Photo Credit: BlackSnake/Shutterstock

If you need more cargo carrying capacity for your car, there are a lot of practical options for you that can be installed right on your car’s roof. When looking for the best roof cargo carrier, you need to first figure out what kind of cargo you’re going to be carrying.

Not all cargo carriers are the same and there are different products out there for different purposes: there are travel bags, roof baskets, and cargo boxes. They all have their own strengths and weaknesses, but they are all mounted on a roof rack or roof rails. The following options are among the best cargo carriers, roof boxes, and roof baskets you can buy. Make sure you pick the right one for your specific needs.

Updated 11/13/2020 with new information and images on certain products.13

1. Editor's Pick: Yakima Skybox Carbonite Cargo Box

yakima skybox rooftop cargo box

The cargo carrier is one of the most versatile solutions from Yakima. It is available in various sizes: 12-, 15-, 16-, 18-, and 21-cubic feet options. One of the best parts is that this Yakima roof box doesn’t require tools to install.

Made with a practical design, the Skybox offers a design that can open on each side. Made with the Superlatch system, the carrier also protects against theft with a lockable top.

In its longest length, the carrier is truly versatile and it represents a solution both for summertime and wintertime needs. This roof box can even fit full-size snowboards. But Yakima is always taking their products a step further and this can be seen with the environmental approach of the cargo carrier. It is made with mostly recycled materials for a lower impact on the environment.

Read More Roof Rails and Roof Racks: Everything You Need to Know

2. Best Overall Value: SHIELD JACKET Cargo Travel Bag

shield jacket waterproof roof top cargo luggage travel bag

Made with a textile bag design, this cargo carrier is a good option for drivers. Its main advantage comes with its soft covers that allow you to carry objects that might be oddly shaped and that might not fit under hard cover cargo carriers. The total 425-liter capacity of the cargo carrier places it among the larger options in this class. A huge benefit of having a roof bag and not a hard top solution is storage — it’s easy to fold flat and won’t take up a lot of space in your garage when you’re not using it.

With vinyl materials, the carrier is completely waterproof, which is good if you live in a place that gets rainy conditions or even winter weather. In terms of security, the cargo carrier comes with 8 straps that are adjustable so that it can be anchored into position. With a capacity of 15 cubic feet, the large cargo travel bag is a good solution for families, campers, or road trippers that need improved transportation capacity.

Read More Top 15 Best Roof Rails and Roof Racks

3. Easiest to Use: Leader Accessories Rooftop Cargo Bag

leader accessories rooftop cargo bag

Designed as one of the most practical soft-top solutions, the Cargo Bag is easy to use. You simply place your cargo inside the bag and zip it closed. Securing the bag to the roof of the car is done with two adjustable straps. This carrier is made with a waterproof design. Made to be an efficient carrying solution and an alternative to the more permanent hard top roof cargo carriers, it is easy to use and store, as it folds completely flat.

4. Best for Storage: Thule Sidekick Cargo Box

thule sidekick rooftop cargo box

If you are looking for a compact cargo carrier, the Sidekick comes as a practical solution. Made to meet the needs of travelers who want to avoid larger designs without sacrificing practicality, the cargo carrier is a top solution with its eight-cubic feet capacity. With a length of 48 inches, it will not cover the entire surface of the roof on most mid-sized cars and it also won’t create too much wind resistance.

The carrier comes with a self-standing top lid (so you can load it easily) and a simple locking mechanism to keep your belongings safe. It is also durable and it represents a solution that can be used in all seasons. With a weight of 18 lbs, you should also be able to install it yourself.

5. Best for Camping Gear: EGO BIKE Universal Roof Rack

ego bike universal roof rack

If you are a fan of roof baskets but you need an extended design, the EGO BIKE rack can be one of the leading solutions. With a durable metal construction and a simple mounting system using only four bolts, it is a practical solution for hauling different types of cargo. Still, you will need a cargo net and straps to secure your cargo.

Since there are no moving parts, it is highly durable when compared to other similar roof cargo carriers. With a height of just 6-1/2 inches, the cargo carrier can be rigged up to hold luggage or even bikes and skiing equipment.

