If you've ever taken a road trip, you know just how valuable storage space can be. While your trunk is a great place to put luggage and equipment, it fills up quickly. Plus, there are certain items -- like skis, for instance -- that simply can't fit safely in your trunk or back seat.
For those cases, rooftop-mounted cargo boxes are a great solution. Available in many different shapes and sizes, cargo boxes are designed to attach to vehicles' roof racks and provide alternative or additional storage options. The hardest part is determining which cargo box is right for your vehicle and your storage needs.
That's where this list comes into play. We've selected the best cargo boxes available across a range of categories, based on customer satisfaction and expert opinions. After our choices, read on for more information about cargo boxes and how they can help you with vehicle storage.
The best overall cargo box needs to check off a lot of, well, boxes. It needs to be aerodynamically shaped and solidly constructed. It needs to be able to hold a lot of cargo, but it also needs to come in at a reasonable price point. Yakima's SkyBox 16 Carbonite Cargo Roof Box is our top pick because it does all that and more.
The Yakima SkyBox is extra lightweight for its size and has a SuperLatch secure closure system to keep cargo stored safely. It also comes in several different sizes, ranging from 12 to 21 cubic feet (the box we are featuring here is the 16 cubic-foot model).
Yakima's SkyBox currently has 4.6 stars out of five on Amazon based on over 240 customer ratings. It has an Amazon's Choice designation, reserved for items that the site's editors deem exceptional, in the "Vehicle Hard-Shell Carriers" category.
With the Motion XT Rooftop Cargo Carrier, Thule has also a contender for the best overall cargo box. It's a sturdy model that comes in three sizes: 16 cubic feet, 18 cubic feet and 21 cubic feet.
Thule's Motion XT carrier is designed with ease in mind, offering users full access to their trunks, and offering their trunks full range of motion. It can be opened and closed from either side using handles and lifters created especially for that purpose. It's also easy to mount, with a quick-mount system that clicks when the box is in place.
The Thule Motion XT Rooftop Cargo Carrier has 4.5 stars out of five on Amazon based on over 970 customer ratings. It has an Amazon's Choice designation in the site's "Cargo Racks" category.
Well-made cargo boxes can be expensive. If your budget doesn't stretch up into the high three figures or low four figures, that doesn't mean you can't get a great model -- just go with SportRack's Vista XL Rear Opening Cargo Box.
For just $450, the SportRack Vista XL offers 18 cubic feet of storage. It's made of a UV-resistant material, opens safely from the rear and comes with a key and lock system designed to keep contents stored securely. It can also be mounted without tools (and comes with the hardware for the job).
The SportRack Vista XL has 4.5 stars out of five on Amazon with more than 1,650 customer ratings. It has an Amazon's Choice designation and is the second-best-selling item in the "Vehicle Hard-Shell Carriers" category.
Cargo boxes tend to be on the costlier side, but it's little wonder -- reputable brands' models not only offer convenient storage, but they're durable and last a long time. If you have enough money to afford a premium model, you can't do better than the Thule Vector Rooftop Cargo Box.
In addition to easy installation and dual-side opening, the Vector offers premium features not included with other cargo boxes, such as a felt-lined interior base designed to keep goods safe and LED lights that increase nighttime visibility. It's also available in an "alpine" model, which is long enough to accommodate skis.
The Thule Vector has 4.6 stars out of five on Amazon, with over 15 customer ratings. Satisfied customers praise the sleekness and lack of noise while driving.
What do you do if you like the idea of a cargo box, but don't have too much to carry? You get a smaller cargo box, of course -- one that can hold a few things, but do it safely and securely. You get something like the INNO Ridge Cargo Box BRA240BK.
The INNO Ridge Cargo Box BRA240K may only be eight cubic feet, but since it's as solidly built as the other models on this list, it will offer you the protection your goods need. It also may seem larger than it actually is, as the open-edge design is meant to maximize the storage capacity the cargo box offers.
INNO's Ridge Cargo Box BRA240K currently has 4.4 stars out of five on Amazon with over 60 ratings. Satisfied users praise the box's low profile and durable build.
On the other hand, if you know that you'll need to carry a lot of cargo, you'll want a cargo box that's up to the task. The Thule Force XT XXL Roof Box boasts an impressive 22 cubic feet of room, meaning that you'll be able to bring quite a bit of stuff with you on your next trip.
The Thule Force XT XXL isn't just huge, it's also well made. It's designed to fit a wide range of vehicles and its PowerClick quick-mount system means the installation process is easy. It also opens from both sides for convenience and, despite its size, allows for full trunk access.
