Compared to preparing for air-travel, packing for a road trip lets you bring along everything you think you may need. The only limiting factor is the sp2021ace available in your vehicle. Generally, you can fit a ton of stuff in your trunk and whatever available backseat space you have, however often visibility is limited, especially on a longer trip or if you need a variety of different gear for your planned activities. External cargo carriers can drastically expand the space you can use for loading up your car without causing dangerously low visibility out of the rear windshield. Sacrifice nothing, take everything you need. After extensive research, here are our top 9 choices for the best roof mounted cargo carriers in all shapes and sizes to get you and your gear safely where you’re going.
Our Top 3 Choices
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9 Best Roof Boxes In 2021 Reviews
1. Thule Force XT XL – Best Overall
The Thule Force XT XL is a beast of a roof-mounted cargo box that is excellent for long road trips, weekend excursions, and even just every day use. We love the Force XT XL and have chosen it as our number one pick because of the huge amount of space efficiency. The XL, reviewed here, has 18 cubic feet of space or a remarkable amount of luggage, gear, or whatever else you can find to throw up here. The other three sizes offer volume options between 11-22 cubic feet of storage capacity to fit just about any need. Fit boards and skis up to 195cm long easily in the Thule Force XT.
For most vehicles, you will maintain full access to the trunk because of its forward position on the roof. We love the PowerClick quick-mount system that makes installation fast and secure every time. Hear the audible click and your worries melt away when your Force XT is properly tightened and in place. Though made of a sturdy plastic composite, we find this roof cargo box to be tougher than its thin appearance and very attractive on the roof in its sleek matte black color. Jam-packed with features that work and a great balance of price, we think the Thule Force XT is the best cargo carrier to have for your next adventure.
- Holds up to 165 pounds of gear (roof and crossbars withstanding) max length 195cm
- Easy to mount, easy to access with PowerClick quick-mount system and DualSide Opening
- Looks really good
- It may be tough to securely close if the cargo box is filled to max capacity
- The lock can be difficult to secure.
2. ROLA V-Text Rooftop Cargo Basket – Best Basket-style Carrier
There are a number of baskets on the market that will get the job done, however we’ve chosen the ROLA V-Text as our top pick because of it’s heavy-duty steel build, low-profile look, and its easy assembly. We love that the logo is small and less obtrusive than many other options on the market so you don’t have to turn your vehicle into a rolling billboard. Once you’ve got this cargo basket attached, it is built to last. Fit up to 130 pounds worth of your important items inside. Some have used it even to hold kayaks, tied down directly to the rack! An extender can purchased to add more total volume to your roof box if needed as well.
Like many other baskets of this type, there can be some issues with rust if water gets in to the interior. Many have found the the application of caulking at the seems will do the trick and some have even sprayed the entire basket with a waterproof coating. This little bit of modification may be worth it to you rather than spending a lot more money on Big Name cargo racks that don’t feel as solid and suffer many of the same complaints. But for a fraction of the price, we think this is an excellent choice for a basket-style roof carrier.
- Heavy duty steel makes an extremely strong build that can handle anything you want to attach to it.
- Easy to assemble and attach to your existing cross-bars
- Small and unobtrusive logo that can be removed or easily covered up.
- May need to add some waterproofing to keep the basket from rusting.
- Adds a degree of wind noise at highway speeds.
3. RoofBag Rooftop Cargo Carrier – Best Soft-Sided
So what if you don’t have a roof rack system already installed on your roof. That doesn’t have to disqualify you from hauling around more stuff than would otherwise fit in your vehicle. The RoofBag Rooftop Cargo Carrier is a cargo bag over-designed for the rigors of regular driving and weather to help get you and everything you need from here to there no matter what car you have (with a 58” roof length minimum). With 15 cubic feet of interior space, put all of your lightweight and bulkier items up in this bag. We don’t recommend this option if you’re hauling sports equipment or things you may not want shifting around in there, but it is a perfect choice for camping gear, luggage, bedding, and more.
We love that this bag is really designed to handle everything you may throw at it. It is made of heavy duty tear-resistant fabric that was made to withstand temperatures from -40-120 degrees Fahrenheit; 90 mph winds, snow, and dust; UV damage; and is waterproof thanks to waterproof coated zippers and unexposed stitching. The straps that hold the carrier to your car when attached without a rack go through the inside of your door, but are rated to 3000lbs and do not interfere with the seal of your door closing. Water resistant coating helps wick any precipitation away so it ends up outside of your car, not in it. It’s an inexpensive option for medium sized sedans and larger and loaded with features to make this functional and flexible.
- Easy to store, easy to install, and easy to haul for any at least mid-size vehicle.
- Mostly waterproof, heavy-duty design jam packed with safety features. They’ve addressed everything in this soft sided bag.
- Extra road noise from fabric.
- Can’t lock it up when you leave your car.
4. Thule Motion XT L – Best Premium Cargo Carrier
The Thule Motion XT line of cargo carriers share a lot in common with our number one pick. It’s tough to decide which is the best Thule cargo box. With the Motion XT you can expect to still benefit from the PowerClick Quick-Mount system that makes it very easy to install as well as the DualSide opening feature that allows access to your gear from either side of the vehicle. The Large size of the Motion XT (also XL and XXL available) holds 16 cubic feet of volume and still can handle up to 165 lbs. We like how roomy it feels in this rooftop cargo box, holding 3-5 boards or skis up to 175cm long.
The Motion XT comes in two glossy colors to best suit your vehicle but does show scuffs and scratches readily. We like the fiberglass construction that makes it a little lighter than the Force XT line and surprisingly quiet. The SlideLock feature is also quite nice, letting you know that your carrier is securely closed with a click before it allows you to remove the key. You can walk away knowing your belongings are secure every time. Unfortunately for this carrier, the lock is perhaps its greatest downfall when it is not working properly. If the box has not gotten a proper seal for any reason (overfull, misaligned, etc), forcing the key can often lead to large cracks that cost quite a lot to repair.
- Design and colors look sharp atop your SUV or van.
- Lightweight, quiet, and very roomy
- DualSide opening feature for easy access and Thule PowerClick Quick-Mount System for easy installation.
- SlideLock feature lets you know your items are securely locked inside.
- Fiberglass construction lends itself to cracks more easily than some other materials
5. SportRack Vista XL – Best Bang for your Buck
While the SportRack Vista XL may not be the least pricy model on our list, it does top our list at providing the most features at a comparably low price. This roof-mounted carrier really does great at hanging with some of the offerings from the Big Name Brands with fast, easy installation and18 cubic feet of almost waterproof storage. Holes pre-drilled for the mounting hardware don’t make this box fully waterproof, but it does come with water resistant vinyl coverings for the holes you don’t use to help keep water out. Even when a little water gets in, most users find their items stay very dry inside.
Notably on the Vista XL, the box opens from the rear rather than one or both sides. The idea is to keep you away from adjacent traffic and also to provide a built-in step stool (your bumper) to access your items. That said, you would expect this box to do a great job of remaining closed on the highway because of its orientation, though many users find they need to add ratchet straps for a little more security. It’s slightly boxier shape also makes this carrier a little noisier on top of the car and a little harder on your gas mileage. Want a more aerodynamic cargo box? See below for our next pick.
- Durable, strong, and great volume inside
- Rear opening for extra safety comes with locking system as well
- Great Value
- Not fully waterproof
- Slightly boxier shape adds to road noise reduces MPG
6. Yakima Skybox Lo Carbonite– Most Aerodynamic
The Yakima Skybox Carbonite is quiet, dry, and durable. We are reviewing the lo version of this cargo box as the lower sitting Carbonite lid looks nicer and adds to the reduced wind-resistance over your car. The lid also is built with internal stiffeners to increase its durability and and make this box easier to open and close. We like the dual-sided opening for easy access to the cargo area. Somehow this sleek Yakima Skybox contains 15 cubic feet of storage space—plenty of room for snowboards or skis or gear for up to three people.
The Yakima Skybox Lo comes completely assembled out of the box with the quick-release mounting system hardware needed for installation. Unfortunately, the only concern keeping this cargo box from reaching higher on our list is the unreliable performance of the SuperLatch security system. We strongly recommend adding extra straps to ensure that the Yakima Skybox stays safely closed at highway speeds. The latches that hold it together are made of plastic instead of a stronger material.
- Aerodynamic and visually appealing shape really cuts down on road noise and gas mileage drain
- Carbonite textured lid reinforced with lid stiffeners to add strength and support.
- The locking mechanism can be improved
- Not fully waterproof
7. Jegs Rooftop Cargo Carrier – Best Budget Large Volume Case
This plastic hardshell carrier is a great choice for the budget conscious buyer who may not be using external storage very often. We love that it is a waterproof cargo box with still 18 cubic feet of volume. Go ahead and take everything with you. It is tall and opens wide to help you fit in just about anything you need, though still has a tapered, aerodynamic design. Like the Thule brand cases above, it opens from either side of the car, again to help you load and access your gear efficiently.
