Vanlife Roof Racks: 5 Best Options + Install Guide
One of the biggest concerns when it comes to van life is space. For those who are used to living in traditional homes, it can be hard to adapt to the small size of vans. To help maximize interior space and carry more items, many van owners rely on van roof racks. In this article, we’ll review what these are and how to pick the best roof rack for van life.
What Is a Van Roof Rack?
A sprinter van roof racks are a set of equally spaced crossbars mounted perpendicularly on raised side rails on the roof of a campervan. They let you safely stow bulky items and gear, which frees up the limited space in your vehicle.
While van roof racks are not a necessity for van life, they’re a huge help when it comes to organization. Most van owners use them to transport extra furniture, luggage or bulky items (such as bicycles).
Do You Need a Van Roof Rack?
Despite being extremely useful, many vans don’t come with a pre-installed van life roof rack. Thus, lots of van owners are hesitant about going through the effort of procuring one. You should consider investing in a van roof rack if you meet any of the following conditions:
- You need more space: Roof racks for sprinter vans are helpful for storing gear that cannot comfortably fit in your van (like kayaks, surfboards, bicycles, extra luggage or ladders).
- You want to plan ahead: If you’re concerned about running out of storage space in the future, installing a full-size van roof rack is a good, preemptive measure.
- You need to mount other items: Vans with roof racks make it easier to mount items like solar panels, awnings and rod showers.
- You want to improve aesthetics: You can attach round floodlights or an LED light bar to your roof rack, improving your vehicle’s appearance.
Whether you need more room or want to mount a solar panel, a van roof rack is a huge help. Of course, if you’ve never owned one before, you might not know how to pick the right type. Fortunately, we’ve assembled a comprehensive guide that goes over some of the best roof racks on the market.
Best Van Roof Racks
If you’ve ever attempted to purchase a van roof rock, you’ll notice that there’s no shortage of options available. Not only are there tons of brands, but each one also offers different features and amenities. Here are some of our top choices.
Owl Vans has a high-quality aluminum roof rack for vans. Designed in 2007, it’s made specifically for 144″ and 170″ Owl Sprinter Vans. However, the 170″ model is only compatible with roof racks made in 2019 or later.
Currently, the Owl Vans All Aluminum Safari Style Roof Rack sells for about $3,200. If you don’t want to bother with the installation, the company will take care of it for an additional $400. It’s important to note that the quoted selling price is for local pick-up — the company doesn’t ship orders, so you’ll have to collect your roof rack at one of their locations.
Here are some of the pros of these conversion van roof racks:
- Highly customizable (can fit on almost all existing Owl van roof configurations)
- Has drop-down crossbars (which allow for the easier installation of solar panels or van roof rack baskets)
- Has a front-drop hoop (which provides a platform for mounting round lights or an LED light bar)
- Made of lightweight aluminum (meaning it won’t add much weight to your campervan)
- Offers pre-drilled side rails (which makes mounting accessories easier)
Here are a few cons of the Owl Vans camper van roof racks:
- Does not come with flooring
- Not compatible with older versions of the 170″ Owl Sprinter Van
- Can be costly
- Shipping isn’t available
If you’re looking for a durable van roof rack that can accommodate the different vent and AC combinations in your vehicle, then the Aluminess Modular Roof Rack may be right for you. Made of perforated aluminum, it works with Mercedes 144WB and 170WB Sprinter Vans that were made after 2007.
The roof rack can work around the two standard vent locations in the 144WB Mercedes Sprinter Van, as well as the three standard vent openings on the 170WB Mercedes Sprinter Van. It retails at either $2,995, $3,745 or $3,895 (depending on the type and size of the sprinter van you want to fit it on).
Here are a few pros of these racks for van roofs:
- Made of lightweight aluminum (meaning it won’t add too much weight to your sprinter van)
- Lets you mount your solar panels directly on it (rather than having to drill holes)
- Space to install both a camper van fan and a Dometic, Nomadic, or FresAir AC
- Offers free shipping to your preferred location
- Compatible with many Mercedes Sprinter Vans
- Custom models with additional crossbars and mounts are available
Here are a few cons of this van roof rack:
- May interfere with your van’s factory-mounted satellite antenna
- Cost doesn’t include any other accessories that need to be installed with the roof rack
- Only compatible with Sprinter vans (not Ford Transit or Ram ProMaster)
The Flatline Van Co Low Pro Roof Rack is the ideal solution for those looking for an affordable, high-performance van roof rack with a ladder accessory option. It features a sleek, low-lying profile that accentuates the appearance of your campervan while increasing functionality. One of the best elements is the adjustable crossbars, which can be moved forward or backwards to create extra room for fans, solar panels, light bars and other gear.
These van roof racks currently retail at $1,495, making them one of the most affordable models out there. However, if you have a high roof, you’ll need to install your Flatline roof rack alongside a front pairing (which costs around $150). You can also purchase a side ladder (which costs $745). The roof rack is compatible with all 2007-2022 Mercedes Benz Sprinter 144″ High Roof Vans.
Here are some advantages of Flatine Van roof racks:
- Simple installation process
- Made of lightweight aluminum (has a total weight of 51 pounds)
- Affordable in comparison to other brands
- Side rails come with holes for attaching accessories (such as awnings, ladders and lights)
- Low profile that increases aerodynamics and fuel efficiency
Here are some disadvantages of this brand:
- Not compatible with all Sprinter van models (like Ford and Chevy)
- It requires additional accessories (which might drive up costs)
If you’re interested in roof racks for Mercedes Sprinter vans, then you need to check out the Freedom Van Go Adjustable Roof Rack. Compatible with 144″ WB, 170″ WB and 170″ EXT WB Mercedes Sprinter vans, it can cost anywhere from around $2,600 to $3,400. Customers can choose between two finishes: Satin Black Powdercoat and Raw Aluminum.
