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Camping is a gear-intensive activity, so it should come as no surprise that it’s often difficult to fit all your gear into your car. Thankfully, a car rooftop bag can go a long way toward making your gear packing as seamless as possible.

There are many great rooftop cargo carrier bags on the market, however, so finding the right one for your adventures isn’t necessarily straightforward. We want you to be able to find the best car cargo bag for your upcoming camping trip, so we’ve reviewed 5 of the top options available.

Up next, we’ll discuss the basics of buying a rooftop bag so you can find the perfect model for any road trip.

What are rooftop cargo bags?

Rooftop cargo bags are, as the name suggests, gear storage bags that get attached to the top of your car. These bags can greatly increase the amount of space you have in your car by taking some of your gear and placing it on your roof.

That being said, rooftop cargo bags are a bit different from the large cargo boxes that you might see on other cars. While a cargo box is a hardshell plastic mobile storage unit, rooftop bags are usually made from flexible polyurethane-coated canvas or nylon.

Moreover, rooftop cargo bags tend to be smaller and more affordable than their cargo box cousins. This makes them ideal for people who need to occasionally carry a modest amount of gear and clothing, rather than as a permanent cartop fixture for transporting skis.

Do you need a roof rack for a cargo bag?

It depends. Some cargo bags are designed to be used with or without roof racks while others need a roof rack to hold them in place. Most cargo bags that can be used without a roof rack will usually clearly state so in their promotional materials.

If you’re not sure whether a roof rack is compatible with your vehicle, it’s worth contacting the manufacturer directly for specific guidance.

Top 5 best rooftop cargo bags

Designed with ease of use in mind, the Rightline Gear Sport Jr is a simple, yet functional cargo bag for camping. Rightline built this cargo bag with UV-protected PVC Semi-Coated Mesh XT fabric, which is durable enough to hold up through years of road trips.

It features a 100% waterproof construction with welded seams and a waterproof zipper. This waterproof zipper opens up to expose a 10 cubic foot-sized carrier bag, which is perfect for a weekend’s worth of camping gear.

Moreover, it can attach to a car with or without a roof rack for added convenience. The bag comes complete with all the hardware you need to attach it to a roof rack or directly to your car. 

pros
  • Durable UV-protected fabric
  • Waterproof construction and zipper
  • Can attach to car with or without roof rock
cons
  • Boxy shape isn’t very aerodynamic

Durable as can be, the RoofPax Car Roof Bag is crafted for long adventures where maximizing gear storage space is a top priority.

This bag boasts 19 cubic feet of gear storage space that’s easy to access through the waterproof zipper. It’s made with a rugged military-grade fabric that has dual seam technology and a water repellent coating for extra waterproofing.

To ensure that this bag can be mounted to your vehicle, even if it doesn’t have roof racks, this model comes with 6 straps that can latch directly onto your car. The carrier also comes with a set of heavy-duty straps and NIFCO buckles, as well as a TSA-approved combination lock for added security on your travels.

pros
  • 6 straps included for use with or without a roof rack
  • Military-grade fabric for durability
  • Fully seam-sealed for waterproofing
cons
  • Large size isn’t great for gas mileage

A premium choice from one of the world’s top rooftop cargo companies, the Thule Interstate Cargo Bag is an aerodynamically-minded option for performance-oriented campers.

It’s made with a durable double-coated PVC and phthalate-free TPE laminate material that’s IP-X3 certified for weather-resistance. This bag comes with coated 3-sided zippers with large storm flaps to keep water out at all costs and a padded base to protect your car from damage.

For improved performance on the road, Thule designed this cargo carrier with an aerodynamic shape and 16 cubic feet of storage. It also comes with a set of compression straps to minimize friction and noise as you drive down the road.

pros
  • Aerodynamic design
  • Padded base protects your car from damage
  • PVC-free construction is better for the environment
cons
  • Pricey
  • Requires a roof rack

An affordable choice for cost-conscious campers, the Keeper Rooftop Cargo Bag is a no-frills option for anyone on a budget.

It offers up to 15 cubic feet of storage space, which is ideal for an extended camping trip. Plus, this bag is sized to fit nearly all roof racks, though it’s worth noting that it can’t be mounted without a rack in place.

This cargo bag has a heavy-duty fabric construction that’s waterproof for protection against the elements. When you’re not driving to and from your campsites, however, this bag packs down to a small compact size for easier storage.

pros
  • Affordable
  • Folds down small for easier storage
  • Rugged, heavy-duty construction
cons
  • Requires a roof rack for attachment

Affordability meets performance with the Thule Outbound Cargo Bag.

