Looking for the best kayak roof racks?
The best kayak carrier as per our research is the Yakima JayLow Rooftop Mounted Kayak Rack.
But why do you need this guide?
Because kayak racks come in various types. Not every kayak can fit your car roof or hold your kayak stable on the highways.
This is why we have handpicked the best kayak roof racks for you:
Yakima JayLow Rooftop Mounted Kayak Rack for Vehicles
The Jaylow Rooftop Kayak rack is one of the best roof racks you can buy. The fact that it is made by Yakima, a leading industry brand, is reassuring. It can carry up to two kayaks at a time. The weight capacity is 80 lbs, so you can haul your heaviest kayak on this rack.
It fits most crossbars, just that the width has to be minimum 24 inches. Whether you have round, square or aero cross bars, this rack installs on all of them. The Jaylow rack comes with a variety of settings to help you make the most out of it.
If you are carrying one kayak, it can be carried in the J-cradle position. If you want to carry two kayaks, just load them in the vertical position.
Despite being a heavy-duty rack, it is one of the lowest maintenance kayaks you can find. The rack is designed in an aerodynamic way too.
You wouldn’t need to buy any accessories to make it work. It comes with heavy-duty straps, and bow and stern tie-downs to secure your gear. When not in use, the rack folds flat to eliminate any drag and have better clearance.
You don’t need any instructions to get started with this rack. It comes fully assembled and ready to go. Its installation on your roof doesn’t require any tools and can be done in just 10 minutes. It is designed to be user friendly. The integrated cam lever allows you to set the upright positions without any hassle.
Unlike other kayak carriers that use messy straps, the Yakima Jaylow uses robust and lightweight tubing that secures your kayaks despite being small in size. The rack comes with instructions that are easy to follow.
Since they are foldable, it becomes easy to get in and out if you have a small garage. It also reduces drag while driving and helps with parking garage clearances. Finally, you don’t have to worry about quality when you are buying a Yakima product. So this is as good as it gets.
Some users mentioned getting a whistle sound with the rack. However, they easily resolved the issue by installing duct tape over the holes. Another user mentioned how the rubber coating on the tie downs started to wear off only after a couple uses.
The rack locks to your roof using the SKS locking system. To avail this, you will have to buy the lock separately.
- Superior build quality
- Fits all types of crossbars
- Reliable Yakima brand
- 80 lbs capacity
- Can hold two kayaks
- Comes assembled
- Racks folds down completely
- Unique tubing design
- Straps and tie-downs provided
- Easy to follow instructions
- Rubber coating over the tie downs isn’t durable
- Locks not included, sold separately
Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Universal Car Rack
Malone Downloader is a J-style kayak carrier that comes with many interesting features. It has a boarding ramp that one can use to easily load a kayak onto the rack. It folds down for low clearance for garage parkings and reduces wind drag.
The rack comes with oversized padding which doesn’t damage your boat while loading or transportation. It is built with Jawz mounting hardware and fits most types of roof crossbars whether they are round or square shaped. It comes with 60mm and 70mm mounting bolts and cam style, sturdy load straps with buckle protectors to hold your kayak in place.
It can load up to 75 lbs of weight, which means you can haul one of your heaviest kayaks on this rack. They don’t cause any whistling like other kayak racks. You can use them for months and they won’t deteriorate in quality. They lock down on the crossbar without any movement, so you know your kayak will be secured in place. You also get bow and stern lines to secure your kayak when you are driving at high speeds.
The rack comes with loops to keep the straps in their right place. Despite being high-quality and effective, the Malone Downloader J cradles aren’t as costly as others in the market. Your load time and unload time will be quick with this rack.
It may be possible that the rack may not fit as nice and snugly as you want it to on some types of crossbars. There might be a slight wiggle in such a case but still it will secure your kayak and won’t let it move.
If you want an effective fold-down kayak carrier and don’t want to pay a hefty price for say, a Thule kayak roof rack, the Malone Downloader is a great choice.
One downside that a user mentioned is its plastic parts. The rack has some plastic components that don’t have the best fit and are just average in terms of build quality. The teeth that interlock the plastic mount are made of plastic and can be difficult to lock sometimes. It may also take some time to set the two racks at the same angle.
