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Buyers Guide & Information

Best Kayak Roof Rack Carriers

Transport your kayak safely and securely with these top carriers for cars and trucks.

by

Buyers Guide & Information

Best Kayak Roof Rack Carriers

Transport your kayak safely and securely with these top carriers for cars and trucks.

by PITeam

by PITeam

Figuring out how to transport your new kayak can be challenging, especially if you have a car. The solution to this problem is buying a kayak roof rack. Whether you have a car, truck, or SUV, this buyer's guide will help you find what you need to transport your kayak.

A roof rack for your kayak is placed on top of your vehicle. There are a few different designs, which we will cover in this article, but they all safely carry your kayak on the roof of your car.

How Kayak Roof Racks Work

These models turn the top of your vehicle into a kayak carrier. They allow you to transport your kayak anywhere safely. They attach to the roof of your car, so you can easily place the kayaks onto the support beams for hauling. There is a roof rack that will fit almost any length kayak. You just need to choose the right one for you.


Types of Kayak Roof Racks

  • Temporary pads - These are best for cars with no crossbars on their roof. They have no additional railings on top. The temporary pads are inexpensive and easy to remove when not in use.
  • Crossbars - If you have a naked roof, then you should get crossbars installed. They will allow you to attach a multitude of different kayak racks to your vehicle roof. Crossbars run from the left to the right side of your car.
  • J-style / J-cradle - This design allows you to transport your kayak on its side. It saves space and allows you to carry more than one kayak on your roof. Many J-style racks will enable you to transport paddles as well.
  • Saddles with Rollers - This model often comes in a V-shape design. It also comes with foam rollers on either side to protect your kayak. It can be adjusted to the width of your boat. It keeps the kayak in a standard sitting position as opposed to on its side.
  • Carriers -  This model allows you to carry the kayak on the side of your car. The kayak will be positioned near your front driver or passenger door. It provides stability during rain and wind while driving. It is best for long trips.
  • Stackers - This type of roof rack is best for carrying multiple kayaks. You can carry as many as four kayaks on your roof. It allows you to position them on their sides, close together.
  • Lift Assisted Carrier - This unit is often the most expensive on the market. It allows you to place the kayak in the rack at waist level. It is suitable for users who usually load kayaks by themselves.

Benefits of Kayak Roof Racks

Using a rack for transport may sound like a hefty investment, but it is well worth the money if you take your kayak out often. This guide will outline the benefits for you.

  • Go anywhere - It allows you to take your kayak wherever you go. If you are planning a road trip, a roof rack will allow you to transport it for the whole trip without hindering your interior car space.
  • Safety - Roof racks also allow you to keep your car and kayak safe. By attaching it to your roof, you will avoid scratches or hull damage. 
  • Affordable - While you may think that a roof rack is pricey, a kayak trailer is a lot more expensive. It also requires driving skills that not everyone may have.
  • Multiple uses - A roof rack can serve more purposes than merely transporting your kayak. You can use it to haul camping gear or securely strap down a waterproof bag for travel.

Buying a Reliable Kayak Roof Rack

Vehicle Type/Compatibility

This factor will determine the type of roof rack that you are going to be able to purchase. A bare - or naked -  roof is one that has nothing on it except possibly side rails. The only option, in this case, is to use temporary pads since there is nothing to attach gear.

If your car comes with crossbars, you have a lot more options. You can attach a J-style, saddle, or stacker. Keep in mind that some of the factory crossbars have weight limitations. You can also get aftermarket ones installed. This will give you the most options for carrying around multiple kayaks.

Rack Type and Bar Height

There are many types of racks to choose from. The J-style is a common one for carrying a kayak on its side. It allows for multiple kayaks to be placed on the roof. The saddle designed roof rack is perfect for long journeys. It keeps the kayak in its resting position, which makes it more aerodynamic. You also need to measure the height of the crossbars from the roof of the car. These dimensions will determine if your car is suited for specific racks.

Design and Material

The design of your roof rack will depend on how many kayaks you want to carry and your vehicle type. J-style and stacker roof racks are great for taking multiple kayaks on the road. The material of your rack should be durable and easy to maintain. Most J-style and stacker racks are made out of high-quality aluminum. They are strong and lightweight.

The number of Kayaks and Size

Most roof racks are designed around the number of kayaks that you plan to transport. If you plan to carry more than one kayak, you should look into J-style or stacker options. They allow for carrying kayaks on their side, which saves up to 50 percent of space. Most roof racks accommodate any length of kayak, but the width may determine if the rack will be suitable. If your kayak is especially wide, you may need to check on the dimensions of the rack.

Traveling Distance and Usage

Kayak roof racks allow you to transport your kayak anywhere, but some of them may be better suited to long-distance traveling than others. Saddles tend to keep the kayak in its resting position, which makes it more aerodynamic for long distances. It also allows the kayak to be flatter against the vehicle. This helps with gas mileage and wind drag. If you are only going a short distance, temporary pads may be suitable.

Ease of Installation/Loading and Unloading

Everyone wants an option that will be easy for them to set up and use. Most kayak roof racks on the market tout an easy installation process. They also usually provide you with most of the tools that you will need. Many of the kits even come with tie-down straps. Another consideration is loading and unloading of the kayaks into the gear. If you often load by yourself, you may want to check out the simplicity of the design.

Budget and Warranty

Warranties can be an essential part of any big purchase. If you are going to be hauling your kayak around, you want to ensure that the parts and straps are under warranty in case something happens. The clamps of a roof rack should be able to withstand the allotted weight. The price range of racks tends to run from inexpensive pads to costly lift assist systems. Set your budget and stick to it!


9 Best Kayak Roof Racks Reviewed

1. Thule 898 Pro Hullavator Pro

Our Top Pick

Maximum Width

36 inches

Weight

39.7 lbs

Rack Type/Shape of Cradle

Lift-Assist System

Weight Capacity Limit

75 lbs

Max Kayak Capacity

1

Warranty

Yes, limited lifetime

This model is the only one that we have reviewed that is a lift assist system. It is revolutionary in its design and makes loading your kayak significantly easier. It is ideal for carrying one kayak, horizontally, on your roof. You can also buy two separate systems to allow for carrying multiple kayaks.

This system comes with the 898 Pro system, which can accommodate kayaks up to 75 lbs. It features two arms that lower to the side of your vehicle, so you can load and unload your kayak at waist level. The gas struts help lift the weight of the kayak up to 40 lbs, which makes it easy to put into position on your car. It also comes with Thule quick draw tie-downs.

Customers loved that this product gave them the ultimate freedom. They enjoyed being able to load the kayak by themselves without any issues. We really appreciated that this device had extra protection on the touchpoints of the kayak. It was also beneficial to have the extra tie-down straps, so you have everything that you need.

Pros

  • Lift-assist system
  • Comes with Thule quickdraw tie-downs
  • Easy to install

Cons

  • May be expensive for some budgets

2. Yakima Jaylow

Best Roof Rack Kayak Carrier

Maximum Width

24 inches

Weight

11 lbs

Rack Type/Shape of Cradle

J-style or stacker

Weight Capacity Limit

110 lbs

Max Kayak Capacity

2

Warranty

Yes, limited lifetime

These types of kayak carriers are ideal for most budgets and vehicles. This model allows you to fit one kayak vertically or two kayaks stacked. The load capacity is 80 lbs for one kayak in the J-cradle position, and 110 lbs combined for two kayaks vertically stacked. This unit also fits most car crossbars that have a minimum spread of 24 inches.

It comes with everything that you need to install it. This package comes with heavy-duty straps, bow, and stern tie-downs. Yakima boasts that this model comes fully assembled and can be installed in ten minutes! The roof rack also folds flat when not in use. This allows for better clearance and simplicity.

Many customers loved the simple design of this unit. They claimed it was an easy, tool-free installation. They also liked that the J-cradle allowed the kayak to sit securely and comfortably on their vehicles. I thought that the versatility in this product was fantastic. You can carry one or two kayaks.

