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2021 Subaru forester offroad in the snow (1)

Modifying A 2021 Subaru Forester Sport For The Trails And Daily Driving - Derek's Offroad Build

By Ben Boxer

The 2021 Subaru Forester Sport is one of the sharpest looking AWD cars that’s capable of hitting gravel roads and even mild 4×4 trails right out of the box. But there’s not nearly enough info out there about modifying them for more aggressive offroading.

After doing a build feature on Brandon’s 4 inch lifted Forester, he said to me “You really need to get Derek’s Forester on the site!” So I reached out to Derek via Instagram (@unpaved_pnw) and arranged to pick his brain about his awesome SK chassis Forester build.

I hope this interview with Derek is helpful and enjoyable for fellow and future Subaru owners as a resource for inspiration. If you find this information helpful, feel free to drop a comment, follow him on Instagram, and share this article with friends on social media!

Table of Contents

2021 Subaru forester offroad modified with accessories
2021 Subaru forester offroad in the snow with warn winch and bumper offroad

The Subaru Specs

The Forester is a 2021 Sport model. I purchased it used with only 3,000 miles on it and it came with all of the standard features, although it also had the Harman Kardon stereo system. An absolute must.

I purchased it in March of 2022, almost exactly two years ago. I’ve put about 30,000 miles on it since then.

Full Mod List

  • RalliTEK lift kit 2/2.5″
  • Rival 4×4 skid plate
  • Falken Wildpeak AT4W tires
  • Method MR502 17″ wheels
  • Warn winch bumper
  • Warn Axon 55-s winch
  • Torq Masters Torq Locker for the rear diff
  • RalliTEK control arms
  • Bilstein shocks
  • Curt trailer hitch
  • Ironman 4×4 LED lights
  • Nashfab roof rack
  • Nashfab ladder
  • Yakima Skybox roof box
  • Rough Country roof light bar

Offroad Modifications On The Forester Sport

Things have gotten a little out of hand...

“The first thing I added was a Curt hitch so I could attach a storage basket for our road trips. The next thing I did was add the ReadyLift 2” spacers. I originally went with them because of the price, but you get what you pay for.

Their original design wasn’t ideal and I had a lot of problems preventing the endlinks from rattling, but eventually figured it out. They’ve since made a design change and include their own endlinks. Right after I installed the lift kit, I also added Rallitek’s Overload springs and then put on Falken Wildpeak AT Trail tires. I was really happy with the setup at that point and it officially became our off-roading rig.”

offroad modified subaru forester lifted rainbow
2021 Subaru forester offroad accessories light bars

“Right before the winter of 2022, I decided to purchase the Warn bumper and winch. I knew absolutely nothing about installing them, but it was fairly straightforward. I was really hesitant to cut the bumper, but I have no regrets. It added a lot of weight to the front end, but the Rallitek springs keep it from sagging down. 

Once the days began to get shorter and I found myself on the trails during the evening, I knew it was time to start adding better lighting. I purchased a couple of sets of Ironman’s LED sideshooters and then a lightbar from Rough Country. I didn’t know anything about auxiliary lighting at the time, and two years later, I have no regrets. They work perfectly and light up the trails. 
Within the last year, things have gotten a little out of hand. I’m finally making “adult money” and have some extra to spend on toys. Over the last year, I replaced the ReadyLift kit with the Rallitek 2”/2.5” lift kit, added the Rival 4×4 engine and transmission skid plates, installed a NashFab roof rack and ladder, and, most recently, began testing the Bilstein B8 TerraSport suspension, and full Rallitek control arm package (which I eventually purchased). My latest additions (which should be installed soon) are the Method MR502 Rally Wheels and Falken Wildpeak AT4W tires.”

Reasons For Modifying The Subaru

lifted subaru forester offroad modified with dogs
2021 Subaru forester offroad in dirt with accessories

“When I first started modifying the Forester, all I cared about were the aesthetics and that it had increased ground clearance. I wanted it to look aggressive and unique, but I had no idea it would turn into what it is today. Looking back, I kind of miss aspects of what it looked like right after I added the lift kit and tires.”

Challenges During The Modification Process

2021 Subaru forester offroad in the snow with rallitek lift kit and accessories
2021 Subaru forester offroad in the snow with rallitek lift kit and accessories

Ended up with a bunch of cuts and bruises, but it was a great learning experience.

