What Size Cargo Box Do I Need?

June 8, 2021

Rugged and highly efficient, cargo boxes offer lots of benefits. Whether you want to throw one in the back of your SUV or in the rooftop cargo box of your hatchback or sedan, they’re integral for efficient travel.

Instead of overcrowding your car with multiple passengers, backpacks and all your provisions and gear, opt for a cargo box. A cargo box can maximize your cubic feet of storage and provide more space to stretch out and enjoy your next road trip. It can also keep longer items like fishing poles, skis and other alpine gear up top while driving through snow, rain and ice.

But if your packing routine involves playing Tetris with your car’s interior and you’ve never used one, you may wonder what size cargo box you need. Look no further. Pelican offers tips and advice on determining the right size cargo box and Pelican cargo cases to hold all your gear, keeping you and passengers safe and comfortable.

Take Inventory of Your Gear

The first thing you need to consider is what gear you have. Or more so, what gear you might bring along on trips. Nature-loving campers or backcountry hikers might need a cargo case for camping gear like tents, sleeping pads, hammocks and more. If you have a family, a cargo case can transport a bulky stroller or sandy beach chairs. In comparison, winter sports enthusiasts or hunters might require a case that can accommodate rifles or pairs of skis.

Ultimately, what you expect to place in your cargo box can help determine the size and storage capacity needed — down to the length, width and even height. If you have all the gear you need, it might help to lay out the bigger items that would take up the most space and measure those dimensions. While it might take a bit of math, that’s going to help you get the most accurate assessment of the storage space you’ll need.

For example, if you have bulky but lightweight gear, such as sleeping bags and camp chairs, a regular cargo box might do just fine. You might even be fine supplementing a roof bag with a cargo box. However, if you carry more extended gear (or gear that needs more support) like skis, snowboards or fishing poles, you might want to look for a longer cargo box. Take the interior dimension into account, too — not just the exterior hard shell.

Another consideration is if your gear and equipment are heavy. As a good rule of thumb, you should avoid reaching your cargo case’s max weight limit and instead keep heavy items like ice-filled coolers, jugs of water and food containers inside the vehicle. Always note your vehicle’s load capacity. The maximum weight limit your car’s roof can support — both dynamic and static roof weight capacity — is put in place for good reason. Beyond the vehicle itself, make sure your rack system is up for the challenge of putting a heavy cargo box on the roof. If you have the weight capacity available, but your mount system is sub-standard, you won’t be maximizing what you can carry.

Make Note of Cargo Box Dimensions

cargo cases

Take a look at available cargo boxes that interest you, making a note of their length, width and height. Depending on your needs, one large cargo box may work or you may be better off with smaller boxes in different sizes. Also, keep these tips and advantages/disadvantages in mind while on your search.


Cargo boxes are typically found at six feet in length, sometimes longer for those 180cm skis. You can find cargo boxes to keep longer cross-country skis, too. If you drive a wagon or SUV, make a note of your hatch clearance. If your rooftop cargo box is too long, you may not be able to fully open your back hatch.


When you consider the width, it’s safe to say the wider, the better. From camp chairs to large objects, a wider cargo box is advantageous. However, there is a downside. If you opt for a wide cargo box, this means you’ll have no side space left on your rack’s crossbars for a bike or kayak. So if these items are part of your gear, look for a narrower cargo box size. If you have a large vehicle with a wide cargo basket on top, you may be able to get away with a wider storage box though.


A taller cargo box obviously adds extra storage, but there are a few disadvantages. More elevated boxes add height to your car, which means you need to verify height clearances for parking garages, drive-throughs or wherever else you choose to venture. If your vehicle has a low profile, it’s probably suitable, but it’s something to keep in mind for taller vehicles. If you drive a full-size van, you’ll likely be able to clear everything you need. However, you may notice your vehicle drives slightly differently when the rooftop cargo box is added.

How Much Gear Can the Cargo Box Hold

What is the cargo box’s gear capacity? Whether the manufacturer provides it in cubic feet or cubic inches, it can give you an idea of the storage it offers and the amount of gear it can take on.

However, it’s important to be mindful of the size of your box. A bigger box directly affects your fuel economy, plus it can be somewhat awkward to carry and store in a garage or shed when not in use. Some people complain about the wind noise levels as well. If you need the extra space though, something with a larger storage capacity may be worth the tradeoff.

Find Your Cargo Box Today

To help you get from Point A to Point B, explore Pelican’s variety of cargo case sizes and shapes. Designed to fit snugly into our rooftop cargo carriers, each cargo case is built rugged, durable and has been weather-tested to ensure it holds up to the elements. Each case also features a limited lifetime guarantee. And our cargo cases can be attached to not only a roof rack, but a truck bed, too. We even carry additional interior accessory solutions to make each item fit inside protected.

If you need a cargo box, Pelican offers a variety of sizes. Be sure to find the perfect fit, including a cargo case and mounting kit, that works with your vehicle make and model.

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