The best roof racks on the market according to experts

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You’re an outdoor enthusiast looking to hit the road and explore. You’ve got your bike, your kayak, your tent, your sleeping bag, and a long list of other outdoor essentials. Only problem is it won’t all fit in your trunk. That’s where car accessories come in. But which accessory is right for you?

There are roof racks, roof boxes, roof bags, cargo baskets, even rooftop tents where you can sleep on top of your car. The type of accessory you need depends on what you plan to do, says Justin Chau, the manager of after sales marketing at Subaru Canada.

If you plan to go biking, you need a roof rack bike carrier. If you need to move a canoe, kayak, or paddle board, you’ll need a sport-specific rack as there are different carriers for each type of equipment. If you’re looking for storage space, then you should consider a roof box, bag, or cargo basket.

“The box is for basically anything you want to protect, like if it’s going to be raining or snowing then it’s protected from the elements,” Chau says. “A cargo basket, which is exposed, is a metal basket literally on the roof of the vehicle, and you have a cargo net that goes on top of it to secure the items. You can put your cooler there or anything that can get wet or snowed on.”

Traditionally, the cargo box was used to store skis, protecting them from road salt. But many outdoor enthusiasts are discovering that it’s a great place to store all luggage, opening up trunk space.

“My wife and I actually did a giant road trip through Labrador and Newfoundland, and we put a box on the roof,” says Evan Lindsey, the car line manager at Subaru Canada. “We put all our gear and stuff on the roof, and we actually slept in the back of the car.”

Before you select your rack or box, you’re going to need roof rails. These are the two rails that run lengthwise along your vehicle’s roof. Many models, such as Subaru SUVs, have them built in. But if your vehicle doesn’t, you can install a pair.

The roof rails work in tandem with cross bars, two horizontal bars that run between the rails, creating a ladder framework that your roof rack, box, or cargo basket sits on.

Once you have the rails and cross bars in place, it’s a matter of choosing which type of accessory works best for you. This can be difficult to nail down as it depends on the type of vehicle you own, your budget, and what your plans are. You can either reach out to your vehicle manufacturer or a vehicle accessory expert for advice.

In the meantime, here are five of the more popular roof accessories out there right now.

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