How to Choose a Cargo Box

When you first started camping, hiking, snowshoeing, or skiing, you may have enjoyed tossing everything into the back of your car before a trip and hitting the road with energy drinks and trail mix.

As you matured in your outdoor adventure planning, however, you probably came to realize that haphazardly throwing your gear in the back can lead to a stinky car, a damp back seat, and overall disorganization. If this is you, it's time to look at getting a cartop CARGO BOX.

Why a Cargo Box?

Before going off and buying a cargo box on a whim, take a moment to decide if the benefits of adding a cargo box match your needs. As the name suggests, cartop cargo boxes provide an additional place to store more stuff, making them ideal for anyone who does a good amount of car traveling—especially if your adventures require lots of gear.

Which Brand?

Once you’ve decided that you’re ready for a cargo box, it's time to look at what's available. Since we currently stock only Thule cargo boxes, that’s what we’ll focus on in this article; but do your research and be sure to find the box that perfectly suits your needs, whether it’s Thule or another brand.

Some of the most acclaimed cargo boxes are made by Thule, and its 2013 line of products is already generating rave reviews. Their main focus for 2013 was to improve aerodynamics. These boxes were also given new finishes that better protect them and your gear from the elements, and new mounting hardware makes them easier than ever to install.

What Size?

Thule's 2013 line of cargo boxes can be broken down into four size categories, each of which has a distinct purpose to best suit your travel needs.


Thule's smallest box, the Alpine is perfect for any snowsports equipment, and can hold anything that has a lower profile but longer length. The Sonic Alpine, for example, can carry up to six pairs of skis or as many as three snowboards. This model also features Thule's patented AeroNose design, which reduces wind drag and makes for a quieter drive.


The next size up, L, is designed to carry higher-profile items. These ROOF BOXES are ideal for duffel bags, carry-on-sized luggage, and even everyday items like groceries, gardening equipment, or other household items. The Thule Force L not only offers additional space, but was also designed with the company's diamond-textured AeroSkin lid, which boosts both durability and ability to slice through the air.


If you and your family all love the outdoors, that's a lot of gear to pack up, and an XL box will probably be best. Cycling gear, skis and snowboards, KAYAKING GEAR, large luggage, and even baby gear will all fit comfortably in an XL cargo box such as the Pulse XL—a durable, versatile box that fits all Thule rack systems, round roof bars, and most factory racks.


As the largest size Thule offers, the XXL boxes are ideal for carrying heavy loads of equipment and even oversize luggage, baby gear, and kids' toys. The Sonic XXL was Thule's featured product after it released its 2013 lineup, and offers all the features Thule is known and hailed for.

Box Volume

As with any outdoor gear purchase, after you've taken a broad look at things, you'll need to look more closely at the product's specifications. One of the most important specs for a cargo box is its volume. You'll see this measurement in either cubic feet or liters, and it will most likely range from 11 to 22 cubic feet. A larger volume means you can haul more stuff, but keep in mind that this also comes with more weight and wind resistance.

Weight Limits

Cargo boxes also have a specified weight limit, or the max load a box can carry. For Thule's new 2013 line, this limit is set at 110 pounds, including the weight of the box itself, which ranges from 16 to 63 pounds.

Cargo Bags

If cargo box prices are a little too overwhelming, or you need the extra cargo space for only one or two trips a year, then a cartop cargo bag may be a better option for you. These soft yet durable bags provide plenty of protection for your gear—they’re made with tough, weather-resistant materials and zippers—with the additional advantages of being incredibly lightweight, easy to install and remove, and easier to store when not in use.

Thule cargo bags range from 13 to 17 cubic feet in volume, and can accommodate just about anything that isn’t skis or a snowboard.

Roof Racks

It's important to note that for any Thule cargo box or bag, you'll need a ROOF RACK to install it. If you already have Thule load bars, you're all set. But if you're cruising with a factory rack, you may also need to invest in an adaptor and load bars. Be sure to check whether the cargo box you’ve chosen will be compatible with your roof rack system.

Final Considerations

While cargo boxes do provide many benefits, there are a few drawbacks to keep in mind, such as wind resistance and clearance issues. Although brands like Thule have made great strides in improving the aerodynamics of boxes, there will still be some drag that comes with it. You may want to choose a box big enough to store your gear but easy enough to remove whenever you aren’t using it so you don’t have to worry about destroying your car’s fuel economy in your daily life.

Installing a cargo box also means being aware of clearance levels in parking garages and under bridges or other overhangs. If you have a large SUV, you’ll want to be sure that the added height of your new cargo box won’t be a problem.

A cargo box is a great investment that will keep your car cleaner and your gear in better shape, and ultimately enhance your entire travel and outdoor adventures.