Ute Canopy Options
The Ute market in Australia is booming thanks to improvements in driveability, meaning that more and more people are choosing them as work and play vehicles. And choosing the right canopy setup applies to both uses.
Ultimately, there are three key points you need to consider when choosing a canopy for your ute. And these are:
Practicality/functionality – This is the most important. You are building a vehicle for a purpose, make sure it fits that purpose.
Budget – The budget is always going to be a constraint for most people. You have to consider not only what you can afford right now, but what you might be able to afford in the near future. Buying the option that fits your budget today might not be as functional as the option you might be able to afford in a few months’ time.
Personal style – This is always a bit of a tricky one. Something might be perfectly practical and fit within your budget but if you hate the look, walk away. You will be driving this car on, probably, a daily basis. If you don’t enjoy looking at it then you’re just wasting your money.
Some of the options we are going to look at in this article are:
- Aluminium Tray / Steel Tray;
- Tray with a Slide on Canopy;
- Canvas Hard Top Canopy;
- Factory Tub;
- Tub topper;
- Tub Topper Vs Fiberglass canopy; and
- Camp King Outback series.
This is a nice, simple option and it keeps the ute as it was originally intended. It allows you to vary your packing for each trip, and still allows you to move your mates’ furniture, load up for a rubbish run or be able to throw things in without worrying too much about space.
If you are thinking about a flat ute tray, whether it is a steel or aluminium tray, you are still going to need some form of storage or tie-down system. For many, this comes in the form of boxes. When it is just a small party, one or two people, this is doable. Where it starts to come undone is if you need to carry a lot of stuff as you will often spend a lot of time packing and unpacking the back of the ute. A well designed aluminium tray will often have a few smaller storage options built in, such as an undertray draw, undertray water/fuel and toolboxes. All of this allows you to store your heavier items down low, making them a bit easier to access.
The aluminium tray option is also quite light in comparison to many of the other options as ultimately you don’t have a great deal of materials involved. This can help reduce wear and tear, marginally improve fuel economy and allow for a better ride (suspension dependent).
The last great thing about this option is that you can also use this as a starting point and consider adding a slide on canopy, or more fixed storage later down the line.
- Best option for oversized objects; and
- Often a cost-effective option if you are not frequent travellers.
- No secure area;
- More complexity when securing a load; and
- Need to purchase some weather-resistant storage options.
Most suited to: This option tends to be the best option for those that don’t do a lot of travel or frequently need to carry bulky or oversized options.
Tray with slide-on ute Canopy
Setting up a tray with a slide-on canopy improves the versatility of your ute. It allows for an easy and simple way to get the most out of your vehicle whether you are travelling or just around town.
Slide-on aluminium ute canopies are great for when you’re around town because you can slip off the space-sucking canopy and slip back into a nice flat tray. It’s kind of like you have a transformer in your back pocket.
When travelling the canopy is going to allow you to have secure storage, great organisation (which makes travelling much easier) and the perfect platform to camp out of. While many canopies are just empty shells, the best ones will help you with space-saving and storage options. Adding things like a kitchen area with a cooktop or a fridge on a dropdown slide keep everything nice and neat. A slide on canopy is also a great place to set up your 12v system to ensure you have a constant supply of power.
There are a couple of drawbacks to this option, one is that you will have a rough ride when the extra weight of the canopy is off the back. The other is that you might find you are paying a few extra dollars for the versatility.
In saying that, if you set your vehicle up well from the start the ride can be tamed and the ability to remove the extra weight will save you in wear and tear in the long run.
- Secure storage;
- Versatility for travel Vs daily use; and
- Still allows for usable space when canopy removed.
- Can be a more expensive option;
- Less space than a permanent canopy (tray / lifting points / additional structural support);
- Often pre-designed with little customisation available; and
- Tray + Canopy combo is often heavier than just a canopy.
Most suited to: This tends to be a great option for those that have a strong need for the full functionality of their ute tray for the day to day but want the security offered from a full canopy while travelling.
Canvas Hard Top Ute Canopy
A canvas hardtop ute canopy is an incredibly popular option. It is relatively cheap, lightweight and just a straightforward no-nonsense solution for covered storage.
The canvas canopy setup is an incredibly popular option with both fishermen and pet owners. Fishermen love it because it is easy to open up and hose out after a trip, with minimal nooks and crannies for fish guts to get into and leave that forever fish smell. Pet owners on the other hand love the hardtop canopy because it is shady for their pet and easy to get airflow into.
Canvas is also a great way to weatherproof the rear of your vehicle. When a high-quality canvas is used it will keep out pretty much anything that mother nature can throw at it, leaving you with plenty of space.
- Very cost effective way to gain weatherproof storage;
- Still have large access points in comparison to a tub topper or fibreglass canopy;
- Cheaper than a full canopy;
- Solid roof to allow for additional load carrying; and
- Ultra lightweight.
- It is not a totally secure setup;
- If they’re not built correctly they may not stay watertight; and
- Bulldust and fine dust can often still get in.
Most suited to: Someone that wants easy access to all parts of their ute but still the ability to keep it dry. The additional benefit of easy cleaning makes it a great option for someone that tends to get their car dirty.
Style Side Tub
The simple ute tub. It has been the staple of dual cab utes in Australia since the 1950s (believe it or not). The tub offers additional style and useability to the average dual cab ute and now is the default option for most dual cabs.
The tub offers a few advantages over a flat tray, it offers deeper storage and a little bit of extra protection over some other options. The deeper storage also helps to lower the center of gravity for the vehicle making it a safer and more comfortable ride.
The reason that some don’t like the option of the tub is that you tend to lose a bit of space; with the tub sunk between the wheel arches and the inner and outer part of the tub. There is also the similar downside to the aluminium tray where this option is not weather sealed so additional sealed storage may be needed. The Camp King Industries drawer sets are a great option for this.
To counter the loss of some space, quite a few people are starting to come out with accessories to make use of some of the empty spaces. You can now find storage options for the tub between the inner and outer guard and in the tailgate.
- Looks nice with the lines of a vehicle;
- Offers a deep space for storage compared to a flat tray; and
- Lowers your center of gravity.
- Loss of space due to wheel arches;
- Not dust / weather sealed; and
- Can be difficult to reach over the sides if the vehicle is lifted.
Best suited to: Those who often use the depth of the tub, a solo or minimalist traveller, or someone who has minimal need for secure storage.
The tub topper or truck cap as they are called in the US is something that is relatively new in Australia. This design allows for:
- Great looks;
- Great roof load capacity;
- Great use of space; and
- Great Price.
Tub Toppers tend to be made from aluminium which allows for a lightweight design that can carry a lot. For example, the Camp King Tub Topper weighs around 70kg but is rated to carry 300kg. The fibreglass alternatives often weigh around the same but will usually only have a load capacity of 70-100kg. In many cases a fibreglass canopy will also require an internal bracing structure to even carry that much.
The tub topper also allows for anything in the back of the tray to be securely stored with most having lockable doors and weather sealing.
To top all that off, an aluminium tub topper can help you achieve the same space as a full aluminium canopy but at nearly a quarter of the cost. Similarly to the tub by itself, it also allows you to get the weight down as low as possible as a tub drops down lower than a tray.
What all that means is you can have a solution that allows you to leave your ute totally stock most of the time, but when you are looking for an adventure you can simply load on your topper and away you go.
So far, the only minor downside we have come across is that for some, getting access over the side of the tub and into the back can be a little bit of a stretch. This can be mitigated with things like draws, tray slides and other storage options.
- Great for secure storage;
- At 70kg, two people should be able to lift it off in a matter of minutes;
- Leaves the original style and feel for the vehicle but now with lots more storage;
- Cost effective;
- Improved roof load over a fiberglass canopy; and
- Adds an element of weatherproofing.
- Difficult to reach items in the back / middle of the tub; and
- Wheel arches can make space difficult to use.
Most suited to: If you are someone that likes the look of your ute with the style side on but wants the functionality and space of an aluminium canopy, you really can’t consider anything else. To add to that, it is a great budget-conscious option that still leaves you with plenty of room for storage on your trips.
Fibreglass Canopy Vs Aluminium Tub Topper
Why should I buy an aluminium tub topper over a fibreglass canopy? This is a question we are starting to hear asked more frequently as the popularity of tub toppers rise here in Australia.
The answer is quite simple, really. How do you want it to function? If you are just looking to put a cover over the tub to seal it off and you like the look of a fibreglass canopy, then that is the best option for you.
If, on the other hand, you want to be able to seal the tub, put a load on the roof of up to 300kg, have a lightweight solution for it all and want it to be easily removable, then the tub topper is the way to go.
This is a new option on the market, one that very few people know about, but more should. This takes all the amazingness of the tub topper, drops on a roof top tent and integrates them into a single solution.
The Camp King Outback Series offers you all the same advantages that you get from a standard tub topper.
- Integrated sleeping and topper;
- Access to the tub from sleeping compartment;
- Less overall height – no need for additional componentry to add RTT;
- Lighter than an aluminium canopy and roof top tent;
- Much cheaper option than having to buy a tray, canopy and RTT; and
- Lowers the centre of gravity.
- No use for rear view mirror; and
- Not available for all vehicles.
Best suited to: The Outback Series will appeal to someone that wants a compact sleep system as well as the additional storage space and the ability to access both easily.
The Best Canopy Option?
Ultimately, the best option is going to be the one that is most suited to your needs. Most options have their pros and cons and they all come with a very different budget from around $3000 right up to $40,000+. Have a look around at the range of options or have a chat with one of the Camp King Industries specialists if you want to bounce some ideas around.