The Best Car Roof Rack for Every Adventure

With summertime afoot in the northern hemisphere and the world returning to relative normalcy wherever vaccines are currently sold, travel, that contraband delicacy, graces us with its return. From sea to shining American sea and across the oceans on foreign coasts, we all know the legend that journeys outweigh destinations. Road trips make every mile an adventure in its own right. As more people take to the roads for leisure than ever before, the proper tools for hauling cargo count as necessities for more than diehard drivers. A great roof rack will help you get the most out of every adventure.

At first sight, roof racks can prove intimidating. They’re not stereotypically beautiful objects to buy, utilitarian in appearance and nature. Furthermore, novices to this type of merchandise might fear the prospect of attaching expensive gear to the top of their car, speeding down highways and whipping around mountainous bends. Fear not, or risk missing out on an amazing tool that helps free up more space to enjoy your journey. Packing the car too tight limits visibility, and therefore safety. In other cases like kayaks or outdoor gear, mounting a roof rack might offer your only option for getting out there.

Understanding how to divine the best roof rack for your tastes endows the buying experience with its own sense of adventure, a prequel for all those great times to come. We’ve rounded up everything you need to know before buying a roof rack, scouring brands from Rhino-Rack to Thule so you can easily determine the tools that’ll take you down every road, in search of the adventure that awaits in every mile.

What to Consider Before Buying a Roof Rack

The roof rack is a highly technical, specialized piece of gear. While this trait is unavoidable due to the product’s straight-up function, roof racks don’t need to be complicated. Here’s four easy factors to consider as you embark upon your search.

How will your roof rack fit? 

Much like buying a hard shelled laptop case or any piece of gear made to snap securely against a machine, you should count your roof rack’s fit as its most important factor. While a few roof racks are universal, the year, make and model of your vehicle will undoubtedly prove the most crucial consideration. Measurements and dimensions may stand in for this information on occasion, but trust us, most options will work according to the specific details that come on your car’s birth certificate.

Road trips and roof racks are accessible to everyone, but some cars (like SUVs and crossover vehicles) typically come ready with equipment like roof rails or gutters (ridges that funnel rain as you speed through downpours.) If the roof of your car is smooth as a shell, with no features or fixtures, this is known as a “naked” roof. In this case, you’ll need to take extra care in deciding which roof rack system to employ.

What will your roof rack haul?

Different roof racks are better suited for different tasks–that’s why the particular type of adventure you’re embarking upon makes all the difference in selecting an appropriate roof rack system for your vehicle. Roof racks are not a one-stop purchase. Depending on what you’re starting with, the best roof rack investments make room for customization. 

How will your roof rack look?

In the spirit of adventure, we believe that cars are made for using. Ideally, you’re not bringing your antique restored Trans-Am out for a rugged backroad trounce through the mud. Still, cars are expensive, and it’s totally reasonable to aim for sex-appeal even while hauling heavy cargo. Fortunately, there’s many options on the market to maintain your aesthetic, even while aiming for utility. Think sleek and minimal to maximize the look.

How much will your roof rack cost?

No doubt, most roof rack systems constitute significant investments. Budget is always an important matter dependent upon personal circumstances. Your roof rack should eventually pay for itself by many metrics, because hauling more of your own cargo means less purchases along the way. However, you will want to leverage affordability with quality. A cheapo roof rack that throws your luggage onto the Interstate is no smart investment by any means! An honest assessment of risk and reward on the frontend will minimize expenses down the road. Some adventures are better left untouched.

The Components of a Well-Rounded Rack

Step 1: Towers/Feet

These unassuming little guys are the most important (and often most expensive) component of your roof rack system. This part of the rack does the heavy lifting, and as such, will be installed at the strongest points on your roof. High quality towers come with locks and keys so no one can steal your hardware. 

Step 2: Fit Components

While towers are important, they’re ironically pretty generic. Fit components actually secure the towers to your car. Manufacturers try to make them fit the widest range possible (universality benefits the manufacturer, in theory, because they can sell more without incurring the costs of specialization) but fit components still vary depending on your roof–whether it’s naked or with rails, and all sizes and shapes in between. 

Step 3: Cross Bars

This is what you probably think of when you think ‘roof rack.’ This is the rack itself, the hardware you’ll affix your cargo to. Usually two bars spanning your vehicle’s roof, they are made in a variety of weights and materials suited to diverse preferences.

