Off-roading is more than just a hobby for Matt Grabli — it’s a lifelong passion. As the founder of Offroadium, an online magazine specializing in off-road vehicle modifications, Grabli has turned his enthusiasm for custom 4×4 vehicles into an educational pursuit for the recipe of a perfect off-road build.
However, his interest was sparked long before starting a business. Grabli has spent over two decades immersed in the off-roading community, logging over 100,000 miles of intrepid adventures across the Europe and Americas in modified 4×4 vehicles.
His mechanical proficiency and experience of navigating mud, rocks, sand, and trails provide the wealth of educational overlanding content Grabli creates. In our conversation with this seasoned off-roader, we gain perspective on the evolution of the sport, the keys to modifying capable overlanding rigs, and the sense of wonder and thrill that comes from discovering the road less traveled. Grabli shares hard-earned wisdom for all levels, whether you’re looking to get behind the wheel or live vicariously from the comfort of your armchair.
He fondly recalls the first vehicle he took off-road nearly 15 years ago, kickstarting a lifelong passion. We’ll hear about some of his most memorable adventures in deserts, mountains, jungles, and frozen lakes. When asked about pivotal moments or influences that cultivated his passion for off-roading, Grabli traces it back to formative childhood experiences riding dirtbikes and being immersed in car culture.
Grabli will walk us through pivotal moments throughout his off-road journey, the capabilities different rigs unlocked, and specific places he returned to time and again.
You’ve had a lifelong passion for off-roading. What first sparked your interest in it?
My interest in off-roading sparked early thanks to my car-loving dad. I grew up reading his car magazines and spending countless hours with him in the garage as he worked on vehicles. Like many 90s kids, Need for Speed video games, especially Underground with its modified cars, were a major influence too.
I’ve built a few projects – a Nissan 350Z and a Honda Civic – but soon realized their lowered suspensions limited my adventurous lifestyle. As an avid snowboarder, I decided my next car should be AWD to handle winter driving. My first Subaru Forester opened my eyes to capabilities of 4WD vehicles and the modification opportunities off-roading presented. I explored nearly every local trail, mud pit, and sandy beach with that Forester, learning what’s really important when modifying a crossover for off-road.
Soon I graduated to body-on-frame 4x4s with locking differentials – the next logical step towards serious overlanding adventures. Once behind the wheel of trucks like Jeep Wrangler, Toyota 4Runner or Tacoma, my passion for getting off the beaten path only grew stronger.
Do you regret starting with an AWD crossover instead of buying something like a Jeep Wrangler?
Not at all! I really enjoyed my Subaru Forester as it struck the ultimate balance – road car with sporty handling yet off-road camping capabilities too. The Forester community is exceptionally supportive as well. As a member of Subaru Forester forums, I learned how to maximize its potential without compromising reliability.
Plus, AWD off-roading is attracting more and more people nowadays, which I’ve highlighted in numerous AWD crossover builds on Offroadium. Many folks simply don’t need big 4×4 trucks – versatile crossovers like the Forester fit their lifestyles better. It was the perfect intro to off-roading for me while retaining everyday practicality.
I have no regrets starting with that capable and fun Forester before eventually moving up to more dedicated 4x4s. It let me dip my toes in the off-road world affordably and built foundational skills without overwhelming me. I’ll always have a soft spot for capable crossovers like it!
What made you decide to switch to bigger 4x4s?
While I loved my Subaru, I yearned to venture further into remote wilderness while bringing camping supplies and friends confidently. I needed a larger, tougher vehicle that could tackle unexpected obstacles and washed-out trails in all conditions – things far likelier when exploring off the beaten path. I know what it’s like to get stuck in the middle of nowhere due to the vehicle’s limitations and research creative ways of self recovery. If it ends well – it’s a cool story to share, but when it goes bad, it becomes a sad educational experience, that you wish you have learned from someone else. But thanks to those situations I’ve accumulated a lot of tips and tricks that I share in my articles.
Anyways, the passionate overlanding community at Expedition Portal inspired me enormously with their real-world knowledge for the next build. I learned I needed the right foundation for extensive adventures into the backcountry. My experience modifying the Forester taught me that a supportive community and aftermarket matter hugely too.
With ambitious plans brewing, a 3rd gen Toyota Tacoma seemed the perfect platform to build my ultimate overland vehicle upon. Its renowned capability and durability combined with a massive global community made it an easy choice. The Tacoma empowers adventures most vehicles could only dream of while transporting my necessities and companions in comfort over any terrain. I haven’t looked back since embracing truck-based 4×4 overlanding!
As an experienced off-roader, what would you say are the most important skills or knowledge someone needs to have before getting into it?
Well first off, a healthy dose of common sense and responsibility! We all love adventure, but safety must be the top priority, especially with powerful trucks and equipment. Respect nature, tread lightly, and adventure within your limits.
Of course, basic vehicle maintenance skills are vital too – you’ll undoubtedly need to get your hands dirty making repairs trailside when miles from help. So get to know your rig top-to-bottom before venturing remotely. And always wheel with friends who can pull you out in a pinch!
Understanding basic off-road techniques is key as well, like picking smart lines assessing terrain, proper speed control, and using the right gearing. A good off-road driving course can properly teach techniques faster than trial-and-error alone. Ultimately though, start slowly on easier trails and progressively challenge your skills.
What parts & gear recommendations can you give to someone starting their off-road adventure project?
Proper vehicle preparation and gear can then make challenges much more manageable when they arise far from cell service. Tow straps, traction boards, recovery tools, spare parts, emergency supplies – assemble your kit religiously! And armor up – skid plates, bumpers, sliders and lifts transform capability.
Finally, connect with off-road communities nearby. Local knowledge on trails and challenges is invaluable before embarking. And convoys multiply the fun! Use forums and clubs to continue expanding your skills as you prepare for overlanding adventures.
The journey of mastering off-roading never ends. But starting informed, prepared and hungry for knowledge will ensure spectacular adventures await!
Can you tell us about some of your most memorable or challenging off-road adventures over the years?
Some of my most adrenaline-pumping adventures were tackling notorious trails like Colorado’s harrowing Black Bear Pass near Telluride. This staggering 11.5-mile cliffside ribbon, snaking skyward through the San Juan Mountains, tested every skill behind the wheel. One glance down those narrow ledges with endless fall-to-your-death drop-offs was spine-tingling! But the overwhelming mountain panoramas surrounding each painstaking switchback made locking the Tacoma’s diffs a necessity.
Utah’s postcard-perfect Moab Rim Trail threw everything it had at me too. That dramatic 16-mile track winds upwards through ruby red canyons, serving up ledgy rock crawls, adverse cambers that feel neverending, and ripping descents. With the Tacoma’s suspension flexed to its limits, my coordination and focus were tested big time! But crawling back to camp at sunset, exhausted after hours of maximum concentration, offered the sweetest sense of achievement.
I have always been inspired by cross-Africa safaris and 4×4 adventures. In 2019, I was fortunate enough to experience my first major overland off-road trip across the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. Driving through the desolate desert, surrounded by ancient cliffs that once witnessed pharaohs, in a classic 78-Series Land Cruiser was a movie-worthy experience. I had long hoped to take part in something like this abroad, and the trip across the Sinai landscape to gorgeous Red Sea truly fulfilled a dream.
How your passion to off-road vehicles and overland adventures influenced your career?
My passion for cars and later on for off-roading has shaped my entire career trajectory. I’ve adored vehicles since childhood, knowing early that my future profession would involve them.
I started as a mechanic’s assistant at a local O’Reilly Auto Parts shop, building confidence in vehicle maintenance, diagnostics and basic repairs. Later, I joined a more dedicated shop Monro Auto Service in Baltimore, as a mechanic specializing in suspension components. I installed various lowering kits and components on street cars and worked on suspension lift kit installations for Jeeps, Trucks, Crossovers and Vans. Through this hands-on experience, I became familiar with common mechanical issues that need to be addressed when servicing or modifying vehicles.
After developing an interest in off-roading and exploring local trails, I shifted my focus to modifying off-road vehicles, specifically installing lift kits and advising clients on optimal lift kit and wheel size combinations in my own garage-shop. If you’re into off-roading, you know these modifications are a pivotal part of every 4×4 build.
I leveraged the knowledge gained from thousands of hours in the shop to create educational content on the Offroadium website. I also co-founded the off-road specialty shop 4×4 Projects, which focuses on custom off-road vehicle modifications and building capable and reliable overland vehicles.
What motivates you to educate others and share your knowledge in Offroadium online magazine?
I thoroughly enjoy engaging with the greater off-road community and paying forward hard-won knowledge from my career wrenching on trucks. On Offroadium, I specifically focus on featuring custom off-road builds and sharing lift kit installation insight and optimal wheel/tire fitment wisdom to help people start their own builds and get into off-roading.
Having experimented with countless configurations firsthand at the shop, I can guide others towards properly equipping their rigs without wasting time and money on ill-advised combinations. The difference between a transformative upgrade or frustrating washout comes down to a few crucial details.
