Reviewer's Notebook: Cabelas Roof Rack Carrier

Nov. 01, 2005 By Dr. Sean Michael

Cabelas' Roof Rack Carrier stuffed to the gills, in action.

Stowage Solutions

In recent years, the availability of roof racks has exploded. Safari type racks, sport system racks, and a variety of other versions of this simple idea cropped up. In addition to the racks themselves, a plethora of stowage options exist for items that do not attach directly to the racks, like bikes. But once the rack is mounted, where do you put those sleeping bags, duffels, and sundry?junk? Most of these things are vulnerable to the elements, and all of them are a pain to strap on. Solutions for this problem range from spider web-like elastic nets, designed solely for stabilizing items, to space age containers costing half a grand. In between these solutions lie several good options, the most common being the soft stowage container.

The Product

Soft stowage containers are basically highly evolved duffel bags. Most improve upon the soft containers that our parents used by incorporating modern, moisture-impervious materials, aerodynamic shapes, and construction techniques that thwart all that would infiltrate your?junk. One of the best soft-sided containers I have seen or used is Cabelas' Roof Top Carrier. Cabelas is widely known as the "world's foremost outfitter" of hunting, fishing, and outdoor gear. Seeing their 600 page full-color catalogue will make you believe they are not boasting. Fortunately, their gear and customer service matches their claim.

I've shopped Cabelas' since my youth, and was well aware of their standards, so my expectations were high for the Carrier. The unit, a black 15 cubic foot model, arrived in what initially seemed to be a too-small box. The Carrier folds to a suprisingly small size, and weighs only a few pounds. This is allows it to be stashed away in the truck when not in use, saving the wind drag that solid stowage containers produce even when empty.

The Carrier has one sturdy zippered compartment and then another cap/lid that covers and protects the zipper.
Construction of the Carrier is rugged, matching that of my big wall rock climbing backpack. The material is a heavy-duty, UV-resistant waterproof vinyl that is reminiscent of truck tarps. Plenty sturdy yet supple, it weighs about a pound per yard of material. The stitching was flawless, and, to top off the heavy nylon thread, the seams are electronically "welded" to rid the thing of nasty needle hole leaks or moisture that can wick through the thread. Nylon webbing and Fastex buckles make up the lashing system. Some slick little clips accompany each buckle to prevent the extra webbing from flapping in the wind at highway speeds.

The Carrier's design is as intelligent as its materials and construction. The unit is essentially a rectangular fabric box with a lid that zips open with a big #10 two-way zipper on three sides. On the front side, where the lid attaches, an additional lid also attaches. The upper lid, which is better described as a cap, completely covers the Carrier's zippered lid, as well as the remaining three sides. With the straps in place, the cap/lid protects the zipper from wind-driven moisture and dust. The cap also adds a measure of protection from abrasion from low hanging branches. The zipper pulls are large, easy to hold, and will even accept a lock through their eyelets. Cabelas' logo is tastefully emblazoned on the lid's sides in a durable paint.


The bag is built to work with your vehicle without requiring elaborate aftermarket racks. It will work without a rack, but it also makes a perfect complement to the Garvin Industries' Wilderness Accessories Roof Rack
The Carrier is a breeze to put on. Four straps, two at both the front and the back, attach around a rack's cross bars and buckle into themselves. Three cross straps further secure the load, and can be attached to the supporting rack. We appreciated these extra straps but found that they were not necessary for stabilizing the unit. We installed the Carrier both on Project WomBAT's factory roof rack, and on Garvin Industries' Wilderness Accessories Roof Rack. Both mounting options worked well, although the factory rack, like those offered by so many manufacturers, did little to protect the roof. Use common sense when selecting the items to go in the Carrier if mounted this way. Mounting the Carrier on the Garvin's Wilderness Accessories rack offered no such problem; the rack's optional flooring served as a perfect platform for the Carrier. Simply standing on a rear tire or rear bumper allows easy loading and unloading.

One word of warning: Cabelas' advises that you not lift a loaded Carrier onto your roof. This is a moot point, however, because a fully stuffed Carrier is much too unwieldy to heave up that high.


The cavernous interior of this bag can swallow a whole family's worth of gear and still have room to spare.
What will Cabelas' size Large Carrier hold? Here is an example of what we crammed into its 15 cubic feet on a recent family trip:
  • 4 life preservers
  • ancient Coleman 2 burner stove
  • neoprene waders (Cabelas, of course)
  • 5 gallon water jug
  • full-size porta-crib
  • collapsible camp chair
  • 2 bike helmets
  • 8x10' canvas tent
  • 3 person backpacking tent
  • 3 sleeping bags
  • 1 Ridgerest sleeping pad
  • fly fishing vest
  • 2 fly rod tubes
  • chamois shirt (another Cabelas product, now going on 20yrs old!)
As the accompanying photos reveal, there was still some space held in reserve for those last oh-now-I-remember-what-I-forgot items.


The Carrier's double-cover keeps the contents clean and dry, and the extra straps keep it glued to your roof.
We mounted the Carrier on Project WomBAT in late summer, and it routinely handled the excess gear that a family with 3 kids generates. It worked flawlessly, never shipping so much as a drop of moisture or a fleck of dust. That is quite an accomplishment given the dusty conditions that El Nino produced in Idaho's farm country. Road trips through Northwest downpours also had no affect. I even tested the cap and zipper combination with a high pressure car wash hose, spraying the Carrier from all angles, including up and under the upper flap's edges. Still, no moisture got through.

The well thought out design of the bag plus the strap system resulted in no flapping during the months of driving we put it through. In fact, the one reservation we had about the design was a result of the extremely secure straps. Getting gear in and out of the Carrier frequently took some effort because of the stout cross configuration of straps and the dual lid design.

Few other concerns arose, however users should be cautious with fuels stored in the Carrier due to possible heat buildup from the dark fabric. Security concerns may also be an issue if you leave your vehicle unattended for long periods of time.


Soft sided carriers offer distinct advantages over hard shell carriers (i.e., flexibility of shape, portability, and weight) while costing only 1/2 to 1/4 as much, and with few drawbacks (security, need for adjustment, slower entry). Consequently, for anyone looking to increase the cargo (i.e., junk) hauling ability of their off-roader, soft sided containers bear serious consideration. If you do decide that such a unit will fill your niche, take a hard look at the offerings from Cabelas. Their Roof Top Carrier, whether in the 10 or 15 cubic foot model, is a serious tool for extending the range of your rig. Newsletter
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