The Best Cargo Box Review

What is the best roof box on the market? Do differences matter, or are they all the same? We tested five top competitors to find out. We heaved these boxes on the roofs of our cars and compared them on their construction quality, appearance, ease of use, aerodynamics, and security. Our testers drove with these boxes at high speeds on the highway, on bumpy dirt roads, and drove from California to Canada and back. We loaded them to their maximum capacity and mounted them on different vehicles to see what they could do. Read on to see what we thought about each model and how they faired in each category. Also, check out our How to Choose a Cargo Box for Your Vehicle article to learn more about what to look for when buying a roof box.

But first, something fun. Even Lady Gaga gives her seal of approval to the Editor's Choice winner, the Yakima Skybox Pro, for ease of use as a coffin in her video for Bad Romance.

Read the full review below >

Review by: ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab

Top Ranked Cargo Boxes Displaying 1 - 5 of 5 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Yakima Skybox Pro 16
Yakima Skybox Pro 16
Read the Review
Video video review
Thule Sonic Large
Thule Sonic Large
Read the Review
Video video review
Inno Racks Shadow 16
Inno Racks Shadow 16
Read the Review
Video video review
Rhino Rack Master Fit 550
Rhino Rack Master Fit 550
Read the Review
Yakima Rocketbox Pro 14
Yakima Rocketbox Pro 14
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award  Top Pick Award     
Street Price Varies $377 - $599
Compare at 2 sellers
Varies $439 - $550
Compare at 4 sellers
Varies $527 - $590
Compare at 2 sellers
$539
Compare at 2 sellers
Varies $319 - $399
Compare at 3 sellers
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Pros Easy to use and install, looks good, well-thought out details, high quality constructionQuiet, quality construction, looks goodSleek low profile design, looks good, quietEasy to install, holds a lot of cargoEasy to install, inexpensive
Cons Heavy, finish scratches easilyDoesn’t fit skis over 155cm“Artsy craftsy” installation, floppy lidFloppy lid construction, hard to close, too large for a small carLow quality
Best Uses Long road trips, carrying skis and light bulky itemsRoad trips, campingOn tall SUVs or in low garages, carrying skisOn larger vehicles, when hauling a lot of cargo or skisGeneral gear transport
Date Reviewed Nov 26, 2013Nov 26, 2013Nov 26, 2013Nov 26, 2013Nov 26, 2013
Weighted Scores Yakima Skybox Pro 16 Thule Sonic Large Inno Racks Shadow 16 Rhino Rack Master Fit 550 Yakima Rocketbox Pro 14
Construction Quality - 15%
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Appearance - 10%
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Ease Of Use - 35%
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Aerodynamics - 25%
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Security - 15%
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Product Specs Yakima Skybox Pro 16 Thule Sonic Large Inno Racks Shadow 16 Rhino Rack Master Fit 550 Yakima Rocketbox Pro 14
Weight (lbs) 47 40 42 45 38
Volume (Cubic Feet) 16 13 16 19.4 14
Size (in – l x w x h) 81x36x15 73x34.5x16 78.7 x 31.9 x 13.4 85x35.8x17.3 74x33x16
Sizes available 12, 16, 18 and 21 cubic feet, Titanium or Onyx colors 4, (XXL, XL, L & Alpine) Black or Silver 14, 15, 16, 18 11, 12 & 14 Cubic Feet
Round or Square bars? round, square, factory and most aerodynamic bars Round, Square & most factory Universal Universal round, square, factory and most aerodynamic bars
Box Opening Dual Side Dual Side Dual Side Dual Side Dual Side
Lock? yes, 3 locking points yes, 3 locking points yes, 3 locking points yes, 3 locking points yes, 3 locking points

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


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Selecting the Right Product
As adventurers with tons of gear, sometimes we need extra space for big road trips or moving around from season to season. We want a cargo box that fits the type of gear we're using and is easy to use. We've discovered that there are tons of little things that make a big difference in choosing the right roof box, from being able to load and close it easily to how loud you need to turn up the stereo in your car to ignore the road noise. Some models are incredibly easy to mount and some require more assembly. There were a few boxes we don't even notice when we drive around and some that make it feel like we have a sail on top of our car. Check out our How We Test article for more details on where we took our rigs and what we put in them.

Criteria for Evaluation
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All of the boxes we tested from smallest to biggest, L to R: Thule Sonic L, Yakima Rocket Box Pro 14, Inno Racks Shadow 16, Yakima Skybox Pro 16 and Rhino Racks Master Fit 550.
Credit: Jessica Haist

Construction Quality
All of the boxes we tested are made from high quality materials, but some stand up to regular use better than others. We prefer versions with a stiffer lid construction because it makes them easier to open and close. The Yakima Skybox Pro 16 and the Thule Sonic both have strong, stiff lids. Some of the boxes feel lower quality because their lids are floppier and harder to close and lock, like the Rhino Rack Master Fit. We have been on the lookout for defects such as broken parts or locks that didn't close properly, and we discovered that the Yakima Rocketbox Pro's arm detached from the lid when we stuffed it full of tents and gear. This did not give us much confidence in this model's construction quality.

