Roof Rack Guide: Different Types of Rack System


Know the Difference: Roof Rack vs. Roof Rails vs. Cross Bars

Gobi Roof Rack

Admit it. You need that extra storage space when you are bound to have an outdoor getaway. There's no doubt, everything you'll need will not fit into your monster ride, however monstrous it is. It's either you will leave the surfboard behind, bring a lesser comfortable roof tent, or won't even consider going out at all!

Some will opt to reorganize their load to fully maximize the space. They even buy a drawer kit for easy storage management. Seldom will discard their  beloved off-road truck, and buy a new one just to increase storage capacity. But, many will choose to add BARS, RAILS or RACKS to increase the capacity of their rig, because they are the most reasonable solutions to your cargo problem. 

Before you find yourself running to roof rack stores, or visiting online sites that offer roof racks, railings and other steel bars like OFFROADTENTS, let us dive deep and study further the difference of these durable, reliable and sturdy pieces of metal for our vehicles. 

More Than Just Direction

If you search for "Roof Rails vs. Roof Racks vs. Cross Bars" or "Difference of Racks, Bars and Rails", you will certainly find out that their main distinction is the orientation of the steel bars present on each type. While this is 100% accurate, let us list down other different characteristics of these roof mount system and analyze their function and purpose.


First of all, let us define what these items are. Their definition will surely help us understand their distinctive features. Here it goes:

  • Roof Rails/Side Rails - are pair of either steel, aluminum or plastic bars, that either come pre-installed on your vehicle upon purchase. Common to SUVs and mini-vans, their main purpose is to serve as an attachment point for other roof systems.
  • Cross Bars - usually two steel or aluminum bars that runs perpendicularly on the width of the vehicle. They can also mount activity specific equipment like bike racks, kayak or canoe racks, or ski racks. 
  • Roof Racks - steel, solid framework that is mounted above your vehicle's roof, used for mounting accessories such as cargo, bike and other overlanding equipment like roof top tents. 

So technically, these three are all used as a mounting point of different equipment. Roof Rails are used to mount various roof systems such as cross bars, and roof racks. Cross-Bars provides limited mounting capacity, as there are plenty of gaps which are not covered by these cross bars, and lastly, Roof Top Racks provide full roof coverage depending on its size, which can mount everything you'll need.

But even though it is possible to place everything you want to bring with you, the more fitting question will be:

Which Roof System is Perfect For Me: Roof Rails, Cross Bars or Roof Racks?

Of course, there are certain criteria needed when choosing the right roof system that you'll use for the long run. These things are important to consider to fully maximize your cargo extension. And please, do take note that the best roof accessory for your off-road vehicle, is the one you get the most out of. 

Functionality and Compatibility: 

This is the most important factor to consider while choosing your desired rack system. For what purpose should I buy this roof accessory? What item, gear or equipment will I put and mount onto it? Will it fit to my off-road ride? Let's compare each option:


Roof Rails

Determine first if your vehicle is pre-installed with roof rails. These are pair of steel bars that runs from the front of your car down to the back-end of your roof. Some off-road rides have these railings as an added feature of your car. They come in plenty of designs, but the most common is the raised design which features a gap between the railings and your roof. 

Toyota 4Runner Roof Rails

These rails aren't recommended to carry different cargo and equipment such as kayaks, bikes and the likes. Their orientation will most probably affect your vehicle's aerodynamics. The good news is, if your overlanding ride has these sets of durable steel bars, they are capable of mounting either cross bars, or roof racks.

Cross Bars

Consists of two to three steel bars which go against the direction of roof rails, the Cross Bars runs from side-to-side. These feature of the crossbars lets mounting outdoor gear possible. You can mount your canoe, bicycle sets with the help of bike racks, surfboards or snow boards, and anything you might need for an outdoor adventure. 

Rhino Rack Vortex for Ford F150

These cross bars can be installed with or without the roof rails. It characterizes easy installation and swift removal when not in need. One advantage of this cross bar is its weight support. It easily spreads the load's weight to the tower or feet. There are three types of Cross Bars: rounded, square and aerodynamic.


Roof Racks

Before considering having a roof kit, check first your your vehicle type. Does it have a truck bed? Where will you be installing your top rack? Will it cover the entire roof of your car or just its half? These are few things to consider before having one.

Apart from these, you should also keep in mind your vehicle's features. Antennas, shark tail, moon roof, and all other accessories above your roof. And last, but the most important, check your off-road ride's carrying capacity, because with these roof racks, definitely you can mount everything that you need!

Front Runner Outfitters Roof Rack and Truck Bed Rack

These roof racks are the answer to your cargo problems definitely. Not only that it solves your storage woes, these rooftop racks, can also serve as your base for your roof top tents. The versatility of these roof system enables you to install or mount an RTT directly above your vehicle. 

Roof Rack with Roof Top Tent mounted

This added feature of the roof rack is perfect for those who are outdoor enthusiasts and wants to have more fun and adventures!


Diving Deeper: Types of Crossbars and Roof Racks

Ruling out the limited use roof rails, let us try to know more about the specific types of crossbars and roof racks, examples of each and its advantages. Here, you can choose from products that suit your style, serve its purpose and will let you expand your storage capacity. 



If you only need to mount specific gear and equipment on top of your roof, this is the most convenient and practical option to choose. Cross Bars can provide that storage and mounting option for your accessories that won't fit inside your monster truck. 

