So you want to go driving across the country, camp under the stars, and maybe explore some off-road trails, but all you’ve got is a Civic. A trip like that means food, tents, a stove (as opposed to giant blocks of wood), clothes, a sleeping bag, and whatever else you need.
The Civic is a fine car, but no way is its puny 12 cubic feet of storage space enough to handle all of your gear. With that realization in mind, you probably want to invest in some exterior roof cargo space. That can come in multiple forms, moreover, there are other accessories that support such an exterior cargo space that should be considered as well.
The obvious difference between a canvas bag strapped to the roof vs. a big cargo box is convenience. If you don’t want the extra storage on top of your car all the time, then the plastic box makes storing it that much harder. A canvas bag is a way to go in this instance. If you’re shopping for exterior storage with the aim that in order to get it off of the car you’ll have to pry it from the roof’s cold dead crossbars, then a cargo box will suit you just fine.
A canvas bag can come in a few different sizes, but commonly they provide a maximum of 15 cubic feet. Bags are also fairly inexpensive at around $60, whereas a decent cargo box will run anywhere from $200-400. One of the only things you don’t automatically get with a bag vs the box is it being waterproof, but that is easily fixable by choosing a canvas bag labeled as “waterproof”. A plus to the cargo box is it’s easier and more secure to transport snow sports equipment like skis and snowboards.
Cargo boxes are screwed into the car’s roof crossbars, which is a pretty secure setup. A canvas bag, however, is going to fly about and scratch up your roof if it’s not secured properly. For this you can buy a couple things:
The basket will help to keep the bag in one secure place, while the mat, a much cheaper DIY option will protect your roof and provide enough traction for the bag so it won’t slide around.
SportRack has come up with a large, easy-to-use and durable option for people looking to spend nearly $400 on exterior storage containers. According to its product page, this particular storage container fits “most” factory racks, so do some research on it fitting your vehicle before buying one. Of course, if you’re looking for a smaller storage container they do exist and are slightly cheaper but for the bigger sizes expect prices exceeding a few hundred dollars.
For a cargo box Yakima is a brand that offers many highly rated options with fairly competitive prices (for cargo boxes anyway). You'll still end up paying many hundreds of dollars, close to $900 in some cases but it'll probably be the last cargo box you'll ever buy.
For the one who wants a cargo bag, the Keeper is hard to beat. Providing at most 15 cubic feet of waterproof storage space, it only reels in about $70. It’s also easily foldable for storing during the off season. The caveat with cargo bags is, they may require some extra accessories. No matter what though, it won’t cost as much as the cargo box.
If you want to protect your car’s roof from the cargo bag sliding around and causing paint damage, you’ll need something like a protective mat. You might have to buy it in rolls and cut to your specifications, but it’ll provide the grip needed to prevent the bag from moving during your trip.
Another option for reining in your unruly cargo bag is a cargo carrier or basket. These are useful for not just cargo bags, but for virtually any other thing you need to carry, like chairs or an ice box. They lock in like ski racks, and you’ll need some straps but really you should have a good set of those anyway.
If you don’t have a set of good straps, you’ll need some especially if you plan on carrying a lot of equipment. Often times products will come with their own straps, but those are usually of lesser quality than other special purpose tie downs. Ratcheting helps but isn’t required, and isn’t expensive. Just be sure to check the tension after you’re done strapping everything in place.
Basically the bag requires more work, but the price difference is so huge it might be worth it. Cargo boxes are good for being the more all-inclusive option when it comes to security, but if you don’t need it year-round then a cargo bag might be better. Fairly and realistically judge how long you need the extra storage for, and how much storage space you need, before purchasing exterior storage containers.
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