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We've tested and purchased close to 20 different cargo boxes in the past 9 years. For this review, we looked at the 10 best models and tested them head-to-head to find out which rooftop cargo-carrying solution came out on top. Our gear junkies have driven thousands of miles with these boxes on different vehicles, filled to the brim with all manner of gear, passing through deserts, mountains, and many landscapes in between. Read on to see which cargo box can carry the most gear, which is the most secure, and which is the best if you are shopping on a tighter budget.
Whether you're packing up all your camping gear before heading out on a backpacking or climbing trip, or traveling to a new beautiful location to ski or snowboard, a cargo box can help you stay organized and maximize space inside your vehicle. The more dialed-in your car set-up is, the more you can focus on enjoying the open road and the adventures awaiting you at a new destination.
Editor's Note: We updated our cargo box review on November 7, 2022, adding in more info on our test metrics.
If you are searching for the best all-around cargo box, we think the Yakima GrandTour 16 is your ticket to ride. This cargo carrier is one of the easiest models to both install and use — we particularly like the relatively smooth interior that keeps your gear from getting caught on anything while loading or unloading. It opens on both sides, is quite durable and secure, and looks good on most cars. The clamps also have a wider range than most, allowing this box to secure to more sizes and shapes of crossbars. The lid isn't floppy, and operating the latches and locks is straightforward. We have tested plenty of cargo boxes that are annoying to operate, but this one flat-out works nicely and comes in at a reasonable price.
One downside to the smooth interior is the need for a separate tool to tighten or loosen the clamps. That said, Yakima includes a handy torque wrench for this, and we like this wrench — it makes installation convenient and produces a clicking sound to indicate that tightening is just right. Yakima also has a holder for the tool inside the cargo box, so it can live safely and conveniently inside. However, the possibility of losing it remains, though replacements can be purchased from Yakima, should that need arise. Overall, we really enjoyed testing and using the Yakima GrandTour and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a well-designed solution for their rooftop storage needs.
The Yakima RocketBox Pro 14 is a great bargain buy, perfect for anyone wanting an all-around excellent cargo carrier without paying the high price of a top-tier model. This roof box is very quick and easy to install on most vehicles and convenient and easy to use. It has dual-side openings –- an absolute must in our minds –- and feels very solid, secure, and well-made. The matte finish and dimpled texture also do an excellent job of hiding scrapes and scuffs.
However, a few concessions were made to keep the price lower — as is typically the case. The overall size of this cargo carrier is a bit smaller than the premium models, meaning the maximum length of gear you can carry is around 170 cm. It also looks a bit stubbier and less sleek and stylish overall than some of its pricier counterparts. Despite that, we would highly recommend this product to anyone who needs additional vehicular gear storage and doesn't want to make too many sacrifices with respect to quality and budget.
If you are shopping for a rooftop cargo carrier and aren't routinely moving long items like skis around, we think the Goplus Rooftop Carrier is a great option. It has many of the top-tier models' convenience features, making it very easy to use and install while costing you less. It has a dual-opening lid so you can access your gear from both sides of the car, and the quick clamps make installation and removal a breeze. The low weight of just 25 pounds helps make installing it atop a vehicle easier, too. This is one of the lightest boxes in our lineup and the shortest from front to back, so for those needing to install the box on their own or have a short car, this could be an ideal pick.
As for compromises, again, this cargo carrier is short compared to the other options. It has a maximum ski/board length of around 140 cm, meaning most adult skis will not fit. This also means some cars will have too wide of a crossbar span to attach this carrier to if they aren't adjustable. Additionally, the quick clamps don't have an indicator to show that they are sufficiently tight –- other models have an audible click that lets you know when they are clamped securely. Still, this is a great option if you don't need a cargo carrier for skis and are hoping to save some cash.
Products in this gear category are expensive. If the price tag of most of them is still outside your budget, then the SportRack Horizon Alpine is the cargo carrier for you. The Horizon Alpine is a bare-bones product that can't compare to the top-tier products in terms of convenience features but retails at a fraction of the cost of the top models. This budget box looks alright and feels very sturdy and durable. It isn't too much of a hassle to take on and off a car once you get the hang of it, and it can hold skis/snowboards up to 210 cm in length — a rarity for budget cargo carriers. It also only weighs 20 pounds, so it is a good consideration if you won't have help wrangling your box on and off the car.
