The whole "overland" craze has exploded in popularity over the course of the past several years and is currently showing no signs of slowing down. Eager to jump on that bandwagon, we decided early on in the build process of our first-generation 2013 Ford F-150 Raptor this was the direction in which we'd be taking the truck. No, we won't be putting a rooftop tent on it anytime soon. Instead, the end goal is a go-anywhere, do-anything truck that is completely self-reliant.
Ford's factory HID headlights are good on the highway but left us wanting during after-hours adventuring. Not being super keen on the LED bar craze (thanks in part to our experience with one such unit that whistled on the highway like a piccolo in an orchestra), we set out in search of something different. What we found was the perfect combination from legendary lighting outfit KC HiLites: the company's M-Rack roof rack and Gravity Pro6 lightbar combo.
KC's M-Rack roof racks are designed, engineered, and built right here in the United States. They are constructed entirely of powdercoated aluminum, making them lightweight (typically less than 25 pounds), and they are engineered specifically for each vehicle application. This provides a precise, form-fitting design without the unsightly gaps or awkward positioning typically found with "universal" roof racks.
| KC's eight-light, 50-inch, Gravity Pro6 LED lightbar produces an impressive 18,400 raw lumens of light power. In other terms, that's 6,700 lux at 10 meters (roughly 30 feet) or 670,000 candela. The light can reach a distance of 1,637 meters, or a little more than a mile.
We opted for the M-Rack and Pro6 combo, which also comes with four (two on each side) C-Series flood lights. Since the M-Rack is modular, the options for mounting accessories to the rack are nearly limitless. We like the streamlined look of the bare rack, but we could also see it being a good place to mount slim items like a RotopaX water pack or a pair of traction boards.
Installation is relatively straightforward; however, it does require a few special tools and nerves of steel for drilling 10 holes in the vehicle's roof. It takes two people just because of the sheer size of the M-Rack, and we were able to complete the install, wiring included, in about 8 hours.
| The KC M-Rack ships in pieces in a relatively small package. This means, however, that assembly is required prior to mounting on the truck. We started the project by first laying out all the M-Rack pieces on a pair of folding tables.
| The M-Rack crossbars are modular and allow for mounting of all different sorts of gear. This is achieved by sliding carriage bolts into the slots in the rails. Included with the rack are mounting tabs and hardware for four area lights, two per side. Before attaching the side rails, these bolts need to be inserted.
| Once the carriage bolts and area light brackets are installed, it's time to attach the side rails. Pay close attention to the orientation of both the side rails and the light brackets. While the crossbars are universal, it would be quite the headache to find one has been installed upside down.
| The five crossbars attach to the side rails with button-cap Allen-head bolts. Care needs to be taken not to overtighten these fasteners, as the M-Rack assembly is aluminum and the threads can easily be stripped.
| There are only a couple of specialty tools needed to assemble the rack, one of which is a rivet gun. Lucky for us, our corporate tech center had this fancy-pants pneumatic unit for us to borrow. We'll definitely be adding one to the home arsenal.
| With the side panels attached to the crossbars, we were next able to install the Gravity Pro-6 lightbar. For our application the Gravity Pro-6 bar features eight individual 6-inch LED lights, which are linked together in a curved array. Notice that up until this point, we've been working with the rack upside-down for ease of assembly.
| Once the rack was assembled, we turned our attention to the truck, first by cleaning the edges of the roof where we would soon be drilling holes. If you're at all squeamish, turn back now.
| Before lifting the rack onto the roof for the first test-fit, we lined the edges, which we previously cleaned, with blue painter's tape. This helps to protect the paint from accidental scratches.
| The M-Rack, fully assembled, weighs less than 30 pounds. While not heavy, it is fairly cumbersome to lift onto the roof, especially given the Raptor's flared front fenders. After muscling the rack onto the roof, we measured carefully and got it centered on the truck.
| With the rack centered, a marking punch was employed to note where the 10 holes for the mounting bolts need to be drilled. A marker could also work in a pinch.
| Once the mounting holes were marked, the rack was again removed from the truck. We then used a hammer and larger punch to firmly mark where we needed to drill. Doing this helped ensure precise hole location by keeping the bit from wandering.
| Starting with a tiny bit, we slowly worked up to the size "Q" needed for the installation of the Rivnuts. In a pinch, a 5/16-inch bit can be substituted, however a "Q" is ideal. If you haven't heard of this size before, you're not alone. But trust us, it does exist.
| What's a Rivnut you ask? It's a brand of fastener, which is a combination of a rivet and a nut. Using a special tool, the Rivnut pinches the metal it's inserted through and forms a tight seal. Thanks to its threaded center, it also works as a nut for attaching items, such as the M-Rack, to our Raptor roof.
| Along with the rivet gun and "Q" drill bit, a Rivnut tool is the final special tool needed to install the M-Rack. To use the Rivnut tool, first thread the Rivnut onto the threaded end of the tool.
| After inserting the Rivnut through the hole, compressing the tool causes the Rivnut to contract and pinch the sheetmetal.
| The finished product is a secure mounting fixture that is also watertight. It's quite an unnerving process, but once the first couple are complete, the pain of putting holes in a perfectly good roof goes away.
| Once all the Rivnuts were put in place, we gently lifted the M-Rack back onto the roof for the final time. Using an array of different Allen-head bits, we then bolted the rack to the roof. To help ensure a watertight seal, we coated the bolt threads with RTV sealant prior to tightening. It's also worth noting that some of the crossbars may need to be removed to access the mounting bolts.
| In addition to the Pro-6 lightbar, the M-Rack also houses four C-Series scene lights. These single-row LED bars mount two on each side and can be switched on as a group or individually, depending on need (and how they are wired).
| The auxiliary scene lights are the final part to get bolted to the M-Rack, attaching to the brackets that were installed at the beginning of assembly. Basic wiring pigtails are included; however, KC says a dedicated harness is coming soon.
| The finished product is a roof rack that's lightweight and low profile while still able to carry the full weight the truck's roof is rated for (yes, manufacturers often rate roof carrying capacity). Now is a good time to remeasure the overall height of the truck so there are no nasty parking garage surprises. All told, the M-Rack adds about 3 inches of height to the truck.
To round out our forward-facing lighting, we had a strong desire to include lights in our factory Raptor bumper cutouts. A lot of companies, including KC, offer a kit to do just that. KC's solution comes with a pair of C3 LED cubes for each side with an output of 1,080 lumens and a reach of about 200 meters. While the roof lights provide great reach, these fill in the lighting gap left just in front of the truck, complementing the roof lights perfectly.
Installation was a breeze and took only an hour with basic handtools. Adjusting the lights can be a bit of a pain given their location behind the bumper, but they should only need to be adjusted once.
Unfortunately, as of writing this, this kit (KC 341) is unavailable. Keep checking back to KC's website and with their vast distributor network for updates.
| The KC Raptor bumper lights are a fairly easy install. The kit comes in pieces, with a pair of mounting brackets, four LED lights, a hardware kit, and a wiring harness specific to the Raptor.
| Once bolted to the truck's core support with the supplied hardware, all that's visible to the outside is a pair of lights peeking through the bumper openings. If the directions are followed, the lights will be actuated with one of the Raptor's built-in upfitter switches.
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