Rack Systems - What Should You Consider When Picking A Rack?
"Whats the best rack-system out there?" It's a question we get on our online chats at least a few times a week on top of "What other brands of racks do you carry?" and because we get that question often. We are going to get into how we answer those questions and why from our perspective.
You may have looked up on Google rack systems for trucks or overlanding rack systems and to be totally honest. You could easily call ten different industry shops and get ten different answers which may even confuse you more about what is a better choice let alone what may work best for you.
There is a litany of reputable companies out there that make a good rack system and then there are some who are trying. We could sit here and play product keyword mashups but since we're our own sponsors in this world of off-road up-fitting, we thought it would be best to just verbally send it.
So.., things to consider when choosing a rack outside of the obvious are; style [type], height, mounting, function, and upgradability or accessories that work with your rack.
With regard to the styling of the rack or the type of racking we try to break this down a little further. You have companies that make some rather quick and lightweight products that are pretty popular because the companies making them have partially been in the rack game for awhile but because they made other things to start with as accessories. These types of companies have evolved based upon new vehicle designs; customer needs, and is a constant in redesign and ingenuity for the simple all the time - Load Bars.
The Swedish born company Thule, pronounced "Tool-ee", the 'h' is often hard to keep silent when referring to them by name. Then the other ever popular Yakima company; started from a small machine shop out of Yakima, Washington. Both which in minimalist ideals offer everything from hitch receiver fitments to rooftop storage solutions of their own.
Even with the novel idea and capability of height adjustablity, it's usually at minimum a 2-person task. The other uncalculated factor is growth in your current hobby or new ones. They are meant for the minimal of use. Speaking of height, rack height can be critical to cargo space constraints or needs, minimizing coefficient drag for purpose of MPG or even noise and each type of rack is still sorta unique in its offerings by brand.
Both companies make great products for the average enthusiast, the drawback is they're not meant to be functional beyond a certain use either by structural design or structural weight use; most are limited to about 300lbs or less. If you're just traveling some dirt backroads, forestry, or fire roads, you should be just fine but they are not meant for real dedicated off-road use or much of it. The rigorous demands on the flexing of body parts, even C-framed vehicles puts an immense strain on such items and even on some lesser quality rack systems with claims of being "THE" Overland Rack of Overland racks.
The question of "What type of vehicle; SUV or truck? What will be the overall usage of what your vehicle will be used for most?" is something you'll often hear asked by us here at #12degnorth Industries. James, the Operations Manager says "between the blank stares and scratching noises of eyes rolling sometimes, it's a logical question that can answer a lot of things and not only help determining what will work best for you but minimize a poor experience with us and a product because you felt like you wasted your money or the product specialist wasn't listening to your needs." Any shop looking for the best interest of its customers and not looking to just push you out the door with a box under your arm understands this.
But the reality is this.. You have your Toyota Tacoma or Chevy Colorado and you have a in addition to your racks weight itself - 54lbs; you just have a clamshell or soft-top RTT - 115/140lbs, two sets of MAXTRAX coming in around - 38lbs, your "Xtreme" hi-lift jack at - 31lbs, maybe as far as a 2M awning - 32/40lbs.. putting an additional 270-303lbs in the back bed alone. Roof racks are similar in thought with the addition of forward facing 30-50" LED light bars, or any omni-directional lighting pods whether 3x3 or 9" in diameter. Add in the use of aggressive trails, rock crawling, MOAB, the Rubicon, extreme mud or water crossing and you have several forces of physics you're dealing with in comparison to that general unpaved backroad or forestry road.
Taking into consideration the length of your gear, especially those of us with vehicles offering 5-foot bed lengths vs our longer wheelbase friends. Very few of us will have a 5-foot bed with a four man tent tucked on the bed rack and still have room for some Alu-boxes or Pelican cases too which may also make the difference of what rack system is better for you. Taking into consideration of what gear you will be using as an overall plan will make a difference of the rack you may choose.
Maybe the option of a rear bumper with a swing-out feature is not in your budget or future at all, so do you keep extra fuel onboard? If so, old-reliable Jerry cans or something more modern like Rotopax. Specific mounting systems and or weight constraints might change or hinder what you are looking to achieve whether long term or temporarily for use.
