A versatile rooftop cargo carrier can haul your extra luggage, camping gear, and more.

Need extra storage space for a hiking adventure, vacation, or road trip? The best rooftop cargo carrier for you will depend on your vehicle and storage needs. We’ve tested several options, and we’ll provide a roundup of our top five picks in this review.

In this article:

  • 5 Best Rooftop Cargo Carriers
  • Our Review Standards
  • #1 Best Overall Rooftop Cargo Carrier: Thule Pulse
  • #2 Best Canvas Rooftop Cargo Carrier: Fivklemnz Car Roof Bag
  • #3 Arksen Universal Roof Rack
  • #4 Midabao Car Roof Top Carrier
  • #5 Roof Master Rooftop Cargo Carrier
  • Rooftop Cargo Carrier Testing Process
  • Rooftop Cargo Carrier Buyer’s Guide
  • FAQ: Best Rooftop Cargo Carrier

5 Best Rooftop Cargo Carriers

A rooftop cargo carrier attaches to the hood of your vehicle and can add 16.0 or more cubic feet of storage for your road adventures. This type of carrier can eliminate the need for an extra trailer and be essential for frequent campers or large families on vacation.

Our Review Standards

Our review team combed through online customer reviews of top-rated products sold by Amazon, REI, and Walmart to find some of the most popular rooftop cargo carriers for testing. Realizing not everyone has the same needs, we chose a range of styles and prices.

We tested the products we recommend in this review and evaluated them based on storage capacity, ease of installation, aerodynamics, and durability. We chose products designed for carrying additional luggage and stowable items. This isn’t a review of the best rooftop cargo carriers for specialty equipment such as skis, bikes, and snowboards.

Storage Capacity

Our review team based its ratings for storage capacity on the inner dimensions of each product. Rooftop cargo carriers with the most cubic feet scored best in this category.

Ease Of Installation

We mounted each rooftop cargo carrier onto a Subaru Forester according to the directions included with the product. We scored each carrier based on how quick and easy the installation process was.

Aerodynamics

Adding a carrier to the top of your car will create extra drag, which can reduce your car’s fuel efficiency. Once each rooftop cargo carrier was installed, we took it for an extended test drive to determine how much drag it caught.

Durability

Rooftop cargo carriers made of the most durable materials scored best in this category. Durability is essential for the carrier's material and the quality of its zippers and latches. By handling each cargo carrier in person, we could gauge which had the best construction. We also considered Amazon customer reviews on each product’s longevity.

#1 Best Overall Rooftop Cargo Carrier: Thule Pulse

The Thule Pulse is the best of the best rooftop cargo carriers. It features a heavy-duty aerodynamic design and lockable storage and is easy to install. The Pulse comes in three sizes ranging from 11.0 to 16.0 cubic feet. We tested the medium-size Thule (14.0 cubic feet).

Overall 5 out of 5
Storage Capacity 4.5 out of 5
Ease of Installation 4.5 out of 5
Aerodynamics 5 out of 5
Durability 5 out of 5

Key Features

  • Material: Plastic
  • Carrying capacity: 14.0 cubic feet
  • Weight: 34.6 pounds
  • Requires roof rack?: Yes
  • Cost: $550

Our Experience

Despite the intimidating size of the Thule, we found it to be one of the easiest cargo carriers to install. It does require a roof rack, and you may need to adjust the distance of your crossbars before fitting the Thule Pulse. Once you’ve adjusted your crossbars, however, attaching the Pulse couldn’t be simpler. It doesn’t even require any tools.

The lid opens from the side using a key and fits snugly when closed. When we took the Pulse on a test drive, it generated virtually no extra road noise – you wouldn’t even know it was up there. We felt no additional drag on our test vehicle. While the added weight and dimensions likely reduce fuel efficiency, it isn’t by much.

What Customers Are Saying

The Thule Pulse has an average Amazon customer review score of 4.6 out of 5 stars. Ninety-one percent of reviews give the Pulse 4 or more stars. 

Positive customer reviews frequently mention the Pulse’s impressive carrying capacity and how quiet it is on the road.

“Thule is a more expensive brand, but sometimes it is worth it. This is an example of you [get what you pay for]. If you want 100 percent confidence with your stuff on top of your car driving 70 mph down the highway, this is your rooftop cargo box."

– Kevin L via Amazon

Some customers say they received defective products, but such cases seem to be relatively few. If you order a Thule Pulse from Amazon and it ships broken, contact the seller for a refund immediately.

