Maximize this often-overlooked cargo real estate
By: Wheels Afield Magazine
The top of a vehicle is often a forgotten, barren wasteland. Plenty of attention is given to the bed of the truck, the rear of an SUV, and unused space behind the seats, but the most overlooked place to store gear – especially large, wet, bulky, or dirty gear – is up top. A vehicle’s roof rack doesn’t have to look like a Camel Trophy Land Rover to be effective, but smart utilization of the space on top frees up room inside – and keeps infrequently used, but necessary, items available that might otherwise get left behind. Here’s a look at some of the hottest and most practical items for the top of your rig.
Roof racks come in as many styles and types as there are vehicles (maybe more), but a few key traits separate the good from the bad. Important features to look for are corrosion-resistant construction, well-engineered design, and overall functionality.
To get started, determine your actual needs. Load bars or roof racks? Depending upon your application, one or the other (or, in some cases, both used in conjunction) may best suit your needs. Load bars are ideal for things like rooftop tents, kayaks, SUPs, and large cargo boxes. Roof racks are better suited for hauling everything else: jerry cans, emergency kits, spare tires, axes, and shovels, for example. Generally speaking, start with a set of heavy-duty load bars (some vehicles are already so-equipped, others require aftermarket installation), then add a rack, platform, or basket as your needs warrant.
In the West, it seems every Subaru is fitted with an aftermarket cargo carrier festooned with “Bernie for President” stickers. This is due to Subaru’s complete unsuitability for the outdoor enthusiast, but these hipsters insist on making a statement by driving one, so extra storage is a must – and dry bonus storage, regardless of vehicle, is a pretty solid idea. A place to put boots, camping gear, sleeping bags, and packs is always needed. Multiple manufacturers make a wide range of cargo carriers in enough sizes to fit about any outdoorsman’s needs. Look for quality mounting options, seal tight lids, and lightweight materials. Options like aerodynamic style, dual opening sides, and integrated internal lights separate the good from the great.
Awnings are extremely rare in the American outdoors but are ubiquitous nearly everywhere else in the world. Of course, awnings make perfect sense for the Namibian heading out for a day of fishing on the Skeleton Coast where the nearest shade tree is roughly 250 miles away as the vulture flies, but they’re also ideal for us in North America as well. We have used them to create a dry cooking spot while elk hunting in the Pacific Northwest, a shaded dining spot while fishing desert trout streams, and everywhere in between. Most awnings cover a significant area alongside the vehicle, and some even wrap around the vehicle for 270 degrees of coverage. The best part is that the better ones can be set up by one person in a minute or less.
We don’t know whether it is the prevalence of lions or snakes, but so many of
the great rooftop tents come from either Africa or Australia. But this is changing rapidly as North American hunters, anglers, and campers realize how useful these gems truly are. Quick to deploy, as well as collapse, rooftop tents keep a mattress and bedding rolled out and in place – meaning from stop to sleep can be measured in minutes. Best of all, they are always dry, off the cold ground, and even snake-free in places like the American Southwest where this can be a concern. While soft-sided tents are king in most warm, dry environs, we have found that for the hunter (especially the late-season hunter likely to experience snow) a hard-shelled tent is superior.
If you dig into rooftop accessories, you’ll see there isn’t anything that hasn’t been done: secure holders for propane tanks and gas cans, brackets for axes and shovels, and even accessories to help load and secure a canoe. In short, if you can conceive it, it has likely already been invented. Many accessories aren’t used often – or maybe ever – but you want them should an emergency arise. A shovel may ride on a rack for years and never be used, until the day it is needed and then it is probably really needed. Ask yourself: If you had to put it inside the vehicle every trip, would it always be there? Probably not.