There are a lot of different options for expedition roof racks, but unless you intend fitting a roof tent, then you probably don’t need to carry more than 50 to 100kgs. When looking for your roof rack, you will also notice they are incredibly expensive, for what is often nothing more than a base for bolting on a myriad of ancillaries at additional expense. This is fine when you have a solid roof, but in our case we want to fit our rack to the fibre glass pop roof, which is strong but shouldn’t be overloaded. So as we only usually want to store wet or infrequently used kit and a solar panel, neither of which is heavy, or perhaps a spare wheel, we went for Aluminium for lightness and modified it to suit our needs.
The rack is incredibly lightweight and easy to assemble. But, firstly I would throw away the feet, they’re ok but on a wide campervan roof they are at the limit of their reach and I found they sagged quite badly. Secondly, the structure is very light and the transverse bars at the front and rear of the rack don’t take being kneeled on by a 120kg man! So, to improve access, I removed the rear one. The front one however, I kept as it provides protection for the solar panel, lifting overhanging branches over the edge of the panel.
Having removed the feet, I needed a method to mount it. Firstly, if you have a fibreglass pop top like we do, then you need something to attach the rack to and to distribute the load. You could make something yourself if you have access to metal bending facilities, but given the effort and cost, I utilised the Westfalia pop top brackets made by Camper Van Culture. Ours are very heavy duty, but CVC have now produced a lighter version. They simply sit in the rain gutter when the roof is down, spreading the load, especially when you climb up to load the roof rack. They are bolted through the fibreglass and have beefy spreader plates on the inside and stainless steel fittings. Take some time to align them correctly before drilling holes and you won’t have a set in the wrong place…… 😩.
I then bolted the roof rack through a set of roof bars, just like normal cars use. I bolted through using stainless steel fittings and big washers, but you could use U bolts and bolt around the bars instead. I used CVCs aluminium bars, but any generic ones from your friendly car accessory store will also work. Just ensure the bars are for gutter mounting, as the feet are needed to work with the brackets.
Now you can play around with the configuration. I wanted a solar panel and somewhere to store either another spare wheel or several cargo boxes, dry bags, etc. To secure the cargo, I bolted on a set of Unwin cargo tracks from eBay again and bought a selection of cargo ring fittings. The fittings are removeable and reconfigurable, so are very versatile.
The solar panel is a rigid 120w Biard panel from eBay (no surprise) and as you can see from the pictures, it all fits very nicely on the roof using extruded aluminium L section and bolts / pop rivets. (DIY Solar will follow in separate article)
Finally there is the spade holder, it’s made by Quick-Fist, but there are many other brands out there.
Everything is bolted up using marine grade stainless steel nuts and bolts, or aluminium pop rivets. The storage boxes are the Really Useful Boxes reviewed elsewhere on this site and the straps are generic cargo straps from your local DIY or hardware store.
Points to note:
1. I have imposed a rough 50 – 60kg cargo limit for the roof which is well inside the roof rack and bar limits. But I am considering the strength of the fibre glass. I do not load or unload unless it’s fully down on the gutters. If it needs significant work I will remove it, do the work and refit it.
2. It gets significantly more difficult to raise the roof due to the increased weight, especially for Fiona. So I have fitted a roof assist kit, which is just a set of HD gas rams. Ours are from Jack Bombay in the US, but you can get lift kits in the UK or from eBay. However, if there’s nothing on the roof, it makes closing the roof a practice ground for a trapeze artist!
3. The roof rack significantly increases your height, especially when loaded…. don’t forget it when entering ferries or passing under low bridges or entering underground car parks! Maybe add a sticker to your dashboard with the new heights in loaded and unloaded configurations?
4. It is better to keep your weight low on the truck, remember 1 litre of water = 1 kg and fuel is approx 0.8kgs. Don’t go mad filling your roof with jerrycans!
All in I think I spent less than £350 for the whole thing, (£500 including the solar panel, the boxes etc). Much less than many of the other offerings available. Plus it’s exactly how I wanted it.