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

Richlite vs Baltic Birch - Which Top Surface Is Right for Me?

Which material is right for you? We offer our systems in our standard pre-finished birch as well as a premium upgrade called Richlite.  We'll detail everything further below, but if you're looking for the fast answer, here is a  quick comparison of the standard Baltic Birch and our upgrade option: Richlite.


Standard Baltic Birch is great if:

  • You want all function, no frills
  • You enjoy the beauty of natural wood grain
  • You're on a budget - either for weight or cash

Consider an upgrade to Richlite if:

  • You want a sleek black appearance
  • You want additional water resistance
  • 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 Richlite as your panel surface:

1. Threaded Inserts - Stealth Bonus: Since the Richlite material is so tough, our standard threaded inserts can't quite pierce the backside surface to provide the bite they need to stay in place when we attach our hinged panels. To overcome this 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.

2. Scratch Resistance: Richlite is commonly used as a cutting board because it's ability to take abuse is impressive. If you manage to create a scratch, common cutting board oils or waxes can hide the scratches you create and add a deep luster.

3. Water Resistance: Our standard birch includes a clear coat called a "pre-finish" which is commercially applied and adds some water resistance, but it's limited. Richlite takes water resistance to another level. 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.

4. Appearance: The standard birch finish we offer is a natural wood product. Made from real trees in a forest with animals and weather. This means every panel is different and subject to natural variation present in any wood product. Richlite Stratum provides 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. Sustainable and Health-Conscious: 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 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. Weight Difference: 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.

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

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