips I’ll provide in the rest of this article will assist you in making the right decision the first time.
Jeep Overlanding Build Tip #1: If you’re purchasing a Jeep with an overlanding build in mind, then consider getting the highest payload capacity Jeep you can get, and make sure it has a towing package. These two things are more important than the color of the paint. Even if you aren’t planning on towing a trailer now, you may change your mind in the future. So again, consider the payload and towing package when making your purchase.
Obstacle #2: Cargo Space
I joked about the cargo space of a Jeep Wrangler in my tongue-in-cheek article, Buying a Jeep Wrangler: Should I Do It?
But the reality is cargo space in a Jeep is significantly lacking.
This is where we really get into the protips for building out a Jeep Wrangler for overlanding.
We’ve established that payload capacity and cargo are two main drawbacks to overlanding in a Jeep. So how do we make it work?
The simple answer to the problem of payload capacity and cargo space is backpacking gear.
Think about it.
Backpackers are an extremely hardcore subset of the outdoor community, much more so than us Jeepers. These trailblazers literally carry everything on their backs up trails we couldn’t even dream about traveling in our Jeeps. Their payload capacity is dependent upon their strength and their cargo capacity is at an absolute minimum, yet they need to pack in (and out) everything they need for their adventure.
This means their gear has to be:
- Very lightweight
- Extremely compact
- Exceptionally durable
This revelation is a game changer for Jeepers.
When you really think about it, backpackers would laugh at the “problems” we Jeepers have with our overlanding setup. Can you imagine if a backpacker could carry 1179 pounds worth of gear?
When you really think about it, we have a ton of room by comparison to our backpacking counterparts, and we can carry much more in weight than they can.
So why not build out your overlanding arsenal using their gear? Makes sense, right?
Now I will say that because of the high quality, light weight, and smaller footprint of backpacking gear, it is expensive stuff. But if you’ve read any of my articles, you know that I have a “Buy once, cry once” philosophy when it comes to gear.
Don’t skimp when you’re making your choices on gear.
At the end of the day, you want your gear to last; you want it to take up as little space as possible in your rig; and you want the weight of your gear to be as light as possible because of payload restrictions.
Backpacking gear is the magic bullet, the solution to our first two major issues as Jeep overlanders.
Jeep Overlanding Build Tip #2: When it comes to overlanding gear you’re adding to your arsenal, only buy backpacking gear. Not camping gear. There is a difference. Use what you can with what you have when you’re getting started. But as you replace items or purchase new ones, opt for backpacking gear. It will save you space and weight.
This leaves us with one more obstacle, and that is fuel economy.
Obstacle #3: Fuel Economy
Regardless of how much fuel your Jeep can hold, all Jeep gas mileage sucks.
It is a fact.
The good news is this drawback can be mitigated, as well.
Though I haven’t mentioned any specific gear anywhere in this article, I will make one exception here.
I’m a huge fan of the Titan Fuel Tanks Trail Trekker II external fuel tank. It holds 12 gallons of extra fuel on a grounded tank that attaches to the tailgate.
It has been a game changer for us.
What this means in simple terms is I can go from an empty tank of fuel to over a half tank of fuel in six minutes, using this Jeep modification.
Now you don’t have to use the Trail Trekker II. You can opt for Rotopax which a lot of folks like using, or you can even use an old school Jerry can. But whatever you do, if you’re going off-grid for extended periods of time, then make sure you have some way to carry extra fuel.
Jeep Overlanding Build Tip #3: Carry extra fuel. Remember that not only you, but all of your gear and equipment, live in the Jeep. If you run out of fuel, you’re going to have to hoof it to get some. So rather than have that issue, consider this a primary need for your Jeep overlanding build.
Other Considerations for Your Jeep Overlanding Build
With the three major drawbacks of a Jeep Wrangler overlanding build taken care of, everything else is pretty easy.
Other than what I listed above, I highly recommend you consider the following as you’re creating your build:
- Upgraded shocks
- Upgraded coil springs
- Good lift kit
- Upgraded differential covers
- Upgraded axles
- Off-road tires
- Aluminum bumpers, front and rear
- Aluminum fenders
- Skid plates
- External lighting
There is a ton you can do with your Jeep Wrangler overlanding build to make it perfect for you and your family. Feel free to comment with any questions or for recommendations on specific products.
We’ve personally gone a little crazy. But this is what we really enjoy doing. So for us as full-time travelers, it’s not just our hobby, but our lifestyle.
If you’re interested, you can read about our personal Jeep Wrangler overlanding build here.
Closing Thoughts on Jeep Overlanding
Let’s face it. You really only need water, shelter, food, warmth, and sleep in order to survive. (I covered an intro to overlanding in this article which you can read here.)
But who wants to just survive, right?
The overlanding lifestyle is about the enjoyment of it all.
There are few things I enjoy more in this life than overlanding in my Jeep. I love this platform for the adventure we are on, and I’ve yet to find a place I want to set up camp that I can’t get to. (Though I’m still looking.)
If you’re a fellow Jeep overlander, or considering the lifestyle, I’d appreciate if you’d drop me a comment below. We love to connect with other overlanders (Jeepers and non-Jeepers) all over the world in our travels.
Get to know us. We’d love to get to know you.
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