NMBR

A field tool kit refers to the tools you keep in your vehicle for roadside and trailside repairs and handiwork; the key is to assemble one that fits your vehicle. Use it at home when wrenching on your truck to get acquainted with what works and what is lacking. It is better to find out that you’re missing a critical item before you set out on that remote shelf road. If you keep a quality set of sockets, ratchets, and wrenches in your garage toolbox but have an inferior set in your field kit, reverse those roles. You don’t want a tool failing when it matters the most (on that remote shelf road).

THE HARDWARE EXERCISE

Take the time to find and touch every nut, bolt, and fastener on your vehicle (inside and out) and check that you have the matching tools for each: sockets, wrenches, bits, etcetera—this means you will need to survey and match each one to a considerable amount of hardware. It’s a great exercise for an otherwise lazy Saturday afternoon. You will most likely find that you need to add pieces to your field kit—particularly larger sockets and wrenches. If you have a 22mm socket for your lower control arm bolts, make certain you have a 22mm wrench or additional 22mm socket for the nut side, although in many cases, the nut side is not the same size as the bolt head. Only use adjustable Crescent-type wrenches in a pinch as they tend to round hex heads and can open under pressure, slip, and cause injury or damage.

WRENCH SMART

Make sure to wear safety glasses when working under your rig to protect your eyes from dirt and debris that may become dislodged with wrenching tasks. Be careful when using tools in close proximity to your face or when working in awkward (but necessary) hand/arm positions; slipping with a tool under substantial force could cause a serious injury. Take the time to think about the repair thoroughly and confirm you are using the right tools for the job; even if it takes a few more minutes digging through your field kit to find that 4-inch extension and swivel (universal joint) adaptor for that hard to reach upper control arm bolt. And don’t forget to double-check your work.

TORQUE WRENCH

The hardware exercise serves a double purpose since it’s also an excellent opportunity to verify that everything is tight and under proper torque. A click or beam-type torque wrench will do; electronic versions are not justifiable for most weekend wrench enthusiasts. An under tightened bolt allows for play between the hardware and component-mating surface, causing accelerated wear and damage—or worse, loosening hardware. Conversely, an overtightened bolt will bind the hardware and component mating surface. This can cause abnormal handling characteristics when bushings, steering, or suspension are involved. Overtightening may also result in stripped threads, sheared-off bolt heads, and damaged componentry. Print the torque specs for your vehicle (if they are not in the owner’s manual) and get busy. When done, use a paint pen to mark bolt heads and the fixed contact point with a single swipe line—the mark will allow you to do a quick survey under your vehicle and check for a bolt that has rotated from its proper position. The torque for major steering and suspension components should be monitored every few thousand miles of off-pavement vehicle use as vibrations and frequent suspension/steering cycles tend to spin nuts. If space is limited, don’t worry about carrying a torque wrench in your vehicle. For roadside and trailside repairs, it’s better to overtighten (for the short haul) than to under tighten—re-torque when you get home.

PARING DOWN

Overloading your overland rig is detrimental to its performance and causes accelerated wear and tear on a vehicle. Just because you have the storage space to carry 200 pounds of tools does not mean you should. Once you feel that your field kit is comprehensive, the next step is to pare down. Carefully evaluate each tool that you suspect may not have a strong purpose. Those that are seldom used, don’t fit your vehicle, or that you are not sure about carrying should be placed in purgatory on your workbench. Do you really need three different-sized pry bars? In the weeks leading up to your next trip, as you survey these items daily, contemplate and decide their importance and fate—the garage or the field kit? The above advice should be applied to each category of your entire overlanding kit: clothing, cooking, electronics, recovery, and so forth. The most important provisions should have duplicates and triplicates. Example: Your normal water supply should be backed up with the means to filter and store water should your primary supply dwindle. The less important provisions should have dual uses. Example: Can your Hi-Lift handle be substituted for a 30-inch breaker bar?

Once your field kit is streamlined, choose an easy-access storage system that takes up the least amount of space possible. Soft-sided storage bags and rolls keep things quiet and tightly organized—I’m partial to heavy waxed canvas bags and tool rolls.

Vehicles both old and new, stock and fully built, are all subject to mechanical failure. Investing time in vehicle preparations and your field tool kit assembly will minimize the impact of mishaps encountered when away from your home turf.

In order to participate in NMBR’s tours and training courses, minimum driver, vehicle, equipment & provision essentials requirements must be met. This checklistprovides a categorized breakdown to help prospective participants properly prepare and gear up for the NMBR experience and beyond.

Driver Requirements

Ability and willingness to drive, camp, and function for three-days (minimum) fully self-supported in a remote backcountry setting. Previous four-wheel drive vehicle off-pavement driving experience and camping experience. Driver/s must possess valid driver’s license, insurance, and be over the age of 18.

4WD Vehicle Requirements

Vehicle Related Equipment Requirements

Off-Road Trailer Requirements

For those planning on pulling off-road type trailers,please check with NMBR that your trailer is appropriate for the specific tour or training route you are interested in. Trailers must be equipped with spare tire, towing safety chains, tongue jack, turn signals, emergency brake, trailer brakes, and brake lights. Towing vehicle must be equipped with the appropriate frame mounted receiver hitch and trailer brake controller.

Tools Kit Requirements (if applicable)

Camping Equipment & Provisions Requirements

Navigation Requirements

Emergency and Additional Equipment Requirements

Have questions about gearing up for a NMBR adventure?

Please email jake@newmexicoblackrange.com or utilize the contact box below for questions and feedback regarding trip/tour preparations. The self-sufficient and educational aspect of NMBR’s guided overland adventures and in-field overland training programs challenges and prepares individuals for their future four-wheel drive and overland based endeavors.

In March, New Mexico Backroads [NMBR] began the 2015 overland guide season with a new set of BFGoodrich 37×12.50R17 KO2 tires mounted on the NMBR Rubicon for a yearlong review.  “Is it time to come back to an all-terrain tire?”—this question would serve as the running theme for New Mexico Backroads’ ongoing review of the KO2. Would an overlanding based professional or enthusiast be willing to give up their big block mud-terrains for BFGoodrich’s next generation aggressive all-terrain tire? As of November 2015, the KO2 tires have over 15,000 miles of use, the majority of which has been off pavement and on dirt at 14PSI. NMBR’s 2015 adventures have included an expedition hosted for American Expedition Vehicles, two Ghost Divide Expeditions, traversing the historic Butterfield Trail with Overland Journal, the Gila Legends Expedition, the Camino del Tesoro Overland and a host of other rugged field work across the backcountry of the Southwest. The tires have been subject to every possible surface condition with the exception of ice.  As mentioned in the (May) 2,000 mile KO2 review (LINK: http://www.newmexicobackroads.com/2015/05/nmbrs-long-term-bfgoodrich-ko2-review.html) the tires provide exceptional traction in a variety of challenging conditions and terrain while still maintaining excellent pavement manners. These strong characteristics have remained unchanged over the past eight months and 15,000 miles.

Tire Review Background

Coming from my excellent experience (zero failures) with a half dozen sets of BFGoodrich KM2 Mud Terrain tires since their 2008 release, the KO2’s had some big shoes to fill. My early expectations for the new KO2 All-Terrain tires were that they would be a better all-around tire, but could possibly fall short of the KM2 in the most challenging situations or terrain. So far, my early assumption has been proven wrong—read on.

Sidewall Durability

In technical off-pavement driving situations where the tire tread is not in full contact with the terra firma, and using the sidewalls for traction is necessary, the BFGoodrich KO2’s sidewalls hold strong. The KO2’s sidewalls feature sipes, a serrated shoulder pattern and an aggressive side lug design that provides ample bite when steering precision is critical. The sidewall material has been improved over the previous KO tire with BFGoodrich’s new Coregard Technology which provides a more durable rubber composition that resists bruising and cutting. For added protection, the durable sidewall rubber compound and side lugs of the KO2 extend farther towards the center of the tire. Hundreds of miles of both dry and flowing riverbed roads have been traversed by the NMBR Rubicon with the KO2. Hundreds, if not thousands, of rocks (football to VW Bug in size) have manhandled the sidewalls. When airing up, I always inspect the vehicle’s underside and tires for damage. Despite the heavy rock rubbings that lead all the way to the wheels; the sidewalls show no sign of cuts or gouges. Some of the harshest sidewall contact has come from fallen ponderosa snags in burn scar areas, where baked branches extend onto the trail like spearheads. While driving over such hazards on purpose is not advised, the splintered timbers have not compromised the KO2’s sidewalls. It was noted in the May 2,000-mile review that the KO2 sidewalls were stiff and the preferable off-pavement PSI was 12.5 PSI. In the months since, the sidewalls have broken in a bit, providing greater flexibility and a more pronounced sidewall “bulge” at low PSI. At 15,000 miles, 14 PSI now provides optimal (overall) off pavement stability and traction for NMBR Rubicon.

