Car roof bags: is it worth getting a backpack for your car?

CAR looks into car roof bags. Yes they're cheaper than solid roof boxes but are they an actual alternative?

Luggage on roof of an old red car

by Chris Williams |

Roof boxes are unquestionably the best option to extend your vehicle's cargo volume without hooking up a trailer. But roof boxes aren't terribly cheap and since we're absolute suckers for a better deal, we often look to roof bags as a tasty, low-cost alternative. But should we? Are roof bags truly a viable alternative to sleek and streamlined roof boxes? We've been investigating the topic.

Weighing up car roof bags

Let's begin with a classic pros and cons comparison of roof bags:

Pros:

Value: The first thing we notice about roof bags is their value for money over roof boxes of an equivalent volume.

Volume: Roof bags come in a range of sizes to fit a range of vehicles and thus cater to a variety of needs. Although the largest roof bags cannot match the largest roof boxes for volume, they can still get up to about 500 litres, which is larger than the boot size of a mid-size hatchback (with back seats up).

Hardy: Roof bags are made from heavy-duty waterproof and UV-resistant fabrics. Those designed and produced by reputable manufacturers are able to cope with both sunny and wintery conditions for a long time.

Cons:

Accessibility: Roof bags are not as accessible once fitted and filled as roof boxes. Roof boxes open easily from one or both sides, whereas roof bags need to be unclipped and unzipped.

Aerodynamics: Try as some might, roof bags are still essentially a fat slab as far as aerodynamics are concerned. Roof bags are made from fabric and when compared to the sleek and rigid roof boxes, it's like comparing the drag coefficient of an old sock and a dart. Roof bags will therefore have a bigger effect on fuel economy. Roof bags also create more wind noise at speed and most have an upper-speed limit recommendation of about 70 or 80mph.

Fitting: Some roof bags sit directly onto the roof of a vehicle. In order to avoid scratches on your car's roof, we recommend you either buy a roof bag that is designed to sit above the roof on roof racks or use it in conjunction with a roof tray. The issue with the latter is that it takes away the roof bag’s pro of value for money. At the very least, buy a non-slip protective mat to place between the roof bag and the roof.

What are roof bags best used for?

We recommend roof bags to those who are undertaking a trip where they will not be driving on a motorway at high speeds over long distances. They are too noisy and brick-shaped for that, and a sleeker roof box would be better.

A roof bag is a good option to consider if perhaps you’re heading away into the Scottish Highlands or somewhere where you’ll be driving at lower speeds, where the roof bag’s aerodynamic flaws don’t matter quite so much. They’re also a very useful addition to homemade or converted campervans to give you extra storage space.

The best car roof bags:

Fischer 126000 Roof Bag

Best Roof Bag

Editoru2019s pick
Fischer 126000 Roof Bag
Amazon

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The Fischer 126000 needs to be the first roof bag option you consider. While you will find larger roof bags, this bears the best design.

Pros Cons
• Great quality and design • Not a massive volume
• Solid base
• Sits above car roof
Specs
Volume 270 litres
Dimensions 100cm (L) x 80cm (W) x 40cm (H)
Max load capacity 50kg
Weight 5.5kg
Needs roof racks? Yes

Thule Ranger 500 Soft Box

Best value

Best quality
Thule Ranger 500 Soft Box

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Thuleu2019s roof bag design looks distinctly different to the others. Itu2019s long and low and has a similar and excellent roof rack fitting system to the Fischer roof bag. The shape is a giveaway that the Ranger 500 is designed primarily for skis, capable of taking three or four pairs of skis. However, its 260-litre capacity can be used for carrying other items too. Everything about the Thule Ranger 500 screams "built to last" and in return for the relatively high price, you can expect ease of use and longevity.

Pros Cons
• Perfect for skis/snowboards • Smallest volume here
• Superb quality • Not much cheaper than a roof box
• Relatively sleek
Specs
Volume 260 litres
Dimensions 190cm (L) x 50cm (W) x 30cm (H)
Max load capacity 50kg
Weight 11kg
Needs roof racks? Yes

Rightline Gear Range 3

Best volume capacity

Great Buy
Rightline Gear Range 3
Amazon

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If itu2019s the size youu2019re after, the Rightline Gear roof bag swallows a massive 509 litres of cargo.

Pros Cons
• Huge volume • Sits directly on car roof
• Well made • Not aerodynamic at all
• Good value
Specs
Volume 509 litres
Dimensions 122cm (L) x 91cm (W) x 46cm (H)
Max load capacity Not given
Weight 3.7kg
Needs roof racks? No

RoofBag Rooftop Cargo Carrier

Best for smaller vehicles

Top Pick
RoofBag Rooftop Cargo Carrier
Amazon

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It's similar to the large Range 3 roof bag, but smaller and can therefore be used on smaller vehicles.

Pros Cons
• Size suitable for a range of vehicles • Sits directly on car roof
• Highly durable • Not as aerodynamic as Fischer 126000
Specs
Volume 311 litres
Dimensions 102cm (L) x 94cm (W) x 43cm (H)
Max load capacity Not given
Weight 3.6kg
Needs roof racks? No

HandiWorld HHOLDALLWR330 Roof Bag

Best design

Recommended
HandiWorld HHOLDALLWR330 Roof Bag
Amazon

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Fits on top of roof racks, rather than over them, thanks to this bagu2019s rigid base (gained by the use of removable fibreglass poles).

Pros Cons
• Good value • Not as aerodynamic as Fischer 126000
• Sits above car roof
• Rigid base
Specs
Volume 330 litres
Dimensions 110cm (L) x 75cm (W) x 40cm (H)
Max load capacity 50kg
Weight 3.6kg
Needs roof racks? Yes

Sailnovo Car Roof Box

Best budget option

Our Low-Cost Choice
Sailnovo Car Roof Box
Amazon

View offer

This roof bag is best for sticking to a stringent budget.

Pros Cons
• Cheap • Sits directly on car roof
• Large volume • Build quality inferior to competitors
Specs
Volume 425 litres
Dimensions 105cm (L) x 90cm (W) x 45cm (H)
Max load capacity Not given
Weight 2.7kg
Needs roof racks? No

Maintaining a roof bag's UV resistance

UV rays wear down and degrade all manner of fabrics and materials, leaving them cracked, worn, brittle, and broken. To help maintain your roof bag’s UV resistance and therefore its longevity, use a protectant spray. We recommend 303 Aerospace Protectant. It's a water-based solution so it can be used on such a vast array of materials, and it is a very effective UV protectant.

Roof trays

If the concept of a roof tray tickles your fancy, see an example below. You can of course use them for carrying cargo without a roof bag too. The main thing is to make sure whichever tray you go for fits your car and is constructed to a high standard.

Roof weight limits

You mustn’t be a womble and go about exceeding your car’s roof load limit. Check your car’s handbook to find out what this is. Remember:

Total payload = weight of the roof racks (if using) + roof bag + roof bag payload.

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