How to maximize your roof racks for your summer adventures

Chances are that not every action/adventurer needs a vehicle designed to hunt rhinos. You can move a lot of gear in a basic vehicle if you utilize the roof racks. In the 70s, racks were developed specifically for outdoor pursuits. And they worked great through the early 90s, when cars had rain gutters.

The design of cars without rain gutters was a blessing and a curse. Today, you can no longer just adapt your crossbars from one adventure to another, and suddenly you have to start buying complicated racks specific to the make and model of your vehicle, plus separate attachments for a snowboard, kayak, or whatever else you use.

Wide cross bars can work on a standard vehicle and really maximize space. Photo: Jon Coen.
Wide cross bars can work on a standard vehicle and really maximize space. Photo: Jon Coen

The old way was less fuel efficient but the new apparatus got costly. The old “Big Mac” style travel box gave way to the sport “cargo” box. The new stuff works great, but now Thule and Yakima both have cargo boxes that run almost $1,000 with $200 in accessories just to store the damn thing.

And heaven forbid you lose a key. But throwing gear on the roof means more room inside the car. It means a smaller, more fuel-efficient car. It means less arguing in the car. And it also means that you don’t have to sit next to a dirty tent or wet snowboard.

The Thule Flow 606 carries 3 snowboards and 6-8 pairs of skis. Photo: Courtesy Thule.
The Thule Flow 606 carries 3 snowboards and 6-8 pairs of skis. Photo: Courtesy of Thule

If you’re a single-minded athlete, you can get the specific extension that fits your mountain bike or SUP and be done with it. If you’re the type who’s camping one week, fishing the next week and then lounging on a beach (or perhaps all three in the same trip) it’s best to have as general of a set up as possible.

The best place to start is finding a solid set of crossbars that fit the factory-mounted rails on your roof. These can run up to $500, but a simple call to your local auto wrecker could procure them at a fraction of that price.

Then you can find roof rack pads at your local shop. If you don’t care about looking like Clark Griswold, pipe insulation or pool “noodles” will work (but prepare to not be taken seriously anywhere you go).

When it comes to tie-down straps, there’s something of a hierarchy. Of course, the ratchet type are the best, but unless you’re taking ladders and scaffolding on your next snow trip, probably unnecessary.

They can be so tight they can actually crush a rail or a gunwale. The most sensible are the cinch type of straps, these have teeth and really can get your gear snug without ruining anything.

A good set, with padding behind the metal cinch to protect your stuff, will run $15-$20. Of course, after that, you have bungees, which are okay for day-to-day use, but will eventually break and may or may not take out someone’s eye.

Tips for tie downs: Keep them flat. Twisted straps whistle in the wind. Also, make sure you tie up the slack. A strap smashing down on your roof at 85 mph for three hours is a great way to put yourself in the funny farm. And a surf leash is out of the question.

Creatures of Leisure pads are easy on and off, depending on the day's adventure. Photo: Creatures of Leisure.
Creatures of Leisure pads are easy on and off, depending on the day’s adventure. Photo: Courtesy of Creatures of Leisure

If you’re traveling with more than just your actual action sports hardware (food, clothes and gear you want to keep dry) then start saving for a cargo box.

Today’s roof boxes are sleek, aerodynamic and varied for different needs. Of course, you can find them cheaper in the big box retailers (if you decide you don’t want to use it more than twice before it breaks.) Both Thule and Yakima are assembled in the US. The Yakima Showcase 20 and the Thule Hyper XL are almost 7’6″ each, with plenty of room for a surfboard in there. Just be sure you have the right sized vehicle.

What I have found is best for maximizing roof space is to have a set of extra long utility crossbars. These could be considerably wider than a standard vehicle, which allows for a cargo box with room for SUP, surfboard, kayak, etc.

The risk in doing this is that you will eventually take a cross bar to the head if you don’t have a tall SUV, but it’s a great way to maximize space. The whole operation will take some balance, strategy and DIY motivation, but it’s worth it.

Just always make sure everything is tied down very well. Extra straps or bungees in the car don’t hurt … Or just get a pickup truck.

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