After replacing my Jeep Cherokee with a 2013 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, I was faced with one problem: I had a rooftop tent, and the new Jeep had a soft top. So a Googling-spree to find a satisfactory solution ensued.

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Although there are numerous rack systems available for the Jeep Wrangler JK, I narrowed it down to three options:

I’ll be completely honest. I did not have any interest in purchasing a rack system. I had a rooftop tent, and I wanted to install it on my new Jeep. So I approached this problem based largely on that fundamental need.

In my opinion, the GOBI is the best-looking external rack that you can purchase for a JK. It is form-fitting, strong, and utilitarian. However, the GOBI system is far more ornate and cumbersome than I wanted. It seemed overkill for my needs, and friends reported that theirs was prone to rust.

The hardtop equipped with a Rhino Rack is by far the tidiest and most appealing way to mount a rooftop tent on a JK. It is strong, effective, and visually subtle. I chose not to go this route because I wanted to enjoy the merits of having a soft top. Even if I couldn’t put the top down, I could pull the doors and windows for an open air experience. Furthermore, this was the most costly option.

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What attracted me to the Kargo Master Safari Congo Pro was the simplicity of its design, its low-profile fitment, its no-drill installation, and its configurability. In conjunction with their load bar kit, I’d have all that I’d need to install a rooftop tent and an awning. It seemed like an elegant solution to serve this single purpose.

Cape Lookout National Seashore, located on the central coast of North Carolina, was a destination that’s been on my short list for roughly a decade. It offers what are possibly some of the most remote, unspoiled, and adventure-friendly beaches on the east coast of the mainland United States.

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I’ve missed multiple opportunities to visit Cape Lookout over the years. So when our friends, Overland Kwest, consisting of Tyler, Christine, and pups, Brady and Grace, extended a public invite for other overland enthusiasts to join them for a long weekend of beach camping, I jumped at the chance.

With the James Baroud Rooftop Tent freshly installed on the roof of the new Jeep, and Tyler with his brand new, 2016 Toyota 4Runner, Premium Trail Edition, we were all chomping at the bit for some oceanside adventure.

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The trip was to span four full days: Thursday through Sunday, and it was approximately an eight hour, 500 mile drive from home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In order to maximize my time, I left directly from work at 4:30 PM on Wednesday, and departed from the island at the same time on Sunday. That was a brutal travel itinerary – especially on I-95, which I’m pretty sure is the 10th circle of hell.

One thing that contributes to the relatively low population of Cape Lookout, which is located near many popular Outer Banks vacation spots, is that it is only accessible by ferry. If you’re not interested in taking a vehicle, you can take a passenger ferry for $16.00 per person. If vehicle-supported adventure is your forte, you can expect to pay at least $40.00, one-way, for a reservation on a vehicle ferry.

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The ferries are small, accommodating approximately four to six vehicles in one trip, and during the summer, the service supposedly gets reasonably busy, so plan your trip and make reservations well in advance.

The Arrival

I arrived in Davis, North Carolina, at 1:45 AM on Thursday, well in advance of my 8:30 AM ferry reservation at Cape Lookout Cabins. So I pulled into a parking lot where I could discreetly deploy the rooftop tent to get some sleep for the remainder of the night.

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As a used vehicle changes hands a few times, some of the little extras and accessories that come with the vehicle from the factory are forever lost, never making it out of the previous owners’ junk drawers.

In this case, I was missing the roll-up straps for the rear window. So I searched the web for a replacement, and found this Deluxe Rear Window Roll Up Strap Kit from based in Maryland.

These well-crafted nylon straps feature adjustable buckles so the rear window can be rolled up tightly to the ceiling, and not partially obstruct your view or hinder access to the tailgate. They’re inexpensive and seem like a great solution.

Just in time for warmer weather!

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Before we acquired the 2013 Jeep Wrangler, we had an assortment of RAM balls, arms, and mounts for our dashboard gadgetry that we utilized in our old Cherokee. I wanted to transfer this equipment to the new Jeep re-using as much of it as possible. Fortunately, Vector Offroad manufactures a really sleek, highly functional solution for mounting electronics in a Wrangler JK using RAM hardware.

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The Vector Offroad JKE-Dock is a textured metal bar that spans the top of the dashboard. It is approximately 1″ in diameter, and it is 100% bolt-on, utilizing two threaded stand-off posts and a screw located in the center dashboard tray.

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Installation is a breeze. Just be very careful to not drop any of the provided washers or fasteners into the dashboard. That was fun. If you’re not clumsy like me, installation should take around fifteen minutes.

The installed product is very, very sturdy, and is ideal for navigational aids, cameras, tablets, and communication equipment. It accommodates any number of RAM handlebar mounts, and with RAM’s huge selection of accessories, there are no limits to what you can install.

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There is only one minor drawback to the JKE-Dock, and that is it very slightly diminishes my line-of-sight over the hood. The product itself is low-profile and very thoughtfully engineered. The problem is me. I’m relatively short at 5’7″.

The diminished line-of-site is very minor, and I only bring it up as a consideration, not as a complaint. As an alternative, Vector has a “stubby” version of the dock that doesn’t span the entire width of the dashboard, and wouldn’t hinder line-of-sight.

I could always sit on a pillow.

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When I purchased the Cherokee in 2005, I was just getting acquainted with the “overland” genre of recreational off-roading. Although I’ve never been a “hard-core” off-roader, I’ve always had a propensity to pick ambitious lines, which weren’t always appropriate for my modestly-equipped vehicles.

My intention with the Cherokee, was to preserve the vehicle’s factory characteristics, while maximizing its off-pavement mobility. This satisfied my needs as a recreational off-road enthusiast, and as an explorer. While the ride quality was always that of a Jeep, this goal was mostly achieved. It evolved into an extension of myself, and I wore it like a tailored suit.

After 10 years, two engines, an assortment of accessories, and over 150,000 miles, I’ve decided to retire the Cherokee. At a seasoned 15 years old, maintenance becomes somewhat more frequent, and quite simply, I was ready to try something new. Despite the Cherokee’s age, I have a feeling that its days of idling down primitive two-tracks are far from over.

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In December of 2015, I purchased a 2013 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon in vibrant Orange Crush. The Wrangler Rubicon satisfies the majority of my needs as a recreational off-road enthusiast from the factory. Additionally, the aftermarket industry is burgeoning for the JK Wrangler, which is nearing the end of its 10 years of production as I write this.

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Although the Cherokee is exceptionally capable, the Unlimited Rubicon is a more contemporary platform that addresses many of Cherokee’s shortcomings, and introduces relatively few compromises.

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I haven’t started outfitting the new Jeep yet, but I’ve already taken it on an inaugural trail ride at Rausch Creek Off-Road Park to familiarize myself with its capabilities. The crawl ratio is superb, I’m a huge fan of the electronic sway bar disconnect, and the manual locking differentials are a welcome addition. I think what amused me the most was the descent control. This is my 7th Jeep, and it’s the first time I’ve had such an electronic gizmo that affects off-road performance. Low range alone is sufficient for most descents, but the descent control button offers additional speed reduction.

As you might expect, the stock JK Unlimited’s biggest shortcoming is its ground clearance, which is easily remedied.

This is just the beginning and I can’t wait to get out there and do some travel and exploration in the new Wrangler!

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