Just In From The Trail...

So I thought it might be nice to reflect back on my recent trail experiences. What did I learn, what worked well, how did the new mods perform, what would I like to change?

I’ll use this post as a general overview, and follow-up with more specific articles at a later time. This year we were in Ouray, Co. as well as Moab. Being that we were there in October, Mother Nature decided to surprise us with snow at the higher elevations in Colorado. While this kept us from running Black Bear, which has been on my bucket list, we did get to play on Governor Basin, and Yankee Boy Basin trails in the snow.

rock slide engineering ez rack kit

Let’s get started. I knew I wanted to carry additional fuel this year, so I opted to try the Rock Slide Engineering’s EZ Rack Kit. This kit turns your spare tire into another way to carry fuel, water, etc..

The EZ Rack cinches down onto the tire easily. During my entire trip, it never moved. I never had to touch it at all, no re-adjustments necessary. The cinch strap is plenty long. I zip-tied the extra length down to keep it from flapping around…

I loved how functional and easy to use this system is. I also like that I can remove it and store it when I’m not on the trails. The brackets are made from 3/16” steel, and the quality and finish is excellent. Like all things RSE produces, it’s made in the USA!


Next on list are tires, and tire related gear. I’m running Mastercraft MXT tires-37x12.50. I selected these tires for a couple of reasons. They were recommended by a friend who had extensive trail experience with them, and they were one of the lightest 37’s on the market. They are also one of the cheapest 37’s you can buy. Below is a shot of the MXT’s in action on Golden Spike, navigating The Golden Crack in the rain…

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The MXT’s are a “D” rated tire. As such, they are not too stiff in the sidewall. This allows for a pretty comfortable on road ride, and when aired down on the trails, they are very grippy. I ran them at ~15-17psi off road and they worked great. I think I could run them softer still. We’ll see, I’m still learning.

What really impressed me though was their grip while wet, caked with sand and run through the mud. While on Steel Bender, we started late and ended the trail well after dark. Near the very end of the trail we had to cross Mill Creek and then climb a slick rock wall. I remember looking at that obstacle with all my lights blazing, wondering if we would have enough grip to climb the wall coming up out of the creek with wet tires. To my amazement, we walked right up the wall with no drama at all! Ok…that really impressed me! Later, we would run the Trifecta (Poison Spider, Golden Spike, Gold Bar Rim). Half of Golden Spike and all of Gold Bar were run in the rain…the MXT’s never let me down.


I have a funny story to tell. While we were on Poison Spider, early on the trail we met a group of guys from Colorado that were running side by sides. They can move so much faster through the rough stuff, so we would meet them at different stages of the trail throughout the day. As we were working our way through the back loop of Poison Spider, late in the day we met them again. We stopped to chat briefly with one of their group on what’s ahead on the trail. He told me there was a water crossing coming up that was deep enough to flood the inside of his side by side, roughly 20-24” deep. This was a pretty long crossing, muddy and them you had a steep climb up the slickrock out of the water. He asked me if I thought my Jeep could make it. I don’t know, we’ll see. About 30-40 minutes later, after we visited Little Arch, we came up to the water crossing. It was getting late in the day, and I knew we still needed to scout out our campsite. I was about to go around the water crossing to save time when I noticed the side by side group were parked up on the top just above the water. They were all watching to see if I could make it through. So much for going around! I couldn’t miss an opportunity to show what a Jeep can do on the trail.

I love chance meetings out on the trail…

I love chance meetings out on the trail…

So, I backed up and into the muddy water we went. Once again, the MXT’s were up to the task. We walked right up out of the muddy water, climbed the slickrock and hung out with the Colorado crew. One comment I heard more than once was “damn, I didn’t realize how well a Jeep could climb…..I’m impressed!!!” Truth be told, I was impressed with the way the MXT’s handled the water and mud, and still afforded me great traction on the slickrock…

On this trip we did see snow at 11,000+ft. above Ouray. That wasn’t going to dissuade us. We attempted Governor Basin and Yankee Boy. We were eventually running in about 12-14” of snow. That’s about where we lost traction. We ended up being the furthest Jeep in on the trails. It should be noted that I did not air down for the snow runs. Thinking back on this, I believe I could have traveled further in on the trail if I had aired down.

About the only knock I have on the MXT’s, and it’s minor, would be that they are beginning to get a little louder as I get some miles on them. It’s not horrible, but I am more aware of them. All in all, I consider these tires to be an incredible bargain, in price point and especially in performance.

j.t. brooks Tire deflators

To air down, I’m using J.T.Brooks Automatic Tire Deflators. These couldn’t be easier to use. Simply set the desired PSI, screw them on and let them do their thing. They will deflate the tire until they reach the preset PSI and then shut off. I have to admit, the very first time I used them, I was a little nervous. Nothing to worry about, they work! Just set them up, pull the plunger, and in a couple of minutes you’re aired down, ready to hit the trails. I consider these a must for anyone who wheels their Jeep!

auxiliary lighting

I run a lot of lighting on my Jeep. I’ve been asked quite a few times, why so many lights? Well, to be honest, I’m a bit of an equipment hound, but then, what Jeeper isn’t right? I don’t get to do this in and around Chicago, but out on the trail, boy do they shine!