Thule's Force XT XXL has 4.1 stars out of five on REI's official website based on customer ratings. Satisfied users praise the box's easy installation process and, of course, the space it affords.
Since they're mounted on the roofs of vehicles, cargo boxes have the unfortunate side effect of making vehicles less aerodynamic. That means that it's harder for them to move through the air, which means it takes more energy to propel them forward -- which means your gas mileage is lower than it would otherwise be.
INNO's Wedge 660 Cargo Box may not be immune to the laws of physics, but with its low profile (11 inches), it keeps the wind resistance to a minimum -- and the same can be said for noise. It's also strong, as the polymer injection construction process ensures uniform thickness throughout the box.
The INNO Wedge 660 has 4.5 stars out of five on REI's website based on more than 10 customer reviews. Satisfied customers praise the box's style and weather protection.
When you're traveling, odds are that you won't be around your car all the time. That also means that you won't be around your cargo box all the time. Unfortunately, this potentially leaves you open to theft, which is why most reputable cargo boxes have locks.
The Thule SideKick Rooftop Cargo Box takes security one step further with two separate locks designed to keep your cargo extra safe (including a cam locking system). Beyond that, the box is a compact model, but it's built to withstand any weather and securely mounts to a roof rack with reinforcement-plated U-bolts.
The Thule SideKick has 4.1 stars out of five on Amazon based on over 750 customer ratings. It has an Amazon's Choice designation in the site's "Cargo Racks" category.
One of the most important qualities in a cargo box is how durable it is. Sleekness and size are important, but if the box isn't tough enough to keep your goods protected, it's useless. JEGS' Rooftop Cargo Carrier may not be the prettiest to look at, but its HDPE plastic hard shell ensures that your things will get where they need to go unharmed.
The JEGS Rooftop Cargo Carrier is waterproof, so neither snow nor rain nor hail poses a problem for it. It's got a four-corner locking system and a weather-tight seal, so you don't ever have to worry about it popping open on the road. And of course, it's got a lifetime guarantee. Now that's secure.
The JEGS Rooftop Cargo Carrier has 4.3 stars out of five on Amazon with more than 2,400 customer ratings. It's currently the best-selling item in the "Vehicle Hard-Shell Carriers" category.
Odds are you spent a lot of money on your vehicle, and odds are you like the way it looks. So with that in mind, you might think it's a bit silly to ruin your car's image with an unsightly container. If you want something more eye-pleasing, you may wish to opt for the Thule Pulse Rooftop Cargo Box.
The Thule Pulse is sleek and stylish but not at the expense of durability. It's made of ABS plastic and closes securely to keep your cargo tucked away. It also has a quick-mount system for easy assembly. Note that the Thule Pulse is available in medium (14 cubic feet), large (16 cubic feet), and alpine (11 cubic feet) sizes.
The Thule Pulse has 4.6 stars out of five on Amazon with over 1,000 customer ratings. It has an Amazon Choice designation in the "Vehicle Hard-Shell Carriers" category.
Skis are among the trickier items to transport. Most of the time, they're too long for your trunk, your car or an average-size cargo box. When it comes to skis, you need to get an extra-long (sometimes called "alpine") box -- like the SportRack Horizon Cargo Box.
SportRack's Horizon is 91 inches long -- or 7 feet, 7 inches -- which makes it long enough for most skis. The box has enough volume to hold four to six pairs of skis at once (or three to four snowboards, if you prefer). The Horizon is available in three sizes with the information given above referring to the XL model.
The SportRack Horizon has 4.4 stars out of five on Amazon based on over 300 customer reviews. Satisfied users praise the cargo box's volume, as well as its lightweight and durable construction.
If you want extra carrying space on top of your vehicle, a cargo box isn't your only option. There are many great cargo bags out there, and while they may not be as sturdy and streamlined as most cargo boxes, you can save a lot of money by going with a soft fabric model.
If you're looking for a cargo bag, you'll have a tough time beating the RoofBag Rooftop Cargo Carrier. The cargo bag is waterproof and comes with nylon straps that keep it tied down, even if you don't have a roof rack. Note that the RoofBag Rooftop Cargo Carrier comes in multiple sizes.
The RoofBag Rooftop Cargo Carrier has 4.5 stars out of five on Amazon with over 3,000 customer ratings.