Read More Best Affordable Bike Racks

6. Best for Sporting Equipment: Thule Pulse Cargo Box

thule 614 pulse rack

With a taller profile compared to the Force Cargo, the Pulse Cargo offers one of the best solutions for extra carrying space. It is available in 11, 14, and 15 cubic feet. It is made to handle weights of up to 110 lbs in all versions and can even hold ski equipment. Depending on the size of your Cargo Box, you can fit between four and eight pairs of skis in the box.

With a self-standing lid design and an integrated anti-theft locking mechanism with keys, it is a practical solution for the adventurous drivers who need a safe place to store their ski equipment. Made from ABS plastic, the Pulse Cargo Box is also a durable solution to be considered during harsh weather conditions as well.

7. RoofBag Cargo Carrier Bag

roofbag rooftop cargo carrier bag

The RoofBag Cargo Carrier Bag has a simple, yet effective design. Manufactured in the U.S., these roof cargo carriers are 100-percent waterproof and feature Triple-Seal technology for maximum protection in extreme weather. Offering 15 cubic feet of storage, this option works on any vehicle with side rails, cross bars, or even without a roof rack. It uses a secure waterproof strap system with buckles for easy access.

Constructed from heavy duty polyester that has been liquid-coated with vinyl on both sides, this cargo carrier does a fantastic job at resisting heat and cold. Easy and quick installation with plenty of storage, this is a versatile option for those on a budget.

Read More Top 13 Best Car Bike Racks

8. ARKSEN Universal Roof Rack

arksen roof rack

With a universal design and a metal construction, this luggage carrier is one of the simplest and most durable designs on the market. It represents a solution that is easy to use and even looks a bit retro. Made with a metal frame with a length of 43 inches and a width of 39 inches, the carrier is easy to store when not in use due to its compact size. This roof basket is a great option for carrying cargo, but it requires additional straps and cargo nets to make sure your cargo is secure. This is a great option for drivers who don’t experience too much rain or snow.

Read More Thule Roof Box Review

9. Thule Force Cargo Box

thule force cargo box

Thule’s Cargo Box is one of the most versatile premium designs for cargo loading. It comes in various sizes from 13 cubic feet and beyond 21 cubic feet with its Alpine version for winter sports equipment. Like all modern Thule products, it’s intuitive to use with the Quick-Grip mounting hardware.

Made with a design that opens on both sides, it represents a great solution for active people who need to transport camping gear or sporting equipment. To mount the box, you don’t need a Thule roof rack, as it can be used on all types of roof racks from any manufacturer. The cargo carrier is easy to install and it maintains the same built-in lock from the manufacturer to protect your belongings against theft.

10. JEGS Performance Products Rooftop Cargo Carrier

jegs performance products rooftop cargo carrier

This JEGS Performance Products cargo box is a compact and easy-to-mount solution that comes with impressive overall durability and can be a good addition for up to 110 lbs of cargo weight. Since it is small, it will not require the entire surface of the roof and you will be able to mount it yourself. With a weight of 28 lbs and a length of 39 inches, it is quick to mount and unmount and it doesn’t even require too much storage space when not in use. As for its practicality, it comes with a self-standing top lid and with a built-in lock with keys.

Read More Top 10 Best Hitch Cargo Carriers

Everything You Need to Know About Cargo Carriers

cargo carriers roof boxes for cars

Photo Credit: Dmitry Galaganov/Shutterstock

Cargo carriers are a practical method to transport your luggage and sporting goods and increase the cargo capacity of your car. They are installed on roof racks or hitches and they come in different shapes and sizes. The main purpose of a cargo carrier is to expand the load capacity of your car for items that might not fit inside.

Depending on the type of cargo you plan to carry, you can select a carrier that is specifically made for your needs. For example, if you want to carry lightweight items that can even be larger in volume such as sleeping bags, a roof bag can be all you need.

