Planning what to do with the roof of a camper van can be as difficult as determining what to do with the inside. It’s like creating a whole new floorplan on the top of the vehicle!
The first decision to make is what will be on the van roof.
Van roof layout planning
Like many things with converting a van, it all starts with planning. There are a few items that are always included in any van conversion and these items will dictate the layout of a roof because they have specific mounting locations. These are items that require holes in the roof such as vents, fans, skylights, and air conditioners.
There are only a few locations available for these items so starting with these will help determine what space is available after they are installed.
From there the next essential item is solar. This one is a given. A camper van without solar panels is like a boat without water. Solar panels take up a large amount of space and are the next item/items that will dictate what space is left on a van roof once they are installed.
After that, the space left can be used for a variety of accessories that we'll get into later.
Once the essential items have been selected it’s time to decide if items will be directly mounted to the roof or using roof rails/racks.
Roof rails vs roof racks
- Roof Rails: Rails refer to any bars that run from front to back of a van (North to South). Many times, rails are enough to mount the necessary items. (Image of Roof Rails)
- Roof Racks: Roof racks run from side to side along the van roof (East to West). These are also called crossbars. (Image of roof rack)
Common Camper Van Roof Accessories
Here are some of the most common items put on camper van roofs broken down by if they need a roof rack or not. Keep in mind, there are many items that don’t technically need a roof rack. However, we have found that roof racks almost always make installation and layout easier.
Camper Van items that need a roof rack
Roof Top Tent
Pop up tents are a great addition for any camper van conversion. There are tons of options and they expand sleeping capacity. Roof top tents provide a great place for guests or kids to sleep. They can even serve as the main sleeping area which can help maximize inside floor space.
Most off the shelf vehicle storage options require racks to mount properly. There are some storage options that mount to the rear on camper vans but we’ll save that for another article.
If there is room, a roof deck is an awesome addition to any van conversion project. Getting up high and relaxing on the top of a camper van provides an additional hangout space option. Rooftop decks definitely require a roof rack due to the support needed for the weight of one or more people.
Camper Van items that don’t need a roof rack
Camper van awnings are a popular choice among van lifers because they help expand living space and provide shelter from the elements. Van awnings can usually be mounted directly to the side of most modern vans without the need for rails or a roof rack. One thing to check on is the clearance of any doors that will be under the awning. Make sure there is enough clearance for doors to open and close without interfering with the awning. If the awning can’t be mounted directly without interfering, a roof rack will be needed to provide the proper clearance.
Solar panels are the easiest items to mount directly to a van roof and don’t necessarily benefit from being installed via roof rails/rack.
Aside from looking totally badass, light bars and various accessory lights mounted high up can provide important visibility during night time travel during adverse conditions. Light bars typically come with their own mounting brackets and are easily installed on almost any flat metal surface.
With high top vans getting to the roof can be a challenge. Adding a ladder makes it easier to get up onto the roof to store gear, check on/clean solar panels, or get up to a roof deck to enjoy a mountain sunset. There are many options out there for ladders that allow for installation with or without a roof rack.
Shop Roof Products
We’ve developed a variety of products to help make roof planning easier.
Check out our DIY Camper Van Knowledge Center for more info to help you with your camper van conversion.