Traction, Tread & Mileage

It is official, the BFGoodrich KO2 has equal or better overall traction characteristics as the BFGoodrich KM2. While the majority of the mileage I log is off-pavement, 4WD is only engaged when necessary. Many of the routes NMBR covers are three or four hundred miles between fuel stops where fuel conservation is critical. With the KO2 tires, I’ve been able to travel more miles in 2WD than with the previous KM2 tires. Whereas with the KM2 tires I used to arrive in Reserve, NM for refuel on fumes, after three days traveling along the Gila Legends Expedition route, I’m now arriving on a bit less than a quarter tank with the KO2 tires. The increased mileage could be attributed to enhanced traction and reduced 4WD engagement and the tighter (lower rolling resistance) tread pattern of the KO2—when comparing to the KM2.  Either way, I’ll take it!  Traction while climbing loose steep inclines is on par with the KM2.  Spin out and breakaways are minimal when the differentials are both open in 4-low and non-existent when the differentials are both locked on the loosest and most angled terrain.  The quality of traction the KO2 tires provide in these difficult conditions rival that of the knobbiest mud terrains on the market—a big statement for an all-terrain tire. The extensive siping found throughout the KO2’s iconic interlocking tread block pattern provide enhanced traction beyond the aggressive treads themselves.  While the tread edges remain sharp and unphased after 15,000 miles of hard use, the sipes edges themselves display slight rounding—this indicates that the sipes are working hard and essential to the tread pattern’s performance.  Between the treads are small pyramid shaped risers that promote the ejection of stones and debris to optimize traction by keeping the tread gaps open and prevent drilling (or embedded stone caused tire damage).

Pavement Manners

The BFGoodrich KO2 remains predictable and stable. Cornering is excellent for a 37-inch tall tire. Since the May 2,000-mile review, the preferred street air pressure has come down to 28 PSI. This puts all but a quarter inch of the tread in contact with the pavement while providing a decent ride on New Mexico’s pothole riddled byways. While the tires were fairly quiet rolling down smooth highway when brand new, they produce slightly more noise with 15,000 miles of use—not really a concern or complaint, just an observation. The KO2’s are still quieter than a new set of KM2’s. Balancing has been undramatic; no tire cause wandering, negative feedback or vibrations can be detected.

Tire Wear Characteristics

While keeping the basic overall interlocking tread block appearance of the previous KO all-terrain tire, BFGoodrich has heavily modified the tread rubber compound of the KO2 to provide a 100% longer on dirt tread life expectancy with the new KO2—a figure derived from extensive Baja development and third party testing. Given the hard life the NMBR Rubicon’s BFGoodrich KO2 tires have lived in a relatively short period if tune, the treads are in good condition. The tread depth of the tires new was 15/32 of an inch, at over 15,000 miles; they now measure an impressive 12/32 of an inch. It should be noted that the spare is still unused and will not be included in the regular 3,500-mile rotation and balance schedule.  The NMBR Rubicon’s frontend alignment schedule has been every 5,000 miles. As far as trail related wear, only a half dozen nicks the size of a fingernail are present in the tread blocks—no chunking, splitting or cutting is evident. The tread block edges are still sharp and unphased.  The siping within the tread blocks display minimal rounding—evidence the sipes are hard at work providing maximum traction. The wear exhibited so far would be the best I’ve seen of an aggressive all-terrain tire. The 15,000 mile KO2 review photos (displayed here) provide the best feedback on wear—the images say it all.  The NMBR Rubicon’s KO2 tires are not even halfway through their service life.

As the fall sets in on southern New Mexico and temperatures cool, NMBR will be heading into the desert and hitting the rock strewn canyons and backorads. Will the BFGoodrich KO2 tires hold their own as the underdog all terrain or will the KM2’s be going back on? Stay tuned to Expedition Portal for the next installment of NMBR’s yearlong test and review of the BFGoodrich KO2 tire.

BFGoodrich KM3 Mud Terrain

Over two years and 40,000 miles, I conducted an in-depth and long-term review of BFGoodrich’s KO2 all terrain during New Mexico Backroads’ normal scouting, training, and guiding fieldwork. The KO2 unseated the KM2 mud terrain as my tire of choice for midsized trucks and SUVs. My professional clients often ask for recommendations and information on tires, and above all other vehicle-related upgrades, the newly released KM3 provided an opportunity to reassess BFGoodrich’s best offerings for overland, trail, and daily driving use. While I do run other brands of tires such as Nitto, Cooper, and Toyo, my tire preferences tend to gravitate toward BFGoodrich’s offerings since they generally weigh less than the competition while providing strong overall performance and durability traits.

Overall Impressions

Editor’s Note: Due to the immense detail provided in the review we have placed the summary at the top. Read on to learn more. 

Facing stiff competition from other manufacturers’ mud-terrain offerings, BFGoodrich tasked themselves with redesigning the decade-old mud terrain T/A KM from the ground up. Aside from the nearly 7-pound (per-tire) weight gain and the absence of a load range D rated 35×12.50R17, the new KM3 is better in every way than its predecessor. Notable improvements over the KM2 include better pavement performance, strengthened tire construction, improved tread durability, and increased traction over a broad range of surface conditions. The KM3’s weight penalty may be forgivable given that the fortified mud terrain builds confidence by finding traction under the toughest conditions. Of all the tires I’ve run on NMBR’s vehicles, the KM3 both engages loose terrain and clings to hard surfaces better than any other, with the exception of BFGoodrich’s Krawler KX (Non-DOT Red Label). The smooth ride afforded by the KM3 mud terrain over rocks, ruts, and bumps was much appreciated throughout the tire’s 12,000-mile review—this trait alone may keep the tires mounted beneath the NMBR Recon.

While the KM3 wins hands down over the KM2, the comparison heats up between selecting the KM3 and KO2—especially for overland applications. After eight months with the new KM3, my current assessments are mixed. For the three or four total months of NMBR’s seasonal work where trail conditions are wet, muddy, and snowy, and for individual fieldwork, training, and guiding runs that involve especially technical terrain, the KM3 reigns supreme. Across the board, the KM3 is a beefier and more durable tire than the K02. The design and construction differences between the two tires equate to the KM3 being less susceptible to damage and punctures both on and off pavement. However, the big-blocked KM3 weighs over 8 pounds more per tire than the like-sized and load range rated KO2. The KM3’s additional rotational mass did have a somewhat negative effect on vehicle performance and fuel economy compared to the KO2. Through a host of mixed driving (4WD and 2WD), surface types, elevations, temperatures, and terrain variations the KO2 all terrain consistently yielded 1 to 2 more miles per gallon than KM3 mud terrain. The KM3’s reduced fuel economy seemed to nag me the most while traversing the Gila Legends Expedition where gas pump to gas pump (off-pavement) mileage for the first leg of the journey can top 250 miles. With the KO2, I was able to complete the first stage of Legends without touching my 10-gallon AEV fuel caddy. This was not the case with the KM3 mud terrain—I was adding gas about an hour short of the filling station.

Review Background

BFGoodrich KM2 Mud Terrain T/A—tried and true performance: Eleven years ago, I mounted a set of BFGoodrich’s 35-inch KM2 mud-terrain tires on the freshly built and rock-ready NMBR 4Runner. In the years that would follow, between three different vehicles, I collectively logged over 180,000 miles on eight different sets of KM2 tires. Through a variety of terrain and travels ranging from Moab to the remote backcountry of the Gila National Forest, to southern New Mexico’s infamous rock-crawling trails, I developed a strong understanding of the KM2’s high and low points. In summary, the tire performed exceptionally well over a variety of technical trail driving scenarios but displayed some shortfalls on the road. On pavement, the KM2 was susceptible to loud droning, vibrations, and unpredictable tracking in wet weather conditions. During the winter driving season, mainly iced roads, the KM2 was often unpredictable during mild and moderate steering, acceleration, and braking efforts. Despite the shortfalls, the now discontinued KM2 provided a worthy tire choice—there were zero failures or flats to report amongst 40 different tires.

BF Goodrich KO2 All Terrain T/A—a leap of faith: When the KO2 was released in 2014, I decided to mount a set on the NMBR Rubicon and perform an in-depth and extended tire review. The theme of the evaluation was simple: “Is it time to come back to an all-terrain tire?”. Given my solid experience with the KM2, switching to an all-terrain tire was a big leap of faith. After logging 40,000-plus miles on a single set of 37-inch KO2’s my question was answered—a resounding, yes! The tire provided nearly all of the off-pavement benefits of the KM2 with a few big advantages. On pavement, the KO2 was quiet, smooth riding, and vibration free. Even with the upsize from a 35-inch KM2 mud terrain to a 37-inch KO2 all terrain, the overall fuel economy improved. Although the KO2’s tread depth is shallower than the KM2, the KO2 still provided significantly better wear. With plenty of tread life remaining after 40,000 miles of use, that test set of KO2 tires triumphantly tackled the Dusy Ershim Trail with American Expedition Vehicles as their final act before the NMBR Rubicon was sold.

