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Sometimes, you just want some extra room. Common extra-storage options include roof racks and pods, but if your vehicle is equipped with a trailer hitch, there's another choice: hook up a rear cargo carrier.
While perhaps not as elegant as a sleek rooftop pod, trailer hitch cargo carriers do the job just fine—at a far more affordable price point. They're relatively cheap, simple to install, and easy to access when you arrive at your destination.
We've used our fair share of hitch cargo carriers over the years, but for expert advice and recommendations we connected with Chris King of RealTruck to help pick out the best options on the market. With the added expertise King brings to the table, we've rounded up eight of the best cargo carriers you can buy.
"While some cargo carriers may require simple assembly, they are generally very DIY-friendly," King says. So even if gear isn't on your list of stuff to haul, a trailer hitch cargo carrier is a great solution for transporting larger items, like lawnmowers and electric wheelchairs. Here's what to look for.
Things to Consider When Purchasing a Hitch Cargo Carrier
Compatibility: Make sure that the hitch cargo carrier is compatible with your vehicle's hitch type and size. The industry standard is a two-inch hitch, but you'll want to check each carrier's specifications and compare them with your vehicle's hitch rating to guarantee a fit.
Weight Capacity and Ratings: Double-check the cargo carrier's weight capacity to ensure it's strong enough to support your hauling needs. It's also essential to consider your vehicle's tongue weight limit (how much weight the hitch can support). A 300-pound load on a hitch rated for 500 pounds is fine—but not if your tongue's weight rating is only 250 pounds.
Material: Select a cargo carrier made from durable materials. Steel offers impressive strength, while aluminum is lightweight and corrosion-resistant.
Access to Vehicle: Consider a swinging or folding cargo carrier if you need to access the rear of your vehicle. These designs allow you to move the carrier out of the way so you can pop the trunk, hatch, tailgate, or window without unloading your cargo.
Additional Accessories: Determine if you'll need additional accessories, such as bike racks, a ramp for unloading and loading wheeled devices, cargo bags, straps, or nets to secure and protect your load.
Security: Consider the security features of the cargo carrier you purchase. Some come with integrated hitch locks or provide secure attachment points to add locks. Others feature closable and lockable boxes or cages to keep your gear secure.
Ready to shop for the best hitch cargo carriers? Here are some of our favorites and expert picks, from RealTruck and beyond.
The Best Hitch Cargo Carriers
Exo Hitch System
When you're looking for top quality, you look for a brand like Yakima. The Exo Hitch System isn't like others on this list. Rather than being a standard platform with a hitch attachment, this unit is effectively a base upon which you can add a variety of attachments, including a dedicated cargo carrier and a storage cargo box.
You can even stack the unit, for two storage boxes, a cargo rack on top of a box, or even a dedicated bike rack atop your carrier. The options are as varied as your adventures, so you can pick the setup you need for any given road trip.
Trailer Hitch Cargo Carrier
The Mockins Cargo Carrier is a budget-friendly model with all the attachments and accessories you need for a road trip. The fold-up cargo carrier measures 60 by 20 inches, with six-inch rails along the perimeter. It should work with nearly any two-inch receiver and is constructed of powder-coated steel. In addition to the carrier itself, Mockins also includes a 16-cubic-foot weatherproof bag, side tie-down straps, a cargo bag lock, and a storage bag for keeping everything together when not in use. Also included is a hitch lock and keys to prevent anyone from walking off with your hitch while out and about.
Based on the thickness of the rails, mesh, and hitch extension, this isn't nearly as heavy-duty as other options out there. Still, it's yet another budget option that's a perennial best-seller on Amazon with near-unanimous positive reviews from verified buyers.
Folding Hitch Mount Cargo Carrier
The Oklead Cargo Carrier is a foldable, heavy-duty steel luggage basket with 14.4-inch side rails, and it's designed to keep boxes more secure than the low-profile alternatives. Despite their extra height, the side rails can be folded down and the entire unit can be folded up toward the vehicle when not in use.
Oklead rates the load capacity at 500 pounds, and the unit measures 60 by 24 inches. If you consider the 14.4-inch rails, that gives you 12 square feet of secured cargo space—more if you pack things above the railings (although you'll want tie-down straps to keep everything in place).
No bags or accessories are included, but that leaves you the option to pack your gear as you see fit. The construction on this unit is less robust than some of the other options on this list, but dollar for dollar, it's hard to beat.