There have been a few sacrifices to keep this carrier at such a reasonable price point. The weight limit is only 110 pounds, often 50+ pounds less than many comparably sized cargo roof boxes. The plastic is thinner than some other offerings and feels that way. Luckily this cargo box does not perform that way and is surprisingly durable. The Jegs carrier has been designed to be easy to install as well. When the system works, it works great. However, a small set of users have found that the installation hardware arrives damaged making it very difficult to get properly positioned on your cross-bars. This is a small but notable subset of people and definitely something to watch out for.
- Lightweight—only 28 pounds when empty
- Dual sided opening for easy access
- Weather-tight seal to keep cargo dry
- The thinner plastic may warp in the elements.
8. SportRack Alpine – Best for Winter Sports Gear
SportRack’s second appearance on our list is for the Alpine cargo carrier. It’s long and narrow shape is perfectly designed to carry all of the winter sports gear and ski equipment you need. It is the best roof box for skis that is not oversized. The Alpine holds 3-5 pairs of skis up to 210cm long or 2-3 snowboards in a durable, impact resistant case. The low profile is attractive and lightweight at less than 30 pounds empty. It doesn’t have the same volume capacity as many of the larger offerings giving only 11 cubic feet of room, but it is a perfect choice for those with long skis who don’t need a giant roof box.
We found that this compact though robust case was quite fuel-efficient and did not add much additional noise to the journey. Even if you’re not bringing along winter or water sports equipment, this smaller volume roof box is a great choice for a few campers or a well packed journey. Though the narrow width and lower top makes it less than ideal for packing larger luggage. It holds up nicely through wind and inclement weather and is well secured when properly installed with the included bracket system. It opens from the passenger side of the vehicle to keep you away from traffic and has a centralized lock to keep your items safe.
- Lots of space for your long skis and snowboards without adding massive volume that could be unnecessary.
- Rugged construction doesn’t feel flimsy whether packed or unpacked.
- Skinny unit is light and does not adversely affect mpg too much.
- The locking mechanism can be finicky.
- Awkwardly shaped bottom does not lend itself easily to flat-bottomed items.
9. Thule SideKick – Best for Small Loads
The Thule SideKick is the smallest offering on our list and works best for compact loads like golf clubs, duffel bags and backpacks, or camping items. At only 16 pounds unloaded, this compact case gives 8 additional cubic feet of volume to the space in your car and is great for either smaller vehicles or vehicles with a smaller roof weight limit. The polyethylene shell is tough and resistant to impact while also being very water resistant. It is easier for a single person to install than many of the larger, more awkward sized cases and goes onto your rack quickly without tools.
The Thule SideKick is very easy to use and can even be operated with one hand from the passenger side of the vehicle. The lid stays in place when you open it to grant you the most access to whatever you have stored inside. We love the Thule’s SideKick’s small-but-mighty offerings for the user just looking to free up some space in the vehicle for camp-trips or visiting loved ones.
- Very small effect on your car due to its comparatively petite size.
- Easy to install and remove—even with only one person
- Very affordable option from a leading brand in the industry.
- The lid may not latch properly if overfull.
- Some tricky assembly required out of the box before the first use.
If it’s your first time purchasing a roof cargo system, or if you’re just looking to upgrade the one you already have, there are a number of factors that will help you to shape the decision on the best cargo carrier for you. How much additional space do you need? How will it mount to your vehicle? What will you be storing and how often will you be using the cargo carrier. Read on for all of the background necessary to make the right choice for your needs. I highly recommend you to also check our post about the best car roof carriers to store your luggage. Also, if you want to know more about the difference of a Yakima vs Thule cargo box, I recommend you to check our recent post about it.
Style and Materials
There are three main types of cargo carriers on the market. You can find hard top, soft top, and basket style carriers that all have their main pros and cons. Hard-top cargo roof boxes will offer the most protection and durability. These are made from plastic, Carbonite, metal, or fiberglass depending on the brand and style you choose. Many come with locking mechanisms to keep your essential cargo secure if you have to leave your car unattended.
