The best rooftop cargo carriers for your next road trip

Adventure is made simpler with one of these rooftop cargo carriers.

Best Overall

Yakima Skybox

Yakima Skybox

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Best Value

Jegs Rooftop Cargo Carrier

Jegs Rooftop Cargo Carrier

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Editor’s Choice

Thule Pulse

Thule Pulse

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Packing everything needed for a road trip or excursion can be simpler with a rooftop cargo carrier. We’ve all seen those cars cruising around with funky-shaped boxes on the roof, and if you’re in the Pacific Northwest, they probably have more virtue signaling stickers than the bumper. They may seem goofy, but they are a great option for stowing cargo without taking up cabin and trunk space. This makes them ideal for sedans, wagons, and small SUVs when you need cabin space for passengers. The last thing you want to do is cram into your Subie for two hours to go adventuring because that means you have to cram in on the way back and that will cause major cramping. 

Not everyone needs a giant SUV capable of carrying 12 people or a truck that can tow a mountain, but that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the ability to pack gear. Rooftop cargo carriers are an excellent alternative. Most are waterproof and lockable to keep your belongings protected. They’re able to be removed when not in use, but even some are stylish. Let’s take an in-depth look at how selecting one of these could be a game-changer.

Best Overall

Yakima Skybox

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Best Value

Jegs Rooftop Cargo Carrier

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Editor’s Choice

Thule Pulse

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Best for Easy Access

Goplus Cargo Box

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Best Rooftop Ski/Snowboard Carrier

Thule Pulse Alpine

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Largest Cargo Carrier

Thule Motion XT XXL

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Best Roof Bag

RoofPax Roof Bag

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Honorable Mention

Curt Cargo Bag

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Best Storage Rack

Arksen Universal Basket

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Why you should trust us

Outdoor adventuring has been an integral part of my identity since I was a boy. I’ve packed sedans, vans, trucks, humvees, MRAPs, and countless SUVs for tons of adventures. This isn’t including the several multi-state moves that I’ve made in my pursuit of happiness. So, I feel confident in saying that I know how important having the right amount of dedicated storage space can be. As a writer for Task & Purpose, I read reviews by experts and customers so their experiences can supplement my first-hand knowledge. This is what allows me to give you the best information possible so you can make the decision that’s right for you. 

Types of rooftop cargo carriers

There are many designs for carrying cargo on the roof, and the truth is this option is not for everyone. Even more crucial to your decision-making is what you will be carrying and how frequently you’ll need to use the box. Let’s take a look at these factors so you can make an educated decision. 

Hardshell

When most people think of roof boxes, a hardshell rooftop cargo carrier is what they picture. They are made from materials or fibers that have been molded or formed into a hard container. The biggest benefit of this type of carrier is that they tend to be the most weatherproof. Because they are formed, it makes storing gear in them easier, and many feature straps to secure small gear when it isn’t fully loaded. While most only open from one side, many can open from either side. These styled boxes are slightly more secure than softshell carriers since they can be locked and aren’t sliceable. 

Softshell

A softshell carrier is made from a fabric that doesn’t maintain its form when empty. This material tends to be treated to weatherproof it, but this isn’t a guarantee that your gear will stay dry. Most of these will use zippers and open in a specific way. One advantage is that these can mount easier than hard-shell carriers, but they’re not as secure since the fabric could be cut. 

Open frame/specific frame

There are many baskets and specific use cargo carriers out there that are an option. Baskets are frames that mount to your roof and will allow you to carry custom load-outs, but they require webbing or straps to secure the gear into the basket. Examples of specific carriers are rooftop bike racks and ski racks that only carry bikes or skis. These are great options for carrying the specific tool you need, but they don’t offer versatility. 

Key features of rooftop cargo carriers 

Mounting hardware

How a cargo carrier mounts to your roof is important to look at. Each manufacturer has created its own contraption or borrowed a universal design. Thule uses prongs that tighten down onto crossbars, kind of like vice grips, that allow the boxes to be mounted to many styles and shapes of bar. Other companies use U-shaped bolts and wing nuts to secure the box to the roof. With most roof bags, you’ll be looking at straps or webbing that buckle or ratchet into place. It’s important to consider how the carrier mounts to your roof when buying. 

Open/close/locking mechanism 

As previously mentioned, not all boxes or bags open the same. Some may not even be capable of being locked, which is bad juju. Many hardshell boxes only open on the passenger side, while some open from the rear or both sides. You’ll need to keep this in mind if you’re trying to pair your cargo box with any other roof-mounted equipment, like recovery gear. Softshell bags tend to use zippers that will give you a little more freedom to access gear when it’s loaded.

