Our Roof Rack for our Sprinter Van

Van Life roof racks

Our Roof Rack for our Sprinter Van

If there is one thing van lifers know and those who are considering living in a van need to know is that power, climate control, space and storage are limited, so, having a roof rack on your van is something that should be incorporated into your build.

When we were planning out our van floor plan, having a roof rack as a part of our van build was a given.  We knew we were going to have solar, and we wanted the solar to be charging our power station while we were driving as well as sitting stationary.  

Being on top of your van lounging on a roof top deck gazing at the stars is like no other way to star gaze. You are closer to the stars, safely up off the ground so no creepers or nasties can get to you, and you just feel good about being up off the ground. Our roof top deck is one of our favorite features we have built and incorporated into our van build.

Since we were planning on spending a significant amount of time in state and national parks/forests, as well as spending a majority of our time camping on BLM land, we knew having additional lighting on top of our Sprinter van would be a great asset to us while we drove along some dark desert highways.  

All of that to say, everything we wanted and planned for our rooftop would require a roof rack so we could attach all of our essentials to the roof.  

Why is a Roof Rack Important on a Van Conversion?

Depending on the type and size of your van, the real estate up top you have available will greatly impact the amount of gear you are able to utilize.

For us, we have a Mercedes Sprinter 144.  The 144 wheelbase on our Sprinter is shorter than some of the other vans.  We specifically chose this model because we liked the look, stealthiness, and maneuverability of its size. 

The other two most popular van conversions in North America is the Dodge Promaster and the Ford Transit.  While all three of these vans have options ranging from the 136” wheelbase to over 170” wheelbase, the space to build on top is limited in all versions. 

Keep in mind, the more roof rack you have up top equates to more weight and more things to add up top.  When considering your roof rack, it is also important to consider the material used to make that roof rack. 

Aluminum is a great alternative to steel when considering your roof rack.  It may not be as strong as steel, but for most applications on a van build roof rack, aluminum is usually more than sufficient to handle the job.  Another thing to consider when using aluminum to build your van conversion roof rack is that you are probably going to be spending more money on the raw materials.

Roof Rack Options for Your Van

There are several ways to get a roof rack on your van build.  You can have someone build and install it for you.  You can design and build one yourself as we did.  The most popular choice for van dwellers is to simply order one already build and designed for their particular van.  There are lots of companies who will be happy to sell your their roof racks.

We are going to list a few of them that we are familiar with.  Mind you, this is not a recommendation nor are we sponsored in any way by any of the companies. 



Backwoods Adventure Mods

Flatline Van Company

Colorado Coachworks


Depending on your budget, there is an option for everyone.  You can go to each of these company’s social media or websites and decide if any of these options are a good fit for your van build and rooftop needs.

We Decided to Build Our Own Roof Rack

We were able to build our own custom-built roof rack that can accommodate 520 watts of solar panels, surround led lighting, a MaxxAir fan, and something you do not see very often at all on a 144 Sprinter; a 6’ x 5’ rooftop deck. That comes out to an additional 30 square feet of living room. We can sit, eat, sleep, or sunbathe on our rooftop deck. It’s like having a second floor to our van.

Having a rooftop deck was something very important to us, as we enjoyed our 9-foot deck we custom built on our previous skoolie.  So building a roof rack that could both handle the weight and responsibility of holding a deck and solar panels safely, was paramount to us.

So, we had to come up with a solution of how to incorporate both a deck and solar panels on such a small area of the roof.

We used two 10-foot pieces of super-strut that bolts into the pre-drilled and threaded holes along the roof edge of the van. Then, we attached uni-strut cross members at the rear, just behind the MaxxAir fan, and along the front edge of the roof at the ends of the 10’ super-strut.

We used 3M 4200 to seal all of the bolts that went through our roof to the ceiling.  Butyl tape was laid underneath the mounted strut as well and all contact points where the super strut would make contact with the metal roof. 
Unitstrut cone nuts and spring nuts with 5/16 inch bolts are what we are using to secure the deck boards as well as the 100-watt solar panel.

Building Our rooftop Deck  

We first attached our composite deck boards to the super strut using 5/16” stainless steel bolts and uni-strut spring lock nuts.  This allowed us to have a very solid and secure deck and foundation for our solar panels.

The next thing we did was bolt our solar panels to the super strut also using stainless steel bolts and spring lock nuts and hinges.  The other end of the hinge then attached to the deck boards by 3 stainless steel ¼” bolts with washers and nylon locking nuts.  Our solar panels have a bolt latch the will keep them secure and tight against the deck boards.    

When we want to hang out up on our rooftop deck, we simply unlock the solar panels. Lift them up to their 65’ angle and lock them in place again.  Not only are we able to enjoy the rooftop deck, but we can tilt our solar panels to receive evening as well as morning sun for maximum efficiency and charging.  

We painted our roof rack rails with black Rustoleum Truck Bed Liner.  The way the supper strut and uni strut lays on the roof, it is very low profile and does not draw much attention to it at all. 

This roof rack we designed and built is perfect for our needs.  We have an awesome roof-top deck for sunsets, sunrises, and stargazing at night.  We have a total of 520 watts of solar.  We even have a MaxxAir fan and led light bars on the front, rear, and sides of the van for security and off-road driving.  

Accessories for your Roof Rack

There are limitless ideas for how you might choose to accessorize or utilize your roof rack.  We knew our limited amount of roof real estate would prohibit us from using the roof rack for storage, so we made sure we maximized it for things that were most important to us.  For us, that meant solar panels, a second-floor deck living space, and space to allow for exterior lighting.  

If you have ever driven through the desert, an old lonely country road, or through the mountains, you know how incredibly pitch black the night can be while driving.  Even the best and brightest headlights could use a little help in these types of scenarios. 

Having an extra set of LED foglights and a rooftop light bar can make all the difference in the world when seeing where you are going, what lies on the road ahead, or what might be trying to cross the road up ahead from your left or right.  

The light bars are attached to the strut buy ¼ inch bolts and cones nuts.  Here is a link to the light bars we purchased through our Amazon affiliate. 

Rigidhorse 42”  LED Light Bar

Nilight 6.5” Quad Row Off-Road Spot Lights

These lights are super bright, look good and perform awesomely!  Not to mention that they are weather/rainproof.  An additional 50,000 lumens to brighten your path ahead is something you will be so thankful for.

We also added a MaxxAir fan in the center of the living space.  We decided that having a rooftop air conditioner was not a critical item since we plan on “chasing 70 degrees” throughout the year.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *