Today’s cargo carriers are sleek enough to work with the aesthetics of your vehicle without sabotaging your gas mileage. All you need is a roof rack—though sometimes you don’t even need that—and you can add cargo capacity to the top of your car without looking like the Beverly Hillbillies.
See quick reviews below of five of the best options, then scroll deeper for longer reviews of these and other rooftop carriers, plus helpful buying advice.
Types of Rooftop Cargo Carriers
This is what most people picture when they think of a cargo carrier. Also called rocket boxes (technically a model name used by Yakima that has become the Kleenex of the rooftop cargo space), these are hard sided, often heavy, and secure. They provide the most safety for your gear, keeping it in an enclosed shell and out of the elements. Many of them also have lockable lids and rack/bar attachments. A box can take some fiddling to get on your car’s roof, but once it’s up there, it’s easy to use, requiring no tying of ropes or cinching of straps to keep your stuff from flying away. For the drawbacks: Despite fairly aerodynamic designs, boxes will stick out into the wind, impacting your gas mileage and noise levels with the increased drag. They also tend to be the most expensive kind of cargo carriers.
If your car doesn’t have a roof rack and you can’t justify altering your vehicle to accommodate one, or it does but you want to keep things simple, consider a soft-sided carrier. These lash down to the very top of your roof using straps that either attach to mounting points on your rack or loop through your windows. Soft-sided bags are typically lighter, easier to store, and flexible enough to accommodate bulky or oddly shaped items. Downsides include faster wear, damage to the window weather stripping over time, and the higher likelihood of scratching your car’s paint. They also get pretty blocky when stuffed, presenting a wide, drag-increasing surface to the wind.
Simply put, these are big metal baskets. They leave your gear open to the rain, sun, and wind, making them better for transport but worse for all-weather storage. Baskets also demand cam straps or at least a rope to tie down whatever you carry in them. But their lack of solid bodies make them relatively aerodynamic and less likely to drag down your miles per gallon. Plus, the low profiles mean that, once you unload the gear from them, they’re more likely to fit into a garage without needing to be removed. Baskets are also hardy, and cheaper than boxes.
If you’re going to be transporting mostly one thing or anything that won’t fit in a box, bag, or basket—say a kayak, fishing poles, or bike—you’ll want to get a carrier built for that object. We’ve included some options toward the bottom here, such as the Ikuram R for watercraft and Thule ProRide XT bike rack. And not all can be left on the top of your car if you park it in a garage given the height. Still, they work better than anything else for their specific gear and often aren’t as expensive as a box.
Things to Consider Before You Buy
First, if your car doesn’t have a factory-installed rack that works with the carrier you want (or it doesn’t have one at all), you’ll need to purchase one. Either way, it’s important to check your owner’s manual or the vehicle’s manufacturing website to determine the weight capacity of your car’s roof.
Next, consider the physical dimensions of the box, bag, or basket relative to the roof. Will it fit without hanging over the front or back? Is it long enough to accommodate what you want to use it for—like, say, a couple of pairs of skis? If you have a hatch, will it open unencumbered or will the carrier get in the way? How much height will it add to your vehicle? This is especially important for anyone who wants to pull into a garage without having to remove the box each time. Before purchasing, check the manufacturer’s website for information like load restrictions, dimensions, and even images for how the model looks on different styles of cars.
Also, look at the carrier’s shape. If you plan on making it a semi-permanent addition to your vehicle or you spend most of your time on highways, consider something that’s more aerodynamic and less boxy. You’ll likely pay a little more up front, but what you spend on the streamlined carrier, you’ll save in gas.
Other Features to Look For
If you choose a box, consider how and from which end it opens. When reaching overhead or across the roof, you want a handle that’s easy to grip and operate, especially if you’re vertically challenged. And depending on your vehicle and how you access the carrier, determine whether you prefer a box that opens from the back or side. Lastly, most people shopping for a rooftop carrier prefer one that locks, allowing you to stash valuables at, say, a campsite when your only other option is inside your tent. As well, you’ll want your hard-shell carrier to be water-tight or your soft-sided bag to be waterproof.
What Type of Mounting System Do You Want?
In general, your cargo carrier will either be very easy to pop on and off or it will take a little more time and some tools if you want to take it or leave it. Cheaper models often use a simple u-lock system that requires a few wrenches to install (or uninstall) on your vehicle’s rack. Higher-quality options, like those from Thule and Yakima, use tool-free mounting systems that are a breeze to operate.
How We Evaluated
I’ve been an avid outdoorsman for more than 20 years, and my vehicles are almost always loaded with ski, mountain biking, camping, and backpacking gear. As a product tester who has also written for Outside, Men’s Journal, and other outdoor publications, I’ve used and tested many of the products on this list, or ones similar to these. Based on that experience, and my own research, I’ve recommended the top cargo carriers for various sports and activities, looking closely at their features, performance, price, value, and customer feedback.