Overall, the Malone Downloader rack is solid and does the job it is meant to do. The mounting clamps are strong and can be used with two bolt lengths. Tying down is easy and quick and the supplied straps come in handy.
- Folds down for low clearance
- Boarding ramp for easy loading
- Extra padding
- All hardware included
- Comparable to expensive racks
- Fast load and unload
- Bow and stern lines secure the kayak
- May not fit some factory crossbars
- Some plastic parts can be difficult to fit
IKURAM Kayak/Surf/Ski Roof Carrier Rack
IKURAM J-cradle kayak rack is an Amazon bestseller with a lot of positive feedback from customers. The Ikuram kayak rack has an interesting design – it has oversized, thick and weatherproof rubber saddles and upright padding that protects your kayak from physical damage in the best possible way. This kayak rack is as robust as they come.
It can hold up to 158 lbs of weight, which is far more than what most kayak racks can hold. It can secure kayaks that are up to 42 inches in width. It can fit a variety of crossbar shapes including square, round and oval. It is easy to install on your crossbar and the whole process is very quick.
Loading your kayak onto the rack is easy. You can lower the vertical beam and slide the kayak, makeit stand and lock the vertical beam in place. This is much easier than lifting the kayak over the vertical beam which can be a problem with some kayak racks.
You can either transport one kayak in the J-cradle position or two kayaks vertically. This rack secures the kayaks in place and doesn’t let them budge. It comes with all hardware you need to secure your kayaks: bow-stern tie-downs, two 2.8 meters heavy duty straps. These straps aren’t ordinary, they have a breakable strength of up to 750 lbs, so you can load as many as 10 kayaks on this thing and it won’t break.
Whether you drive across highways or rough country roads, your kayaks won’t be loose if you use this rack. The fact that the rack comes as a single-rack system means that you won’t have to buy extra J-hooks. The foam cushions are substantial and sturdy, so the rack is not just able to hold the kayak tight but also protect its surface.
The rack folds down so you can leave it when not in use or when transporting something large in size. Folding down mechanism also helps with clearance when entering or exiting garages.
The customer service is extraordinary. Many users reported getting their issues solved promptly.
A downside is that the instructions provided aren’t easy to follow or accurate. There are some parts that need installation but don’t come with clear instructions on the same. However, the rack itself is quite easy to assemble and install.
Overall, this is a solid contender that can give the Thule racks a run for their money. And it is significantly cheaper than them.
- Easy and quick to install
- Robust quality with substantial cushioning
- Folds down for low clearance
- Supports a gigantic 158 lbs
- Fits most factory crossbar shapes
- Secures the load without moving
- Thick rubber coating protects your boats
- Excellent customer service
- Comes with tie downs and heavy-duty straps
- Instructions for installation aren’t clear
JDM Auto Lights 2 Pair Universal Kayak Rack
JDM Auto Lights 2 Pair Universal Kayak Rack is one of the best roof racks you can buy for your kayak. If you don’t want to spend a lot of cash on a Thule rack, the JDM J-rack is the right pick for you. The fact that you get two pairs of racks makes it a deal that is hard to resist.
The roof rack is made with robust steel and enveloped with adjustable padding to protect your kayaks from physical damage. The J bar has a wide mouth to mount the kayaks easily. It makes load and unloading quite fast. It fits most factory crossbar shapes: round, square, oval and flat. This is a big relief since many roof racks are hard to fit on certain types of crossbars and leave some wiggle room between the kayak and the roof rack.
The roof rack comes with all the mounting hardware required to secure a kayak. It has rust resistant coating that makes it durable and ensures your kayak body doesn’t get damaged due to brushing off the corrosive frame of the rack. It can support as much as 75 lbs of weight and 36 inches of width. This is enough to load almost any type of kayak – whether you have a sit on top or a sit inside.
The straps that come with the rack are high-quality and secure the boat well. They aren’t as easy to disconnect as the company claims, but this is a good thing since it secures the boat. Some users recommend removing the entire rack when you want to take the kayak down. This will ensure that an empty rack doesn’t make noise or whistle while you’re driving.
The rack secures your kayak tightly. Your boat won’t buckle or blow around. Even when you drive at high speeds on the highway, there will be no rattling or noise.
One downside is that it doesn’t fold down like the other roof racks in this guide. Fold-down feature not only eliminates the wind drag but also allows you to have low clearance for garage parking. Another drawback is that the foam is not thick, it could use more padding. So you will have to be careful not to tear the foam.
Some users seem to have problems with the assembly. For example, for some the rubber was not pliable and arrived in a cramped state and the rubber holes didn’t match the pipe holes and so on. However, the rack worked smoothly for most users.
One suggestion is to use real wrenches, not those that come with the rack. This will make assembly way easier. Another suggestion is to replace the center bolts with shorter-sized bolts. The stock bolts are too big for most oval bars and could make things hard.
Another user quipped that it is better to be aware of what you’re buying. For example, the rack may not fit all types of crossbars despite what the company claims. So if you have thin crossbars, you would need to glue some rubber under the carrier.
- Sturdy and durable
- Holds the load tight, no loose ends
- Good, reliable for long drives
- Fits on most factory crossbars
- Comes with mounting hardware
- Solid quality straps
- Value for money
- Not as expensive as other J-cradles
- No fold-down design
- Foam could be thicker
Thule Hull-a-Port XT Rooftop Kayak Carrier
The Thule Hull-a-Port XT Rooftop kayak rack is one of the most popular roof racks out there. It is a bit more expensive than other racks but it is made by a reliable brand. The Thule Hull-a-port is a solid and reliable kayak carrier that can store up to two kayaks.
It easily converts from a J-cradle design to a two boat stacker. The rack folds flat when not in use. This is a really useful feature that eliminates wind drag and gives better clearance when parking in a garage.
The best part is that you don’t have to work for hours to assemble this carrier. It comes fully assembled upon delivery. It comes with all the hardware accessories needed to tie your kayak to this carrier.
Hardware includes load straps, buckle bumpers, and stern tie downs for one kayak. If you have two kayaks to load, you need to buy additional straps. When loading two kayaks, one sits in the holder, the other sits on the crossbars.
The rack doesn’t move or make any noise while you’re driving.
If you want easy and quick loading, you can buy the Thule’s One Key System that allows you to seamlessly lock the rack to load bars.
The Thule Hull-a-Port shows you that you get what you pay for. The difference in quality is loud and clear. You can drive fast on the highway without worrying about the kayak getting loose and falling off.
Loading the kayak on this rack can be a bit tricky. If you want to load two kayaks, make sure to read the instructions. Without knowing how to do things, you will struggle with every single step. Another thing to note is that the rack will easily work with thick and wide crossbars.
One downside of the Thule Hull Port, that some users pointed out, is that it can be hard to reach the straps. You might have to use a box or something to stand on and tighten the straps. For example, if you have a Jeep car, loading won’t be easy due to the height of the car.
- Premium quality
- Can store up to 2 kayaks
- 130 lbs capacity
- All hardware included (for one kayak)
- Folds down when not in use
- Comes fully assembled
- Doesn’t budge or make noise
- Optional one key system for easy locking
- Instructions are helpful
- Perfect for highways
- Can be hard to reach straps for tall cars
Thule HullaPort Pro Rooftop Kayak Carrier
Thule HullaPort Pro Rooftop Kayak Carrier is another quality carrier from the well-known Thule brand. It has a J-cradle design that allows for more space for loading a kayak. The fold-down design helps with better clearance and avoiding wind drag while driving. It becomes even more important if you want to use it on an SUV.
Folding it down is easy. You just need to pull a handle. The rack comes with two ratcheting bow and stern tie downs and two straps with buckle protectors. This comes with all straps required to load one kayak.
The roof carrier is compatible with most rack systems or crossbars including Thule, round bars and most factory racks. It can support kayaks that weigh upto 75 lbs and are up to 34 inches wide.
The roof racks fit factory rack mounting, aero bars and square bars. The entire surface is rust resistant for long product life.
The padding on the rack is sufficient for protection. The company has really given much attention to detail. You can tuck straps together so that they don’t blow around when you are driving. There is a pocket made for this function.
When you get the rack delivered, there are a lot of things in the box. It may seem like putting them together would be hard, but it is actually easy. Installation just takes about ten minutes.
