How to Attach a Cargo Carrier to Your Roof Rack

June 3, 2021

Ready to head out for a family camping trip or a ski trip with your friends? Instead of having a crowded car plus added gear and backpacks, give everyone a little breathing room with an exterior rooftop cargo carrier! Never used one? Don’t worry – it’s easy! Here’s how to attach a cargo carrier to your roof rack so that you can store skis, tents, muddy gear and more.

First, Choose Your Cargo Carrier

The first step is to choose a style of cargo carrier for your vehicle. You can find several styles, such as open-air roof baskets and trays, loose roof bags and more durable and watertight roof boxes.

Ultimately, you need to consider what kind of gear you plan to pack in your cargo carrier. Knowing your equipment will help determine your cargo case’s size and if you need the carrier to keep items inside dry. Let’s explore some of the advantages and disadvantages of each to help guide you in the right direction.

Roof Baskets/Trays

One style of cargo carrier is a roof basket, also known as a roof tray. These carriers essentially offer a stable base that cradles your gear. The biggest downside to a roof basket is that they are open-air, meaning any gear can encounter rain, snow, hail and ice as you head toward your destination. Still, you can add a roof bag to fit snugly inside.

Roof Bags

As mentioned, roof bags can be used in conjunction with a roof basket or tray. However, you can simply tie down a roof bag directly to the racks and crossbars themselves. Many roof bags automatically come with tie-down straps.

One main advantage to a roof bag is that it can be easily compressed down, allowing you to store them in a compact garage or even an apartment coat closet. The downside to bags is that they can get rather bulky stuffed with gear, making them less aerodynamic.

Roof Boxes

The best cargo carrier style you can get is – hands down! – a roof box. Roof boxes tick off lots of boxes that baskets and bags simply can’t compete against. For starters, these sleek boxes are built with a hardcase design, protecting gear from the elements.

Also, roof boxes offer a locking mechanism for security, protecting expensive gear, guns and other equipment from theft, something a basket or bag can’t. If someone wanted your gear bad enough, they could cut the bag or loosen the tie-downs. So while a roof box can be more expensive in comparison, the initial investment can keep gear secure and make trips worry-free.

Not sure what kind of box you want? Choose from a variety of Pelican cargo case options.

rooftop cargo

Add the Gear and Strap It Down

How you strap down your gear depends on the type of carrier you choose. However, whether it’s a basket, box or bag, it’s relatively easy! Obviously, install the cargo carrier on the roof rack before loading it up with gear. Otherwise, you might find yourself doing some heavy lifting.

If your roof is high and hard to reach, get yourself a wheel step or hitch step to give you a boost. Even something like a folding stool that can slip into a backseat net or beneath a seat will do wonders and make packing and unpacking your carrier effortless.

Now, with your cargo carrier in place and packed, it’s critical to learn how to strap it down safely. When you fail to secure a cargo carrier correctly, it can result in a loss of gear or an accident, to which you can be held liable.

Roof Baskets and Trays

With the roof basket cargo carrier installed, secure the gear with tie-down straps or ratchet straps. Find a few anchor points along the carrier’s side to attach the straps or wrap the straps beneath the crossbar on each side. Lastly, tighten the strap buckles or ratchet straps, ensuring nothing can slide around or wiggle.

A roof luggage rack net makes an excellent accessory, securing gear even further. However, you might find it tricky to find an adequately sized netting to secure gear in place, which is why straps are essential and should be the primary step.

Make sure to also choose straps with a safe working load limit (WLL). In other words, your gear’s weight should never exceed the combined WLL of the straps. If you plan to use straps with a 400-pound WLL to strap in a 1,000-pound load, three straps (totaling a 1,200-pound WLL) should be more than adequate. However, a good rule of thumb is to use straps in pairs.

Roof Bags

Roof bags can be mounted “naked” straight to the roof or added to a basket. If you plan to mount it naked, be mindful of how it might scratch your paint and add a piece of protective cloth. Besides that, use some car clips or tie-down straps secured to anchor points along the basket, roof rack and side rails.

Roof Boxes

Roof boxes vary by model, but essentially you will mount them to the crossbars using an included attachment system. However, Pelican roof box models have a secure-mount quick-release hardware system that makes attaching your cargo carrier super easy. Each of Pelican’s vehicle mounting kits is also made with 11- or 13-gauge steel, which is then finished in a corrosion-resistant powder coating.

Are you looking for a cargo carrier? Find the suitable Pelican cargo carrier to fit your vehicle make and model. With many style options, you can find the best carrier for your car, making your next adventure a breeze.

shop pelican cases


Sign up for our newsletter and get exclusive access to new product launches, special offers and much more.