A rooftop cargo case is the type of purchase that you really want to get right the first time. Otherwise, you’ll curse yourself for years to come every time you have to load and unload the darn thing. So, if you are in the market, I’d recommend taking a serious look at the Pelican BX Cargo Case series.
The Pelican BX cargo box series brings a refreshing rugged look, compared to those silly spaceship-style rooftop carriers plying the freeways each summer. In my opinion the BX series is far more practical in terms of mounting, packing, and quickly accessing your gear while it is on the roof.
While the concept of a weatherproof rooftop cargo case is a good one, I find 95% of rooftop cargo boxes are rather poorly executed. Most manufacturers, it seems, focus more on aerodynamic design to save a few liters of fuel, at the expense of usable space. Their odd shape makes packing them painfully impractical. Furthermore, cargo pods like this are just too bulky to easily mount or dismount. The Pelican BX series solves both of those problems.
Pelican BX Cargo Box Features
- Epic Lifetime Warranty covers breakage and defects
- Unique, rugged good looks
- Expedition-level quality
- Plenty of quick-mount options
- Better use of space compared to other rooftop cargo pods.
- Took over an hour to install the accessory mount on my 4×4.
- Molded side-handles on BX90 could be deeper for a more secure grip for one-hand carrying when empty.
- Optional mounting hardware is pricey
- Made in Canada-not necessarily a bad thing(I’m Canadian) but it is the first Pelican product I know that is made outside the US)
My Experience With Pelican Cases
When you say, “durable.” I say, “Pelican.”
Pelican is a brand I regularly use in extreme locations. I have no qualms about recommending them. Buyers’ remorse with these things are as rare as dinosaurs. They have never disappointed me.
I have trusted my documentary film-making equipment to my Pelican AIR cases(reviewed here) They have performed flawlessly from sub-zero Canada to the driving tropical rains and demonic washboard corrugations of dusty African roads.
I had my Pelican BX90R shipped out to me in Africa via a colleague. Since it looks an awful lot like military-grade ammo box, the TSA agents couldn’t resist inspecting it. Aside from a few minor scuffs from overworked baggage handlers, the case arrived in good order.
In order to minimize weight on your roof, Pelican’s cargo boxes are lighter in construction than their protective cases. There is more flex in the lid. At +200lbs, I’d hesitate to use my BX90R as a makeshift camp seat. Narrower cases like the BX55S would probably be fine as makeshift bench seats since the lids don’t span as far.
Taking a closer look a the detail, I was glad to see that all the steel hardware was securely riveted into steel backing plates, not simply riveted into the plastic which would pull out with time. Four claw latches lock the case down tightly with satisfying “ca-chunk.” Each latch nests flush with the side of the case– a nice detail preventing unwanted scratches and snagging while packing your case against other gear.
The base and lid are grooved to make stacking the cases more stable. I found recessed end-handles a little too shallow to one-hand carry the case when empty. Fully loaded the BX90R is a two-person lift to the roof rack. Even a relatively fit person would find it awkward. If you get anything larger than BX90R plan on either packing the case on the roof or having a second person around to help lift the case.
I’m a fan of the rugged military cargo look of these cases. They have that “zombie apocalypse/don’t mess with me” feel to them.
I was glad to see a large soft weather seal embedded into the lid ensuring my gear remains dust and weather free.
In my opinion, one of the outstanding features of the Pelican BX series are the steel mounting points which lock into their optional quick-release roof rack mounts. It takes me no more than 30 seconds to load or unload this case. It used to take me 3-4 minutes of wrangling filthy ratchet straps followed by the infernal humming of wind-flutter effect on the straps at certain highway speeds.
Another major benefit of the optional rack mount is the ability to lock the case to your rack via two large steel hasps.
African Road Test
- Location: Benin, West Africa
- Vehicle: 2012 Mitsubishi Pajero
- Distance Traveled: 1032 KM(641 miles)
- Conditions: Deep ruts, potholes, dust, tropical heat, rain, frequent heavy braking due to animal incursions, and extremely reckless drivers.
I currently live and work with a non-profit in West Africa. Since I am stationed inland, I usually make the 1000km round trip to the coast for supplies etc. On this particular road trip I was fully loaded with 5 adults plus a lot of luggage. To free up space my wife and I threw our duffles into the BX90R case on the roof.
Loading and Unloading
Since I have a large SUV, lifting and mounting the fully loaded BX90R requires strength and is rather awkward. It is possible if you’re able to shoulder press 80 lbs or so. For most folks, I highly recommend just loading and unloading the cargo case while it is already on the roof. It is easy enough to pack the case if you position it over a passenger door which allows you to step up and toss your gear in.
I do have a minor complaint: I wish Pelican had either made the molded side handles a little deeper or incorporated folding side handles. I find the handle is just not quite deep enough to get a good grip for a one-handed side carry when the case is empty.
Steel Tie Down Plates
Every Pelican Cargo Case has at least one tied-down point on each side of the box. The steel plates are located below the lid latches so you can still access your gear while keeping the case secured to your roof rack or truck bed.
The tie-down points are designed to mate with Pelican’s vehicle mounting kits but you can easily hook onto them with ratchet straps or rope.
I like that the mounting plates rest flush with the side of the case. The case has molded recesses to allow space for tie-down hooks and ropes to easily hook in.
The lid locks down tightly via four steel latches ensuring a firm weatherproof seal. Pelican doesn’t claim this case is submersible but it is certainly not going to allow driving rain or ice to enter.