Yakima Skybox 16 Carbonite
Volume: 16 cu ft. | Weight: 75 lb. | Dimensions: 90 x 36 x 20 in.
The Skybox affords aerodynamic storage and enough room for a lot of gear. While the price isn’t the absolute lowest, the quality and size make this the best value we know of in a hard-sided cargo box. The lid is reinforced with stiffeners to keep it from warping or buzzing at highway speeds, and the box opens from both sides. Plus, it’s made with 80 percent recycled materials.
Experts at Outdoor Gear Lab loved the balance of features. “SkyBox does a great job of keeping our gear safe, secure, and easily accessible, all at a price that leaves you some money left over to buy gear to fill it.”
Volume: 8 cu ft. | Weight: 16 lb. | Dimensions: 54 x 25 x 15.5 in.
If price is your concern over aesthetics, use, and even size, well then the Sidekick might just be for you. It’s not pretty, but with eight cubic feet of space, it will haul some of the gear you need. You may not like the one-side entry or the color scheme, but for the money it will certainly keep your gear dry and get it from one place to another on top of your vehicle. U-bolt mounting and some assembly required.
Experts weren’t impressed with the ease of use, appearance, or security when compared to other carriers but recognized the usefulness at the price. And that is something that consumers loved, accounting for much of its high score.
―BEST SPACE FOR THE MONEY―
SportRack Vista XL
Volume: 18 cu ft. | Weight: 42 lb. | Dimensions: 19 x 63 x 38 in.
The SportRack gives you a ton of space for not a ton of cash. It has a more subdued and less spaceship-like look to it than the options from Thule and Yakima, which can be great if those don’t match the design of your car. This box has front hinges, which means you won’t be able to open it from the side, only the back. While this could be a benefit in a tight ski-lodge parking lot or on the side of the road, it could test your reach over your vehicle’s tailgate, and in all likelihood you won’t be able to access your gear on top of your vehicle while the trunk is open.
Experts loved the value for the dollar, though. Travelbusy claims it’s “the biggest bargain you will find on the market in terms of value versus price.” And customers loved the amount of room. One Amazon purchaser said it was “like a black hole of space.”
Arksen Universal 43”
Capacity: 250 lb. | Weight: 37 lb. | Dimensions: 43 x 39 x 6 in.
The Universal stands out for its ease of use and mounting. The relatively small tubing around the sides provides plenty of points for tying down gear. And despite the rack’s appearance, the burly steel construction lends it some heft, and this weighs more than a couple of the boxes on this list. As with many basket-style cargo carriers, it’s aerodynamic, and the panel on the front further helps cut down on drag and wind noise by directing air over the top.
Reviewers on Amazon appreciated how Arksen includes extra screws and nuts to aid in setup and commented on how simple it was to secure the Universal to the top of their car, calling out its quality comparable to more expensive models. The writers at AutoQuarterly, who reviewed the larger 64-inch version, pointed out that the Universal’s powder-coated body isn’t rust-resistant. So if you live in a wet climate, you’ll want to take the basket off when you’re not regularly using it to keep it from corroding. Or apply your own rust-proofing before heading out.
Rola 59504 V-Tex
Capacity: 130 lb. | Weight: 54.6 lb. | Dimensions: 48 x 37.5 x 5 in.
The Arksen may be heavy, but the V-Tex is heavy. Its 54.6 pounds place it second only to the Yakima Skybox. With that weight and its thick bars, however, you get ample durability. This is the basket you want if you’re frequently questing along forest and backcountry roads (or even off road) and running the risk of it banging against low-hanging branches.
Other than that, the V-Tex is your typical simple, reliable basket. Some people who bought it commented on Amazon that they experienced some issues, namely slight misalignments of the screw holes and the suspect quality of the included screws, gaskets, and washers. But neither was a deal breaker that some elbow grease and a trip to the hardware store for better bits couldn’t fix. And other reviewers advise applying some caulking around the seams to prevent moisture from sneaking in and rusting the tubes. Despite those hang-ups, most found the V-Tex worth the price.
—BEST FOR FAMILY SKI TRIPS—
Küat Grip 6 Ski/Snowboard Rack
Capacity: 6 pairs of skis or 4 snowboards | Weight: 23 lb. | Dimensions: 49 x 3 x 9 in.
