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Can You Use A Cargo Box On A Camper Van Roof?

Man opening cargo box on vehicle roof

The weather is becoming warmer, and that means traveling. It is time to load up your camper van and hit the road. But what do you do if your camper van runs out of space? What options do you have?

Can you use a cargo box on a camper van roof? Yes, a cargo box can be used on a camper van roof if the camper van roof is equipped or able to be fitted with a roof rack. However, not all camper vans have this ability. Before purchasing a roof rack or cargo box, check to see if your camper van can maintain a roof rack.

When traveling, you want to have the gear and stuff you need to enjoy your trip. You also want a safe place to store valuables. Cargo carrier boxes are your solution. In this post, we are going to look at what your camper van needs to be able to install a cargo carrier, how to install the cargo carrier, and learn about popular cargo carriers.

First Things First—What Do You Want in a Cargo Box?

When deciding on what you want in a cargo box, you need to weigh several options:

  • Size versus Aerodynamics. Of course, the more storage space, the better. However, the higher your cargo box, the more it will affect your van’s aerodynamics. Loss of aerodynamics, in turn, will affect your wallet.
  • Price versus Durability. Your cargo box is going to take a beating, between the weather, the wind, and the road conditions. Figure out how many times you plan to use the box when setting your budget.

One thing that folks usually don’t think about until it’s too late is how the cargo box opens. Some open from the front while others open from the side.

Ideally, you want one that opens from the side, especially the passenger side. Typically, this is the most convenient and safe side because when you pull off to the side of the road, the passenger’s side is away from the road.

Installing a Cargo Box

To install a cargo box on your camper van, you need a roof rack, which has sidebars and crossbars. Camper vans come in many different styles from a fixed roof to a high-top roof to a pop-top roof.

A fixed roof camper van usually comes equipped with a roof rack. Some manufacturers of a high-top roof have racks. With a pop-top roof, whether you can have a rack depends on the type of pop-top your van has.

If you need a roof rack installed, the following companies specialize in making roof racks for camper vans:

  • Thule roof racks are easy to install on your own. They work for most makes and models.
  • Vangooutdoors roof racks are made from lightweight aluminum and are very flexible. The crossbars can mount in any location, helping to accommodate fans, vents, and air conditioners.
  • Roambuilt roof racks are another custom roof rack company. They have eight different roof racks available in a range of prices.
  • Aluminess roof racks use lightweight aluminum and are custom made. They will custom cut-out any openings that you need.

Most cargo boxes come ready to be installed and do not need any tools to be installed.

How To Install A Cargo Box

The actual installing of a cargo carrier box is simple, and one person can install most of them. When installing a cargo carrier, you first make sure the carrier fits the crossbars on your roof. If the cargo carrier fits the crossbars, then you check to see how you install the cargo carrier.

The Yakima Cargo Carrier is installed by opening the clamps that are inside the box and loosening the wheel a 1/2 turn. You then lift the carrier on top of the vehicle, place the clamps in front of the crossbars, slide the clamps along the tracks to engage the crossbars. Once the box is in the correct position, close the clamps and tighten the wheel.

The Thule Cargo Carrier is installed by placing the cargo carrier on the roof and matching up the mounting points over the crossbars. Once lined up, you open the easy-grips and insert them into the mounting slot and then over the vehicle’s crossbars. Once all the easy-grips are in the correct position, tighten them by turning.

Other Posts of Interest

Top 5 Recommended Cargo Boxes for Camper Vans

5 Recommend Cargo Boxes in no particular order with pros and cons.

Yakima SkyBox 21 Aerodynamic

Here is a great storage box created by Yakima. A lightweight and aerodynamic storage box. The Carbonite material is 80% recycled. Easy to open and close. The SkyBox uses a superlatch secure closure and an integrated SKS lock system to keep the contents safe.

Available in five sizes: 12, 15, 16, 18, and 21 cubic feet. Minimum and maximum crossbar spreads are 24”-26”. One person can install it, but two people make installation easier. It comes with a limited lifetime warranty.


  • Dual side opening
  • Lightweight
  • No assembly
  • Available in a variety of sizes


  • Key stays in the lock when open

Thule 682 Sidekick

This cargo box is the smallest box that Thule makes, but it is perfect for holding a lot of weight and not taking up a great amount of roof space. Once assembled, its small size makes it able to be installed by one person. It comes with a lifetime warranty. It also comes with two locks to secure the box.


  • Lightweight
  • Easy installation
  • Holds 110 lbs.


  • It requires some assembly before installation

Thule Pulse

The Pulse cargo box comes in 3 different sizes depending on need. All the versions can hold up to 110 lbs. This cargo box can hold skis and snowboards. Due to the larger size, it requires two people to install the cargo carrier. The unique design makes it that it can be left on the roof year-round. It has reduced drag, which means better gas mileage.


  • Lightweight
  • Holds 110 lbs.
  • No assembly required
  • Holds skis and snowboards


  • The locking mechanism could be better

Thule Force

The Force is one of Thule’s premium designs. It comes in a variety of sizes ranging from 13 to 21 cubic feet. The Force can be loaded and unloaded from both sides. It comes with an oversized secure lock to make sure the box is secure. This carrier is very easy to mount. Price varies by size.

This video will give you a little more information about the Force.


  • Dual side opening
  • Holds 110 lbs.
  • No assembly


  • Lower gas mileage

JEGS 90098

The JEGS cargo box is compact and easy to mount. It has 18 cubic feet of space. Its small size requires only one person to mount. It is waterproof and needs no tools for assembly. It can only be installed on cross rail systems rated at 150 pounds and greater.


  • Holds 110 lbs.
  • No-tool assembly


  • Opens from the back instead of side

What Other Storage Carriers Can I Use?

Some other options for storage are luggage baskets and carrier bags. Luggage baskets can attach to the roof of the vehicle and are open on top. They are great for storing bikes and other large items.

Carrier bags are also attached to the roof, and they are similar to the box, except they have a soft structure and store flat when not in use. You can also install these bags without roof racks.

The RoofBag Rooftop Cargo Carrier Bag is an excellent choice if you don’t want to deal with installing roof racks.

What Options Do You Have If You Do Not Want to Install Roof Racks?

If you do not want to install roof racks, you can use rear-mounted cargo carriers that use a trailer hitch. These cargo carriers can be boxes or baskets. You can also use car carrier bags and install those using straps.

How Do I Store the Cargo Box When Not In Use?

When not in use, store the cargo box in a cool, dry place. Store it flat on its base, either on the ground or on a hanging shelf in the garage. Sunlight can damage the box, warm temperatures can warp the box, and cold temperatures can crack the box.

Final Thoughts

Cargo boxes can be a great addition to any camper van. The cost of adding one isn’t going to set you back a whole lot, either. They give you the extra storage space that you need when traveling or heading out camping for a week of adventure.

Most install easily and provide for more space without slowing you down. Instead of trying to cram everything inside your camper van, consider purchasing a roof carrier box instead.

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The western part of the country draws me with its mountains, deserts, and red rock vistas. Still, there are numerous other wonders I'm ready to explore., from Maine's rugged coast to California's Big Sur cliffs and everywhere between.