Best Cargo Box of 2021
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|$599.00 at REI|
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|Pros||Interior lights, stylish, dual-side opening||Sleek, large capacity, dual-opening, flat bottom||Easiest to install, ergonomic handle, sleek design||Great handle, cool appearance, less expensive||Simple installation, sleek matte finish, great shape for skis|
|Cons||Expensive, floor liner might not be for everyone||No integrated light, dedicated tool required for install||Pricey||Frustrating installation||Clunky shape, inconvenient handle|
|Bottom Line||This is the cargo carrier for you if you want all the bells and whistles and don’t mind paying for it||If you are looking for a premium cargo box that's easy to use with plenty of room, this is our strong recommendation||An excellent, high-end cargo box that excels in every category||An exceptional value because of its top-notch user friendly design||This is an above-average product that is very spacious and easy to use|
|Rating Categories||Thule Vector||Yakima GrandTour 16||Thule Motion XT XL||Yakima Skybox 16 Ca...||Thule Force XT XL|
|Ease Of Use (40%)|
|Specs||Thule Vector||Yakima GrandTour 16||Thule Motion XT XL||Yakima Skybox 16 Ca...||Thule Force XT XL|
|Weight (lbs)||59.3 lb||51.50 lb||42 lb||47 lb||47 lb|
|Volume (Cubic Feet)||13 cu ft||16 cu ft||18 cu ft||16 cu ft||18 cu ft|
|Size (Inches - L x W x H)||83.5" x 34.5" x 14"||79" x 35" x 18"||84.5" x 36" x 17"||81" x 36" x 15"||84.5" x 36" x 17"|
|Additional Sizes||Alpine, M||18 cu ft||L (16 cu ft) and XXL (22 cu ft)||Lo, 12 cu ft, 18 cu ft, and 21 cu ft||Sport (11 cu ft), L (16 cu ft), and XXL (22 cu ft)|
|Maximum Ski Length||185 cm||180 cm||200 cm||185cm||200 cm|
Best Overall Rooftop Box
Yakima GrandTour 16
If you are searching for the best all-around cargo box, we think the Yakima GrandTour is your ticket to ride. This cargo carrier is one of the easiest models to both install and use — we particularly like the relatively smooth interior that keeps your gear from getting caught on anything while loading or unloading. It opens on both sides, is quite durable and secure in our experience, and looks good on most cars. The clamps have a wider range than most, allowing this box to secure to more sizes and shapes of crossbars. The lid isn't floppy, and operating the latches and locks is not cumbersome. We have tested plenty of cargo boxes that are annoying to operate, but this one flat-out works nicely.
However, one downside to the smooth interior is the need for a separate tool to tighten or loosen the clamps. Yakima includes a handy torque wrench for this. We like the wrench, because it makes installation convenient and produces a clicking sound to indicate that tightening is sufficient—not too loose, not too tight. Yakima also has a holder for the tool inside the cargo box, so it can live safely and conveniently inside. However, the possibility of losing remains. Replacements can be purchased from Yakima, should that need arise, though. We absolutely enjoyed testing and using the Yakima GrandTour and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a premium solution to rooftop storage needs.
Read review: Yakima Grand Tour
An Excellent Runner-Up
Thule Motion XT XL
Earning one of the highest scores overall, the Motion XT XL is our favorite model to perch atop our vehicles. This box is incredibly convenient and easy to use with one of the best, most intuitive mounting systems that we have seen to date, usually allowing you to install it in about five minutes. This box is durable and secure, with a locking mechanism that prevents you from accidentally leaving the box unlocked. It has a decently sleek, aesthetically appealing design and is available in two colors — black and off-white — to better match a wider variety of cars.
Unfortunately, this cargo box can take a hefty chunk out of your budget and is one of the more expensive cargo boxes we have reviewed. However, this can be worth it if you plan on taking your cargo box on and off your car frequently. If the price isn't right for you, consider saving some money and getting a less expensive product that is a bit more difficult to install but leaves more room in your budget for what goes inside the box. If you want an excellent cargo box, and the GrandTour isn't available, the Thule Motion XT is a very smart choice.
