How to lighten your Jeep JK (12 ideas)
1. Replace the hard top with a soft top : The hard top's weight varies from 142 lbs to 155 lbs (JK 2-doors vs JKU Unlimited) while the factory soft top's weight (including the mechanism) varies from 40 lbs to 45 lbs. It's an easy way to reduce the curb weight considerably. You save over 100 lbs.
2. Remove the soft top's frame itself : That frame weighs 31 lbs, and there are plenty of frameless soft tops available on the market. Some are affordable (like the Frameless Black Montana from Rugged Ridge, which can be found for $400).
3. Remove the four floor mats : Use one mat made of rubberized copolymer on the driver's side only. It's easy to dry, and will never become soaked. You save 4 lbs.
4. Remove the back seat : Use the empty cargo area for your own bed (works with the 2-door Jeep JK too, despite it being cramped). You save 70 lbs.
5. Remove skid plates : There are already several factory skid plates, but those are not very stron anyway. And whatever the quality, I wouldn't recommend lone Jeepers to start sliding over obstacles using the factory plates (unless you want to damage your drivetrain for good). Also, either factory and aftermarket skid plates are super heavy. For example, the popular steel Rock Hard transmission skid plate is no less than 53 lbs. Armoring your Jeep completely could represent an extra payload of 300 lbs. My personal choice is to invest money in a quality lift kit (2.5" to 3.5'') instead, so that you get higher ground clearance. Aftermarket companies are good at convincing Jeepers they need to install or upgrade numerous skid plates. But the fact is that your “naked” stransfer case, transmission system, and gas tank can take some hits. Well, I must confess that there is a hell of a debate on Jeep discussion forums. But from my perspective, the most important part to protect is the rear differential ( with a thin and lightweight skid plate) because I frequently hit that component when I emerge from a deep ditch (at an angle or not). I just wouldn't live without it. However, instead of installing a rear differential skid plate, you also have the option to replace the differential cover with a better one (e.g. ARB Dana 44). That thing is very strong and increases the structural rigidity of the rear axle. But there are two cons : 1) It's heavier than the factory cover (there won't be any weight reduction compared to a thin skid plate). 2) The cover option is about three times more expensive than a skid plate. So, perhaps you should save that money for something else.
6. Use smaller tires and wheels : It might sound like heresy on the Jeep scene where bigger tires are always better. But aggressive and huge 37-inch tires are expensive, reduce your torque, increase inertia (slower acceleration guaranteed when you need fast acceleration), waste your precious gas by up to 10%, wear your components at an accelerated pace (like your ball joints and bearings), and, of course, are extremely heavy. The factory tires' sizes range from 29-inches to 32-inches (and are 9 or 10-inches wide). To make a long story very short, upgrading to 33-inch or 34-inch tires will require you to install a lift kit as well (including new suspension). Of course, it's worth it on the trail, but the variation of weight between those sizes is really important. The weight difference between a 35-inch tire and its wheel vs. a 33-inch tire and its wheel is easily 20 lbs (each!). Considering that you also have to carry a fifth tire and its wheel (for the spare), you get a brutal weight gain of 100 lbs. Once again, you better save your, and invest it on a better lift kit, and regear (adjust the gear ratio at a quality auto repair shop you can trust). If you really want to become a lone Jeeper wandering in the remote wilderness, you better stop thinking like a weekend off-road warrior. In Alaska, Yukon, and the Nortwest Territories, those warriors are mostly seen stuck along tourist trails, begging for help, parts, tools, food, cigarettes, you name it.
7. Filter water on demand from various water sources : Water is incredibly heavy. Fifty litres of water weigh 110 lbs (or exactly 50 kilograms). I often see guys in the bush carrying several big water jerrycans on their roof rack, or in their bumper holders. Water actually weighs 34.3% more than gas. In the remote wilderness, when I have to choose, I still prefer extra gas to extra water. For that reason, I generally carry no more than 10 litres of water in my dromedary bag, a bottle of 1.5 litre in case of an emergency, six 355ml cans of sparkling water, and about 11.5 litres of water ready-to-use inside my WaterPORT Shower cylinder. Total water = 25.13 litres (6.6 gallons). Total weight = 55.3 lbs. With a volume of 13.63 of potable water, I easily last five days (2.73L/day to cook and drink) under the condition that I don't indulge in emotional eating (read salty “snacks”). I use the rest of my water (the 11.5 litres in the WaterPORT Shower) for two showers and to wash dishes. The fact is that water sources are not that scarce in the wilderness, and you only need a high-quality portable water purifier at hand to enjoy it. For example, the MSR Guardian Purifier weighs only 1 pound, and its filter treats up to 10,000 litres before having to be replaced. It removes microscopic insects, bacteria, viruses, etc. at the crazy rate of 2.5 litres per minute. Of course, it can’t purify water already contaminated with oil and petroleum products. For that reason, I never pump from a puddle of water on the trail or from a ditch. But whenever I find a quality source of water, it takes me just 15 minutes to refill everything.
8. Lightweight trail tool kit: The most important thing is to carry tools that allow some creative trail repairs. Sometimes, you face a mechanical failure beyond repair but still have the possibility to quietly limp to the closest town or main road. My tool kit weighs only 24 lbs.
9. Avoid canned food like the plague: You better avoid carrying canned food from the start for several reasons. 1) The weight ratio vs. nutritional value of a can of food is normally way too low. Did you know that a pack of eight Chef Boyardee Beef Ravioli cans weighs 10 lbs and provides only 3,200 calories? You might end up eating several pounds of canned food every day in order to not feel like you’re starving. 2) 99% of canned food is too rich in sodium and will make you drink more water (which means carrying more water). 3) Unless you build an incredibly hot campfire, you won’t succeed in melting your empty cans. So what? If we take for granted that you’re no redneck planning to litter in wilderness areas, I’m pretty sure that you don’t want to carry smelly empty cans in bear country either—or that you want to use your precious water to wash empty cans like dishes. 4) Cans are hazards in a moving vehicle. Especially on bad roads.
10. Remove the tags: It’s not a joke. Hardcore ultralight hikers do that all the time. There are probably over 200 useless brand tags and labels in your Jeep before you start your journey. If you remove tags from your clothes, bags, devices, etc. and use a small precision scale to weigh it, you may be astonished when the scale climbs to hundreds of grams.
11. Lighter aftermarket upgrades: Think about weight before you replace a factory part with an aftermarket one. For example, it’s easy to find a rear driveshaft that is considerably lighter than the original stock product. There are limitless possibilities if you start to pay attention: exhaust system, vented hood, steering rod, tie rod, etc. Whenever you go the aftermarket route, compare the weight.
12. A lighter wheel for the spare tire exclusively: I wouldn’t use aluminum wheels for long-distance expeditions on extreme terrain because steel wheels are stronger, easier to unbend/straighten, and less expensive. But I’m fine with having one lighter (and weaker) aluminum wheel (of the exact same size) for the spare tire only because I can fix a punctured tire 95% of the time and have to rely on my spare tire only as a very last resort. You can easily reduce the gross weight of your Jeep by 10 lbs if you choose an aluminum wheel for the spare.