Roof racks—and the array of cargo solutions that work with them—are a simple and ideal system for creating additional space and hauling items that won’t fit inside your vehicle. Whether you’re car camping in a national park, traveling overland with long-haul essentials, or just totting your mountain bike to a local trailhead, that extra space and convenient storage can really come in handy.
Before you buy a rooftop tent, gear box, cargo basket, or attachments for your bikes, kayaks, and other outdoor gear, you’ll need a solid roof rack—it’s the base system for hauling stuff on the roof of your car or truck. Here’s how to get the right roof rack for your needs and your vehicle.
Ask Yourself These Questions
The roof rack is one piece of the load-carrying puzzle. Before you buy one, consider your vehicle and what you ultimately want to carry.
What’s the make, model, and year of my vehicle?
This info will be essential for determining if a particular roof rack will fit on your ride. Many roof rack manufacturers allow you to enter this info online to see a list of racks that will fit.
What are the dimensions of my vehicle’s roof and its rooftop load rating?
This will also determine what roof racks can fit, and the weight limit will determine how much gear you can haul with them.
What’s on my vehicle’s roof currently?
Some cars and SUVs come with pre-installed roof racks, roof rails, or fixed points for mounting a roof rack. Others have rain gutters (which can be used as a mounting point) or a completely bare roof. You’ll need to know what’s on the roof before you buy—not all roof racks will work with all vehicle roofs.
How much do I plan to carry?
Racks have weight limitations. Consider what you plan to carry and make sure the rack you choose has the proper weight capacity.
What attachments will I use?
If you plan to add attachments for bikes, a luggage box, cargo basket, or a rooftop tent (to name just a few examples), make sure your roof rack is compatible with these accessories before purchasing.
Will I be driving off-road?
The bumps and jolts of dirt roads will demand a more durable and stronger roof rack. Look for a tough all-aluminum system and avoid plastic.
How much am I willing to spend?
Consider your budget before making a purchasing decision. All-metal roof racks will be more durable but cost more, while a simpler instant rack system (see below) can save you some money.