Rooftop Cargo Box Vs Rooftop Cargo Bag

By on 7 November 2021 / Leave a comment Updated on: 7 November 2021

When planning a camping trip or even when traveling on a cross-country road trip, the main problem, especially for those with a car full of family is storage. Roof boxes and bags are the best way of getting all the luggage out of the cabin and storing it out of sight to increase passenger comfort. There are two commonly used storage methods for those in need of a solution; roof boxes and roof bags.

Roof boxes are usually made from hard and durable plastic. Some manufacturers have begun making boxes out of fiberglass to save on weight, and it is even possible to get roof boxes made from metals like aluminum for weight and security benefits.

Roof bags however are a new addition to the camping roof cargo sphere, and they provide an excellent alternative to boxes, even for much smaller cars. Many campers have been converted to roof bags because of their versatility, for campers who are limited on space find that roof bags are a great compromise between space and security, at home in the off season especially.

Luckily for us, we live in an age where the development of good quality gear is never-ending, this has its benefits but can be overwhelming when choosing something for the first time. In this guide, we are going to take you through the pros and cons of owning and living with each choice and hope that it will help you make the correct decision to suit your needs.

Rooftop Cargo Box

Rooftop Cargo Box Pros

More Secure

Hardshell roof boxes are far more secure than any fabric bag could ever be. They often feature a lock mechanism and are made of a durable hard plastic compound that prevents cracking and won’t be an easy task for thieves. It also mounts directly onto the roof racks meaning there is less chance for it to go flying off whilst driving.

Adds a good amount of extra storage

Where a roof bag will also allow you to pack lots of stuff, the gain in cargo space is not often night and day. Hardshell roof boxes are very good at fitting lots of stuff in and are available in many sizes to suit the size of your load. If you use the space wisely and pack neatly, the hard shell roof box is surprisingly roomy.

Better Protection

As well as being made for a harder more durable material, the seals and hardware are often harder wearing on roof boxes. This ensures that your belongings won’t get wet in the case of a rainstorm. There’s nothing worse than having electronics go bust or even having your clothes be slightly damp after a long day on the road.


The hard shell roof box will be the better-lasting choice where longevity is concerned. You’ll often see them stickered up with all the places the users have visited, and that’s because that roof box has been with them for the whole adventure. Parts like hinges and seals are often replaceable if needed and the plastic itself is very tough.

Rooftop Cargo Box Cons

Roof Rack Required

It is impossible to mount a roof box without the correct roof rack to mount it on to. This can be a real pain because it means an extra cost is added to the overall bill. However, the roof rack is often quite versatile and with the correct adapters could be used to carry other things such as bikes, surfboards or canoes, etc.

More expensive than cargo bags

This one is a given. The cost of producing a backpack is much less than that to produce a hard-shell suitcase, so the same goes for vehicle cargo luggage. There are some bags that you could buy 3 or 4 times over for the price of one roof box, but you will be out on some of the benefits mentioned above, it’s a price to pay for quality and convenience.

Harder to install

Roof racks and then roof boxes are quite awkward to install. this may take an afternoon of your time paying close attention to instructions to get it fitted safely and securely. If you’re not as good with DIY and tricky tools in general, you may have to pay for someone to fit it for you. Some roof boxes demand to be fitted only by official dealers for peace of mind. This will incur an extra cost.

Not as practical when out of use

Once your trip is over, the car is unpacked and cleaned and it’s time for it to resume its everyday duties, taking off the box and rack is another step to consider. However, the worst thing about the roof box, once it’s not in use, is that storing it is pretty tricky. It doesn’t fold or bend to become any smaller meaning you will have to find space to accommodate it.

Rooftop Cargo Bag

Rooftop Cargo Bag Pros

More affordable than cargo boxes

By far the most appealing advantage to owning a cargo bag over a hard box is the price point. it’s not uncommon to be paying double if not triple for a box that holds the same amount if not less than the bag equivalent.

Doesn’t require a roof rack for installation

this also factors into the cost-benefit. Some bags, in fact, most bags are ready to go on with some ratchet straps and strong cabling through the car. The cost of a roof rack is eliminated completely.