Read review: Thule Motion XT
Best Bang for Your Buck
Yakima Skybox 16 Carbonite
Searching for a great rooftop box that won't blow your entire gear budget? The Yakima Skybox Carbonite is a fantastic value. This rock-solid box is another one of our absolute favorites, and we would highly recommend it. The SkyBox Carbonite does a great job of keeping our gear safe, secure, and easily accessible, all at a price that leaves some money left over to buy gear to fill it. The lid isn't really floppy at all, and the latching system indicates when the SkyBox is unlocked, making it much harder to drive away with an unlocked box accidentally. On top of that, the matte black finish hides scuffs and scrapes much better than the glossy sheen of some of the more sleek and stylish models we have tested.
However, the initial installation is quite a pain. It is still totally doable, but if you are planning on leaving the box off of your car most of the time, then throwing it on for a weekend getaway, you will probably be better served by a product that is a bit easier and more convenient when it comes to installation. If you plan on leaving the cargo box installed on a semi-permanent to permanent basis, the more laborious installation procedure shouldn't be a deterrent at all, and you should stick with the SkyBox and spend a little less.
Read review: Yakima SkyBox Carbonite
Best on a Tight Budget
Goplus Rooftop Carrier
If you are shopping for a rooftop cargo carrier on a tight budget and aren't routinely moving long items like skis around, we think the Goplus Waterproof Rooftop Cargo Carrier is a great option. It has many of the top-tier models' convenience features, making it very easy to use and install, all while costing considerably less. It has a dual-opening lid so your gear can be accessed from both sides of the car, and the quick clamps make installation or removal a breeze. The low weight (25 lbs) helps make installing it atop a vehicle easier, too. It looks fine and seems comparably durable and secure to us.
As for compromises, this cargo carrier is on the shorter side compared to many of the other options. It has a maximum ski/board length of around 140 cm, precluding most adult skis. This also means some cars will have too wide of a crossbar span to attach this carrier to if they aren't adjustable. The quick clamps also don't have an indicator to let you know that they are sufficiently tight—other models have an audible click that lets you know that they are clamped securely. It's a great option that we highly recommend if you don't need a cargo carrier for skis and are hoping to save some cash.
Read review: GoPlus Rooftop Carrier
Best Bargain for a Basic, Long Option
SportRack Horizon Alpine
Products in this gear category are expensive. If the price tag of the Yakima SkyBox is still outside your budget, then the SportRack Horizon Alpine is the cargo carrier for you. The Horizon Alpine is a bare-bones product that can't compare to the top-tier products in terms of convenience features but retails at a fraction of the cost of the top models. This budget box looks alright and feels very sturdy and durable. It isn't too much of a hassle to take on and off a car once you get the hang of it, and it can hold skis/snowboards up to 210 cm in length—a rarity for budget cargo carriers.
While the Horizon Alpine will get your stuff from Point A to Point B, there are plenty of concessions to keep the price down. The lid only opens on one side—with no way to reconfigure it—and it lacks any integrated straps for securing your gear inside or a built-in light. The lid is also a little on the floppy side, and the Alpine is bordering on boring when it comes to visual appeal. It's a great option if you don't want to spend a ton of cash on a cargo solution for your car, but the Horizon Alpine is far from flawless. However, though it lacks the bells and whistles of the premium contenders, it's more than adequate to haul your gear around.
Read review: SportRack Horizon Alpine
Why You Should Trust Us?
We've been testing and reviewing cargo boxes for over three years and constantly seek new and notable models to add to our review. To ensure objectivity, we purchase all of the products that we test and never accept any free products or incentives from manufacturers. Our cargo box testing team is comprised of Lauren DeLaunay, David Wise, and Steven Tata. Lauren, our head tester, has lived out of her van for several years and taken these boxes all over the country, filling them with gear for many types of trips. David lives in Tahoe and spends a significant amount of time transporting skis, snowboards, and camping equipment throughout the year. Steven spends much time traveling with gear for skiing and climbing and is consistently impressed with how much more stylish his Honda Element looks with a cargo box on top of it. In addition to performing comprehensive real-world testing, David and Steven both contribute their backgrounds in mechanical engineering when ranking and scoring each model's aerodynamics and structural design.