Cross bars have load rating of up to 450 lbs. This carrying capacity is enough to bring those oversized accessories; perfect for bicycle, kayaks, canoes or surfboards. There are plenty of types of crossbars, all categorized depending on where or how they are mounted. Check this out:


Grab-On Cross Bars

Grab On Bars are usually mounted to your vehicle's roof rail. These are easy installation bars that can be set-up within minutes. These types of bars are modifiable, adjustable and can easily adapt to your mounting needs. 

Rhino Rack Vortex Grab On Crossbar

An example of this is the Rhino-Rack Vortex SX Cross Bars. No need for drilling or modification when installing these set. They "Grab On" easily and tightly to the roof rails, securing with a simple lock mechanism and you are good to go! Click this LINK to know more! 


Bolt On Cross Bars

Bolt-on Bars on the other hand, doesn't need a fitting roof rail system to be installed. They attach to existing mounting points found on your roof which give you more security and durability due to the "bolted" screw to your vehicle. Like the Grab-On Bars, these Bolt On Cross Bars are also easy to set up and removed. 

Bolt On Cross Bar Rhino Bars Vortex

Rhino Rack Vortex RLCP as shown in the picture doesn't require a roof rail to hold the cross bar. You just need to find your vehicle's mounting point, get some tools to screw it in, and you are done! Interested? Check THIS out!


Gutter Mount Cross Bar

Gutter-Mounted Cross Bars, or Load Bar Kits, are almost the same with Bolt On Bars, however, they are mounted and installed on your rig's rain gutter, or almost at the side of your ride. These are usually taller due to the long "legs" it has. 

Gutter Mounted Cross Bar from Front Runner Outfitters

One leading brand for Gutter Mount or Load Bar Kits is Front Runner Outfitters. They offer wide variety of gutter mounts compatible to almost all vehicle types. Click this LINK to know more.


Clip On Roof Bars

Clip On Bars are like Grab On Cross bars, minus the roof rails. They are clipped and locked on to your vehicle's side railings. They offer a fast install and uninstall feature, and offers security and stability of your roof bars through locks and screw mechanism. 

Rhino Rack Vortex 2500 Clip On Cross Bar

A perfect example for this is the Rhino Rack Vortex 2500, This product has a set of protective pads that prevents scratches to your car. To know more about this product, click HERE


Truck Bed Load Bar

One easy cross bar system to identify is the Truck Load Bar. These types of cross bars or load bar only attaches to your truck bed railings. This means that these are exclusive for pickup vehicles that have truck beds. 

Thule TracRac

Sometimes, the Thule TracRack Pro Truck Bed Load Bar serves as an extension of your pickup truck's roof. But one thing to consider buying these is the height of the load bars. They come in variety of bar height to suit your preference. Check THIS for more details. 


Roof Racks

The most versatile roof system for every off-road ride, roof racks, or sometimes called platform rack, can mount almost anything, including accessories and outdoor equipment. Load capacity can go as much as 750 lbs., the roof rack system provides an all-around solution to your storage problem. 


Full-Sized Roof Rack

Roof Racks can come in different types or variation. Full-Sized Roof Rack covers the entirety of your vehicle's roof. A perfect sample of this is the Front Runner Slimline II Roof Rack Kit System

Full Roof Rack System by Front Runner Outfitters

These roof racks run from the front of your off-road rig up to its back, ideal to mount rooftop tents and other outdoor accessories such as Jerry Cans, coolers and recovery gear. To know more about the Slimline II Roof Rack, check THIS out!


Basket Racks

Basket Roof Racks are platform racks that have a raised railings on four sides of the rack. These racks are usually used for heavy-duty cargo carrying. You can mount your equipment securely and go around at your speed. 


Baja Rack Megamule Basket Roof Rack gives your cargo an additional security and stability when you are on the road. The side railings present in this roof rack acts as a boundary and doesn't let your cargo move loosely. Interested? Check this LINK for more details. 


Bed Racks

Truck Bed Racks are platform rack system specifically made to vehicles with bed truck beds. They provide an additional cargo capacity to your truck, and gives you the feature to add an RTT to your off-road rig! 

Truck Bed Rack with RTT mounted

Another feature of some truck bed rack is its ability to adjust to certain height, meeting your preference. These truck platform racks are called Adjustable Bed Racks. A notable example for this is the RCI 18" Adjustable Bed Rack.

Adjustable Bed Rack

Summin' it Up

It is really important to know which roof rack system will fit not only to your off-road vehicle, but will be suitable to serve its purpose.

Knowing and understanding the differences of the roof rails, cross bars and roof racks will surely help you decide on which rack system to purchase.

The Roof Rack System can be easily decided if you know the purpose of having the rack, compatibility to your rig, which accessories or gear will you be mounting to it, existing mounting points or hardware present in your monster truck, and of course, your budget. 

Now go, and order that roof rack system!

To know more in-depth details and have a more personalized assistance on these roof rack system, talk to us! You may call 1-844-200-3979 or leave a message to our email:

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  • Nice article. It would be nice if someone would address the inevitable problem users face by not understanding the difference between the load capacity rating of the roofrack or bars, and the vehicle’s roof carrying capacity-static, dynamic and off-road.

    rob b

  • I love reading your blogs. You share lot of information in the blog. I also remember a blog that is related to roof rails. You must visit the site once.

    Sarah Charles

  • I love reading your blogs. You have so much information related to every project. I also remember a blog that is related to roof rails. You must visit the site.

    Jim Smith

  • Thanks a lot for this article. Really informative, and it does help understand some of the differences between one type of rack and another. I now know a bit more about what I need for my car.