Thule is an established brand and their customer service is responsive. If you have any issues whatsoever with your kayak, the representatives will solve the issue right away.
The J cradle design allows for easy loading. Loading a kayak onto the Thule HullaPort Pro is easy and quick. This is better than buying a kayak rack which requires you to buy new bolts or spend 40 mins on installation.
The folding racks come with a spring loaded design that locks them in the up or down position. Some users reported that the racks make some noise at highway speeds. But it is not much, nothing to be concerned over.
The rack comes with instructions that are easy to follow. This makes it easy to get started. The best thing is that this rack is lightweight yet sturdy. They hold the kayak so well that you don’t even realize there is a load on the top of your car.
Some users reported how the roof rack is not just good for kayaks but for SUPS also. Since it is padded, it can perfectly hold paddle boards in place. Thule has improved upon the installation process too. It upgraded from old spacers to carriage bolts that don’t require a screwdriver for tightening.
The only downside with the Thule Hullaport Pro is that they are way easier to steal than any other kayak racks in this guide. This is because there are just 8 wing nuts holding the rack onto the crossbars of your car. They need some lock to ensure that they won’t be stolen. If you want a quick solution, you can put a bike lock through them.
- Thule brand reliability
- Superior quality
- Nice padding
- Easy to install
- Fold down design, especially good for SUVs
- Easy to follow instructions
- Don’t budge at high speeds
- Quick on-off hardware
- Fits most factory racks
- Sufficient padding
- Also compatible with SUPs
- Easy to steal, no locking mechanism
HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack Bars
The HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack is a quality kayak carrier for those who want something reliable with a great weight capacity. The Handirack can support a load of 175 lbs. Despite being so heavy duty, it is lightweight
It is not just compatible with kayaks but also SUPS, canoes and surfboards. It is lightweight, but its unique design keeps your kayak secure even at highway speeds.
The HandiRack is different from the other kayak racks in this guide. It is an inflatable kayak rack, which means it can be deflated and folded down into a compact size when not in use. When inflated, it is quite sturdy and provides enough support to hold your kayaks. They also provide enough padding.
To inflate the HandiRack, the company provides a HandiPump. You can inflate each rack bladder in just 30 seconds – it is fast. The whole process of inflation and installation on the crossbar takes just 5-10 minutes.
The HandiRack comes in a universal fit and attaches to all types of car racks. It comes in a single size and it works with bare roofs, raised and solid roof rails. It doesn’t require any side rails or gutters to install. This is especially useful if you have a small car without any crossbars on the roof.
This is huge for people with more than one car. It is quite easy to attach and remove. Make sure to remove it from the vehicle when not in use.
Since it can be deflated and folded down, it can be easily stored in your car trunk and carried in a small bag. The best part is that you don’t need mechanical prowess to install this rack. No tools are needed since no hardware is involved.
If you are going to take a rental car to go kayaking, it doesn’t make sense to buy a steel kayak rack. That is where the HandiRack can prove to be indispensable. It comes with tie down straps that tightly secure the boat. It also comes with bow and stern lines that further tighten the hold over the boat.
Assembly is easy and quick. First, you have to secure the twin bars to the roof with a fitting strap that passes through your car doors. Then the strap is fastened in a cam buckle. The straps are made from quality fabric and feel very sturdy. The bladders provide a good cushion between the kayak loaded and the car rooftop.
One thing we recommend is to go into as many loops of the blinders as possible. This will tighten the hold over the kayak. The company also provides instruction and a video to show you how the installation is done.
One downside is that the inflatable rack can be stolen if not removed. Also, the air chambers tend to lose air pressure when you are travelling in high altitudes or mountains. The company could also improve on the instruction manual. Instructions aren’t easy to follow. But you can always find YouTube videos to make things easier.
- Unique inflatable design
- Lightweight but heavy-duty
- 175 lbs capacity, more than non-inflatable racks
- Air bladders act as a protective layer
- Universal roof bars, no need of crossbars
- Comes with tie down straps, bow/stern lines
- No tools required
- Easy and quick assembly
- Compact and portable
- Suits many car types
- Needs to be removed after use
- Can be stolen if not removed
- Loss of pressure when travelling in mountains
- Instructions aren’t easy to follow
Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier
Are you looking for a compact kayak rack that won’t take too much space? The Malone SeaWing is a low-profile kayak carrier that comes in a single saddle design. This design helps reduce the overall weight of the load.