Poly Cargo Carrier
Made in the United States, this unit is basically a cargo box consisting of a polyethylene cargo carrier with 17 cubic feet of space mounted atop a powder-coated steel frame. The unit is water-resistant, features a lockable, double-walled lid, and can hold up to 300 pounds of cargo.
The hitch works with any two-inch receiver and comes with a hitch pin for added security. It's not the cheapest of the bunch, but it's one of the most secure and weather-resistant models we've selected, and it's made right here in the U.S..
If you want an affordable and reliable cargo carrier, look no further than Curt. Rather than one hitch cargo carrier, Curt has four styles to choose from: two basket-style carriers with taller railings on the side (available in aluminum or powder-coated steel) and two tray carriers with lower rails on the side (also available in aluminum or powder-coated steel). All of the units support up to 500 pounds and are available with elevated or folding hitch arms.
If you go with the powder-coated steel option, you can get it in either a two-inch or 1.25-inch receiver, the latter of which will allow it to work with more compact vehicles using smaller hitches. Prices start at $155 and go up to over $300, depending on the style you go with.
Folding Cargo Carrier
The MeeFar is a consistent best-seller on Amazon and with good reason. For less than $200, you get a 60-by-20-inch carrier, an accompanying cargo bag with 16 cubic feet of space, and every accessory you'll need to keep your cargo secure.
The unit has a 500-pound weight capacity. When not in use, it can be folded up toward the bumper of the vehicle it's attached to, which is easier than completely removing it. The bag is "100% waterproof" according to MeeFar and is constructed of a 700-denier Oxford material that's been coated for additional protection from the elements.
Aluminum Cargo Carrier 80779
If you need a ramp to load whatever it is you're carrying around, the MaxxHaul Aluminum Cargo Carrier (Part No. 80779) is a solid choice at a respectable price. The unit has a 500-pound capacity and a built-in 47-inch ramp on the side to allow for easy loading of small motorized vehicles, mowers, mobility scooters, or even your giant YETI cooler with wheels.
The carrier is constructed of robust extruded aluminum and measures 50 by 29.5 inches with 8.75-inch side rails. Other features include a built-in anti-rattle device to minimize noise (which is especially welcomed given this isn't the most aerodynamic carrier of the bunch) and the option for a hitch lock to prevent would-be thieves from taking off with your goods.
The Lund Hitch Carrier is a basic yet versatile option for those needing extra hauling capacity. The unit has a 60-by-20-inch platform, a 500-pound capacity, and a standard two-inch hitch mount.
What sets this carrier apart is its potential for expansion through various available add-ons. Whether you're seeking side rails, a bike rack, or a PVC dry bag tailored explicitly for this carrier, Lund has optional carrier accessories to ensure you can expand its functionality based on your unique needs.
Can I install a hitch-mount cargo carrier myself or do I need it professionally installed?
Hitch-mounted cargo carriers are typically designed to be installed quite easily, which makes them a popular choice for extra vehicle storage. "Most users should be able to handle the installation themselves without needing professional assistance," King says.
Are hitch-mount cargo carriers safe?
According to King, the safety of hitch-mount cargo carriers largely depends on the user's attention to detail. "Owners [should] ensure their cargo does not block the vehicle's taillights and to be mindful not to exceed the carrier's capacity or the receiver's max tongue weight."
Are there different types of hitch-mount cargo carriers I should consider?
There are a few different types of hitch-mounted cargo carriers, with the two predominant variants being folding and swinging options. "These can be particularly useful if you need regular access to the rear of the vehicle and the load you are carrying inhibits this." King also points out that while folding racks are convenient for extended use, many owners remove their cargo carriers when not in use. In such cases, he suggests that non-folding designs are advantageous as they help decrease cost and complexity.
Are there certain materials that I should look for in a hitch-mount cargo carrier? What is most durable?
King recommends aluminum as a prime material choice for those using their cargo carrier in coastal areas or in northern regions during winter, where exposure to salt spray is likely. He assures that both steel and aluminum carriers should last for many years, if not indefinitely, provided that the manufacturer's guidelines for load capacity are followed and the units are regularly cleaned.
Do I need any other products? Cargo bags, bungee cords, etc.?
"At a minimum, users will need either bungee cords or straps to secure their load," says King. He advocates for straps as the more versatile option, given their adjustability and lack of stretch, ensuring that even heavy loads remain secure. King also mentions cargo bags as a beneficial addition for protecting against rain or dust, though he notes that their necessity depends on the type of load being carried.
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