Soft cargo bags are made of fabric that is generally much easier to store. Some of the best features about soft cargo bags is that they cost less than the more solid hard cases, are easier to store when not in use, and that you don’t always need a cargo-ready vehicle to transport them. While the other options will require roof rails and cross-bars to securely mount to the roof, many soft cargo carriers can sit directly on the roof and strap through the car. This is especially useful on smaller cars that may not come with the hardware needed to install a full rack on top. Go ahead and load up that sedan to turn it into an adventure machine.
Cargo baskets mount to the rails and cross-bars on top of your vehicle and are an open container in which to put your gear. You’re limited here not by space, but purely by the roof weight capacity of your car. You’ll need ropes, bungees, or some other way to secure your items in the basket so they don’t fly away in transport. While these are great for lighter, bulky items, they don’t offer any protection from the elements. And you’ll have to be very confident in your ability to make sure all of your gear is appropriately tied down to not lose anything on the highway.
As discussed above, most cargo carriers will need to be installed on existing rails and cross-bars on your vehicle. That said, most hard-top cargo boxes use U-rings to install which will take some time to install and take off. This may not be the best option if you need to take your carrier off and on often, but the time becomes less of an issue if you plan to keep it on for longer stretches at a time. Some carriers such as the Thule Force XT have quick release systems that are faster and more user friendly to install and remove. Consider an option like this if it is important to you to be able to quickly remove your roof box such as for a car that won’t fit vertically into your garage with the additional height. Soft carrying cases are generally easy to remove and store which is great news—you’ll likely have to take it off to unpack it when you get to your location(s). You might also experience getting to a muddy road during your travel, so we have listed some best hitch mounted winches you can choose from to pull your vehicle out.
If you’ll often be away from your vehicle with your cargo carriers loaded or partially loaded, security will be an important option to consider. For soft cases with no security built in, an added padlock through the zippers will provide a deterrent for those looking for an easy target. However, it will not stop a determined thief from just slashing a hole in the material itself to get to your goods.
A hard-shelled cargo case will vary in the levels of security offered. Various styles of locking systems exist in premium brands and many of the carriers we recommend below. These will do better to protect your items while you are away. Technology varies widely from brand to brand, some even include features to prevent you from accidentally locking the keys inside or to remove the possibility that you forget to lock up before leaving.
Weight and Shape
What are you looking to outsource to the exterior of your vehicle most often? While most roof carriers are not fit to carry things that are very long (such as fishing poles), they are excellent at carrying skis, snowboards, and other gear that is awkward and unwieldy to put inside of the car itself. Many can fit full size luggage or carryon size bags. Look for a cargo carrier designed for your most used cargo. Hard-shell cargo cases are better for bringing along equipment but soft bags will do great at holding more bags and miscellaneous items that aren’t too fragile. Make sure the volume specs are long or wide enough to fit your gear. No matter what you’re bringing along, all of these carriers should contain your bulky but lighter items.
While all of these carriers have weight limits, more often than not you’ll be limited by the maximum roof weight limit of your vehicle. Don’t forget to factor in the weight of the carrier itself when you are making sure you’re coming in under the recommended weight limit which could be over 50 pounds for some of the largest cargo carriers. Check the manual of your vehicle or do a quick google search to find out how much weight your vehicle can handle.
Aerodynamics and Gas Mileage
I would be remiss not to include at least a little addressing concerns about drag or air resistance and the effect of your roof-mounted cargo on your vehicle’s gas mileage. The freeform openness of basket carriers will vary widely based on how you pack them. Modern hard-shell mounts are designed with aerodynamics in mind, but still the additional height on top of the vehicle will add a little resistance.
Even at highway speeds, you will only sacrifice generally a few miles per gallon. Likely you’ll hardly notice the effect of the roof mount when you factor in all of the additional weight of cargo and people inside the car. Driving a few mph slower will help recover some of the miles per gallon lost to the altered shape of your vehicle. Soft bags generally do not have such a well thought out aerodynamic shape. You can help the effects of these on your car’s mileage by packing heavier items towards the rear of the car.
With any of these cargo carriers atop your roof, you’re sure to have tons more room for passengers and snacks for your next excursion. We’ve picked the Thule Force XT as our top rated roof-mounted cargo rack because it is full of features that will make you want to keep it on almost all of the time. It has great volume, is easy to access from either side of the vehicle, and is very easy to put on and remove. We love the way it looks on top of the vehicle and that there is a very low chance of it interfering with your access to the rear hatch in any way. No matter if you’re loading up sports gear, camping equipment, or even moving cross-country, there’s room for everything in the Thule Force XT.
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