Notes for consideration: To provide a direct comparison between the KM3 and KM2 mud terrains and the KO2 all terrain, the majority of feedback within this review is specific to tire size 35×12.50R17, all mounted on our current Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited Recon Edition (aka – NMBR Recon). A notable difference within the trio is that the KM2s feature a load range rating of D, and the KM3 and KO2 both feature a load range rating of E. While this tire review highlights feedback on all three tires, the article’s primary focus is the KM3 mud terrain. To read NMBR’s long-term and in-depth review of the BFGoodrich KO2 All-Terrain, visit this link.

Tire Performance

On Pavement

While most low-range aficionados build their four-wheel-drive vehicles for maximum capability to conquer challenging terrain, the reality is that the majority of mileage is often logged over pavement. While the BFGoodrich KM3 has incredibly strong off-road attributes (we’ll cover this soon), the tire’s on-pavement performance should be strongly considered for enthusiasts that use their rigs primarily for daily driving, road tripping, and pavement pursuits in between the backroads. A common gripe with aggressive mud-terrain tires is the amount of noise and vibration they produce over asphalt, especially at highway speeds. My first impression of the KM3 was that they were noticeably quieter and smoother than the KM2. While the KM3 was chiefly designed to tackle tough terrain, mud, and rocks, the tire’s reworked tread pattern helps minimize the adverse side effects of running big blocks on tarmac. While the KM2 and KM3 may look similar, the main tread pattern of the KM3 has been reworked with siping revisions, block sculpture redesign, compound changes, and by reducing the overall spacing between tread blocks. However, within a few thousand miles of hard fieldwork use, the KM3’s noise level on pavement did increase moderately at speeds above 50 mph. My view on the noise increase, best described as a transition from a whir to a hum, was that it related to the smoothing and rounding of the tread block edges. This type of wear is somewhat normal for mud-terrain block patterns as the crisp tread edges become scrubbed during aired-down off-pavement use. Mall crawlers need not worry about this subtle issue. Even with the noise increase, the KM3 has not approached the droning and volume levels of the KM2. Additional pavement handling improvements over the KM2 include the absence of incurable vibrations, vague tracking on hot days, and lackluster wet road performance.

Bottom line, the KM3 beats the KM2 in all on-road categories. Shifting gears, in comparison with the KO2 all terrain, the KM3 does not outperform the KO2 in any pavement performance categories short of encountering a fresh rockslide across the roadway. While the KM3’s on-pavement performance such as straight-line tracking, cornering stability, and overall traction comes close to that the KO2, the KM3 can’t quite shake its burly mud-terrain persona. Regarding on-road noise, the KM3 is still noticeably louder than the KO2, especially at interstate speeds. Over bumpy and weathered road sections, the KO2 does more to dampen harsh feedback than the portly KM3. Ironically, the KM3 provides a smoother and plusher ride than the KO2 when off pavement. The KO2 remains the undisputed king of the road.

On the Trail

For decades, BFGoodrich has developed and tested their off-pavement tires on the Baja California Peninsula and across a broad spectrum of rugged motorsports. The company’s first dedicated mud-terrain tire, Mud T/A, was released in the early 1980s. Inspired by the Baja T/A KR3, BFGoodrich’s SCORE desert racing and King of the Hammers champion tire, the KM3 mud terrain was developed (first and foremost) with severe terrain and challenging surface conditions in mind. When comparing the KR3 and KM3 side by side, the similarities in the main tread and sidewall profiles are apparent. The KM3’s Terrain-Attack tread pattern profile was configured to provide optimal traction through varied steering angles and over a wide range of surface types. While the KM3 mud terrain’s main tread pattern may be similar in appearance, its predecessor (the KM2), the KM3’s revised design, and composition equate to better overall traction. The KM3 also features new Krawl-TEK compound. BFGoodrich claims the reworked KM3s provide five to eight percent more traction than the KM2 in a broad range of environments and conditions from sand and slickrock, to interstate and ice. During the long-term review of the KM3, the tires’ strong off-pavement ride and traction qualities dominated my overall perception of the tire. On the trail, even before encountering the first rock obstacle, the KM3 provided a smooth and plush ride over rough trail sections. The type of slow-going terrain includes numerous rocky, rooted, and rutted surface features that make up the majority of trail mileage between technical challenges. So long as you are easy on the throttle and brakes, tire breakaway on loose hill climbs, off-camber trail sections, and steep descent scenarios are scant. In a variety of technical trail scenarios from scree-covered inclines to dry waterfall climbs to daunting rock gardens, the KM3 provides ample terrain engagement. Overall, the tire’s stability and traction characteristics are predictable across a broad spectrum of challenging driving situations.

The KM3’s sidewall features BFGoodrich’s next generation Coreguard Max technology to help prevent sidewall damage. Aside from composition revisions, the sidewall tread pattern of the KM3 extends farther down the sidewall surface than KM2 to provide additional protection. The KM3’s sidewall and shoulder tread pattern, appropriately named Traction-Armor, features prominent tread blocks and grooving that were designed to engage a variety of natural surfaces and help maximize traction. The company touts the KM3’s sidewalls as being 27 percent stronger than KM2. Comparing the KM3 and KO2, the sidewall construction and design of the KM3 are stronger and more aggressive. Even with the KM3’s load range E rating, the tires’ sidewalls yielded considerable flexibility when aired down. During boulder scaling, driving situations that necessitate sidewall/terrain interface in order to conquer hard lines, the KM3’s sidewall grips firmly to both smooth and coarse textured rocks. After countless interactions with trail hazards ranging from sharp shale to shattered ice to splintered branches, the KM3’s sidewalls remain unscathed.

Tread durability with the KM3, as it relates to off-pavement use, appears better than average. Only a few small scratches and nicks are visible across the tread pattern of each tire. Brand new, the KM3’s main tread pattern depth measured 18/32 inches. After over 12,000 miles of use, the KM3’s tread depth measured an impressive 15/32 inches. The technical trail performance of the KM3 is better in every way than both the KM2 and KO2. The KM3’s strongest advantages include strength and traction gains. I have yet to encounter a technical driving situation where the KM3 fell short. For those four-wheel-drive enthusiasts that like the thrill of conquering big rocks and tough obstacles, the KM3 mud terrain will not disappoint.

In the Mud

The KM3’s first significant mud challenge came during NMBR’s 375-mile Gila Legends Expedition. The overland traversal unfolds during the height of the Southwest’s summer monsoon when heavy downpours often render treacherous trail conditions along the route. This year’s Gila Legends Expedition provided mile after mile of water-logged terrain from deep-tracked clay to slick vermillion to burn scar ash slurry. The performance characteristics of a mud-terrain tire (in mud) can be separated into two categories: grip and release. Let’s dig deeper into these harmonious functions as they relate to a tire performance in mud. For grip, the tire’s main tread pattern must feature tall and widely spaced lugs that support maximum surface contact (creating friction) in order to engage liquefied terrain. Vehicle traction on any surface relates the amount of engine torque being transferred from the engine to the tires to the ground, and the subsequent vehicle movement that does or doesn’t result. Ideal traction occurs when a tire has the ability to hold ground (or create friction) without spinout or sliding during vehicle motion. Under the best circumstances, the tire’s diameter multiplied by the number of tire revolutions (for any given stretch of terrain) should be nearly identical to the distance of ground covered. Because mud is enveloping, a heavily lugged sidewall tread pattern is necessary to capitalize on the tire’s increased contact patch under such conditions. The main and sidewall tread pattern of the KM3 provides considerable friction and forward in the slickest mud. On the subject of release, a well-performing mud-terrain tire via angular kinetic energy (or rotation), will self-clear a significant amount of mud and debris from between tread voids. If a tire’s tread pattern and functionality are lost behind a blanket of mud, it’s no better than a racing slick in the jungle. The BFGoodrich KM3 provides a strong combination of both grip and release traits that allow the tire to excel through a variety of muddy and soft surface conditions. The KM3’s trademark Terrain-Attack tread pattern, featuring deep voids and dominant blocks, yield strong traction performance in mud that usually necessitates the use of a winch and recovery gear. To help support the release of mud and debris packed within the main tread pattern, BFGoodrich positioned raised Mud-Phobic bars and pyramids between tread blocks.

