I started this mobile adventure with a base Yakima roof rack and eventually added the Load Warrior Basket and it’s extension. It has worked well but there were a few issues that slightly annoyed me. First, it is made of steel which is heavy. That added weight causes a couple of less-than-desirable traits, namely lessened gas mileage and a higher center of gravity. That weight sitting up high on a vehicle does have an effect on handling on road and becomes even more of an issue when offroad. Steel also rusts and over time water has gotten into the Yakima rack and started rusting it from the inside out. So far it has only left long, brown rust lines from dripping on my white Tacoma which is annoying but also somewhat serious as it is an indication of thinning walls which is a structural issue. The rust marks are easy enough to clean off but it is somewhat the beginning of the end. Also, the available “Control Tower” mounts for the basket are too tall for my liking and unnecessarily placed the whole roof rack and basket assembly higher on the camper shell that it needed to be. This makes my already un-aerodynamic Tacoma even more of a wind catcher.
This adds wind noise (the standard whooshing) and it whistled annoyingly at different volumes and tones depending on my speed and the direction of any crosswinds. That extra aerodynamic drag as well as adding just that bit more height which seems to find and offer itself as a suicidal sacrifice to every little branch (and some big ones) we come across were also marks in the “Less Than Ideal” column.
So, knowing I was going to be upgrading to a new, bigger and heavier awning I wanted to also upgrade the rack that the awning would be attached to. To mitigate one of the Yakima’s shortcoming, namely weight, I started my search by typing into duckduckgo.com the term “aluminum roof rack.” Besides the “big names” such as Gobi, Prinsu and Front Runner another entry showed up in the search results from Sherpa Equipment Company. Based in Berthoud, Colorado they offer numerous options to fit a large selection of specific vehicles as well as a topper-centric version called the Crow’s Nest which is what I chose. Wanting to change things up a bit I chose the “Bare Processed Aluminum” option as opposed to the Yakima’s painted black color. Aluminum good. Steel bad. That, literally, was the extent of my research and was probably the reason I encountered so many little “issues” during this whole project. Missing parts I needed. Extra parts I didn’t. Incomplete/non-detailed instructions. Wrong colors and more but I finally got things all figured out and the final product meets my needs.
When I emailed the company about my proposed use of mounting a 270 degree awning they suggested that I use their HD Awning Mounts and so I added 3 of those to my online cart. Once the rack arrived my numerous minor issues came into play.
I realized that it is merely 8020 aluminum extrusions as load bars (specifically the 1020 T-Slotted Profile) with what I am assuming to be water jet cut side panels and cast and bent aluminum track mounting feet. The original box with the load bars, mounting feet, side plates and stainless steel nuts, bolts and washers contained basic instructions that left me with questions. I ended up on their website and downloaded several PDF files showing instructions for kits other than what I had purchased and eventually figured it out. The person who grabs and bags parts was also having a bad day and sent me a couple less washers, nuts and bolts than what the instructions specified. They do show both a long bed and a short bed collection on their Hardware Checklist so maybe I received the short bed baggie in error.
There was also an entire wind fairing in the box (which doesn’t come with the Crow’s Nest kit) and I eventually figured out that it was for The Thunder rack (for a 2017-2022 Ford F250/F350) because it had the word “Thunder” water jet cut in one corner.
Since it is a nice piece of aluminum I cut it in half and repurposed it as two small shelves so the dry bags of stuff I put up on the rack don’t shift, fall through and end up laying on the shell’s roof. I attached each piece to three load bars, laying lengthwise so they also serve as additional structural members.
The instructions are relatively poor and do not meet my definition of “detail-oriented.” The parts lists are inconsistent sometimes naming shown parts and other times not. No torque specs for screwing in stainless hardware into aluminum are mentioned anywhere. Two different sizes of flat washers were mentioned, one a metric (M8) the other an SAE size (1/4″) although they look, felt and weighed (~1.1 gram) exactly alike. Some bolts were metric, others SAE. Some were button head with hex/allen wrench holes, some were carriage bolt while others were hex head that needed various socket sizes. In my perfect world they would use all metric or SAE and have the need for as few different sizes of hex keys and sockets as possible but that is probably just me being nit-picky.
