If you are headed deep into the Australian outback, you’re going to need to take as much luggage as your vehicle can carry, simply because you’re going to be thousands of kilometres away from civilization, so as soon as you go off the beaten track self-sufficiency becomes a priority. Fortunately, we have fairly sized utes and 4WD vehicles that can carry a considerable amount of cargo. Despite that, off-roaders are always after ways to increase their load capacity because they know this will make their trip more bearable. That being said, you have three areas where you can extend your storage space – the roof, the ute tray, or by adding a trailer. Many off-road vehicles don’t have a tray to begin with, and towing a trailer across uneven terrain is not everyone’s cup of tea. So upgrading the roof storage capacity is the only option for most off-roaders.
Types of Roof Racks
Once you decide to get extra storage on the roof of your 4WD, you’ll be pleased to find out that there are multiple types of roof rack solutions. One thing you have to respect is the limits imposed by road regulations and roof load capacity. Usually, the chassis of a 4WD can take more than 70kg of cargo. However, you need to double-check the specific rating of your vehicle before you make a final choice.
This is the most lightweight option and it consists of two or more bars that run sideways or lengthwise. Some vehicles come with roof rails straight out of the factory. Sometimes these are simple crossbars that are meant for on-road use and light loads. Off-road roof rails have heavy-duty fittings and they are often installed by drilling holes on the roof.
Stacking roof rails with a lot of items can prove to be impractical on off-road terrain. Basket roof racks allow you to load more stuff on the roof securely, giving you peace of mind knowing it will stay there. Their sides have an additional protective mesh so you can secure the cargo with ease. The base of a roof rack basket is usually a welded structure, though the light-duty straps used for meshing keep its weight profile fairly low.
If you are looking for the ultimate-reinforced roof rack basket, then you should consider a roof cage. It has a greater load-bearing capacity and is built as heavy-duty as it gets. The mesh on this type of roof rack consists of metal joints, allowing you to overhand some of the cargo. Such options are popular with long-term off-roaders whose need for extra storage is almost permanent.
Tent Roof Rack
Off-road and adventurous people have also found other ways to make the most of their roof space. By placing a tent roof up there, they are actually increasing their storage in the luggage compartment. Of course, not everyone is fond of rooftop tents, but these tents can be one of the most effective ways to use the available space around your vehicle, especially if they are compatible with awnings designed to cover an extensive area.
Roof Rack Material
The durability of your roof rack assembly depends on the quality of materials used to put it together. Some roof racks are made from plastic or similar materials, but note that you can’t put a substantial load on those. Premium roof rails are made from black powder-coated steel or aluminium. If you are concerned about the weight of the roof rack (and worried it will get in the way of your overall load capacity) you should go for aluminium. Keep in mind that this will also reflect the sturdiness of the cage frame as well. Experienced fitters claim that the mounts and fittings are more important than the actual material of the cage. That, and good packing techniques when your roof rack is put to use. If drilling is required to install your rack waterproof all fasteners to avoid leaks in the cabin.
Roof Rack Size
This refers more to the lines of load capacity than in terms of sizing. The roof bars can follow the outline of the roof itself and you can’t go much past it. If your 4WD has some specific measurements (ex., dual cab ute vs regular one) and you are getting an universal roof rack make sure they fit the exact make and model of your vehicle.
Using the Roof Rack
There are many reasons to install roof bars for handling off-road loads. Certain cargo is best kept outside of the cabin even if you have ample space inside. For example, potentially dangerous items or items that leave an unpleasant smell like jerry cans, LPG bottles, mobile toilet units, waste bags can be stored on the roof. On the other hand, the roof basket is close enough to reach it via the side steps if you need to get your fuel supplies. Not only will it keep you safer, but it will also make off-road adventures more enjoyable. Then, there is all that bulky stuff you take with you. It might not necessarily be heavy, but it can be difficult to place inside the luggage compartment. We are talking about extreme sports gear such as bicycles, surfboards, ski equipment and everything else that is big and tacky.