The best mud performance comparison between the KM3 mud terrain and KO2 all terrain came during the aforementioned monsoonal run of the Gila Legends Expedition. Between a 4Runner in the group fitted with KO2s, and the NMBR Recon fitted with KM3s, a disparity between the two tires’ mud release characteristics became apparent. On multiple muddy trail and road sections, side-by-side assessments between the two revealed that the KO2 was more susceptible to the “chocolate doughnut effect,” a condition where unreleased mud builds multiple layers through tire revolutions—just add sprinkles! Although the KO2 all terrain features BFGoodrich’s Mud-Phobic design elements and provides decent overall mud performance, the tread pattern was overwhelmed in certain scenarios: mainly thick mud infused with gravel and debris. Given the KM3’s official mud-terrain designation and design attributes, it’s no surprise the KM3’s traction and control characteristics in mud outperformed the KO2. In comparison to the KM2, the KM3’s performance was slightly better due to its improved ability to release mud. Through challenges thick and thin, the KM3 provided exceptional mud performance where success is often measured by clean boots and soiled rigs.

Winter Driving – Snow and Ice

On-Road Winter Performance This year, winter packed a big punch across the Southwest’s high-country, producing an onslaught of powerful winter storms and heavy snowfall. While conducting off-season scouting runs for the upcoming River to the Sky Expedition and Camino del Tesoro Overland traversal routes, I managed to log over 1,500 miles across the snowy backcountry and backroads of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. I’ll admit that my early expectations for the KM3 were mixed on how the tires would perform on ice—a notoriously sketchy surface condition for most mud terrains. When it comes to winter travels, the most harrowing driving conditions seem to unfold over paved mountain roads where ice and snow change otherwise scenic and leisurely drives into precarious situations. While commuting to and from NMBR’s backcountry route access points, I utilized a maze of two-lane highways and mountain pass roads. Notable highpoints (above 10,000 feet) along the winding drives included Wolf Creek, Brazos, Tusas, La Manga, and Cumbres passes. On road sections encrusted by frozen slush and gleaming ice sheets, the KM3 provided surprisingly good stability, decent steering response, and predictable tracking. Moderate steering, acceleration, and braking maneuvers yielded minimal wheel slippage or spin. Unlike Ken Block, my approach to snow and ice driving involves low speeds, subtle movements, gentle brake modulation, and undramatic momentum control.

Additionally, for such road conditions where I don’t install tire chains, I set the Recon’s tire pressure between 18 psi and 24 psi depending on surface conditions. Keep in mind that my preferred lowered tire pressure range undoubtedly enhanced the KM3’s snowy and icy road performance and my subsequent opinion of the tire under such conditions. It’s likely the KM3’s performance in this category would be reduced while running tire air pressures suited for normal highway driving conditions. While the tread pattern of the KM2 and KM3 share similarities, the KM3 provides more grip on slippery surfaces. I assume the KM3’s Krawl-TEK tread compound has something to do with the difference.

In comparison to the KO2, the KM3 comes close but does not meet the winter road driving performance of BFGoodrich’s all terrain. Comparing the two tires’ main tread patterns, the KO2’s main tread design features extensive siping and grooving whereas the KM3’s tread blocks are mostly smooth and uninterrupted. While the KM3 proudly wears the Mud+Snow (M+S) rating, the KO2 ups the bar with the M+S and the Three Peak Mountain Snowflake ratings. The rating variance between the two should be a strong consideration for enthusiasts that live and recreate in heavy winter weather regions.

Backroads and Trails Winter Performance Off the beaten path, in snow ranging from a few inches to nearly 2 feet, the BFGoodrich KM3 mud terrain produces positive grip that’s as good or better than any other tire I’ve previously run during the winter season. Depending on snow depth and composition, the preferred snow air pressure range for the NMBR Rubicon is 7 psi to 14 psi. If you hadn’t noticed, my approach to maximizing tire performance begins with adjusting air pressure to best suit surface conditions. Following the lead of the KM3’s grip and release mud characteristics, the tire’s tread layout provides above average traction in snow. The KM3’s Mud-Phobic tread design elements help to release packed snow from between treads. The KM3’s main, shoulder, and sidewall patterns maximize snowy surface engagement within the tire’s contact patch, resulting in favorable traction and steering performance. In powdery to medium density snow, I had no issues charging through 2- and 3-foot-deep drifts propelled by the KM3’s aggressive tread pattern. Despite the challenging surface and substrate conditions provided by snow through technical terrain, the KM3 held a relatively firm grip on off-camber, steep ascent/descent, and technical trail sections. In the deepest and densest snow, the NMBR Rubicon’s front bumper, axles, and undercarriage did more to inhibit forward motion than the tire’s limitations. Comparing the KM3 and KM2, the two tires perform similarly in snow. However, the KM3 does do a better job releasing snow from the tread pattern. While the KO2 all terrain outperforms the KM3 mud terrain for most on-road winter driving conditions, the KM3 takes the lead as snow depth increases. The main tread pattern of the KM3 is less likely to become overwhelmed by snow than the KO2 for the same “grip and release” characteristics mentioned within the mud performance comparison. On a side note, being light on the throttle and maintaining controlled forward motion helps prevent an aggressive tire tread pattern from digging down into snow or other unstable surface types and consequently burying the vehicle.

Despite my initial expectations for the KM3, the tires earned a passing grade. Without a single traction related incident or self-recovery during NMBR’s scouting, the mission was a productive and successful one. With that said, it’s worth mentioning that my feedback for the KM3’s handling characteristics over snow and ice is based on a two-week long experience that did not include emergency maneuvers or the most severe winter conditions available in North America. For serious winter snow and ice driving conditions on the road or in the backcountry, snow chains are the gold standard for maximizing safety and preserving vehicle dynamics such as traction, steering, and braking.

Forest Roads, Two-track, and Dirt Highway

The vast majority of NMBR’s annual mileage is logged over tracks ranging from rough and slow-going primitive two-track to graded and maintained dirt highway. Commuting in and out of remote fieldwork and guiding areas, be it borderland desert or the Gila National Forest, entails long and lonely stretches of unpaved backroads. Technical trails, mud, and snow account for only a portion of the service work mileage. In this, my judgment of a tire’s overall off-pavement performance is directly related to an average 10- or 12-hour drive day. Whereas I may encounter a few dozen rocky and technical trail sections, totaling five or six miles combined, I’ll easily cover two hundred miles of less dramatic backroads where the terrain and surface conditions allow a faster pace. These brisk travel road sections can be punishing on both driver and vehicle if suspension and tires do not harmonize. Ride quality can make or break a driving intensive field day. As noted in the On the Trail section of this review, the KM3 mud terrain is smooth riding over rugged terrain—more so than the KO2 all terrain at equal air pressure. The sidewall break-in period for the KM3s was relatively short given the stout sidewall construction and load range E rating. Some mud-terrain tires, especially those with higher load ranges, yield harsh ride and handling traits due to rigid sidewalls. Even with the KM3’s plush ride, I’d like to see BFGoodrich offer a load range D rated 35×12.50R17 that brought the 74.4-pound, per-tire weight closer to the like-sized KO2 and KM2 (both below 70 pounds). Shaving weight would likely benefit braking, acceleration, on-pavement ride quality, and fuel economy while helping to reduce stress on vehicle components.

My assumption is that BFGoodrich produces the E-rated 35×12.50R17 KM3 to accommodate a wide range of vehicle platforms and towing/hauling applications. On the smoothest sections of dirt highway, where speeds above 50 mph were obtainable, the KM3 yields stable tracking and predictable handling through moderate steering and braking actions. Overall, on dirt and gravel backroads, the KM3 performs slightly better than KO2 with most points being awarded in the driver control and ride quality categories. Unrelated to performance, just like most mud terrains, large voids between the tread blocks facilitate rock chucking. Switching from the KO2 all terrain to the KM3 mud terrain reminded me of this as the pings and dings caused by projectile rocks substantially increased. When adventuring in groups, make sure to keep vehicles in procession widely spaced as aggressive tires (both all-terrain and mud-terrain tires) eject paint and glass damaging rocks. Also, be kind to your fellow motorists and remove larger rocks from the tire treads while airing up and before hitting the road home.

Full-sized Feedback Some may ask why NMBR’s BFGoodrich tire review feedback is specific to midsized trucks and SUVs. The rationale for this is because we have only employed all of the tires in this review in size 35X12R17 on the Recon. My intention was to provide an accurate comparison utilizing a single tire size and single vehicle platform. My experience is that tires often perform differently between weight class categories. As an example, NMBR’s Prospector, an American Expedition Vehicles-built RAM 2500 Power Wagon, did not produce the same positive results as the Recon with the KO2 all terrain. The tire specification for the AEV Prospector (non-XL) calls for size 37X12R17. The only KO2 offered in this size has a load rating of D. While KO2 provided the Prospector with good overall off- and on-pavement performance, the tires were subject to accelerated wear, and their stability was less favorable while towing or if the truck was fully loaded. At 20,000 miles, with minimal tread remaining, the Prospector’s KO2s neared the end of their service life. The size and load rated KO2 provided the NMBR Rubicon (not the current Recon) with over 40,000 miles of hard use. As I haven’t run the KM2 or KM3 on the Prospector, it would not be fair for me to cast an opinion on either tires’ performance and durability pertaining to full-sized and heavy-weight applications. For what it’s worth, and so you know I’m not in bed with BFGoodrich, the Prospector currently sits atop 37-inch Nitto Ridge Grapplers.