Pros

  • Ability to carry one or two kayaks
  • Tool-free installation
  • Both J-style and stacker

Cons

  • Seems prone to wear and tear

3. Sea to Summit Solution Gear Traveller

Best Foam Kayak Roof Rack (Soft)

Maximum Width

36 inches

Weight

3 lbs

Rack Type/Shape of Cradle

Temporary pads

Weight Capacity Limit

180 lbs

Max Kayak Capacity

2

Warranty

Yes

If you are on a budget, then a soft rack may be the best option for you. It allows for flexibility when it comes to vehicle type and roof design. This model comes with two pads with large surface areas to help keep them in place. It features a daisy chain system that is easily manipulated to offer multiple tie-down points. 

It comes with a slip-resistant base to allow you to place the pads on the roof of any vehicle. This model can be used with many different size kayaks, boats, or boards. It comes with tie-down straps for the soft pads, so you can quickly and easily remove them when not in use.

Many customers loved that these pads were easy to install and budget-friendly. They liked the ability to remove them with ease. They also enjoyed that you have endless options for transport, as long as the weight or length does not exceed what your vehicle can handle.

Pros

  • Excellent value
  • Accommodates many sizes
  • Fits bare roofs

Cons

  • Not as secure as other models

4. Malone Downloader Folding J-Style

Best J-Style Roof Rack

Maximum Width

36 inches

Weight

12.2 lbs

Rack Type/Shape of Cradle

J-style

Weight Capacity Limit

75 lbs

Max Kayak Capacity

1

Warranty

Yes, lifetime

This model features the popular J-style design that is perfect for long trips while transporting your kayak. It comes with a built-in boarding ramp for simple loading and unloading. You can also fold it down for better clearance when not in use. It comes with large pads on the sides of the J-cradle for protecting your kayak.

Due to its clamping system, it fits most standard crossbars on vehicles. The JAWS clamping system is patented by Malone and promises a secure fit every time. It also comes with cam straps and buckle protectors. This model is also compatible with the Telos Load Assist System, so you can add it later.

Most users enjoyed that they could leave these in place without much road noise. Even when folded down, they were quiet at high speeds. Many customers also thought that this model was perfect for carrying one kayak on its side. The cradles also prevented scratching to cars, which is ideal when in transit.

Pros

  • Quiet at high speeds
  • Fits most crossbars
  • Large padding for protection

Cons

  • Prone to rust over time

5. AA Products Model X35

Best Kayak Roof Rack For Trucks

Maximum Width

38 inches

Weight

83 lbs

Rack Type/Shape of Cradle

J-style for truck

Weight Capacity Limit

2200 lbs

Max Kayak Capacity

2

Warranty

Yes, lifetime

This is the only model that we have reviewed so far that is exclusively for trucks. If you own a truck and plan to use it to transport your kayak, then this is the option that you should check out. This model is designed as a no-drill unit, which means it comes with 8 C-clamps included. It comes with two brackets and four J-style cradles.

It can carry two kayaks on their sides. It also comes with extended bolts for added security and four extra ratchet straps. They will help keep your kayak tightly in place. This kit also features bow and stern tie-down straps. It includes everything that you need to get started.

Customers enjoyed that this unit was designed for use with most standard size trucks. They also liked all of the extra accessories included in this design. There were plenty of extra straps and clamps to ensure that you would have no problem transporting two kayaks.

Pros

  • Made for most standard size truck beds
  • No need to drill holes
  • Can transport 2 kayaks

Cons

  • It is large compared to other models

6. Thule Stacker

Best 4 Kayak Roof Rack

Maximum Width

36 inches

Weight

7.1 lbs

Rack Type/Shape of Cradle

Stacker

Weight Capacity Limit

75 lbs

Max Kayak Capacity

4

Warranty

Yes, limited lifetime

Here we have another great product from Thule. This one is designed as a stacker kayak carrier. It is capable of transporting four kayaks safely. It features a folding design, so you can fold it down when you are on the road. Like other Thule products, it is quick and easy to install and remove.

It comes with enough straps to secure one kayak, but you can easily buy the additional straps needed to secure four. It allows the kayaks to sit on their side, so windage while driving won’t be an issue. It also comes with Thule’s warranty, which is known for its brilliant customer service.

Many of the customers liked the fact that this is Thule’s most inexpensive multiple kayak hauling option. They claimed it held multiple kayaks in place, even for trips up to 8 hours long! They also loved the straps that came with this model. The ratchet straps were simple and came with protective buckles.