Provides a great amount of extra storage space

Unlike their hard-shell rivals, the bags have a bit more space due to being able to stretch and mold to whatever is squeezed inside. This is a definite bonus if you’re traveling heavy with lots of gear to carry, cargo bags will be more flexible and be able to accommodate awkwardly shaped items better.

Waterproof and impact-resistant to protect your belongings

Despite being more “flimsy” than the hard plastic box, cargo bags are still sturdy enough to keep your belongings safe and secure during a long journey. Many are completely waterproof and have taped seams so no unwanted moisture should seep through.

Super easy to fold up and store away

The highlight for most of a rooftop cargo bag is the fact that once it has done its job for the season, you simply unpack it and fold it away for storage. They usually will fold down to a relatively compact parcel meaning it will be unobtrusive and hidden until it’s needed again.

Easy installation

Setting up a roof bag is fairly straightforward and requires minimum effort. Unlike the box where a rack will be needed, with a roof bag, the stress disappears. This ends up leaving you with plenty of time to just pack, strap, and go. Taking it down for the night stay is simple too, meaning you can take it indoors with you in urban areas, preventing anyone from trying to steal it while you sleep.

Rooftop Cargo Bag Cons

Not as secure and easier to break into than cargo boxes

Despite their constant development, roof bags will always be less secure than roof boxes. This is solely due to their nature. The straps if not done up tightly and checked often can come loose ending in a disaster. Some cheaper bags will also be flimsy enough to cut open, leaving them at risk on even the shortest rest stop.

Not as durable and will wear out faster than cargo boxes

This point is relative. Roof bags will undoubtedly last less time in use than a roof box. The fabric wears, zippers break and straps can become slack over time. However, when your bag has done its duty, you’ll find it much cheaper to replace than if you had to do the same for a box.

You might have to drive with straps near your head

When mounting and strapping down your roof bag, the main and oftentimes only thing keeping them secure are several straps. They have to come into the cabin of the car in order for the straps to be safe and effective. This can often result in an awkward driving position especially for the taller folk among us.

More likely to scratch the roof of your car

The bag will come in direct contact with the paint of your car. If you have a sunroof, you should close it as it will be completely useless once the bag is mounted. Every time the bag is taken off and touches the floor it will inevitably pick up dirt which can scratch and chip paintwork or even worse glass on sunroofs.

In Conclusion

When it comes to space, they are pretty much equal. You can find both cargo bags and boxes that match each other when it comes to cargo space. But packing into a soft shell often gives you more wiggle room than a hard shell in practice. Cargo bags are also more affordable than cargo boxes, and by a long shot if you don’t already have a roof rack.

Cargo boxes are still far more secure and will better protect your belongings than a cargo bag. Their hard shell makes them easy to lock and they have far better impact resistance.

Though another great thing about a cargo bag is that you can fold it up and store it with ease. Whereas you’ll have to find a dedicated space for a cargo box, or just leave it on your car roof permanently.

From a convenience and budget perspective, cargo bags are the clear winner but from a security, protection, and durability standpoint, cargo boxes take the crown by a mile. If your plan is to be using roof storage often, then a cargo box makes the most sense for you. Whereas, if you only need extra car roof storage more infrequently, say, once or twice a year, a cargo bag is the best option for your needs. We hope this guide sheds some light on the aspects of owning either of these cargo storage solutions.

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Collin Andrews

Automotive Journalist and all around gearhead. I am the first U.S. and one of Czok’s newest contributors. I have grown up in California surrounded by classic cars and drag racing and ever since I could walk and talk I’ve been helping out in the shop wrenching on old iron. I now help run our family’s shop as well as write automotive articles and work on my automotive photography skills. I am an avid drag racing enthusiast and currently bracket race my 1967 Chevrolet Nova that I have had since I was 14 and hope to continue for years to come. Hopefully I can share my knowledge and experiences to help as many people as possible both work on and make decisions for there own automotive adventures.

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