Buying Right: Bodacious Rooftop Boxes

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, September 1995

Buying Right: Bodacious Rooftop Boxes
By John Lehrer

Adding a cargo box to your roof rack is like building a new room on your car. All of the things that crowd your backseat when the trunk overfloweth--backpacks, ski boots, cooking grills--can be stored in what amounts to the attic. Then your passenger seats can again be occupied by passengers.

All of the boxes I checked out were satisfactory in terms of weatherproofness, security (they're all lockable), and adaptability (cargo boxes and racks don't have to be of one brand to work together), so the only big decisions are format and cost. Some racks are long and narrow, for skis and sailboard masts; others are wider, to accommodate a larger amount of smaller gear. Prices range greatly: You can buy a serviceable box for $400 or, for much more, a model with a paint job to rival your car's, or even a two-person mattress. Here are eight good selections.

For $400, the Barrecrafters Sportlocker will add 13 cubic feet of carrying capacity to your vehicle, and it's long (seven feet, five inches) and wide (one foot, eight inches) enough to handle six pairs of skis. It's made of basic but durable ABS plastic and has gas struts to make opening the lid easier. The plastic Saris Ski Cargo Box has nearly the same dimensions and features and comes at the same price, and it offers tie-down straps inside to keep your gear straight. Yakima's SpaceCase ($492) has tremendous depth (17 inches), length (almost eight feet), and volume (17 cubic feet) for carrying overstuffed duffels and coolers with room left over for skis. From Barrecrafters, 800-451-3240; Saris, 800-783-7257; and Yakima, 707-826-8000.

For a bit more cash, the 33-inch-wide, polyethylene (which is to say softish) Automaxi Spacebox ($569) will accommodate a dozen (!) pairs of skis. Unfortunately, it takes up so much of your rack that there isn't room for much else. The five-foot-long Packasport System 90G ($545) isn't appropriate for skis, but its depth (16 inches) and volume (18 cubic feet) qualify it as a mule for small gear. A smooth fiberglass finish gives Packasport boxes, available in five other shapes, a rather elegant look. From Automaxi, 800-345-8677, and Packasport, 503-383-3068.

Speaking of elegant, Excalibur's Series I ($595) is fancy enough to be buried in. The hand-laid fiberglass box features cargo straps to keep the load from shifting and a carpet liner to prevent scratches. The squat, six-foot-long Series I will take on plenty of smaller stuff. High Gear's Top Bunk ($1,799), on the other hand, can be lived in--literally: Use the removable tent and mattress, and you and a partner can sleep inside. The well-made fiberglass box has 30 cubic feet of volume. The more conventional but nearly bulletproof Thule Combi 600 ($799) is strong, with double polyethylene walls. At eight feet, two inches long and three feet wide, the Combi 600 can hold skis, masts, suitcases, and probably some family heirlooms. From Excalibur, 800-771-7194; High Gear, 800-575-2865; and Thule, 800-238-2388.

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