Step 4: Roof Rack Adapters

Armed with this sturdy and well-informed foundation, adapters are all the fun stuff that makes your roof rack specifically suited to your hobbies. Adapters create the ideal roof home for whatever you’re looking to haul, whether it’s waterskis or suitcases. 

Five Adventures and the Best Roof Rack for Them

CargoLoc 2-Piece Roof Top Cross Bar Roof Rack Set

CargoLoc 2-Piece Roof Top Cross Bar Roof Rack Set

Best for: The Beginner Adventure

While most roof rack systems will set you back about $500 or more, this great starter option only requires a $55 investment to get you involved with the wonder of roof racks. CargoLoc’s super easy two-piece system only works with cars that come with their own roof rails, but those suited to its setup benefit from lightweight aluminum construction and a seamless install without sacrificing too much weight capacity. At 60 inches in width, this two-bar system can haul most up to 150 pounds. It even comes with handy anti-theft key locks!

Yakima BaseLine Roof Rack System 

Yakima BaseLine Roof Rack System 

Best for: The Overachieving Adventure

Just because your car doesn’t come equipped with roof rails or gutters doesn’t mean you should miss out on the awesome, expansive travelling capabilities a roof rack can provide. In fact, sedans and other small vehicles are often those most in need of a little extra storage space. Many roof rack systems configured for naked car roofs require drilling, a risky and uncomfortable process to enact upon something so expensive and precious as your own vehicle. Fortunately, high quality manufacturer Yakima comes to the rescue with their BaseLine System, specially designed for naked roofs, which works through base clips and fits all of Yakima’s high grade cross bars. Your sedan can overachieve on your next adventure with this accessible roof rack system. 

Rhino-Rack X-Tray Large

Rhino-Rack X-Tray Large

Best for: The Car Party Adventure

Rhino-Rack consistently crafts the best cargo options for those in the know, and those on the go. Blending style with immaculate technicality and ruggedness, they’re well-loved by truckers and travellers alike. Rhino-Rack’s website also makes the roof rack selection process seamless–from the start, they present a series of streamlined dropdown menus to input the precise parameters of your vehicle to determine which of their offerings will actually fit. If your idea of an amazing road trip involves a big, multi-person party, then consider their Large X-Tray, a roomy cargo basket to carry suitcases so you can cram more friends in the backseat. This sturdy basket fits proprietary Vortex and Euro Bars by Rhino-Rack, along with those belonging to most other brands. Now, who gets the aux cord next?

Thule Aeroblade Edge 7601

Thule Aeroblade Edge 7601

Best for: The Speed-Run Adventure

Swedish brand Thule ranks amongst the top manufacturers for all manner of roof racks and hauling accessories. Their Aeroblade Edge system offers the best fit for travellers who cover a lot of ground on their journeys. This aerodynamic bar comes equipped ready with feet for easy install. Once on, the TrailEdge design reduces aerodynamic drag while WindDiffuser technology channels the breeze to reduce noise and maximize your car’s fuel economy, even despite the extra load. Two notes, though–first, because of its aerodynamic intentions, this roof rack sits low to the car. That means if you have a sunroof, you might not be able to open it while using this hardware. Furthermore, Thule’s offering comes in a pack of one, so you’ll have to double up for proper capabilities. Overall though, Thule’s Aeroblade Edge speeds past its competition in terms of roof racks that won’t weigh you down.

Rhino-Rack Pioneer Platform

Rhino-Rack Pioneer Platform

Best for: The Heavy Lifting Adventure

Listen. If you didn’t think a roof rack could be sexy, then let today be the day your world gets rocked, because look at this thing. A best-seller from the geniuses at Rhino-Rack again, the Pioneer Platform will set you back a pretty penny to the tune of $793, but for good reason. Bring this baby on the road, and you’re ready for quite literally anything. Rhino-Rack has created this sleek and stylish Pioneer Platform for heavy lifting vehicles like pickup trucks and SUVs with four wheel drive. Built from ultra-light reinforced nylon and aluminum, you can tie any type of cargo down to its spacious five plank design, and build up with any of Rhino-Rack’s other specialized accessories. There’s a reason Rhino-Rack tops these lists time and again. Once you’ve committed to life on the road, this versatile roof rack will become your lifeline, hauling every adventure with integrity. 

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