Car on a mountain road with a roof cargo carrier Ievgen Skrypko | Adobe Stock

The Best Roof Racks and Rooftop Cargo Carriers for 2021

See recent posts by Megan Johnson

Summer road trips are upon us, and if you’re worried about space in the car, you may need to invest in a cargo carrier. Cargo carriers are great for giving you extra room in your car, without having to sacrifice anything you want to bring with you on your road trip. 

What you Need to Know Before Purchasing a Cargo Carrier 

Not all cars are equipped with a roof rack or roof rails to hold your carrier, so be sure to check in case you need to purchase a roof rack as well as a cargo carrier. Some cars with built-in roof rails (also called side rails)  include Ford Expedition, Subaru Outback (and almost all Subarus, which have rails with built in racks), Toyota 4-Runner, and Jeep Renegade. Even if you have roof rails, you may still need a roof rack for heavier loads. Roof rails run parallel along your car, whereas roof racks run across the roof of your car. Roof rails can be used to secure roof racks, but aren’t necessary to do so, depending on what roof rack you buy. 

Once you have the proper roof rack, you’ll be able to attach your cargo carrier. 

Best Roof Racks 

Here are some roof racks we like, however, not all are suitable for every vehicle. If you are unsure what type of roof rack/crossbars you need for your car, you can use this handy guide from etrailer.com to determine the best fit for your vehicle. 

Best for Yakima Carriers – YAKIMA JetStream Bar Aerodynamic Crossbars for Roof Rack Systems

These easy-to-install crossbars fit all Yakima systems and are available in 3 sizes. The seamless aluminum construction is quiet and holds a maximum weight of 165 pounds. With a lifetime warranty, these are the perfect option when using a Yakima carrier. 

Best Roof Rack for Raised Side Rails – CargoLoc 2-Piece Aluminum Roof Top Cross Bar Set

This crossbar set by CargoLoc is universal and will fit a variety of cargo carriers. Designed to fit cars with raised roof rails, they are easy to install and include a keyed lock for extra security. They have a maximum load capacity of 150 pounds and come in two sizes— be sure to measure the width of your roof or check your car manual for details. 

Best Roof Rack for a Car Without Side Rails – Malone Paddle Gear VersaRail Coated Steel Bare Roof Cross Rail System

For cars without roof rails, this roof rack from Malone Paddle Gear will do the trick. Easy installation without any additional tools, it secures to your roof with abrasion resistance suction towers, and straps that attach inside of your car. This rust resistant rack has a 135 lb. capacity and fits most four door vehicles.

Related: The Ultimate Camping Packing List: 29 Essentials

Best Rooftop Cargo Carriers 

Whether you get a hard-shell or soft-shell carrier is up to you. If you are unsure what cargo carrier will work for you, Amazon has a tool which allows you to filter carriers that will fit your car, after you input the model, make, and year of your car, making your decision making a little easier. However, most of our favorite cargo carriers will fit on any vehicle! Here are the best cargo carriers for your car. 

Best Overall Rooftop Cargo Carrier – Thule Motion XT Rooftop Carrier

Thule is king as far as cargo carriers go, so it’s not surprising to see this rooftop carrier on the list. Available in three sizes: 16, 18, and 22 cu ft, and a weight capacity of 165 lbs, you can choose what is best for your cargo needs. It has a quick mount system for easy installation, including a handy “click” noise when it is correctly in place. Thule has a variety of racks and carriers to fit all of your cargo needs. 

Best Budget Rooftop Cargo Bag – Adakiit Car Rooftop Cargo Carrier Bag

Carrier bags are a fantastic alternative to a box, and are helpful for oddly shaped items that may not easily fit into a box. This cargo carrier bag from Adakiit is super affordable, and can attach either via your vehicle’s siderails, or by attaching the straps inside your car, making rails unnecessary. It’s 15 cu ft size is big enough for 4-6 suitcases, tents, sleeping bags—whatever you need! 

Best Rooftop Cargo Box – Yakima Skybox Carbonite

This 16 cubic feet cargo box from Yakima can hold enough gear for three campers. With an integrated lock system, easy installation, and a carbonite textured lid made of 80% recycled materials, this cargo box is sure to keep your belongings safe and secure while you are on the road. Its dual-sided opening makes for easy access from either side of your vehicle. 

Best Cargo Roof Bag – RoofPax Car Waterproof Roof Bag

This gigantic, 19 cu ft,  military grade roof bag will fit cars with or without side rails. Instead of strapping inside the car, this RoofPax bag includes door hooks to attach it to, making it a safer choice than others. It also includes a built-in protective mat and 10 elastic velcro strap restrainers to prevent strap flapping, has UV protection, and is ultra-waterproof. 

Best Budget Roof Cargo Box – Cabela’s TrailGear Roof Cargo Carrier

Costing less than $200, this rooftop storage box from Cabela’s is smaller than some of the more expensive cargo carriers, but it gets the job done. Weather resistant, with an integrated key lock, it opens up on both sides for easier loading and unloading. Sufficient and durable, this roof-mounted box may be just what you need for those few extra items you need to take with you on your trip.

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