The rack itself is made of stainless steel, making the overall structure durable and rust-resistant. It comes with six sprinter van roof rack mounts and around four or five crossbars (depending on the variation you purchase). Finally, all these crossbars are user-configurable, meaning you can easily adjust them to suit your needs.
Here are some of the best features of these van roof racks:
- Has 5/6 holes on all vertical ties (letting you easily mount your lights and awnings)
- Can accommodate additional brackets, mounts and crossbars
- Crossbars can be adjusted to create room for mounting items (such as solar panels)
- Doesn’t interfere with your van’s factory mounted satellite antenna
- Simple installation process
Here are a couple of drawbacks to this brand:
- Only compatible with Mercedes Sprinter vans
- Doesn’t allow for customization to accommodate fans or AC openings
You can’t discuss van roof racks without mentioning the RoamBuilt Safari Roof Rack 2.0, which is an upgraded version of the popular SafariRack. This sleep rack has a curved front, making it ideal for any VS30 Sprinter vans made in 2019 or after. It’s also compatible with all 2007-2021 144″ WB, 170″ WB and 170 Extended WB Sprinter Vans.
Like most racks, this one is made of strong, perforated aluminum that can support heavy items. In exchange for its plethora of features, it comes at a hefty price — this van roof rack will set you back anywhere from $5,200 to $6,400.
Here are some of our favorite elements about these van roof racks:
- Compatible with many Mercedes Benz Sprinter vans
- The side rails have gaps (making it easy to mount things like light-bars and awnings)
- Lightweight material that won’t add too much weight to your van
Here are some of our least favorite elements about these racks:
- Expensive (especially if you have them shipped)
- Can take up to 8 weeks for your roof rack order to be delivered
- Crossbars are hard to adjust once the roof rack has been installed
DIY Van Roof Racks
There’s no doubt that buying a ready-made van roof rack is the easiest way to go. However, if you have carpentry skills and some time on your hands, you may be tempted to try a DIY van roof rack installation. There are plenty of advantages to installing your own roof rack, including the following:
- Affordable: While you can hire a professional to install your van roof rack, doing it yourself is relatively easy and saves money (especially if you manage to find a van roof rack for sale).
- Speed: Depending on how quickly you work, making your own roof rack can be faster than buying one (since you don’t have to wait for shipping).
- Customizable: DIY projects let you create a custom van roof rack that fits perfectly with your vehicle.
Before you decide to install your own van roof rack, review the steps below and make sure you’re able to complete them.
How to Install A Van Roof Rack
It’s important to note that there’s no universal installation method when it comes to van roof racks. Since all roof racks vary in orientation and design, each one has its own unique installation process. Below is a general outline of the steps involved.
1) Gather Your Materials
The first step is gathering the materials you need for the project. This includes the following:
- Roof rail and rack: For the best results, you should stick to aluminum or stainless steel (as opposed to a wood van roof rack).
- Bolts and washers: These supplies will help secure the rack to the van.
- Tools: You’ll need a drill, as well as any safety gear you use for DIY projects.
- Van roof rack brackets: If you want to install baskets or storage racks, you’ll need mounting brackets.
Once you’ve gotten your materials together, you can move onto the actual installation.
2) Clean Your Van Roof
Using a rag or towel, clean your van’s roof to remove any dirt and grime. Not only will this make the installation easier, but it also helps prevent dirt from building up in the future. You should also remove any rust on the roof.
3) Drill Holes
Take your roof rail and place it in its intended spot. Then, mark wherever the holes on the rack align with the van. It’s important that these markings are precise — to ensure they’re correct, you can measure the holes on the rail, then check to see if your markings match those measurements. Once you’re done, take a powerless drill and make holes along your markings.
4) Bolt in the Rails
Put your roof rail back in its intended location, then use a bolt and washers to secure them in place. Make sure the bolts are water-tight by applying a sealant. Once you’re done, give the rails a good shake just to ensure they’re really secure.
5) Mount the Rack
The last step is to mount the actual van roof rack to the roof rails. You do not want to mount your roof rack directly into the ceiling of your van. Most racks come with a comprehensive kit that helps you securely attach the rack to the rails. Some may even come with accessories that boost your van roof rack storage capacity (such as ladders or baskets). After the rack is mounted, you can start enjoying a whole roof’s worth of extra space.
How Much Weight Can You Put on a Roof Rack?
Whether you’ve decided to install your own van roof rack or hire a professional, the end result is the same — you now have a new, high-quality rack that can be used to store your heavy gear. However, before you start loading your van, it’s important to double-check its weight capacity.
In general, van roof rack crossbars are designed to carry around 165 pounds. If you exceed this limit, you may cause serious damage to your vehicle. Keep in mind that the maximum weight will vary depending on both the roof rack type and vehicle model.
Enjoy Your New Roof Rack!
From expanding your storage capacity to supporting solar panels and lights, there are several benefits to having a van roof rack. To make things even better, there are many models available, letting van owners choose a rack that meets their precise budget, size and feature requirements.
Of course, the downside to this versatility is that it can be difficult to come to a decision. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out — our team is here to help!