The Grip 6 is expensive, but the individual rubber blocks do a great job of securing boards of varying sizes. Its best feature, however, is the slide-out design, which allows you to pull the boards away from the car, making it easy to reach that last pair of sticks on the inside of the rack without having to climb on top of your car. Reviewers have also noted how easy it is to open the rack and access skis without taking off gloves. The metallic finish looks good on top of your car, and the FlipMount system makes installing the rack on your car a breeze—you only have to adjust the tension the first time you mount it, and it locks to your rack so nobody can walk off with it. The Grip 6 holds six sets of skis or four snowboards. If you need a smaller rack, check out the $429 Küat Grip 4.
—VERSATILE WATER SPORTS CARRIER—
Ikuram R Kayak/Surf/Ski Roof Carrier Rack
Capacity: Kayaks up to 42 in. wide and 158 lb. | Weight: 21.3 lb. | Dimensions: 20.3 x 14.6 x 11.2 in.
J-style racks are popular with boaters who want to haul two kayaks on top of their car. The Ikuram R succeeds with that mission and then some, because it can also “transform” to carry paddleboards or surfboards. The J-Cradle mount fits round-, square-, or oval-shaped crossbars and can fit two kayaks vertically on the roof of your car. Or you can shift the position of the arms and carry two stand-up paddleboards or surfboards. Thick pads on the bars protect your boats and boards from scratches, and the J-arms fold down when you’re not using them. It even has paddle holders so you can transport your kayak or canoe paddles on top of the car. The rack requires some assembly, and one reviewer noted that the instructions are difficult to follow, but once the rack is on the car, most reviewers are pleased with how the racks work.
—EXCELLENT ROOFTOP BIKE CARRIER—
Thule ProRide XT Roof Bike Rack
Capacity: 1 bike | Weight: 11 lb. | Dimensions: 58 x 13.5 x 4 in.
The hardest part of using the ProRide XT is lifting your bike to the top of your car. After that, the mounting tray shifts your wheels into the ideal position and the down-tube clamp works intuitively. Bicycling editors were so impressed with the ease of use, they said this rack was the most user-friendly of the roof-mounted options they tested. In particular, they noted the clamp that secures the down tube is easy to tighten with one hand. The ProRide XT fits any crossbar rack system and accommodates road bikes, gravel bikes, mountain bikes, and—with an adaptor that is sold separately—fat bikes.
—ECONOMICAL ROOFTOP BAG—
RoofBag Rooftop Cargo Carrier
Capacity: 15 cu ft. | Weight: 8 lb. | Dimensions: 48 x 38 x 14.5 in.
There are some obvious advantages to opting for a roof bag instead of a roof box. Budget is typically at the top of that list, but bags give you the opportunity to add extra storage to the top of your car only when you need it because they’re lightweight and easy to install, and they fold up and are easy to store when they’re not in use. The RoofBag Rooftop Cargo Carrier maximizes that versatility by giving you options that work with all kinds of roof systems—factory side rails, crossbars, and baskets. There’s even a version that works with bare roofs. Choose the size of bag you need (11 cubic feet or 15 cubic feet) then the strap system to match your car’s roof. The straps are durable and rated to withstand up to 3,000 pounds of force, and the bag is made from a rip- and fire-resistant waterproof material with zipper flaps so you can drive through a storm without worrying about your gear.
—HAULS A TON OF GEAR—
Capacity: 16 cu ft. | Weight: 5.5 lb. | Dimensions: 40 x 38 x 18 in.
Thule’s Interstate takes the best aspects of a cargo bag (lightweight, easy to install) and blends them with the benefits of a cargo box thanks to the sleek, aerodynamic design that helps reduce noise and drag at high speeds. It’s not cheap, but it’s made from double-coated, phthalate-free TPE laminate material that’s durable and rated IPX3 water-resistant (which means your gear will be safe from passing rainstorms). There’s even a three-sided zipper with a storm flap that gives you weather-protected access to your gear if you need to pull something out in a storm, and a padded base that protects the top of your roof. There’s plenty of room inside, too, with 16 cubic feet of storage. The only bummer is the straps work with side rails or crossbars, but not bare roofs, so you’ll need a roof rack.
—MAXIMIZE YOUR GAS MILEAGE—
Inno Wedge 660
Capacity: 11 cu ft. | Weight: 42 lb. | Dimensions: 80 x 33 x 11 in.
Inno allows you to dial in the fit of your Wedge cargo box with sizes that run from 10.6 cubic feet of storage up to 14.1 cubic feet. Getting the right size box will help reduce drag and improve gas mileage, and Inno goes a step further with the Wedge by creating a contoured base that “sinks” into the roof rack, reducing the height of the box (it rises just 9.6 inches above your crossbars) without sacrificing storage space. The universal mounting system works with all kinds of bars, and a unique “memory” mount system streamlines the mounting process. Also a bonus: The box opens from both sides, which makes accessing your gear easy regardless of which side of the car you’re on.