I navigated the first decade of my carpentry career without a lumber rack. Most of my building materials were delivered, and I hauled the occasional long pipe or stick of lumber in my 1969 Chevy shortbed by resting its front end on the mirror bracket bolted to the passenger door. When I finally graduated to a real rack in the 1990s, it was a strong but economical one fabricated out of rectangular steel tubing by a local welding shop. I installed it on a Mazda pickup by boring holes in the bed rails and bolting it down. It worked great, until I moved to California's corrosive north coast; within just a couple of years, the mounting holes had invited rust into the bed rails. Not only did the rack turn from black to orange, but the tubing began mysteriously bulging like it was about to explode.
Then, 10 years ago, I bought a new aluminum TracRac for my 1991 GMC Sierra shortbed, and later moved it to my new Toyota Tundra after some easy modifications. I keep the truck outdoors, less than a mile away from saltwater, where it's drenched by 75 inches of rain per year and marinated in cool summer fog. But so far, the rack has held up well.
There are several things I like about the TracRac: It mounts to most pickups with no drilling required; it adjusts easily for different size loads; it doesn't rust; it accepts lots of useful accessories; and it looks good.
The Basic Kit
My TracRac's structural components are made of 6063-T6 aluminum (commonly used for window and door frames), with stainless-steel and other noncorrosive hardware.
The basic rig weighs just 75 pounds but supports up to 1,000 pounds of cargo up top — far more than I've ever carried. It consists of two triple-track aluminum base rails, two sliding racks that can be positioned and locked anywhere along the base rails, and four sliding tiedowns up top that double as load stops and can be positioned and locked anywhere along the crossbars. My base rails are fitted with rubber expansion blocks that slip into and grip the stake pockets. If you don't have stake pockets, you have to drill holes in your pickup and bolt the rails down.
I added two accessories: a rubber wear strip for the top of each crossbar to help protect it from abrasion and to keep ladders from rattling (though the strips do restrict the positioning of the tiedowns), and four sliding tiedowns for the base rails. I couldn't live without those extra tiedowns, especially for securing cargo in the bed.
Arranging the Sliding Racks
The racks can slide on either of two parallel tracks on top of the base rails. I installed both of my racks on the outer tracks; that way, I can put all my lower tie-downs on the inner tracks, right next to the bed. Another option is to install the front rack on the outer tracks and the rear rack on the inner tracks, or vice versa, which achieves the maximum load rating. This approach would also allow you to slide both racks up against the cab, out of the way. If I ever need to do that, I'll make the easy change.
TracRac offers a slew of additional accessories, including a cantilever extension that supports long loads over the cab, a choice of two toolboxes, a sliding adapter for mounting other toolboxes, a sliding cargo divider that can invert to serve as a rear-window guard, a tonneau cover, locking knobs that discourage theft, and kits for mounting everything from bicycles to surfboards. I haven't used any of those accessories, but it's nice to know they're available if I need them.
A New Model
A new version of the rack, named the TracRac G2, is hitting the market right about now. It uses the same base rails and stake-pocket attachment hardware as mine does and accepts the same accessories, but has some noteworthy differences.
For instance, all of my aluminum components are anodized, which adds a protective oxide film to the surface. On the TracRac G2, the base rails are still anodized, but the sliding racks have been dual powder-coated instead to create a 4- to 7-mil-thick flexible silver finish that the manufacturer claims has endured 2,000 hours of salt-spray testing. The new crossbars have a more elongated cross section to reduce drag, while diagonal braces have been eliminated from the uprights — for easier access to the bed — and built-in cleats have been added. Also, the new tiedowns are powder-coated aluminum instead of zinc, which should help the finish last longer. (The finish on my sliding tiedowns has chipped some.) And finally, the TracRac G2 is 10 pounds heavier than the older model and can support 250 more pounds of cargo up top.
The new rack can be installed on most pickups (the latest Toyota Tacoma, which has a composite inner bed, is one exception) and should be compatible with all types of bed liners and fifth-wheel trailer hitches.
Where to Buy
You can buy TracRac hardware and most of the accessories at tracrac.com, but you'll have to buy the core kit and the toolboxes from a retailer. You can use the website to get quotes from local dealers and online retailers. The maker expects the basic TracRac G2 setup to sell for about $800.
By the way, I just read that I'm supposed to check every four months to make sure the socket head cap screws that compress my rubber expansion blocks are tightened to a torque specification of 9 foot-pounds. Oops.
Bruce Greenlaw is a JLC contributing editor.