Unless you’re driving a museum-quality showpiece, most vehicles are made to be used — not just merely driven but used. More people are taking road trips, going kayaking, car camping, and even exploring the deep backcountry (i.e., overlanding) than ever before. 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, snowboards, skis, 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 already come equipped with factory-installed roof rails. By adding 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 every type of car adventure.
Best Roof Rack for Heavy Haulers
Front Runner Slimline II Roof Rack
We’ve long been fans of Front Runner Outfitters, and we love their roof rack products, 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, and more are all available. With its horizontal slat design, the Slimline II also provides the perfect base for easily mounting a rooftop tent.
Most Versatile Roof Rack
Rhino-Rack Pioneer Platform Rooftop Rack
Like Front Runner, Rhino-Rack is well-known among the overlanding community. The brand’s Pioneer Platform is one of its most versatile. Without the side rail found on traditional cargo baskets, the Pioneer allows for a wide variety of expansion by using Rhino Rack’s suite of roof rack accessories. The durable, powder-coated steel won’t rust or corrode, and the aerodynamic design also helps minimize drag and road noise.
Most Aerodynamic Crossbars
Yakima JetStream Crossbars
For a more general rooftop buildout, it’s hard to beat Yakima’s JetStream crossbars. With a lightweight aluminum construction and sleek, tapered design, they limit drag and reduce wind noise, particularly at highway speeds. They also work with various Yakima mounts and come in several colors in sizes to best match your vehicle.
Best Budget Roof Rack
CargoLoc Aluminum Crossbar Set
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 clip on, and you’re in business. From there, you can lash or attach just about any light or modest load to your roof. The keyed locking system helps ensure no one tries to walk off with them. The best part, however, is the price: Around $50 per pair.
Best Budget Cargo Basket
Curt Universal Steel Roof Rack 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.
Most Innovative Roof Rack
Thule Hullavator Pro Rooftop Kayak Carrier
Kayaking is awesome. Strapping one to your car isn’t. Thule’s Hullavator relies on gas-assist struts to help load and unload your kayak (up to 40 pounds) from the side of your vehicle. The extension arms swing down to about waist height, so you don’t have to worry about heaving your boat atop your car alone. It’s one of the priciest options on this list, but your back will no doubt thank you.
Best Roof Rack for Sedans
Yakima RoundBar Crossbars
Most sedan drivers aren’t looking to stash two weeks’ worth of expedition gear to the top of their Audi A4. Yakima’s RoundBar 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 any budget.
Best Roof Rack for Watersports
Inno INA446 Locking Roof Carrier
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). Plus, it’s a steal at around $200.
Best for “Naked” Vehicles
Yakima Whispbar Flushmount Roof Rack System
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.
If you’re into outdoor sports, check out our roundup of the best gear racks and cargo carriers for biking, skiing, kayaking, and more.
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