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Rubicon Ready: What to Bring and What to Leave at Home

As the rising sun begins to paint the horizon, veteran Jeeper Larry Madrid surveys the gnarly terrain ahead, a granite-twisted testament to nature's beauty — and its challenges. For off-roaders like Larry, the Rubicon isn't just a trail, it's a series of tests in preparation, skill, and endurance. 

"Out here," he notes, "whatever you bring is what you've got."

For off-roaders around the world, a successful journey down the Rubicon is a badge of honor. Its 22 miles of climbs, crossings, and obstacles make up some of the most challenging off-road driving in North America — all in the beautiful, remote Sierra Nevada wilderness. While some of its most difficult features can be bypassed, this trail definitely isn’t for beginners. We can’t emphasize enough how much preparation pays off when planning a trip.

Drawing from Larry's extensive experience, we’ve assembled the essential packing list for conquering the Rubicon. A guide with the power to transform potential pitfalls into trailbound triumphs. Discover a Rubicon-ready checklist refined through years of trial and error, ensuring you bring what you need and leave the extra weight behind.

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Always Bring Your Trail Family

Larry emphasizes that the most crucial element on the trail is who you’re traveling with. Given the Rubicon's isolation, having a few companions with effective communication is vital. He champions the use of satellite phones and walkie-talkies.

"It's about the friendships you build with your buddies," Larry says, "and you can't buy that. If something goes south, those are the ones who will get you out."

Larry is part of a local group called Jeep SoCal. They've been blazing trails around California for decades, including an annual weekend spent winding up the rocky Rubicon. Larry might just know the challenges of this trail better than anyone in the world.

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Essential Rig Modifications and Gear

Larry's off-roading journey has underscored the importance of meticulous preparation. Before embarking on their annual trek, Larry and his crew thoroughly inspect and upgrade their rigs. Techniques such as marking inspected bolts with paint for easy looseness identification and pre-trip vehicle articulation tests can prevent surprises on the trail.

Firstly, Larry insists on the necessity of a high-quality suspension system and reliable tires.

"Granite up there can break with sharp edges like a knife," Larry recalls, stressing the advantage of BFGoodrich tires in difficult situations: "You pull up with a good set of BFGs, you've already got a step ahead — and that's going to get you home or it's going to get him home." – Larry Madrid

He also recommends investing in skid plates and rock sliders to protect your vehicle against the trail's relentless obstacles. The Rubicon Trail Foundation notes that while a stock Jeep Wrangler can navigate the trail using bypasses, avoiding damage requires larger tires (33”), a lift kit (3”), body protection (rocker guards), and a locking or limited-slip differential.

"I also carry a welder, spare parts, alternators, starters, fan belts, stuff like that." Larry's list of what to bring has expanded over the years, but he concludes that for a fault-free trip, you'll need your buddies' rigs to be stocked too. "If somebody breaks, nobody's standing around looking. Tools are coming out of every Jeep. Oh, I've got an extra one of those —  I've got a brake line — I've got brake fluid! There isn't one guy that can carry everything. That's impossible."

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The Full Rubicon-Ready Checklist

What to Bring:

  • Spare BFGoodrich tire (for consistency and reliability) Larry runs 40-inch BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM3 tires
  • Fan belts, starters, alternators
  • Comprehensive fluid kit (oil, brake fluid, coolant)
  • Work gloves
  • Basic hand tools (wrench set, screwdrivers, pliers)
  • Hose clamps and zip ties
  • First aid kit
  • Onboard welder
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Communication devices (satellite phone, walkie-talkies)
  • Hi-lift jack
  • Winch, rated roughly twice your vehicle’s weight
  • Synthetic rope
  • Tow strap
  • Extrication hardware (tree strap, clevis, dowels, chain, etc.)
  • Rollbar, full cage, or factory hard top
  • High-quality seat belts
  • Functional parking brake or Line Lock device
  • Battery hold-downs (avoid bungee cords)
  • Adequate water and non-perishable food
  • Oil spill recovery kit (available at the kiosk at no charge)


What to Leave at Home:

  • Excessive clothing (focus on utility, not fashion)
  • Bulky cooking gear (simplify meals to save space)
  • Unnecessary gadgets (leave behind anything without a survival or mechanical purpose)
  • Heavy spare parts that don't match your vehicle's configuration


The Adventure Awaits

As Larry merges with the twilight shadows of the trail, his advice is steadfast: success stems from preparation, knowledge, and the right gear. With a commitment to vehicle readiness, great tires beneath you, a well-considered packing list, and a crew that has your back, the Rubicon becomes more than passable. It's a gateway to an unforgettable adventure.

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