Shape

The shape of a rooftop cargo carrier isn’t vitally important, but it’s not something to ignore either. From the ground, you might think the shape is just aesthetically important; after all, isn’t it supposed to look cool while storing your gear? But aside from how your gear fits in the box, it can affect fuel efficiency depending on the type of vehicle you’re driving. Additionally, the less aerodynamic the box or bag is tends to correlate with how noisy the drive will be. 

Benefits of rooftop cargo carriers 

Extra room

No matter how it boils down, buying a rooftop cargo carrier is all about having extra space in your vehicle. Small cars benefit the most from this extra storage space since there’s so little room available inside. Larger vehicles can benefit also, though, and it’s important to visualize how having that extra storage space will add to your expeditions. 

Security

Not all rooftop storage options lock, but the ones that do offer extra security. That being said, if you have a super lifted rig, it might be safe to say that your gear would be secure from a height standpoint alone. In reality, having your gear in a box or bag up top could offer extra security for vehicles that don’t have tinted windows. If they can’t see what you have, then a thief’s desire for it can’t be that great. 

Sticker space

People love to show off their favorite things by putting stickers on stuff. It’s a fact, Jack. Star Wars, Harry Potter, guns, beer, and even PETA make stickers for people to show off their passions. We all go through that phase of putting them on our car’s paint before we realize it’s not such a great idea. By having a roof box, you have added precious sticker space to your ride. So let that freak flag fly and stick ‘em up. 

Pricing considerations for rooftop cargo carriers

Budget

If you’re looking to budget out an expense, then I’d encourage you to stick below $300. This gives you an array of options in the different categories without getting whacky. 

Mid-range

Moderately priced cargo carriers can be found between $300 and $1,000. You will be able to find excellent options that may take a month or two to save for, but they’ll last as long as you need them. 

Premium

Anything over $1,000 is expensive and mostly for status. These are for the professional adventurer who must count on performance in order to survive. 

How we chose our top picks

Selecting cargo carriers was done with specific criteria in mind. All of the carriers were only selected from reputable companies. Each had to have performance specs that could be verified and were reliable. Products with unrealistic claims or pricing were not considered. Specialized cargo carriers were only selected for certain categories, making the other category selections ideal for multi-uses so you get the most bang for your buck.

FAQs on rooftop cargo carriers

You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

Q. Can I fit a roof box to a rental car?

A. Yes, but make sure it has side rails and crossbars. Some rental companies even offer racks as an option. 

Q. Are roof boxes waterproof?

A. Some are. Make sure to read up on the box you plan to purchase to see if that model is or isn’t. 

Q. Do I need roof bars for a roof box?

A. Yes. 

Q. Are roof boxes secure? 

A. Yes. Most hardshell models have locking features and can be as secure as your vehicle.

Q. Are roof boxes noisy?

A. They can be, but it depends on the shape of the box. 

Q. How can I store my roof box when I’m not using it?

A. Preferably, you should store it where it can’t be damaged and won’t develop mold or mildew. This will be different for everyone. 

Q. How do you clean a roof box?

A. Unless the owner’s manual says otherwise, you should clean them just like you would your car. 

Q. What can you put in a roof box?

A. If it fits, it ships!

Q. How much weight can a roof box take?

A. While most can carry at least 100 pounds, read the owner’s manual to find your model’s rating. 

Q. Do roof boxes have a light?

A. High-end models may have lights. You could also install a light into a less expensive model if you wanted to. 

Q. Do roof boxes increase fuel consumption?

A. It seems that smaller cars are impacted more, but adding anything to the top of your vehicle is bound to impact your fuel economy. 

Q. Can you drive with an empty roof box?

A. Yes. 

Q. Can a roof box overhang?

A. It is not advisable. If the box hangs over in the back, then you’re at risk of hitting the back gate/door.

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Scott Whisler is a Marine Corps veteran and family man. He’s an avid student of philosophy who strives for self-growth and challenge, both found in his outdoor adventures.  As a new Okie, his focus is on exploring the South Central region. His lifetime goal is to have excursions in all of the National Parks.

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Scott Whisler

Contributing Writer

Scott Whisler is a Marine Corps veteran and family man. He’s an avid student of philosophy who strives for self-growth and challenge, both found in his outdoor adventures.  As a new Okie, his focus is on exploring the South Central region. His lifetime goal is to have excursions in all of the National Parks.