While the Horizon Alpine will get your stuff from Point A to Point B, plenty of concessions were made to keep the price down. The lid only opens on one side — with no way to reconfigure it — and it lacks any integrated straps for securing your gear inside. The lid is also a little on the floppy side, and the Alpine is bordering on boring when it comes to visual appeal. It's a great option if you don't want to spend a ton of cash on a cargo solution for your car, but this box is far from flawless. That said, though it lacks the bells and whistles of the premium contenders, it's more than adequate to haul your gear around for a more palatable price point.
If you are looking for the peak of luxury when searching for a new cargo box, then we highly recommend the Thule Vector. This slim and sleek roof box has a much more striking appearance than most of its counterparts, standing out from the rest of the group. It includes an exterior cover, an interior liner, and two motion-activated interior lights. It's also very easy to install and remove and is exceptionally convenient to load or unload gear with its dual-side opening. The Vector feels very sturdy and secure and has a look that complements almost any vehicle.
Unfortunately, this top-tier performance is paired with a top-tier price. This roof box is one of the most expensive options we have tested and is likely outside the budget for many people. It is a great premium product that received a top score, and we would highly recommend it to anyone who wants the best and will pay a premium price, but we think most people would be just as happy with some of the less expensive options.
We've been testing and reviewing cargo boxes for years now and constantly seek new and notable models to add to our review. To ensure objectivity, we purchase all the products we test and never accept any free products or incentives from manufacturers. We began testing by unpacking and assembling each model while paying close attention to how easy each one is to install and load with gear. Each box was left on for several weeks and driven for hundreds of miles. We evaluated how user-friendly each one was for day-to-day use and noted any significant changes in vehicle handling and fuel efficiency. The boxes were loaded with a wide variety of equipment, from sleeping bags to climbing ropes to skis. Throughout testing, we kept track of any visible wear and tried to find flaws in durability.
We divided our testing process into four weighted rating metrics:
Ease of Use (40% of total score weighting)
Security (30% weighting)
Quality (20% weighting)
Appearance (10% weighting)
Our cargo box testing team is headed up by Lauren DeLaunay and David Wise. Lauren has lived out of her van for several years and taken these boxes all over the country, filling them with gear for many kinds of trips. David lives in Tahoe and spends a significant amount of time transporting skis, snowboards, and camping equipment throughout the year. In addition to performing comprehensive real-world testing, David also contributes via his background in mechanical engineering when ranking and scoring each model's aerodynamics and structural design.
Analysis and Test Results
To rank and score these products and see which cargo-carrying box is truly worthy of being crowned the best, we began by doing extensive research, looking at the best products currently on the market. We then picked out the most promising cargo carriers to purchase and test head-to-head. We developed a comprehensive testing plan, evaluating and judging the performance of each product on everything from its ease of installation to how well its finish hides scrapes and scratches. Our assessments can help you find the right cargo box for your needs.
The Yakima RocketBox Pro 14 and the Goplus Rooftop Carrier are our favorite inexpensive cargo boxes for those on a budget. The RocketBox is very easy to use and feels well-made and secure. We love the convenience of the dual openings and the tool-free installation. The Goplus is a great option if you want to save some cash and don't need to carry extra-long items. However, both of these boxes aren't necessarily the most stylish options out there.
At the top of the line, the Yakima GrandTour is a premium model that comes with a heftier price tag — though still a price point we consider quite fair. We like how easy to use and how sleek and stylish it is, but it's certainly more of a financial commitment for most people unless you are planning on using a cargo box all the time, not just for the occasional road trip.
Ease of Use
Whether you plan to use your cargo box occasionally or throw it on your roof and leave it there for months, there are a few ways in which some products are considerably easier to use than others. For this metric, we looked at the assembly process, which included mounting, opening, and closing the box. This helped us develop a picture of how much or little effort was required when using these boxes on a daily basis. Overall, we found this metric to be the biggest factor when selecting a cargo box, so it is weighted the most heavily regarding each product's overall score.
When it comes to ease of use, the Yakima GrandTour, Thule Motion XT XL, and Thule Vector all rose to the top in our tests. We love that all three of these cargo carriers come close to fully assembled, just requiring you to place the clamps into position and thread the straps through — no inserting locking cores or attaching lids.
The mounting system on the Thule Motion XT makes installation a breeze and is usually accomplished in under five minutes. We spent more time trying to locate where the manufacturer had taped the key than actually mounting it the first time. The lid opens from either side and is decently sturdy. The only missing add-on, in our opinion, is a light inside the box, though this can easily be added aftermarket for a low price. That said, we found the Thule Vector and Yakima GrandTour a bit easier to install than the Motion when using aftermarket, larger square cross bars. The Motion clamps barely fit around the bars, almost giving us cause for concern, compared to the clamps on the GrandTour that easily fit around them. The Vector has a mounting system similar to the Motion and has all the features you could want, including an integrated light and an interior pad. It even has an exterior dust cover, along with a dual-opening lid.