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We think that the Shadow's lid is floppier than we would like, requiring two hands to push the lid open and pull it closed. Both the Thule Sonic and the Yakima Skybox have much stiffer, reinforced lids.
Credit: Jessica Haist

Appearance
We want the car we drive to look good, so why would we want to put an ugly roof box on our snazzy looking vehicle? We evaluated the different finishes on the boxes, as well as shapes and sizes, and came up with some opinions on which ones look stylish on our cars. We really like the shape, size, and titanium finish of the Yakima Skybox Pro 16. We also gravitate towards the sleek black finish of the Thule Sonic. The low profile shape of the Inno Racks Shadow 16 is attractive, and it looks good on tall SUV's. Although we like the color of the Rhino Rack Master Fit 550, we think it looks too large and bulky on our lead tester's little Toyota Matrix, but would sit well on larger vehicles.

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The bulbous shaped Rocketbox Pro 14 (left) and the sleeker, large Rhino Rack Master Fit 550 (right).
Credit: Jessica Haist

Ease of Use
Ease of use is one of the most important factors for evaluating a roof box, because no one wants to have to wrestle with getting their cargo stowed securely before a big trip any more than they have to. We looked at how easy these models were to install, open and close, load and lock.

All of the boxes were relatively easy to install, although we always required two people to lift them on the roof. We like the clamp style attachments that the Thule Sonic, Rhino Racks Master Fit and the Yakima Rocketbox Pro 14 use the best. We find these very easy and quick to use. The Yakima Skybox's hook system is also relatively easy to use, but takes a bit longer to figure out. Our least favorite attachment system is Inno Racks Shadow's metal hooks. This system required a lot more instruction reading time and fiddling. The good thing about attaching your box to your roof is that you only have to do it once (until you want to take it off again).

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Thule uses its "AcuTight Mounting Hardware," essentially just arms that will clamp on any crossbar shape. They are very easy to use.
Credit: McKenzie Long

For those of us that are shorter than 6'5 or so, opening, closing and loading your roof box is going to be slightly awkward. Some models try to make these functions as easy as possible. All of the versions we tested opened from both sides, a feature that is pretty darn convenient. We discovered that the stiffness of the lid is key to making the box easier or harder to open and close. The Yakima Skybox is the overall easiest to open because it has a stiff lid that opens in one push, and we can do it with one hand. The floppiest lid was Rhino Racks Master Fit, we have to use two hands to push it up. The boxes that have a string attached to the lid, like the Thule Sonic, were easier to close because we could pull the lid down without climbing up on our car. Our favorite feature of all the boxes is the Yakima Skybox's handle lever that clicks into place when the box is closed, so we know it is closed, and it makes it easy to pop it open when unlocked.

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The Yakima Skybox Pro 16's latch handle is our favorite feature of all of the boxes we tested. It makes it easy to pop open and to know when the box is closed.
Credit: Jessica Haist

All of the boxes have the security feature that does not allow you to remove the key from the lock until the it is completely shut, latched, and locked. We like this feature, but some of the boxes are easier to close and latch than others. As mentioned above, the Skybox's handle system was the easiest. The Master Fit 550 was the most difficult because of the floppiness of the lid, which sometimes did not allow the locks to match up properly, or we had to slam our fists down on the lid to make them latch.

Aerodynamics
We spoke with the product design teams at Yakima and Thule about what they do to test for aerodynamics and their design process. Both teams said that they are concerned with creating their boxes with sleek, aerodynamic shapes and try their best to reduce road noise, but sometimes the most aerodynamic shape is not the most functional – so they have to find a good balance. Both Yakima and Thule agree that the biggest factor to determine how aerodynamic your roof box will be is "the large hunk of metal you mount it on" – your vehicle. The gas mileage and aerodynamics depend on the vehicle and the user – how the box interacts with the vehicle, including the shape of the vehicle in relation to the box, where the box is positioned on the vehicle, and how and where the person is driving. Yakima and Thule both have engineers who test for aerodynamics using a wind tunnel and nerdy computer programs where they are primarily looking for air/road noise and particularly turbulent areas that could create extra drag. Check out this wind tunnel video by Thule.

Having said all of this, and realizing that the boxes perform differently on each of our testers' vehicles, we tried to be cognizant of how our test models performed in an aerodynamic sense. We monitored our gas mileage, listened for road noise, and paid attention to how our vehicles handled while driving with the different boxes. We have come to realize that testing for aerodynamics and gas mileage is a pretty scientific process, and we do not posses the technology to accurately asses these things – but we're happy to share our observations and opinions on the subject.

