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Buyer’s Guide: Choosing a Roof Rack or Bed Rack for Overlanding

When you head out on an overlanding adventure, one of the vehicle accessories that can make all the difference in terms of the organization and accessibility of your gear is a roof rack or bed rack.

There are lots of rack options from many different manufacturers, but at the end of the day, there are a few primary considerations you need to think about regardless of the type of rack or who made it.

Now, some of you might be thinking…what’s wrong with the factory rack that’s already on my vehicle?

Well, the primary issue with factory racks is that they often don’t have the versatility or strength that an aftermarket rack provides. This means that while you might be able to carry some of your stuff on your factory rack, you might not be able to put things like a rooftop tent or a storage box up top.

That being the case, let’s assume an aftermarket rack is needed. Here’s a few things to look for while shopping.

Roof Rack or Bed Rack: What are the Rack Options for Your Vehicle?

truck bed rack

Photo by ianmcdonnell via iStock

By and large, SUVs and cars are limited to roof racks. If you’re in this category, you can opt for a bolt-on option (that requires you to drill holes in the roof) or a clamp-on option that grabs hold of the roof.

But if you have a truck (like my Jeep Gladiator Rubicon), you can put the rack on the roof or over the bed. Not only does a bed rack give you the ability to put gear on the rack itself, but you can do so without interfering with your ability to put stuff in the bed too. Just be aware that if you opt for a bed rack, most racks are not compatible with tonneau covers.

In addition to a roof rack or bed rack, you might also consider bed bars if you have a truck. Bed bars are really easy to mount and remove, and they offer the strength needed to carry things like bikes and even a rooftop tent. But they aren’t as rigid as bed racks, so just keep that in mind.

Those of you with a truck can also opt for a topper on your truck bed. This is a good option if you want to increase the volume of covered space in the truck bed, either for storage or for using the truck bed as your sleeping quarters. In many cases, you can mount a rack on top of the topper as well, giving you even more room for gear storage.

Ultimately, you’ll have to tailor your rack to the type of vehicle you have as well as to the kind of overlanding experiences you intend to have.

Think About the Load Rating of a Roof Rack or Bed Rack

you can mount a roof rack on top

Apart from getting a rack that works with your specific vehicle, you also need to think about the gear you need to carry, and as a result, the type of load rating you need.

The first thing you should do is make a list of all the gear you have as well as the gear you want to buy in the future. Doing so allows you to take stock of how much weight you need to carry on the rack so you can invest in a rack that can accommodate your needs.

When adding the weight of all your gear together, the final figure needs to be less than the dynamic load rating of the roof racks you’re thinking about buying. Dynamic load rating refers to the maximum weight that can be safely carried on the rack when the vehicle is in motion.

roof rack load rating

Photo by JulianSchaldach via iStock

You also need to be cognizant of the static load rating of the rack. The static load is the total weight that the rack can accommodate when the vehicle is not moving. This will be a larger number than the dynamic load rating, but is still important because it could determine things like the size of the rooftop tent you get (or the number of people that can be in the tent at any given time).

Speaking of rooftop tents, remember that it isn’t just the weight of the tent and how that factors into the static load rating of the roof rack or bed rack that’s important. Adding a tent on top of your vehicle will increase its center of gravity. This means taking extra caution when making sharp turns or driving on uneven terrain to ensure your rig stays upright.

This is where a bed rack might come in handy. By putting the rack and the tent on the bed of the truck, you avoid having so much weight higher up on the roof while also decreasing the wind resistance since the rack and tent are behind the cab of the truck.

What Accessories Do You Need?

Less Noisy in Windy Conditions
Torro Offroad

Many roof racks and bed racks have tons of accessories that make carrying your gear simpler and easier. You can get mounts for bikes, cargo boxes, jerry cans, recovery tracks, and shovels, just to name a few.

Additionally, many racks have optional brackets that allow for the installation of rooftop tents (like the Torro Offroad shown above), awnings, and the like. If you have a tent or an awning, check to see if the rack manufacturer offers brackets that will work with your gear.

Learn More:

How Do You Need to Use the Rack?

roof rack accessories

Photo by Denise Hasse via iStock

Again, the type of rack you get is dependent upon what you need to carry and how you need to access it.

If you have a rooftop tent, do you want to crawl up on top of the cab of your truck each night or do you prefer to have it closer to the ground over the truck bed?

Do you need the rack to carry your bike or kayak or canoe? Or a combination thereof?

Do you have a light bar on your vehicle? If so, does the roof rack you want allow for enough room for the light bar?

Is a low-profile rack more attractive to you in order to reduce wind noise and lower the center of gravity?

These are just a few functionality things that are worth pondering as you shop for a rack for your overlanding adventures. Remember – just like anything else, prior planning prevents poor performance. Take your time as you shop for a rack, take the things discussed here into consideration, and educate yourself about the many different options that are available to you. Doing so will help ensure that you get a roof rack or bed rack that is both functional and safe.

My Rack

roof rack buyers guide

As I noted earlier, I have a 2020 Jeep Gladiator.

I originally ordered the JT Roof Rack from JCR Offroad, but after two months of being jerked around with delivery dates, I canceled my order and went with the Maximus 3 JT Roof Rack System. It turned out to be a better decision.

Even though the Maximus 3 was twice the price, it holds more weight (1,000 pounds static and 350 pounds dynamic) and looks better, too, if I’m honest. The higher weight rating stems from the fact that this is a bolt-on rack. This system is built around the Rhino Rack Pioneer Platform system, which includes a 52-inch x 54-inch platform that’s made of composite materials and extruded aluminum. The platform is light, yet strong, and has strategic channels, planks, and crossbars that give you tons of mounting and tie-down points.

roof rack or bed rack

The rack stands just 2.5-inches above the roof, so it’s a low-profile design. It fits perfectly behind my KC Gravity Pro 6 Light Bar too.

Now, you have to drill eight holes into your roof to mount this rack. Some of you might not have the stomach for drilling holes in your roof, but for me, it was quick and painless.

This rack is everything I need (and I think it looks damn good too!). I hope the tips I outlined here will help you find the exact rack that will fit your needs.

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