When you load up your car with overnight camp equipment, the available room for storage disappears fast. To keep from overstuffing, rooftop boxes and racks can make all the difference. They not only add more room to haul your gear, they also free up interior car space. That means a more comfortable commute to the trailhead while protecting your goods against rain, sun, and wind. Knowing which rooftop storage system will best suit your needs depends on how much space you want to add and what type of gear you’ll be hauling. Because these rooftop systems can be expensive, it’s important to choose wisely. Here’s a breakdown of different storage boxes and racks, how to install them, and how to make the most of the added space.
Types of Rooftop Boxes
Rooftop hard-shell boxes come in many shapes and sizes, and can accommodate everything from a family’s set of seven skis to a month’s worth of summertime camping gear. Made from tough, composite plastics designed to reliably fend off weather for years, hard-shell boxes can weigh up to 60 pounds and cost upwards of $800, but they can hold more than 500 liters in some cases. Most hard-shell boxes add security with locks built into their latches.
Pros: Maximum storage space; highly durable; security features.
Cons: Heavy, can be pricey; can require additional mounting equipment (crossbars); hard to store; some might be too long for compact cars.
What to look for: Dual-sided opening capacity—it’s much easier to organize and retrieve gear when you can see and access it from both sides of the box. Internal straps that’ll help secure items and keep them from sliding around during your drive. Also consider aerodynamics, which matters more for cross-country long hauls. A box’s shape can also influence how noisy it is and how much it reduces our gas mileage (more details below).
Instead of rigid plastics, soft-shell boxes are made of pliable-yet-durable materials. With a range of 250 to 450 liters, they offer as much storage as hard-shell boxes, but can be easier to install, remove, and fold up for storage when not in use thanks to their lighter weight (6 to 8 pounds versus a hard shell’s 20-plus pounds). Typically more economical than hard shells, soft-shell boxes are great for folks on a budget or those interested in trying rooftop storage for the first time.
Pros: Respectable storage space; easy to store; easier to install; don’t require crossbars.
Cons: Can be less aerodynamic; risk of puncturing material when packing sharp objects.
What to look for: Ultra-durable, water- and windproof materials like vinyl or PVC; dual-seam construction and covered zippers to truly keep out the elements; and compression straps, which will help secure the load.
Racks and Baskets
Are you hauling various oddly shaped items like, say, a cooler and a kayak and three camp chairs? A roof rack or basket are great for awkward, self-contained, and large items that may not fit into a hard- or soft-shell box. A rack sits flat on top of your vehicle, providing ample tie-in and strap-down points for all sorts of awkward items; a basket has a rim around the rack that adds more tie-in points and helps keep items secure within the basket.
Pros: Great for large and awkward objects; economical option; easy to install and no need to remove when not in use.
Cons: No protection against the weather; potential for flyaway items; need crossbars or base system.
What to look for: Sufficient storage space; weight limits.