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If you’ve never ventured into the internet wormhole of overlanding vehicles, you’re seriously missing out. Adventure-seekers have equipped everything from Jeeps to one-ton trucks and luxury SUVs with meaty tires, roof tents, and granny gears capable of scaling the most rugged terrain imaginable. Hard-core builds like that are expensive and impractical in most real-world driving scenarios, but you can get a taste of that lifestyle with a simple roof rack. According to our mathematicians, adding a roof rack to your vehicle makes it look at least 20 percent cooler–and that increases to 30 percent if you drive a wagon. Better yet, there are styles to fit your vehicle and storage needs regardless of what you drive.

Should you get an open roof rack, a soft case, or a highway-ready aero box? It’s hard to go wrong. Dig into these tasty recommendations and give your car extra cargo room. Maybe you’ll score some style points, while you’re at it.

Mockins roof rack 

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This Mockins cargo carrier is ready for all of your adventures. The metal roof rack can be collapsed to 43 inches in length or extended to 64 inches to fit your car’s roof. Store luggage, boxes, and other belongings in the carrier and secure them with the provided ratchet straps or cargo net. For extra protection against the elements, use the included waterproof bag. Integrated straps compress this soft case for a snug, secure fit. Mounting hardware is included, but you’ll need to install roof rails before using this rack. This do-it-all roof rack is the most versatile option on our list, and it looks right at home on everything from city-dwelling hatchbacks to Baja-bound trucks. Now, go chase that horizon and take the back roads. [Buy]

ToolGuards roof bag  

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This ToolGuards roof bag is perfect for those of you who don’t want to mess with adding roof rails to your car, but still need a safe place to keep extra luggage or gear. Unlike most roof racks, this bag uses straps to fasten it directly to your car’s door openings. If you happen to have rails or a luggage rack, buckled straps are provided as well. Place the provided protective mat between the bag and your car’s roof to protect your paint. The soft case itself is waterproof and uses reinforced anchor points for each tie-down. It can be opened all the way to provide 20 cubic feet of space, or partially rolled up for 15 cubic feet on smaller vehicles. Since this carrier sits directly on your car, you’ll want to be especially careful about how much weight you load into it. [Buy]

SportRack Vista XL

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It’s nice to know that you can get a locking rooftop carrier like the SportRack Vista XL without approaching four-digit price tags. Mount this system to any style of crossbar without tools to add 18 cubic feet of storage to your vehicle. Its external dimensions measure 38 inches wide, 63 inches long, and 19 inches high, with a weight limit of 100 pounds. The hard shell bolts onto your existing crossbars with provided hardware and locks for peace of mind. Hinges at the front of the carrier make it easy to access from the rear and avoid traffic in the event you need to open the case on the side of the road. This large-capacity roof rack is a strong, affordable way to carry extra belongings on your car, but it isn’t quite as aerodynamic as premium options, so expect a decrease in fuel economy. [Buy]

Yakima RocketBox Pro 12 

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The Yakima RocketBox Pro is the perfect solution for people who want a compact rooftop carrier with high-end features. This 12-cubic-foot travel box mounts to crossbars already installed to your car’s roof rails. If you need either, Yakima has you covered with systems for nearly any vehicle (available separately). Knobs inside the roof rack let you install it onto your vehicle or remove it without tools. This is Yakima’s smallest rooftop carrier, and it’s small enough for compact cars and hatchbacks. Its overall dimensions are 36 inches wide, 58 inches long, and 16 inches tall. The integrated locking mechanism lets you secure your belongings while you’re away, and a release button pops the lid for easy access when unlocked. You’ll pay a little more for this one, but it provides superior quality compared to most car carriers of this size. [Buy]

Thule Motion XT

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Thule (pronounced TOO-ly in North America) provides the premium pick on this list with their Motion XT rooftop carrier. Available in a massive 22-cubic-foot size, it’s also the most roomy cargo carrier here. It’s designed for larger vehicles with plenty of roof space, and measures 37.5 inches wide, 91.5 inches long, and 18 inches tall. That’s enough to fit up to seven pairs of skis or five snowboards. Next time you take a road trip, you can also load up to 165 pounds of luggage. Audible clicks let you know when it’s been tightened securely to your crossbeams and when the lid has been securely closed. Center-mounted hinges let you open this carrier from either side. Fuel efficiency isn’t as much of an issue as you’d expect, thanks to lightweight fiberglass construction and advanced aerodynamics. Yes, the price is steep; and yes, it’s probably the nicest roof rack you can buy. [Buy]

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Types of roof racks

Roof racks cover just about any storage needs you have for your car. While you can certainly find purpose-built solutions for things like skis, kayaks, and bicycles, we love the versatility of roof racks that increase your vehicle’s cargo capacity. The most basic option is the classic open-top luggage rack. Just load one of these up, secure your cargo with tie-downs, and be on your way. Add some weatherproofing with a soft case that ties to your car for easy installation and removal. At the top of the food chain are hard cases that lock to keep out more than the weather. Advanced aerodynamics make high-end travel cases less of a strain on fuel mileage than their clunky predecessors. 

Key features of roof racks

  • Type: What separates roof racks is the amount of protection they offer, ranging from what are basically open metal baskets to sleek, enclosed trunks. Which option you choose will depend on what you plan on storing.
  • Mounting points: One of the first things you need to consider is how you’ll actually mount a roof rack to your car. Check with your car’s manufacturer and various roof rack manufacturers to determine the compatibility of each rack you’re interested in.
  • Capacity: Adding a roof rack is a great way to score extra storage space, but not all options are created equal. Think about space in terms of cubic feet, but don’t forget to make sure the shape works for specific items you want to carry.
  • Weight limit: Every roof rack has a weight limit. So do rail systems, and so does your car. Whichever is lowest will become your effective weight limit. Don’t push it by overloading any of these components. 
  • Aerodynamics: Crawling down rocky trails with a pile of exposed gear won’t affect your fuel mileage, but blasting down the highway certainly will. If you plan on doing longer trips at speed, you’ll probably want to think about how much a roof rack will reduce your fuel efficiency. 

Benefits of roof racks

Roof racks add large amounts of storage space to your car. They can make a compact car much more usable, and keep dirty cargo away from your clean interior. Even a three-row SUV can get crowded if everyone inside brings a suitcase or sports equipment along for the ride. By moving cargo to the roof, you free up valuable interior space that can make a road trip or daily driving much more pleasant. Roof racks are also a great way to preserve the value of your car. That snowy ski gear might fit inside your car, but it’s also going to create a puddle hell-bent on creating rust and mildew by the time you leave the parking lot. 

Roof rack pricing

You can add a soft rooftop case to your car for about $100. This kind of roof rack goes on and comes off easily, and doesn’t require any kind of rail system. If you need a little extra space every so often, these are tough to beat. For about $150, you can get a metal roof rack where you can tie down luggage, tools, and sports equipment. These solutions will require a compatible rail system, but we found options that come with everything else you need. The most secure option is a hard case mounted on your vehicle’s roof rails. This kind of roof rack starts around $350 and can exceed $1,500 for the most deluxe options. For the extra money, you’ll get a safe place to lock your belongings and improved aerodynamics. 

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