The most common breaking point seems to be the lock system. If you try to force the lock without fully and properly closing the Pulse, it can break.

“Locking mechanism is so poorly designed that the key eventually broke off in the lock. Had to drill the rivets that hold the locks in place in order to open it."

– Sharanne via BBB

#2 Best Canvas Rooftop Cargo Carrier: Fivklemnz Car Roof Bag

The Fivklemnz cargo carrier is our favorite canvas rooftop cargo carrier bag. It’s quiet on the roof, offers decent storage capacity, and is relatively simple to install while still being secure. We believe this is a suitable lightweight option if you don’t want to shell out the bucks required to buy a Thule. A Fivklemnz is also a solid choice if you don’t have a roof rack.

Overall 4.5 out of 5
Storage Capacity 4 out of 5
Ease of Installation 4 out of 5
Aerodynamics 4.5 out of 5
Durability 4.5 out of 5

Key Features

  • Material: 700D oxford fabric
  • Carrying capacity: 15.0 cubic feet
  • Weight: 6.6 pounds
  • Requires roof rack?: No
  • Cost: $90

Our Experience

The Fivklemnz wasn’t quite as easy to install as the Thule Pulse, but it was easier to attach to our vehicle than any of the other soft-top cargo bags we tested. It lays atop a protective mat, and the straps are especially easy to tie down and adjust. Numerous straps provide added stability and security, but you’ll need to spend more time tucking and clipping after you’ve loaded your car top carrier.

The zippers are made of durable material, and the stitching is high-grade. This bag’s material is lightweight yet durable, and on our road test, the Fivklemnz was the quietest of the soft-shell carriers. It’s not as quiet as the Thule, however.

What Customers Are Saying

Amazon reviews give the Fivklemnz an average score of 4.4 stars, based on more than 4,000 ratings. Eighty-six percent of reviews rate the product 4 or more stars.

Satisfied customers praise the Fivklemnz for its durability, sturdy design, and ability to keep items dry in the rain. Some users mention excellent customer service, with one reviewer saying a strap tore but they received a full refund for their defective product.

“[The Fivklemnz] went through daily snows and melting that week. I traveled through four states, strong sustained winds with 40 mph+ gusts most of the way, torrential rain and mud being splattered. … My items stayed perfectly dry, and the bag is in perfect condition, just a little muddy."

– Beeps via Amazon

Some customers find the Fivklemnz not adequately waterproofed, which leads to their belongings getting soaked. It’s hard to know if these people received defective products or if the waterproofing doesn’t work because the bag isn’t properly secured.

“Not quite as waterproof as we had hoped. Our things got wet, we are assuming from wind-driven rain."

– A R Q via Amazon

#3 Arksen Universal Roof Rack

The Arksen cargo basket features an open design, so bags must be secured with additional straps or netting. The rack comes in various sizes and can accommodate a weatherproof Arksen cargo bag (sold separately). We tested the 43-inch model, which is the smallest size offered.

Overall 4 out of 5
Storage Capacity 4 out of 5
Ease of Installation 4 out of 5
Aerodynamics 3 out of 5
Durability 4.5 out of 5

Key Features

  • Material: Alloy steel
  • Carrying capacity: 150.0 pounds (area of 43.0 inches)
  • Weight: 37.0 pounds
  • Requires roof rack?: Yes
  • Cost: $150

Our Experience

We found the Arksen simple to install. Once it’s attached, you can leave it on your vehicle and it won’t hinder your driving much. When empty, it adds little drag to your vehicle, even at high speeds. Not being waterproof, this is a good option for short-term use. You can purchase the Arksen storage box, which is sold separately, if you need weatherproof storage for longer trips.

In our driving test (without cargo), the Arksen was completely silent and added little to no drag. Drag can vary depending on how you arrange your rooftop cargo. Because it’s an open-topped carrier, there’s more leeway in how high you stack your cargo. You’ll need additional straps or a cargo net – which you can also purchase separately – to secure your load.

What Customers Are Saying

The Arksen has an average Amazon review score of 4.3 stars, based on over 300 ratings. Eighty percent of reviewers gave the product at least 4 stars.

Many customers say the Arksen is easy to assemble and attach to their vehicle. We found the cargo carrier less cumbersome than the larger Thule or the multi-strap system most cargo bags use.

“It is so easy to install. Minimal noise. I am 5-foot-3, 119 pounds and was able to assemble it and put it on my SUV with minimal help. It’s pretty lightweight."

