The 5 Best Cargo Boxes of 2023 | Tested by GearLab
best luxury option
If you are looking for the ultimate in luxury when shopping for a new cargo box, we highly recommend the Thule Vector. This slim and stylish roof box has a much more striking appearance than most of its counterparts, standing out from the rest of the group. Includes an outer cover, inner liner, and two motion-activated interior lights. it’s also very easy to install and remove and is exceptionally convenient for loading or unloading gear with its double-sided opening. The Vector feels very sturdy and secure and has a look that complements almost any vehicle.
Unfortunately, this top-tier performance is matched by a top-tier price. This roof box is one of the more expensive options we’ve tested and probably out of many people’s budgets. It’s a great premium product that got full marks, and we’d recommend it to anyone who wants the best and pays a premium price, but we think most people would be just as happy with some of the less expensive options.
Reading: Best car roof boxes reviews
read more: thule vector review
why you should trust us
We’ve been testing and reviewing cargo boxes for years and are constantly on the lookout for new and noteworthy models to add to our review. To ensure objectivity, we purchase every product we test and never accept free products or incentives from manufacturers. We begin testing by unboxing and assembling each model while paying close attention to how easy each one is to set up and load with gear. Each box was left on for several weeks and driven for hundreds of miles. We evaluate the ease of use of each for daily use and note any significant changes in vehicle handling and fuel efficiency. the boxes were loaded with a wide variety of equipment, from sleeping bags to climbing ropes and skis. During testing, we keep track of any visible wear and tear and try to find fault with durability.
- Ease of use (40% of total weighted score)
- security (30% weighting)
- quality (20% weighting)
- appearance (10% weight)
our cargo box testing team is headed by lauren delaunay and david wise. Lauren has lived in her truck for several years and has taken these boxes across the country, filling them with gear for many types of trips. David lives in Tahoe and spends a significant amount of time hauling skis, snowboards, and camping gear throughout the year. In addition to conducting extensive real-world testing, David also contributes through her mechanical engineering expertise by sorting and rating the aerodynamics and structural design of each model.
analysis and test results
In order to rank and rate these products and see which cargo shipping box is truly worthy of being crowned the best, we start by doing extensive research, looking at the best products currently on the market. then we choose the most promising freight forwarders to buy and test them head-to-head. We develop a comprehensive testing plan, evaluating and judging each product’s performance in everything from its ease of installation to how well its finish hides chips and scratches. our reviews can help you find the right cargo box for your needs.
the yakima rocketbox pro 14 and the goplus roof rack are our favorite cheap cargo boxes for those on a budget. rocketbox is very easy to use and feels well made and safe. We love the convenience of the dual openings and tool-free installation. The GoPlus is a great option if you want to save some money and don’t need to carry extra long items. however, these two boxes aren’t necessarily the most elegant options out there.
At the top of the line, the yakima grandtour is a premium model that commands a higher price tag, though it’s still a price point we think is pretty fair. We like how easy it is to use and how stylish it is, but it’s certainly more of a financial commitment for most people, unless you plan on using a charging box all the time, not just for the occasional road trip.
ease of use
Whether you plan to use your cargo box once in a while or toss it on your roof and leave it there for months, there are a few ways that some products are considerably easier to use than others. For this metric, we looked at the assembly process, which included mounting, opening, and closing the box. this helped us develop a picture of how much or little effort was required when using these boxes on a daily basis. In general, we find this metric to be the most important factor when selecting a cargo box, so it is weighted more against each product’s overall score.
When it comes to ease of use, the yakima grandtour, the thule motion xt xl and the thule vector all came out on top in our tests. we love that these three cargo carriers are almost fully assembled, just requiring you to clip the clamps into position and thread the straps through, no inserting locking cores or attaching caps.
The thule motion xt mounting system makes installation a breeze, typically taking less than five minutes. we spent more time trying to locate where the manufacturer had taped the key than mounting it the first time. the lid opens on both sides and is decently sturdy. The only add-on missing, in our opinion, is a light inside the box, although this can easily be added on the aftermarket for a low price. That being said, we found the Thule Vector and Yakima Grandtour to be a bit easier to install than the Movement when using larger aftermarket square crossbars. The Motion clamps barely fit around the bars, which almost gave us cause for concern, compared to the clamps on the Grandtour that easily fit around them. The Vector has a movement-like mounting system and has all the features you could want, including an integrated light and inner pad. It even has an exterior dust cover, along with a double-opening lid.
