If you’re ever got excited about your camping trip, taken all of your kit out to the car, and then realised that you’re not going to be able to fit it all in, then this article is for you!
Choosing between a roof box or a roof bag for your car narrows down to one major question: do you have the space to store a roof box?
What’s The Difference Between A Roof Box Or Roof Bag?
In short: roof boxes are solid and made out of a hard plastic or fibreglass material, roof bags are made from fabric and can be folded down when not in use.
Roof boxes have been the traditional choice for most campers, their hard shell offers a secure and dry place to pack camping gear, and the ability to lock the box has added security benefits
Roof bags are a relatively new invention but they are gaining popularity due to their size and weight, usually being lighter than boxes but carrying the same amount of cargo in an easier to store form.
There is a hot debate amongst campers over whether roof boxes of roof bags are better and out of the good number of campers I spoke to, it appears that roof bags are winning by a clear mile.
Roof Boxes – A Quick Introduction
Roof boxes are usually made from hard and durable plastic. Some manufacturers have begun making boxes out of fibreglass to save on weight, and it is even possible to get roof boxes made from metals like aluminium to save on weight and improve load security.
The average cost of a decent roof box sits at around £265, with the smaller boxes ranging from £140 – £160 in price and the larger boxes ranging from £400 to £600.
Roof boxes are heavier and more unwieldy than roof bags, but they are much sturdier and most can carry cargo loads up to 75KG, depending on your car and your car’s limits.
For an average family car, the Thule Ocean 80 320 litre roof box is ideal.
Roof Bags – A Quick Introduction
Roof bags are a relatively new addition to the camping roof cargo sphere, and they provide an excellent alternative to boxes, even for much smaller cars.
One of the obvious downsides of roof bags is the lack of security. Aside from putting a padlock on zips, roof bags aren’t the most secure holders, which means you should avoid storing any valuables in your roof bag while you are away from your camp.
Many campers have been converted to roof bags because of their versatility, for campers who are limited on space find that roof bags are a great compromise between space and security, at home in the offseason especially.
The average price of a roof bag sits at around £95, with plenty of good options for under £60 and some roof bags with sturdy but collapsible shells (also known as a soft roof box) available around the £170 – £250 mark.
The Namotu Auperto Cargo Bag has rave reviews from campers across the country because of its size and waterproof abilities.
When it comes to deciding which rooftop cargo carrier to purchase for your great outdoors trip, it is worth considering quality first over price, but, having said that, roof boxes have certainly come down in price over the last few years.
What Can I Put In a Roof Bag or Roof Box?
For both roof bags and roof boxes, you should only store items that aren’t breakable. A few examples of camping holiday-specific things you can store and transport in a roof box or roof bag includes:
- Sleeping bags
- Roll mats
- Air Beds
- Small tents
- Kitchen supplies
Roof boxes and roof bags make an excellent place to store and transport bulky items that are difficult to pack in the car, especially pop-up tents which can come in very awkward shapes and sizes making regular packing difficult at the best of times!
There is some discussion as to whether it’s a good idea to put non-water resistant items inside roof bags. Roof boxes are usually covered in a plastic coating, but the bags are made from fabric which, although advertised as waterproof, are not always as reliable as they could be!
To be on the safe side, always store items that can’t get wet in waterproof dry bags or plastic bags to prevent sleeping on a soggy sleeping bag.
Roof Box and Roof Bag Laws
Note: The information here is concerning UK road laws, other countries and states may have different laws when it comes to attaching a roof box or roof bag to your car.
Do I Need A Special License For A Roof Box Or A Roof Bag?
No, you do not need a specific license to attach and use a roof box or a roof bag on any car in the UK. The attachment of roof boxes and roof bags is covered by the Department for Transport’s overhanging loads guidance.
In brief, the guidance for overhanging loads is as follows:
- Overhangs – Any bags or boxes over 1 metre in length will need to have the ends clearly marked, if your box or bag overhangs by over 2 metres you will need to use marker boards by law. It is very unlikely this will be an issue with roof bags, but some roof boxes may be longer than 2 metres.
- Weight – Loads must not exceed your vehicle’s gross axle weight. Any boxes or bags that are overloaded may pose a traffic safety issue and could lead to the driver facing prosecution. Most roof boxes and roof bags can only be loaded to a maximum of 75kg, so it’s worth checking the weight of the gear you plan to put in there.
- Load safety – You should ensure that you load your roof box or roof bag evenly, spread out the heavy items so that they aren’t all on one end or one site. It’s also a good idea to make sure your load is secure, especially if you are using a rigid roof box.
Roof Box and Roof Bag Insurance
Motor vehicle insurers in the UK seem to have differing opinions on whether roof boxes or roof bags are canted as a modification.
Theoretically, if you were to have an accident in your car with your roof rack attached, regardless of whether or not you were carrying your roof bag or roof box at the time, this could be seen as an uninsured modification to your vehicle.
For this reason, it’s suggested that you call your insurance company to let them know you’ve had a roof rack fitted. If they say that it isn’t a requirement of your policy to inform them, ask for confirmation in writing so you have a written record.
How Do I Put A Roof Bag On A car?
Roof bags can be put on a car via two methods; by using a roof rack or roof bars, or some bags can be directly attached to the car.
Using A Roof Rack
Step 1 – Wash Your Roof
Wash your car’s roof to remove any dirt and debris that may cause scratching. – you may want to add a non-skid pad to protect your car and minimise damage.
Step 2 – Position the bag
Open for rails as far as possible if they are movable and place your EMPTY roof bag onto the roof with the closed zip towards the back of the car.
Step 3 – Load The Bag
Load the heaviest items first in the middle of the bag, filling the edges with lighter items. Try to fill the bag as full as possible.
Step 4 – Secure The Bag
Use the built-in cinching straps to compact the fabric and compress the bag to as small as possible to prevent fabric flapping around and tuck in any loose ends.
Tie down to the rack securely to ensure a tight fit.
Checking Your Bag
After 30 miles on the road, pull over and check the straps and fixtures to ensure everything is still in place.
Check once every 100 miles after this or as an emergency should you hear any old noises or feel anything move while you’re driving.
Roof Bag Maintenance
At your campsite and when you get home from camping, either have someone help you take the full bag down, or unpack the bag before removing it.
You will notice lots of bugs and dirt on the bag, particularly at the front, these will need to be cleaned off after every journey to keep your roof bag in good condition.
Over the years, your roof bag may lose its waterproofing effectiveness. You can improve this easily by spraying your bag with a waterproofing spray such as Nikwax just as you would when waterproofing a tent.
Be warned that covering your roof bag in a waterproofing solution may invalidate any guarantees you have, so it’s recommended that you only do this after your warranty has run out.
Should I Get A Roof Box Or A Roof Bag?
The popular choice for campers between a roof box and a roof bag is definitely the roof bag option. These are usually cheaper, easier to manage with fear people and they can fold down flat for easy storage.
If you’re looking for something more hardwearing that will last longer and is more secure, definitely go for a roof box.