family standing by vehicle with rooftop cargo box
(Photo/Amazon)

The Best Rooftop Cargo Boxes of 2021

Whether you’re road tripping with the family’s skis and boots or need to stow your weekend camping gear, here are the best rooftop cargo boxes for outdoor travel.

As soon as you dabble in a new outdoor pastime, the gear adds up as well as the need for a way to transport those cherished goods. A rooftop cargo box helps organize all of your stuff and increases the comfort and space inside your adventure chariot with the bonus of protecting the interior.

It’s nice to be able to stash damp, smelly, or sharp items up top, too. The longer the road trip, the more valuable rooftop storage can become.

A variety of box volumes and styles exist whether you steer a van, truck, hatchback, or SUV. Here, we highlight a handful of our team’s top choices for rooftop cargo boxes.

If you have general questions about cargo box design features, use, and maintenance, check out the buyer’s guide and FAQ at the end of this article. Otherwise, hop to a category that interests you or scroll through our picks:

The Best Rooftop Cargo Boxes of 2021

Best Overall: Yakima SkyBox Carbonite

yakima skybox carbonite

If you’re a bit intimidated by adding a roof accessory to your rig, the user-friendly SkyBox Carbonite is your new friend. And the design includes five size options ($550-700). Tried and true, this cargo box is among the most durable and secure on the market. The silhouette is streamlined, narrow, and long.

We use ours in all seasons and across various outdoor trips to load up skis or kayak paddles for the family. And there’s still space on the roof rack for our bikes, kayaks, or standup paddleboards — that’s hard to beat.

We like the texturized lid, which helps hide scuff marks and grime. Plus, the box offers great weatherproofness (but we recommend that electronics or valuables go inside the cab or a dry bag for good measure).

Specs:
  • Model options: 12, Lo (15 cu. ft.), 16, 18, 21
  • Volume: 12-21 cu. ft.
  • Load Capacity: Unavailable
  • Weight: 41-62 lb.
  • Locks included: Yes
Ski Carry Capacity:
  • 12: Up to 4 pairs (or 2 snowboards) with a max length of 215 cm
  • 16: Up to 6 pairs (or 4 snowboards) with a max length of 185 cm
  • Lo, 18, 21: Up to 6 pairs (or 4 snowboards) with a max length of 215 cm
Pros:
  • Easy to use, stout, comfortable handle
  • Sturdy
  • Solid value, yet not as costly as other premium choices
  • Opens on both sides
Cons:
  • Installation process might annoy some folks

Check Price at REI

Best Budget: Yakima RocketBox Pro

yakima rocketbox pro

We’re hard-pressed to find a more dependable investment than a RocketBox — some of our family members still have theirs from the ’90s. Today’s Yakima RocketBox Pro comes in several capacities ($470-500). Plus, the 11- and 12-cubic-foot options are on the lower end of the price scale.

You could pick up a more compact choice like the Inno Ridge Box ($400) for less money with no space to haul skis or snowboards. But the extra bucks could be worth the length and the decades of use you’ll get out of the RocketBox. We like that we can fit our skis and snowboards in the narrow, long RocketBox while still having half of the roof rack open for other equipment like surfboards or bikes.

Note: The 12-cubic-foot box is 58 inches long and not a great choice for trips to the ski hill.

Specs:
  • Model options: 11, 12, 14
  • Volume: 11, 12, 14 cu. ft.
  • Load Capacity: Not available
  • Weight: 30 (12 cu. ft.), 38, 40 lb.
  • Locks included: Yes
Ski Carry Capacity:
  • 11: Up to 2 pairs (or 2 snowboards) with a max length of 210 cm
  • 12: Not compatible with skis or snowboards
  • 14: Up to 3 pairs (or 3 snowboards) with a max length of 170 cm
Pros:
  • Practical build
  • Pretty easy to pull RocketBox on and off the roof
  • A more economic price compared to priciest options
Cons:
  • Not the top-shelf sturdiest construction

Check Price at Yakima

Best Style: Thule Vector

thule vector

On the premium end, the Thule Vector is one of the sleekest, most stylish, and superbly made options out there. This luxurious rooftop cargo box features two models with the same volume and load capacity but different dimensions and weights ($1,400-1,500).

Beyond its classier shape, we found the design extremely functional, easy to install, and simple to operate day to day. To boot, this rigid box is reinforced with steel along the base.

Specs:
  • Model options: M, Alpine
  • Volume: 13 cu. ft.
  • Load Capacity: 165 lb.
  • Weight: 59, 66 lb.
  • Locks included: Yes
Ski Carry Capacity:
  • M: Up to 5 pairs (or 4 snowboards) with a max length of 185 cm
  • Alpine: Up to 6 pairs (or 5 snowboards) with a max length of 200 cm
Pros:
  • Felt-lined interior bottom for gear protection
  • Integrated tiedown straps
  • White interior lid and integrated LED light help with loading and unloading in the dark
  • Stylish aesthetic
Cons:
  • Expensive

Check Price at AmazonCheck Price at Thule

Best of the Rest

Thule Force XT

thule force xt

The spacious and functional Thule Force XT comes in four sizes ($580-750). This build can haul a huge quantity of bulky gear and still handle off-road adventures or winter trips to the local ski mountain.

