Reviewer's Notebook: Garvin Industries Wilderness Accessories Roof Rack - Part I of II

Nov. 01, 2005 By Dr. Sean Michael

Garvin Industries' Wilderness Accessories Roof Rack looks good and can back up those good looks with strength.
For many off-road enthusiasts, forays into the local outback mean a mountain of gear crammed in, tied on, or towed behind their stowage-impaired steeds. Low-interior volume, short wheelbase rigs like CJs and Samurais use Jamboree racks to carry a small amount of gear, making longer trips possible, but not all that comfortable. Pickups occupy the other end of the spectrum. With their voluminous beds, everything from an 8 person walled tent to a few ATVs can be stowed easily.

The SUV lies somewhere between these extremes. In fact, much of sport ute's popularity has arisen from their ability to haul a combination of passengers and, how shall we put it... junk? Unfortunately, once the back seat is full of people, most of these rigs (Suburbans excluded) don't offer much more room behind the seats than does an FJ40 or any of the other short wheelbase brethren. And with more people there is invariably more... junk.


The time-proven means of toting all that junk is the roof. After you've stuffed the cargo area, aided by a crowbar and colorful language, the roof starts to look pretty good.

Roof storage has evolved rapidly in recent years (as with all things off-road) and now has 3 major subdivisions.

  • Rudimentary, weak, and functionally challenged original equipment units.
  • Versatile bar-based sport-oriented systems like Yakima and Thule.
  • Beefy trail-dedicated units, often referred to as safari racks.
Garvin Industries produces trail-dedicated rack systems that stand up to the abuse of off-road driving, whether it is done on a rutted track in Rhodesia or an overgrown Tennessee ridgeline logging trail. Their Wilderness Racks?, refined over the past 20 years, are the industry-trusted standard for trailworthy storage. Trusted by whom? Trusted as OEM roof racks for Hummers. Trusted by BFG for their factory Suburbans. Trusted by SEMA for its project trucks. Trusted by the SOLARLS and the New York to Greek Peak Rallies. Trusted by Warn and Superwinch for the manufacture of a number of their products. Garvin racks are trusted by the off-road industry in general.

The Rack

Strong materials and gently radiused curves add to the unit's strength.
The Wilderness Accessories Roof Rack is more than just a rack; it is a comprehensive system of framing, flooring, attachment systems, and accessory mounts. The basic rack is built on a steel frame that comes in a mind-boggling array of heights and widths, each optimized for the specific application. For instance, the rack for a Bronco II is 4'-2"x5'-6" and is offered in two heights, 4" or 6". Applications are available for everything from the Mazda Navajo, to Ford's Full Size vans, and include models that also can be fit to a myriad of fiberglass truck caps.


The attachment system locks the rack onto the structure of your vehicle.
The racks are manufactured from 3/4" steel tubing with an .065" wall thickness, using strength-enhancing large-radius corner curves. The rack components are tied together with clean MIG-welded joints and seemingly oversized Nylok nuts/bolts. The resulting rack is even more rigid when Garvin's optional steel flooring is used, each tube of which is constructed of the same sturdy 3/4" tubing.


This new mount is strong yet simple to use.
You can mount the rack in five ways: rain gutter brackets and/or faux rain gutters, sport rack mounting brackets, factory rack mounting brackets, and with fiberglass truck cap mounting brackets. Always pushing forward with product development, Garvin recently introduced a new mounting kit which we tested on Project WomBAT. It is constructed of massive 1/4" plate steel and is simpler to adjust, with a wider variety of angle and width variations. It is far stronger than any gutter or bracket out there, yet is simple to dial in for a perfect fit.

Fit and finish on the rack and its accessories is excellent. The rack and its accessories arrived in meticulously wrapped, coded, and double-boxed segments. The sharp-looking black powder coating was intact upon receipt, and has remained chip-free to date.


The Wilderness Accessories Roof Rack comes in a staggering number of pieces, but with the excellent instructions included, assembly is a snap.
Fully assembled, this rack is massive and offers no flex off the vehicle, so you know it will have none when attached to the vehicle.
Putting the Wilderness Accessories Roof Rack together is a no-brainer, but it does take some time. Bags and bags of black Grade 5 bolts tie the rack's components into a single rigid unit, with truly exceptional instructions (based around CAD drawings of each part) to guide the way. Part codes are written on the boxes AND bags. The instructions were also stapled to each bag, preventing confusion over which sheet went with each item. The folks at Garvin do not skimp on hardware - not one bag was shy even one washer, and some had extra hardware. If you do lose a nut or bolt in the field, all the hardware can be found at any local hardware store. Sockets and wrenches helped complete this assembly in a few hours.

When the 7' long rack for the Trooper II is fully assembled, with flooring, it weighs a hefty 100 pounds. This is no poseur unit, folks! Two of us lifted the rack onto Project WomBAT and within 20 minutes or so it was one with truck. Try and shake the rack and you rock the entire truck; the Wilderness Rack offers no flex.


