Ranger 90 Folding Roof Box - Thule
A roof box might be used for two or three weeks of the year. For the rest of the time it needs a home. If you don't have a garage or a spare storage room in the house then this presents a problem as traditional roof boxes are rigid fibre glass affairs that take up a large amount of space. Masters of innovation Thule have come up with a neat solution, a foldable roof box.
It's actually more of a foldable roof bag, with a semi rigid base and sides, but let's not be picky, it does what it's meant to do and it does it well. When it's packed up into its bag it is 120cm long by 27cm diameter (actually it's 27cm square, not round). The base consists of a series of interconnected rigid panels that you roll out onto any set of roof bars a little like a caterpillar track off a JCB. I'm not sure that the rigid inner material is, but it is encased in the same durable material as the rest of the box. Once the base is rolled out the sides, which are similarly rigid naturally stand up. They are about 6inches high, with a very heavy duty zip running along their top. The front and back are not rigid (if they were, the thing would not roll up), but the material is stiff enough to stand up and keep the continuation of the zip going for three edges of the box. The 4th, non-zipped, edge is the front one, and forms the hinge for the lid. Putting the hing at the front means that the box stays waterproof when driving in the rain. The lid is a heavy duty caonvas-like material that you simply fold over your gear, and zip up.
Once the bag is rolled out, and the lid unzipped and folded forward there are 4 U-shaped metal bolts that need to be passed through pre-drilled holes in the base of the box, each one bridging the roof bars. There are a selection of these holes to choose from to allow some flexibility on where the bars sit atop your car. With the 8 threaded bolts now projecting through the base of the roofbox it's a relatively simple matter of fitting the 4 plastic automatic locking devices to them. These are very clever devices which grip the threads on the bolts to keep the box from moving when tightened. Rather than turning them on the individual bolts (8 of them) these devices attach to both bolts (of each U-shape) at the same time and have a clever push fit mechanism. Push them on as far as they will go, and then twist the device to lock it in place. Once you've done it a few times it's literally a few seconds job for each one making the fitting and removal of the box a doddle!
With the box fitted it's easy to pack. Most people will need to stand on the sill of the car with a door open in order to access the box, especially with heavier items. The box takes 280 litres which is a massive amount compared to its rolled up capacity. I found that the thing to do was to place a couple of larger bags first, and then to fill the spaces in between, then to zip up the whole things, squash and shake things down a little, to let things settle, then to partially open the zips and to pass in even more smaller items. On a recent trip to Mull we managed to get into the box: a 3-person inflatable kayak, two tents, all our sleeping bags and thermarests, as well as a large gas cylinder, football, and plenty of other bits and pieces. I was blown away by just how much stuff it swallowed. Despite packing stuff in I was careful not to stress the zips as I feel that these are the mainstay of the box, holding the whole thing together at high speeds on the motorway. The zip is protected from the rain and wind by a heavy duty generous baffle that drops below it meaning that no water entered the box at all in our week away. It's a double zip meaning that you can slide around both zippers to the point in the box that you want to access, and open it up just where you want it rather than having to unzip the whole lot. Once you are ready to go there are 4 heavy duty straps and buckles stitched to the lid that clip into 4 respective partners stitched into the base. Attach these and pull the cords to tighten them and it compacts everything further and takes any stress off the zips. It also comes with two removable straps which help secure stuff inside the box if it's not full.
There are eyelets on the zips to allow them to be padlocked together with the padlock that comes with the box. This padlock then sits inside a small canvas pouch so that it doesn't flap around in the wind whilst in transit. All nice touches.
My only frustration was a fairly unavoidable one - after rain, because the box is not rigid on top, water collects in small pools which means that when you then open it up you can get a drenching. Ideally you need to shake the water off before opening, but it's never possible to do this completely. With the box full this wasn't much of an issue, but we left it half full whilst we were camping for the week, and it became a more serious issue. Aside from that I think that it's a wonderful innovation, and one that we will use many times. The rolled up box lives with our camping gear and takes up no more room than a medium sized tent. I'd even see us taking it abroad with us and hiring a set of roof bars if we ever needed the extra capacity on a foreign trip. It retails for just over £200 which I reckon s an absolute bargain.