We began testing by unpacking and assembling each model while paying close attention to how easy each one is to install and load with gear. Each box was left on for several weeks and driven for hundreds and hundreds of miles. We evaluated how user-friendly each one was for day-to-day use and noted any significant changes in vehicle handling and fuel economy. The boxes were loaded with a wide variety of equipment, from sleeping bags to climbing ropes to skis. Throughout testing, we kept track of any visible wear and tried to find flaws in durability.
Related: How We Tested Cargo Boxes
Analysis and Test Results
To rank and score these products and see which cargo-carrying box is truly worthy of being crowned the best, we began by doing extensive research, looking at the best products currently on the market, then picking out the most promising cargo carriers to purchase and test head-to-head. We developed a comprehensive testing plan, evaluating and judging the performance of each product on everything from its ease of installation to how well its finish hides scrapes and scratches. We divided our testing process into four weighted rating metrics—Ease of Use, Durability, Security, and Appearance.
Related: Buying Advice for Cargo Boxes
The Yakima SkyBox, the Goplus Rooftop Cargo Carrier, and the SportRack Horizon XL are our favorite inexpensive cargo boxes for those on a budget. The SkyBox offers great performance without a shocking price tag. It can fit multiple pairs of skis, is easy to install, and is durably built. The Horizon Alpine is more bare-bones than the SkyBox but costs significantly less and is our top recommendation for anyone looking to spend the bare minimum. The Alpine also can carry skis, unlike many other low-cost cargo carriers. The Goplus Cargo Carrier is a great budget option if you want to save some cash and don't need to carry extra-long items.
At the top of the line, the Yakima GrandTour and the Thule Motion XT are both premium models that come with hefty price tags. We like how easy to use and how sleek and stylish these models are but they can be a bit outside the budget for most people unless you are planning on using a cargo box all the time, not just for the occasional road trip.
Ease of Use
Whether you plan to use your cargo box occasionally or throw it on your roof and leave it there for months, there are a few ways in which some products are considerably easier to use than others. For this metric, we looked at the assembly process, which included mounting and opening and closing the box. This helped us come up with a picture of how much or little effort was required when it came to using these boxes daily.
When it comes to ease of use, the Yakima GrandTour, the Thule Motion, and the Thule Vector all tied for the top spot in our tests. We love that all three of these cargo carriers come close to fully assembled, just requiring you to place the clamps into position and thread the straps through — no inserting locking cores or attaching lids here.
The mounting system on the Thule Motion XT makes installation a breeze and is usually accomplished in under five minutes. We spent more time trying to locate where the manufacturer had taped the key than actually mounting it the first time. The lid opens from either side and isn't very floppy at all. The only missing add-on, in our opinion, would be a light inside the box. This can easily be added after-market for a low price, though.
The Vector has a similar mounting system to the Motion and has all the features that you could want, including an integrated light and an interior pad. It even has an exterior dust cover, along with a dual-opening lid.
The Yakima GrandTour also opens on both sides and is very easy to install or remove. It uses a slightly different system with a single-piece clamp that requires a tool to install (included) but has the benefit of being much more flush than the Thule models on the inside of the box. The smoother interior surface (lacking awkward knobs or protrusions) makes loading and moving gear throughout the cargo box easier. There is even integrated storage for the torque wrench inside the cargo box.
The Yakima SkyBox, the Goplus Rooftop Cargo Carrier, the Inno Shadow, and the Thule Force XT XL are next regarding ease of use. These all are quite quick and easy to install, with dual-opening lids.
The Force features the same PowerClick mounting system as the more expensive Thule models but lacks the more convenient locking systems featured on those models. The SkyBox has a slightly more prominent handle than the Force but is not as easy to switch between vehicles. Both have their advantages over each other but feel fairly comparable in terms of overall ease of use.
