Project XtremeJ Gets Overlanding-Ready With A Garvin Roof Rack

One of the goals of Project XtremeJ is to make this an XJ that can tackle a variety of off-roading challenges. Of course, a lot of that necessitates a focus on bolstering its terrain and rockclimbing capabilities, but it’s important not to ignore the utility part of the equation, particularly when we’re looking to go out on some extended adventures.

This XJ has received a steady diet of hardware updates since we took delivery of it in bone-stock form back in 2015. While most of those upgrades are of the bolt-on variety, together they’ve improved the Cherokee’s capability and aesthetic substantially.

To that end, we’re swapping out the factory roof rack with a much more substantial carrier from Garvin Wilderness Products. Their American-made Wilderness series products are aimed directly at off-roading fanatics like us, and along with their offerings for the Wrangler and Cherokee, they also make gear for other popular off-road SUVs like the Toyota FJ Cruiser and the Nissan Xterra.

While the factory rack might be good for hauling basic stuff on-road from point A to point B, the story gets a bit dodgier when we’re talking about stowing camping gear and other large items whilst navigating challenging terrain. We sat down with Garvin Industries’ Ron Garvin to get the lowdown on the virtues of the Sport Series Rack (PN 34014) and score some insight into how the company develops and tests their products.

Adding Adaptability

“One of the things that’s cool about our racks is the versatility they offer,” Garvin explains. “There are accessories available for pretty much every aspect of off-roading you can think of – jack mounts, spare tire mounts, light mounts, axe and shovel mounts, etc – practically everything you’d need to take on a trip you can attach to the rack.”

The Garvin roof rack is a stout piece. Designed to withstand prolonged abuse in the most inhospitable terrain around, the Garvin roof rack is made from 3/4-inch diameter steel tubing that gets a two-stage powdercoating process. It is rated to hold up to 300 pounds off-road and 600 pounds static. It also features vertical dividers that are designed to help reduce wind noise when the rack is empty.

Not only does that keep the gear secure and free up space elsewhere, but it also pays dividends out on the trail. “The new thing now is overlanding with rooftop tents, and we’ve got accessories for those as well,” says Garvin. “All of those accessories are designed to function the way our racks do – very secure with no bouncing around. They’re also designed to hold up to the demands of off-roading gear – when you want to mount a huge high-lift jack on your racks, the bracketry we use is strong enough to support it.”

Garvin adds that this heavy-duty approach also offers peace of mind out on the trail. “The priority in the development of these racks was to make sure these things mount securely,” he says. “You can put an axe and shovel mount on there and you know it’s not going to fall off the truck. It’s designed to go on that crazy trail and still be up there when you’re done.”

With heavy-duty engineering being the theme throughout the Garvin rack's design, it probably comes as no surprise that Grade 5 fasteners are used for all connections and the brackets are made from 3/16-inch steel plate. Garvin's powdercoating process consists of a zinc primer and a textured top coat that should keep the rack and its hardware looking sharp for years to come.

Aesthetically, the Sport Series Rack has a purposeful look that’s been designed to blend well with modern SUVs. Made from 3/4-inch steel tubing with .065 thickness, these racks receive a two-step powdercoating process that includes a zinc primer and a slightly textured top coat. “The materials chosen are based on our testing, and what we see as being required to withstand the demands of the hardcore off-roader,” Garvin says.

Garvin explains that the approach of over-engineering these products applies to every element of the package. “The rack will hold up to 300 pounds off-road and 600 pounds static,” he explains. “We use 3/16-inch steel, Grade 5 hardware – the best available that we can get. We overdo the supports to ensure that we don’t have problems down the road.”

And where it concerns quality control, the efforts to test out these components take on firsthand importance. “A lot of our testing is done on our personal vehicles,” Garvin tells us. “We’ll load them up and head out to the trail. We also encourage customers to do some of that testing as well if they want to.”

We design our stuff to be able to hold up to extremes, so we look at the customers that potentially could do some pretty serious off-roading in the desert, and we build our products to be capable of standing up to those kinds of scenarios. – Ron Garvin, Garvin Industries

And that feedback from customers often translates directly into design revisions. “If, after going on a long trip, we hear back from a customer about an issue they might’ve encountered, we can go back and make small adjustments to the design,” comments Garvin. “It’s a very hands-on process for us.” Along with durability tweaks, it can also translate to clever features, like the uniquely designed vertical dividers that help to reduce wind noise – a common issue associated with empty roof racks.

“When we first engineered our Adventure rack for the Wrangler JK, customers put rooftop tents on them and took their Jeeps cross-country,” Garvin says. “If we got feedback about a rattle or other disturbance, we went back and made adjustments to the design to dial it in.”

All of this data from real-world testing allows Garvin to bring those features to the products coming down the pike as well. “The next major rack that we’re going to be coming out with will be for the new 2018 Jeep Wrangler,” he says.

This is one install that really is as easy as it looks. After assembling the main sections of the Garvin rack, getting it on the XJ is simply a matter of unbolting and removing the factory rack and mounting up the new one. It's worth noting that since the new rack does not utilize the same mounting holes as the factory rack, we put the stock fasteners back in those original mounting holes to seal those spots back up.

“That’s going to be our big push for 2018,” says Garvin. “While the overall design of the rack will be similar to the other products we offer, some things changed with the new Wrangler design. The front windshield mounts are a little different and there are some other minor tweaks needed to make it work with the new model.”

Garvin also says that as overlanding has become more prevalent in year recents, they’ve begun to shift more of their attention in that direction.

With the brackets tightened down we're back in business and ready to head out on some epic adventures. This rack, along with array of accessories that can be attached to it, should provide plenty of storage for all the gear we'd need on a long trip while also ensuring that everything is still there when we get to where we're going.

“To be able to easily attach a rooftop tent or awning seems to be the way things are going,” says Garvin. “We’re sponsoring Jake Wettern, who is traveling around and living in his Jeep, and we’ve got another customer who just started doing a similar thing. They’re getting their rigs ready to get off the grid and just enjoy some time away from the world, while having everything they could need with them for the trip.”

Garvin says that may translate to things like brackets for solar panels and similar accessories down the road. “That’s on our radar,” he says. “It’ll be part of a larger overlanding focus.”

Our experiences with the Garvin roof rack at Tierra del Sol 2018 reinforced our trust in the product. A spare tire is now mounted there, as is a high-lift jack.

Our focus, meanwhile, will continue to be all things off-road, and we’re glad we got to install the rack onto Project XtremeJ. We’ve gotten great use out of it so far, including using it as the storage space for a spare tire and high-lift jack. We encourage you to check out more from Garvin Wilderness Products on its website.

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About the author

Bradley Iger

Lover of noisy cars, noisy music, and noisy bulldogs. Brad can often be found flogging something expensive along the twisting tarmac of the Angeles Forest.
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