My motivation is simple – I remember the early days desperately scouring forums and getting steering components that didn’t complement each other. Or overstuffing the wheel wells with rubber needing extensive trimming. Getting it right the first time through experienced recommendations makes the world of difference separating overland success from disappointed trips back to the drawing board.
While some beginners need that helpful tip, seasoned off-roaders appreciate another set of eyes suggesting tweaks to their project. I just want to fast track others’ adventures and misadventures through transparent build breakdowns! The joy comes from seeing the new builds inspired by my features on Offroadium.
What are some of the latest innovations and trends you’re seeing in off-road gear and modification?
The electronics revolution has transformed off-roading vastly in just the past few years alone. Digital stabilization tech and intelligent terrain response systems are getting so freakishly good, they’re almost allowing anyone to drive like a pro.
Lighter weight armor and camper options also make going remote more accessible without sacrificing protection or comfort. Innovators like Alu-Cab and Tuff Stuff minimize impact on payload and handling while maximizing livability out there.
Finally, the proliferation of rental overlanding rigs and peer-to-peer sharing open up turnkey off-road fun without the project commitment.
For beginners who want to get into off-roading as a hobby, what tips or advice would you give them when it comes to buying and modifying a vehicle?
Careful planning from the start is hugely important. Consider what type of terrain and trails you want to tackle, how remote your adventures will be, and any cargo/passenger needs. This will help narrow down suitable vehicle options – maybe an AWD crossover or truck platform.
Choose one that fits your budget while meeting those basic capability and space requirements. You can absolutely try easier trails in even a stock vehicle first to test the waters. Pay attention to any weak points encountered, then mitigate them with targeted upgrades like all-terrains tires, skid plates, or a small lift kit.
What do you think the future holds for the sport of off-roading? How will new technologies like electrification impact it?
Off-roading is transforming rapidly thanks to modern technologies, though its spirit of adventure will never change. As outdoor recreation explodes in popularity, expect more crossover enthusiasts experiencing their first trails too. Thankfully innovation ensures accessibility keeps pace with demand. Electrification, autonomy, and connectivity will profoundly impact vehicles going remote.
EV platforms promise instant torque for tackling tough terrain sans emissions for the sustainability-minded. Brands like Rivian are leading that silent, eco-minded revolution. Meanwhile, autonomous off-roading technology like self-driving crawl modes reduce the learning curve while preventing mistakes.
Outside of your own company, what other off-road parts/vehicle brands or builders do you admire most?
I’m thrilled by Toyota’s expanded Tacoma offerings, including specialized models for overlanding and desert racing. By catering to niche off-road pursuits directly from the factory, they’re truly changing the game. And the reborn Ford Bronco has injected fresh excitement into the rugged 4×4 segment with its unique blend of heritage and capability.
Among aftermarket brands, I’m drawn to the uncompromising off-road spirit of wheel innovators like Fifteen52. Their eye-catching designs reflect a true understanding of the overland community gained through our previous content collaborations. It’s exciting to see them thrive.
And I’m a proud supporter of smaller enthusiast companies like After The Land Rover Experience, Otzi Gear, Sherpa Equipment Co, Kingdom Overlanding, RVL MCHN, and Rogue Element. I’ve worked closely with these passionate teams, chronicling their custom overland vehicle builds for Offroadium. Their grassroots dedication to enabling epic remote adventures is truly inspiring. I love shining the spotlight on their products and trucks specifically engineered for conquering the backcountry.
The variety of options from both major manufacturers and niche enthusiasts makes this an incredibly vibrant time to be in the overlanding community.
Matt Grabli’s positivity about the future of off-roading, despite the advent of new technologies shifting the landscape, echoes his lifelong passion and adaptability. His journey has spanned revving up teenager ambitions into an indispensable overland industry voice. Grabli recognizes that while electrification and autonomy may overhaul vehicles traversing the wilderness, opening accessibility for many intrepid first-timers, it won’t dampen the call to adventure out there.
As our far-ranging conversation with Grabli concludes, his sheer awe of nature comes through while reminiscing about piloting numerous rigs through postcard panoramas. What started as youthful determination to push his Subaru to its limits on local trails snowballed into a desire to venture out and document the capabilities of specialized 4x4s built for backcountry journeys.
While the Tacoma has carried him to breathtaking vistas and valleys that etch lifelong memories, the evolution is only beginning. Just like he progressed from tinkering on modest street cars to crafting monster trucks dominating Baja, Grabli stays attuned to forthcoming innovations emerging in the automotive realm. With reliable partners collaborating on custom vehicle projects and an ever-growing Offroadium following consuming his wisdom, we eagerly await whatever intrepid trails or entrepreneurial offshoots may unfold in Grabli’s next chapter chasing inspiration over the horizon.