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The Shadow 16 was one of the quietest boxes we tested, which could be due to the thin, low profile shape. L to R: Rhino Racks Masterfit 550, Yakima Skybox Pro 16, Inno Racks Shadow 16, Yakima Rocketbox Pro 14 and the Thule Sonic Large.
Credit: Jessica Haist

We noticed that all of the roof boxes have some road noise at speeds above 70 MPH, and they all were buffeted around on the highway during high winds, making handling more difficult. Some were quieter than others. We think the Inno Racks Shadow 16 is slightly quieter than the rest, with its slim, sleek design. The Yakima Rocketbox 14 is the loudest at high speeds. We can also hear the Rocketbox's lid rattle when driving on bumpy dirt roads. The Rhino Rack Master Fit 550 feels very large on our tester's Toyota Matrix, and the car's handling was noticeably affected by this box.

Weight is also a factor that affects your gas mileage. The heaviest box in the review is the Yakima Skybox Pro 14, which is our Editor's choice weighing in at 47 pounds. This is the one drawback we could find with the Skybox, as a heavier box will no doubt negatively affect your gas mileage. The next heaviest model was the 45 pound Rhino Rack Master Fit 550, and the lightest in this review is the Rocketbox Pro 14 at 38 pounds. These boxes also have different carrying capacity, which affects their weight, 16, 19.4 and 14 cubic feet respectively.

Security
We think these boxes potentially keep your stuff more secure over all. You can't see into them like into the back of a hatch-back or SUV that doesn't have a trunk, so keeping your belongings in your roof box instead of the back of your car could avoid "smash and grab" thefts. All of the test models have three latching points, and all of the latches need to be locked before you are able to remove the key from the lock, which helps you know that the box is really closed before you drive away.

We think that the boxes with less stiffness could be a little less secure because it may be easier to break into a flimsier box. The floppier lids like the Rhino Rack Master Fit 550 are also more difficult to close and sometimes the latches don't match up.


Editors Choice Award: Yakima Skybox Pro 16
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The Yakima Skybox Pro 16 has a high volume. We were able to pack in food for 8 people for a 6 day backcountry trip.
Credit: Luke Potter
Beyond the style points of being in a Lady Gaga video., we think that the Yakima Skybox Pro 16 rises above its competitors in all of the evaluation categories. We really like the way its Titanium finish looks on our tester's Toyota Matrix, and think it's just the right size to haul around all kinds of gear and equipment. We also love how easy it is to use; we could open and close it with one hand because if its stiff lid, the handy pull cord, and the latch handle that pops it open and makes it easy to see that it is closed. It is the heaviest box we tested, but does not make a lot of road noise until we get over 70 MPH. We also only notice a difference in handling when there are very high crosswinds on the highway, otherwise we forget it is there

Best Buy: Thule Sonic
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Closing the Thule Sonic is easy because of its stiff lid and easy to use locking system. It also has hanging pull cords to make closing even easier for shorter folks.
Credit: McKenzie Long
Thule is known for their high quality products, so we were pleasantly surprised when we saw that the price of the Thule Sonic Large was only $549.95. The Sonic has really excellent construction quality with its stiff lid and smooth latching system. It was one of the easiest to mount on our roof racks, with its preassembled clamping attachment system. We also like the look of this sleek roof box, and noticed that it creates very little road noise at speeds below 70MPH. The size 'large' of the Sonic is great for general use like travel or camping, but it does not fit most adult size skis. We think this cargo box is a great pick at a great value – especially if you don't need to cart around skis. sometimes!

Top Pick Award for a Low Profile Box: Inno Racks Shadow 16
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We drove the Inno Racks Shadow 16 all over the Eastern Sierra at top speeds, up and down huge mountain grades and through stormy weather and we liked how it performed.
Credit: Jessica Haist
The Inno Racks Shadow 16 is a great pick for anyone who is looking for a lower profile cargo box, especially if you tend to drive into low parking garages or have a tall vehicle like a truck or SUV. It has a very sleek, low profile design and we like the way it looks on our vehicles. Even with its lower design, you can still fit a lot of gear in it, including multiple pairs of skis. Our tester with a Subaru Forester thought it was particularly quiet on his car and didn't hear any whistling nor any more noticeable road noise than he would have without a box. We did notice that the lid is a little floppier than the Skybox or the Sonic, and think with all the flex in the lid and hardware, it takes some fiddling to get it closed. The Shadow 16 also takes a bit more assembly than the other boxes to mount onto roof racks, but its worth it if you are searching for a slim-fitting box.

Jessica Haist
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