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01 Wilco ADV SL Pickup Truck Overland Bed Rack Cargo Storage

Overland Roof Rack And Bed Rack Guide

Which Roof Rack Or Bed Rack Is Right For You?

Photography by Courtesy of the manufacturers

It’s no secret that vehicle roof racks and pickup truck overland bed racks have become more popular than ever. The recent mainstream addiction to overlanding and general 4×4 camping has led to the need for even more cargo space and organization but the dilemma remains – You can only fit so much camp gear in a typical 4×4 and still have convenient access to it. That’s where roof racks and bed racks come in, especially for items that can withstand the elements or items that can be easily protected in weather resistant bags. They create space for more cargo while simultaneously giving your vehicle that cross-country utilitarian expedition look. On top of that, most racks can accommodate a rooftop tent, which provides a safe and comfortable place to spend the night wherever your adventure takes you. Read on so see what roof rack or bed rack features you should be looking for.

02 Rugged Ridge Jeep Wrangler Roof Rack Overland Cargo Storage

The roof rack mounting you need for your 4×4 will depend on how your vehicle came outfitted from the factory and the weight capacity you need. There are many roof racks that bolt to the factory roof rails. This Jeep Wrangler roof rack mounts to the windshield frame and rear bumper so it can be used with or without a hard or soft top.

4×4 And SUV Roof Racks

Roof racks are generally installed on SUVs, but they can be mounted on pickup truck roofs if extra storage space beyond the truck interior and bed is needed. As you can imagine, the mounting and overall design of the rack determines the weight capacity, which is an extremely important specification to consider. An overloaded roof rack could easily damage the roof of your 4×4, or worse it could fall off resulting in your cargo tumbling and spread all over the highway or trail.

03 Loaded Roof Rack Overland Cargo Storage

It’s important to not overload your roof rack. It’s also a good idea to keep the top-heavy weight to a minimum, regardless of the roof rack weight capacity. Heavy items like spare tires, fuel cans and water jugs should be mounted as low as possible in or on your 4×4 to maintain safe handling and stability.

You should know the weight of the cargo you plan to store on the rack. In some cases you’ll want to reserve the roof rack real estate for lighter items, such as skis, snowboards, sleeping bags, clothing and dry food packed in weather resistant bags. Heavy items can be hard on the vehicle roof and rack and can also cause the vehicle to be top heavy which will lead to poor handling both on- and off-road. If you can, avoid using a roof rack for large fuel and water cans, spare tires and other dense items.

04 Smittybilt Defender Roof Rack Overland Cargo Storage Basket

Tubular sided roof rack baskets do a great job of containing your gear and they offer plenty of tie down points. The disadvantage is that they may be tall enough to keep your 4×4 from fitting in the garage or a parking structure.

Which roof rack mount you’ll need will depend on your vehicle and how it came outfitted from the factory. Many vehicles have OE roof rails or other mounting points that are designed to accept roof racks. Utilizing these factory rails is usually the strongest way to attach a roof rack. The load is spread over a wide area that was designed specifically for load capacity. Drip rail clamp-on mounts are typically the least desirable roof rack mounting method. If you have no choice but to utilize drip rail mounting, pay particular attention to the weight limits and understand that off-road driving usually dictates a reduction in load capacity.

05 Smittybilt Rooftop Tent Overland Roof Rack Jeep Wrangler

A sturdy roof rack offers a solid platform for a rooftop tent. Roof rack weight capacity will be very important. Rooftop tents can weigh a couple hundred pounds. Two occupants in the tent could easily triple the total weight.

A third design requires drilling and makes use of aftermarket slide rails or mounting pads. These are reserved for applications where drilling and bolting through the roof is the only viable option, such as on smooth vehicle roofs, fiberglass Jeep tops or camper shells. The drilled holes are sealed with silicone or other sealant. Individual bolt-on mounting pads don’t distribute the roof rack load to the roof as well as rails do. Rails also allow for adjustability since the roof rack feet can slide in the tracks forward and back to accommodate different cargo needs and rack accessories.

06 Toyota 4Runner ARB Overland Roof Rack Cargo Storage

When choosing a roof rack model, make sure there are accessories available for the rack that can carry the items you want to haul now and in the future. Many roof racks have add-on accessories available such as ski, snowboard, kayak, shovel, and bike mounts. The most versatile roof rack accessory is a cargo basket. Some roof racks are a basket or cargo tray themselves, while others add the basket as an accessory to the two base cross rails of a rack system.

