The Best Car Top Carriers of 2022

The Yakima GrandTour 18 is our top pick.

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Rooftop Cargo Carrier
Courtesy of REI, Amazon

As any seasoned road-tripper will tell you, there's no substitute for a good car top carrier. Not only do they free up car interior and trunk space, but they also help keep things organized, isolate dirty gear from the car's interior, and provide protection against the elements.

In addition to various storage capacities (measured in cubic inches), you can also choose from hard-top cargo boxes that attach to the cross bars of a roof rack, cargo bags that can be strapped directly onto a vehicle's roof, or storage baskets that work with after-market roof racks and allow you to add additional carrying solutions. In evaluating each product, we looked at the overall application of each car top carrier type, as well as key considerations like ease of access and installation, security and durability, and a variety of different travel and activity types. Our favorite is the Yakima GrandTour 18, but there are plenty more to choose from

Here are the best car top carriers.

T+L's Top Picks

Best Overall: Yakima GrandTour 18

Rooftop Cargo Carrier
Courtesy of REI

Why We Love It: It's simple to use and really maxes out its storage space, with smart customization options thanks to internal tie-down points.

What to Consider: At more than 60 pounds, it'll take two to get it mounted.

Boasting a storage capacity of 18 cubic feet, the GrandTour 18 from Yakima will satisfy even the most discerning road warrior. The box attaches to the roof rack with a simple-to-use torque-limiting knob that comes out once the device is secure, creating an entirely flat interior to maximize your packing space. Built to open from either side, the GrandTour employs lid stiffeners to add durability and make it easy to access, with same-key-system locks for added security. Tie-down points lining the box interior allow all sorts of custom packing solutions, and the design has been executed to not interfere with hatchbacks. It also looks great, with an automotive finish that will compliment most vehicles.

Capacity: 18 cubic feet | Weight: 60.5 pounds | Ski Capacity: Yes, for skis and snowboards up to 215 centimeters

Best Budget: Rightline Gear Sport 3

Rooftop Cargo Carrier
Courtesy of Amazon

Also available at REI

Why We Love It: It's extremely simple and the best way to quickly add more storage to any vehicle.

What to Consider: You have to have the hatchback door closed to access the pack, and some may struggle to pack everything inside since the zippered opening sits pretty high on the roof.

Going with the Rightline Gear Sport 3 avoids the expense of getting a roof rack. Instead, you attach the Gear Sport 3 bag directly to the roof, either via vehicle racks that often come standard (those that run parallel to the doors) or by using the included car clips, which attach to the door frames' weather molding.

The polyester PVC material has a water-resistant, UV-protected PVC semi-coat to fend off the elements, and the bag comes with waterproof zippers. An enclosed front end helps load the bag to avoid overpacking.

Capacity: 18 cubic feet | Weight: 8.25 pounds | Ski Capacity: No

Best for Skis: Thule Vector Alpine

Rooftop Cargo Carrier
Courtesy of Amazon

Also available at REI

Why We Love It: It's got enough space for skis and boards up to 200 centimeters, and bells and whistles like felt lining and LED light add great convenience.

What to Consider: Some may want more overall storage space, and the box is fairly pricey.

Compared to other boxes, the 13 cubic feet of storage in the Thule Vector Alpine might seem small – but if you're looking for a simple solution to haul your skis and snowboards, it delivers. It includes space to store skis and snowboards up to 200 centimeters in length, and the interior is lined with a plush felt base to protect your gear. Integrated LED lighting to keep things visible during a dawn-patrol outing; an all-white interior further boosts the visibility. A quick-mount system clicks when the box has been properly mounted, and a forward position on the roof racks makes trunk access easy. The box can be opened from either side, and a SlideLock system has separate locking and opening functions to assure that the lid is properly closed.

Capacity: 13 cubic feet | Weight: 65.9 pounds | Ski Capacity: Yes, up to 200 centimeters

Related: The Best Bike Racks

Best All-in-One Solution: Jegs Cargo Carrier and Roof Rack Cross Bar Kit

Rooftop Cargo Carrier
Courtesy of Amazon

Also available at Jegs

Why We Love It: It's an inexpensive solution for someone looking to add both a roof rack and a carrier to their vehicle.

What to Consider: You must be sure to accurately measure your car's roof dimensions to assure that the racks will fit on your vehicle.

If you're looking to outfit your car with storage and roof rack cross bars, go with the affordable Jegs Cargo Carrier and Roof Rack Cross Bar Kit, which includes two adjustable aluminum cross bars along with an 18-cubic-foot cargo box. The hard-case box comes with four locks for ample security, and it can be accessed from either side of the vehicle to help keep you safe from passing traffic while roadside. Compared to other boxes, it takes a bit of time to assemble once you've got the racks installed, with four clamps with twin screws.

Capacity: 18 cubic feet | Weight: 35.25 pounds | Ski Capacity: Yes, for skis under 144 centimeters

Best Rooftop Bag: Thule Interstate

Rooftop Cargo Carrier
Courtesy of Amazon

Also available at REI

Why We Love It: You'll have ample access via the three-sided zipper, which includes a generous storm flap to block out the elements.

What to Consider: The bag is designed to attach to rooftop rack bars and cannot be used without them.

Made of a durable, double-coated, phthalate-free TPE laminate material, the Interstate soft roof box bag provides 16 cubic feet of reliable storage. The weather-resistant bag attaches to a roof rack's cross bars via double-stitched webbing straps, and it positions cargo securely with minimal friction and noise thanks to twin compression straps. A padded base protects the vehicle and your gear, and a coated, three-sided zipper makes it easy to gain access to the inside.