Recommendations For overlanders and weekend warriors using their midsized truck or SUV for daily driving duties, maybe the Rubicon, San Juans, or Moab once or twice a year, and a slew of rugged multi-day traversals in between, my recommendation goes to the BFGoodrich KO2 all terrain. The KO2 provides better than average traction for an all-terrain tire while winning high marks in the pavement, weight, fuel economy, and winter season categories. The KO2 set the benchmark for all-around tire performance standards upon the completion of their exceptional two-year, 40,000-mile stint mounted an NMBR’s Rubicon.

For those hardcore trail enthusiasts, global overlanders, and professionals seeking the highest degree of uncompromised traction and durability, the KM3 mud terrain is best suited for the most unforgiving terrain and surface conditions. While the KO2’s tightly spaced and shallow treads allow better flotation in certain mud, sand, and snow conditions, the KM3 still provides stronger overall off-pavement traction. The KM3 reigns supreme across the technical trail, mud, rocks, and deep snow categories. Although the KO2 and KM3 come close, the takeaway here is that no tire is perfect; gains in one area can equate to losses in others. It’s up to the end user to decide what tire performance characteristics are most practical and important for their specific needs. As for what tire the Recon will finish out the 2019 season with, you’ll have to keep up with New Mexico Backroads’ adventures to find out.

KM3 Pros and Cons

Pros

On pavement Better handling, less noise, and less vibration than the KM2.

On the trail Excellent traction and performance over a variety of technical terrain. A smooth and plush ride over rough trail sections (better than KO2 and KM2).

Mud Excellent “grip and release” performance (better than KO2 and KM2).

Winter driving Good all-around performance for a mud-terrain (better than the KM2), and excellent performance for backcountry and snowy trail driving conditions (better than the KO2 and KM2).

Durability Excellent overall tire construction strength and tread wear characteristics. Brand new, the KM3’s main tread pattern depth measured 18/32 inches. After over 12,000 miles of use, the KM3’s tread depth measured an impressive 15/32 inches (sidewall is better than the KO2 and KM2; tread wear is better than KM2).

Cons

On pavement Noticeably louder and harsher riding than the KO2 on pavement.
Winter driving The KO2 performs better across a broad range of winter driving conditions and features the Three Peak Mountain Snowflake rating; the KM3 does not.
Tire weight The KM3 weighs more than both the KO2 and KM2. The weight gain adversely affects braking, acceleration, on-pavement ride quality, and fuel economy.

Statistics

BF Goodrich 35×12.50R17 Mud-Terrain T/A KM3

Price $323 each
Tire warranty A standard manufacturer’s limited warranty, which covers defects in workmanship and materials for the life of the original usable tread, or for six years from the date of purchase, whichever occurs first.
Load range E
Max load 3,195 pounds
Speed rating 121Q
Recommended rim width 8.5 to 11 inches
Weight 74.4 pounds
Average height at 28 psi on the fully loaded NMBR Recon 33.6 inches
Tread depth brand new 18/32 inches, tread depth after 12,563 miles of use was 15/32 inches.
NMBR Recon tire psi ranges during review On road, 28-30 psi; off pavement, 12-18 psi; On road snow and ice, 18-24 psi; off pavement snow and ice, 7-14 psi.
Wheels used for review 17 x 8.5-inch American Expedition Vehicles Salta Wheels (for JK Wrangler)

Please note: BFGoodrich provided the five KM3 tires used in this review at no charge to NMBR. NMBR was responsible for expenses related to mounting, balancing, and maintaining the subject tires and was not paid nor promoted by BFGoodrich (or any other companies).

the story of luca new mexico

Between Canyon de Chelly and the San Juan River, mustangs run free across the wilds of Navajoland. This remote region features a vast maze of Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) highways and washboard roads that link rural communities to civilization. Alongside the faded tarmac of Indian Route 12, horses graze on yellowed grass as cars speed by. All too often, these animals are struck by motorists and left for dead to be ravaged by predators. The carcasses, in various forms of decomposition, are frequent along the road.

It was in this lonely country, after passing the “Welcome to Arizona” sign, that I realized I had made a wrong turn some 20 miles back at the junction in Yah-ta-hey, a small village north of Gallup, New Mexico. The original plan included a northerly push through New Mexico, a brief nip of the Copper State at Four Corners, and an evening arrival at Valley of the Gods. A friend from Tennessee, John Franzen, was meeting me that evening to camp amongst the massive rock monoliths before setting off into the depths of Comb Ridge early the next morning. After consulting the map, I opted to press on through Arizona via Indian Route 12 rather than backtrack. The weathered two-lane highway runs parallel to the Arizona–New Mexico state line through Fort Defiance, Tsaile, and Rock Point. If anything, it was an opportunity to see new scenery.

The route provided a spectacular display of red-rock-laced valleys, sandstone buttes, and grass-dotted bluffs. Sunrise cast long shadows over the land. The awe-inspiring scene was diminished by roadside tragedy though—dead horse after dead horse. Some lay on the embankment while others had made it a bit further into the scrubland before succumbing to mortal injuries. In a surreal scene, a small black puppy played in the grass tufts surrounding a carcass. I immediately decelerated and made a U-turn; few things stir my heart more than a dog. Despite stopping a good distance away, the animal fled. Exiting the 4Runner, I whistled, clapped, and called to it in every dog-wooing voice imaginable, but nothing seemed to stop it. My heart sank as I watched the puppy fade into distant chaparral.

Movement in the shadow of the dead horse caught my eye. It was another puppy, this one black and white. My steps were slow as I approached and talked sweet to the little dog, hoping it would not bolt for the hills, too. The earth beneath the corpse’s ruptured belly was pink and packed as if the dog had rolled beneath the beast for days. Torn hide hung like drapes over the burrow. As my eyes adjusted, it became apparent why she couldn’t run away or even sit up for that matter: her belly and paws were riddled with spines and goathead thorns. To survive, she had been eating the horse’s flesh and licking its wounds. She squirmed and grunted as I reached down for her, but didn’t growl or snap. I picked her up and held her to my chest like a baby; her tail slowly started to wag as I spoke gently to her. It was a miracle that she was still alive.

The dog licked my hands as I combed my fingers through her matted fur, ridding her little belly and paws of the prickly plants that painfully immobilized her. With Leatherman scissors, I trimmed away the most stubborn bits of horse flesh and dried blood from her coat. She then downed two or three bowls of water without stopping. After rummaging through the fridge, I was able to produce deli ham and sliced cheddar. Her tail wagged furiously as she snatched the morsels out of my hand, nearly swallowing the food whole. It seems the fastest way to win a dog’s heart is with processed meat and cheese.

We set off with the windows rolled down due north on Indian Route 12. The foul odor of the pup was overwhelming, as if the horse had come along too. My new ambition was to bathe her. Looking at the desolate landscape, I figured I’d be lucky to find a half-full cattle tank. A few miles down the road I came across a trooper clearing debris from the highway and asked him where I might find a gas station or car wash. Without a word, he wiped his brow and pointed up the road before quickly returning to his work.

With the pup fast asleep on the floorboard, we pulled into Mexican Water, a community marked by little more than a gas station/diner and laundromat. The throwback buildings sat in the center of a dusty lot surrounded by kayak and bike-laden SUVs and muddy ranch trucks. Once inside, I asked the cashier where I might find a hose. Before I could explain, she directed me around back. “Don’t leave it running,” she said, as the sprung screen door slammed shut behind me.

Behind the station, a 20-something guy wearing a wifebeater worked a jungle of weeds. He slowly walked up to the truck and rested his arm on the windowsill, pushing his sunglasses to the tip of his nose, weed whacker still sputtering. I asked him where I could find the hose. Eyes squinting, he leaned inside the window to take cover from the sun, a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. “I’ll be damned,” he mumbled as he looked at the sleeping dog on the floormat, “Guess you need a hose then.” He pointed at a spigot and curled hose underneath a tree. “Hold on, I’ll be back.” Moments later, he returned with a green 5-gallon bucket, took refuge under a tree, and lit another cigarette. Smoke wafted from his mouth as he spoke, “That ought to do the trick.” In the meantime, I had scrounged a spare leash (used for my other dogs), dish soap, and my only towel.

