LAST UPDATED: December 23, 2019
Best Ladder Racks: Get Your Heavy Stuff on the Road in Style
These ladder racks will help you move more cargo with your truck at a go
The Review Team
How We Decided
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PUBLISHED ON December 23, 2019
Ladder racks are valuable accessories to enhance your truck’s cargo capacity. They make it more convenient to put heavier equipment like a kayak or canoe on your pickup truck before you head out on a memorable adventure. Also, you can readily dedicate your truck bed to less bulky equipment. Read our comprehensive buying guide to see the top three ladder rack systems.
The X31 model can heft around 800 pounds on its durable and hefty powder-coated steel frame.
- Ladder rack includes bend steel sleeve T bars that increase its overall stability and toughness
- Rack is extendable and is designed for both short and long truck beds
- May be difficult to fit on the Chevy Colorado
- C-clamps can damage the powder coat
This ladder rack is made from heavy-duty steel enhanced with a powder-coating for increased rust-resistance. It has extendable arms, which can be extended from 19 to 34 inches. It can be installed on truck beds with at most a 17-1/4-inch depth.
- Ladder rack has good stability as it bolts into the truck bed rails
- Sturdiness makes it appropriate for moving long cargo like lumber, rebar, piping, and ladders
- Has a versatile design, featuring multiple tie-down anchor points to better secure the load and extended stops on each end
- Mounting brackets do not fit properly and are of significantly lower quality than the crossbars
- Complicated instructions make installation difficult
Multifunctional utility rack with adjustable crossbars constructed from stainless steel and capable of carrying up to 800 pounds. The sturdy frame sits 30 inches above the top of the truck bed and has an adjustable width of 5 to 7 feet. Comes will all installation and mounting brackets but requires two holes drilling into each side of the truck bed.
- Very easy to install the ladder rack and secure your cargo for maximum safety and stability
- Manufacturer recommends drilling holes in the side of your truck bed and bolting the crossbars on, but other buyers have had success with C-clamps, too
- Truck rack is a very good value for the maximum weight capacity
- No powder-coated finish, so the paint is prone to chips, scratches, and corrosion
- Rack system weighs 50 pounds unladen, so this will likely affect your mileage per gallon even if you’re not hauling anything around
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Benefits of Ladder Racks
- Extra space. The whole point of a ladder rack is that it gives you extra space for transporting large or bulky items that might not necessarily fit safely in the truck bed or inside your vehicle.
- Convenience. Once the racking is fitted, it’s there for you to use whenever you need it, whether that’s at the last minute or late at night.
- Efficiency. A ladder rack is often the difference between one trip and multiple trips. You’ll soon make back the cost of the rack in fuel and time saved.
- Better organization. Putting the big stuff on the roof rack leaves you more storage room in the truck bed for smaller items, which can then be better organized and more safely stored.
- Cost-effective. Installing a ladder rack is more cost-effective than hiring or buying a new vehicle, or renting kayaks and surfboards when you could take your own.
- Adds value. If you’ve affixed a permanent rack to your van and you decide to sell it, the extra storage can potentially add a few more dollars to your sale price.
Types of Ladder Racks
As the name suggests, this type of rack system is designed to sit right over the bed of your truck. You can mount them to the wall of the truck bed with C-clamps, or drill holes to bolt them into the bed. They’re convenient for carrying larger items while keeping the truck bed clear and offer effective and usable storage at an accessible height.
This sensibly-named over-cab style of truck rack sits on the cab roof so you can carry cargo that measures as long as your truck. Most need to be permanently fixed in place, so they’re difficult to adjust and offer a somewhat more limited scope of use than an over-bed truck rack. For the greatest amount of flexibility, get an over-cab rack with an adjustable or removable extension.
Side mount racks fit onto the side of your truck or van and are great for carrying narrow, long items, like ladders or rolls of carpet. For safety reasons, they can only cope with a maximum of 500 pounds, depending on the size and weight of your vehicle, and the shape makes it difficult to tie down awkward cargo.
Swedish brand Thule is the market leader when it comes to cargo transportation for vehicles. It was founded in 1947, records annual profits of around $60 million, and operates in 136 countries. Its range of roof racks includes the Xsporter Pro and the TracRac Sliding Overhead Rack.
