The Best Cargo Carriers
Whether you're embarking on a move, vacation, or just hauling around your everyday gear, a cargo container can free up valuable trunk space, while keeping your belongings secure and your car's interior soil-free. Choosing the right cargo carrier depends on how often you plan to use it, what you'll be hauling, and the kind of vehicle you own, but the good news is that there are plenty of options available to suit every need and every budget.
Hard-sided rooftop cargo boxes offer the most protection, but must be mounted on a cargo rack with crossbars. They're great for skis, snowboards, tents, and other big or bulky gear. Soft-sided cargo bags are cheaper and can be attached directly to your vehicle's roof without a rack, but they're designed primarily to tote luggage, not expensive sports gear, and are less rugged. For heavy-duty hauling — scooters, wheelchairs, multiple bikes, and other equipment above 100 pounds or so — a hitch cargo carrier is the better option. Many can carry up to 500 pounds or more, and some fold flush when not in use, but you'll need a vehicle that's designed to haul a trailer in order to use a hitch-mounted model.
To find the best cargo carriers, we consulted expert reviews by specialists at Outdoor Gear Labs and Popular Mechanics, as well as product roundups at auto-enthusiast sites like Car Bibles and AutoGuide.com, among others. We also read hundreds of consumer reviews on retailers' websites to get a sense of how our picks rated with users when it came to common concerns like convenience and ease of use, build quality, and long-term durability. All of our picks earn solid endorsements, and are considered among the best values available. Prices range from less than $100 for a simple hitch carrier or a rooftop cargo bag to $750 for an extra-large cargo box from premium brand Thule that can safeguard a whole family's worth of skis and other valuable sports equipment.
Prices and availability are subject to change.
Our Top Pick
SportRack Vista XL SR7018 Review
Best Value Rooftop Cargo Carrier
Available from Amazon.
Price: $407 at time of publishing
- Will fit most factory roof racks.
- 18-cubic-foot capacity; measures 63 x 38 x 19 inches.
- Made to accommodate up to 100 pounds.
- Designated "best buy" in testing at Outdoor Gear Lab.
- Some users complain that lid feels less than sturdy.
- Rear-opening lid can make access harder when mounted on larger vehicles.
- Hinges sometimes don't open and close smoothly or evenly, according to reviews.
Takeaway: If you need a cargo carrier that's big enough to accommodate things like golf clubs, trekking poles, or camping gear, experts and consumers say the SportRack Vista XL packs a lot of value into this spacious rooftop cargo box. Reviewers love that there's no assembly required; just attach it to your vehicle's roof rack and load it up. Owners are less happy with the rear-opening configuration, which means that roadside access is safer than with side-opening lids that place users closer to traffic but also makes it harder to reach items stashed in the front of the carrier, especially if it's mounted on a tall SUV or van. We also saw some mixed reviews on the quality of the material — especially the lid, which some feel is a bit "flimsy." However, overall construction is solid enough and testing and owner feedback indicate that durability is just fine; in fact, it's the only non-premium brand to make it on Outdoor Gear Lab's 2019 list of the best cargo carriers. For the price, especially when compared with competitors like Yakima and Thule, most agree that this SportRack cargo box is a great choice for the occasional outdoor adventure or cross-country road trip. It comes with a limited lifetime warranty.
Jegs Performance Products 90098 Review
Best Cheap Rooftop Cargo Carrier
Available from Amazon.
Price: $220 at time of publishing
- 18-cubic-foot capacity.
- Can hold up to 110 lbs. of cargo.
- Light weight with relatively small footprint: 57 x 39 x 19 inches.
- Very easy to install, owners say.
- Doesn't fit all vehicle roof racks.
- Construction quality a little flimsy, according to some reviewers.
- Some users don't like the rear-opening design and say it can be difficult to access.
- Locks aren't as substantial as those on pricier models.
Takeaway: This Jegs Performance cargo carrier packs lots of storage capacity into its squat, boxy design. It weighs just 28 pounds when empty, meaning it can be lifted by just one person, and many owners say the tool-less installation is very easy — although vehicles with roof racks that aren't adjustable may need modifications or additional hardware to mount this carrier, which requires spacing of 22 inches on center on the cross rails. The good news is that the company's customer service is fairly responsive, and would-be buyers can find a helpful Q&A section about fit and installation on their product page. It may not be the sturdiest of carriers, but owners report that it's sturdy enough, and many are surprised by the amount of items it can stow. The lock is a simple affair, and probably won't deter a determined thief, but if all you need is to transport luggage or other basic belongings, the bang for the buck is undeniable. Jegs offers a limited lifetime warranty on this carrier.
Yakima Skybox 16 Carbonite 8007335 Review
Best Rooftop Cargo Carrier
Available from Amazon.
Price: $549 at time of publishing
- 16 cubic feet of capacity; measures 81 x 36 x 15 inches.
- Long enough for snowboards and skis.
- Lower-profile design for better aerodynamics.
