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Best Storage Options for Camping and Road Trips

Car in the desert with ski cargo box on top

Do you need more places to put stuff when you’re traveling? We’ve narrowed down a list of the best storage options for camping and road trips.

We all know the feeling.  You get your car all loaded up for a road trip or camping weekend, and gear is filled up to the brim.  The dog has to sit on someone’s lap, you can’t even see out your rear windows, and nobody can even get a snack out of the cooler because it’s buried under all the stuff.

And then you think, “I need more storage space”.

Well, fear not! There are many great products that provide the additional storage you need and help you reclaim your sanity and interior space. These are the best storage options for camping and road trips.

Let’s start with rooftop options.

Road Trip Cartoon Image

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Rooftop Cargo Boxes

The cargo box has been a longtime favorite of gear-haulers everywhere.  They are long enough for skis and snowboards, waterproof, lockable, and strangers cannot see inside. They are a great permanent option that offers reliable, no-fuss storage.

Pros of Rooftop Cargo Boxes

  • Durable
  • Secure (but not impenetrable)
  • Private
  • Sleek
  • Weatherproof
  • Easy to Open

Cons Rooftop Cargo Boxes

  • Expensive
  • Requires a roof rack
  • Limited height
  • Hurts MPG

Our Top Pick: Yakima Skybox

Yakima SkyBox 16 Carbonite Cargo Roof Box

The Yakima Skybox is the best value cargo box on the market.  It comes with top-class features but at a price that’s cheaper than the competition (Thule XT XL).  This is the cargo box that Emily and I used car-camping for years, and now sits atop our campervan, so maybe we’re biased.  But with thousands of miles traveled and endless camping adventures, I would say that’s worthy cause for bias.

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Budget Pick: SportRack Horizon Alpine

The SportRack Horizon Alpine is a great option for a tighter budget.  It still provides most of the great features of cargo boxes (waterproof, sleek, private, secure), but it only opens from one side, and users complain about a difficult installation process.

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Rooftop Cargo Baskets

The rooftop cargo basket is a favorite among the Overlanding and Off-roading communities.  They provide a rugged and modular storage option for carrying weatherproof gear (or at least in weatherproof cases).  They are much more flexible with regards to height, basically as long as it fits under a cargo net. But you must purchase a net or straps separately.

An unfortunate truth is that nearly every brand from the most expensive to the cheap-o’s have rust issues over time. The nicer brands powdercoat the exterior to protect against rust, but water still gets inside the tubes and rusts the inside. To improve the longevity of their cargo racks, most users have resorted to using plasti-dip, tape or other sealants to keep water out.

Pros of Rooftop Cargo Baskets

  • Rugged
  • Low-profile (when empty)
  • No gear height limit
  • They look cool
  • High weight tolerance

Cons of Rooftop Cargo Baskets

  • Doesn’t protect gear
  • Nets/straps sold separately
  • Requires a roof rack
  • Rust issues
  • Hurts MPG 

Our Top Pick: ROLA 59504 V-Tex

This ROLA Rooftop Cargo Basket has the best combination of features for the money.  It’s got rugged bars, a wind screen, powder-coating, and a good weight tolerance.

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Rooftop Cargo Bag

What if you don’t have a roof rack??? A rooftop cargo bag is a great solution for cars without a roof rack. And they are significantly more affordable than the two options above.

They can be strapped onto nearly any car with or without a rack. They provide a good amount of waterproof storage space and when not in use can be folded up into about the size of a backpack.

The low barriers to entry are what make cargo bags the most popular entry-level product. They are one on the best storage options for camping and road trips.

The main problems are that heavy loads can dent a roof and the bag must be mostly full.

Partially loaded bags can leave loose material that flaps at high speed. And they are a little tricky to load because the bags don’t always hold their shape while gear is loaded.

Don’t expect to ever get the perfect looking cube that you see on the website.

Pros of Rooftop Cargo Bag

  • Affordable
  • Flexible shape
  • Weatherproof
  • Doesn’t require a roof rack

Cons of Rooftop Cargo Bag

  • Must be mostly full
  • Annoying to load
  • Can’t access without loosening straps
  • Heavy loads can dent roof
  • Hurts MPG

Our Top Pick: Rightline Cargo Bag

Rightline Gear 100R20 Range 2 Weatherproof Rooftop Cargo Carrier for Top of Vehicle, Attaches With or Without Roof Rack, 15 Cubic Feet, 40 x 36 x 18 inches, Black

Rightline is the biggest name in rooftop cargo bags.  They make a super durable and weatherproof cargo bag. We used ours for many camping and road trips. It was he perfect thing for a small sedan without a roof rack.

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Hitch Cargo Carrier Basket

A cargo hitch carrier is another great storage option.  They can slot right into a standard trailer hitch. This is a great option for people who don’t want their gear up on top of their car.  It’s generally easier to access than rooftop solutions.

Pros of Hitch Cargo Carrier Basket

  • Less expensive (than cargo boxes)
  • Storage at ground level

Cons of Hitch Cargo Carrier Basket

  • Adds vehicle length
  • No protection for gear
  • Can block access to the trunk
  • Can scrape ground during slope change
  • Minor rust issues

Our Top Pick: Curt 18153 Trailer Hitch Cargo Carrier

 CURT 18153 60 x 24-Inch Basket Hitch Cargo Carrier, 500 lbs Capacity, Black Steel, 2-In Folding Shank

The Curt hitch carrier is a top-rated product. It’s made with sturdy and durable materials. The angled shank raises the carrier higher off the ground to prevent bottom-outs. The 6 inch walls prevent gear from sliding off. And it can fold up when not in use.

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Hitch Cargo Box

The hitch cargo box is similar to the rooftop cargo box because it provides a solid weatherproof enclosure that locks with a key.  Our main complaint with this style of carrier is that they tend to be the most expensive of all and offer the least weight and storage capacity.

Pros of Hitch Cargo Box

  • Durable
  • Secure (but not impenetrable)
  • Private
  • Weatherproof

Cons of Hitch Cargo Box

  • Expensive
  • Adds vehicle length
  • Only 150lb weight limit.
  • Can block access to the trunk
  • Can scrape ground during slope change

Our Top Pick: Thule Transporter Combi

Thule is the biggest name in cargo boxes.  This one has smart design features. It can tilt away 30 degrees to allow better access to the trunk.  It has rear reflectors.

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How to Choose?

There are plenty of great storage options for car camping and road trips. There’s so many to choose from, so how can you narrow down your search?

It may be easiest to work with what your car has installed.

If your car doesn’t have a roof rack or trailer hitch (and you don’t want to install one) then you’re limited to just a rooftop cargo bag. 

If your car already has a roof rack, then you may opt for roof-top storage options.  Then decide between a weather-protected cargo box or the open carrier basket.

If you have other ways to protect your gear from weather (plastic bins, etc) then the rooftop cargo basket can get the job done for much cheaper.

Or if your car has a trailer hitch but no roof rack, then go for a hitch style carrier.  Either the hitch cargo basket or hitch cargo box.

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