The rack frame is made from rust-resistant polycarbonate material and the padding is made of synthetic rubber. Since the kayak rests on the ribbed rubber, there is no chance that it will shift or slide around.
It comes with an easy mounting system with its mid point being the mounting position. The strapping system is easy – just loop the strap around two points and take it up and over the kayak.
The cradle then flexes slightly to ensure a tight grip between the rack and the kayak – it also leads to better gas mileage. The Jawz mounting hardware that comes with the carrier fits most crossbar shapes: round, square and factory oval.
This is better than the J-hook carriers you see in the market in many ways. The system is not complex. And you don’t need to be tall like Lebron James to mount it on your SUV.
The rack supports 70 lbs. of weight, so you can haul up to two kayaks on this thing. It is well-built and won’t budge even when driving at highway speeds. The tie downs hold the kayak well. On the road, there are no issues, the kayak is glued in place and the SeaWing carrier doesn’t shift either. There is no wind drag either. It lets you drive in peace.
However, you can go one step further and pass the straps under the crossbar on both sides. This strengthens the grip since the kayak is now held by more than just the stock bolts. The straps come with padded buckles which is a nice touch.
The saddles are rather stiff, so you have to cinch the straps really tight to bend them and get a good grip over the kayak. When loading the kayak, the rack tends to slide sideways, therefore one must pay attention and tighten the straps really well.
The best part is that you don’t need any separate tools to get started. It comes with everything necessary to set it up.
If you are not big and tall, and want a kayak rack that makes it easy to load and unload the kayak from your car, the Seawing carrier will be excellent for you. Malone has responsive customer service. So if you have any issue with the product, they will solve your problem promptly.
Some users mentioned not getting the required parts (such as washers) for installation. They received a prompt reply when they reached out to Malone’s customer support and got their parts delivered within a couple days.
If the brackets that come with the rack are small for your crossbars, the company will ship larger ones to your home with zero fees. If you aren’t very tall, you can use a loading mat and load your kayak without taking anyone’s help.
One downside is that they are easy to steal. All that’s needed to remove them is unscrewing one bolt from each cradle and whoosh! – they are no longer yours. As an additional security measure, you can buy a heavy-duty bungee cord and run it around the crossbars. You can also buy stainless bolts and lock nuts.
Another potential downside is that the rubber on the top of the cradles may wear out within a year’s time or so. This is not good since the cradles can then leave marks on your boat. So better be careful.
- Solid quality
- Easy to load/unload even if you’re not big & tall
- Small size, low-profile
- Good for highways
- No wind drag or sound
- Easy strapping system
- Fits most crossbar shapes
- Responsive and fast customer service
- Allows you to load a heavy kayak by yourself
- All tools for assembly provided
- Easy and quick to set up
- Easy to remove
- Supports 70 lbs, holds two kayaks easily
- Easy to steal
YAKIMA – Showboat 66 Rooftop Mounted Canoe and Kayak Load Carrier
The Yakima Showboat 66 Rooftop Carrier is another great option to secure your kayak. After all, it comes from an established brand with a range of quality rack systems. This kayak roof rack has a unique design, which is much different than the usual J-cradle. The unique system provides a great mounting position.
The rack is not just built well, it is also designed well. The sleek 66-inch long crossbars sure turn some heads on the road and let people know that you’re going to have fun.
The carrier comes fully assembled – no waste of time, no need to watch endless YouTube videos. Installation is fast. The parts needed for installation include two 66-inch crossbars, rust-resistant stainless steel and brass hardware.
This roof rack will fit almost all types of roof bars including square, round, factory and aerodynamic crossbars. There is no need to get tools or hardware for installation. Everything comes in the package. The installation is easy.
The load-assist roller slides out over the rear of the vehicle. This provides ease of access and also protects your car from damage while loading or unloading. Moreover, the carrier is padded for added protection.
If you have a bad shoulder and don’t want to lift your kayak onto the car roof, the Showboat is a perfect choice. Loading your heavy kayak even on a steep launch becomes easy with the Showboat.
