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Lighten your Wrangler JK Unlimited Rubicon or JL

How to Reduce the Weight of your Jeep JK/JL

Before you go : Think about weight

 

If you don't already believe in the benefits of being a lightweight, just took the hard top off, remove the doors, and hit the trail for an hour : it's going to feel like riding on a frisky Suzuki Samurai.

Jeep Solo Off-Roading

 

Prepare your first expedition with your Jeep in the extreme remote wilderness. Dropping Jeep JL or Jeep JK weight will make a huge difference.

 

Weight matters : Keep your payload capacity as high as possible
Why I chose to reduce the GVW of my Jeep by 400 lbs.

During my first serious solo expeditions (back in 2014 and 2015 with a different rig), I made the mistake to think that carrying more stuff meant being safer. I used to carry many recovery gear items, numerous spare parts, v-bar snow chains (around 30 lbs for each pair), two military grade tool bags, water for weeks (sometimes up to 100 liters), 4 heavy 20-liter fuel jerry cans, bulk canned goods, and enough ammunition for a siege.

 

It took me a long time to fully realize why I was so often stuck, struggling to climb steep hills, or feeling that some invisible hand kept forcing me into ditches. Also, instead of having more traction, it was clear that my overweight Jeep lacked traction in most situations. One day, I got stuck in a muddy creek, and the old winch was struggling and overheating. I had to lighten my Jeep. It took me an hour to carry a ton of stuff to the other side of the creek. It worked at the end, but it left me feeling dead-tired and miserable.

 

I slowly became a purist when it comes to weight. I keep a cheap electronic scale in my storage locker, and whenever I make a modification, add new gear, replace something, or just load my rig for my next expedition, I weigh everything (including myself). Being a lightweight means getting unstuck faster, saving on gas, significantly improving maneuverability, and preserving key driveline components/brakes/tires against premature wear. A reduced mass also helps your engine to “rev” more freely, meaning faster shifts to achieve the necessary speed before you climb a steep slope.

How to lighten a Jeep Wrangler JK JL

Be a Weight-Wise Jeeper

Scale Weight Distribution Jeep JK 2 Doors

 

Max Payloads per Jeep model (some examples)

As you can see, a Wrangler as a low payload capacity compared to the Toyota 4Runner 2013 (1550 lbs.), the Land Rover Discovery 4 2013 (1614 lbs.) or the light Tacoma V6 4X4 Access Cab 2015 (1395 lbs.).

 

Model Maximum Payload
Jeep Wrangler 2017 - 2D Sport 1000 lbs.
Jeep Wrangler 2017 - 2D Rubicon 892 lbs.
Jeep Wrangler 2017 - 4D Unlimited 880 lbs.
   
Jeep Wrangler 2008 - 2D Sport 1000 lbs.
Jeep Wrangler 2008 - 2D Rubicon 1000 lbs.
Jeep Wrangler 2008 - 4D Unlimited 1050 lbs.
Manufacturer’s recommendations

Tips Reduce Weight Jeep Wrangler

Things to know

Curb Weight = Actual weight of your "stock" Jeep before any modification but including all fluids and of course a full tank of gas

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) = Max operating weight/mass of your Jeep (recommended by the manufacturer). In other words: Curb Weight + Payload = GVWR.

 

So, your max payload is the available weight you can carry. Everything you load in or on your Jeep is payload. CB Radio? That's 5 lbs. A Rigid LED Light Bar on the hood? That's another 15 lbs. Even you yourself counts as payload. If you are overweight but want to carry more stuff, start by losing weight yourself. No kidding.

 

Of course, whatever your Jeep JK model is, you can technically carry way more payload than what is recommended by the manufacturer (the 3.6L Pentastar engine is powerful as hell, and a Jeep is quite a robust horse). Those official numbers are best-case scenarios and are mostly based on emergency maneuvers, braking, and stability issues for when the vehicle is moving at high speed (imagine an inexperienced driver negotiating a curve with excessive speed). That is indeed why the recommended payload looks so low.

A Light Red Jeep Solo Expedition British Columbia

Why lighten your Jeep JK


I strongly believe that you should keep the weight of your payload as low as possible for four reasons :

1. Increase your range : Getting better gas mileage allows you to extend your range by tens of miles. You better not waste that range.