The Automobile Association (AA) was born when four driving enthusiasts banded together in London in 1905. It is the largest motoring organization in the world with more than 150 million members and it offers those customers a massive range of services and products in addition to the more traditional roadside repair service. You can find the X316 and the APX2502 models amongst its ladder rack systems.
ROLA was established 30 years ago by a windsurfer who needed a way of carrying his surfboard and it’s now Australia’s top name in roof racks and cargo management solutions. The brand is owned by the Horizon Global Corporation, which is based in Plymouth, Mich. ROLA makes these Universal CrossBars and the trademarked Haul-Your-Might Removable Rack.
Ladder Rack Pricing
- Budget (Under $200): You can pick up a basic utility rack for under $70, with prices mainly increasing in line with construction material, load capacity, and extra features like adjustable cargo bumpers.
- Mid-range ($200-$700): This is where you’ll find top-end utility racks and most lock-down ladder racks. Expect high maximum weight capacities, extra crossbars, and some degree of adjustability.
- Premium ($700 and up): Ladder racks in this price range will mostly be the mechanical drop-down type.
There’s no point in buying a rack system with a lower maximum weight capacity. Think about what you’re likely to be transporting and consider how much it weighs, how wide it is, and how often you’ll need to move it. The maximum width and cargo capacity, as well as usage limitations, will be listed in the rack’s specifications.
Some rack systems will require you to drill holes in your truck bed so it can be bolted down, while other models use C-clamps that won’t cause any lasting alterations. Check whether the ladder rack you’ve chosen comes with all the mounting brackets, or if it includes extra fittings you don’t want or need, and always follow the instructions provided.
Steel is stronger than aluminum, but also heavier. A steel ladder rack will likely be more durable and sturdier than ones made out of aluminum, which is more rust-resistant. Also, there’s a lot to be said for having a lightweight truck rack, as less weight can often mean better mileage performance.
- Accessibility. Once you’ve fitted the ladder rack, how are you going to get at it? Some van racks are mechanically operated and slide down the side of the vehicle. With others, you’ll need you to have a step ladder on hand.
- Compatibility. Make sure the ladder rack is compatible with your vehicle in terms of length, width, height, and the fixings used to attach it.
- Adjustability. Is the size and height of the rack you’re looking at fixed, or can you move it around depending on what you need to carry?
Best Ladder Racks Reviews & Recommendations 2020
The AA-Racks X31 Truck Rack model is powerful and able to take a full load of 800 pounds. Its bent steel design improves its overall sturdiness as well. But it’s even better when you consider its powder-coated paint job. The coating helps the ladder rack resist rust and corrosion, which is highly needed since it’s constantly outside.
That bend on either T-sleeve bar makes the rack resist bending and flexing under pressure. It’s built to take weight and a bit of punishment as well. Another great aspect of the AA-Racks X31 is the extendable design that makes it a perfect fit for a wide variety of truck models no matter the bed size.
There have been reports of it not fitting correctly on certain trucks such as the 2019 Chevy Colorado. That being said, it will fit but you may need to make some slight adjustments. The C-clamps may also scratch the powder coating.
Constructed from steel with powder-coating for maximum durability and rust-protection, this truck ladder rack from MaxxHaul bolts directly onto your truck bed rails for the convenient transportation of long cargo such as ladders, piping, and lumber. It’s compatible with trucks that have a bed height of no more than 17 ¼ inches deep.
The arms are adjustable between a minimum width of 19 inches and a maximum width of 34 inches, which increases the ladder rack’s versatility and is sufficient to fit most ladders. These are further strengthened with D-support bars, extended stops on each end, and a range of convenient anchor points.
However, note that the mounting brackets don't fit properly and do not match the quality of the crossbars. In addition, the instructions and diagrams are difficult to follow and greatly increase installation time.
This heavy-duty ladder rack from TMS is made from stainless steel and is capable of carrying up to 800 pounds. It’s constructed of surprisingly high quality and very sturdy for this price point, too. Comprising two crossbars, it sits 30 inches above the truck bed and can be adjusted between a minimum width of 5 feet and a maximum width of 7 feet, which makes it an ideal fit for most trucks. The manufacturer advises installation should be completed by drilling two holes on each side of your truck bed and bolting the crossbars down using the mounting brackets provided. We advise the same, for a guaranteed safe and secure fit, but other users have had just as must success with C-clamps and no drilling.
