Ski Racks vs Cargo Boxes? The Great Debate Settled

vehicle with cargo box in the winter

When purchasing a rack for your ski or snowboard, you’ll have a few different styles to choose from.

The most common way to transport skis is on the roof of the vehicle, but you can also use a hitch-mounted ski rack.

From my early days working with major automotive manufacturers, I have honed my skills in designing, and testing auto components so I am excited to share my knowledge in relation to winter racks and cargo boxes.

In general, cargo boxes are better than ski roof racks because they are more versatile, protect the skis and other items, and are more secure.

However, ski racks are easy to install and practical choice for day trips and short ski trips.

In this article, we will explore the pros and cons of both ski roof racks and cargo boxes, helping you make an informed decision. Additionally, I will address common concerns such as potential damage to your skis, cleanliness, and the risk of theft.

Summary of ski vs. cargo boxes pros and cons

Ski Racks


- Inexpensive

- Aerodynamic

- Easy to load


- Skis can be damaged

- Skis get dirty

- Skis easily stolen

Cargo Boxes


- Versatile

- Skis stay clean

- More secure option


– Expensive

Ski Racks

rhino-rack ski racks

A ski roof rack attaches to the crossbars on your vehicle and typically carries up to 6 pairs of skis or 4 snowboards. Once the skis are sitting on the rack, it clamps down onto the skis to hold them firmly in place.

You must have crossbars installed before purchasing a ski rack since they attach directly to them. Ski racks work with most factory and aftermarket crossbars.

View ski rack prices on Amazon.


Ski racks are used by many people to transport their skis, therefore there are clearly some great reasons to choose a ski rack over a cargo box.

1. Inexpensive

One of the biggest reasons why ski racks are chosen over cargo boxes is because they are inexpensive. Ski roof racks typically cost between $80 and $350. For many people, the lower end of that range works well, but this can be different depending on your needs.

Overall, the low cost of ski racks is one of the biggest influencing factors when choosing between a ski rack and a cargo box.

2. Aerodynamic

Aerodynamics is very important when attaching objects to the roof of your vehicle. When objects are attached, it increases wind resistance and decreases gas mileage.

Although ski racks do not eliminate wind resistance entirely, they are more aerodynamic than cargo boxes. Therefore, you will get better gas mileage with a ski rack over a cargo box.

3. Easy to Load

Ski roof racks open from the side to allow skis to slide in easily, then close on top of them to hold them securely.

This makes it very easy to load skis on the roof of the car.


Although ski racks are popular, they have several downsides to using them over cargo boxes.

1. Skis Can Become Damaged

A common concern with ski roof racks is the potential for damage to the skis. Since the skis aren’t covered or protected, flying rocks or other debris from the road can hit the skis and cause damage. They can also become damaged in other ways, such as hitting a low-hanging branch from a tree.

There are many different ways that skis can become damaged when exposed on the roof of your vehicle, so it’s important to consider this if you have more expensive skis.

2. Skis Get Dirty

Similarly, skis that are exposed to the air with a ski rack will become dirty as you drive. Dirt from the road reaches your roof, therefore making the skis dirty.

Not only does this affect the appearance of the skis, but it can also cause damage over time. Since you’ll be driving in snowy areas, road salt can accumulate on the skis and deteriorate them over time.

3. More Likely to Be Stolen

Another point to consider is the visibility of your skis on the ski rack. Since a ski rack doesn’t cover the skis, they can be seen by everyone, including thieves. This increases the likelihood of your skis being stolen.

Although some ski racks lock, they can still be broken into depending on the effort of the person trying to steal them.

Also check out: How Ski Racks Work

Cargo Boxes

A cargo box is a large container that attaches to the roof of your vehicle to hold items, including skis, boots, and anything else that can fit! Cargo boxes are multipurpose, therefore can be used for much more than just skis. Even with skis loaded they can hold other items.

A cargo box, much like a ski rack, requires factory or aftermarket crossbars to be installed on your vehicle.

View cargo boxes on Amazon.


Cargo boxes are a popular choice for vehicles that take a lot of road trips, especially for ski and snowboard adventures. They are popular for their versatility and security.

1. Carries More Cargo

Cargo boxes typically have between 10 and 20 cubic ft. of storage. This is much more storage than a ski rack can handle since that space can be used for other items, not just skis.

This is one of the biggest advantages of cargo boxes since you can fit all your other ski and snowboarding gear along with it.

2. Skis Stay Clean and Damage-Free

Another important advantage to consider, especially if you have expensive skis, is the protection that a cargo box offers. With a cargo box, you won’t have to worry about rock chips or dirt affecting your skis.

A cargo box will fully cover the skis, protecting it from dirt and debris while driving. Cargo boxes will also shield your skis from the rain and other weather.

3. Very Secure

Cargo boxes are much more secure than ski racks. Not only will your skis (and other expensive cargo) be hidden from plain sight, but a cargo box securely locks to prevent theft.

By hiding the skis entirely, it reduces the temptation of theft from the beginning but still keeps them secure and protected inside if someone attempts to break in. A thief will be less likely to attempt to break into the cargo box since they won’t know what is inside.


Cargo boxes don’t have many disadvantages, but there is one that is often the deciding factor between ski racks and cargo boxes.

1. More expensive than ski racks

The biggest reason that cargo boxes are not chosen over ski racks is due to the price.

Cargo boxes typically cost between $200 and $1,100.

The high cost is the biggest disadvantage of purchasing a cargo box and is the biggest reason people choose a ski rack instead.

Cargo boxes are expensive because they are made with high-quality materials. More expensive models will be sturdier and hold more items. They may also be more aerodynamic to help improve gas mileage.

Which Should I Choose? Ski Racks vs. Cargo Boxes

Both ski roof racks and cargo boxes have great advantages that make them a popular choice, but they also have some downfalls.

So which is better? A ski rack or cargo box?

Cargo boxes can be more convenient choice over ski roof racks when it comes to transporting outdoor equipment.

Not only can they hold a variety of items, from skis to camping gear, but they also offer protection from the weather and an extra layer of security with their locking mechanisms.

While ski roof racks are specifically designed for skis and snowboards, their open nature leaves them exposed to the elements and potentially more susceptible to theft.

Though a cargo box might be a bit more of an investment, the versatility, protection, and peace of mind it offers make it the better option.

Although, this does not mean that a cargo box is best for you!

Why Choose a Ski Rack?

You should choose a ski rack if you are not concerned about your skis being damaged or stolen. If you have less expensive skis, you may not be worried about a few rock chips that may occur while they are on your roof.

A ski rack may also be a better option over a cargo box if you do not need the extra roof to store other cargo, such as boots or other winter gear.

Under these circumstances, it is probably not worth investing in a cargo box.

Why Choose a Cargo Box?

You should choose a cargo box if you want your skis to stay clean and damage-free while on the road. A cargo box is worth the price if you have expensive skis that should be protected from damage and theft.

A cargo box is also a great option if you need extra space for other cargo. They are especially useful if you are taking a trip with multiple people, as they will free up space inside the vehicle.

Cargo boxes are often worth the extra money to protect your items from damage and theft. Plus, more expensive models are more aerodynamic than cheap ones, which improves gas mileage.

Bottom Line: Is Ski Rack Better than Cargo Box for Skis?

Cargo boxes may be superior for most use-cases for several reasons.

Firstly, cargo boxes offer more versatility compared to ski roof racks. With a cargo box, you can not only transport your skis but also other items such as luggage or camping gear. This makes it a more practical choice for those who frequently travel with a lot of equipment.

Secondly, cargo boxes provide better protection for your skis and other belongings. Unlike ski roof racks, cargo boxes fully enclose your items, shielding them from the elements and potential damage. Your skis will stay clean and free from dirt, ensuring they are in top condition for your next adventure.

Additionally, cargo boxes offer enhanced security. With skis easily stolen from a ski roof rack, a cargo box provides a more secure option. You can lock the cargo box, giving you peace of mind knowing that your valuable equipment is safe and protected.

However, ski roof racks are typically less expensive and aerodynamic, so they are ideal for quick trips or smaller vehicles with less interior room.

Jason Majewski
I am hovering in my 50s, but my car-enthusiasm hasn't aged a day since my 20s. I've worked with some big names in the auto industry, designing and testing car components . When I'm off-duty, I'm road-tripping on anything that has at least two wheels.