“Absolutely. I had never installed a lift kit or replaced springs before, so I wanted to be thorough and take it slowly. The lift kit was easy, but the springs were a challenge. It took me a couple of attempts to get them installed correctly and ended up with a bunch of cuts and bruises, but it was a great learning experience. 

I’ve never struggled to find parts for the Forester since it’s still a newer model. The only roadblock I’ve run into is being turned away from fabrication shops when I’ve asked about doing a front sub-frame drop. Apparently, there’s not much of a market for the newer Foresters. I’m hoping that will change.”

rallitek lift kit on offroad subaru forester
lifted modified subaru forester carrying christmas tree

Forester vs Crosstrek vs 4Runner? Which Is Best?

The gas mileage was insane and so were the payments.

“I traded in a 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Limited for it because of the size difference. Going on road trips with a family of four and two dogs wasn’t exactly ideal in the Crosstrek (not that the Forester is a huge difference), but the added headroom and larger trunk space were worth it. The larger windows and massive sunroof also make it feel less cramped. 

I didn’t originally plan on modding the Forester. We actually had a 4Runner at the time that we were using for off-roading, but the gas mileage was insane and so were the payments. I remember searching for lift kit ideas for the Forester and, after seeing all of the things people were doing to them, I knew it was time to ditch the 4Runner. 

I’ll never forget when I first saw images of a Warn bumper and winch on the Forester; I knew it was something I would eventually get.”

Installing A Winch For Offroad Capability & Safety

“Like I mentioned, I wanted to have one installed before the winter. We had a trip planned to Sisters, Oregon and I knew we’d find our way up to the snow. The Warn setup was the only one I knew about at the time, but there are a couple of newer options from other companies that I think look better and weigh less. After getting to know the Rallitek team, I learned that they partnered with Warn to design the bumper setup for their rigs and did all of the media promotion with them.

The install process was very straightforward and the only issue I ran into was cutting off part of the bumper. The template they provided was terrible and I ended up cutting more than I needed to. It isn’t noticeable unless you’re really looking for mistakes, but I know it’s there.

I’ve used the winch at least a dozen times to either pull myself out of snow or others that have gotten stuck. The best is when I pull up to help someone (especially when they’re in a truck) and they look at the Forester and pause. There’s a look of “Should I swallow my pride and say, yes” that I always get. My favorite experience was pulling a massive Dodge RAM 2500 out of a ditch. The driver was a good guy and he had no issue with me helping him out.”

2021 Subaru forester offroad in the snow lifted with warn winch bumper

Low Profile Roof Rack Setup For Overland & Offroad Accessories

I would always hear him welding and grinding things in his garage while walking our dogs​

lifted 2021 subaru forester with roof rack

“I freakin’ love the NashFab roof rack. I didn’t know this until after I ordered the rack and my wife saw the company name that the owner used to live around the corner from us. I would always hear him welding and grinding things in his garage while walking our dogs, and now he’s got a full shop and a great company. 

I had been looking at the Prinsu and Spider racks, but I didn’t like their aesthetics as much. NashFab has a sleeker, low-profile appearance that fits better with the rounded curves of the 21 Forester.

The Rough Country Lightbar was too big for the cutout so I made some modifications to make it fit. It looks similar to how I had it attached to the stock railings.”

offroad 2021 subaru forester with nashfab roof rack

Torq Masters Torq Locker: The Key To A Capable Subaru

There was an immediate difference with how the Forester responds

“I had no idea what a Torq Locker was six months ago. Haha. It wasn’t until I started posting more videos of the Forester trying to climb over rocks that someone asked me if I had one. After doing some research, I realized how beneficial it would be and I had Rallitek install one for me.”

“There was an immediate difference with how the Forester responds while going up tricky inclines as well as how it performs in the snow. I would highly recommend a Torq Locker to those that are serious about using their Subarus for offroading.”

offroad modified subaru forester in the woods
offroad 2021 subaru forester with warn winch bumper recovery points

Are The Falken Wildpeak AT4W's Good?

method mr502 wheels on subaru forester falken wildpeak

“I haven’t had The Wildpeak AT4W tires long enough to provide an honest review, but so far they have been great. They’ve done really well in the snow (which is what I got them for) and feel good during my commute. I’m hoping to have a better opinion of them after a few more trail runs. The Wildpeak Trails are great for everything else.”

modified subaru forester with pod lights in snow

What's The Gas Mileage Like In A Lifted Subaru Forester?