Comparison of the best cargo boxes for 2022
|Best cargo box overall||Yakima SkyBox 16 Carbonite Cargo Roof Box||81x36x15 inches||60 pounds||$719|
|Best cargo box overall runner-up||Thule Motion XT Rooftop Cargo Carrier||77x36x17 inches||42 pounds||$900|
|Best cheap cargo box||SportRack Vista XL Cargo Box||62.5x19x39 inches||28 pounds||$450|
|Best cargo box if money is no object||Thule Vector Rooftop Cargo Box||83.5x34.5x14 inches||59 pounds||$2,000|
|Best small cargo box||INNO Ridge Cargo Box||54.5x28.5x14 inches||20 pounds||$530|
|Best big cargo box||Thule Force XT XXL Roof Box||91x36x18 inches||56 pounds||$850|
|Best low-profile cargo box||INNO Wedge 660 Cargo Box||80x33x11 inches||42 pounds||$690|
|Best cargo box for security||Thule SideKick Rooftop Cargo Box||54x25x15.5 inches||20 pounds||$384|
|Best heavy-duty cargo box||JEGS Rooftop Cargo Carrier||61x39x12 inches||35 pounds||$273|
|Best cargo box for style||Thule Pulse Rooftop Cargo Box||67x35x16 inches||34 pounds||$600|
|Best cargo box for skis||SportRack Horizon Cargo Box||91x30x16 inches||44 pounds||$450|
|Best cargo carrier bag||RoofBag Rooftop Cargo Carrier||48x36x14.5 inches||8 pounds||$110|
What is a cargo box?
A cargo box is a box designed to attach to your car's roof rack and carry goods. Cargo boxes work in tandem with in-car storage, carrying things that won't fit in your vehicle (or allowing more room for riders). Reputable brands' models are also built very sturdy, ensuring protection from the elements. Most cargo boxes have relatively streamlined designs in order to cut down on wind resistance while driving, but individual products will differ.
Cargo boxes vary more in terms of shape and size than in terms of form and function. Larger boxes can obviously carry more cargo, but smaller boxes are lighter and easier to mount. If you're an avid skier, you may prefer a box that's long and narrow (these models are sometimes called "alpine" boxes). If you'll be mounting something besides the box to your roof rack (like a bike rack, for instance), you may want a narrower cargo box so you can fit it alongside.
Cargo boxes come in a wide range of prices, from the lower three figures into the four figures. Typically, larger cargo boxes with higher carrying capacities are more expensive than smaller models, but you also pay for streamlined designs and sturdiness. That said, even the smallest cargo boxes from reputable brands will cost in the hundreds of dollars.
How to pick the cargo box that's right for you
Choosing the cargo box that's best for you involves evaluating your cargo-carrying needs, the size of your car (and its roof rack) and your budget. These factors will ultimately determine the models of cargo boxes that are available to you and, eventually, the one you select.
"You really need to think about what you want to carry and for how many you'll be carrying gear and items," said Evan Hampton, Yakima's senior category manager for cargo, trailer, water, snow and fish. "It's easy to underestimate your needs when thinking about solo adventuring or adventuring with a partner. A popular option is to use a cargo box for skis or snowboards to keep them out of the elements, as well, so you'll want to consider the make and size of your vehicle, whether there's a hatch that can make contact with the cargo box when open, or, similarly, a shark fin antenna that might impact the size of cargo box your vehicle can accommodate."
First and foremost, it's critical to find a cargo box that actually fits your car. Cargo boxes come in different sizes, and one that's too large can potentially get in the way when you try to open a trunk or hatch. You'll also need to be aware of the height that gets added to your vehicle when you've got the cargo box attached. Garages and overpasses all have clearance levels, and if there are any you use or drive under regularly, you'll have to make sure that your vehicle's profile, cargo box included, passes the clearance.
Next, you'll want to make sure that your cargo box provides the storage space you need. Cargo boxes come in many different shapes and sizes that can accommodate different loads. Think about what you'll be carrying -- if you've got smaller items or equipment that breaks down you can get a shorter or narrower box. The overall cubic footage will be a good guide when it comes to determining what you need. On the other hand, if you're going to be carrying long pieces of equipment (such as skis), you'll want an extra-long box. In this case, cubic footage wouldn't be as important as length.
The sturdiness of a cargo box and the security that it affords are also major concerns. You'll want to make sure that your cargo box is made of a durable material that can stand up to hours of traveling at high speeds. A cargo box that can stand up to inclement weather is also important, unless you'll only be using it during warmer months. As far as security goes, most cargo boxes have locking mechanisms that prevent theft, but some -- like the Thule SideKick -- actually have multiple locks for additional levels of safety.
