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Expanding Wrangler Storage with Roof Racks & Rear Cargo Racks

Written By: Connor MC

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Every Jeeper knows storing any amount of provisions or camping gear can be a pain in our Wranglers. Expanding your rig's storage capacity can be as simple as installing a roof rack. Roof racks are a great way to store bulkier cargo without sacrificing interior space for your passengers.

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Increasing the exterior cargo carrying capacity is one of the more useful mods you can make to a Jeep Wrangler. It’s really no secret that interior cargo and storage space in most Wranglers is minimal. Even with the newer 4-door models, extra space is hard to find. Adding an exterior roof or rear cargo racks (or both!) will create important additional storage space, helping to de-clutter the interior and increase flexibility when traveling. With options available for both soft and hard top models, exterior cargo racks will enable your Wrangler to reach its full hauling potential.

Extreme Terrain

Wrangler Roof Racks – Not Just for Hard Tops

From bolt-on crossbars which can support bikes, canoes or skis and snowboards, to full-on racks and baskets which can safely and securely store extra luggage and bags, an aftermarket Jeep roof rack is a simple bolt-on modification that can safely carry between 150-350 lbs. of additional cargo, though that overall capacity will naturally vary from model to model. 

Some will be strictly for hardtop Wranglers only, as these types of roof racks use clamps attaching to the rain gutters or rear window hinges as well as mounting brackets to install, which would interfere with soft top operation. 

For soft top Wrangler owners, you’ll want to look into either a full body or a cross-bar system. Full body rack systems run the length of the entire roof and typically connect to the windshield mount at the front and to the body mount or frame rails at the rear. While these tubular steel systems are not as sleek as a cross-bar system, they are significantly stronger and can bear a lot more weight. Furthermore, because they are raised up and off the roof, they allow for unimpeded operation of the soft top. 

Other bull body roof rack models may have one end hinged so that they can be tilted out of the way when needing to operate the soft top, however, this could also mean having to unload and re-load the rack every time you wish to open or close the top.

Another type of roof rack that is available is one that is meant to be used with the soft top folded down. These systems use a very simple cross-bar that clamps to the rollbar (now exposed since the top is down) and provides additional surface to store your gear. These cross-bar models do not have near the same weight capacity as a full rack and they can only be used with the top down. A cross-bar system like this is more beneficial for day trips where the weather is forecast to remain good.

Rear Cargo Racks – For Smaller Though More Accessible Cargo 

Where a roof rack may span the full length (or at minimum, half) of the Wrangler’s roof, a rear cargo carrier will undoubtedly be somewhat smaller; normally 22-inches long by 48-inches wide.  So obviously, a rear cargo rack would better suit smaller cargo: camping equipment and a propane tank, or luggage. That isn’t to say that the load needs to necessarily be lighter – at the top end of the spectrum, the Surco Hauler Hitch Basket can safely haul up to 500lbs – but certainly, items will need to be less bulky. 

Most rear carriers will come in one of two main designs: a simple steel platform with a perforated outer frame that provides attachment points for tie-downs or with a built-in slatted basket with 7-12inches sides. Most models will sit just above the rear bumper and accommodate large aftermarket spare tires or tire carrier bumpers without any interference.

Though with slightly less hauling flexibility than a roof rack, a rear cargo rack does nonetheless come with the benefit of having that extra cargo within easy reach. As rear racks will typically install using the Wrangler’s hitch receiver, if you need to access anything while on the road, you won’t need to necessarily unload everything to get to it. And, as an added bonus, hitch carriers will also not interfere with the Jeep’s aerodynamic shape, have less and drag and will help to maintain fuel economy. 

Securing Your Cargo and Other Considerations 

Once you’ve decided between a roof and rear cargo rack and have it installed on your Wrangler, you’ll need to consider how to safely and securely strap down your extra cargo. There’s really nothing worse than arriving at your destination to find out that half your luggage or your canoe has mysteriously flown off somewhere along the way (though let’s hope a flyaway canoe would be instantly realized!), not to mention an improperly secured load can be a real danger to other drivers. 

So how to properly tie down extra cargo? Some may say the bungee cord, which is convenient and frequently very cheap. Even though it's their elasticity that makes bungees so convenient, it also means they will stretch and shift, causing the cargo to shift and move as well. They might be helpful in keeping a bike tire from spinning in the wind, but they are not the best means to keep a 200lb load safe and secure. Instead, try ratchet straps, which at their cheapest, are still way stronger and more reliable than bungees. An elastic cargo or basket net that uses integrated hooks will also keep gear secure within the smaller storage capacity of hitch carriers. 

The next thing to consider may very well be how to keep my gear water and weather proof. At the very basic end of that spectrum is the handy tarpaulin. Particularly if you have multiple smaller items to carry up on the roof, wrapping them together in a tarp will keep them both secure and dry. You can also purchase specialty roof rack cargo covers and duffel bags, like the Rightline Gear Sport Car Top Carrier or Shield Jacket’s Roof Top Carrier Bag, which typically will include their own tie-down straps, removing that element of the overall equation. 

Finally, it is important to note that the roof rack or a rear cargo hitch may not be the best option for Wranglers that want to hit very tough and narrow trails. Having that additional weight up top with a roof rack will make the Jeep more top heavy and may raise its center of gravity, while some hitch carriers have been known to scrape the trail with even minimal rock crawling. However, if you’re looking to haul gear to a campsite, travel cross-country or tackle mild to moderate off-road adventures, then the extra capacity and flexibility a roof rack and rear carrier offers is pretty significant. 

Fitment includes: 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, YJ, TJ, JK, JL, Laredo, Sport, Islander, S, Sahara, Renegade, SE, X, Rubicon, Unlimited, Sport-S