- Can be opened from either side.
- "Best Buy" pick at Outdoor Gear Lab.
- May be challenging to install, reviewers say.
- Some complaints of hinges breaking or popping off.
Takeaway: Skiers will want a long and lean cargo box for their gear, and the Yakima Skybox 16 Carbonite fills the bill nicely — and for a couple hundred dollars less than similar models. It earns very positive feedback across the board, including recognition as an editor's pick at AutoGuide.com. Everything about this rooftop carrier feels solid, reviewers say, and the lock is substantial enough that you can leave gear unattended without worry. Although no assembly is required, a number of users say installation is very frustrating, even with two people. But once it's attached, the Yakima performs admirably and, based on reviews from users who have this box or have owned other cargo carriers from the brand, it should hold up for many years to come. While the Skybox 16 is particularly recommended for those who need to transport skis or snowboards (up to 185 cm long), the manufacturer suggests that this generously-sized box could also hold enough gear for three campers. If you have more or less gear, the Skybox is also available in 12-, 15-, 18-, and 21-cubic-foot sizes. It carries a limited lifetime warranty.
Thule Motion XT XL 6297 Review
Rooftop Cargo Carrier Worth a Splurge
Available from Amazon.
Price: $750 at time of publishing
- Top quality materials and construction.
- Sleek, aerodynamic design.
- 18-cubic-foot capacity; measures 84.5 x 36 x 17 inches.
- Can hold up to 165 lbs.; large enough for skis and snowboards.
- Very easy mounting system.
- Opens from either side.
- Secure sliding latch and lock.
- Comes in two color options: black or grey.
- Limited lifetime warranty.
- Pricier than similar highly-rated cargo carriers.
- A handful of owners complain of broken or damaged parts on new purchases.
Takeaway: Thule commands fierce loyalty from its customers, and their roof racks and cargo carriers are something of a status symbol among skiers, cyclists, and other outdoorsy types. The reputation seems well-deserved, given that both experts and owners are impressed by nearly every aspect of this Thule Motion XT XL rooftop carrier — in fact, the only real drawback is the premium price you'll pay for Thule's products, reviewers say. Thule's proprietary PowerClick mounting system is widely regarded as one of the easiest to install as well as the most secure of any cargo box. The case can be opened from either side, and the sliding locks indicate when they've been engaged (the keys cannot be removed unless everything is locked tight), two features that owners appreciate. It holds a ton of stuff, too: seven pairs of skis or five snowboards up to 200 cm long. There are 16- and 22-cubic-foot versions available as well, with an extra-low Alpine model that also comes in white. Under the Thule guarantee this product has limited lifetime coverage.
RoofBag Cross Country Carrier Review
Best Rooftop Cargo Bag
Available from Amazon.
Price: $74 at time of publishing
- 11-cubic foot capacity holds about 4 suitcases.
- Measures 40 x 36.5 inches wide x 17 inches.
- Fully-waterproof; double-coated in vinyl with triple-sealed seams.
- Comes with straps to mount on racks or directly on car roof.
- Collapses compactly for storage.
- Not designed to transport sports gear like skis or surfboards.
- No locks or other security features.
- May scratch roof without optional protective mat.
- Not as durable as a hard-sided cargo carrier; comparatively short 2-year warranty.
Takeaway: If you only need a cargo carrier on occasion for luggage and other lightweight belongings, a soft-sided cargo carrier like this RoofBag waterproof rooftop cargo bag can be an excellent alternative to a hard-sided model. Car Bibles names it the best choice among roof carriers, and the majority of users say that for the incredibly low price this versatile bag has been a fantastic purchase. For one, a roof rack is completely optional; this soft cargo carrier can be cinched to the top of a vehicle with two thick straps that pass through the door frames (optional door hooks can also be ordered). The soft sides also mean there's no official weight limit for the carrier itself and it can be stuffed to the hilt with all sorts of stuff — although it's advised to try to distribute items with aerodynamics in mind. And, thanks to the "premium" coating, this RoofBag's resistance to rain is excellent, according to the majority of reviews we saw. (There's a cheaper version, the RoofBag Explorer, that's only 99% waterproof.) The 11-cubic-foot bag featured here fits any car, but there's also a 15-cubic-foot version intended for larger sedans, SUVs, and vans; it can hold up to five suitcases.
Reese Pro Series Rambler 63153 Review
Best Value Hitch Cargo Carrier
Available from Amazon.
Price: $146 at time of publishing
- Ample platform (60 x 24 inches) can accommodate bicycles, other large items.
- 2-inch hitch fits most SUVS, trucks, and vans.
- Angled hitch design for increased elevation.
- Powder-coated steel frame to resist rust.
- Included hardware not rustproof.
- Taillight kit sold separately.