Our first trail we ran this year was Steel Bender. Because we tend to stop a lot to shoot stills, get the drone up, etc., we sometimes get in after dark. I gotta be honest, Steel Bender was not the easiest trail to be on after dark. If you’ve run any trails in Moab, you know it pretty easy to miss the trail at times. After dark, it’s that kind of scenario times 100.

The addition of the KC Hilites Cyclone Rock Lights provided a huge benefit on the trails after dark. Providing a pool of light in and around the Jeep, giving me and my spotter a clear idea where my tires were relative to the obstacles.


Being able to see near and far on the trail after dark is essential for one’s safety. I remember my buddy who was riding with me saying “wow, I see why you run so many lights”. I used and appreciated all the lights I have on Rubi, helping us navigate the trails in the dark and getting us safely off the trails that night.

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We did an overnight again this trip. High winds and rain moving in forced us to break camp at 3:30am. In this next pic, I’m making breakfast for us using the task lights I have mounted on my roof rack. Once again, happy I had the foresight to add the lights I did, super cool to be putting them to use out here on the trail…


I did a complete write-up regarding my Rock Hard 4x4 armor here in the blog under “Got Armor?” My thoughts on this are, if you plan on running class #5 trails and higher, you probably need to armor. Your Jeep will need the protection, you need the peace of mind. Whether you are running a stock Jeep, on 35’s or built and running 37’s, armor will give you protection you will need.


I’m running full Rock Hard 4x4 aluminum skids. I can tell you they will take a beating. If you are concerned about trying to keep the overall weight of your Jeep in check, these merit a look.


I installed a Warn M-8000 S winch when I did my front bumper. To be honest, I didn’t think I would use it very often, and if I did, it would be to help someone else out. It was there mainly as an insurance policy. The Warn has been on my Jeep for about a year and a half now. It hides behind the beautiful Factor55 Prolink hanging off the front of my bumper.

This year, as things turned out, we ended up running two of the three Trivecta trails, Golden Spike and Gold Bar Rim in the rain. As you can imagine, this made traction very tricky ascending and descending the class 7 obstacles. At the very end of Gold Bar, you meet the “Waterfall”. If it were dry, I think I could get up this…however, it’s been raining and the bottom is sandy. The best I can do on it is spin all four tires across the face.


At this point, we’ve been on the trial for two days, and there is no way I want to rerun the Trivecta back the way we came. I’ve got to get us up Waterfall, and we’re out here alone. Time to get out and look at options. Fortunately for us, those who work hard at maintaining trails have a winch point in place for us. Time to get over this obstacle! This was one of those moments when it hits me…damn I’m glad I installed that winch! This was also a pretty cool place to use my winch for the first time.

steer smarts hd-n steering stabilizer


Another addition I made to Rubi before this trip was the Steer Smarts HD-N steering stabilizer. I have a full write-up on that in “Steering” reviews. The run from Chicago to Moab has us heading out across Iowa and Nebraska. That’s the Great Plains, and you can nearly always expect it to be windy. This year was no exception. What was a gusty day as we left Chicago, turned into a steady wind as we reached Iowa and that grew even stronger as we crossed Nebraska.

So, what’s the deal with the new HD-N? Jeeps with their solid steering linkages need a way to absorb/dampen the side to side movement of the wheels. The steering stabilizer acts much the same way a shock absorber does, limiting excessive movement and oscillation.

The “N” designation on the stabilizer stands for neutral. Some stabilizers can add a “push”into the steering linkage. I’m running Steer Smarts Griffin XD Attenuator, and a neutral stabilizer is necessary for it to function properly. The heavy cross winds were a great test for the HD-N. It passed with flying colors. It was also up to the rigors of class 7 trails in Moab, where it took a pounding.

crazy Beaver shovel

This last topic is was a small but really useful addition while out on the trail. I added a Crazy Beaver shovel, and using Quick-Fists, mounted it to my roll bar.

Carrying a shovel on board with us was nice for putting out campfires, etc, and the mounting system worked great. The shovel stayed put on the trails, and was a breeze to access and use. It’s great to be able to convert unused space in your JK(U) to much needed cargo/storage.

I feel like Rubi is set-up and performing really well, both on road as a daily driver, and off road as well. So what are any improvements I would like to make? Right now that list is short.

  • Sort out my cargo carrying arrangement. I’m considering doing ARB fridge slide rails, that I could retro fit with a storage box that I could remove when I’m not on the trail.

  • A light at the cargo area. We set up camp after dark, and illumination at the rear area would be great for unloading.

  • A dash mounted iPod system to run maps in real time.

These wheeling trips have been the perfect test bed for the evolution of my Jeep. So much has been learned through experience. Stay tuned Amigos, more to come.


Steven TalleyComment