Whether you’re driving a Mini Cooper or a full size cargo van, one of the easiest ways to increase your adventure capabilities is to add a roof rack. While a roof rack isn’t always needed, if you want to carry large, bulky items like kayaks or roof top tents, or even smaller items like bicycles on smaller vehicles, roof racks are often the way to go. But to get there, you’ll have to start with the basics, like:

How can I put a roof rack on my vehicle?

There are a number of ways you can add a roof rack to your ride, but the ‘how’ will depend on your vehicle. There are essentially five categories when it comes to roof top accessories:

  • a completely naked roof
  • a naked roof but with factory mounting anchors
  • roofs with tracks
  • roofs with a factory rail system
  • roofs with factory rails and crossbars.

Thule 611 Boxter premium rooftop vehicle cargo box review

Thule 611 Boxter premium rooftop vehicle cargo box review
Thule 611 Boxter premium rooftop vehicle cargo box review

If your vehicle has a factory rail and crossbar set up, this can often be the easiest to accessorize – though they often have limitations in terms of weight capacity and compatible accessories. Because of this, you may opt instead to remove the factory cross bars and add a pair of Yakima, Thule, or other crossbars in order to increase the weight capacity and compatibility. In this case, it’s best to consult the vehicle manufacturer to find out the factory rack’s weight limits before deciding how to approach it.

The factory cross bars are usually best for the addition of roof top boxes or single bike mounts which will give you extra storage space for gear without adding a lot of weight.

#Vanlife: How to add a roof rack to your adventure vehicle

2015-yakima-suppup-and-supdog-standup-paddleboard-roof-racks

It’s a similar story if your vehicle has raised side rails from the factory. You’ll want to head to Yakima or Thule’s website and use their fit finder to find the compatible tower and then choose your cross bar. Again, this set up may be limited to a certain weight which will only really become an issue if you want to install something like a rooftop tent and other accessories. Most brands will sell a specific tower that will fit your vehicle’s factory rails, and then the tower holds the aftermarket cross bar in place.

#Vanlife: How to add a roof rack to your adventure vehicle#Vanlife: How to add a roof rack to your adventure vehicle

Without a factory rack of any sort, there are still a ton of options to install a roof rack. Both Yakima and Thule sell multiple tower systems that either use specific clips or fit kits for the naked roof of your vehicle, or they sometimes will mount directly to hidden factory mounts in the roof. Most of these systems are available for many different vehicles, all without permanent modifications to the roof. If you lease, plan to sell in the near future, or just don’t want to drill holes in your roof, this is the best course of action. To explore by vehicle, head over to Yakima or Thule and enter in your model info.

What if companies don’t offer fitments for my vehicle?

There’s a chance, depending on what you drive or what you’re trying to fit, that there just won’t be any specific mounts available.

#Vanlife: How to add a roof rack to your adventure vehicle
Custom tracks on metal roof
#Vanlife: How to add a roof rack to your adventure vehicle
Custom fixed point on metal roof
#Vanlife: How to add a roof rack to your adventure vehicle
Custom tracks on fiberglass
#Vanlife: How to add a roof rack to your adventure vehicle
Custom fixed point on fiberglass
#Vanlife: How to add a roof rack to your adventure vehicle
Custom fixed point on campervan

Don’t worry – there are still options, but you’ll have to go the custom route. Yakima offers custom products for fixed point and track installs on both metal and fiberglass roofs, as well as fiberglass installs for camper vans and truck cap/shells. Obviously, these are a little more involved and more permanent than your typical roof rack install, but if there’s no other option it may be worth the effort.

Can I put a roof rack on my cargo van?

Even with all the extra room inside, you still may want to add a roof rack to your full size cargo van.

#Vanlife: How to add a roof rack to your adventure vehicle

Depending on the model, Thule offers their TracRac Van ES which is a roof top rack system specifically for Euro Style cargo vans including the Sprinter, Promaster, Transit, Chevy Express, and Nissan NV. This system attaches directly to the factory mounting points which are present on most euro style cargo vans like those mentioned above. Along with Thule, there are tons of options for racks that mount to these points, though they’re usually geared towards industrial applications…these are intended as work trucks after all.

Older vans or some of the non “Euro” style cargo vans have a lip that goes around the outside of the roof that rooftop racks attach to like in the title photo of this piece. Depending on the van, you’ll have to get the specific rack that suits your needs but a simple Google search will quickly narrow things down.

#Vanlife: How to add a roof rack to your adventure vehicle

Or, if you’d rather go something a little more custom, there are outfitters that produce more adventure oriented rack systems like this one from Aluminess. Other than allowing you to carry ladders and other large, bulky items like the ubiquitous ladder racks for the work truck/van world, racks of this type allow you to easily carry more gear for your adventures, can serve as viewing platforms, and more. However, it’s important to consider future modifications when choosing a roof rack for a cargo van – if you ever plan on installing a roof top vent, AC unit, solar panels, or other roof top modifications, you’ll need to plan ahead with the size and shape of your rack. Depending on the height of the van, you’ll probably need a ladder to get up there, so many of these rack systems include built in ladders as well.

Don’t forget about pickup trucks

Just because you have a pickup truck, doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from a roof rack.

#Vanlife: How to add a roof rack to your adventure vehicle#Vanlife: How to add a roof rack to your adventure vehicle

#Vanlife: How to add a roof rack to your adventure vehicle

Adding something like the Thule TracRac SR or Universal, Yakima Outdoorsman, or one of the many other truck racks on the market can allow you to carry more gear and add additional functionality like a roof top tent. Then you have the bed open for gear, and could even add a hitch rack to carry your bikes for the ultimate adventure truck set up. Many of these set ups use a set of four uprights in the bed, but there are some that instead use two uprights and a roof top cross bar, a roof top cross bar and a hitch mounted support, or other fully custom racks that can include tool and gear mounts for even more functionality.

Whatever it is you’re looking to carry, or if you just want to be able to carry whatever gear the day’s (or week’s…or month’s) adventure brings, there are options. Sometimes you just have to get a little creative to install them.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I love my ford e350 12 passenger van. It is far more practical than a minivan or jumbo suv. Fun to drive. (As long as you think a go-anywhere-command-the-road is fun.) yes I can put six bikes and six peoplein the van and not remove a single wheel, because they fit.

    But the #vanlife bit?

    I think this is just targeting Miller oaks who never grew up with an old school conversion van. Back in the day we used terms like “double buckle”, “just sit on the floor”, “put the baby in the play-pin”, “the back bench is folded down into a bed, just be on that”.

    Caravans (as a class of vehicle) were once cheaper than vans… now a van is better and cheaper than a caravan.

    And unless you are hauling dirt… everything is better than a truck. 😛

What do you think?