When a camper van is on the road storage is pretty simple. It either fits inside the van or it has to be stored on the outside securely. A common issue with being stealthy is figuring out how to store all the stuff you need without putting it outside and being a dead giveaway. If you're headed to the beach in your family SUV you can throw a hitch or roof basket and no one questions it, but if you put one of those on a van and park downtown over night, people start asking questions. Joe set out to make the van as stealthy as possible. He blacked out the chrome emblems, hinges, and everything else that he could. The roof rack was no different. He wanted to make a rack that could store what they needed while still being inconspicuous.
The main structure of their build has two conduit pipes stacked with a few inches in between. The top of the rack is about 10" above the roof of the van. This small gap allows them to store 8" tall plastic totes along with other gear like camp chairs etc.
That stacked two pipe design runs along the sides and back of the roof. Joe used some brackets that he had left over from another project to attach those pipes together. If you've got them around why not use them! Our T connectors can also be used to make the same joint. He used T's on the ends to connect the corners of the rack together. There's also a couple 180 degree connectors in the middle of both sides to add a vertical brace to the rack.
The front two pipes are also stacked but offset with a piece of tin slanted to act as a wind fairing. To keep it stealthy, Joe covered the silver galvanized conduit with a black rubber hose (shrink wrap can also be used). This gives it a nice textured look and protects the pipes at the same time. Joe made the brackets that attach the frame to the van roof. He said he used channel bar which is a component used when building houses. If you want to see more of how he did it, check out his post here.
After the basic structure was built, Joe added the solar panels. There are three 300 watt solar panels in total and all three are able to adjust to an upright position when needed. The panels have conduit around the perimeter which allows him to run connect structural pipes where needed. When the panels are flat they are secured to the structure using clips and Velcro. He made sure to have many points of contact for safety and security. When they want to raise the panels they undo the straps and clips and raise it up. Once it's raised he uses a piece of conduit that hinges off of the solar panel and acts as a kickstand. All 3 panels have this functionality and are able to raise up and angle towards the sun.
Joe and Erin are currently on a 5000 mile trek across the U.S. that started from their home in California. Other than a few added self tapping screws in integral places, the Maker Pipe connectors are unmodified. Joe said that the rack has done great and the Maker Pipe connections are holding strong! He has had to replace some of the plastic off the shelf clips that he used, but no Maker Pipe as of yet. Joe described a camper van as being a house that is constantly going through an earthquake so it is important to have strong and rigid components. We are glad to hear that Maker Pipe has withstood the test so far!
Almost every DIY camper van conversion you find is completely custom because the builders have different needs. This is most likely the case for your build as well. The important thing to take away from the Bacon's roof rack is that it is possible. With Maker Pipe and conduit, you can get exactly what you need for your van or vehicle.
One of the great things about building with Maker Pipe is that you can modify and adjust the connectors as needed. This means you can start with the frame and make changes to it when you're ready to add storage or solar panels. This is the way to go if you don't know exactly what your van will have on the rack, and later you can add to it when you figure out your exact needs.
If you know exactly what your van needs out of a roof rack then you can make more detailed plans for your build. The best way to start a plan is by visualizing what your finished build looks like. You can do this by sketching it out on paper, modeling it with our Mini Connectors, or looking at similar builds and getting inspiration. One thing to remember. Depending on the weight and dimensions of your solar panels you will want to add bracing around the rack. Heavier or longer/wider panels should be braced accordingly. Simply add pipes with 45 degree connectors or run cross pipes using the T connector. Once you create your visualization you can start to get an idea of what connectors you need for the build. Don't forget to have fun when planning, that's what van life is all about!
If you need help coming up with a design or anything at all let us know. You can contact us through various methods listed here. Reach out and let us know how we can help! You can follow the Bacon's journey on Instagram here. They also gave us a complete van tour that you can watch below. Thanks for reading and happy camping!