The Yakima GrandTour also opens on both sides and is very easy to install and remove. It uses a slightly different system with a single-piece clamp that requires a tool to install (included) but has the benefit of being much flatter on the inside than other Thule. The smoother interior surface (lacking awkward knobs or protrusions) makes loading and moving gear throughout the cargo box easier. There is even integrated storage for the torque wrench inside the cargo box.
The Yakima Skybox Carbonite 16, Goplus Rooftop Carrier, and the Thule Force XT XL are next regarding ease of use. These all are pretty quick and easy to install, with dual-opening lids. The Skybox has a cam-style clamping system that is easy to install once you get it adjusted properly, but it can take a bit longer with the initial install to get the correct balance of clamping pressure.
The Force features the same PowerClick mounting system as the more expensive Thule models but lacks the more convenient locking systems featured on those models. Still, we appreciate having this added perk.
The Skybox has a slightly more prominent handle than the Force but is not as easy to switch between vehicles. Both have their advantages over each other but feel fairly comparable in terms of overall ease of use.
The GoPlus Carrier also features quick clamps and opens on both sides. The quick clamps don't permanently mount into the box, but they are very user-friendly, making the installation process quick and easy. However, the clamps don't have an indicator to tell you when you have tightened them sufficiently. Still, we like that the lid is secure and easy to open and close. The shorter length means it is easier for one person to install on a car, but crossbars with larger spans may not be compatible.
The Yakima RocketBox is also above-average regarding ease of use. This cargo carrier has a solid handle and is dual-opening, making it very easy to load or unload with gear. The installation clamps can be a bit finicky, especially with larger crossbars. We like the tool-free installation, but it can be a bit harder to judge if they have been tightened sufficiently.
The security of each cargo box was our next concern. Everyone wants to be confident that a roof box will keep their gear as safe as possible, though a determined thief could probably get into any of these products with enough motivation and the right tools. We awarded the most points to carriers that have simple and easy-to-operate security systems that seem durable enough to resist break-ins and solid enough that we would entrust them with our beloved gear.
In all honesty, all the products in our lineup are relatively equal, and we were never worried about security. In all these models, it is impossible to remove the key without the box being properly latched and secured, which we consider a crucial feature. That being said, some of the boxes we tested have useful indicators to let you know if the box is latched properly or not before trying to remove the key. The Thule Motion XT and Thule Vector have a red indicator, and the Yakima Skybox and Yakima GrandTour have nice large handles that make closing everything up securely easy and obvious. These features inspire extra confidence that your belongings are safe, so we boosted their scores in this metric accordingly.
The remainder of the boxes, like the RocketBox Pro 14, are all average in terms of security. They have factory-installed locks but lack any extra indicators or ergonomic handles. Still, they are all easy to latch and unlatch and won't permit the key to be removed while the box is unlocked, preventing you from forgetting to close it or locking your keys in the box.
While these boxes all have locking mechanisms, we are sure that each model could be broken into without too much effort if someone really wanted and had the proper tools, so you might want to think twice about leaving particularly pricey gear in your unsupervised cargo box for extended periods.
All of these products are made from similar materials, so we looked at the details for clues about their longevity. We drove each box around for weeks without any signs of wear and tear, so this category is primarily concerned with structural integrity and weather resistance. For the most part, every box in this review passed the rain and wind tests, which were easy to account for in the Eastern Sierra in springtime, but some had more questionable design features than others. We know you want to invest in a long-lasting roof box that you can count on for countless future adventures, so we assessed this metric with a critical eye.
One of the main indicators of quality for a cargo box is the overall rigidity of the frame, particularly with the lid. We looked for fairly rigid lids that aligned the latching mechanisms without issue. We also looked at the construction and design of the clamps and locking systems, as well as the amount of potential water intrusion. Finally, we took into account any wear and tear or other damage that each cargo carrier might have experienced after our rough and tumble-testing process.
We found the Thule Vector, Yakima GrandTour, Thule Motion XT XL, Thule Force XT XL, Yakima Skybox Carbonite 16, Yakima RocketBox Pro 14, and Thule Pulse all to be the frontrunners in terms of quality. These cargo carriers all held up very well to our testing process and feel solid and sturdy, with a lid that opens with minimal flopping. They are some of the most resistant to water intrusion in our experience as well, and the different clamps and latches all feel well-designed.
