Richlite vs Black Hex - Which Top Surface Is Right for Me?

Richlite Stratum Blue Canyon Birch on a Shop Sabre IS510 CNC Router

Which material is right for you? We'll detail everything further below, but if you're looking for the fast answer, here is a quick comparison of the standard Black Hex and our most premium option, Richlite.


    Black Hex is perfect for those who:

    • Want a sleek black look
    • Want a little extra friction to minimize cargo sliding
    • Want good durability with no weight penalty

    Consider an upgrade to Richlite if you:

    • Plan on loading heavy, metal gear in and out regularly
    • Plan on the system getting very wet
    • Want the highest quality material on the market
    • You've got the budget for the best surface you've ever seen in a storage system

    Now that we've covered the quick bullet points, let's dive into the details.

    Air Down Gear Up storage systems are comprised of a few core elements:

    • Anchors
    • Frame
    • Panels  <- The focus of this article

    Our anchor bars - used in most vehicles as of 2022 - are solid aluminum and CNC'd to your vehicle's dimensions in our Colorado shop.

    Our frame pieces are black anodized extruded aluminum. These are custom cut and configured to each system we offer. They look fantastic, offer exceptional modularity and have a strength and weight that are almost impossible to beat.

    Now onto the panels! For years our standard panel material for drawers and the platforms above our drawers has been Baltic Birch. Baltic Birch is a premium composite panel made of some of the strongest and most stable wood veneers available on Earth. You know the plywood you've seen at Home Depot? Yeah, this isn't it - this is an entirely different beast. The birch comes from the Baltic region of eastern Europe - and for good reason. This geographic area of the planet creates exceptional conditions for birch growth. The trees harvested from this area are strong and often void free - meaning when a panel is made from a tree you don't get holes and gaps in the panel material unlike most other wood varieties commonly used in plywood.

    Since 2017 when we started building these systems we've always been on the look out for ways to improve the plain birch surface. The natural birch look is beautiful, but some folks want something plain black or grey. We've tried a wide variety of bedliner products and were never happy with them. Most of them have an odor, they all cost a significant amount of labor to apply and the end result is something we think looks better in an exterior application than your premium interior storage system. We've tried paints and stains. Some of them looked great when new, but they all have a significant labor cost and the resulting finish is generally more prone to showing scratches than plain birch. Not liking any of these aforementioned options, we finally found something we liked - or rather loved.

    In 2022 we began offering systems in a new panel material - Richlite Stratum Birch. This material machines beautifully, wears like a high quality leather saddle and provides a stealthy black color option that's at home in any automotive cargo interior. Richlite is commonly found in applications that require lasting beauty, heavy abuse or both! You'll commonly see it in architectural panels, skate ramps, industrial countertops, cutting boards, guitar fretboards and now your favorite car storage systems.

    Some differences when you select Black Hex or Richlite as your panel surface:

    1.  Scratch Resistance: Black Hex adds a phenolic film which is quite strong. It will resist most light scratches and even some heavy scratches. If you gouge the material heavily (imagine loading a filing cabinet on top of it), you can reveal the blonde wood underneath. This sort of gouge can be cleaned up with common wood furniture markers or dye. Richlite on the other hand is nearly indestructible. It is commonly used as a cutting board because it's ability to take abuse is impressive. If you manage to create a scratch or even a deep gouge, common cutting board oils or waxes can hide the scratches you create and add a deep luster. Richlite can take a beating and still look nearly new - indefinitely.

    2. Water Resistance: Black Hex has a waterproof layer on both sides of the material, but it is thin. When we machine the features into the panels that make our systems a cut above the rest, we remove some of the waterproof layer and reveal some of the inner core. The result is partial water resistance that's better than the plain birch, but not quite as impressive as our most premium option. Richlite takes water resistance to another level. The cladding on this material is .125" thick and most our machined features do not penetrate this cladding. That means less exposed inner core and even more water resistance. This material is commonly used outdoors. In rain. In snow. And hail. If you plan on some wet adventures, this can be a valuable benefit.

    3. Appearance:  Both Black Hex and Richlite Stratum provide a synthetic and completely uniform surface finish with factory controlled colors. When you select this you know exactly what it will look like and you know every panel will match - perfectly.

    5. Threaded Inserts - Stealth Bonus on Richlite: We use hidden inserts which thread into the topside, leaving the backside completely clean - even further adding to our snag free design concept. This takes a bit more labor in production, but produces an awesome result.

    Some examples of Richlite panels are shown below, before edge dying. Note that all our panels of both Black Hex and Richlite are always edge dyed to give you a completely black and sleek appearance on the drawer boxes and top surfaces.

    5. Sustainable and Health-Conscious (Richlite): Richlite is made from recycled and sustainable materials and maintains multiple certificates for green initiatives, low-VOC emissions and indoor air quality standards. Certificates applicable to Stratum include: FSC®, HPD®, EPD®, GREENGUARD®, Declare.

    6. An American Panel Product with a Finnish Birch Core (Richlite): Richlite is made in the USA with Finnish Baltic Birch as its core. Finnish Baltic Birch is generally reserved for high-end uses above and beyond typical plywood and ranks in the higher echelons of the premium category of "Baltic Birch". The Richlite material is made in the USA and clad to Finnish birch in the USA.

    7. Weights: The Richlite option adds roughly 20 lbs of weight for non-sleeper, full width systems. For a full width sleeper system, it will add roughly 40 lbs.

    For most use cases, we recommend Black Hex. It's lightweight, durable and beautiful.

    Hopefully this helps guides your decision on which material is right for you!