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The Five Essential Jeep Gladiator Mods For Your First Off-Road Adventure
BY Garret Transue //
July 17, 2023
@nova.mov
Photography: Garret Transue
@nova.mov
  • Off-roading and over-landing have become household names over the last few years and car enthusiasts have begun to crossover.
  • Modern Jeep lovers rejoice as the Gladiator name is resurrected in a multitude of trim levels.
  • The Gladiator builds upon the Wrangler’s timeless styling and adds payload capacity for a do-it-all approach. 
  • More than cars, Jeep owners have a wide array of aftermarket options to build a truck that suits their specific needs.
  • These five mods will help any Jeep newcomer get a head start on building their first off-road adventure mobile.

With a heritage rooted in military-grade durability and the spirit of adventure, Jeep has amassed a cult-like community that embraces that passion. The seven-slot grille, round headlights, and boxy shape pay homage to the brand’s ancestry in the U.S. Military while attracting fans to a more rugged and “authentic” style of transportation.

This almost stubborn continuity has been a virtue of the brand; in fact, it’s been more than 33 years since Jeep has made any additions to its J Series pickup truck lineup, which meshes the classic styling of the Wrangler with heavier towing capacity, an elongated wheelbase, and an increase in overall length that adds additional utility and cargo-carrying options. But the time has finally come and, thanks to its do-it-all form factor, the new Gladiator has become a hugely popular choice amongst the modern off-road enthusiast crowd.

WELCOME TO THE CLUB

My guess is that you’re here for one of two reasons: 1.) you just pulled the trigger on a new Jeep Gladiator, or 2.) you’re thinking about picking one up and are getting a little ahead of yourself. For the latter case, it’s worth running through your options before we dive into the mods:

Sport/Sport S/Willys/Willys Sport: With an extensive list of trim levels at your disposal, including locally available options like the California Edition and Texas Trail Edition, some can be grouped together for the sake of simplicity. The Jeep Gladiator Sport, Sport S, Willys, and Willys Sport trim levels allow you to pick all of the options you need, and none that you don’t. For the ones that have the restraint to leave them stock, these Gladiators are for the simpler Jeep enthusiast that doesn’t need beefed-up suspension and drivetrain components, but still waves to the oncoming Jeep in the distance all the same. But for the mod-crazed ones, these provide the perfect blank canvas for a more extreme build.

Rubicon: Your mission to find the most off-road capable vessel Jeep has to offer led you to the Rubicon. With 33-inch tires, a low-range transfer case, stronger axles, 2.0-inch FOX shocks, and unique hood and fender flares, you can head straight from the dealership lot to the local trails. This is easily the most capable Gladiator of the lineup right out of the box. Although some may not take full advantage of the features the Rubicon has to offer, others will take and then some.

Mojave: Rock crawling wasn’t really your style, so you opted for the high-speed desert option. Although it shares the majority of its DNA with the Rubicon, it has 2.5-inch FOX shocks and the only hydraulic bump stops found in a factory truck. Whether or not you bought the truck for a specific use, you got one that can do just about anything.

Whichever trim you pick, you’re seldom able to leave these things alone once it’s parked in your garage. For novice adventurers (like most of us here), we’ve got the guide to get your aftermarket journey started on the right foot.

DON’T FORGET TO USE PROTECTION

One thing I was totally unprepared for is how messy a truck bed can get from a single off-road excursion. Truck bed protection is a mod that I think everyone would consider crucial because there’s a lot of it — 60” in fact — on the Gladiator. But aside from mess prevention, there are many benefits from fitting bed protection to your truck, like keeping your bed looking pristine, increasing gas mileage, keeping the elements out, and protecting your belongings from theft.

Bed liners will achieve the first benefit on that list. This bed mat from BedRug (BRJ20SBK) protects your truck bed from impact dings and damage and, thanks to its unique polypropylene construction, it will stand up to the harshest conditions you can throw at it. It’s specifically designed for the Jeep Gladiator, too, so you can skip any of the trimming or modification that’s needed for more universal options.

For everything else, you’ll want a bed cover. The Mojave Gladiator wears a Rugged Ridge Armis tonneau unit (13550.22) that is lightweight, low profile, and can be installed or removed in seconds. A patented tension control system ensures that it provides adequate protection from the elements.

This hard folding cover from BAKFlip (BAK-448701) is a very popular option among the Jeep community because it’s made extremely well and offers a lot more protection than a soft tonneau cover. Folded shut, it’s really sleek and secure — it disappears into your truck’s profile and operates like a piece straight from Jeep’s factory. Folded open, it affords you access to 100% of the bed space without any obstruction, which makes grabbing anything near the bulkhead easy.

VERSATILE CARGO OPTIONS

For those who are attracted to the Gladiator for its increased cargo space over the Wrangler, you’ll be delighted to hear that you’ve gained access to more storage capabilities. Bed racks have increased in popularity, making it easier to haul gear, tents, or other large objects you need to strap down without the risk of damaging the bed itself. Bed rack height is really the main variable here, all the way from simple ​​bed rails, to low-bed, mid-bed, 3/4 height, and full-height racks.

If your first off-road adventure won’t require packing more than the Gladiator’s factory storage capacity and maybe a couple of bikes, a low-profile bed rack could be just what you need. Something like this Thule Xsporter Pro Low (500012) keeps your gear within the Gladiator’s factory profile and maintains a lower center of gravity to minimize any additional body roll when you’re on the street.

If you’re aiming for a longer off-road stint, a taller bed rack — like this JT Bed Rack (JTBR) from JCR — provides additional space and rigidity, it can reduce the gas mileage, introduce additional body roll, and completely block your view out the back of the truck. Still, the rearview matters less once you’re off the beaten path, and the ability to prop a tent up on the back of your truck — like what you see on this Rubicon — is undeniably cool.

ARMOR-UP FOR THE UNKNOWN

Whether it’s climbing the Rubicon Trail or a fender-bender on the highway, the plastic front and rear bumpers that come from the factory are about as useful as an accordion player on a deer hunt. In addition to adding a more solid structure, which is always a bonus during any off-road session, this JK Front Dagger Bumper (JKFDC) affords you the ability to add accessories such as a winch and/or auxiliary lights. Both of these are things you don’t think you’ll need until you do.

The JK bumper is more compact than the factory one; it requires you to notch the frame to install it, but you’ll increase your clearance angles and the overall look of the Gladiator in doing so. The bumper’s rugged 3/16” steel construction and powder-coated finish will keep it looking good, even after a few scrapes against the elements.

FORM OVER FUNCTION

Up until this point, we’ve talked about some of the essential mods to make your Jeep Gladiator more practical and functional, but for some, it’s essential for their truck to look the part as well. A nice set of aftermarket wheels and tires can sometimes be the most aesthetically transformative modification you can do to any build, and new Jeep owners who have crossed over from the car world will be impressed with just how many wheels are available for the Gladiator. Simply put, style does matter, and navigating the trails with a smile makes the trek worthwhile.

Case in point here: these TE37XT M-SPEC forged wheels give you the benefits more commonly sought after by sport car enthusiasts — lighter, stronger, and timelessly cool — but still make the Gladiator that much more maneuverable over rough terrain. The M-SPEC denotes a more subtle aesthetic: the rim line machining commonly found on these wheels is removed but retains the Volk Racing logo just in case onlookers didn’t know.

For more extreme cases than we’re talking about here, some Gladiator owners will opt to fit smaller diameter wheels in order to run bigger tires and lift kits. The finished product is certainly cool to look at, but for your first go, we urge you to experience how capable your Gladiator is before going off the deep end.

MORE POWER, CAP’N

No mod list is ever complete without a little bump in performance. This AFE Momentum GT intake (54-76217) adds an intoxicating growl while adding respectable power and torque, which helps when you meet your first mean rock on the trail. As an AFE unit, it’s made to withstand the rigors of on and off-road life equally, so you’ll have valuable peace of mind. A unique built-in sight window allows you to inspect the Pro 5R filter without taking the whole thing apart.

THE CHOICE IS YOURS

Now that we have all of these modifications laid out, it’s important to reiterate that there’s no right and wrong way to go about modifying your vehicle. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to research the vast sea of options presented to you as a Jeep owner and inject your personality with your newfound knowledge. See you on the trails!


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