The appearance and design of your cargo box may also be an important concern for you. Some cargo boxes, like the Thule Pulse, are designed for style as well as function. Others, like the JEGS model, are more about utility than aesthetics. Many cargo boxes are also designed with aerodynamics in mind -- the closer a cargo box is to the roof of a car and the gentler the gradient of its design, the less the cargo box will affect gas mileage.
Finally, some cargo boxes have optional features that help them stand out from the rest. For instance, there are models with built-in solar panels and USB chargers that let users charge their devices without draining any power from the vehicle to which the box is attached. Users can charge their devices when they reach their eventual destinations.
What using a cargo box does to your vehicle
Cargo boxes present an extremely convenient way to transport your goods with your vehicle, but they do have their drawbacks. Perhaps the most notable is that your fuel consumption will increase. There are two reasons for this. First, anything that adds any weight to your car adds to the energy required to move it. Second, the height that a cargo box adds to your vehicle will lead to increased wind resistance. Even if the wind resistance isn't noticeable when you drive, it will still affect your gas mileage.
That said, using a cargo box increases your fuel consumption less than other options. Hampton explained: "Most of the time you will notice a slight decrease in gas mileage, but typically way less than driving a larger vehicle without a cargo box, or having to take a second vehicle."
There are other drawbacks to cargo boxes beside the effect on your fuel consumption. As you drive, your cargo box will cut through the air and make additional noise. While the noise will be worse if the cargo box is less sleek, any box will create at least some noise. Finally, there's always a risk of scratching paint or causing damage when using a roof rack or a cargo box.
Alternatives to cargo boxes
If you want additional vehicle storage, but for whatever reason you don't want a cargo box, you may want to look into getting a cargo bag. Cargo bags like the RoofBag Rooftop Cargo Carrier also allow you to carry your goods on top of your car's roof. They offer some advantages over cargo boxes -- namely, cargo bags are typically much less expensive than cargo boxes and many models can be used without first installing a roof rack.
Of course, cargo bags have their drawbacks as well. They're not as strong or sturdy as cargo boxes since they're made of much softer material. This means they don't provide as much protection from inclement weather. Cargo bags are also less aerodynamic than hard-shelled cases, which means that they'll have more of a deleterious effect on your fuel consumption.
"Yakima Baskets come in different shapes and sizes just like cargo boxes and are very utilitarian but don't offer the lockable security and weather protection of cargo boxes…," Hampton said. "Yakima also offers a series of small, gear and adventure-specific trailers that can fit whatever your lifestyle is, can be towed by any vehicle with a hitch and are so lightweight they also work as hand carts."
Written by Scott Fried for CNET Cars
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Cargo box FAQs
What is a cargo box used for?
A cargo box is used for transporting goods on a vehicle. Cargo boxes provide storage room in addition to the room offered by a car's trunk and interior. If your trunk is already packed to overflowing, space in your car is limited due to a large number of passengers, or you simply have oddly shaped items that won't fit in your car, a cargo box presents a solution. Cargo boxes come in many different shapes and sizes, with some that are designed to store items as long as skis, and others designed to be narrow enough to accommodate roof-mounted bike racks.
Do you need a roof rack for a cargo box?
Yes, in order to install and safely use a cargo box, you need to have a roof rack attached to your car's roof. This can be a factory-installed roof rack or an aftermarket rack -- either way, you'll be covered when it comes to most types of cargo boxes.
That all said, there are cargo bag options that don't require roof racks. If you want to use your roof for storage but don't want to install a rack, you can pick from one of the many soft-material cargo bags designed to be secured to your roof via straps that connect to your car's interior and are held in place by its doors.
How much weight can a cargo box handle?
Each cargo box has its own maximum weight capacity, which should be followed strictly in order to ensure not only the box's good condition, but road safety as well. For most larger cargo boxes, the weight limit is between 150 and 165 pounds, but smaller models may have weight limits closer to 110 pounds. Either way, it's better not to push the limit -- heavier items are better served by being placed in your trunk or your car, if possible.
Do cargo boxes reduce gas mileage?
Yes, cargo boxes do reduce gas mileage. Anything that adds weight to your vehicle -- including cargo and additional passengers -- makes it so that your vehicle needs to expend more energy to move. This means that fuel consumption is increased and gas mileage is decreased. Additionally, the presence of a cargo box on your car's roof makes it less aerodynamic and the added wind resistance will lower your gas mileage. Even the sleekest cargo boxes will have an effect on your overall fuel consumption.