5 Best Roof Racks for Van Life

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Adding a roof rack to your camper van is a great way to increase your storage capacity and organize your outdoor gear. Here are the 5 best roof racks for van life! Plus answers to all your roof rack questions.

White camper van with roof rack

Pros and Cons of Roof Racks on Camper Vans

Like everything, there are pros and cons to having a roof rack installed on your camper van. Before we jump into everything you need to know about having one, let’s see if a roof rack is right for you.

Pros of a Roof Rack

The benefit of a roof rack on your van:

  • Increased storage – obviously one of the most obvious benefits is the increased storage space. Roof racks are also perfect for storing large items or bulky adventure equipment like surfboards, kayaks, bikes, camping gear, or your spare tire.

Cons of a Roof Rack

Increased storage is a massive bonus for van dwellers because vans inherently have limited space. However, there are some downsides to consider before installing a rack:

  • Security issues – having your expensive gear on the outside of your van can be tempting for would-be thieves. If you do invest in a roof rack, make sure you also invest in quality security measures.
  • Added weight – a roof rack is another accessory that adds weight to your camper van. It is essential for any van lifer to be aware and cognizant of the overall weight of their rig to avoid safety issues.

What to Look for in a Roof Rack for your Camper Van

If you’ve decided that a roof rack is the right accessory for your camper van, there are some key things you want to look into when you’re choosing the right rack for your van.

Young woman sitting on top of white van with a roof rack and red canoe

Weight and Size

Like we mentioned in the cons section, a roof rack is added weight to your van. So when you’re out shopping for a new roof rack, keep in mind the weight and overall size of the rack. The rack needs to fit the length of your van and also the width.

Choosing a lightweight option – like one made of aluminum versus steel – will also help your fuel economy. Depending on what accessories you already have and what your future van build-out entails, you also want to be mindful of the overall dimensions.

If you plan to install a rooftop vent, solar panels, or skylights, you need to consider the space that will be required for these as well. There are only so many square feet of real estate on a van’s roof.

Cargo Capacity and Type

The next thing to consider is the cargo capacity and type. Cargo capacity is the amount of space (measured in cubic feet or pounds) that can hold cargo. In the case of a roof rack, you will have a limited amount of cargo-carrying capacity and you will need to determine if the rack is sufficient for what you have.

The other thing to consider is the cargo type. Some roof racks come with a cargo bag or net. You might also find fully enclosed cargo carriers that can be great for when you have gear you don’t want to be exposed to the elements.

Van Roof Rack Placement

When you’re installing your van’s roof rack, consider how it will fit around your rooftop vent, skylight, or any other accessories.

Plus, consider how you will access the cargo stored up there. Do you have a ladder you can climb up? Do you need a step-up? Can you access it from the side door? If it’s inconvenient to get to the storage then you’ll need to ensure that the stuff you’re storing doesn’t need to be accessed frequently.

How it Attaches to Your Van

There are different ways to attach a roof rack to your van’s top. You just need to decide which installation method is best for you. Commonly roof racks attach to your vehicle’s crossbars; if your van doesn’t have these, then you’ll need an adaptor or alternative method.

Safety

When you’re investing in a roof rack keep in mind that you’re attaching loose cargo to a metal rack and then hurling down the road at highway speeds on your van. This is not the time to get a cheap, poorly made or flimsy roof rack that could cause a serious accident or worse.

Can You Put a Roof Rack on a High-Top Van?

Yes, you can put a roof rack on your high-top van. You can install an extra tall gutter-mounted roof rack. These mount in your vehicle’s gutters and can be made with high clearance so they extend higher than the fiberglass top. Always double-check the height of your high-top and the height of the roof rack. Not all racks (even extended ones) will be compatible.

A second option is to DIY your own mounts to the fiberglass. Due to the unique curvature of the high-top fiberglass, you will need to create custom mounting feet that fit the curve – a block of wood or metal brace would work.

Can You Put a Roof Rack on a Sprinter Van?

Absolutely you can put a roof rack on a Sprinter van! This is a super common upgrade to see within the van life community on Sprinters.

5 Best Roof Racks for Van Life

Now let’s get into the 5 best roof racks that are perfect for van life!

1. FreedomVanGo Sprinter Van Roof Rack

Aerial view of an adjustable roof rack by Freedomvango on a gray Mercedes Sprinter van
Adjustable roof rack by FreedomVanGo

These adjustable roof racks are perfect for your DIY camper van build. This roof rack has many options so you can find a seemingly custom rack just for your can. They are available in three sizes: 144″, 170″, and 170″ EXT; two finishes: raw aluminum and powder coated; with an optional awning add-on.

No professional installation is needed. Your kit comes with 6 mounting brackets, 4 crossbars, and all the hardware needed.

2. Arksen Cargo Roof Rack for Cargo Vans, Sprinter Vans, and More

Product shot of an Arksen 84 inch wide universal roof rack
Arksen Universal Roof Rack. Photo from Amazon.

Add an additional 150 pounds of cargo space to your van with the Arksen roof rack.

Arksen cargo roof racks come in four different widths so you can find the size that fits your van: 30″, 43″, 64″, and 84″. With each size comes optional accessories including the cargo rack, a cargo bag, and cargo nets.

These roof racks are easy to install to your van’s crossbars and use universal mounting hardware.

3. Yakima Lock-n-Load Roof Rack Platform

Secure your gear with a roof rack that integrates T-slots on every slat and outer frame. The Yakima roof rack platform comes in six sizes so you can choose to have a roof rack that spans the entire length of your van or just a portion. This system has a cargo capacity of 165 pounds.

4. MaxxHaul Universal Steel Roof Rack

MaxxHaul Universal steel roof rack
MaxxHaul all-steel roof rack. Photo from Amazon.

This all-steel system is easy to install and instantly gives you 150 pounds of cargo carrying. The rack installs to your vehicle’s crossbars with a universal U-bolt mounting system.

The MaxxHaul universal steel roof rack comes in two different sizes so you can work around existing rooftop accessories or leave space for future buildouts.

5. Prime Design AluRack for Sprinter Style Vans

Next up is the Prime Design AluRack for Sprinter style vans. This rugged and durable aluminum roof rack weighs 30% less than a similar steel version and has a weight capacity of 350 pounds! For reference, the other steel options we listed have a weight capacity of around 150 pounds.

This roof rack system is available for two different wheelbase lengths: 144″ and 170″. For the 144″ wheelbase, the system comes in two different widths: 59″ and 67″.

DIY Van Roof Rack

If you’re jonesing for a DIY project, you can definitely DIY a van roof rack. As mentioned earlier in regards to installing a roof rack on a high-top, there are lots of different installation methods or alternatives you might opt to use based on your van type and needs.

Here are just a couple of DIY options and ideas to inspire you:

No welding aluminum rack for under $300

A roof rack and deck for under $200

DIY unistrut roof rack

Store your recreational equipment outside and avoid dragging water, sand, and dirt into your home with a van roof rack. Whatever van roof rack you decide on, the added storage space is going to be a wonderful addition to your tiny home on wheels.


Related Reading:

10 Best Vans For Your Camper Van Conversion

Best Air Conditioners for a Camper Van

Best Campervan Window Covers for Summer and Winter

How Much Does Van Life Cost Per Month?

25 Must-Have Campervan Accessories


About the author…

Jennifer is a full-time RVer and part-time van lifer. She is one half of DashboardDrifters.com and the founder of RVSpotDrop, a web service for full-time RVers.

Jennifer Jennings ia an author for RVBlogger and RV Life

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