by Jeff Day
Once you've got that roof rack on the car, the next challenge is to attach whatever it is you want carry. You have several solutions.
The first option is a fabric cargo bag that buckles either to a pair of roof racks or to a metal basket between the racks. Cargo bags are waterproof and zip closed. Some have movable internal dividers that attach with Velcro, so you can sort things as you pack.
Cargo bags are simple to attach. Wrap the bag's straps around the rack, thread the strap through a buckle and tighten.
Most cargo bags sit directly on the roof, which can be noisy as the bag vibrates in the wind, and unless the bag has a soft, padded bottom, it could scratch the roof. The advantage, if you're going on vacation and will unpack the bag once you arrive, is that you can just fold it, toss it in the trunk and drive around without the aerodynamic drag of a carrier on top.
If you have a roof basket, you can use a cargo net. Most manufacturers make nets designed specifically for their baskets. The stretchy net accommodates different-sized loads. Load the basket — with larger and heavier items in the middle — and toss the net over them. Fasten the net using the hooks or special fasteners that come with it. Follow the directions that come with your model.
If you're attaching something bulk and oddly shaped such as a canoe, cargo nets and bags won't do the trick. Put whatever you're hauling across both racks, and fasten it with tie downs made of nylon or similar webbing. Some tie downs tighten with a ratchet and some buckle in place.
If you go with a ratchet, most have hooks on the end meant to fasten on the roof rack or to loop around it and then hook onto the webbing itself. If you plan to attach the hook to the rack, make sure the hooks are big enough to fit over the rack. In any event, make sure the hooks have a lever that flips closed across the gap, so they won't come off.
A belt with a buckle adjusts more precisely than a ratchet, which tightens incrementally. When fastening a load to your roof rack, stand to the side of the car, hold the buckle in one hand, and thread the strap under the bar on the rack, positioning it as close to the load as possible. Throw the strap over the cargo. Then let go of the buckle, go to the other side of the car, and pass the strap under the bar, again positioning it as close to the load as possible. Throw the strap back over the cargo, return to the starting point, run the strap through the buckle, and tighten. Repeat on the second rack.
Tie canoes and other boats to the front and rear bumpers, too. If you're good at knots, you can use the ropes already attached to the canoe. On a boat, tie extra ropes to the fittings on the stern. If you're not good at knots, get straps made especially for the job. Typically, they clip to the boat, pass around the bumper, pass through a buckle and then pull tight.
Freelance writer Jeff Day's obsession with outdoor recreation leads him to attach all sorts of equipment to his car's roof.