“I consistently get between 21-23 mpg. My commute is only about 20 minutes and combines a small amount of highway and side streets, so it’s about what I would expect.

The added weight of the bumper and its design probably has the biggest impact. As much as I originally loved the look of the Warn setup, it definitely wasn’t designed with fuel economy in mind. It’s bulky, has a lot of open space in the middle to trap air, and weighs 80 pounds. I’ve seen a couple of hidden winch systems that fit behind stock Subaru bumpers that I would prefer to have, but unfortunately, I haven’t seen one for the Forester.”

offroad modified subaru forester in snow with falken wildpeak tires
offroad lifted subaru forester in snow mt hood

Are Lifted Subarus Actually Capable On Offroad Trails?

Those double-take looks are priceless

“The only terrain I have not been able to climb is a spot up on Mount Hood. It’s a long, steady incline that’s nothing but boulders, rocks, and gravel. I tried it twice last summer, but was unsuccessful and got stuck in the same spot. This was before I had the Torq Locker and before I realized the benefits of airing down your tires. I plan on going back to the same spot as soon as the snow melts.

I absolutely enjoy the challenge of throwing different kinds of terrain at the Forester, even if I’m not always successful. That’s what keeps me motivated and gets me out into the woods every weekend. The best is when I roll by a crew of Jeeps, Broncos, or Toyotas while on the trail and show them just how capable my rig is. Those double-take looks are priceless.”

Best Advice To People Planning To Modify Their Subaru For Offroading

“Take. Your. Time. Do your research. Ask questions. Chat with others who have modified their Subarus and learn from their mistakes and successes. It’s really easy to waste a lot of money by going down this road, especially on modifications you probably don’t need.

I would also recommend thinking through WHY you want to modify your Subaru and what you hope the modifications will help you achieve. Are you only planning to do forest trails? Will you be going through snow? Deep snow? Being thoughtful and intentional will save you a lot of time and money. Or you can just be impulsive like me and not look back. :)”

Derek's Top Two Mod Picks For Beginners

offroad modified subaru forester warn winch bumper
lifted 2021 subaru forester in snowy forest

I would start almost the same way I did with the Forester – a lift kit and new tires. Instead of spacers though, I would just replace the struts with the Bilsteins since they provide a 2” lift. 

With those two mods, you’re all set for some great off-road adventures. 

Warranty Issues With Lifted Subarus

I currently have two open cases with Subaru’s Customer Service Department – one for the Forester and the other for our Ascent (both for the transmission). So far they have been great to work with. Having owned and leased a number of Subarus, they seem to appreciate my dedication to the brand and have been quick to respond to my questions. 

The Customer Service Advisors I’m working with have acknowledged that the lift kits do not impact the transmission, but other mods (mainly on the Forester) do. Specifically, they have stated that the Warn bumper and winch setup, as well as heavier tires and wheels all have an impact. 

For the Forester, I’m currently waiting for the local dealership to set up an appointment for me to meet with Subaru “field staff” so they can inspect the car. Should be an interesting conversation. 

I have a second appointment coming up for the Ascent. There’s a Class Action Lawsuit against Subaru, specifically for the 2019 and 2020 models, due to faulty transmissions and I know other owners who have had their transmissions replaced. I have no doubt that this warranty repair will go right through.

offroad modified subaru forester on rocks

Subaru Ascent Vs. Forester: Derek's Thoughts

lifted subaru ascent in the snow stuck
offroad modified subaru forester all terrain tires in snow

Honestly, I wish I had invested the amount of money I put in the Forester into the Ascent. I absolutely love this thing (except for all the chrome). The ride is smooth, the engine is great, and there’s plenty of room for the family and dogs to spread out.

lifted subaru ascent tail lights
lifted subaru ascent pulling a trailer
offroad modified subaru ascent towing a trailer

It’s been perfect for pulling our teardrop trailer during the winter and has handled snow and forest trails with ease. It might be time to start giving it more attention.

lifted subaru ascent rear shot
lifted subaru ascent with curt hitch

I really appreciated being able to document Derek’s Forester build and Subaru journey. I had the pleasure of hitting some snowy trails with him and his family. He’s absolutely one of the coolest people around. I hope this article has been helpful for you.

Head over to Instagram and follow along with his adventures @unpaved_pnw

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