The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

How We Tested Cargo Boxes

Thursday November 14, 2019
Weighing each cargo box to verify the claimed weight.
Weighing each cargo box to verify the claimed weight.

We spent months driving around with these cargo boxes and took them along for any trip that we took while testing. Whether running errands around town or on big road trips, we swapped them on and off our vehicles to find their flaws and nuanced differences. Because this review relied so much on the minute features of each product, we tested them in every way we could imagine and pushed these boxes to their limits. Short of sleeping in them, they were evaluated as thoroughly as possible. Eventually, we came up with the four most important rating metrics: ease of use, durability, security, and appearance.

Ease of Use


Accounting for a substantial 40% of each box's overall score, we found ease of use to be the most critical attribute of any cargo box. We assessed the assembly, mounting, and opening/closing for this metric. Our testers timed themselves on each install, making notes along the way about the ins and outs of each. We enlisted the help of friends near and far to put these boxes on and off our cars, and our lead tester even tried to mount a few by herself (though she doesn't recommend this). We went back and forth between different mounting systems to see how they performed in direct relation to one another and recorded the pros and cons of each. Finally, we opened and closed these boxes a LOT, trying to knock them off their alignment and stuffing them full to the brim. We laid all the boxes next to each other, opening and closing them all to get the most direct comparisons, evaluating every little detail.

Be prepared for some wrestling if installing your box on a tall car!
Be prepared for some wrestling if installing your box on a tall car!

Durability


We were lucky enough to do this test during spring in the Sierra, where we naturally encountered everything from sweltering sun to high-speed winds and rainstorms that turned into snow. We followed each other around in our cars to see if the boxes moved with the wind or on hard turns and drove all over northern California to see what sort of wear and tear we could submit our products to. We also looked at how sturdy or floppy each lid was, shaking, opening, and closing them violently to see what they could withstand.

Floppiness comparison (left: Sidekick  right: SportRack)
Floppiness comparison (left: Sidekick, right: SportRack)

Security


Our testers evaluated every part of the security system for this metric, from the big questions (is it secure?) to the small (how easy to use is the lock?). We tried to break into each box, tried to knock them out of alignment, and tried to come up with scenarios in which the boxes wouldn't lock properly. We tried to catch them off their game, but most of these products exceeded our expectations in this category.

Don't forget to lock your cargo box!
Don't forget to lock your cargo box!

Appearance


While we admit this is a little subjective, we made general observations about the appearance of each box. We awarded higher points for color choices and finishes that hid scratches and bugs (which we sadly accumulated many of during the hundreds of miles we drove). The box's profile was also a big factor here.

We know that style matters.
We know that style matters.

While this review was written based on our opinions, we aimed to be as objective as possible, making clear, unbiased observations. Most importantly, we looked at each box side-by-side and judged them in comparison to each other. Every box we tested will get your belongings from point A to B, but we tried to get to the bottom of each product's small details to bring you a comprehensive review of the most popular rooftop cargo boxes on the market today.