Capacity: 16 Cubic Feet | Weight: 5.5 pounds | Ski Capacity: No

Best Cargo Basket: Yakima OffGrid

Rooftop Cargo Carrier
Courtesy of Amazon

Also available at REI

Why We Love It: Inexpensive, durable, and easy to use, it's a graceful solution for those who want to haul stuff but don't want the bulk of a true cargo box.

What to Consider: Locks that secure the basket to the car rack are sold separately.

The Yakima OffGrid Cargo Basket affords versatility that you can't get from a standard cargo box, allowing you to securely strap larger items — like coolers, cords of firewood, and other large-format gear —directly to the rack. Flaring reduces wind noise and drag, and it can be removed to haul longer items. The universal mounting hardware secures the rack to most factory crossbars, and a clean modern look keeps the overall aesthetic more urban than rural. Bonus: If you're looking to haul more gear, it also includes a removable, adjustable accessory rods to let you add additional Yakima gear mounts for gear like bikes, boats, and paddle boards.

Dimensions: 44 inches long, 40 inches wide | Weight: 40.25 pounds | Ski Capacity: No

Related: The Best Pet Carriers for Travel

Best for Big Loads: Thule Motion XT XXL

Rooftop Cargo Carrier
Courtesy of Amazon

Also available at Thule

Why We Love It: An easy-to-mount system makes it easy to secure the box to a roof rack.

What to Consider: It's too big for many standard sedans.

With a cavernous max storage capacity of 22 cubic feet, the Motion XT XXL from Thule is one of the biggest cargo boxes available. But it's not just about all that storage. The easy-to-mount box comes with the brand's "PowerClick" system, which audibly "clicks" when it's properly mounted, and the SlideLock system separates the locking and opening functions so you can always know when the box is securely closed before locking everything down. You can access the box from either side, with grip-friendly outer handles and lid lifters that make it easy to open and close. A forward position assures unencumbered access to the trunk or hatchback, while an aerodynamic design cuts down on drag and wind noise.

Capacity: 22 cubic feet | Weight: 55 Pounds | Ski Capacity: Yes, up to 214 centimeters

Related: The Best Car Phone Mounts

Tips for Buying a Car Top Carrier

Know your cargo

When exploring cargo boxes, think about what you're likely to haul, and make sure your gear will fit. This rings especially true for long items like skis, snowboards, or paddles, which need to be shorter than the cargo carrier's max internal length. Also take into account the max height of your arsenal – if you're hoping to haul your cooler, for example, make sure the box has enough "head space." Finally, take into account the volume of gear – the space you'll need will be different from a weekend outing with your partner and a week-long road trip with the whole family. When in doubt, go with the bigger option.

Protection is key

Almost all hard-topped roof carriers are solid enough to stand up to the open road and inclement weather, and most soft-shell roof bags are made of durable, weather-resistant material to protect your gear. But if you're transporting more delicate gear, also look for boxes that have padding or felt lining on the internal floor, which helps fend off the occasional bump and scrape that are inevitable when loading and unloading gear.

Consider security

With most hard-top cargo boxes, once it's secure to the roof rack, it's "locked" into place. But if you want added security, consider boxes that come with locks at the handles so you can lock the gear down. Soft top bags, however, don't boast nearly as much security, since the fabric is still vulnerable to sharp objects, and roof baskets don't offer much protection from thieves. If you're only going car camping, security may not rank as a high consideration, but for road trips where you're sure to leave your car behind to explore, locks add peace of mind.

Remember installation

All hard-top cargo boxes sit on a roof rack's cross bars and are anchored securely from the inside. Higher-end models employ smart attachment systems that let you secure things with a few twists of a torque knob, or audibly "click" into place to reassure you that things are as they should be. And bonus points for brands whose mounting systems leave the internal floor flat, which makes it easier to pack efficiently. Lower-cost models can prove more cumbersome to mount, using as many as four different anchor points to the cross bars. And given that most boxes weigh around 40 to 60 pounds, it's best to have help when trying to get the box on and off the rack. Soft-shell bags, meanwhile, employ straps to attach to the roof rack's cross bars, factory-standard side bars, or directly to the vehicle's windows. These are naturally lighter than hard-top versions and can be attached by one person. They're also easier to store when not in use, but are a bit more challenging to pack with your cargo.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know which car top carrier is best for my car?

Most brands have vehicle pairing tools on their websites to assure that the cargo box will fit with the make and model of your vehicle without overhanging the back. That's always a smart place to start, as they'll also identify their products' compatibility with different roof rack cross bars. Sedans should stick to boxes with a max capacity of 18 cubic feet, while SUVs and larger vehicles can go bigger.

Do I need a roof rack for a car top carrier?

If you're using a hard-top cargo box, you do need a roof rack with crossbars — that's how the box attaches to your car. But some soft-top boxes can work with industry-standard side-roof racks or attach directly to the windows of your vehicle.

Why Trust Travel + Leisure

Nathan Borchelt has extensive experience in working with car top carriers for everything from cross-country road trips to jaunts to mega ski resorts. Each option on the list was closely evaluated on its materials, storage capacity, ease of installation, security options, price, and overall aesthetic. The goal was to provide an array of medium-, low-, and higher-cost items to cater to a variety of applications, with additional insight geared toward family travelers, skiers and snowboarders, and campers, in addition to your average road tripper.

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