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How to Tie Down Luggage With or Without a Roof Rack

How to Tie Down Luggage (With or Without a Roof Rack)

By the time you pack yourself, the kids, and the dog in the car, there probably isn't much room left over for luggage. (As the owner of a small car, I feel that.) Fortunately, you've got a lot of extra space just waiting to be filled on your roof. So, how do you actually tie your luggage up there (and, you know, make sure it stays up there for the whole drive)? Well, you have a few different options for carrying luggage on your roof. A roof rack opens up your options, but it's not required. We'll go over the different types of cargo carriers below, then we'll talk about how to properly strap down your load depending on your carrier type. *Note: Consult your vehicle's owner manual to confirm the weight carrying capacity of your roof prior to loading.*Another Note: It may be tempting, but please don't load your children onto your roof cargo rack. These racks are for luggage only.

Choose Your Luggage Carrier

When choosing a cargo carrier, keep in mind the size and amount of luggage you want to carry, as well as whether or not you require the carrier to be weatherproof.Your main roof cargo carrying options are:
  • Roof boxes (most durable, provides protection from elements)
  • Roof baskets (versatile, mid-range price)
  • Roof bags (no roof rack required, waterproofing available)
Cargo Box on Vehicle Roof
Roof Boxes
Roof boxes enclose your belongings inside a hard, durable shell. They are also lockable for extra security. If you plan on leaving your cargo unattended and want the most durable protection, you'll want to consider a roof box. However, keep in mind that these carriers tend to be the most expensive, and they also require a roof rack. Given their generally bulky size, roof boxes also tend to be harder to store in your garage or basement.
Roof Basket on Vehicle
Roof Baskets
Roof baskets provide a stable surface for you to stack and strap down your luggage. They are thinner and therefore easier to store than cargo boxes. Due to their open construction, they're quite versatile. However, roof baskets are not waterproof and provide no protection against the elements. If you require waterproofing, you'll need to use a cargo bag in addition to the basket. Also keep in mind that roof baskets require a roof rack.
Roof Bag on Vehicle Roof
Roof Bags
Roof bags are the one type of carrier you can use without a roof rack (though you can also use them with a roof rack). Roof bags offer waterproof options, and they're the easiest to store when you're not using them. They're also the most cost effective, so if you travel infrequently, a roof bag may be the best option. On the downside, roof bags are made of soft material and therefore don't tend to last as long as steel baskets or durable ABS plastic boxes.

Strap Down Cargo Carrier, then Pack Luggage

The tie-down process differs slightly depending which carrier type you choose (basket, box, or bag), so keep reading for tips for these specific carrier types. But whatever type of carrier you have, be sure to load it on the roof before you pack all your stuff inside so it's not too heavy to lift. This goes for all carrier types, but the bigger the carrier, the more important this is. If you have trouble reaching the top of your roof to load/unload your gear, a wheel step or hitch step may help. (My personal favorite is the Moki Door Step).

How to Secure a Roof Box

Roof boxes are great because you don't have to worry about strapping anything down. Just mount the roof box to your crossbars via the included attachment system. Open the cargo box lid, place your luggage inside, and close the lid. Many boxes include locks to secure your belongings.Note that your luggage may slide around a bit inside the box, but it will be kept safe and dry for the ride. (Just avoid packing your antique glass collection inside your box, and you should be fine!)
Roof Box on Roof Rack
Latching system on roof cargo box

How to Strap Down Luggage on a Roof Basket

Typically, roof baskets (and their wall-less cousins, roof trays) will come with their own hardware to clamp or bolt onto roof rack crossbars. Attach the roof basket first, then you can load your luggage into it.
Roof basket on crossbars
Roof tray attached to crossbars
Roof rack tray on crossbars
Use tie-down straps or ratchet straps to secure your luggage to the basket or tray. For basekt-style carriers, wrap the strap beneath the carrier bar and ratchet down until it's snug. Tray-style carriers it will typically include anchor points to which you can secure your straps. Note: Always use straps in pairs. Also, choose a strap based on its safe working load limit (WLL). The weight of the secured cargo must not exceed the combined WLL of the straps being used. For example, if you are using straps with a WLL of 500 lbs each to tie down a 1,000-lb load, you need at least 2 straps to safely secure that load.
Strap cargo bag to tray
Ratchet straps secure luggage in roof basket
Strap around roof basket holding gear in place
A roof luggage rack net can also be used to help secure your belongings. However, note that it's often difficult to find a net suited to the exact size of your particular load, so a net alone won't likely hold your luggage snugly in place. For this reason, you'll likely want to secure your luggage with straps first. (Some cargo nets, like this one, include both a net and cargo straps.)To attach a cargo net, drape the net over your luggage on the roof basket or tray and attach the net's hooks on the roof basket/tray.
Net for roof rack cargo
How to Strap Down a Roof BagYou can find bags that mount to almost any roof type, including roofs with crossbars, raised side rails, baskets, trays, or even completely bare roofs. Naked roof:To strap your bag to a naked roof, you'll need a set of car clips (these are usually included with the roof bag). You'll simply hook the straps to these clips and wrap the strap around your bag.
Roof bag on naked roof
Car clips attach to your naked roof
Crossbars, side rails, roof basket/tray: Wrap the bag's strap around the bar or rail, thread it through, and pull it tight.
Secure strap to rail or crossbar
Roof cargo bag secured to side rails
Roof bag attached to roof cargo basket
Related ArticlesRelated ProductsWritten by: Amber S.Updated: 3/1/22

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