5 Best Rooftop Cargo Carriers, Tested By Experts (2023 Guide)

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Will has written for several major auto sites including Motor1 since 2020, logging hundreds of hours researching and testing products ranging from child car seats to torque wrenches. Will is also Certified by Safe Kids Worldwide as a Child Passenger Safety Technician (#T836339). Safety Net Type

5 Best Rooftop Cargo Carriers, Tested By Experts (2023 Guide)

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The best rooftop cargo carrier money can buy.

A budget-friendly soft-top cargo carrier that’s easy to install.

A secure cargo bin you can use with other equipment.

A durable canvas roof carrier with a large cargo capacity.

A waterproof canvas bag with a high capacity.

Need extra storage space for a hiking adventure, vacation, or road trip? The best rooftop cargo carrier for you will depend on your vehicle and storage needs. We’ve tested several options, and explain our top five picks below based on cost, storage capacity, ease of installation, aerodynamics, and durability.

A rooftop cargo carrier attaches to the hood of your vehicle and can add 16.0 or more cubic feet of storage for your road adventures. This type of carrier can eliminate the need for an extra trailer and is essential for frequent campers or large families on vacation.

Our review team combed through online customer reviews of top-rated products sold by Amazon, REI, and Walmart to find some of the most popular rooftop cargo carriers for testing. Because not everyone has the same needs, we chose to test a range of styles and prices.

We tested the products we recommend in this review and evaluated them based on storage capacity, ease of installation, aerodynamics, and durability. We chose products designed for carrying additional luggage and stowable items. This isn’t a review of the best rooftop cargo carriers for specialty equipment such as skis, bikes, and snowboards.

Our review team based its ratings for storage capacity on the inner dimensions of each product. Rooftop cargo carriers with the most cubic feet scored best in this category.

We mounted each rooftop cargo carrier onto a Subaru Forester according to the directions included with the product. We scored each carrier based on how quick and easy the installation process is. Lightweight carriers or carriers that can be quickly secured scored best in this category.

Adding a carrier to the top of your car will create extra drag, which can reduce your car’s fuel efficiency. Once each rooftop cargo carrier was installed, we took it for an extended test drive to determine how much drag it caught. Rooftop carriers that produced the least amount of noise and drag scored best in this category.

Durability is essential for the carrier’s material and the quality of its zippers and latches. By handling each cargo carrier in person, we could gauge which had the best construction. We also considered Amazon customer reviews on each product’s longevity. Rooftop cargo carriers with many customer reviews commenting on longevity, and which we felt had well-made components scored best in this category.

To test rooftop cargo carriers, our team unpacked and installed each carrier according to the directions. For our test vehicle, we used a Subaru Forester. We paid special attention to the durability and stitching quality of each cargo carrier’s zippers and straps.

After installing each rooftop cargo carrier, we loaded it with test cargo and took it for a road test, noting the amount of noise the product produced and how much drag it added to our vehicle.

As part of our research process, our team also scoured verified Amazon reviews to learn about the experiences of other users, paying particular attention to longevity.

Each year, we test over 350 auto products on vehicles and in our testing lab. Our team of product testers thoroughly researches top products, unboxes and puts our hands on each component, and tests the items on real vehicles before making recommendations to readers.

We publish hundreds of product and service reviews to bring car enthusiasts detailed guides on automotive tools, detailing kits, car seats, bike racks, and much more. For more information on our testing methodology and how we evaluate every product, check out our methodology page here .

The Thule Pulse is the best of the best rooftop cargo carriers. It features a heavy-duty aerodynamic design and lockable storage and is easy to install. The Pulse comes in three sizes ranging from 11.0 to 16.0 cubic feet. We tested the medium-size Thule (14.0 cubic feet).

Despite the Thule’s intimidating size, we found it to be one of the easiest cargo carriers to install. It does require a roof rack, and you may need to adjust the distance of your crossbars before fitting the Thule Pulse. Once you’ve adjusted your crossbars, however, attaching the Pulse couldn’t be simpler. Installation with the quick-mount system doesn’t even require tools.

The lid opens from the side using a key and fits snugly when closed. When we took the Pulse on a test drive, it generated virtually no extra road noise – you wouldn’t even know it was up there. We felt no additional drag on our test vehicle. While the added weight and dimensions likely reduce fuel efficiency, it isn’t by much.

Amazon Review Score: 4.6 out of 5 stars based on more than 700 ratings

Positive customer reviews frequently mention the Pulse’s impressive load capacity and how quiet it is on the road. Its size makes it a versatile carrier that can even fit some skis.