The GoPlus Rooftop Cargo Carrier also features quick clamps and opens on both sides. The quick clamps don't permanently mount into the box, but they are very user-friendly, making the installation process very quick and easy. However, the clamps don't have an indicator to let you know when you have tightened them sufficiently. We like that the lid is secure and easy to open and close. The shorter length does mean that it is easier for one person to install on a car, but crossbars with larger spans may not be compatible.
It took a little bit of time for us to become proficient at installing or removing the Shadow but it became much easier once we got the hang of it. This multipart system has a wire bracket, internal base, and a threaded knob. The base has a swiveling part to account for different crossbar systems and we like that one person can usually install this cargo carrier without too many issues, though it will take a bit longer than the single-piece clamping systems.
Because all of these products are made from similar materials, we looked at the details for clues about their longevity. We drove each box around for weeks without any signs of wear and tear, so this category is primarily concerned with structural integrity and weather resistance. Every box in this review passed the rain and wind tests, which were easy to account for in the Eastern Sierra in springtime, but some had more questionable design features than others. We know you want to invest in a long-lasting roof box that you can count on for countless future adventures, so 25% percent of the overall score of each product was allotted to durability.
Our primary test for the durability of materials was in the highly quantitative lid floppiness. This was a surprisingly easy category to measure since the floppiness was so apparent during regular use. The Thule Motion XT, the Thule Vector, the Thule Pulse, and the Thule Force XT XL, along with the Yakima GrandTour all feel solid and sturdy, with a lid that opens with minimal flopping. The Yakima SkyBox and the Horizon Alpine are both quite sturdy, with solid hinges and only minimal amounts of lid flop.
However, we did notice that the giant rear-opening hatch of the Vista XL had much more play than other products and is significantly more floppy.
In general, we found the vast majority of these products offer adequate protection for your gear. Our belongings were usually dry even after driving through heavy rainstorms or getting sprayed with a garden hose on full strength for 20 minutes when the weather wasn't behaving for testing purposes.
We are a bit more concerned about water resistance when it comes to the SportRack Vista XL, the SportRack Horizon Alpine, and the Thule Sidekick. All three of these cargo carriers mount to roof racks with a set of U-bolts and come with a series of pre-drilled holes to accommodate different crossbar spacing. This means that there are multiple holes on the bottom of these boxes, consequently leaving multiple points for water to get in. To remedy this, these products include some vinyl stickers to cover the unused holes. These stickers performed fine in our test, but we could see their effectiveness at keeping water out degrading over time.
The Inno Shadow gave us similar concerns. It includes some rubber gasket material that you can cut to length to plug the rest of the slots where the clamps can slide back-and-forth but we still felt that this provided a greater chance of water intrusion than the models with integrated sliding seals.
The Goplus Cargo Carrier has clamps that are in the middle when it comes to water resistance in our minds. The clamps push through a slit in a piece of rubber sheeting. This provides a better seal in our minds than the vinyl stickers but not as good as the top-tier models with quick clamps that have a sliding seal.
None of these boxes showed any significant signs of damage through normal wear and tear, though most showed a handful of scrapes and scuffs from repeatedly installing and uninstalling each one.
Even when one tester managed to bend two of the four mounting clips by backing a Thule box into a cement wall by not realizing it stuck out further than the car, there wasn’t major damage to the cargo carrier.
However, we did find some of the very glossy models, like the Yakima GrandTour to be slightly more prone to showing scuffs and scrapes than the matte or satin models — something to consider if you are frequently storing your cargo carrier off of your vehicle.
The security of each cargo box is our next concern. Everyone wants to be confident that their roof box will keep their gear as safe as possible, though a determined thief could probably get into any of these products with enough motivation and the right tools. We awarded the most points to carriers that have simple and easy-to-operate security systems that seemed durable enough to resist break-ins and solid enough that we would entrust it with our beloved gear.
There was only one box that gave us serious pause here, the Thule Sidekick. In turn, we expanded this category to include scores for how secure the box was and how easy the details of the security system were to use.