– Phae via Amazon

Some users say the Arksen doesn’t fit well with their roof side rails. The basket was a snug fit on our test vehicle, but it may not attach as firmly depending on the shape and spacing of your roof rack. Unlike some cars, the Subaru Forester has adjustable roof rails.

“I liked the quality and design of the roof rack. … Only problem is it does not align with my 2020 Hyundai Tucson roof rail system. It is too short."

– Teeky via Amazon

The other issue some customer reviews mention is with the securing system. Depending on your roof rack, you may need to attach the bolts differently than the directions recommend.

#4 Midabao Car Roof Top Carrier

This high-capacity soft-top roof bag is made of durable PVC material. It’s an excellent pick if you need a lot of storage capacity, which exceeds that of similar bags. Two downsides of this bag are that it’s noisier than other options and that we found it the most difficult of our recommendations to install (though still not that difficult in general).

Overall 4 out of 5
Storage Capacity 4.5 out of 5
Ease of Installation 3.5 out of 5
Aerodynamics 3 out of 5
Durability 4 out of 5

Key Features

  • Material: PVC canvas
  • Carrying capacity: 20.0 cubic feet
  • Weight: 8.5 pounds
  • Requires roof rack?: No
  • Cost: $97

Our Experience

The Midabao’s strap system is a bit more complicated than similar rooftop bags. However, this bag doesn’t require a roof rack to install, and you can securely attach it to your hood. The strap-tightening system is less intuitive than the Fivklemnz and the Roof Master, but we eventually managed to figure it out.

The Midabao was the nosiest of the carriers we tested, at least in part because of how many straps the bag uses. On the plus side, the straps allow you to tighten the bag to your roof securely, improving aerodynamics. Depending on how you pack it, this carrier can be more aerodynamic than similar rooftop storage bags.

What Customers Are Saying

The Midabao has an average Amazon rating of 4.4 stars from over 1,100 customer reviews. Eighty-three percent of reviews give the product 4 or more stars.

Most customers are happy with the high storage capacity and note how securely the included straps attach the Midabao bag to their roof.

“[I] traveled through a torrential downpour, high winds and snow with no signs of water infiltration or tears. [The] zipper is a bit tough to slide, but that is because of the waterproof seals it incorporates."

– SB via Amazon

Reviews on the water resistance of the Midabao are mixed. Some customers use the bag in the rain with no issues, but several reviewers mention the bag failing to keep water out. If using this bag, you may want to add a layer of plastic over your belongings.

“It feels a bit flimsy, the zippers could be beefier, but it overall held up great. The straps/buckles are solid, the stitching all appears to be well done and durable. It is not 100 percent waterproof, though."

– Chris S. via Amazon

#5 Roof Master Rooftop Cargo Carrier

The Roof Master is a nylon cargo carrier with a high storage capacity. The zippers form a waterproof seam, and long flaps provide additional protection. This bag is a nice option if you’re expecting to encounter rainy weather and want to ensure your cargo stays dry.

Overall 4 out of 5
Storage Capacity 4.5 out of 5
Ease of Installation 3.5 out of 5
Aerodynamics 4 out of 5
Durability 3.5 out of 5

Key Features

  • Material: Nylon
  • Carrying capacity: 16.0 cubic feet
  • Weight: 5.0 pounds
  • Requires roof rack?: Yes
  • Cost: $90

Our Experience

We like the Roof Master as a low-cost option for a rooftop carrier. The bag is extremely lightweight and attaches securely to the roof rack. The zippers are well-waterproofed, making the bag ideal if you expect to encounter precipitation.

We found this bag a little more challenging to load than some of our other recommendations, at least after we attached it to the roof. The straps were also more challenging to tighten than the Fivklemnz. When we took the Roof Master on a test drive, it was slightly louder than our other recommendations but still relatively aerodynamic with low wind noise.

What Customers Are Saying

The Roof Master has an average Amazon rating of 4.3 stars based on more than 1,150 ratings. Eighty-three percent of reviewers awarded the Roof Master a minimum of 4 stars.

Customers are impressed with this storage bag's capacity and weather resistance. Several people mention long road trips through harsh weather conditions.

“[The Roof Master] worked out perfectly. The only bummer is that the included roof protector left a weird faint pattern that still won’t go away. The bag itself held up great and was easy to get on and off. Nothing leaked even the tiniest bit."