Suds billowed from the top of the bucket as I sprayed the soap-infused water. The little dog immediately started to flail knowing she was going in. I put her in haunches first and she put her front paws on the bucket rim in protest. She then took a liking to the feeling of the cool water and settled down. I lathered and rinsed the pup four or five times until the bathwater lost its pink tinge. Each time, she’d shake the water off while I held her with one hand and refilled the bucket with the other. Soon I was soaked, standing in the mudhole I had created. All the while the man looked on with amusement. The scene was reminiscent of a Dawn commercial—the one where they feature their soap heroically cleansing sea creatures of oil spill muck. This story would have had their PR department watering at the mouth. Once finished, she looked magnificent compared to the dog I had found a short while before. I thanked the man and offered him compensation for helping me. He chuckled and said the entertainment was payment enough. With that, we drove off bound for southern Utah. Free from the flesh and blood stains of her past, she had been baptized in Mexican Water.

As the sun sank in the cloudless sky, we entered Utah near Boundary Butte. After crossing the San Juan River, the road to the Valley of the Gods meanders between sheer red rock cliffs and smooth sandstone formations. The scenery becomes more spectacular with each passing mile.

I was late by a few hours to meet up with my friend John. I had befriended him during Borderland Overland, a trip that I guided along the US–Mexico border to the Overland Expo when the event was held in Amado, Arizona. John was traveling with his friend Blaine; the two were zigzagging across Southern Utah in John’s VW Syncro Campervan. As I rounded the last bend to Castle Butte, I spotted their olive-drab van. It was situated below a towering rock spire at the end of a narrow two-track. While the two razzed me upon arrival, I opened the door of my truck, and the pup jumped out. Under normal circumstances, I’d start handing beers out while explaining my tardiness. In this case, rescuing a puppy living in a dead horse was excuse enough. The guys immediately fell in love with her.

That night at camp we exchanged stories around the crackling campfire. I leaned back in my chair and gazed into the heavens. With the closest city lights hundreds of miles away, Valley of the Gods has one of the most spectacular night skies I’ve ever beheld. A seemingly infinite number of stars and planets contrasted themselves against the darkness. As we conversed, the pup lay fast asleep snoring under my chair. Although she had been free to wander camp, she tended to stay close to me. When we finally retired for the night, she immediately followed to the tent and climbed in like a regular. She plopped down on my pillow and sprawled out.

At daybreak, we broke camp and loaded our rigs. We ascended the switchbacks of the Moki Dugway, explored Comb Ridge, and hiked to Three Room Ruin. The Anasazi-built rock houses are nestled beneath a massive natural alcove. The ruin is sometimes called Road House Ruin or Fallen Roof Ruin. As pieces of sandstone above have broken away and fallen due to natural erosion, scientists believe that the structure itself provides support to the remaining ceiling.

After parting ways with John and Blaine, we pressed north through the grand landscapes of Cedar Mesa, Blanding, and Manti-La Sal National Forest, bound for Moab. The main purpose of my trip to Utah was to attend Cruise Moab. The annual Toyota-based off-road event brings hundreds of enthusiasts from around the country to test their skills and equipment against Moab’s infamous backcountry trails. When we finally arrived, I made a stop at the local veterinarian for a thorough evaluation and first round of vaccinations for the dog. Despite her hardship, the vet concluded she was in good condition. Only time would tell the full extent of her malnourishment and exposure.

We camped along the banks of the Colorado River. One morning before sunrise, I awoke to a wet bag—the dog had peed on it during the night. In the faint light, I saw her head-first in my duffel, burrowing into my clothes. She was soaking wet as I pulled her out. The rest of the morning was spent at the local laundromat and carwash. Twenty dollars in quarters later, everything was laid out over my vehicle and tent to dry in the sun. Defeated by the pup, I cracked a beer and lounged in a chair for the rest of the day, while she rolled in the dirt and trotted around camp.

Canyonlands and Arches national parks and the White Rim Trail provided sensational views and incredible backroad travels, but the dog’s mishaps proved to be the most memorable moments of the journey. Uninterested in the toys I had bought her, she managed to chew through a number of clothing items, a cell charger, a half-dozen paper maps, and a Nalgene bottle. On Cliff Hanger Trail, made famous for being precariously positioned on the side of a sheer cliff, she tried to jump over the center console while I made a sandwich in the back—luckily, her leash was anchored to the floorboard. At that point, she became so excited that she peed into the console tray which contained my wallet, cell phone, and spare change. I hadn’t had a puppy in years, but the trials and tribulations were becoming quickly remembered. As her personality seemed to develop, so did some bad habits. She would pee whenever I picked her up or someone new pet her. She would bark uncontrollably at her food bowl when it was empty. She would scratch at the tent door to get out, only wanting back in seconds later. Even so, I had fallen hard for her.

That week, we traversed over 300 miles of rugged backroads and trails around Moab, Canyonlands, and the La Sal Mountains. She liked riding shotgun on the passenger floorboard of the truck, but sometimes she would get up on the seat and put her paws on the window to take in the view. Despite her skittish bladder and occasional bad habits, the pup was becoming the ultimate trail dog.

On the return voyage, I retraced my steps. I passed a bullet-riddled sign for Lukachukai, a small Indian village nestled against the Chuska Mountains. I said the village name in my head a few times before the dog’s name came to me—Luka. Back at the place it all began, I decelerated after spotting the dead horse and pulled over. The corpse had been ravaged in the week that had passed. I scanned the horizon for the other black sibling that had run away. The only sign of life was a hawk circling high above. The setting sun illuminated the surrounding landscape, painting it with brilliant shades of red and orange. As a cool breeze rustled the grass and brought a chill to the air, I reflected on the blessing of finding Luka. I paid my respects to the dead horse for providing shelter and supporting her survival. I looked over the landscape one last time, but still no black pup. On a somber note we departed; Luka plopped her head down and gave a long grunt.

The engine strained as I drove through the forested hills south of Greasewood. In the fading dusk, I watched a pack of wild dogs running between the trees. They looked like jackals pursuing their next meal. I looked down at Luka lying asleep on the floorboard— her path had been forever changed.

Epilogue

Luka was found during the spring of 2011. Upon our return home, she joined the Quiñones family: my (now) wife, Meghan, stepdaughter, Olivia, and two German shepherds, Guy and Jones. Within a few days of acclimating to her new surroundings, Luka was running the desert with Guy and Jones by day and sleeping on a plush couch by night. Astounding was her ability to hear food packaging being opened from distances far away. Her palate was diverse and unapologetic: she savored smoked sausage just as much as a captured mouse. Barking at an empty food bowl and peeing with excitement are habits that never let go. Because she was found during the pursuit of adventure, Luka became our primary travel dog. Her small size and road-ready manners made her a perfect companion for trips ranging from Arches to Antero and beyond. In 2013, I married my wife atop Imogene Pass in Colorado. That morning, we ran Black Bear Pass into Telluride and ascended Imogene that afternoon. At 13,114 feet, Luka was the sole witness to our vows.

Although Luka was happy, she did suffer from the pains of early malnourishment and stunted growth. Some days she played hard, others she sat by herself in the shadows. From the dirt she was raised, and to the dirt she was returned. Luka passed away in 2016. She is now buried in the desert where she grew up, chasing rabbits and lounging in the shade of creosote bushes. Our hearts remain heavy and we miss her, but Luka’s life on this earth was a good one.

New Mexico Black Range - NMBR's Next Chapter: After 10-years as New Mexico Backroads, NMBR is now New Mexico Black Range.

The name change represents NMBR's deep roots in the wild and remote Black Range of the Gila National Forest. For those of you not familiar, NMBR is a one-man operation. I’m the guide, the trainer, the storyteller, and the photographer—I am NMBR. From childhood adventures, to supporting a livelihood, NMBR's rebrand honors my humble beginnings and lifelong connection with the Black Range. Many of my earliest memories are those from the Black Range; pedaling my bike down rough two tracks with my dog Hagar, whittling boats to float down the Mimbres River, and riding in my Dad’s bronco during a fierce Thanksgiving snow storm. Some thirty years later, one of NMBR’s first professionally guided trips began at the very spot Hagar would jump out of the Bronco and run the rest of the way to camp.

Over the past decade, NMBR has evolved from a small overland tour and four-wheel drive training outfitter/guide service, operating exclusively in the Gila National Forest, to a multi-state operation serving a multitude of enthusiasts, companies, and agencies. While NMBR has expanded its offerings beyond New Mexico’s borders, the New Mexico Black Range name represents all the miles I’ve traveled to get here—personally and professionally. Moving forward, NMBR will continue to embrace environmentally responsible, safe, and purposeful principals surrounding vehicle-based endeavors in the backcountry. NMBR’s primary service ambition will remain steadfast: “provide clients with the training, instruction, challenges, and experiences necessary to inspire confidence in their future 4WD based adventures—to go boldly, prepared and with confidence!”