Takeaway: Experts and the overwhelming majority of owners say that the Reese Pro Series Rambler is one of the best hitch-mounted cargo carriers you can buy, and it falls at the top of pick lists at enthusiast sites Car Bibles and AutoGuide.com. Like similar products, it's rated for 500 pounds, but unlike many, the majority of feedback we spotted confirms that the capacity is realistic. The platform, which has 5.5-inch side rails, is big enough to tote everything from grills and coolers to bicycles. And while many cheaper carriers feature straight-shank hitch mounts, this Reese hitch cargo carrier has an angled shank that raises the platform for better ground clearance — making it a top choice for drivers of lower-riding vehicles like crossovers or minivans. Reviews in general are very positive; the biggest complaint we saw was that the exposed bolts and fasteners are not rust-resistant (many owners suggest spraying with a protective coating).. The 1-year warranty on this model is fairly generous among less-expensive carriers.
Harbor Freight Haul-Master 66983 Review
Best Cheap Hitch Cargo Carrier
Available from Harbor Freight.
Price: $60 at time of publishing
- One of the least expensive hitch carriers you can buy.
- Steel deck measures 51.5 x 17.5 inches with 4-inch rails.
- Fits common 2-inch hitch receivers.
- Wide-railed carrier bed can make it hard to stow smaller items.
- Some reports of missing or incorrect parts in the box.
- No rear reflectors or taillights.
- Very short 90-day warranty.
Takeaway: For the money, it's hard to beat the value of the Harbor Freight Haul-Master 66983. It's not been professionally reviewed, but it gets exceptionally high owner ratings and lots of positive feedback on Harbor Freight's site. Although a few inches smaller than similar cargo racks, it's still big enough to accommodate large coolers and camping gear. The assembly instructions could be better, reviewers note, but most say that it goes together pretty easily once you figure things out. Like many inexpensive hitch carriers, it comes with a straight mounting shank, meaning it's best for vehicles with high ground clearance — SUVs, vans and the like. While it's rated for 500 pounds, some say that putting that much in the carrier might be pushing things. Still, the majority of users are more than happy with the sturdiness of this relatively lightweight (just 30 pounds) carrier.
Arksen Folding Cargo Carrier Review
Best Folding Hitch Cargo Carrier
Available from Amazon.
Price: $120 at time of publishing
- Powder-coated steel deck measures 58 x 24 inches, with 6-inch railing.
- Most owners say it's easy to fold up and down.
- Fits Class III and IV hitch (2-inch) receivers, found on most vehicles.
- Optional weather-proof cargo bag available.
- Actual width of platform is slightly smaller than 60 x 25 inches advertised, some owners complain.
- Rear reflectors but no taillights.
- A minority of users complain of rust, missing assembly instructions.
- No warranty information available.
Takeaway: A folding cargo carrier is a good option if parking is tight or you don't want to deal with the hassle of unmounting the rack when not in use. Although some users say they struggled a bit to assemble this Arksen carrier, once mounted it's a cinch to raise and lower as needed. The steel deck feels sturdy, even when loaded, and many owners attest this carrier should easily shoulder the 500-pounds promised (experts at Car Bibles still suggest keeping the threshold closer to 400 pounds). Two minor complaints surface among reviews. First, some say the reflectors, which have an adhesive backing, tend to fall off. Second, a handful of owners express disappointment that the deck is a hair too small for their needs. As with other cheap cargo racks, the straight shank means that this carrier might ride low on station wagons and other vehicles with less ground clearance. If you need a folding carrier with better elevation, the Curt 18153 (est. price: $132; buy it on Amazon) folding cargo carrier has an angled shank that eliminates that problem. It's a little more expensive, but it also gets strong expert and user feedback.
MaxxHaul 70275 Review
Best Wheelchair Hitch Carrier
Available from Amazon.
Price: $270 at time of publishing
- Big enough (46.5 x 28 inches) to haul electric wheelchairs and personal mobility devices.
- 8-inch side rails are higher than those found on similar models.
- 60-inch ramp makes loading easy, reviewers say.
- Fits 2-inch Class III and IV hitch receivers, which are common on SUVS, trucks, and vans.
- Some owners complain of difficulty following assembly instructions.
- Ground clearance could be an issue with some vehicles.
- No taillights, just reflectors.
- Short 90-day warranty.
Takeaway: This durable, MaxxHaul aluminum cargo carrier is a relatively inexpensive option for hauling everything from luggage to yard equipment, and it earns solid marks from most owners. It's got a hefty 500-pound capacity (although feedback indicates that may be a tad overly ambitious), and the aluminum construction means that rust will be much less likely than with an all-steel carrier. But what makes this model really stand out is its extra-wide platform and 60-inch, folding ramp, which means it also serves as a handy solution for seniors and others who need a carrier that can accommodate an electric wheelchair or mobility scooter. And reviews suggest that two people can install it with relative ease. There are purchasers who say the straight-shank design of the hitch makes the carrier hang low, causing it to bottom out sometimes when driving up or down an incline. But these kinds of complaints are not uncommon with cheaper hitch-mounted cargo carriers in general, especially if they're mounted to crossovers and other vehicles with relatively low clearance.
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