Pros

  • Can transport up to 4 kayaks
  • Great value for the money
  • Easy to install

Cons

  • Only comes with one set of straps

7. HandiRack Universal

Best Inflatable Kayak Roof Rack

Maximum Width

36 inches

Weight

6.4 lbs

Rack Type/Shape of Cradle

Temporary pads

Weight Capacity Limit

180 lbs

Max Kayak Capacity

2

Warranty

Yes, Manufacturer’s warranty of 14 days

This option is the only one that we have reviewed in this roundup that is universal and inflatable. We recommend this option for people who are searching for an inflatable and simple design. This model comes with two inflatable pads that stretch across almost any vehicle type. They inflate to allow extra cushioning for your kayaks.

It comes with a HandiPump so that you can inflate and deflate on the go. This product is easy to store in your truck when not in use. It boasts five D-ring anchor points to rest securely on your roof. It includes two HandiRack twin tubes and two tie-down straps. 

Most of the users enjoyed that they could easily install and remove this product. They liked that it can be stored in your trunk without taking up much space. They also enjoyed the large load capacity of 180 lbs. This means you can easily carry two kayaks.

Pros

  • Large load capacity
  • Comes with a pump
  • Universal design

Cons

  • May not be as stable as other options

8. JDM Auto Lights

Best Budget Kayak Roof Rack

Maximum Width

36 inches

Weight

16.7 lbs

Rack Type/Shape of Cradle

J-style

Weight Capacity Limit

165 lbs

Max Kayak Capacity

2

Warranty

Yes

This model is designed for almost all crossbar setups. If your car has crossbars, this will likely fit them without an issue. The unit comes with two pairs of J-style carriers, which will allow you to transport kayaks up to 36 inches. It also comes with four extra tie-down straps.

They are made of high-grade steel and coated with a rust-resistant material for durability. They also feature large pads that will protect your kayaks when in transit. This model can comfortably accommodate kayaks of different sizes. It also boasts a wide-mouth J-bar design, which helps ease the loading and unloading process.

We enjoyed that this roof rack was an exceptionally great value. It comes with everything that you need to be on the road in minutes. We also liked the versatility that is offered by the J-style design. It allows the kayaks to rest on their sides.

Pros

  • Great value
  • Wide mouth J-bar design
  • Constructed of durable material

Cons

  • May be difficult to install

8. AA Products Double Folding J-Bar

Excellent Double Kayak Roof Rack

Maximum Width

36 inches

Weight

27.1 lbs

Rack Type/Shape of Cradle

J-style

Weight Capacity Limit

150 lbs

Max Kayak Capacity

2

Warranty

Yes, lifetime

This model is similar to the JDM product that we reviewed in this roundup. This unit folds down to allow your car to fit into low clearance areas like parking garages. The included padding will protect your kayaks. It is also sun and water-resistant so that it will last even in bad weather.

This device will also fit most factory crossbars. It is easy to install and use with most kayak types. It also comes with four ratchet straps included. This will ensure that your kayaks are fastened tightly to the roof even at high speeds. It is constructed of epoxy coated tubular steel.

Most customers enjoyed this product for its long-lasting features. It also comes with slip-resistant padding on the bottom. We enjoyed the value that you get when you purchase this product. The price point is great for budget travelers and kayakers. You can also use this product for many different things, such as a luggage carrier on road trips.

Pros

  • Long-lasting design
  • Folds down for clearance through parking garages
  • Padding is sun and water-resistant

Cons

  • May be difficult to install at first


Best Kayak Roof Rack Brands

After careful review of the kayak roof racks in this category, we have concluded that the top brands on the market are Thule, Malone, and Yakima. These products come out on top because of their high-quality production and customer service.

Although these models may be slightly more expensive than their counterparts, they are superior in quality and build. They also provide you with durable ratchet system straps as opposed to just tie-downs.


Installing & Attaching Kayak Roof Racks

Depending on the kit that you purchase, there are a couple of different ways to install a roof rack. If you have a naked roof, then you will need to purchase temporary pads or get aftermarket crossbars.