Looking ahead, the next chapter will include further expansion of NMBR's area of operation across the American Southwest and new adventures. This year, New Mexico Black Range will be offering ten different overland and 4WD-based adventures including the all new Rockies Road Trip to the Overland Expo Mountain West. Rich and original content is what fostered NMBR’s growth in the early years. With a “back to basics” approach, New Mexico Black Range will be producing more stories, commentary, and photography. In the coming months, New Mexico Black Range will be rolling out a fresh new look including new website, refreshed graphics, and name changes for social media channels. As I handle the transition between guiding and fieldwork, your patience through this process is appreciated. 

To NMBR’s clients, collaborators, and followers, as always, thank you for your continued support. New Mexico Black Range would be nothing without you. Let’s plan on the traversing the path less traveled together for 2020 and beyond. Ready for your next great adventure?

New Mexico Black Range 2020 Schedule:

 
 
 
El Coyote Expedition Badge Design-work - For 2020, NMBR will be rolling out adventure badges for each of the ten scheduled trips.

When safely manageable, a fallen tree across the roadway should not be reason enough for rerouting your adventure. Over the three two guide seasons, New Mexico Black Range [NMBR] has utilized the AEV EditionSilky BIGBOY folding handsaw for tree and brush clearing duties. For nearly a century, Silky has been producing high-quality saw and blades in Ono Japan—a community renowned for its steel-forging artisans and ancestry. Today, Silky’s product line remain modest and true to their heritage with a variety of specialty hand saws and limb choppers for landscaping, forestry, and carpentry applications. Silky’s handsaws provide a safe, simple and effective alternative to cutting tools/methods that require gas, electric, or excessive brute force. 

AEV Edition Silky BIGBOY Handsaw

The BIGBOY features a low angle curved 14-1/5-inch (chrome plated and impulse hardened) alloy steel blade with 5.5 serrated teeth per inch. The rubber coated handle provides an easy to grip surface while still ensuring a firm and comfortable hand-feel. The unique arched handle and blade, paired with the saw’s patented laser cut serrated tooth pattern, makes fast and low-effort work of trees trunks and branches up to 12-inches in diameter. Weighing in at less than a pound (450 grams) and measuring less than 15-inches in total length when closed, the saw is ideal for including in an overlanding field kit. The saw has one minor flaw that should be noted for safe operation. Wear leather gloves wile opening the BIGBOY. When closed, the blade’s center teeth are slightly exposed where the blade does not fully seat into the handle stock. The exposed teeth could cause injury if the blade is opened with bare hands. Overall, the Silky BIGBOY provides a well-built and easy to use tool for those adventurists willing to clear the trail ahead. 

NMBR Gear Review AEV Edition Silky BIGBOY Handsaw

Notes from the GuideHandsaw use should go [hand-in-hand] with personal protective gear (including leather gloves, eye protection, and long-sleeves clothing), two or more felling wedges, a rubber mallet, and a pry-bar (for wedge/cut manipulation). Open or unsheathe a saw only once you have arrived at your work area. Keep your fist aid kit a stone’s throw away and ready for [possible] injury management. Consider what a tree will do during and after cutting such as where it may roll or how it will spring if bound pressure suddenly released. Saw responsibly. 

Land of Enchantment Style Green Chile and Angus – Best enjoyed with good company on the open range, simple ingredients and preparation yield a New Mexico’s vaquero’s favorite supper.

Backroads Grill Land of Enchantment Style Green Chile and Angus

Overview

Serves 2 | Preparation and cook time: 6 to 12 hours to marinate, 30-minutes meal prep and cooking | Equipment: Large cast iron skillet or disco, (2) large freezer bags, meat thermometer

Main Course: Green Chile & Angus
Side: Skillet crisped and buttered corn or flour tortillas
Beverage: Santa Fe Brewing Company Happy Camper IPA
Desert: Bischocos (Mexican sugar cookies) and cinnamon spiced tequila

Dish Background: Years ago, while scouting the borderland west of El Paso, I crossed paths with a group of vaqueros winding down a late fall cattle drive. The boss, who I knew from happenstance, motioned me to join them. He was sitting on the tailgate of a pinstriped truck, leaning against a gunny sack labeled “Young Guns Hatch Chile”.

The setting sun cast the long shadows over the scene. Some of the ranch hands stood around the fire drinking beer and smoking cigarettes, while others trimmed fresh Angus beef and rubbed green chilies with lard for grilling. The thick cuts of meat and vibrant Big Jim’s (a Hatch chile variety) sizzled atop a rock steadied disco. A disco is a large field-tilling disc, re-purposed for grilling with the shaft hole plugged and horseshoes welded on rim. The simple meal exceptional—as was the stories and tequila passed around fire that evening. Enjoy!

Chili - Marinade Ingredients

Grill - Angus Steak & Green Chili Ingredients

Preparation

Marinade: Combine marinade ingredients in a large resealable freezer bag. Place steaks in bag, close and carefully hand kneed bag so that marinade evenly coats the meat. Open bag and remove as much air as possible before resealing. Double bag steak/marinade to avoid spilling contents into chilled food storage. Let steaks marinade in ice box or cooler for 6 to 12 hours before grilling.

Grilling: Heat a large cast iron skillet over full flame or radiant coals for two to three minutes. While skillet is heating, add bacon fat or olive oil. Place steaks and chilies in skillet. Sear each side of steak for two minutes. Remove steaks and place aside. Move skillet to cooler area of fire or turn burner down to medium, the chiles will take longer to cook over flame than the steaks. Continue to roast chiles until skin displays moderate blackening then remove and place chiles in small resealable bag. This will chiles to steam under residual heat and allow the skin freely separate from meat. Place steaks back into skillet and let cook for two to four minutes per side until desired interior temperature is reached (130F for rare and 170F for well done). Peel chile and place atop steak. Add salt and pepper to taste. Option: Top steak with graded asadero or cotija crumbles. For breakfast, fry two eggs to accompany dish.

The Southwest’s premier overland guide and training service details the build, adventures, and evolution of the NMBR Rubicon.

A four-wheel drive professional doesn’t cross their fingers in hopes that the terrain ahead will be forgiving, or that an avoidable mechanical issue won’t present itself at the worst possible moment. Instead, they ensure their vehicle and skills are up to task when operating far from the beaten path. Each year, my fieldwork, guiding, training, and scouting calls for over 15,000 miles of travel in the New Mexico Black Range’s (NMBR) Rubicon. Whether leading a multimillion-dollar treasure hunt north of Santa Fe, photographing wildland fire crews battling flames in the Gila National Forest, or scouting backcountry along the U.S.–Mexico border, the focus is on providing services where pavement does not exist. The Rubicon serves as my primary transport and base camp for all operations. Its build theme and upgrades have centered on balancing three characteristics: reliability, capability, and versatility.

NMBR Rubicon tackling the Dusy Ershim Trail (photo courtesy of AEV Conversions)

GOING TO THE DARK SIDE

In 2012, I retired a Toyota 4Runner and purchased a 2012 Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited Rubicon (JKUR). The JKUR’s ability to accommodate 35- or 37-inch tires with minimal suspension lift, paired with the recent interior redesign and power plant revisions, edged out the other contenders (2012 models of the Toyota 4Runner and Tacoma). After taking delivery, my ambitions to make Cruise Moab, my favorite springtime Toyota-based event, vanished into thin air—I was a Jeep guy now. This type of crossover is known in Toyota circles as “going to the dark side” and is even considered blasphemous amongst the most hardcore Cruiser-heads. Truth be told, the stigma that surrounds going from Toyota to Jeep, or vice versa, is nothing but smoke, as the latest low-range four-wheel drive offerings of either marque are some of the best models ever produced.

“Overall, the best builds are well thought-out yet simple; they don’t over-complicate function or attempt to reinvent the wheel.”

Tackling NMBR's 4-Day Camino del Tesoro Overland route (New Mexico) 

In the years leading up to buying a Jeep, I found myself guiding more and more individuals driving JK Wranglers on NMBR overland trips, due primarily to its increasing popularity and strong aftermarket support. For an enthusiast looking to one vehicle that could tackle both the toughest trails and support extended overland routes, the JKUR’s Unlimited trim package was well-suited. The 116-inch wheelbase and impressive axle articulation offer excellent stability in technical and off-camber driving situations. The platform provides exceptional off-pavement prowess, adequate interior storage area, and (cue endearing gasp from my Toyota friends) strong dependability, putting it in a class of its own. Aside from the RAM Power Wagon, it is one of the only vehicles available in North America that comes straight out of the box with knobby tires, locking front and rear differentials, and an on-demand front sway bar disconnect—not to mention a 4:1 (low-range ratio) transfer case and steel rock rails. As for reliability, I’ve never had a JK model Wrangler temporarily sidelined for more than owner-neglected maintenance, an injector issue caused by bad fuel, a trail damaged axle shaft, or a broken transfer case shifter linkage bushing.