Because we had to install the locking mechanism ourselves on the Thule Sidekick, we often found it difficult to line up the dual locks on the flimsy lid. It is possible on this product to turn and remove the key without the latch being lined up properly, leaving you with an unintentionally unlocked box and no way to tell other than lifting the lid and testing it. The other products in our test seemed relatively equal, though, and we were never worried about security. In all these models, it is not possible to remove the key without the box being properly latched and secured, which we consider to be a crucial component.
That being said, some of the boxes we tested did have great, useful indicators to let you know if the box was latched properly or not before trying to remove the key, like the newly designed red indicator of the Thule Motion XT or the Thule Vector and the big handle of the Yakima Skybox or Yakima GrandTour. Both of these inspire extra confidence that your belongings are safe, so we boosted their scores in this metric accordingly.
The remainder of the boxes are all average in terms of security. They had factory-installed locks but lacked any extra indicators or ergonomic handles. They are all easy to latch and unlatch and won't permit the key to be removed while the box is unlocked, preventing you from forgetting to latch it or locking your keys in the box.
Although we tend to prioritize function over form for most categories, we do recognize that cargo boxes can be an eyesore and are something that you'll have to see every day while on your vehicle. Testing was fairly subjective and based upon a group consensus.
There were no shocking designs in this review; all the products we tested generally look like what we'd expect from cargo boxes these days. They did come in a surprising amount of finishes, though, and we had clear preferences. The futuristic look of the Thule Vector and the gloss black appearance of the Yakima GrandTour to be appealing if you are going for a flashier look. However, these do show dirt and scrapes a bit more readily.
If you are going for a more muted aesthetic then the Thule Force XT XL, the Horizon Alpine, and Yakima Skybox Carbonite might be better options for you. We find that we generally prefer the matte finish for our adventures.
It also hides dead bugs well—a problem we hadn't initially thought of. Scratches and scuffs are more subtle on the matte finishes, a problem that glossy models struggled with after many miles.
Additionally, we appreciate that the Thule Motion XT, Thule Vector, and the Inno Shadow are available in multiple colors, letting you pick the best match for your car. These are the only products in our review that come in more than one color, and their appearance scores received a boost for versatility. We liked that the gray Motion XT model blends in a little more on the tester's white van.
We weren't huge fans of the surface texture and finish on the pair of shorter and stubbier cargo boxes. The textured finish on the Thule Sidekick and the SportRack Vista seemed a little cheap to us, to the point where we felt it might detract from the appearance of nicer cars. We did like the dimpled finish on the Goplus a bit more, as well as the fact that it is available in three different colors so you can better match your personal preferences.
Regardless, they could be a good option if you don't care much about the appearance of your cargo box or if you like how the textured surface matches your vehicle and are trying to save some money.
Are These Going To Kill My Gas Mileage or Ruin Handling?
You may be wondering if it is even worth getting a cargo box in the first place due to their impact on vehicle handling and mileage. While we originally had an entire metric devoted to this, we found after testing each of these boxes that there wasn't significant impact on how a variety of different test cars handled, regardless if we were traveling on the freeway at high speeds, over windy mountain passes, or over potholes and bumps on rough roads. These are all large boxes that go on top of your car and increase the wind resistance and drag while you are driving, but they are all pretty much comparable, especially if you drive a larger SUV or truck that isn't particularly aerodynamic in the first place. Drag is hugely dependent on speed as well, so you can probably negate any loss in fuel economy by driving just a bit slower—and you don't really want to be speeding all that much anyways with a fully loaded cargo box on top of your car. Does adding a heavy box to your vehicle affect its power, handling, and fuel efficiency? Sure. Were we able to notice the difference, especially comparative differences between each box? No, not really.
We sincerely hope that this review and expert recommendations have helped you find the perfect rooftop cargo carrier for all of your gear transport needs, regardless of the type of gear you need to move or your budget. Admittedly, all of these products will get your stuff from Point A to Point B and might seem very similar. However, our comprehensive research is here to help you identify the minute differences between these products so you can find the perfect product.
— Lauren DeLaunay, David Wise, and Steven Tata
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