If your car has crossbars, the model that you purchase will come with instructions on how to attach it. Most J-style units will have a bolt and clamp system that will connect to your crossbars. You also need to ensure that you use the included ratchet straps to secure the kayak. We also recommend bow and stern ties; one to the front and back bumper of your vehicle.


How to Load & Transport a Kayak Safely

Transporting a kayak can be daunting at first, but follow these safety guidelines, and you will be on the water without a hitch. First and foremost, make sure that you have all of the necessary tools. Also, if you need assistance, do not load the kayak by yourself.

With a Roof Rack

When loading a kayak to a roof rack with assistance, both parties should position the kayak parallel to the vehicle. Then, lift it by the hull, not the lift handles, and put it into place on the rack. Next, secure the rack around the kayak. Use the ratchet straps provided to secure it further.

If you only have one person to load the kayak, you should improvise by placing a towel or blanket at the back of your car. Place the bow of the kayak on the blanket. Pick up the stern and push the kayak into the roof rack. Once it is in place, use the provided ratchet straps.

Without a Roof Rack

If you do not have a roof rack, you can still attach it securely to your roof. We highly recommend at least temporary pads to assist with this process. You can use foam blocks as well, but you will need to have extra straps handy. The process is similar to above, except when you attach the ratchet straps.

You will need to attach ratchet straps to the front, middle, and back of your kayak. You will run these through the doors of your vehicle and cinch them down tightly. You also need to have bow and stern tie-downs. Attach the bow tie down to the carry handle of your kayak and place the other end on a hook near the front bumper. Repeat this process with the stern tie-down.


Additional Accessories

Many of the models that we have discussed come with the equipment necessary to install a roof rack to your car. You may want to have a few extra ratchet straps in your car in case you need them. Also, some essential items include extra padding.

This can be used if you feel that your kayak can use the extra space between it and the vehicle. Always carry around the tools needed to adjust the roof rack. This may be a hex wrench or screwdriver.


Care & Maintenance

In general, kayak roof racks are low maintenance, but there are some things you can do to extend their life. For example, if you have a folding style rack, ensure that you always fold down the bars. This will ensure that you have enough clearance. It will also help with drag while driving. If not in use, the bars could wear out from wind damage at high speeds.

You should also frequently check on the joint and clamps of your roof rack. Make sure that you tighten them often and oil them accordingly.


Frequently Asked Questions

How do I remove a kayak roof rack from my car?

This will depend on the model that you have invested in. Most J-style units will need to be unbolted from the crossbar. Some models use a clamping mechanism. This will need to be unclamped for removal. Temporary pads are the easiest to remove. You simply undo the straps.

Do roof racks affect gas mileage?

Yes, but with the proper installation of a roof rack, you should not notice much of a difference in gas mileage. A roof rack will lessen the gas mileage increase as opposed to not having one.

Can you put roof racks on any car?

In short, yes, you can. If you have a bare roof on your car, you will need to install aftermarket crossbars or use temporary pads. For the best pads see the reviewed ones above.

Can I mount a kayak to a small car? Can I add rails to my car?

Yes. You can mount a kayak to any size car as long as you follow the manufacturer's weight suggestions. You can add aftermarket rails to most modern vehicles.

How do you transport a kayak without a roof rack? Is it possible?

You can transport a kayak without a roof rack by using foam blocks. You can also transport a kayak in the bed of your truck or SUV.

Should a kayak be transported upside down?

We do not recommend transporting a kayak upside down. It could cause damage to the cockpit. Kayaks should be transported in their resting position or on their side.

How do I know what type of vehicle roof I have?

You should investigate your roof before purchasing a roof rack. If your roof has nothing on it, then it is considered a bare roof. If you see bars running from the left to right side, then you have crossbars.


Conclusion

After careful consideration and review, we have filtered all of the best products from the internet to bring you the ultimate roof rack. Our top recommendation, if you can spend the extra money, is the Thule 898 Pro Hullavator Pro Kayak Lift System. It is revolutionary in its design to assist you with loading your kayak. It also provides you with added security that nothing will happen to your kayak. The gas-operated struts offer extra support.

If you are on somewhat of a budget, we recommend the Yakima Jaylow Kayak Carrier. It is a proven product from Yakima. They also offer a limited lifetime warranty, so if anything happens, you know they will have your back.

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