Car roof racks are a simple, yet incredibly versatile addition to any car. They can be used to carry bulky items that would not otherwise be transportable or increase the overall storage volume when space gets limited on a vacation. For some items, there are specific attachments available.
While a roof rack by itself is enough to be able to carry cargo on a car’s roof, there are dedicated roof rack attachments to easily and securely transport specific items. These include bike racks, ski and snowboard carriers, or surfboard, SUP board, canoe and kayak racks. Roof boxes and baskets function as extra storage while roof tents are portable small living areas.
So, a basic roof rack is the starting point that allows you to carry extra gear and outdoor toys for professional and recreational purposes. All roof rack attachments (especially from reputable roof rack brands) are weatherproof gear, purposefully designed for a specific cargo. With that out of the way, let’s look at what exactly can go on a roof rack.
While most other items can only be transported on a car using a roof rack, bicycles can actually find their way into or onto a car. There are certainly benefits and disadvantages that come with a roof bike rack, but it is probably the most hands-off option once installed.
The actual bike racks are an attachment to the roof rack and can be removed and positioned individually to suit any need. They tend to work with all kinds of bikes and there are even adapters to transport tandems and fat bikes. Since bikes only take up much space in height, but not in width, it is possible to use roof bike racks in combination with some other attachments, like roof boxes.
A roof box (or rooftop cargo carrier) is a waterproof and often aerodynamic box attached to a car’s roof rack. Its main purpose is to increase additional overall storage space for recreational and professional gear alike. It can help securely transport cargo, that otherwise would not fit inside the car or make room for passengers.
Most often you encounter these roof carriers in the winter season when they are housing winter sports equipment. While most boxes are the perfect height and length for that purpose, they are really an all-season roof rack accessory that can transport all sorts of gear and cargo. High-quality roof boxes can not only hold spacious but also heavy cargo acting as a second trunk on your roof.
The exact opposite can be said about roof tents. It adds more space for travelers, instead of cargo.
In general, a roof tent is a roof rack accessory that allows for a tent to be set up on a car’s roof while parked. This enables travelers to sleep safely above ground while keeping all the gear and cargo stowed away inside the car. Basically, it is a portable home but less expensive than a trailer, camper van, or RV.
If you did a multi-day trip by car before, you know how valuable it can be to leave your suitcases and duffle bags where they are in the trunk, rather than make room to be able to sleep there. Not only is packing up to make room cumbersome, but then that gear still needs to be stored somewhere overnight. Either way, if sleeping in the trunk (truck bed) or in a roof tent is your jam, your cargo is out of the way with either using a roof tent or roof box.
Kayak & Canoe
With some ratchet straps and ingenuity, a basic roof rack is all you need in order to safely transport a kayak or canoe. Some manufacturers like Yakima or Thule did the work and brought dedicated roof racks to market.
While placement on top of the vehicle is what is used most commonly, there are adapters for mounting additional water sports gear on the side as well. This way you can increase the total load capacity, but may be limited by your local laws as the side mirror becomes basically unusable. It is however nice to see there are many options to stack your car completely full of kayaks and canoes.
Surf Boards & SUP Boards
This applies to kayaks and canoes too but is even more applicable to surfboards due to their shape resembling an airplane wing: The aerodynamic effects of driving with boards on a roof is significant. This is not only true for fuel economy but even more so for the wind that is going beneath the board, essentially lifting it upwards.
For this reason, of all possible attachments to a roof rack, secure mounting is most important here. Often you see a sturdy rope attached to the tip of the board, holding it down against the frontal winds.
Ski & Snowboard Carrier
While most likely you would choose to transport skis and snowboards within a roof box, there are in fact dedicated roof rack accessories available. They are lower-profile and more aerodynamic of course but are not multi-purpose like roof boxes are. One major benefit of going with a small snow sports carrier over a bulky box is that despite the roof rack you are mostly still able to use parking garages with limited clearance.
A roof rack can by itself be a complete and sturdy accessory for any adventurer or trades professional. In these cases, the rack is more than two roof bars. It’s a complete platform where hooks, baskets, canisters, boxes, awnings, and basically anything else you would ever need for outdoor activities can be mounted and attached to. That includes other rack accessories listed above!
These kinds of roof carriers are designed to hold a lot of weight. With a sturdy design comes a certain initial weight for the rack itself. So total roof load capacity may be an issue for some smaller vehicles.
For more information on roof racks in general, you might be interested in the following related articles: