The 5 Best Van Roof Racks – Ultimate Buying Guide [2021]

We’ve tried and tested the best van roof racks on the market to bring you this expert guide on what to look for, features you need and more! Ready to increase your RV or van roof space? Let’s get into it…

Trust us, when you’re moving into your van, there is no such thing as too much space. Under-bed and cargo storage compartments inside your rig can only do so much.

And once the cabinets start filling up, a van roof rack becomes a necessary solution to your storage needs.

You can find roof rack equipment of all shapes and sizes that are capable of working next to your solar panels or across the entirety of high roof vans.

This guide will help you understand the ins and outs of the roof rack industry, which has given modern overlanders the additional cargo space they need to turn their vans into a home.

Van Roof Racks with surfboard
With good roof racks on your vehicle you’ll add so much more storage space – perfect for when you have toys to travel with!

Whether you want to strap on some sports equipment, an extra cooler, or the right tools for a tough job, secure your materials in style with one of the best van roof racks on the market.

Van owners can easily install every rack on our list on the roof of a Ford Transit, Mercedes Benz Metris, a Ram Promaster or other size vans so you can tack on the extra storage space to bring all the toys with you on the road.

We’ll cover all sorts of styles and racks that excel in different areas, but each one is sure to be built out of the right materials to make it sturdy and efficient.

EDITOR’S CHOICE:

Yakima Lock n Load

Just want to know what our expert recommendation is? After personally testing all the options our top choice is the Yakima Lock n Load.

Yakima stayed simple to provide the best affordable roof rack in the business. 

These van racks transform your roof into a versatile carrying space that can accommodate bikes, kayaks, gear bags, or whatever else you need to complete your kit.

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The Best Van Roof Racks

Roof racks come with all sorts of functions.

Whether you’re searching for ladder racks or crossbars, the best van racks in the business stand out by providing easy installation and great fit no matter the van, supporting heavy loads, and paying attention to the details.

PRODUCT

WHAT WE LIKE

THINGS TO CONSIDER

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Yakima Lock N Load 

EDITOR'S CHOICE

  • Lifetime warranty

  • Plenty of accessories available

  • You can carry whatever you can tie-down

  • 350-pound maximum 

  • Crossbar clamps sold separately

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Thule AeroBlade 

  • Simple and effective

  • Can be locked with a key 

  • Aerodynamic

  • Each bar is sold separately

  • Doesn’t work with a sunroof

Prinsu Roof Rack

Prinsu Ladder Rack 

  • Most complete rack on the market

  • Reinforced metal ladder

  • Plenty of storage space

  • Most expensive rack on the list

  • Won’t fit every style of van 

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Rhino Rack Pioneern  

  • Easy to find accessories

  • Non-corrosive metals

  • Only weighs 58 pounds

  • Doesn’t ship with sidebars

  • Large size is pricy

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ARKSEN Universal Cargo rack

  • Most affordable rack on our list

  • Comes in variable sizes

  • Basket can expand and contract

  • Lesser known brand

  • Includes some plastic parts

Yakima Lock N Load 

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The Yakima Lock N Load has its origins in the outback, where Australian adventurers frequently had to gear up for a cross-country desert trek with thousands of kilometres between rest stops.

Introduced into the US in 2019, this slim roof rack has changed the game by providing a smaller cargo rack that can hold well above its weight.

PROS

  • Lifetime warranty
  • Plenty of accessories available
  • You can carry whatever you can tie down

CONS

  • 350-pound maximum weight
  • Crossbar clamps sold separately

The rack can be custom ordered in a variety of lengths of corrosion-resistant aluminum bars, and the side-to-side slats make loading and unloading larger sports equipment a simple process.

The roof rack does all this quietly, reducing wind noise by adding an integrated wind deflector on the frame’s front side.

Yakima is a company that is no stranger to pimping out overland vehicles, and this rack works well with their existing lines of outdoor tools.

This roof rack provides slots on every crossbar that allows you to tie down whatever you want without drilling any additional holes.

Whether or not your vehicle comes without factory mounting points, you’ll have to add on this Yakima Baseline set to get your roof ready for racks.

The four connectors make naked roof installation easy but are necessary no matter what you’ve got on your roof.


Thule AeroBlade 

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For vans who just need a set of crossbars, this Thule option sets up your roof for success.

Two clamps hold down any oversized items like skis or surfboards, and the minimalist design improves the look of any roof.

These two bars attach to any roof rack rails and make unloading and installation an easy process.

PROS

  • Simple and effective
  • Can be locked with a key
  • Aerodynamic

CONS

  • Each bar is sold separately
  • Doesn’t work with a sunroof

Most roof racks require you to leave some valuable goods out in the open, but Thule takes security into account on all their racks. With one additional piece, you can secure your bars with a lock and key.

This company has been dropping model after model of roof racks that work perfectly with an outdoor lifestyle.

If you only need a simple addition, the Aeroblade provides an excellent and affordable way to fit a roof rack into your van.


Prinsu ladder rack 

Prinsu Roof Rack

Once you’ve got your roof rack filled up, you’ll need a way to access it with ease. Unloading some van racks can be a complicated process employing the rearview mirror as a stepping stool.

Take convenience into account and trust this rack to take care of all the details. Your cargo rack is useless if you can’t easily reach your roof.

PROS

  • Most complete rack on the market
  • Reinforced metal ladder
  • Plenty of storage space

CONS

  • Most expensive rack on the list
  • Won’t fit every style of van

Using the attached ladder to access your cargo easily will make it easy to access a fresh pair of pants or whatever you’ve got stuffed into the hold.

Prinsu’s combination ladder rack is a frequent sight at campgrounds and backcountry spots across the country, as it works perfectly with a Sprinter high-top van.

You won’t find many vans without ladders to help access the roof, and this ladder rack takes care of two birds with one big slab of aluminum.

The van ladder rack stretches across a typical roof and can support up to 500 pounds. Use it as a base for a rooftop tent, spare tire, and winter clothing all in one.


Rhino Rack Pioneer 

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The Rhino Rack Pioneer packs similar design features as the Yakima Lock N load to allow you to mount just about anything into the slatted roof rack.

In one afternoon, you can install a corner bracket, jerry can water tank, perimeter rail kit, or spare wheel restraint to truly maximize your roof’s ability to store.

Basically, anything you can tie down, you can carry.

PROS

  • Easy to find accessories
  • Non-corrosive metals
  • Only weighs 58 pounds

CONS

  • Doesn’t ship with sidebars
  • Large size is pricy

As long as your vehicle has factory mounting points, you’ll be able to get this bad boy hooked up in an afternoon.

The lightweight aluminum allows you to haul it up to your roof yourself, although we recommend at least two people for the installation.

Van racks must emulate the van life, which is never the same from one day to the next. This Rhino Rack does its part by offering uploads of accessories that give you freedom when deciding how to store your cargo.


ARKSEN Universal Cargo rack

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Sometimes you don’t need to invest big bucks to keep your gear secure. If you’re shopping for a special occasion or don’t have that much equipment to protect, this universal cargo rack will help you get to the swimming hole without breaking the bank.

It’s a riskier choice than anything else on our list, as this company doesn’t provide a warranty and doesn’t have a very long history to prove its quality.

PROS

  • Most affordable rack on our list
  • Comes in variable sizes
  • Basket can expand and contract

CONS

  • Lesser known brand
  • Includes some plastic parts

Living outdoors is all about risks, and you could do a lot worse than saving a few bucks with this roof rack.

We love that the cargo rack ships with rails and all the equipment you need for installation, including flaps that reduce wind noise.

You can shop for the perfect size and even add on a waterproof cargo bag that will help keep everything dry and secure.

The search for the ideal roof rack can feel hopeless, as every choice seems to cost thousands of dollars. This simple rack is out to change that.


Van with Roof Rack Storage
The more storage the better!

Choosing the Best Roof Rack

As you can see from our list, roof and ladder racks can take on many forms.

With all these different shapes and styles out there, you’ll have to do some introspection before you can find the best roof rack for a van.

Equipment

The equipment you want to carry will significantly impact which cargo rack is best for your vehicle.

Long-term campers will want a beefier setup capable of hauling hundreds of pounds of gear and lots of accessories, while action sports enthusiasts may be searching for simple cross bars that help them get to the mountains faster. 

Once you know what you want to put on the roof, take a look at these other factors to consider before you start your search to make sure you are acting in your vehicle’s best interest.

Gasoline on Roof
Keep potentially dangerous items such as gasoline or diesel on the roof.

Safety

You can’t just strap anything onto your roof and take off down the highway. High speeds and winds tend to amplify issues, and a faulty roof rack could quickly lead to an unfortunate appearance on the local news.

Commercial products love to make big promises, but only a few pieces of equipment back up their big talk.

There are loads of different ladder racks and products on Amazon that promise to secure your cargo for cheap, but make sure to read between the lines before adding anything to your cart.

The first thing you want to check is the materials used to construct your rack. Anything you plan on strapping to your van should be nothing less than high-quality metals.

It’s only a matter of time before plastic parts fall apart, often with some injury.

The next thing you should look at is the brand behind the rack. We’re revolutionaries as much as the next guy. But when it comes to safety, we’re a sucker for brand names.

Big companies like Thule and Yakima have established themselves by avoiding faulty racks for decades. That’s not to say there aren’t any fresh faces in the industry that make high-quality products; they just carry with them a bit more risk.

That’s why the final thing you should check out is the comment section.

While people are way more likely to leave a review if they don’t like something than if they do, if the product you’re thinking about has several reviews stating the rack is a piece of crap that gave out on them, it probably is.

Don’t forget to follow us on social media, where we share the real story of what it’s like travelling and living in a van full-time!

Accessories

Your van will constantly be evolving. Every trip introduces us to new ideas, new places, and new toys we want to bring along on our next vacation.

Make sure your cargo rack can keep up by looking at what kind of add-ons can easily upgrade your rack.

Racks like the Yakima Lock N Load or the Rhino-Rack have a plethora of add-ons ready to roll, allowing you to customize your roof further.

These racks will make the install process easy, whether you want to add on a portable shower, water tank, spare tire holder, bike lock, rooftop tent, or cargo net.

When upgrading your van, never shop for just the next trip, but the next few years. This mindset will help avoid having to redo your entire system just for a tiny change.

Bike and Roof Rack on Jeep
It might not be a van, but this type of rig shows what you can do with a decent roof rack and bike rack.

Fit

Just because your roof rack has ‘universal’ in the description doesn’t mean it will fit on your rig. Factory mounting points, available rooftop space, solar panels, and ladders will all impact what rack is best for your van.

Ford Transit or Sprinter vans will likely have an easier time finding a roof rack, as their popularity forces companies to make their ladder racks fit those vehicles.

The only way to ensure your rack fit is to contact the company directly for more information. Make sure you know the year, model, and make of your van as well as the VIN and cross-check that information to protect your investment.

Don’t wait until after your rack ships to find out there is no way to bolt it down to your roof. And make sure whatever you get will work around add-ons you have such as roof vents.

Campervan Parked with Views
Now that you’re all set up, it’s time to hit the road!

Conclusion

All that’s left to do now is break out the nuts and bolt down the roof rack of your dreams. 

Reap the benefits of anyone these aerodynamic roof racks on your next trip, as every option on our list can be installed quickly and supports hundreds of pounds. 

Due to its versatility, durability, and affordability, the Yakima Lock N Load is our editor’s choice for van roof racks. Hook it up, and start living the search!

This post may contain affiliate links. That means if you make a purchase a product we recommend using the links in this article, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. We promise to use this pocket money to buy lots of coffee and fuel for the campervan to keep us enjoying #VanLife for just a little longer. We appreciate your support, and only recommend products we know and trust. Thank you friends!

About the Author - Alesha and Jarryd - Van Life Theory

Hi! We're Alesha and Jarryd, the founders of Van Life Theory! We're currently travelling around Australia in our 2008 Mercedes Sprinter campervan and sharing our best experiences, stories, reviews and adventures as we go along. Make sure you follow along on our Instagram and YouTube!

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