This post may contain affiliate links or mention our own products, please check out our disclosure policy.

The Pros And Cons Of Cargo Carriers

This post was updated on April 4th, 2022

One topic that is not often addressed when it comes to van life is to travel with or without a cargo carrier. There are both pros and cons to using cargo carriers, but it ultimately depends on your specific needs and preferences.

cargo carriers
Cargo carriers have both pros and cons – Photo via Shutterstock

Why use a cargo carrier?

If you intend on traveling and living inside a van for extended periods of time, you will want to bring most of your clothes and personal items. However, if you have already set up your home on wheels, it will not be easy to find the space needed to load all of your belongings. For this reason, you may decide to place all the bulkiest things in a cargo carrier, which in most cases is installed on the roof of the van.

Types of cargo carriers

The two types of cargo carriers that are mostly used for long-term travel are rigid and soft. The rigid one is usually coated in PVC and is waterproof, durable, and maintains its shape even when it is empty.

Sign up for the newsletter today!

Please enter a valid email address.

An error occurred. Please try again later.

× logo

Thank you for subscribing to the Vanlifers newsletter, keep your eye on your inbox for updates.

The soft one, on the other hand, looks more like a large bag, and is therefore more malleable in its shape. This too has the characteristic of being waterproof, but it will be less resistant than a rigid one. It is usually simply installed with safety belts.

Pay attention to the size and weight

It is also important to pay close attention to the height and weight after everything is loaded. Know your load’s height to ensure that you can pass most bridges and parking entrances. Use a trip planning tool like RV LIFE Trip Wizard to plan your route based on your dimensions.

During the “creation” of our van, we realized that we did not, at least initially, have enough space for our clothes and bulky accessories for the winter. So we bought a cargo carrier and we opted for a soft model, as it was more in line with our needs. But by the time we loaded it, the van had come too heavy and on the way we found ourselves in front of parking lots where we could not pass due to the height of the load.

In fact, this proved to be a problem during our journey. Going along curvy roads, we had the feeling of driving a truck and even when braking, we noticed a significant increase in the space needed to stop. Also, the idea of literally having to climb on the roof of the car every time you needed something was not really exciting, especially with cold temperatures and rain. Having no alternative, we continued our van life very carefully trying to avoid any sudden maneuvers.

At the end, the attention we dedicated was not enough, because in one of our stages, we completely forgot the “height” factor and damaged the roof rack at the top with a quite significant tear.

Theft & van security

During our stay in Portugal, we faced a bad experience. One night, we noticed some strange movements and noises outside the car and we found two people trying to rob us right on top of the roof. Of course, we immediately moved away from the situation we were in.

Since that evening, we have always had the fear that it could happen again and even during the day, we were no longer comfortable in stopping and getting away from the van even for a short time.

Mold & mildew

Subsequently, we also found mold and water on some products that we had inside the cargo carrier. Rain had managed to penetrate inside of the carrier after the damage that we had caused long before.

Cargo carrier alternatives

So, we started looking for a quick alternative and we managed in a short time to get rid of the load, replacing it with a storage net located on the ceiling inside the van, which relaxed our mind and nerves. It is very convenient being within easy reach and it is more secure being inside the van.

In our case, the initial satisfaction of being able to have everything with us in a cargo carrier was no greater than the concerns it caused us. Therefore, a cargo carrier was wrong for our personal needs. However, we recommend evaluating your cargo needs and determine whether or not it is the right choice for you.

See also: 2 Important Safety Tips For Vanlifers

0 - 0

Thank You For Your Vote!

Sorry You have Already Voted!

6 thoughts on “The Pros And Cons Of Cargo Carriers”

  1. I am surprised tht you did not consider a rear mounted carrier that slides into the trailer hitch receiver. I have used one of these for a few years and found that it is secure and does not increase of the vehicle. I sue a carrier called the Stowaway 2.

  2. I am considering a storage box for my Sprinter. I am looking at a roof top box, but concerned about climbing up the ladder to such a height. The other possibility is to put a box on the back. That I would need to have the capability of swinging it out away from the back doors so I can access the limited storage there where my table and power cord is. Do you have any recommendations?

  3. I see they offer the ability to swing out the box to access the area inside the doors.

    Thanks for the suggestion


  4. Hey John, thanks for the suggestion! A rear-mounted carrier is a great idea for those who don’t want to climb the ladder to access their stuff (or they don’t have that option).

  5. I second the Stowaway2 suggestion. We have one on our Sprinter van and I find it ideal. Like others, I didn’t want to add weight to the roof. I think the van is a bit top-heavy already. Also, I don’t want to have to bring a ladder to access anything on the roof. The Stowaway2 swings 180 degrees, which makes it easy to open the rear doors, and swing down the continental-kit-mounted spare tire.

Leave a Comment

Welcome! Please follow these guidelines:

  • Be kind and respectful.
  • Keep comments relevant to the article.
  • Avoid insults, threats, profanity, and offensive remarks.
  • Refrain from discussing gun rights, politics, or religion.
  • Do not post misleading information, personal details, or spam.

We may hide or remove comments at our discretion.

Sign up for the newsletter today!

Please enter a valid email address.

An error occurred. Please try again later.

× logo

Thank you for subscribing to the Vanlifers newsletter, keep your eye on your inbox for updates.