– Sfarnz via Amazon

Like our review team, a few people deem the strap system less than ideal. Some found it necessary to use their own bungee cords. One customer says their bag wore away after one trip. While this didn’t appear common, the material of the Roof Master is less robust than some of the other bags we tested.

“The straps provided are utterly useless. I resorted to heavy-duty bungee cords, and everything stayed put. I'll use it again but with bungee cords. The straps don't stay tight, and the ends don't stay put. You have to pull over and retighten and retie everything every 50 miles."

– Nancy Lemke via Amazon

Rooftop Cargo Carrier Testing Process

To test rooftop cargo carriers, our team unpacked and installed each carrier according to the directions. For our test vehicle, we used a Subaru Forester. We paid special attention to the durability and stitching quality of each cargo carrier’s zippers and straps.

After installing each rooftop cargo carrier, we loaded it with test cargo and took it for a road test, noting the amount of noise the product produced and how much drag it added to our vehicle.

As part of our research process, our team also scoured verified Amazon reviews to learn about the experiences of other users, paying particular attention to longevity.

Rooftop Cargo Carrier Buyer’s Guide

When searching for the best rooftop cargo carrier, your most ideal option depends partly on how you plan to use it. We tested carriers intended for holding extra luggage and items. You may want to consider a different carrier if you need one for bikes or outdoor equipment.

In general, it’s wise to consider the following factors when shopping for the best roof cargo carrier:

Use

What do you plan to carry in your rooftop carrier? If you want extra storage space for your luggage, consider the products in this review. If you need something to carry your bike or skis, you’ll need to purchase a specialty cargo carrier.

Also consider the distance you’re traveling and how often you’ll use your cargo carrier. If you’re going a long way, you’ll likely want a waterproof carrier in case you encounter precipitation. If you plan to use your carrier frequently for shorter trips, you may want a product similar to the Arksen roof rack, which you can easily leave on your car even when it’s not in use.

Shape

Any carrier you put on your roof will add wind resistance to your vehicle and reduce fuel economy. The farther you travel with your carrier, the more significant the impact on your gas tank. Select a rooftop cargo carrier designed for aerodynamics to reduce drag and minimize gas-mileage loss.

Type

This review includes three types of cargo carriers: hardtop, softshell, and basket. A hardtop carrier will provide the most protection, but it’s the heaviest. A softshell bag can still be waterproof, but it may be less aerodynamic and more challenging to load. You can leave a basket carrier on your vehicle, adding a little drag, but you will need a net or bag to secure your loads.

Some rooftop carriers include a lock, and you can safely leave them on top of your vehicle while it’s parked (for example, if you break your trip into several days and want to leave most of your luggage in your car while at your hotel). If you believe you’ll leave your luggage in your carrier while your vehicle is parked overnight, invest in a carrier with a lock.

Installation Requirements

Some rooftop cargo carriers require a roof rack for proper installation. If your car doesn’t have a roof rack, select a rooftop cargo carrier that doesn’t need one.

FAQ: Best Rooftop Cargo Carrier

Are rooftop cargo carriers safe?

Rooftop cargo carriers are safe if you securely install them. Also, be sure not to overload your rooftop carrier. Close hardtop carriers completely. With soft-top carriers, ensure all zippers are secured and the bag is tightly attached to your roof.

Are rooftop carriers legal?

Rooftop carriers are legal if they’re securely installed. Make sure all cargo is appropriately strapped down and contained. You can receive a citation if you fail to secure your rooftop carrier and something falls off.

What is a roof cargo box for?

A roof cargo box adds storage space to your vehicle. Typically, these are useful if you’re taking your car on a vacation and need extra space for luggage. A rooftop carrier may come in handy for large groups or families so there’s enough room for all passengers and their luggage.

Can you put a cargo box on a roof basket?

Yes, you can put a cargo box on a roof basket. The Arksen roof basket is compatible with many roof boxes, including the Arksen-brand roof box.

How do you pack a rooftop cargo carrier?

How to pack a rooftop cargo carrier depends on the particular product. In most cases, you’ll want to pack the carrier after you’ve placed it on your roof and before you’ve tightened any straps. Don’t overpack your rooftop carrier. Once the cargo carrier is packed, close all seams and zippers and secure it to your vehicle as tightly as possible.

How do you secure a cargo bag to the roof?

Most cargo bags are secured to the roof through a system of straps. Some roof carriers may require you to attach the straps to a roof rack, while others may attach under the weatherproof seals in your doors.

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