In general, we found that most of these products will offer adequate protection for your gear. Our belongings were usually dry even after driving through heavy rainstorms or getting sprayed with a garden hose on full strength for 20 minutes, one of our rigorous simulated weather tests.
We are a bit more concerned about water resistance regarding the SportRack Vista XL and SportRack Horizon Alpine. These cargo carriers mount to roof racks with a set of U-bolts and come with a series of pre-drilled holes to accommodate different crossbar spacing. This means that there are multiple holes on the bottom, consequently leaving multiple points for water to get in. To remedy this, these SportRack products include vinyl stickers to cover the unused holes. These stickers performed fine in our test, but we could see their effectiveness at keeping water out, degrading over time.
The clamps on the Goplus Carrier are mediocre in terms of water resistance. The clamps push through a slit in a piece of rubber sheeting, and we think this provides a better seal than the vinyl stickers but not as good as the top-tier models with quick clamps that have a sliding seal.
None of these boxes showed any significant signs of damage through normal wear and tear, though most showed a handful of scrapes and scuffs from repeatedly installing and uninstalling them. Even when one tester managed to bend two of the four mounting clips by backing a Thule box into a cement wall they didn't realize stuck out further than the car, there wasn't major damage to the cargo carrier.
However, we did find some of the glossier models, such as the Yakima GrandTour or the Thule Motion XT XL, to be slightly more prone to showing scuffs and scrapes than the matte or satin-finished models — something to consider if you frequently store your cargo carrier off of your vehicle.
Although we tend to prioritize function over form for most categories, we do recognize that cargo boxes can be an eyesore and are something you'll have to see daily while on your vehicle. Testing for this metric was fairly subjective and based upon a group consensus.
There were no shocking designs in this review; all the products we tested generally look like what we'd expect from cargo boxes these days. They did come in a surprising amount of finishes, though, and we had clear preferences. We find the futuristic look of the Thule Vector and the gloss black appearance of the Yakima GrandTour appealing. However, these do show dirt and scrapes a bit more readily.
If you're going for a more muted aesthetic, the Thule Force, Horizon Alpine, and Yakima Skybox Carbonite might be better options. We find that we generally prefer the matte finish for our adventures. A matte finish also hides dead bugs well — a problem we hadn't initially thought of. Scratches and scuffs are notably more subtle on the matte finishes as well, a problem that glossy models struggled with after many miles.
Additionally, we appreciate that some models, like the Thule Motion XT and Thule Vector, are available in multiple colors, letting you pick the best match for your car. This gives a definite boost for versatility and personalization.
We weren't the biggest fans of the surface texture and finish on the shorter, stubbier cargo boxes. The textured finish on the SportRack Vista seemed a little cheap to us, to the point where we felt it might detract from the appearance of nicer cars. We liked the dimpled finish on the Goplus a bit more.
The Yakima RocketBox 14 also shares a dimpled matte texture that is convenient for hiding minor blemishes, but found the overall appearance of this box less sleek and stylish than some of the other models, slightly bumping it down in this metric. Regardless, it could be a good option if you don't care much about the appearance of your cargo box or if you like how the textured surface matches your vehicle and are trying to save some money.
Are These Going To Kill My Gas Mileage or Ruin Handling?
You may be wondering if it is even worth getting a cargo box in the first place due to their impact on vehicle handling and mileage. We posed the same question and dedicated an entire metric to this. However, we found after testing that there wasn't a significant impact on how a variety of different test cars handled, regardless if we were traveling on the freeway at high speeds, over windy mountain passes, or over potholes and bumps on rough roads. These are all large boxes that go on top of your car and increase the wind resistance and drag while you are driving, but they are all pretty much comparable, especially if you drive a larger SUV or truck that isn't particularly aerodynamic in the first place. Drag is hugely dependent on speed as well, so you most likely can negate any loss in fuel economy by driving just a bit slower — and you don't really want to be speeding all that much with a fully loaded cargo box on top of your car anyway. Does adding a heavy box to your vehicle affect its power, handling, and fuel efficiency? Sure. Were we able to notice the difference, especially comparative differences between each box? No, not really.
We genuinely hope this review and expert recommendations guide you toward the perfect cargo carrier for all your transport needs, no matter the type of gear you need to move or your budget.
Clearly, all of these products will get your stuff from Point A to Point B and may seem very similar. Nonetheless, our comprehensive research is here to help you identify the minute differences so you can find the perfect product. Safe travels!
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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.