Speaking of those side plates…I think they are water jet cut but whatever method they use leaves relatively sharp edges. The plates have built-in “handles” which are not comfortable to grab. Their logo has really sharp little “trees” just laying in wait to grab and rip into fingers or straps or anything else unlucky enough to find its way into that area.
I was also worried about the edges cutting into my custom Raingler netting so I ended up using several Dremel emery wheels and rounding off and smoothing out every edge I could reach. That extra effort made a huge difference, I’m only sorry I needed to spend those extra couple of hours climbing around the rack like a monkey trying to get the Dremel into all those nooks and crannies.
The installation would have been easier (for me) with better, more detailed instructions and I also would ideally have had another person helping me as this really is more than a one-person job. Once installed and the awning mounted I could see that the combination of load bar length (48″), the two pairs of mounting feet that came with the package and the weight and length of the Alu-Cab awning (~53lbs/24kg) hanging off of one side of the rack was decidedly too heavy, flexible and less stout than I expected or wanted. When the awning was open and deployed you could literally see the load bar flexed and the awning angling down from the desired horizontal level. To remedy that issue I ordered another load bar (the 7th) and a pair of adjustable mounting feet to shore up the rack stability itself and a pair of the regular (non-HD) Awning Mounts to increase and spread out the load from the awning across a wider section of that side of the rack. Once that second batch of components was installed everything seemed obviously more stable and level.
Another issue was that the number of load bars I now had (seven) from the Crow’s Nest kit (six) plus the extra one I bought still left large enough gaps between them that a dry bag or two would fit between and end up sitting on the shell itself. This, of course, was unacceptable for my OCD both because I expect it screws up the already abysmal aerodynamics in the setup and it just looks “wrong.” So…one more load bar and maybe, hopefully this will be the end of this extended project. I ordered it and specified the Silver Anodized color. When it arrived I was surprised and disappointed to find a black anodized bar in the box. I looked on my confirmation email to make damn sure I didn’t make a mistake and saw that I did in fact order the silver color. In the box was a packing slip stating the right size and color, initialed in two places by the same person attesting to the fact that he/she/they pulled, packed and shipped what was ordered.
So…again, someone at Sherpa was having a non-detail-oriented day. I emailed them about this and sent them the picture I posted above but without my artistic addendums and they responded “Thanks for reaching out about this and I really do apologize. The replacement will be shipped today and I let them know to be sure it is silver this time.”
So, to be fair, I eventually received my eighth load bar with no requirement to send back the black one. I am somewhat tempted to attach that one as well so the gaps between bars would be even smaller but then we would be getting close to the same weight as the steel Yakima rack this was replacing. I’ll keep the black one as a spare in case something happens that requires swapping a damaged load bar out.
I like that this rack is aluminum for weight and lack of rust. After adding those two extra load bars, two extra pair of mounting feet and two more awning mounts I am relieved that I was able to stiffen it up. It would have been nice if it would have just “worked” for my purposes without five more orders and an additional $300 or so of extra parts but, I eventually got it to work for my purposes which makes me happy.
I originally decided to not use the off-brand blue thread locker goop that came with the kit because I knew I was going to be moving things around and fine-tuning everything to meet my needs. Now that everything seems to be set up correctly and working as needed I have started the occasional process to loosen, remove, add loctite and reassemble a few screws every so often and eventually the whole system will be tight and relatively immune from vibrations and loosening parts.
I am also considering flipping the side panels upside down so that the sides of the rack would have little 2″ walls above the height of the load bars to keep items up top from sliding past the edge like they can now. Aesthetically that would make their logo an upside down mountain with three upside down trees against it but I can easy “fix” that with a sawzall by just cutting the trees out. If I do eventually try that hack I will update this post with pictures.
If I could go back and do this project again I might invest a bit more time and additional research into my options but that just seems to be one of the symptoms of my usual less-than-ideal habit to want “instant” gratification, full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes.
It has only been installed for a couple of months as I write this but so far it has held up to the everyday abuse I parcel out just bouncing around offroad. I have had the awning out in windy conditions and, while I can see a bit of flex and deflection, it continues to provide a sturdy mount for the awning and a place to carry the numerous dry bags that house “extra stuff”…just in case. I have also just realized in the past couple of days that there is no more whistling from above which it a great plus on longer trips at highway speeds.