“Thule is a more expensive brand, but sometimes it is worth it. This is an example of you [get what you pay for]. If you want 100 percent confidence with your stuff on top of your car driving 70 mph down the highway, this is your rooftop cargo box.”

Some customers say they received defective products, but such cases seem to be relatively few. If you order a Thule Pulse from Amazon and it ships broken, contact the seller for a refund immediately.

The most common breaking point seems to be the lock system. If you try to force the lock without fully and properly closing the Pulse, it can break.

“Locking mechanism is so poorly designed that the key eventually broke off in the lock. Had to drill the rivets that hold the locks in place in order to open it.”

The Fivklemnz cargo carrier is our favorite canvas rooftop cargo carrier bag. It’s quiet on the roof, secure, offers decent storage capacity, and is simple to install. We believe this is a suitable lightweight option if you don’t want to shell out the bucks required to buy a Thule. A Fivklemnz is also a solid choice if you don’t have a roof rack.

The Fivklemnz isn’t quite as easy to install as the Thule Pulse, but it was easier to attach to our test vehicle than any of the other soft-top cargo bags we tested. It lays atop a protective mat, and the straps are especially easy to tie down and adjust. Numerous straps provide added stability and security, but you’ll need to spend some time tucking and clipping after you’ve loaded your car top carrier.

The zippers are made of durable material, and the stitching is high-grade. This bag’s material is lightweight yet durable, and on our road test, the Fivklemnz was the quietest of the soft-shell carriers. It’s not as quiet as the Thule, however.

Amazon Review Score: 4.4 out of 5 stars based on more than 5,400 ratings

Satisfied customers praise the Fivklemnz for its durability, sturdy design, and ability to keep items dry in the rain. Some users mention excellent customer service, with one reviewer saying a strap tore but they received a full refund for their defective product.

“[The Fivklemnz] went through daily snows and melting that week. I traveled through four states, strong sustained winds with 40 mph+ gusts most of the way, torrential rain and mud being splattered. … My items stayed perfectly dry, and the bag is in perfect condition, just a little muddy.”

Some customers find the Fivklemnz isn’t adequately waterproofed, which leads to soaked belongings. It’s hard to know if these reviewers received defective products or if the waterproofing didn’t work because the bag wasn’t properly secured.

“Not quite as waterproof as we had hoped. Our things got wet, we are assuming from wind-driven rain.”

– A R Q via Amazon

The Arksen cargo basket features an open design, so bags must be secured with additional straps or netting. The rack comes in various sizes and can accommodate a weatherproof Arksen rooftop cargo bag (sold separately). We tested the 43.0-inch model, which is the smallest size offered.

We found the Arksen simple to install. Once it’s attached, you can leave it on your vehicle and it won’t hinder your driving. When empty, it adds little drag to your vehicle, even at high speeds. Without being waterproof, this is a good option for short-term use only. You can purchase the Arksen storage box, sold separately, if you need weatherproof storage for longer trips.

In our driving test (without cargo), the Arksen was completely silent and added little to no drag. Drag can vary depending on how you arrange your rooftop cargo. Because it’s an open-topped carrier, there’s more leeway in how high you stack your cargo. You’ll need additional tie-down straps or a cargo net – which you can also purchase separately – to secure your load.

Amazon Review Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars based on over 4,100 ratings

Many customers say the Arksen is easy to assemble and attach to their vehicle. We found the cargo carrier less cumbersome than the larger Thule or the multi-strap system most cargo bags use.

“It is so easy to install. Minimal noise. I am 5-foot-3, 119 pounds and was able to assemble it and put it on my SUV with minimal help. It’s pretty lightweight.”

Some users say the Arksen doesn’t fit well with their roof side rails. The basket was a snug fit on our test vehicle, but it may not attach as firmly depending on the shape and spacing of your roof rack. Unlike some cars, the Subaru Forester has adjustable roof rails.

“I liked the quality and design of the roof rack. … Only problem is it does not align with my 2020 Hyundai Tucson roof rail system. It is too short.”

The other issue some customer reviews mention is with the securing system. Depending on your roof rack, you may need to attach the bolts differently than the directions recommend.

This high-capacity soft-top roof bag is made of durable PVC material. It’s an excellent pick if you need a lot of storage capacity, which exceeds that of similar bags. Two downsides of this bag are that it’s noisier than other options and that we found it the most difficult of our recommendations to install (though still not that difficult in general).

The Midabao’s strap system is a bit more complicated than similar rooftop bags. However, this bag doesn’t require a roof rack to install, and you can securely attach it to your roof. The strap-tightening system is less intuitive than the Fivklemnz and the Roof Master, but we eventually managed to figure it out.

The Midabao is the nosiest of the carriers we tested, at least in part because of how many straps the bag uses. On the plus side, the straps allow you to tighten the bag to your roof securely, improving aerodynamics. Depending on how you pack it, this carrier can be more aerodynamic than similar rooftop storage bags.

Amazon Review Score: 4.2 out of 5 stars based on over 1,700 ratings

Most customers are happy with the high storage capacity and note how securely the included straps attach the Midabao bag to their roof.

“[I] traveled through a torrential downpour, high winds and snow with no signs of water infiltration or tears. [The] zipper is a bit tough to slide, but that is because of the waterproof seals it incorporates.”

Reviews on the water resistance of the Midabao are mixed. Some customers use the bag in the rain with no issues, but several reviewers mention the bag failing to keep water out. If using this bag, you may want to add a layer of plastic over your belongings.

“It feels a bit flimsy, the zippers could be beefier, but it overall held up great. The straps/buckles are solid, the stitching all appears to be well done and durable. It is not 100 percent waterproof, though.”

The Roof Master is a nylon cargo carrier with a high storage capacity. The zippers form a waterproof seam, and long flaps provide additional protection. This bag is a nice option if you’re expecting to encounter rainy weather and want to ensure your cargo stays dry.

We like the Roof Master as a low-cost option for a rooftop carrier. The bag is extremely lightweight and attaches securely to the roof rack. The zippers are well-waterproofed, making the bag ideal if you expect to encounter rain or snow.

We found this bag more challenging to load than some of our other recommendations, at least after we attached it to the roof. The straps are also more difficult to tighten than the Fivklemnz. When we took the Roof Master on a test drive, it was slightly louder than our other recommendations but still relatively aerodynamic with low wind noise.

Amazon Review Score: 4.2 out of 5 stars based on more than 1,300 ratings

Customers are impressed with this storage bag’s capacity and weather resistance. Several people mention long road trips through harsh weather conditions.

“[The Roof Master] worked out perfectly. The only bummer is that the included roof protector left a weird faint pattern that still won’t go away. The bag itself held up great and was easy to get on and off. Nothing leaked even the tiniest bit.”

Like our review team, a few people deem the strap system less than ideal. Some find it necessary to use their own bungee cords. One customer says their bag wore away after one trip. While this didn’t appear common, the material of the Roof Master is less robust than some of the other bags we tested.

“The straps provided are utterly useless. I resorted to heavy-duty bungee cords, and everything stayed put. I’ll use it again but with bungee cords. The straps don’t stay tight, and the ends don’t stay put. You have to pull over and retighten and retie everything every 50 miles.”

When searching for the best rooftop cargo carrier, your ideal option depends partly on how you plan to use the carrier. We tested rooftop carriers intended for holding extra luggage and items. You may want to consider a different carrier if you need to transport bikes or outdoor equipment such as a kayak.

In general, it’s wise to consider the following factors when shopping for the best roof cargo carrier:

What do you plan to carry in your rooftop carrier? If you need extra storage space for your backpack or sleeping bags, consider the products in this review. If you need something to carry your bike or skis, you should purchase a specialty roof rack.

Also consider the distance you’re traveling and how often you’ll use your cargo carrier. If you’re going a long way, you’ll likely want a waterproof carrier in case you encounter precipitation. If you plan to use your carrier frequently for shorter trips, you may want a product similar to the Arksen roof rack, which you can easily leave on your car even when it’s not in use.

Any carrier you put on your roof will add wind resistance to your vehicle and reduce fuel economy. The farther you travel with your carrier, the more significant the impact on your gas tank. A low-profile rooftop cargo carrier designed for aerodynamics can reduce drag and minimize gas-mileage loss.

A bigger carrier may only fit larger vehicles if it can’t mount your car’s cross bars, so be sure to check the specs of the model before purchase.

The loading point of a rooftop cargo carrier tends to vary between manufacturers. Below are the most common iterations: 

This review includes three types of cargo carriers: hardtop, softshell, and basket. A hardtop carrier will provide the most protection, but it’s the heaviest. A softshell bag can still be waterproof, but it may be less aerodynamic and more challenging to load. You can leave a basket carrier on your vehicle, adding a little drag, but you will need a net or bag to secure your loads.

