The 9 Best Rooftop Cargo Carriers
This wiki has been updated 27 times since it was first published in May of 2015. Maybe you used to be able to carry everything you own in a compact car, but now you have more, or maybe you just need to haul a bunch of stuff across the country one time. Don't worry: these rooftop cargo carriers comes in all shapes and sizes, from the compact to the spacious, as well as with hard or soft exteriors, so you can cart all your family's belongings on the next road trip with ease. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best rooftop cargo carrier on Amazon.
August 04, 2019:
You can go one of two ways with a rooftop cargo carrier: hard- or soft-sided. If you won't be using it constantly, a soft-sided model will save you quite a bit of money. Also, they're generally designed to work well with cars that don't have roof racks, so if you're moving across the country but driving a small sedan, they're worth a look. The drawbacks to soft-sided options are that they don't look as nice, don't offer much or any security, and can shift and slide if they're not loaded correctly. If you're okay with that, though, models like the Rightline and Keeper are worth a look.
Then there are hard-sided carriers, and while they're considerably more expensive, they're also quite a bit more useful in some situations. They tend to stand up to heavy wind and rain quite well, and some even have high-quality locks and a durable construction that work together to protect your belongings from thieves. Some are sleek enough that they barely add any additional drag to your car, which helps to minimize mileage loss. One drawback to hard-sided carriers, though, is that they generally require roof racks and are a bit more difficult to install. For hard-sided options, it's hard to beat Thule and Yakima, whose products can be seen atop Subarus and SUVs around the country.
For a selection of cargo carriers that don't require straps, roof racks, or major installation procedures, check out our list of hitch cargo carriers and if you don't need protection from the elements, our cargo baskets wiki.
A Journey With Space
Once attached, you can fill these to capacity with anything that will fit.
Road trips can make for some of the most important time you can ever spend with your family. They create an atmosphere of adventure, the feeling that anything is possible, that the worries of your daily life are but a distant memory. The journey inevitably brings you closer together. Sometimes, the journey brings you a little too close together, like when your car is so overstuffed with luggage that you spend the bulk of the drive wondering what limb is poking you in the back and to whom it may belong.
Reducing the amount of stuff you carry with you on a given road trip is one option, but for most families, there's a limit to how much you can leave behind. If there are very young children in tow, putting the car seat, stroller, diapers, and other baby necessities in the car is enough to fill up most models long before your personal luggage enters the picture.
A rooftop cargo carrier can help alleviate the stress caused by an overstuffed vehicle by simply giving you more space. They strap with the greatest of ease to the roof racks of any vehicle equipped with them, like minivans and SUVs. In the event that you don't have roof racks to which your cargo carrier can attach, aftermarket racks exist that strap along the underside of your roof and through the cab of the car, making for a secure and simple installation.
Once attached, you can fill these to capacity with anything that will fit. Some models include hard shells and sturdy locks to secure your gear atop the vehicle, while others are designed to with soft shells to carry more of your less important or expensive materials, but materials that would take up too much space in the car nonetheless.
The Hard And Soft Of It
Looking back at the things I packed into my car when I moved across the country, I had good reason to utilize a rooftop cargo carrier. A move like that requires that you pack a lot of clothes, and that kind of stuff takes up a lot of space.
The hard shell cargo carriers on our list are much better at protecting your things from the dangers on the road, and they also make for much better deterrents against theft.
For items like clothing and bedding–soft, replaceable items that can fill a suitcase in no time–a soft shell cargo carrier is ideal. These carriers represent the class that holds the most, that can expand to fit the needs of your trip, and whose capacity it only truly limited by your ability to shove things inside it. Soft shell cargo carriers are a little more sensitive to the elements, particularly to debris on the road. They tend to be waterproof, but a small tear from a flying piece of salt or stone could leave them susceptible to rain and snow.
The hard shell cargo carriers on our list are much better at protecting your things from the dangers on the road, and they also make for much better deterrents against theft. Their locks tend to be very well made, and, unlike the soft carriers, you can't cut through them with a knife to get at what's inside. If you have more delicate or more expensive materials to pack atop your vehicle, these are the way to go.
This is especially true if you don't want to spend a lot of time taking your carrier on and off of your vehicle. If you're traveling in inclement weather, being able to leave your carrier atop your vehicle without worry will save you time and a whole lot of hassle.
Once you do invest in one of these carriers, and you get it installed and all packed up, make sure you take the time to measure your vehicle from the ground up. Most underpasses, fast food drive-throughs, parking garages, and similar structures will advertise their height clearance on a big yellow sign running across the top of the space. Make sure you know your height and that you can actually fit wherever you want to go. Nothing's worse than loading your cargo carrier up with important things only to have it knocked off by a bridge support and sent hurtling into a river.
Carried Through Time
The rooftop cargo carrier is indelibly tied (both literally and figuratively) to the automobile roof rack. The roof rack consists of those runners heading down the length of a car's roof from front to back, and they've been around for some time. Early automobiles, like the horse-drawn carriages before them, had racks for the transportation of trunks and other luggage.
The roof rack consists of those runners heading down the length of a car's roof from front to back, and they've been around for some time.
As the American auto industry began to incorporate rain gutters along the edges of their vehicles, many cars lost their roof racks, and third-party roof rack manufacturers came along to fill the void. Of these there were very few until the 1960s, when a boom in outdoor enthusiast activities reignited an interest in strapping all kinds of goodies to the roofs of cars.
By 1973, Yakima Industries introduced its first roof-mounted cargo carrier, and an industry specifically targeted at the these outdoorsy types was born. As more and more companies vied for a piece of that market, a few of them realized that there was an entirely different sector into which they could tap, which is when companies like Thule and RoofBag began an appeal to movers and travelers of all ilks looking to make their way a good distance with a little more in-car comfort.
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