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The yakima grandtour also opens on both sides and is very easy to install and remove. It uses a slightly different system with a one-piece clamp that requires a tool to install (included) but has the advantage of being much flatter on the inside than other Thule. The smoother interior surface (no bumps or awkward bulges) makes it easier to load and move gear throughout the cargo bed. There’s even built-in storage for the torque wrench inside the cargo box.
the yakima skybox carbonite 16, the goplus roof mount and the thule force xt xl are next in terms of ease of use. all of these are fairly quick and easy to install, with double opening lids. The box has a cam-style clamping system that is easy to install once you get it adjusted correctly, but it may take a little more time with initial installation to get the right balance of clamping pressure.
the force features the same powerclick mounting system as the more expensive Thule models, but lacks the more convenient locking systems featured on those models. still, we appreciate having this added benefit.
the skybox has a slightly more prominent handle than the force but it’s not as easy to change vehicles. both have their advantages to each other, but feel pretty comparable in terms of overall ease of use.
The goplus roof rack also features quick clamps and opens on both sides. Quick Clamps are not permanently mounted to the box, but are very easy to use, making the installation process quick and easy. however, the clamps do not have an indicator to tell you when you have tightened them enough. still, we like that the lid is secure and easy to open and close. The shorter length means it’s easier for one person to install in a car, but cross bars with larger spans may not be compatible.
The yakima rocketbox is also above average when it comes to ease of use. This cargo carrier has a solid handle and is double-opening, making it very easy to load or unload with gear. Installation clamps can be a bit tricky, especially with larger cross bars. we like the tool-less installation, but it can be a bit more difficult to judge if they’ve been tightened down enough.
The safety of each cargo box was our next concern. everyone wants to be sure that a roof box will keep their gear as safe as possible, although a determined thief could probably access any of these products with enough motivation and the right tools. We award the most points to carriers that have simple, easy-to-operate security systems that seem durable enough to resist theft and robust enough to entrust our beloved equipment to.
In all honesty, all of the products in our line are relatively the same and we were never concerned about safety. in all these models it is impossible to remove the key without the box being correctly locked and secured, which we consider an essential characteristic. That being said, some of the boxes we tested have helpful indicators that let you know if the box is locked properly or not before attempting to remove the key. thule motion xt and thule vector have a red indicator, and yakima skybox and yakima grandtour have a nice wide handles that make closing everything securely easy and obvious. these features inspire additional confidence that your belongings are secure, so we increase your scores on this metric accordingly.
The rest of the boxes, like the rocketbox pro 14, are all average in terms of security. They have factory-installed locks but lack additional indicators or ergonomic handles. yet they are all easy to lock and unlock and will not allow the key to be removed while the safe is unlocked, preventing you from forgetting to lock it or storing your keys in the safe.
All of these products are made from similar materials, so we looked at the details for clues to their longevity. We drove each box for weeks without any sign of wear, so this category is primarily concerned with structural integrity and weather resistance. For the most part, all of the boxes in this review passed rain and wind tests, which were easy to explain in the Eastern Sierra in spring, but some had more questionable design features than others. We know you want to invest in a durable roof box you can count on for countless adventures to come, so we evaluate this metric with a critical eye.
one of the main quality indicators of a cargo box is the overall rigidity of the frame, particularly with the lid. we looked for fairly rigid lids that would align the locking mechanisms smoothly. we also look at the construction and design of the clamps and locking systems, as well as the amount of potential water intrusion. Finally, we take into account any wear and tear or other damage that each cargo carrier may have experienced after our rough and drop testing process.
we found the thule vector , yakima grandtour , thule motion xt xl , thule force xt xl , yakima skybox carbonite 16, yakima rocketbox pro 14 and thule pulse to be leaders in terms of quality. All of these racks withstood our testing process very well and feel solid and sturdy, with a lid that opens with minimal movement. They’re also some of the most resistant to water intrusion in our experience, and the various clamps and latches feel well-designed.