Some rooftop carriers include a lock, and you can safely leave them on top of your vehicle while it’s parked (for example, if you break your trip into several days and want to leave most of your luggage in your car while at your hotel). If you believe you’ll leave your luggage in your carrier while your vehicle is parked overnight, invest in a carrier with a lock.

Some rooftop cargo carriers require a roof rack for proper installation. Check that your roof rails are adjustable, as some mounting clamps may be fixed in place. 

If your car comes from an automaker without racks, select a rooftop cargo carrier with a mounting system that doesn’t require rails. These typically have door hooks that keep them in place. 

Lastly, make sure you’re not exceeding the load capacity of the carrier and the weight limit of your roof as well.

Other features to look for include:

Unless you purchase one of the more high-end rooftop cargo carriers, those above $1,000, most interiors are fairly barebones. A common inclusion with these carriers is strapping to secure items in place, but dedicated storage pockets are considered a premium feature.

If you find your vehicle’s current carry capacity limited and want to expand by a few cubic feet, then a rooftop cargo carrier can be worth the investment, depending on the price from the retailer.

Rooftop accessories are also more attractive when your vehicle comes stock from the automaker with mounting hardware. The cost of aftermarket roof rails available for a variety of generally falls within the $150 to $500 range, although expect to pay more if you have them professionally installed. 

Rooftop carriers are legal if they’re securely installed. Make sure all cargo is appropriately strapped down and contained. You can receive a citation if you fail to secure your rooftop carrier and something falls off.

How to pack a rooftop cargo carrier depends on the particular product. In most cases, you’ll want to pack the carrier after you’ve placed it on your roof and before you’ve tightened any straps. Don’t overpack your rooftop carrier. Once the cargo carrier is packed, close all seams and zippers and secure it to your vehicle as tightly as possible.

Besides introducing drag to the vehicle roof with added cargo, weight capacity also plays a factor. The added weight causes the car to consume more fuel in order to maintain speeds while traveling. For shoppers concerned about saving gas, hard-shell carriers usually offer aerodynamics than canvas bags.

Most manufacturers included mounting hardware for their cargo carriers, although shoppers should double-check the listing if concerned about installation. That said, make sure your vehicle is equipped with the proper rooftop equipment to carry a cargo box.

All of the rooftop cargo carriers reviewed by our team are water-resistant and weatherproof, whether they are hard-shell or canvas bags. The downside with canvas carriers is they are less aerodynamic and can be susceptible to tears over time.

If you’re looking to expand your vehicle’s storage space, a rooftop cargo carrier is a great option. Obviously, your purchasing decision should be guided by your car and whether or not it has cross bars or roof rails equipped. 

If it does have roof rails installed, then we recommend an option that’s durable, has simple installation, and ideally can be locked from the outside for maximum security. If not, then a canvas bag with heavy-duty construction is preferable.

Below are a few rooftop cargo carriers with glowing customer reviews that stood out to our team during the research process. Although we did not physically test these cargo carriers, we think they’re worth considering.

Thule was our top pick and for good reason: they make high-quality carriers that are easy to install. The Thule Cargo Bag conveniently attaches to your existing roof rails and even turns into a storage bag for improved mobility.

Thule also has an offering for fans of the cargo basket. Featuring a 150.0 lb. load capacity and an aerodynamic design, the Thule Canyon Cargo Basket also claims to fit most OEM and aftermarket roof racks.

A roof cargo box adds storage space and functionality to your vehicle. Typically, these are useful if you’re taking your car on a vacation and need extra space for luggage. A rooftop carrier may come in handy for large groups or families so there’s enough room for all passengers and their luggage.

Yes, you can put a cargo box on a roof basket. The Arksen roof basket is compatible with many roof boxes, including the Arksen-brand roof box.

Most cargo bags are secured to the roof through a system of straps. Some roof carriers may require you to attach the straps to a roof rack, while others may attach under the weatherproof seals in your doors.

Safety should be a priority if traveling with a rooftop cargo carrier. Most manufacturers advise customers to drive under a certain speed limit when a carrier is installed. This ranges from 75.0 to 90.0 mph.

These are often called roof racks, ski racks, or bike racks, depending on the function of the carrier.

Our budget picks range from $50 to $100 for canvas bags, but carriers made of high-grade materials like plastic and with aerodynamic designs will cost anywhere from $300 to over $1,000.

*Data accurate at time of publication.

5 Best Rooftop Cargo Carriers, Tested By Experts (2023 Guide)

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