Even SUV owners may run out of room for that fifth or sixth suitcase. Folding rear seats to expand cargo space isn’t always an option with a full load of passengers. Lightweight cargo carriers strap to the top of your vehicle, store bulky items, and easily fold away when not in use, unlike hard-shell rooftop cargo carriers. A good cargo bag adds storage options without adding unnecessary weight—many vehicles cap rooftop load at 150 pounds—but remains sturdy enough to handle whatever wet or snowy weather. Look for a cargo bag that will be lightweight, waterproof, and sit securely on the roof. The last thing a driver wants is to see their cargo bag in the rearview mirror.
Not every bag fits every rooftop. Roof racks, crossbars, baskets, or no roof rack at all play a big role in choosing the right fit. Some come with lightly padded mats to keep the bag from slipping and to avoid scratching the roof. These five cargo bag options below have been researched for vehicles with or without a roof rack.
Best Overall: Fivklemnz Car Roof Bag Cargo Carrier
Why We Picked It:
The Fivklemnz rooftop cargo bag is durable. It’s made with 700D Oxford fabric known for waterproofing and enough elasticity to prevent bursts or splits from overpacking. Heat-welded seams, a waterproof zipper, and a double flap help keep all 15 cubic feet of storage dry through rougher driving conditions. If something does go wrong, there is a 12-month limited warranty.
- Comes with four hooks for those without a roof rack
- Eight reinforced straps to secure the bag on every side
- Includes a non-slip pad to prevent slippage and scratches
- Not subtle: large, bright orange logo
- Cannot strap to the roof using only crossbars
Biggest Bag: RoofPax Rooftop Cargo Carrier
Why We Picked It:
The RoofPax holds a lot of cargo: 19 cubic feet instead of the more common 15. For loads that aren’t quite that big, two straps running across the top adjust for a more compact package, better aerodynamics and less of a mileage penalty. The RoofPax military-grade materials are water-resistant and double coated to prevent the worst of wear and tear. It closes with a heavy-duty zipper. A variant (same 47×35-inch footprint) is expandable from 15 to 19 cubic feet.
- Lifetime warranty on zippers and buckles
- Can attach to a vehicle with or without roof rack
- Users report responsive customer service
- Expensive (about $160)
- Protective flap barely covers the zipper
- Larger footprint means it may not fit smaller cars well
Best Value: Amazon Basics Cargo Carrier
Why We Picked It:
The Amazon Basic Cargo Carrier does the job for about $65. This cargo bag offers fade-resistant, waterproof protection to shield whatever fits within its 15 cubic feet of storage. A flap shields the zipper from the natural elements and helps keep the rain from trickling in through the opening. Eight in total, the straps are wider for some extra security against the buffering of the wind or wear from constant use. They loop around the vehicle’s side rails and crossbars and adjust individually via buckles.
- Velcro holds down the zipper flap
- 4.7 pound lightweight option which is easier to fold
- Buckles unsnap for easier access to cargo while attached to the roof
- The straps are loops that require some type of roof rack
- No pad or other non-slip measures on the bottom of the bag
- Like some other Amazon Basics products, availability waxes and wanes
Best Without Rack: RoofBag Rooftop Cargo Carrier
Why We Picked It:
The RoofBag has different size options to choose from. Between the choice of 11 cubic feet and 15 cubic feet, users choose the length which best suits their vehicle. If you have a smaller sedan without a roof rack, the shorter option keeps the cargo bag from hanging over the rear window and maintains clear sightlines. To attach the bag without a roof rack, hooks for the bag’s straps go underneath the weatherstrip in your car door. On the top of the bag, straps thread through two reinforced anchors, not sewn, which guards against tears and ripped stitches.
- Angled in the front for better aerodynamics
- Comes with three duffle shaped bags for compact packing and double protection
- Pairs well with a rooftop basket
- Users report bag will slide a bit if you do not fill to capacity
- Only two straps, a ratchet strap may be required for extra security
- You have to purchase the cargo hooks separately if you do not have a roof rack
Best with Rack: Sanhima Cargo Carrier
Why We Picked It:
The Sanhima fits nicely in a roof basket. This bag has looped straps to secure itself to side rails, cross rails, or both at the same time. The fabric is reinforced 500*5000D PVC Tarpaulin UV Mesh and coated in a repellent substance to protect against culprits of wear like grit, rain and wind. When carrying items like camping supplies that are sharper or more irregular in shape, the reinforced fabric lessens the chance of a stray pole poking a hole or creases forming. Welded seams and a waterproof zipper add to the heavy-duty nature of this bag.