One of the most outstanding features of the Wilderness Rack is its versatility. Garvin recognized that an effective rack must readily hold a variety of tools and toys. For off-road dedicated items, like a Hi Lift jack, a Pull Pal anchor, lighting, and a spare tire, Garvin designed their own mounting assemblies. They also recognized that sport rack companies like Yakima and Thule already offer consumers a wide variety of accessories. Instead of forcing a decision between their safari-style rack and sport racks, Garvin designed mounting accessories that allow any Yakima or Thule accessory to be mounted with those companies' main cross bars. In the case of bikes and skis, Garvin also manufactures their own accessories (see reviews in the upcoming Part II of this review). With that revolutionary design the Wilderness Rack surpasses all others with its combination of strength, accessory attachments, and cross-system adaptability.

Light Brackets
After mounting, we bolted on a few of Garvin's accessories, starting with the light brackets. These are available in two flavors: standard brackets and universal brackets. The standard brackets bolt up to the fixed bracket mounts on the rack's front or rear sides. The universal brackets are designed to be mounted anywhere along the circumference of the rack's sides. Universal clamps attach around the side tubes using a rear plate. Both brackets are incredibly stout, constructed from 1/4" steel plate, and present excellent mounting points for a range of lights.

Pull Pal Mounting Bracket

Garvin Industries' Pull Pal bracket is the perfect way to store the tool - out of the way, but handy; and also outside where mud won't ruin the carpet.
We also installed Garvin's Pull Pal Mounting Bracket. The Pull Pal anchor is a self-setting winch anchor that weighs in at about 45lbs and is as many inches long. For all its trail value, it is difficult to efficiently stow inside a vehicle. Garvin's well thought out bracket keeps the Pull Pal's spade and armature handy without having to worry about putting them away when they're covered with muck. I have seen no better means for storing this valuable self-extraction device.

How does it perform?

The Wilderness Accessories Roof Rack stood out as a truly superior product from day one. The rack feels as if it is welded to Project WomBAT, dramatically expanding the truck's hauling capabilities. The Trooper's rear now is free from the Pull Pal, a Hi Lift, plus 15 cubic feet of... junk, thanks to the Cabelas' Roof Top Carrier. The rack carries all that and still has room for several large duffels and the spare tire. This has freed us to look into aftermarket third seats for the cargo area.

How does the rack perform on the trail? One of my initial concerns was whether it would be a hazard when working through overgrown trails and logging roads. I imagined branches and saplings lodging under the rack and ripping up the paint?. until I put it to the test, when I was surprised to find that rack actually protects the roof! The rack's rounded corners don't hang up on branches, and even large limbs pass easily over top, whether advancing or retreating. The use of brush cables helped this even further (see Part II).

The rack's time-tested shape proved itself over several thousand miles of highway driving as well. It did not whistle or rattle, even atop worn out shocks and washboard roads. The rack has negligible effects on perceived power. Fuel economy may have decreased although the rack alone was not the cause, because items were always attached to it.

Loading the rack is a breeze thanks to Garvin's rack flooring and Isuzu's sturdy spare tire mount. The spare doesn't flex even with a 200lb fella standing on it. Getting onto the rack from the ground is as simple as stepping bumper-to-spare-to-rack, but Garvin is also designing a ladder that hooks to the side of the roof rack and braces against the rear tire. Even when standing on top, the flooring feels solid and shows deflection only at the unsupported ends. For wildlife enthusiasts, like the Yellowstone bison photographer who inquired about the rack, this is an ideal platform for getting up and out of the way of your subjects.

The only caution to consider with installing the Wilderness Accessories Roof Rack is the same concern one has with all racks; is too much stuff up there a problem? The two primary concerns are that the added weight, if excessive (consult your vehicles' manufacturer recommendations), can damage mounting points, and can cause exaggerated body roll and thus an increased risk of roll over. This can be particularly true if you load heavy items up top and traverse steep cross slopes. Use caution in such cases, as always, and try to load most heavy items in your rig, stowing light but bulky items on the rack.


In today's off road market, there are those that do, and those who appear to. Marketing gurus refer to the latter as image management, message control, or similar double speak. Whatever your reason for bolting steel accoutrements to your rig, you should decide whether you are in the market for serious, performance-oriented off-road equipment, or if you are buying equipment just to be seen with it. Most people want their rigs stands apart from the bazillion ordinary SUVs and 4x4s.

Wilderness Racks look like they are made for safaris because they are made to take the abuse a working rack endures. Other racks look like they are tough, too. Image control? Spin it how you like, but before you spend your money, decide what you want to trust your gear to: image or engineering.

Watch for the Wilderness Accessories Roof Rack, Part II Review in coming months, which will cover:

  • Hi Lift holder
  • Max Tool holder
  • gas can holder
  • spare tire holder
  • Yakima bar & accessories mounts


Garvin Industries
Department Isuzu ORC
316 Millar Ave.
El Cajon, CA 92020 U.S.A.

Phone: 619.440.7415
Fax: 619.440.0851

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