If you want to carry larger equipment that can be secured with bungee cords, you can select a rooftop basket. If you need increased carrying capacity for various objects and sports equipment, a rooftop box will work wonders. Rooftop boxes come in various shapes and sizes and most quality options are made with a built-in lock for extra security. If you do not have a roof rack to work with, a hitch-mounted cargo carrier can be an alternative. The main types of cargo carriers include:

  • Roof bags
  • Rooftop baskets
  • Rooftop boxes
  • Hitch-mounted cargo carriers

These options are made with their own strengths and weaknesses and there is a type of cargo carrier for every need and type of vehicle.

Advantages of Roof Bags

Roof bags are typically made from heavy-duty waterproof textiles. They can be easily mounted by a single person since they are not too heavy and they can come with a carrying capacity of around 15 cubic feet. The main advantages of roof bags include:

  • A lightweight profile recommended for easy setup using securing straps
  • Around 15 cubic feet of extra carrying capacity
  • Compatible with a large number of hatchbacks, SUVs, sedans and other vehicles
  • Waterproof protection 
  • Softer materials recommended for objects that might be oddly shaped, such as musical instruments
  • Can be folded easily to take up minimal space when not in use
  • Adjustable fit on many types of roof racks or rooftop baskets
  • Aerodynamic construction to reduce air friction while driving as much as possible
  • Fully compatible with multiple lockdown systems for a secure fit

Disadvantages of Roof Bags

  • Not the best design for anti-theft protection
  • Increased wind noise at higher speeds
  • Reduced carrying capacity compared to a roof box
  • Not recommended for larger objects such as sports equipment
  • Limited long-term durability for some designs
  • Doesn’t provide the best protection for fragile or delicate items

Advantages of Rooftop Baskets

thule roof basket

Rooftop baskets first appeared in the 1970s and have largely remained unchanged, with their metal profile and good versatility for different objects that can be secured with different straps. The main advantages of roof baskets include:

  • Easy installation on any type of roof rack or roof rails
  • Increased load capacity since most of the designs are made from metal
  • Good aerodynamics
  • Increased carrying capacity for large and heavy objects that can be secured with straps or cords
  • Easy to load and unload the cargo
  • Reduced storage space requirements when unmounted from the car
  • Quick to mount and unmount on most cars
  • Recommended for oddly shaped objects
  • Cool, retro look

Disadvantages of Roof Baskets

Rooftop baskets are very practical, but at the same time, they are among the most exposed when it comes to cargo safety while traveling at high speeds and when it comes to possible theft as well. The main disadvantages of rooftop baskets include:

  • Poor lockdown can easily go wrong at high speeds
  • No anti-theft protection
  • You need a cargo net or special straps
  • Reduced top speed for most cars
  • Cargo is directly exposed to changing weather conditions
  • Not made for large sporting equipment

Advantages of Rooftop Boxes

Best Cargo Carriers and Roof Boxes

Photo Credit: BlackSnake/Shutterstock

If you are looking for maximum carrying capacity and security, rooftop boxes are one of the leading options. They are also very popular, so you have multiple designs from many brands to choose from. Most of the rooftop boxes also come with anti-theft protection and a good aerodynamic performance for reduced drag. Here are the main reasons to consider a rooftop box:

  • Compatible with almost all vehicles using a roof rack or roof rails
  • Comes with an increased carrying capacity of up to 75 kg
  • Recommended for sporting equipment such as skis or snowboards
  • Can be opened in both direction in some cases, which is particularly useful in some parking spaces
  • Allows full trunk access so that you can store extra cargo
  • Included locks with anti-theft protection
  • Waterproof construction to protect your cargo
  • Better wind resistance designs when compared to other cargo carriers
  • UV-resistant designs for increased durability, even with plastic materials
  • Can be fitted with no special tools in many cases
  • Covered by a lifetime warranty with premium designs

Disadvantages of Roof Boxes

Even rooftop boxes have a few disadvantages. The main issue for some people is that they need help to place them into position on the roof of the car. Another disadvantage to the system comes with the fact that you need considerable storage space when the rooftop box is not on the car. The main drawbacks to using a rooftop box include:

  • Large size design means it can be hard to install for a single person
  • Increased storage space required when not in use
  • Limited carrying capacity for taller objects
  • Increased frontal and lateral wind resistance while driving