Two steel braided retainer cables keep the case lid from over-extending when opened. I would love it if Pelican offered gas struts for their cargo cases either as standard or as an upgrade. As it is I could see a gust of wind causing the lid to slam down on my fingers.
Another convenient detail is that the lid is grooved to allow cargo cases to be stacked more securely. It’s a nice added function for storage or if you want to pack cases inside the vehicle or in a truck bed.
Depending on where you decide to mount the case, you may have to feel for one of the side latches. While it’s easy to unlatch the case lid by feel, I find that sometimes it took me a couple of tries to properly latch down the side I couldn’t quite see from my angle.
Recessed end handles provide adequate grip for two-hand carry, but are two shallow for one-hand carry when the case is empty. Certain models of the Pelican Cargo Cases offer fold-down handles.
I didn’t find any noticeable noise difference with or without the cargo case on my roof. That said, my 4×4 was already equipped with a large Front Runner Roof rack, so I can’t give you a useful noise comparison for a stock vehicle.
My turbo-diesel Mitsubishi Pajero is extremely efficient considering its hulking size. I went from 8 L/100km(29.4 mpg-US) highway without the cargo box to 9 L/100km (26.1 mpg-US) with the cargo box. That works out to about a 10% reduction in fuel economy. However, I would take these numbers with a grain of salt since results will vary widely based on your vehicle, engine, and driving conditions.
Overall, I feel my fuel economy results were acceptable considering that I was very heavily loaded for the road test and I did not mount the case in the recommended position at the rear of the rack for optimum aerodynamics. I chose to mount the case over the front driver’s side for the ease of loading and unloading.
Pelican Cargo cases can be locked at the latch via a steel hasp. Make sure to use a short padlock since there is not much room to maneuver it. Truth be told, bad guys will probably just want to steal the case regardless of what is in it. However, Pelican’s optional roof rack mount with heavy-duty steel padlock hasps would seriously discourage smash & grab crimes of opportunity.
Due to significant security concerns in West Africa, I didn’t want to tempt fate. Instead, I simply removed the case upon arrival in the city and put it back on before leaving town. The BX90R is a manageable size(suitcase size) so bringing it indoors after a trip is an easy option that you just don’t have with other roof carriers since they aren’t typically quick-release nor are they a manageable size.
For this reason, I’d rather mount two BX90Rs on my roof instead of one larger cargo carrier.
Optional Quick Release Mounting System
Pelican offers a variety of quick-release roof-rack and truck bed mounts for their cargo cases. While I find them a bit pricey, for my setup they are very much worth it. However, there are some applications I would not recommend the mounting system for which I’ll explain.
I’m fortunate to own one of the best 4×4 roof racks on the market: a FrontRunner Slimline II. It’s a rugged modular design with T-slot tracks that works perfectly with Pelican’s quick-release mounting system. It took me about 1 hour to align and install the mount.
Once the brackets are installed, attaching the case to the rack only takes 30 seconds.
Tilt the front of the case up and slide it backward until the mounting hooks engage the steel bracket on the back of the case. Next, simply lower the front of the case which automatically aligns with the front-side bracket. Insert the tethered retainer pins and you’re good to go.
Important note about T-Slot racks: The quick attach system mounts the case perpendicular to the direction of your roof rack slats For this reason, I would recommend just using ratchet straps instead of the mounting kit for racks with slats running the length of the vehicle(such as Rhino or Easy-Awn). Otherwise, you will be obliged to mount the case widthways which makes it awkward to open the case and access your gear while it is on the roof.
For the above-mentioned reason, Pelican’s mount is much better suited for Front Runner and ARB T-Slot roof racks or T-slot load bars since you can mount the cases on each side of the rack while still enabling you to open the case from the side of the vehicle.
Pelican also offers a mount for tubular steel racks as well.
Which Pelican Cargo Case Should You Get?
As of the time of publishing, Pelican has 6 sizes of their cargo cases designed for either roof top or pickup-truck beds.
For Roof Racks
I highly recommend the BX90R(32.4x15x8.8in.) It is small enough to be managed by one person, while still offering more space than an extra-large suitcase. You can move up to the wider and longer BX140R (41.8x19x8.8), but keep in mind that it will definitely be a two-person lift.
As I said earlier, if I needed more capacity I would rather buy two BX90R’s than go up a size for the simple convenience of being able to load and unload the cases by myself.
For Truck Beds
Pelican offers a number of cases and mounting kits for fitment most popular truck models. If I could pick one, I would pick the BX55S(3ft) or BX85S(4.6ft) and saddle mount it over the wheel well for quick access to the contents from the side of the truck.
The convenient thing about this setup is it keeps the truck bed free for items like lumber, plywood etc.
Cargo carriers with more aerodynamic profiles may offer better mileage, but fuel economy really should not be a primary decision-maker when selecting the best cargo carrier since they are rarely permanently mounted. Durability, practicality, and ease of use are far more important considerations than fuel economy.
For me, Pelican BX cargo cases solve 3 pain-points associated with most other roof top carriers:
- They are a much more manageable size for mounting and dismounting: Since roof-top cargo boxes are a temporary accessory, the most inconvenient thing about them is having to mount and dismount them. Unlike most cargo carriers, the Pelican BX Cargo cases are NOT a pain in the butt to mount or dismount.
- They are a more efficient space to pack. Rectangles are far more efficient for packing compared to those spaceship-shaped containers.
- They double as a multipurpose storage solution. Pelican cases can be used for other storage needs when not in use. Whereas most other rooftop carriers simply use up precious garage space.
For more on Pelican cases, check out my review of the Pelican Air 1535 that I use for my camera gear.