2. Better steering and braking control : Driving in the remote wilderness will expose you to genuine emergencies and dangerous or sudden maneuvers. In the bush, you have to deal with unmaintained trails, obstacles, dangerous cliffs, deep ditches, and startling encounters. Reducing the braking distance by only 1 foot makes a difference.

3. Save your payload for later : By keeping your payload low, you preserve hundreds of pounds you could use at another time for cargo, especially if you plan to make some money by carrying stuff in the wilderness.

4. Get unstuck faster : Reducing the overall weight of your Jeep equals reducing the inertia to overcome when you get stuck. The fact is that your Jeep JK willoften be stuck on an incline, or deep in the water, or snow. That means a very high level of inertia. Here is one of Newton's Laws of Motion : a = F/m (acceleration = Force divided by Mass). In the bush, all alone with your muscles, engine, winch and/or jack, you cannot create more strength than what you already have at your disposal. However, you can influence mass by lightening your load.

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5. Don't get stuck at all : It's hard to estimate how many times you won't get stuck in a week just because you are already a lightweight. And perhaps you don't care because you consider that getting unstuck is an integral part of off-road fun. But there is a huge difference between having fun with the family-oriented 4x4 club vs. being alone at night in the woods at 50 miles from Fort Yukon. By the way, you know what I hate most in this life? Having to walk 100 feet away from my Jeep to wrap an ARB trunk protector around a tree when I know I'm by myself in grizzly territory.

Grizzly Off-Road Winch Recovery Jeep

How I balance the weight of my Jeep JK

Since I carry a lightweight payload, I shouldn't worry that much about weight distribution. But I still try to balance my weight. For example, I carry my Hi-Lift Jack on the front bumper in order to keep the front/rear ratio as close to 50/50 as possible. Actually, I once had the opportunity to weigh my JK on a scale (after installing my winch, front/rear aftermarket bumpers, and the new tire carrier), so I know the gross weight of my Jeep, and its weight distribution (front axle vs. rear axle). And I have always kept track of every extra I load before an expedition (RotopaX fuel cans, shower, jack, showel, CB antenna, etc.). For that reason, I'm pretty sure that my front/rear ratio is currently/always is currently very close to 50/50.

 

There are several schools of thought on the off-road scene, and to my knowledge, whatever tires, tire pressure, suspension, gear ratios, or wheelbase you use, the majority of seasoned off-roaders believe that a 55/45 ratio remains the best weight distribution because it should help your vehicle get more traction on the front wheels when it has to climb very steep hills or obstacles. Well, from my perspective, I feel that a 50/50 ratio delivers better traction in deep snow, mud, or water (at low speed). And that is my #1 priority because that is where I would otherwise get stuck the most.

 

For the interior storage, I also weigh everything (recovery gear, spare parts, tools, supplies & clothes), and do my best to store everything in a symmetrical manner (including my own weight). I'm confident that my centre of gravity is not off-centre..

 

If you want to start weighing everything, I recommend you buy a postal scale like the Smart Weigh 440lbs. It's pretty small (10.6 x 10.6 inches) but very resistant. You can put a heavy Mammoth wheel on it without breaking it. In addition, that little thing provides accurate readings.

Smart Weight Scale 440 lbs.

- Where to buy -

Amazon.ca
(Canada)

Walmart
(USA)

Amazon.com
(USA)

Newegg.com
(Worldwide)

 

How to reduce the weight of a Jeep

 

How to lighten your Jeep JK (15 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 strong 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 money, 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 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.

13. Only two lug nuts for the spare: Why using five heavy lug nuts when two strongly tightened do the job. (-1 lbs)

14. A fiberglass hood: It's lightweight, provides a unique look to your Wrangler, and also helps to decrease under hood temperatures. It's not that expensive either (starting at $450 / huge variety of choices from Venom, AEV, etc). It will reduce the weight of your Jeep: 25 lbs to 35 lbs.

15. Replace the front grille: There are numerous front grilles made of ABS plastic. They add personality to your Jeep and reduce its weight a bit (-2 lbs).

16. Remove rear seat belt retractors: Each belt retractor weighs 3.8 lbs. Total: 7.6 lbs (including the belts).

 

Light Aluminum Spare Tire Wrangler JK



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