Another thought that we point out is the all to often and typical hardship of finding ways to mount things to round tubes along with constraints of the famous "basket racks". So there are a few and improving ways to make full use of lighting mounts but other mounting options for other things can be a bit more restricted or difficult to find or put into use still. The use of basket styled racks seem attractive until you find the real value in a flat rack system, especially of those that would allow the use of multiple accessories or the addition of using "expedition rails" which basket racks often mimic but lose the ability to articulate them in a fashion that is just along the sides, options of just the front or rear, all around the rack, or remove them altogether if you find them unnecessary later on.
We have partnered with Front Runner Outfitter racks for a couple years along with a couple other rack system brands when we first started. We do exclusively push the Front Runner brand racks for many obvious reasons as our initial goto but not our only. To start, is the history and expanse of vehicle specific racks and multitude of universal sized racks that can be custom fit to just about anything with tires.. seriously. The racks can offer 3-dimensional use; meaning the sides and underneath of the rack are just as valuable of real estate as the top in offerings. Throw in 55+ [and expanding] Front Runner accessories and the aforementioned expedition rails and between options and creativity, covers just about every wish you can come up with exception of the rack mounted recliner for that full outdoor experience.. are you listening #frontrunner ?
The fact they also offer an impressive amount of complimentary cargo/refrigeration slides and drawer systems that couple up well with the use of their racks and taking storage solutions to a whole new expansive level, not just a simple level up and again on several vehicle make platforms.
The fit & finish on the Front Runner Slimline II racks from their high-strength steel brackets to the T6 aluminum trays shod in black weather resistant powder coating. And although we could go on and put to texted our opinionated stance as possibly the all around best rack out there, truly some of that goes along with the fact that it is our number one rack because of the accessorization capability and above and beyond usefulness. The addition of extra slats making a solid decking that compliments the already T-slot mounting system making all the accessories bolt on ready, it's as close to plug & play as you can get within a hardware feature like a roof or bed rack. And as for the accessories? Storage solutions, camping needs and or sport equipment options from fishing poles to Kayaks or snow boards, Front Runner does some design revisions that just keep getting better each time.
Zroadz Access Overland Rack
Another brand and alternative type of rack system is by Zroadz, advertised and aimed at the off-road community as a cab level advertised as what? Yup, "Access Overland Rack" all inclusive with options streamlining the rack in simple design and very useful features like the side panels that lift up like aluminum "windoors" found on many truck toppers today. Add in flush mounting capabilities for most 3x3 LED light pods on the market, hybrid construction and something else we will go over with later is also the mounting system is well designed with vehicle flex kept in mind.
Shown on this 2019 Ford Ranger [above] you can clearly see how well designed the mount is the bed rails clamping in two-dimensions. Not a single bolt, or only utilizing a thin 2 x 2 metal tab, with a single improperly welded stud that pulls through when the body flexes. The bed-rail long bracket helping solidifying the top of the bed between the vertical uprights to help keep the taller rack remain in balance with everything else.
Ideally we do like keeping weight lower, especially on vehicles with more than a 2-3" lift as stability becomes a bigger concern so if you have a vehicle with more lift you should take that into consideration as well for your safety and the safety of others. Outfitted with multi-slot and thru hole accessory mounting positions do make for allowing for spare fluid containers, traction pads, or any other options weighing up to 30lbs can be mounted and lifted out of the way on the aluminum door frames. Zroadz also thought ahead adding accessory mounting plates throughout the framework making it an easy solution for securing Maxtrax, Rotopax, and other popular accessories with ease.
Perhaps what is really nice and convenient is the included four (4) 20w built in LED light pods giving out a illuminating 1712 Lumens each. Four CREE 5w chips in each pod with an IP68 rating, IP69K Protection Rating, offering 50,000 hr life span; complete with a universal wire harness to cleanly run wires.
Now admittedly at the time of writing this it's not know if this is a specific "work light" type flood pattern which is a slightly different diffused pattern or if it a standard flood pattern. That is something I will be checking in with Zroadz with to answer that question should you be interested in that fact.
We hope that this information will lead you to an informed decision about finding which rack system is best for you. Let us know in the comment below and join the discussion. Until the next firepit story, keep the rubber side down!
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