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Roof Boxes, what to look for? Using for camping gear, and maybe ski gear?

We've just come back from a car camping trip where we really had to stuff every unoccupied seat to it's limits, so it's about time we looked at getting a roof cargo box for some of the gear (it's amazing how the amount of stuff increases with a kid...).

I've looked at https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/car-racks.html but that really only talks about different options (roof top vs. hitch type stuff) and didn't answer my questions about what sets one cargo box apart from another. Is there anything I should be looking at besides total volume capacity between brands/models? Does anybody (REI employee or not) have any firsthand experience with any boxes they'd like to share?

For reference, this is going to go on a 2017 Mazda CX-5, factory crossbars already installed (the hitch is reserved for our bikes, so looking only at rooftop). As mentioned the idea is mostly to hold the camping gear that we don't need at close reach during the drive, so tent (REI Base Camp 6), sleeping bags for 2-4 people, camp chairs, sleeping pads, and for now a pack-and-play crib. Maybe looking at replacing the pads with Helinox cots that pack down small, but that's budget dependent. We'd possibly be using it in winter too for ski gear: thoughts on doing that vs a separate dedicated ski carrier? (Obviously the enclosed box keeps road crud/spray off, are there easy ways to secure skis inside so they don't slide around? other pros/cons? Do people usually toss poles, boots, and helmets up there too?)

TIA

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Re: Roof Boxes, what to look for? Using for camping gear, and maybe ski gear?

@TomV lots of great questions, and lots to consider! And yes, adding a kiddo adds a surprising amount of new/different gear! Ok, here goes:

  • A car top box is a GREAT way to carry more gear in all seasons!
  • Volume is likely your biggest consideration, followed by specific length/width/height to fit your car/garage well, followed closely by your budget, and finally followed a bit by the look/feel/brand you like.
  • In terms of volume, few folks regret going big - more folks regret going too small - we'd probably recommend a car top box that's at least 16 cu ft., especially when you consider that kids grow, which mean their gear gets bigger/bulkier over time too!
  • How you carry your winter gear is a bit of a personal choice - the car top box is a versatile way to keep your gear protected from the weather and accommodate not only skis/boards but also poles, helmets and more (if possible, it's nice to keep your boots in the car during the drive so they aren't super cold when you get to the mountain!); you can always add straps (or padding) inside the car top box if you're concerned about movement.

Unfortunately, our inventory levels are currently a bit low but here are a few (currently available) to consider:

  • Yakima Skybox Lo - this is 15 cu ft and long enough to accommodate several sets of skis/snowboards up to 215cm in length; it can open on either side (but not both at the same time!); a little bigger would be the Yakima SkyBox 18 
  • Slightly smaller than the Yakima options are the Thule Vector M or the Thule Vector Alpine (slightly bigger than the Vector M) - these include integrated interior lighting and a lined base - both of these boxes are still long enough to accommodate multiple sets of skis/boards
  • Sized similarly to the Thule Vector Alpine, you could also consider the INNO Wedge Plus, available in a fun red color!

As you look at these, and other options, make note of the overall length and width (how will that box fit across the top of your Mazda?) and height (if you have a garage and are hoping to leave the box on, will the height of your car+box fit easily?).

We hope this information gets you started, and anticipate others will join in with more advice and perspective!

At REI, we believe a life outdoors is a life well lived.
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Re: Roof Boxes, what to look for? Using for camping gear, and maybe ski gear?

Thanks, this does help some! I also finally found this expert advice article which more or less mirrors what you've already said, but I thought I'd come back and share the link for others: much more relevant than the first article I had looked at!

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Re: Roof Boxes, what to look for? Using for camping gear, and maybe ski gear?

@TomV I can totally relate! Much like yourself, I found that the addition of two children and two pets, it suddenly morphed my Jeep Cherokee from a spacious SUV into a sardine can! I quickly realized that I was in need of some extra cargo room, and I told myself nothing was going to stand in my way of getting outside. I ended up going with an XL rooftop box. It has been a life saver, to say the least, and a very worth while investment.

I use my rooftop box for every activity imaginable: weekend getaways with the family, ski/snowboard trips, quick trips to the hardware store, hauling gear to local concerts, or even moving friends across country! An example of what I can fit in my XL Cartop Box: one full size suitcase, two carry-ons and one or two small duffel bags. Obviously, it does depend on Brand and style that you go with.

Like @REI-JenK mentioned, usually folks wish they had gone bigger instead of smaller, but it does definitely depend on your vehicle and what you plan on putting in it, such as your skis. Also, there are some distinct features of each Brand and Style that may sway you one way or the other. Pay close attention to the clasping mechanism that attaches the box to your rack, and the locking/opening mechanism for each style. You should check out the Thule and Yakima website for excellent fit guides. If you still have more fit questions hit up your local REI, or if your not able to make it down to the store, check out REI Virtual Outfitting!

I'm stoked for your adventures in your growing caravan! Have fun!

At REI, we believe a life outdoors is a life well-lived.
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