December 27, 2015

For the past six months, I’ve been running the Rugged Ridge Exo-Top on my 2014 Jeep Rubicon X Unlimited. If you’re not already familiar with the Exo-Top, it’s a replacement soft top for your Jeep Wrangler and features an integrated roof rack. You not only get all the perks of having a soft top on your Jeep, but you also have the added functionality of a sturdy roof rack. I was one of the first people to get their hands on one and I’d like to share my feedback after using in a variety of conditions and environments.

Let’s face it, Jeeps are awesome. My family has had a long history with them (even farther than I had realized) and it’s hard not to look on in awe when you see a nicely built Jeep. With their dues being paid over the years of conflict, they have earned a special place in many a veteran’s heart.

Going topless with the wind in your beard and freedom in your heart just harkens back to the days when Americans were explorers and pioneers. However, the problem with a traditional or factory soft top is that you are limited on what you can bring with you unless you trailer it. So unless you have one of those sweet trailers like a Dinoot, you’re basically screwed when it comes to storage and hauling gear.

Personally, I’ve got HH6 (my wife), Thing 1 (9-year-old boy), Thing 2 (3-year-old boy), Phoenix (a GSD), and Riley Rogue (a Ridgeback) all to consider. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for gear in a four-door JKU. Now you don’t have to have been a grunt to understand that’s a lot of bodies and kit to try to pack into a rig with nowhere to put it. You’re almost going to have to get a hard top just to be able to lash stuff down or someones staying behind, and I’m not leaving Riley Rogue …

Enter Rugged Ridge with the Exo-Top ($1,299). Now your problems are solved with a completely BOLT ON solution that requiring no drilling! Yes, you read that correctly. It’s 100% bolt-on installation and there are no drills or measure six times and cut once scenarios when it comes to the body of your Jeep.

The Exo-Top places a framed support structure over the soft top, and with it’s innovative design, it allows you to not only top load but have full use of the soft top! That’s right, I’m sure you are just as skeptical as I was when I first heard about it. A soft top with a roof rack? I quickly learned it wasn’t a dream and the good news didn’t end there! The designer team at Rugged Ridge added some other features that helped make sure their top is one of the very best ever made (more on that later in the article).

When the large box containing the Exo-Top arrived from Rugged Ridge at my house, I did what any good Jeep owner would do. I called up some friends and invited them over to assemble and install the Exo-Top. Naturally of course I paid them in cold beer for their help.

First, let’s talk about the cage and how great it is to not have to cram things into every corner possible on my Jeep to take the family camping. It used to literally be like a jigsaw puzzle or game of Tetris to get their stuff in there and not crush the dogs in the drive to the campsite.

The cage not only supports its weight limit per the documentation, but also another 200 pounds of Rogue hoping all over it tying down and securing stuff without flinching. When I was moving over the top, it not only felt secure, but also sturdy and unyielding.

The assembled structure is not only light weight, but very strong. It’s obvious that Rugged Ridge is being very conservative with their max weight listing of 300 pounds. My wife has a different definition than I do of what we NEED to take with us when we go camping, but that’s another article completely.

Second, let’s talk about the top itself. You will be not only adding the cage, but swapping out your factory soft top as well. The soft top Rugged Ridge has brought to market in the Exo-Top can be completely stored around the sound bar and offers several different options in between.

The entire top slides back on rails so you can go from a full soft top to Sunrider (just the front seats exposed) while at a stop light with one person. A few velcro changes and you can expose the passenger compartment as well. Now that is a great thing to me because I live in Georgia and Riley likes to ride with me most places, but the sun can be seriously punishing. In that configuration, the cargo area where Riley likes to ride is still protected from the sun and provides him ample shade.

Again, all these changes are completed by just sliding back the header and tucking the top in. You can even go so far as to store it as you would the standard top and loose access to your cargo deck via the tailgate, or you can store the entire thing around the sound bar area and have a completely naked experience, but be able to change that in a matter of minutes.

There was another great surprise I didn’t expect and frankly it saddens me that it did. All the windows are secured with three separate zippers! That’s right, no more fighting with one zipper all the way around just to put in your windows. Why the heck isn’t this standard on factory soft tops? I can unzip just the side and leave the top on to roll up, or store the windows without leaving them behind! Well hot dang folks, that alone made me a fan but this top overall makes me a happy little Rogue.

Having used the top for the past six months in both the South and Southwest – including a cross country road trip – I can tell you that the Exo Top is not only useful, it’s a game changer. With it’s innovative features and easiness to configure and adjust the soft top, the bar has forever been raised for me when it comes to soft top vehicles. So, if you are tired of watching your hard top friends get to have all the cool overloading fun with all their nifty roof rack gadgets, get yourself an Exo-Top from Rugged Ridge. Soon you’ll be able to point and or laugh at them while you get to do the exact same thing, but don’t have to remove all of it just to get some freedom in your beard!

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