Updated: May 27, 2015

Roof Rack and Cargo Carrier Reviews:

The Best Roof Racks and Roof Rack Accessories - When you love adventure, sports, or simply going to explore new places, getting your sports equipment or luggage anywhere can be a hassle. Few of us can fit a kayak in our cars, try as we might. Your vehicle is meant to get you from here to there; it's not meant to restrain you or keep you from adventure. Roof racks are one of the best investments you can make because they tremendously increase the versatility of your vehicle. Buying a roof rack involves some pre-shopping consideration: what do you need your rack to do for you, what kind of vehicle is it going on, what is the right fit, do you need any roof rack accessories? All of these are important questions to ask, and we'll help you answer them.
roof racks for cargo

Do You Need a Base Rack?

- This is easy enough to answer: if you don't have a factory-installed roof rack and/or rain gutters, you'll need to get a base system. This consists of feet, load bars, and accessories, like keys. When it comes to roof racks, you will see two names come up again and again: Yakima and Thule. Both make exceptional base racks. RackAttack recommends both the Yakima Q Tower System and the Thule 400XT Aero Foot Pack System. The Q Tower has 4 feet, or towers, that attach to the corners of your roof. The system also has 2 round crossbars. Once this system is in place, you are ready to get going. The particular bar size and Q Clip (which are sold separately) will depend on the type of car you have. The Yakima is designed to fit on a wide range of vehicles, and this one fits on cars with rain gutters as well. You can find the Yakima Q Towers here. The Thule 400XT Foot Pack is just that: the feet. You'll need to get the Fit Kit that is specific to your car. The advantage of the Foot Pack is that the feet are very durable and they have a wide build to distribute your cargo weight evenly. You can find the Thule 400 XT- Aero Foot Pack for $144. Thule is a well-respected name, and this is a solid system. Many reviewers, however, have noted that it is difficult to install. Make sure to read the instructions carefully, and plan on spending more time than they indicate.

Roof Racks for Cars with Factory-Installed Racks:

Why not just use your factory-installed rack? In some cases, they are not strong, durable, or secure enough to carry cargo. In other cases, they lack load bars altogether. On many cars, it seems as though they are a decorative feature. If you want something more than decoration, you'll need a better roof rack system. Again, Yakima and Thule are leading names. These racks install around your existing raised side-rail rack to give you a better system and keep your belongings secure. Good ones to try: the Yakima LowRider System, which costs $140, has custom claws for factory-installed racks, tool-free installation, and custom-molded rubber pads for extra protection for your car and your belongings; and the Thule 450R Crossroads, which is made for use with Thule's Rapid Aero aluminum load bars. It has a rubber coated steel strap, easy installation, a 1-key system, and extreme strength and durability. You can find it for $158. If you have a continuous rack, try the Yakima Locking EZ Rider System. This fits on cars with side rails that are raised or flush-mounted with an interior track. It has a dual claw design for security and a slim design. You will need 2 Yakima crossbars and 4 Yakima SKS lock cores. The EZ Rider System costs $150. Check out the top rated roof racks for cars that have factory installed racks.

Cargo Carriers:

