Unless you’re driving a museum-quality showpiece, most vehicles are made to be used — not merely driven but used. More people are planning road trips, going kayaking, and exploring the deep backcountry than ever. Whatever flavor of adventure you’re into, it no doubt requires packing a lot of “stuff.” Most vehicles are built to haul a decent amount of gear, but unless you’re driving a full-size pickup, you’re probably not stuffing a kayak or two weeks’ worth of mountain biking gear (with bikes!) into your rig.
That’s where a good roof rack comes in, as there’s no better way to expand your vehicle’s utility and cargo space. Many modern sport utility vehicles and even some sedans come equipped with factory-installed roof rails. When you add one of these best roof racks onto those existing rails, you can seriously expand your vehicle’s gear-hauling capability. Assuming you already have the roof rails to get you started, here are the best roof racks for all kinds of car adventures.
- Front Runner Slimline II Roof Rack
- Yakima JetStream Aerodynamic Crossbars
- CargoLoc Aluminum Roof Top Crossbar Set
- Curt Universal Steel Roof Rack Cargo Basket
- Yakima Round Bar Roof Rack Crossbars
- Inno INA446 Locking Roof Carrier
- Yakima Whispbar Flushmount Roof Rack System
- SportRack Complete Roof Rack System
Front Runner Slimline II Roof Rack
Best Roof Rack for Heavy Haulers
We’ve long been fans of Front Runner Outfitters, and we love their roof rack kits, in particular. The Slimline II is damn near-perfect. The streamlined silhouette looks great on almost any vehicle without changing the overall looks or aerodynamics. But, it’s the versatility and usability that make it most appealing. With Front Runners’ deep catalog of bolt-on accessories, it’s easier than ever to pack on whatever tool you need for your vehicle’s next adventure. Mounts for axes, shovels, jerrycans, outdoor prep tables, dutch ovens, and more are all available. With its horizontal slat design, the Slimline II also provides the perfect base for easily mounting a rooftop tent.
Yakima JetStream Aerodynamic Crossbars
Most Aerodynamic Crossbars
For a more general rooftop buildout, it’s hard to beat Yakima’s JetStream crossbars. With lightweight aluminum construction and sleek, tapered design, they limit drag and reduce wind noise, particularly at highway speeds. They also play well with various Yakima mounts and come in several colors and sizes to best match your vehicle.
CargoLoc Aluminum Roof Top Crossbar Set
Best Budget Roof Rack
It’s hard to beat the simplicity of CargoLoc’s Aluminum Crossbar set. As long as your vehicle is equipped with raised roof rails (most modern SUVs are), these simply clipon, and you’re in business — no tools necessary. From there, you can lash or attach just about any light or modest load to your roof. A keyed locking system also ensures no one tries to walk off with them. The best part, however, is the affordable price: Around $50 per pair.
Curt Universal Steel Roof Rack Cargo Basket
Best Budget Cargo Basket
Curt has a solid reputation for simple, durable products that are affordable. The company’s 18115 Universal Black Steel Cargo Basket is no exception. Measuring 42 inches by 37 inches, it adds 11 square feet of carrying space to your vehicle’s roof. An optional extension accessory adds even more capacity. With four-inch high sides, the design also ensures your gear stays put for the long haul.
Yakima Round Bar Roof Rack Crossbars
Best Roof Rack for Sedans
Most sedan drivers aren’t looking to strap two weeks’ worth of expedition gear to the top of their Audi A4. Yakima’s Round Bar Crossbars are an ideal choice for sedans and other small cars looking to haul more modest cargo. They’re simple, streamlined, and easy to install. Plus, at just over $100, they’re perfect for most budgets.
Inno INA446 Locking Roof Carrier
Best Roof Rack for Watersports
The INA446 Locking Roof Carrier from Inno has everything a watersports adventurer needs in a simple roof rack system. The twin arms, straps, and adjustable corner pads create an expandable “envelope” around whatever you need to carry. The result is a versatile, universal fit system capable of hauling surfboards, windboards, kayaks, canoes, and standup paddleboards (SUPs).
Yakima Whispbar Flushmount Roof Rack System
Best for “Naked” Vehicles
For vehicles rocking a “naked” look (sans roof rails), Yakima’s Whispbar system is among the simplest, most affordable ways to add a roof rack. The twin crossbars flush-mount to the channels in your vehicle’s roof without the need for rails. By attaching or removing Yakima’s Whispbar QuickDock accessories, you can customize your new rack’s utility in seconds. With a maximum load rating of 165 pounds, they’re more than capable of wrangling whatever gear your next adventure demands.
SportRack Complete Roof Rack System
Like Yakima’s Whispbar, SportRack’s Complete Roof Rack System is a great solution for vehicles without rails. The system includes everything — load bars, hooks, locks, and all — for a quick, seamless install in minutes without drilling or power tools.
No matter what sort of adventures you're into, you don't need to spend a fortune on a premium brand-name roof rack. But, if you are into serious outdoor sports, check out our roundup of the best gear racks and cargo carriers for biking, skiing, kayaking, and more. Sometimes it's worth spending a bit more on a purpose-built rack that's specially designed for the type of gear you're hauling.
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