Ultimately, the silhouette has generous height and is a sturdy choice. Be sure not to force the locking mechanism — it’s not a top-shelf component.

Specs:
  • Model options: Sport, L, XL, XXL
  • Volume: 11, 16, 18, 22 cu. ft.
  • Load Capacity: 165 lb.
  • Weight: 32, 41, 47, 52 lb.
  • Locks included: Yes
Ski Carry Capacity:
  • Sport: Up to 5 pairs (or 4 snowboards) with a max length of 175 cm
  • L: Up to 7 pairs (or 5 snowboards) with a max length of 175 cm
  • XL: Up to 7 pairs (or 5 snowboards) with a max length of 195 cm
  • XXL: Up to 7 pairs (or 5 snowboards) with a max length of 215 cm
Pros:
  • Dual-sided access
  • Voluminous shape provides space for a variety and high quantity of gear
  • Easy installation
Cons:
  • Latch system isn’t the smoothest
  • Not as streamlined as other boxes
  • Some users have issues with the flimsy lock and key
  • Not the stiffest material

Check Price at REICheck Price at Amazon

Pelican BX140R Cargo Case

pelican bx140r cargo case

Fashioned in a rectangular shape, the burly Pelican BX140R Cargo Case is among the most secure rooftop boxes on the market. This specific model is the largest — and priciest — choice from the lineup, which features four roof-compatible sizes ($300-450).

In Pelican fashion, the streamlined build is weatherproof to protect valuable cargo from apparel, gear, and hunting equipment to tools and dry food. The body is made of rotomolded plastic, which is lightweight, shock-absorbent, and blocks ultraviolet light.

With hardy construction, the steel latches are e-coated with a corrosion-resistant finish. The lid features a rubber gasket, but these are not submergible. These cargo cases are also not on par with the crushproofness and watertightness of the extremely rugged Pelican Protector lineup.

Specs:
  • Model options: BX55SBX85S, BX90R, BX140R
  • Volume: 4 cu. ft.
  • Load Capacity: 50 lb.
  • Weight: 35 lb.
  • Lock included: No (there is an integrated padlock hasp)
Pros:
  • Dustproof and wind-, water-, and weather-resistant
  • Burly handles snap down to lie flat
  • Easy to mount
  • Attractive design
Cons:
  • Linear design is less adaptive to fit certain cargo compared to oblong shapes
  • Exterior easily marks
  • Thin base causes uncertainty about long-term durability
  • Necessary to purchase compatible aftermarket locks and the hasp is small

Check Price at Pelican

Inno Ridge 240

Inno Ridge 240

The Inno Ridge 240 Rooftop Cargo Box ($400) is a tidy choice for compact vehicles and stouter equipment. Built with three-layer plastic construction, the materials are hardy and the construction is dependable.

For folks who want to avoid mounting a long, narrow, tall, or huge box, the Ridge delivers at a price that doesn’t break the bank.

Specs:
  • Model options: Ridge 240 (there’s also a long Ridge 460 model)
  • Volume: 8 cu. ft.
  • Load Capacity: 110 lb.
  • Weight: 20 lb.
  • Lock included: Yes
Pros:
  • Key can only be removed when the box is locked
  • Strong construction
  • Compact and light design
  • Economic price
Cons:
  • Only has passenger-side opening versus dual-sided opening
  • Can’t fit skis or snowboards, which is a dealbreaker for some recreationists

Check Price at Inno Racks

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Rooftop Cargo Box

Roof Length Compatibility

It’s key to make sure the box can seamlessly pair with your vehicle’s roof and rack, especially if you have a top-hinged trunk. First, position the front crossbar as far forward as possible (some are not adjustable). Then open the hatch and measure from the back hatch to the center of the vehicle’s front crossbar.

That distance needs to exceed the hatch clearance of a cargo box, which is listed on the manufacturer’s website. You’ll also want to be sure the length doesn’t hinder visibility up front or hit any antennas.

Rack Setup

If you’ve never owned a rooftop setup, this is rack 101. The mount is a component that runs lengthwise (front to back) and attaches to the top of your vehicle. Generally, vehicles come with factory mounts like raised rails, tracks, or fixed points.

If you’re working with a bare roof, you can permanently mount a rack or opt for a setup that’s compatible with the door jamb. Two crossbars or load bars sit perpendicular to the roof and are attached to the mount via four compatible towers. Crossbars vary in size and shape.

Each cargo box is compatible with specific crossbars, so make sure those crossbars work with your vehicle and mount or if an adapter is required.

Carrying Purpose & Capacity

Before you start shopping for a rooftop cargo box, take a look at your gear. What do you need and intend to carry on trips? Shorter or packable items like camp chairs or sleeping bags generally fit well in rooftop cargo boxes.

Lengthier items like skis, paddles, golf clubs, and strollers will require a longer box — make sure the box’s internal dimensions fit the length of your equipment.

