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?

Seat 600 roof bags

by Chris Williams |
Updated on

In the classic road trip scene, you'll imagine a set of roof bags tied on top of an old-school estate car (or wagon if you're from the U.S). Unfortunately, the sights of classic Volvo 245s and Ford County Squires loaded to the brim with luggage is increasingly rare. But the prospect of roof bags and indeed roof boxes is still very much around.

Of course, sturdier 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.

You may envision images of a roof tent, only for the purpose of storage, but this is far from the case. Roof bags contain all the things you carry in one wrapped package - making things a little easier when travelling.

The best car roof bags at a glance:

Editor's pick: Fischer 126000 Roof Bag - buy from Amazon.
Best for smaller vehicles: Roofbag Rooftop Cargo Carrier - buy from Amazon.
Best budget roof bag: Salinovo Car Roof Bag - buy from Amazon.

But should we consider them? Are roof bags truly a viable alternative to sleek and streamlined roof boxes? We've been investigating the topic. The things considered in our choices include dimensions, the requirement for roof racks, and manufacturer quality. Towards the bottom, you can also be advised on how to protect your bag from UV rays.

The best car roof bags:

On sale

Fischer 126000Via Fischer
Price: $99.18 was £127.59

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. It's about as aerodynamic as you can expect a roof bag to be, and is the most comprehensive choice on our list. Although it's not the biggest on the market in terms of capacity, we also think it's a great size. It gives you plenty of extra luggage space without being a burden, and there's no worry of it scratching your roof either. All that's required is a set of roof racks.

Pros

  • Great quality and design
  • Solid base

Cons

  • Not a massive volume

Best volume capacity

Rightline Gear 100R30Via Rightline Gear

Rrp: $99.95

Price: $73.00
Alternative retailers
Target$99.99View offer
Backcountry$104.96View offer
DICK'S Sporting Goods$109.95View offer
QVC$118.99View offer

If it's the size you're after, the Rightline Gear roof bag swallows a massive 509 litres of cargo. That's roughly the average size of a small hatchback's boot, so you have plenty to play with here. It's tough too, with a heavy-duty, UV-resistant fabric and you can use it with or without roof racks. We also appreciate it's excellent value. There are also smaller sizes available too if you don't need the space.

Pros

  • Huge volume
  • Well made

Cons

  • Sits directly on car roof

Best for smaller vehicles

RoofBag USAVia Roofbag
Price: $82.99

This model is similar to the large Range 3 roof bag, but smaller and can therefore be used on smaller vehicles. It's equally tough and easy to mount.

This is an ideal bag if you're planning a road trip, and the vehicle you're using is a little Ford Fiesta or perhaps a Golf. We have some stories here at CAR of us being crammed in with friends in our first cars, just wishing for more space. For those trips, the Rooftop Roofbag is the ideal companion.

Pros

  • Size suitable for a range of vehicles
  • Highly durable

Cons

  • Sits directly on roof

On sale

HandiHoldall roof bagVia HandiHoldall
Price: $153.72

To protect your car roof, this model sits on top of roof racks, rather than over them, thanks to this bag's rigid base (gained by the use of removable fibreglass poles).

It is made from a PVC-laminated 600D fabric and in simple terms, that means it's reassuringly durable considering it'll battle all weathers outside.

Pros

  • Sits above car roof
  • Good base

Cons

  • Not as aerodynamic as others

On sale

Salinovo Car roof bagVia Salinovo
Price: £71.99 was £119.99

This roof bag is best for sticking to a stringent budget. At 430 litres, it's a large roof bag made from tough 700D fabric. It's best suited to medium and larger cars.

Unfortunately however, a budget roof bag comes with budget materials. The build quality won't be as great as the other options, but moreover, it sits directly on your car's roof rather than on racks.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Large volume

Cons

  • Sits directly on car roof

Best UV protectant spray

Aerospace Protectant 303Via Aerospace Protectant

Rrp: $17.99

Price: $16.52

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.

Pros

  • Effective spray against UV rays
  • Good value

Cons

  • Not a great capacity in a single bottle

The best roof tray

M-Way Lockable roof trayVia M-Way

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 things are that the tray fits your car and is constructed to a high standard.

The M-Way Roof bars and tray is designed to fit the Seat Ateca and other similar vehicles. So, they are very versatile for a range of normal-size family wagons.

Pros

  • Means bags don't have to sit directly on your roof
  • Made to a high standard

Cons

  • Quite small compared to roof bags

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. Especially when considering that unlike bike racks, they are able to carry a plethora of items and have many uses.

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. This 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. They 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. Because 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. Alternatively, you can 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 which doesn't involve motorway at high speeds. Especially 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. If you're considering taking a couple of bikes as well, we've done a bike rack comparison test finding out which one impressed us.

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.

Chris Williams is a Senior Product Writer for CAR, also working for Live For The Outdoors. An expert in camping and muscle cars, he spends most of his time up a mountain or laying rubber.

For verdicts, scoops, news and analysis from the team , delivered direct to your inbox, subscribe to the CAR newsletter.

You can enjoy CAR in its traditional print format, or one of the swelling number of digital editions, optimised for Apple iPhones, Android devices, iPads, tablets and desktop computers.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us