A few months back a very well-known Overland Portal ran an article called “I Tried the Jeep Thing, and I Just Didn’t Get It”. The article had the Jeep community in an uproar for its unflattering portrayal of Jeepers as uncivilized Neanderthals who do nothing but bash their Jeeps into rocks while leaving their garbage on the trails. There has always been a bit of a rivalry between those who refer to themselves as Overlanders and those who prefer to drive a Jeep on their “expeditions”, but safari clothing, fine dining and glamping aside, we have more in common than either side will admit. We both like to travel to remote areas, camp in the middle of nowhere and be one with nature; it’s just that some of us prefer to do it in a Jeep.
So what is this elusive “Jeep Thing” that the author didn’t understand? Why are we so passionate about a vehicle that is typically impractical, inconvenient and uncomfortable? Let’s face it, Jeeps have horrendous gas mileage (especially lifted and riding on big tires), you can’t see out the rear window with the oversize spare blocking the view, they are noisy, there is little cargo room and the on-road handling leaves a lot to be desired…and yet Jeep owners are the most passionate brand loyalists there are and the Wrangler’s resale value defies logic.
It’s hard to define the Jeep thing; you either get it or you don’t, and if you have to ask you’ll never understand. It’s more than the fact that straight off the showroom floor the Jeep Wrangler is more capable than any other off-road vehicle available, and where your small tires and lack of ground clearance cause you to struggle, we don’t even break a sweat. And it’s more than a wave or a sticker; it’s an attitude about life.
It starts with a good dose of American patriotism. The Jeep got its start on the battlefields as a military vehicle and has changed little since then. It’s a legend, an American icon that represents our heritage, standing for freedom, individuality and strength. This year the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival celebrates Jeep’s 75th birthday with a Guinness World Record parade featuring one Jeep from every year, including the original Bantam Reconnaissance Car built in 1940.
And speaking of individuality, no other vehicle has as many aftermarket products available. Whether we’re riding on 20s, building a badass rock crawler or creating an expedition rig, Jeep owner loves to customize their vehicles. Once they leave the showroom floor you’d be hard-pressed to find any two Jeeps that look exactly the same because Jeep owners can’t wait to make it their own. Even the mall crawlers will add their own personalized touches. They are always on-going projects, ever changing to suit our whim. Most of us prefer to wrench on our Jeeps ourselves because we get a sense of pride and satisfaction in knowing that we did it ourselves.
Top down, doors off, sun in your face and wind in your hair, no other overland-capable vehicle lets you get closer to nature. Even when we are caught in the rain with the top off, or bundled up against the cold because we’re not quite ready to admit that winter has arrived, we laugh because it is so exhilarating. Jeep owners don’t need creature comforts; we like to live life to the fullest and aren’t afraid to tackle anything it has to throw at us.
(Photo: Jesse Noh, used with permission) Kids love Jeeps. The 4DR JK let us bring the whole family out on our adventures and a whole new generation of kids are learning to appreciate the world around them. I’m proud of the young adults I’ve watched grow up on the trail, like Mel Wade IV; without exception they’ve all grown into mature, responsible adults who have direction and purpose in life. I asked Jesse Noh, creator of the Jeep With Kids blog and Facebook page why he decided to focus on encouraging parents to take their kids Jeeping. Jesse told me:
“I cannot think of Jeep without my kids. As a matter of fact all I wanted to do with my new Jeep back in 2010 (and until this day forward) was to show them the world from within, teaching them to love nature as God intended. I wanted to record every minute of our adventures together, and that is how Jeep With Kids started two years ago. Jeep has allowed us to experience a closer encounter with nature without a boundary and to be a part of the American heritage and culture that is deeply rooted in freedom fighting since 1941. To love America and God who created, that is a Jeep thing. We ought to teach them young!”
The Jeep With Kids page is plastered daily with photos submitted by proud parents of kids having fun in the great outdoors with the family Jeep. Jeep owners raise free range kids who are encouraged to explore, to appreciate nature and learn to be self-sufficient. Sure, parents with other overland vehicles take their kids out, but you don’t see the kids as excited as they are about Jeeps.
Most of all it’s the community. Complete strangers will strike up a conversation when they see a Jeep. Strangers will stop to help as if you are family if you have trouble on the trail. And as for our wheeling buddies, we’ve seen each other at our best and at our worst, when we’re tired, scared, angry, frustrated, dirty, sunburned and covered with mud. We learn to take care of each other, to count on each other and we forge bonds that will last a lifetime.
(Photo: TK Bergman, used with permission)
“Bought my 1976 CJ7 in ’91 from the original owner. It was my daily driver for ten years in the most inclement weather. She’s all dolled up and I just took her out to TDS…Yeah, it’s a Jeep thing for the rest of my days.”
We don’t care what brands you wear, what food you cook or how expensive your gear is. There’s a bit of a rebel in all us and we embody the spirit of adventure and exploration. As someone on a Jeep forum once said, 200 years ago we would’ve been the pioneers eagerly setting out to explore the new world in the West. We have the same Go Anywhere Do Anything attitude that our Jeeps have.
I think it’s fair to say that the author of that article will never understand the Jeep Thing, but we have some advice for him. Next time you want to try the Jeep Thing, do it in a 4DR Wrangler instead of an AEV Brute modified Jeep. As you’ve learned, the ride in a solid axle vehicle is much rougher on those fire roads than it is in an IFS vehicle, but you need to air down. Wear your shoulder belt so you don’t slam your head into the B pillar, and tie down your cooler or use a cargo net so it doesn’t hit you in the head when you hit a bump. Pick up any trash you find on the trail. Pop off a Freedom panel or be really daring and put the whole top down, and breathe in that fresh air. We do like big rocks, because we can! Disconnect your swaybar, stay off the skinny pedal and give it a try; you just might like it too.
Go with another experienced Jeeper who can show you the ropes, and pick a trail worth doing. Better yet, go take that Jeep on a scenic overland trail you would never dare in your Land Rover, like the Rubicon Trail. If you still don’t get it, you never will.