Read the width and height of each box to help conceptualize the overall volume. Boxes also list the gear capacity in cubic feet (or inches or liters). The more people in your group, the more space you’ll need for each individual’s gear.

best rooftop cargo boxes - capacity
(Photo/Amazon)

Weight

There are two weight factors to take into account: the cargo box weight and the weight capacity of the box. The cargo boxes listed here range from 20 to 66 pounds without any cargo. The majority of these carriers safely hold a weight capacity of up to 165 pounds, but others are lower, around 110 or even 50 pounds.

Don’t sacrifice the cost for a less structural cargo box if you need to transport heavier items. Your heftiest cargo, like a loaded cooler, is easier and safer to store inside the vehicle.

Check with each box manufacturer for a specific box’s weight limits. Likewise, check the owner’s manual of your vehicle for the recommended maximum load. You’ll need to subtract the weight of the box, aftermarket towers, and crossbars, as well as the max weight of the cargo stored inside the box.

Materials

Cargo boxes are built with durable plastic, and a handful have additional reinforcements, such as the steel along the base of the Thule Vector. Others are coated with an additional finish for extra durability and weather resistance. To point, the Pelican BX140R Cargo Case has a corrosion-resistant coat.

The hardware, like the latches and lock systems, vary in quality, which is reflected in the price. Overall, the size and materials influence the box’s weight, too.

best rooftop cargo boxes - materials
(Photo/Pelican)

Water Resistance

Most rooftop cargo box designs are extremely weather-resistant, thanks to a waterproof shell and weather sealing, so they’ll generally do a great job of blocking snow and rain. Some even feature a liner for water resistance, like the integrated rubber gasket of the Pelican BX140R Cargo Case.

However, none of these cargo boxes claim to be completely waterproof. We recommend you store any water-sensitive, precious cargo in a dry bag or inside the rig.

Extra Features

A handful of the top-shelf designs have extra features for comfort, utility, and ease of use. For instance, we appreciate the interior LED lights of the Thule Vector and the integrated solar panel plus two USB ports inside the Yakima CBX Solar.

rooftop cargo boxes - extra features
(Photo/REI)

FAQ

Are Rooftop Cargo Boxes Universal?

Rooftop cargo boxes are not all created equal. The designs vary by weight, dimensions, gear capacity, and rigidity. You’ll need to consider what type of gear you need to haul as well as your vehicle length and roof capacity.

The best rooftop cargo box will fit well with adequate hatch clearance. Also, note certain cargo boxes are compatible with specific crossbar or load bar models, shapes, and size ranges. Be sure to get the correct setup for your vehicle.

Can a Rooftop Cargo Box Be Too Big?

A larger rooftop cargo box might not be the best choice for your vehicle and purpose. If a box length exceeds the rooftop clearance, it can hinder the hatchback when it swings up, or it can potentially hang over the roof in the front, impeding windshield visibility.

Bigger designs are more challenging to move and store, have a greater impact on fuel efficiency, are costlier, and are noisier while on the road. Be sure not to exceed the maximum length and weight your vehicle’s roof can carry.

How Do You Pack a Rooftop Cargo Box?

Place the heaviest and the majority of the cargo in the center of the box and the lightest items toward the nose and tail. Use tiedown straps, which are included in some designs, to secure loose goods if the box isn’t full.

Though many cargo boxes are weatherproof, most manufacturers suggest putting electronics and valuables in a dry bag for extra protection.

Can You Drive With an Empty Rooftop Cargo Box?

Without additional weight, empty cargo boxes can get slightly jostled around by the wind, which could cause audible drag. If you don’t mind the potential noise, then it’s technically fine to drive with an empty rooftop cargo box. That said, the lifespan of the box will be extended if you store it safely away from the elements between long periods of nonuse.

Also, removing the cargo box could lead to greater fuel economy in the long haul. But for weekend warriors who commute 20 minutes to work several days a week, the repeated mount time might not be worthwhile, especially in a mild climate.

How Should You Store Your Rooftop Cargo Box?

When your rooftop cargo box isn’t mounted on your vehicle, it’s good to store it in a cool, dry indoor space like a garage, attic, or basement. It’s ideal to keep it out of direct sunlight and extremely hot or cold temperatures.

You can set the box flat on the ground — or atop a couple of 2x4s — or rig it to hang on a wall via the base side.


dog sniffing YETI cooler
The Best Coolers of 2022
We tested the best hard coolers of 2022 with options for every budget. Top picks include RTIC, YETI, and more! Read more…

best backpack coolers sitting next to water
The Best Backpack Coolers of 2022
We tested the best backpack coolers of 2022 with styles for every budget. Top picks include OtterBox, YETI, and more! Read more…

Morgan Tilton
By

Staff Writer Morgan Tilton is an adventure journalist specializing in winter sports coverage, travel narratives, and outdoor industry news. A recipient of nearly a dozen North American Travel Journalists Association awards, when she’s not recovering from jungle expeditions or doing field research in far-out villages she’s usually trail running, mountain biking, river surfing, or splitboarding in Colorado’s San Juan and Elk Mountains, where she grew up and lives today.