Rack Accessories - Now that you've got your roof rack in order, it's time to get to work on the roof rack accessories. When you have a stable foundation, you can confidently carry cargo, including bikes, kayaks, snow sports gear, water sports gear, and luggage. The type of carrier you select will depend on the base rack system you have on your car. For instance, all Thule base racks are designed to work with Thule carriers and roof rack accessories. Here's a look at some of the top cargo carriers. Thule 634B Sonic Cargo Box M - Black - Thule roof rack accessories are designed to fit on any of their base systems. One of their most popular and well-reviewed by Buzzillion and Amazon users is the Atlantis 1600 Black Cargo Box. This particular model is not only compatible with Thule systems, but also fits with Yakima crossbars and most factory-installed racks. The box has a handy dual-sided opening and is constructed of durable, strong, and UV-resistant ABS plastic. You can carry up to 16 cubic feet or 110 pounds of whatever you like, and it carries up to 4 snowboards. It is $495. X-Cargo Sport 20 Car Top Carrier - This is another top pick from Buzzillion users and Sears consumer reviewers, who give it an average rating of 4.5. The X-Cargo Sport 20 can hold up to 100 pounds and fits most vans, crossovers, and SUVs that have factory or after-market roof racks. It comes completely assembled and includes U-bolt mounting hardware, durable, strong ABS construction, and a security lock with 2 keys. The X-Cargo is seen as an excellent value, and it sells for about $200 at Sears and other national retailers. One Buzzillion reviewer commented that he didn't have to spend money on a fancy or funny name brand, and the X-Cargo Sport 20 fit perfectly on his Subaru Outback's factory-installed rack. It is a great value for toting luggage, sports equipment, or whatever else you want.

Roof Top Cargo Bags - These are yet another option that you can attach to your installed rack. Cargo bags are like big giant duffle bags that you strap to your car's roof. The advantage to using them is that you can pack your luggage and other necessities and carry them safely and securely while freeing up car space, and when not in use, you can fold it up and stow it away in a closet or the trunk. A good value and recommended by Associated Content is the Rain-X 161040, which is also well reviewed by Amazon users. The Rain X instantly gives you expanded storage on your roof rack. It is made of water-resistant nylon so your belongings are safe, secure, and dry when you get to your destination. The Rain X is only about $52. These are best for shorter trips - you may want a hard-sided case if you're trekking from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon, but other than that, cargo bags can be ideal for luggage and other necessities. You can browse the best selling cargo carriers online here.

The Best Roof Rack Accessories for Sports Equipment:

While cargo carriers can be used to haul your sports equipment, if you are transporting things like bikes and kayaks, you'll need a rack specifically suited for this job. Again, Yakima and Thule lead the way with their BigStack and 835PRO Hull-a-port Pro models, respectively. These were both named by Trail.com as the best kayak racks. The Yakima BigStack can carry up to 4 kayaks; it fits with Yakima round bars, Thule square and Aero racks, as well as most factory racks. It comes with rugged bow and stern straps and durable straps to attach the kayaks to the posts. Another nice feature is it folds down when not in use. It costs $139. The Thule Hull-a-Port carries your kayak on its side and also folds down when unused. It is compatible with Thule and Yakima bars, as well as many factory-installed racks. Padded bars and ratchet straps for the bow and stern ensure that your kayaks are protected down to the paint job. The Thule Hull-A-Port PRO, the most popular kayak carrier in the industry, costs $162. Another choice of Trail.com is the Malone SeaWing - in case you were getting sick of Yakima and Thule. The SeaWing has a low profile design to improve mpg, corrosion resistant polycarbon construction, and cam style load straps. It fits 1 kayak cradle-style or 2 on their sides, which is a unique feature among cradle-style racks. The SeaWing is also a great value at $104.

The Best Bike Racks - Thule, Yakima. Surprise! Again, these are ranked as the best. You can't go wrong with the best-selling BigMouth. At just over $120, it is a great value. It features self-adjusting jaws, dual locking design, and easy mount design with rack level bike clamping. The BigMouth fits Thule and Yakima load bars and will handle bikes with frames up to 3 1/8-inch in diameter. The other top choice is the Yakima King Cobra, which hooks onto your base rack. You can carry 1 bike sans front tire. This costs a bit under $125. No matter what you're toting, you'll need a strong and secure base rack. Whether it is after-market or you trust your factory-installed roof rack, you can find top quality cargo and sports equipment carriers to make sure everything gets there in one piece. Yakima and Thule are two of the top brands, and in general, you can't go wrong with their base racks or cargo carriers. You will also find quality in Allen, Saris, Racor, GearUp, Swagman, and SportRack. Check out the most popular bike racks online here.