The only noticeable downside is the lack of a rust-resistant powder-coating on the black paint finish, which is very easily scratched and chipped. It’s heavy too, at 50 pounds unladen, and you’ll notice the drop in fuel efficiency even when you’re not using it to transport anything.
The Ecotric Adjustable Full Size Truck Contractor Ladder Rack is a mouthful to say, but it's a reliable tool. Built out of a full steel body, the rack is capable of hauling 1,000 pounds. That makes it an industrial rack built for contractors, as the name suggests, and do-it-yourself home projects. One of its best features is its universal design. You won’t have to worry about whether it will fit your pickup or work truck. Nor will you have to worry about drilling holes into your short or long truck bed. It’s even powder-coated for extra protection against rust. Plus, the feet and legs are fully adjustable for extra convenience.
However, the one thing you may notice right away is its price. It is one of the more expensive ladder racks we’ve seen. Another thing is it will ship in two boxes, and that means it does require you to put it together. That may be difficult, though, as the instructions can be confusing to follow.
AA-Racks returns with the AA-Racks Model APX25 Extendable Aluminum Pick-Up-Truck Ladder Rack. The APX25 model is a bit different than our other choice in a lot of ways. First of all, it is a heavy-duty rack that is rated to haul around 800 pounds. It is also universal in its design and built so that it fits both short and long truck beds.
The ladder rack measures 71 inches wide and 28 inches tall. One other major difference between this rack and the other AA-Racks model is its build quality. While it isn’t made out of steel, it does feature a durable aluminum body. This makes it a bit lighter while still able to haul plenty of weight. Another great thing is you can install it onto the bed without drilling into the truck.
This ladder rack is on the pricey side since it is a premium one. And for that price, we thought it should be able to carry a few more pounds. Also, while the aluminum frame is tough, it is more prone to dents when compared to steel or metal frames.
- Buy a versatile ladder rack that allows you to easily transport a wide range of heavy cargo. This could be longer or heavier cargo. The safety of the ladder rack also matters; hence, you should buy a ladder rack with secure attachments.
- Buy ladder racks with the right design and material makeup. Poorly designed ladder racks are hazardous with an increased possibility of falling off (or getting loose) while you are on the road.
- Buy a ladder rack that is not difficult to install. Follow the installation manual from the manufacturer and procure the stipulated accessories needed for the complete installation of the ladder rack. Missing some of these accessories will make the rack insecure.
- When loading your ladder rack, distribute the load across the rack. With the weight evenly spread out, the chances of shifting when you drive your truck are reduced.
Q: Should I buy a half-width rack or a full-width rack?
A full-width rack takes up twice as much space as a half-width rack. Half-width racks are more suited for thinner cargos like kayaks, pipes, and ladders, still leaving space for tall items like ATVs. Full-width racks are more suitable for wider cargos like plywood, enhancing the accessibility of your truck bed.
Q: Should I buy aluminum racks or steel racks?
Steel ladder racks have better durability and sturdiness than aluminum racks. They also have superior resilience against fatigue. Nonetheless, compared to steel ladder racks, aluminum racks are more resistant to corrosion and rust. Also, being less dense than steel, aluminum racks allow for better gas mileage.
Q: What carrying capacity do I need with a ladder rack?
If you are using your ladder rack for light-duty functions like carrying pipes, you need lightweight ladder racks that can hold up to 500 pounds. However, for heavy-duty use, you need ladder racks capable with a load of 1,200 pounds.
Q: Should I choose a custom model or a universal ladder rack?
Universal ladder racks are more versatile and can fit more than one type of truck. Custom ladder racks are not versatile and are designed to perfectly fit a particular model of truck. Custom ladder racks are prettier than universal racks but may not be ideal for you if you will be upgrading your trucks frequently as the years roll by.
Our top choice is the heavy-duty AA-Racks X31 Truck Rack which has a maximum cargo capacity of 2200 pounds.
Our best value pick is the budget-friendly, side-mounted MaxxHaul 70233 Heavy Duty Ladder Rack.