It’s a tough decision. Truck or Jeep? Is your lifestyle asking for the cargo and towing capabilities of a pickup or the rugged mountain-goat ability of Wrangler? What if you didn’t have to choose? That’s the question Jeep had everyone asking when it introduced the 2020 Jeep Gladiator, and positive reviews from off-roaders made it clear that the Gladiator didn’t just look like a Jeep-truck, it was capable in both categories. Take the popular four-door Wrangler, extend the wheelbase, and turn the cargo area into a 5-foot truck bed, and you’ve got the Gladiator. The front of the truck will be familiar to Wrangler fans, and many aftermarket parts meant for the JL will work on the Gladiator as well. Under the hood is the 3.6L V-6 and 285 ponies making 260 lb.-ft. of torque. The back half of the Gladiator is neither Wrangler nor Ram truck, but rather a mix of the two, meaning the Gladiator can tow 7,650 pounds, and haul two motorcycles as well as tackle difficult off-road challenges. We wouldn’t recommend doing all three at once though.
You can outfit your Gladiator in one of four trims: Sport, Sport S, Overland and Rubicon. Like the Wrangler, the Rubicon is the most off-road-capable version, coming from the factory with a lower crawl-ratio transfer case, lockable front and rear differentials, 33-inch all-terrain tires, and a front sway bar that can be disconnected with the push of a button. The Gladiator Rubicon is ready to hit the trail right off the showroom floor, but when has stock ever been good enough? Mopar already offers more than 200 accessories to personalize your Gladiator, and by the time you read this, the aftermarket should be catching up with their own catalogs. The Gladiator’s truck bed and comfortable ride make it ideal for overlanding, so we met up with Nena Barlow, owner of Jeep rental company Barlow Adventures LLC, and compared notes on the current offerings for turning the Jeep Gladiator from Jeep-truck to Jeep-truck-mobile home.
Rooftop Tent If the weather is nice—and you’re short enough—you could sleep beneath the stars in the Gladiator’s 5-foot bed, but most folks would prefer a little more room, and a layer of protection between them and multilegged nature. Rooftop tents keep you safely above the rocky ground and the creepy-crawlies—both legged and legless—plus they pack away neatly in their own little packaging when you’re ready to hit the road again. Tents vary from smaller, pop-up clamshell designs to safari-ready palaces. Prices for well-rate tents start around $1,000, and can go up to $4,000.
depending on your desired luxury. As is often the case, amenities and product longevity tend to match up with price. So, which tents does Barlow plan to use on her Gladiator fleet? “I have a James Baroud Space XXL on my personal Gladiator,” Barlow says, but adds that she plans to use Alu-Cab Expeditions on the rental fleets. “They’re just the easiest to pack up.”
Need a Lift? The Gladiator Rubicon shows up at the dealer with 33-inch tires and a promise that 35s will fit without raising the truck, but having just a tad more breathing room can’t hurt. At the moment, the only option for a taller Gladiator comes from Mopar, but hey, who knows Jeep suspension better than the company that makes them? Mopar currently offers a Jeep Performance Parts (JPP) 2-inch lift kit, which makes room for up to a 37-inch off-road tire. “I like the Mopar lift kit because it is covered under the factory warranty,” Barlow says. One additional change Barlow makes to the suspension on her Gladiator is a stiffer shock package than the Fox shocks that come standard. “It’s just a personal preference; I like the Falcon shocks by Teraflex."
Rack ’Em We’re lifted and tented, but a good overlander never lets space go to waste, so how about a cargo solution that gets recovery tracks and water cans out of the bed and tucked neatly along the sides as well as providing a convenient place for lights and awnings once you’re settled at a campsite? Cargo systems range from universal kits that adjust to any truck bed to model-specific units. Barlow says she’s currently using the Thule Xsporter Pro but points out that Leitner already has a rack designed just for the Gladiator.
Easy Loading Once you’ve got a fully packed rack on the side and a tent on the top, it can get difficult to get into the bed, and that’s why Barlow suggests adding a slide in the back. No, not like a waterpark slide, although that might be fun too, but a cargo slide for easy loading and unloading of heavy items like coolers, firewood or—if you follow Barlow’s advice—a fridge. “I think if you’re overlanding, you have to have one,” she says. “I have the ARB Elements fridge. It’s great for expeditions, and it’s made to be outdoors. We also have some Dometic fridges, which have been bombproof for us. Having a slide to get that fridge out of the bed makes a big difference with whatever size or brand you’re carrying.” Barlow also recommends a stand-alone rechargeable battery rather than adding a second to the truck’s charging system. “Not only can you easily move it from vehicle to vehicle, but you also can charge the battery with the inverter in the bed while you’re driving, and then it can power the fridge for two or three days of camping.”
Winch-Friendly Bumper You might not be planning on getting stuck, but if you do, you’ll be happy you’re winch-ready. Even better, you can help out folks who don’t have a winch. The standard plastic bumper on the Wrangler or Gladiator won’t support a winch without modification, but the Rubicon model does, and the bumper is available through Jeep dealers if you want to upgrade a non-Rubicon trim model. Mopar also offers a similar steel bumper with the addition of heavy-duty D-rings. To mount a winch on either, you’ll need a winch kit and, of course, a winch. All are available through Mopar if you like to keep things in the family, or you can branch out. Barlow says she likes the look of the factory bumper but prefers the easy access offered by aftermarket companies such as AEV and Rock Hard 4x4.
Light Up the Night “We’re not really encouraging people to be wandering around after dark,” Barlow says, when the subject of adding lights comes up, but then she added that side and rear lights can be incredibly useful around a campsite, and that a little extra front lighting can make all the difference in an emergency. Like a Boy Scout, an overlander should be prepared. Jeep has offered an LED lighting package since 2017, so even a factory Gladiator can light your way. If you want more, consider adding A-pillar LEDs or replacing the fog lights in the bumper. Plug-and-play kits are available from numerous companies, including Mopar.
Interior Mounts The interior of the Jeep Gladiator, like all new cars, is something of a technological marvel. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both supported, and there are front and rear cameras available to help with rock crawling or just parking at the mall. Still, serious adventurers might want to consider adding a mount or two for an additional screen, be it a tablet or phone. Barlow sings the praises of the RAM Mounts suction-cup systems. “I just was out in the dunes, and without commenting too much on my driving style that time, let’s say it endured significant impact testing and stayed in place. My team calls it testing with Nena-miles.”
Trail Armor Speaking of “Nena-miles,” adding a little extra protection to your Gladiator might keep you from getting stranded, or at least save on dents and dings with the extra wheelbase beyond a standard Wrangler. The trick with armor is to add protection where you need it, without doubling the weight of your vehicle or requiring professional-level fabrication skills. Mopar Performance offers heavy-duty rock rails that are thicker, wider, and powder-coated with a nonslip finish. Barlow says the factory skid plates on the Gladiator will withstand a fair amount, but for ambitious (or exuberant) folks, she suggests additional protection over the oil pan and transmission to save some heartache down the road. Companies like Artec Industries are already taking preorders for an all-aluminum belly pan for the Gladiator.
What are you waiting for? Whether you go all in and live in it for weeks or just pack it with a tent and some dirt bikes for a weekend away, we think the Jeep Gladiator is going to be a slam dunk for off-roading fun, and the products in the following gear guide are just the beginning for Gladiator mods.