- Zipper is concealed by a flap
- Adjustable, eight straps
- Affordable (about $60)
- Must be strapped through the inside of the car above the door frame if there’s no roof rack
- Prominent logo on the front of the bag in bright orange
Forbes Wheels surveyed more than 20 rooftop cargo bags with their accessories and examined user feedback. Durability prevailed as the most common user desire in a soft-top carrier bag vehicle compatibility a close second. As a result, our choices reflect the bags with higher user satisfaction and longer lasting, functional finishes.
We evaluated the straps, material and the bag’s general ability to resist wear from weather conditions like rain, snow, wind, or extreme heat. After establishing credible durability, we matched each bag’s features to categories like “biggest bag” or “best value” while keeping in mind price, performance, and the bag’s construction – like how the straps attach to the vehicle. We chose bags that will work for a variety of users since elements like the vehicle type or cargo play a deciding factor.
FAQs (Frequently asked questions)
Are rooftop cargo bags safe?
They’re safe if they’re not overloaded, if they’re packed with soft-side luggage and snuggly strapped to the car. A loosely secured cargo bag may slide or let the wind get under the bag. Check the owner’s manual or online for the maximum dynamic (when moving) maximum roof load (the static weight may be higher). It might be 50-150 pounds for a car, 200-plus pounds for a larger SUV. Also check the max carrying weight of the cargo bag itself.
How do you pack a soft car top carrier?
1. Place the bag on the roof and start packing before strapping the bag on. Since a cargo bag carrier is more flexible than its box cousins, the straps typically adjust to the size and shape of the load.
2. Distribute the weight appropriately. Heavier things go in the center with lighter items towards the edges. Consider also what you will use first or if there is any cargo you want easy access to.
3. Pack as compactly as possible. To avoid shifting, don’t leave any gaps for cargo to move when under way.
4. Consider taking extra steps for waterproofing. Try using plastic or garbage bags if there are items you want to remain unaffected by the weather.
5. Preserve the shape of the bag while packing. Typically this will result in better aerodynamics if the bag is angled in the front to cut through wind resistance.
How do you secure a cargo bag to the roof?
1. Place a non-slip pad on the vehicle’s roof (some bags include them) and then the empty cargo bag. Center everything – you want to avoid throwing off the balance of your vehicle.
2. Ensure your cargo bag is appropriately packed. Keep in mind how you can best center the weight.
3. Strap the cargo bag by following the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. Tighten the straps securely, but not too taut, or they might snap when hitting a bump in the road. Tuck the loose ends underneath the straps to avoid flapping in the wind.
4. Double and triple-check. Each vehicle and cargo bag is built differently. Weight plays a huge factor, so double-check the weight limits of the cargo bag and the vehicle’s roof. If there are any lingering doubts, do not hesitate to contact the manufacturer or read through the user’s manual.
Can you use a car top carrier without a roof rack?
You can attach the bag without a roof rack with a few accessories. Ratchet straps and loops are both popular options. Loops can be added to the edges of your car roof by a metal hook at the end, which attaches to a vehicle’s door frame. Open your car door, pull down the rubber weatherstrip, attach the hook, and close the door. When all the doors are shut, the loops hold firmly in place and the cargo bag straps can be attached to a car without a roof rack.
Which is better, soft or hard rooftop carrier?
A soft-side rooftop carrier stretches to fit slightly-too-big bags. Various models hold 13 to 21 cubic feet; 15 is typical and some are expandable. By tightening the straps, the fabric bag can shrink for smaller loads. They don’t need roof rails or cross-bars. Instead of taking up a portion of the garage, soft carriers fold up and can be tucked away in a closet. They’re vulnerable to holes made by cargo with sharp edges. They cost $50 to $200.
Hard-shell rooftop carriers are more protective, typically need roof rails and/or crossbars to secure, have about the same carry capacity but some space will be lost unless you only load soft-side luggage. Some double as ski or snowboard carriers. They take up space in the garage. They cost $200 to $1,000 and look sleek; soft-side bags (see photo above) often look lumpy.
How much is 15 to 19 feet of cargo capacity?
Most bags here hold 15 to 19 cubic feet. A Toyota Camry or Honda Civic trunk holds 15 cubic feet, so a rooftop bag doubles hauling capacity. The space behind the second row of a Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V crossover holds about 38 cubic feet, so the rooftop bag improves capacity by 50%. A big Ford Explorer with all three rows occupied only has 18 cubic feet of cargo capacity, so a rooftop bag doubles the storage of a vehicle almost 200 inches long.
Are rooftop cargo bags legal?
The bags themselves are legal. The driver could be cited if the bag came loose or flew off, creating a hazard to other cars or obstructing the roadway.