When it comes to outdoor toys, you actually can take it with you. No, not into the afterlife. But just about anyplace else, thanks to the versatile roof-rack systems available...

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When it comes to outdoor toys, you actually can take it with you. No, not into the afterlife. But just about anyplace else, thanks to the versatile roof-rack systems available for today’s vehicles. One of the best bets for transporting oodles of outdoor gear is the Thule Playpen.

This big basket works with any factory-installed roof rack, as well as standard Thule or even Yakima crossbar systems. The Playpen’s beefy aluminum basket holds bulky duffel bags, ice chests, backpacks or whatever else you might want to load on the roof for your trip away from home. The basket measures 44 inches by 39 inches and is 6 inches deep, providing ample room for even big bags — I’ve loaded the Playpen with three paragliders and a couple of mountain bikes for a trip up Chelan Butte with no trouble.

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Getting the bikes on board was simple, too. The Playpen integrates small sections of Thule’s standard rectangular load bars on the side of the basket, allowing you to mount various narrow carriers and attachments — such as bike mounts — to the Playpen. You may also add full-width load-bars to the basket (bars included with the Playpen) to use wider carriers, such as ski racks. This is especially nice when you have bulky duffels as well as large toys (like bikes, skis, kayaks, etc.) to load on your rig.

The Playpen isn’t perfect. It would be nice if the front and back top rails of the basket were made to the standard Thule bar dimensions. This would allow secondary accessories like ski racks to be mounted directly on the basket, instead of having to install additional mounting bars to the basket.

Also, the basket is fairly heavy — especially when adding that extra set of bars — and its ability to swallow lots of gear can be problematic. Many mid- and small-sized SUVs have a 100- or 150-pound maximum roof load rating. Going over that can stress or bend the body of your vehicle. But with the basket itself weighing more than 50 pounds (with the bars attached), it’s easy to exceed that limit. The solution, of course, is as simple as knowing your car’s roof weight limit (it’s in your owner’s manual) and knowing what your gear weighs.

Thule’s suggested retail price for the Playpen is $275. For more information: www.thule.com

Dan A. Nelson is a regular contributor to Backpacker magazine, and an author of outdoor guides with The Mountaineers Books. He lives in Puyallup.