Engineer Pass - San Juan Mountains (Colorado) 

FORM AND FUNCTION

The NMBR Rubicon was built for dual purposes: technical trail running and long-distance, self-supported off-pavement travel. From winch mounts to tire carriers, and wheels to roof racks, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to see firsthand which aftermarket products work well and which need improvement. Overall, the best ones are well-thought-out yet simple; they don’t overcomplicate function or attempt to reinvent the wheel. And so, the ideology of the build began to take shape.

Broad Canyon Trail (New Mexico)

To tackle southern New Mexico’s infamous canyon bottom boulder fields, I wanted to run a 35-inch tire and 3 inches of suspension lift height to optimize traction, center of gravity, and ground clearance. The suspension would also need to provide excellent handling and ride qualities in a variety of driving conditions: from low-speed rock crawling to high-speed desert scouting missions. The JKs I’d driven had suspensions ranging from simple coil/shock replacements to complicated long-arm systems. My interest piqued after trying out an American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) JK350 Wrangler equipped with their 3.5-inch DualSport suspension system and full parts lineup; the ride comfort and performance characteristics were unmatched. I reached out to AEV’s Chris Wood, who shared their straightforward approach to designing and manufacturing parts—fundamentals based on improving performance and function while complementing the OE design.

Comb Ridge wanderings (Utah)
Comb Ridge wanderings (Utah) 

With less than 1,000 miles on the odometer, I began the build. The only way to learn the dynamics of a new vehicle is to become intimately acquainted with it from bottom to top. Just like the 4Runner, I did all the work myself in our shop. The initial build took 2 weeks as I installed suspension, wheels/tires, armor, winch, electrical, and other major upgrades. While the parts installation process was relatively simple, considerable time was added to address every fine detail, down to Mopar gloss black paint applied to grinding areas and double- and triple checking my work. Overall, unexpected setbacks were minimal and the job was completed the night before its maiden voyage: the Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah. After cruising 600 miles of pavement, the Rubicon completed Flat Iron Mesa and Hell’s Revenge without skipping a beat. Confidence inspired, on the return trip to New Mexico, I opted to take an extended backroad route through Comb Ridge and Navajoland. So far, the Rubicon has run trails from California’s Dusy-Ershim to New Mexico’s Chile Canyons, and completed hundreds of field assignments and guided trips—all without fail.

NMBR built sleeping platform and cargo deck
NMBR built sleeping platform and cargo deck

SIMPLE SUSTAINED LIVING

While the outside of the Rubicon looks like most any other AEV-equipped JKUR, the inside contains a custom sleeping platform and cargo deck I built to maximize storage space and mount an ARB fridge to. Having grown up working for my Dad’s construction company, I developed carpentry skills and an understanding for practical configuration early on. After months of designing, fabricating, and field-testing a number of prototypes, the perfected interior platform/deck was born.

The base material is 1/2-inch (veneer core) Russian birch; the top surface headpiece, tailpiece, and deck ribbing are 1/8-inch aluminum plate.The entire unit was finished with an industrial-grade, non-skid, spray-on coating developed for ship decks and oil platforms. Canyon Dancer strap rings are installed throughout, mated to embedded T-nut fasteners to provide strong cargo lashing points. A headboard piece, which firmly nests between the tracks of the ARB fridge slide when not in use, easily installed in the footwell (behind the passenger front seat when slid forward) to provide over 6 feet of linear sleeping space; it also serves as a lapboard for writing or eating.  

The rear roll-bar mounted A/T Overland interior rack maximizes otherwise unused interior space, while a fold-down Outback Adventure tailgate-mounted table provides a food prep and work surface (a compact substitute for a stand-alone table). Rechargeable LED lanterns are used instead of hard-wired lighting, and backpacking style meal prep and cooking equipment in place of full-scale items. Storage access is provided by waterproof and vibration-free kayak hatch covers. Over 100 pounds of vital tools, spare parts, recovery gear, and provisions reside under the cargo deck’s surface level.

Home on the range (New Mexico)
Home on the range (New Mexico)

As a space saving and silent means to address storage, a variety of soft bags and pouches (such as those made by Adventure Tool Company) are utilized in lieu of hard-sided boxes or containers. I use 10-liter MSR Dromedary bags for water supply; they can be easily placed in an unused footwell or floor space (or even used as a pillow) and rolled up and tucked away when empty. My field kit is constantly scrutinized to ensure only the most critical equipment and provisions have duplicates, and less important ones have multiple uses.

Flexing out the AEV 4.5 DualSport Suspension (New Mexico)
Flexing out the AEV 4.5 DualSport Suspension (New Mexico)

UPGRADES AND UPKEEP

Since the initial build the suspension has been swapped to AEV’s 4.5-inch system to accommodate 37-inch BFG KO2 tires. ­The up-sized suspension and tires provide additional ground clearance and capability. AEV’s corner guards (painted to match the body), rear differential skid, differential covers, Salta wheels, and raised air intake were added at the same time. Heavy-duty steering linkage and ball joints were installed to keep the 37-inch tires pointed in the right direction.

Borderland near US/MEX border (Texas)
Borderland near US/MEX border (Texas)

With the build mostly complete, the majority of my attention and resources now go toward the preservation of the truck. Four-wheel drive vehicle capability is dependent on reliability— not the other way around. Upon returning from the field, I meticulously conduct a detailed inspection from bumper to bumper. Any irregularities are tracked down and addressed before the next outing. I don’t want to be left broken down on the side of a mountain or in a flooding canyon because I neglected something simple. ­These downtime activities help build my relationship with my most vital piece of equipment—my vehicle. Because of the demanding conditions the Jeep is constantly subjected to, all manufacturer recommended service mileage intervals have been reduced by half. Between 30,000 and 50,000 miles, I replaced the unit bearings, power steering pump, steering gear box, transfer case shifter linkage bushings, serpentine belt, and radiator cap. While these parts didn’t exhibit excessive wear, they are known as weak links when subject to heavy use. With nearly 70,000 miles on the odometer, the NMBR Rubicon has yet to have a single breakdown or failure. 

Alive Camp of NMBR's Camino del Tesoro Overland route (New Mexico)
Alive Camp of NMBR's Camino del Tesoro Overland route (New Mexico)

NMBR RUBICON SPECIFICATIONS

2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon

Platform: Pentastar 3.6L V6 engine with 5-speed automatic transmission; Rock-Trac 4:1 transfer case; Front/rear locking differentials; Front sway bar disconnect system; Dana 44 heavy-duty front/rear axles; Hill decent control; Skid plates for fuel tank and transfer case; Rubicon rock rails

Suspension & Drive: -American Expedition Vehicles 4.5" DualSport RS Suspension System: AEV Frequency-tuned, Progressive Rate Springs - Bilstein 5160 Remote Reservoir Shocks – AEV Bump-stop Spacers – AEV Rear Stabilizer End Links – AEV Rear Track-Bar Tower - Custom Bent Mopar Rear Track Bar – AEV Brake Line Drop Brackets – AEV Geometry Correction Front Control Arm Brackets - AEV High Steer – OME Steering Damper - Coast 1310 Front Drive Shaft

Wheels & Tires: -American Expedition Vehicles Salta Wheels (17”x8.5”, Cast Aluminum, +10mm Offset, 5x5 Bolt Pattern, 5.2” Backspacing, Black Powdercoat Finish) -BF Goodrich KO2 All-Terrain Tires (37/12.5R17)

Bumpers & Armor: -American Expedition Vehicles JK Premium Front Bumper -American Expedition Vehicles JK Front Skid Plate 1/8 Steel -American Expedition Vehicles JK Rear Bumper & Tire Carrier -American Expedition Vehicles Rear Corner Guards -American Expedition Vehicles JK Differential Covers -American Expedition Vehicles JK Rear Differential Skid -Poison Spider Customs Evaporation Canister Skid Plate 3/16 Steel

Recovery: -WARN 9.5 CTI winch (Rated Single-line pull: 9,500 lbs.) -WARN Spydura Synthetic Winch Rope (100' of 3/8" diameter) with Hawse Fairlead -American Expedition Vehicles Hi-Lift Jack/Pull-Pal Mount -Hi-Lift Jack (48”) -Pull-Pal

Other Accessories: -American Expedition Vehicles ProCal Module -American Expedition Vehicles Heat Reduction Hood -American Expedition Vehicles Fuel Caddy (10.2 Gallon Capacity) -ARB High Performance 12 Volt Air Compressor (CKMA12) -ARB 50 Quart Fridge/Freezer & Slide -NMBR Built JK Sleeping Platform & Cargo Deck with Hatch Accessible Under Storage -AT Interior Cargo Rack -Outback Tailgate Mounted Table & Slide-out Cutting Board -Carolina Metal Masters Grab Bar with 1-Inch Ball Stud for RAM Mounts System -aFe High-Clearance Exhaust & Y-Pipe

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