Thule built this cargo bag out of PVC-free fabrics that have a TPE laminate for maximum water-resistance. It also has a set of 3 sided zippers and generously-sized storm flaps to prevent water from seeping its way inside the bag.

For attaching the bag to your roof rack, Thule includes a set of heavy-duty double-stitched webbing straps with this model. Plus, it has an aerodynamic shape in transport for improved vehicle efficiency on the road.

pros
  • Heavy duty straps for secure attachment
  • PVC-free TPE laminate materials for waterproofing
  • Aerodynamic shape
cons
  • Requires a roof rack

How to choose a cargo bag

There are many cargo bags out there to choose from, so it’s critical that you know what to consider as you shop. Here are some of the most important things to keep in mind as you search for your next rooftop cargo bag.

Size

The size of a cargo bag is important because it dictates how much gear you can comfortably fit inside. Moreover, the size of a bag will affect whether or not it’s suitable for your vehicle.

If you have roof racks on your car, you’ll want to be sure that the dimensions of your cargo bag are compatible with the width of your racks. Otherwise, the bag might not fit on your car.

Shape/Aerodynamics

Whenever we attach items to the top of a vehicle, it will naturally decrease the aerodynamics of your car. Unfortunately, rooftop cargo bags are notoriously poor in terms of aerodynamics. 

This is because most bags have a boxy shape that creates significant amounts of drag on the road. As a result, they can decrease your vehicle’s gas mileage as you drive to and from camp.

Thankfully, some companies now have aerodynamically-shaped cargo bags for you to choose from. Keep in mind that these aerodynamic bags are sometimes trickier to pack, but they are better for your gas mileage.

Vehicle Compatibility

When purchasing a rooftop cargo bag, it’s critical that the bag is compatible with your vehicle. If not, you won’t be able to use it and your purchase will seem like a waste of time.

The main thing to remember is that some cargo bags can be used without a roof rack while others require a rack for mounting. If your vehicle doesn’t have roof racks, then it’s essential that you get a model that can be attached directly to your car.

Durability/Waterproofing

The last aspect to consider when purchasing a rooftop cargo bag is durability and waterproofing. 

No one wants to spend good money on a cargo bag, only to have it fall apart after one road trip. Likewise, no one wants their gear to get soaked in the rain on the drive to a campsite.

Therefore, a cargo bag that has durable, waterproof fabrics and zippers is of the utmost importance. Look for a model that has taped or welded seams for added waterproofing.

Are rooftop cargo bags safe?

Rooftop cargo bags can be a safe way to transport gear to and from your campsite, provided that they’re used properly. When attached to your car according to the manufacturer’s specifications, rooftop bags are generally just as secure as a cargo box.

However, failure to properly attach these bags to a car can create a major hazard on the road. 

It’s also worth noting that one should never tie down a cargo bag by looping the attachment straps through the passenger compartment of the car. Although this may seem like an easy way to secure your cargo bag, doing so can prevent your airbags from going off in an emergency.

Therefore, cargo bags should always be attached directly to a roof rack or latched onto the door of a vehicle. When in doubt, contact the manufacturer for more specific guidance.

Do roof racks damage your car?

When used properly, roof racks do not damage cars. In fact, many cars come with stock roof racks that are permanently fixed to their roofs.

With that in mind, the operative phrase here is “used properly.” Roof racks need to be attached to a vehicle according to the manufacturer’s specifications. You should also consult your vehicle’s handbook to get a better understanding of the static and dynamic maximum loads that your car can handle to prevent damage.

Are roof boxes universal?

While some roof boxes are designed to be attached to any vehicle with crossbars, not all models are universal. These days, roof boxes are designed to be more versatile than in the past, but there are still limitations on what vehicles they’re appropriate for.

The key to buying a roof box is to find one that’s appropriately sized for your vehicle in terms of length and width. You’ll also want to be sure that your roof box’s mounting hardware is appropriately proportioned to fit your crossbars. 

Your cargo box manufacturer will often have a list of compatible vehicles which you can check out for more guidance.

Final Thoughts

If you tend to pack a lot of gear while camping, a rooftop cargo box is a must-have for your adventures. With the right rooftop cargo box in tow, you can more easily pack up your car and get out on the road to start your adventures.