Advantages of Hitch-Mounted Cargo Carriers

Hitch-mounted cargo carriers are not as popular these days, but drivers can still find them useful in certain situations. For example, if your car can’t be fitted with a roof rack or with roof rails and it has a hitch receiver, these carriers can be a solution to consider. With a design that goes behind the car, hitch-mounted cargo carriers also typically come with reduced wind resistance compared to rooftop cargo carriers. The main advantages of the hitch-mounted systems include:

  • Easy access for shorter people
  • Good weight capacity for heavier objects
  • Compatibility with many modern SUVs
  • Recommended for taller objects that won’t fit in rooftop cargo carriers
  • Doesn’t require additional overhead clearance when heading into an indoor parking
Read More Top 10 Best Hitch Cargo Carriers

Disadvantages of Hitch-Mounted Cargo Carriers

Even these solutions that are mounted next to the trunk of the car have a few disadvantages you will need to consider when making a purchase.

  • Possible obstruction of the license plate
  • Obstructed taillights
  • Not recommended for small items
  • Some designs come with poor anti-theft protection
  • Extra clearance needed when reversing
  • Obstructed rear parking sensors
  • Considerable storage space needed when not in use

Top Safety Tips when Traveling with Cargo Carriers

Using a cargo carrier involves adapting your driving style. The top driving speed is reduced with each type of carrier and the car maneuverability is also impeded with some types of designs. Here is what to consider to make sure you’re traveling safely with a cargo carrier.

1. Weight Ratio

If you overload the cargo carrier, it will come with considerable problems in situations where you have to take sharp turns. The weight of the carrier is important from two perspectives.

First, the roof of your car has a weight limit that is usually found in the owner’s manual. Secondly, the weight of the load impacts car maneuverability when cornering and if the load is too heavy or unbalanced, it can lead to accidents. This is why you need to ensure that the weight of your load does not exceed the maximum allowed weight on the roof of your car.

If you are using a hitch-mounted rack, you also need to know that the extra weight can put pressure on the rear suspension and you will need to adapt the weight so that the car’s performance is not affected. Generally speaking, the weight limit is between 70 and 250 pounds, depending on the type of car you have and on the type of cargo carrier you use.

2. Equally Distributed Weight

Smart weight distribution is another important aspect of safe cargo carrier use. Instead of placing the entire load in a corner of the rack, you should try to evenly distribute it so that it will have less of an impact on car maneuverability. The more balanced your load, the more balanced the drive will be. Balanced vehicles are safer vehicles.

3. Secured Load

Another important aspect to remember when using a cargo carrier is to secure the load. Regardless of the design you use, there are different straps that can be used to keep the load in place. You want to avoid situations where the load can move when cornering, as this can lead to accidents or things falling out and posing a risk to other motorists.

If you have an open cargo basket, you will need to purchase a cargo net like the one pictured or sturdy straps to keep your items secure.

Many drivers believe that only roof baskets need to have their loads secured, but this is far from the truth. Some of the leading manufacturers offer out-of-the-box straps to secure large items such as sporting equipment even inside a rooftop box.

4. Visibility

Visibility is often obstructed by some types of cargo carriers. For example, rear window visibility can be obstructed by hitch-mounted cargo carriers. Reverse cameras can also be blocked by these types of carriers. This is why you need to do your best to load the cargo in such a way in which the obstruction is minimal.

5. Tire Pressure Adjustments

If you are transporting heavier loads, tire pressure is even more important than usual. Make sure that the pressure of the tires is set to a level that is recommended by the manufacturer before you drive off with the cargo carrier mounted. At the same time, you need to ensure the load is as evenly distributed as possible as this will reduce the pressure on specific tires.

6. Load Height

Driving around with a rooftop cargo carrier is very different. You need to anticipate different hazards that might be in your way. For example, you might not be able to safely enter a garage when the cargo carrier is mounted. You might also have difficulty entering the parking of different buildings. It is why you need to know the minimum height clearance which is needed to safely park your car.

7. Using Extra Straps

It is often the case that the straps that come with the cargo carrier are not enough to secure your load. A simple way around this issue is to simply purchase more straps and ensure that your cargo will not move, even on sharp corners.