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Overall, we found that most of these products will offer adequate protection for your equipment. Our belongings were generally dry even after driving through heavy storms or being sprayed with a garden hose at full power for 20 minutes, one of our rigorous simulated weather tests.
We are a bit more concerned about water resistance with respect to the sporttrack vista xl and the sportrack horizon alpine. These racks mount to roof racks with a set of u-bolts and come with a number of pre-drilled holes to accommodate different crossbar spacing. this means there are multiple holes at the bottom, leaving multiple entry points for water. To remedy this, these SportRack products include vinyl stickers to cover unused holes. these stickers performed well in our test, but we could see their effectiveness in keeping water out degrading over time.
the clamps of the goplus mount are mediocre in terms of water resistance. The clamps push through a slit in a rubber sheet and we think this provides a better seal than vinyl stickers, but not as good as top-tier models with quick clamps that have a slip seal.
none of these boxes showed any significant signs of damage from normal wear and tear, though most showed a handful of scratches and scuffs from repeatedly installing and uninstalling them. Even when a tester managed to bend two of the four mounting clips when placing a Thule box against a concrete wall, they didn’t realize it protruded past the car, no major damage to the roof rack.
however, we found that some of the shinier models, like the yakima grandtour or the thule motion xt xl, are a bit more prone to showing scuffs and scratches . than models with a matte or satin finish, something to keep in mind if you frequently store your roof rack outside of your vehicle.
While we tend to prioritize function over form for most categories, we recognize that cargo boxes can be an eyesore and are something you’ll need to look at every day while in your vehicle. tests for this metric were fairly subjective and based on group consensus.
There were no striking designs in this review; all the products we test generally look like what we’d expect from charging boxes these days. however, they came in a surprising number of finishes, and we had clear preferences. We find the futuristic look of the Thule Vector and the glossy black appearance of the Yakima Grandtour appealing. however, these do show dirt and scratches a bit more easily.
If you’re looking for a more understated aesthetic, thule force, horizon alpine, and yakima skybox carbonite might be better options. We find that we generally prefer the matte finish for our adventures. a matte finish also hides dead bugs well, an issue we hadn’t initially thought of. Scratches and scuffs are also noticeably more subtle on matte finishes, a problem glossy models struggled with after many miles.
In addition, we appreciate that some models, such as the thule motion xt and the thule vector , are available in several colors, allowing you to choose the best combination for your car. this gives a definite boost to versatility and customization.
We weren’t the biggest fans of the surface texture and finish of the shorter, thicker cargo boxes. The textured finish on the Sporttrack Vista seemed a little cheap to us, to the point where we felt it might detract from the appearance of nicer cars. we liked the dimpled finish of the goplus a bit better.
The yakima rocketbox 14 also shares a dimpled matte texture that’s convenient for hiding minor blemishes, but he found the overall appearance of this box less sleek and stylish than some of the other models , slightly knocked down in this metric. Regardless, it might be a good option if you don’t care much about the look of your cargo box or if you like how the textured surface matches your vehicle and you’re trying to save some money.
are they going to kill my gas mileage or ruin the drive?
You may be wondering if it’s worth buying a cargo box in the first place because of its impact on the vehicle’s handling and mileage. we posed the same question and devoted an entire metric to this. however, after testing we found that there was no significant impact on handling across a variety of different test cars, regardless of whether we were traveling on the highway at high speeds, over windy mountain passes, or over potholes and potholes on rough roads. . These are all big boxes that sit on top of your car and increase wind resistance and drag as you drive, but they’re all pretty comparable, especially if you drive a larger van or truck that isn’t particularly aerodynamic at first. . place. Drag is also highly dependent on speed, so chances are you can negate any loss in fuel economy by driving a bit slower, and you really don’t want to rev as much with a fully loaded cargo box on top of your car. car anyway. Does adding a heavy box to your vehicle affect its power, handling and fuel efficiency? sure. could we tell the difference, especially the comparative differences between each box? no, not really.
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