07 ARB Flat Roof Rack Overland Cargo Storage

Flat roof racks decrease overall height for garage clearance, but your gear can more easily spill out over the sides. Properly securing your cargo will be extremely important if you choose a low-profile roof rack like this.

Watch your overall height with the roof rack in place if you plan to park your vehicle in a garage or parking structure. Some roof racks can be quickly and easily removed for these scenarios. Regardless of which roof rack you choose, be aware that there will be more wind noise heard from inside the vehicle and your fuel economy will be reduced slightly because of the increased wind resistance from the rack and cargo.

08 Smittybilt Defender Pickup Truck Overland Roof Rack Cargo Storage Lights

If you carry a lot of stuff and cargo space is at a premium, a roof rack and basket can be installed on a pickup truck too. This leaves the truck bed open for larger items like ATVs or motorcycles. The only real drawbacks of a setup like this are the increased wind resistance and wind noise heard in the cab.

Pickup Truck Overland Bed Racks

A pickup truck bed rack, sometimes called an overland rack, not only makes your truck bed storage area more versatile and organized, with the right accessories it makes your pickup look like an adventure attack vehicle. A bed rack also supplies a solid platform for a rooftop tent that may not otherwise fit your pickup truck. Think of a bed rack as adding a second story to your truck bed for increased cargo capacity. The tailgate and truck bed remain fully functional with a bed rack installed.

09 Fab Fours Pickup Truck Overland Bed Rack Cargo Storage

The overland specific bed racks are the most utilitarian and generally have the highest weight capacity of all the available aftermarket racks. A properly outfitted bed rack also significantly alters the look of your pickup truck. It screams outdoor adventure-mobile.

Bed racks can generally carry more weight than their roof rack counterparts because they are not mounted to the thin sheetmetal roof of a vehicle. Most bed racks attach either to the top of the bed rails, which are rigid and reinforced, or they attach to the existing tie down rail system mounting points found in some pickup beds. When outfitted properly a bed rack can carry kayaks, bikes, lumber or whatever. Bed racks also have more real estate along their sides than roof racks, so they can support accessories that mount items to the sides, such as shovels, traction mats, storage boxes, fuel cans and so on.

10 Wilco ADVSL Tacoma Overland Bed Rack Cargo Storage

By comparison, an overland style bed rack has far more mounting points for your gear and accessories than a basic bed rack or traditional roof rack. If you are a true camp and off-road gear aficionado, an overland style bed rack is what you need for your pickup truck.

Just as with a roof rack, look for a bed rack that has the accessories and weight capacity you need. Because a bed rack sits a significant distance behind the cab, you likely won’t notice any increased wind noise after installation, but fuel economy could be slightly affected due to the increase in wind resistance of the bed rack and gear poking above the roofline.

11 Thule Xsporter Pro Pickup Truck Overland Bed Rack Cargo Storage

A basic adjustable height pickup truck bed rack can carry a cargo basket, bikes, kayaks and lumber when outfitted with the right accessories, or you can use it as the base for a rooftop tent. The height adjustability makes this kind of bed rack extremely versatile for cargo of all lengths or no cargo at all.

Speaking of the roofline and rack height, pickup truck bed racks are available in several different heights and some are even adjustable in height. Taller bed racks offer the clearance necessary for longer items like kayaks and rooftop tents that need to clear the cab. Shorter bed racks can keep your less lengthy cargo below the pickup truck roofline for easier access, less wind resistance and improved fuel economy. When choosing a pickup truck bed rack, match up the rack height to the length of the items you plan to carry. Once you have your selected bed rack in place you’ll find all kinds of new ways to organize and secure your gear. You’ll be baffled by how you got along without it.

12 Roof Rack KC LED Lights Overland Cargo Storage

Many roof racks feature mounting tabs for the installation of off-road lights. Low amp draw LED lights can be attached 360 degrees around the perimeter of the roof rack to provide great work lighting in camp or on a jobsite.

13 Wilco ADV SL Pickup Truck Overland Bed Rack Cargo Storage

A pickup bed rack increases storage capacity by making your truck bed a two story. All your gear fits in the bed of the truck as usual, but with a rack you have side and top storage too. The addition of a rooftop tent provides a great sleeping spot out of the elements up off the ground and away from critters.