To secure the rack, you just have to turn some screws. When you want to remove it, you don’t need to disassemble it, it can be removed as is – everything is designed for ease of use.
The rack is sturdy and durable. It can support a kayak of upto 80 lbs of weight and have a maximum of 24 inch extension. Users have mentioned how it holds its value even after years of use. Some users have even loaded a few pounds more than the limit (we don’t condone it) without any hassle.
The best thing is that the roller assist allows you to load not just kayaks, but also other stuff because of its unique crossbar design. The positioning of the carrier is just right.
When in the retracted position, it clears space for the shark fin antenna and allows the rear hatch to open fully. When it is deployed, its extension is enough to clear all your car, allow you to support the bow or stern by placing it onto the roller and raise the boat on the rack without taking help.
This easy to mount system works great even if you are in your 50s or 60s. It is certainly a unique piece of engineering. The rack is good for highway speeds. You will notice no wind drag, no movement and no noise. It gives you a solid and secure feeling.
The rack comes with a lifetime limited warranty. Although you don’t have to worry about durability when buying a Yakima product, the warranty is an added bonus.
One downside is that it is not compatible with all roofs. So if you have curved roofs, this rack won’t be compatible.
- Yakima brand reliability
- Comes assembled
- Appealing crossbar design
- Installation is easy
- Easy to load/unload
- Supports 80 lbs.
- Holds value even after many years
- Versatile – can carry different types of loads
- Lifetime warranty
- Hardware for installation included
- Allows you to load kayaks by yourself
- Works well for big, tall cars
- Doesn’t move or make noise
- Not compatible with curved roofs
Thule Hullavator Pro Rooftop Kayak Carrier
Thule Hullavator Pro is one of the best kayak carriers you can buy. If you are willing to spend more on a roof rack that works better than almost any other rack out there, the Hullavator Pro is for you.
It is made for those who want to load their kayaks on their own and don’t want to bother their friends with loading/unloading. This lift-assist kayak rack makes it easy to load heavy kayaks on your own.
This feature gives you the freedom to just get up and go kayaking whenever you want. You don’t have to wait for your friend to help or even your significant other.
The Hullavator Pro is as robust as they come. It is made of aluminum and double coated with steel construction. It comes with gas-assist struts that lower the kayak and absorb 40 lbs. of weight so that you don’t have to struggle with all the weight.
The rack has its own “arms” which lower the weight, so that you can easily unload the kayak at waist height. The struts lower the kayak 40 inches down your car roof so that you can unload at waist level. The cradles hold the kayak in place while you strap it tight.
The self-lowering feature is great for those with back or shoulder issues. Or if you have weak shoulders in general, this rack will do wonders for you. People with weak shoulders have reported how they are able to load/unload their kayaks on the Hullavator in less than 3 minutes. Now, that’s something!
Be careful though not to push the kayak out from the bottom. This is because the cradles only hold the bottom and so the boat could fall out if you’re not careful.
The weight touch points where the rack touches the kayak are padded for protection. The cradles are rust-resistant and extend in width to fit wider kayaks. It can accommodate hulls as wide as 36 inches.
After loading your boat into the cradles, you adjust their width to the hull size of your boat, making sure the fit isn’t loose. The straps come with buckle bumpers that keep the buckles from damaging your paint. Once you load the kayak, use the tie downs to secure the bow and the stern. The ratchet makes it easy to secure the kayak.
The Hullavator keeps your kayak secure on the highway. You don’t have to worry about anything getting loose or falling out. Once loaded and locked in, the rack doesn’t budge and holds your kayak tight.
When the rack lowers down, it leaves enough distance from the car door so that there is no physical contact or damage.
Despite being an expensive rack, the Hullavator doesn’t come with locks. This is a big kicker that can extend your budget. Locks are needed because they keep the rack secure. So for locking the boat, you will need to buy an aftermarket cable lock. Some users bought the Thule 6 lock set for this purpose.
Keep in mind that installing the cradle units requires two persons unless you are 6 feet or taller and have strong shoulders and arms.
The Thule Hullavator Pro doesn’t fit any type of crossbars. You will need to buy Thule crossbars. The installation instructions further suggest that the ends of the bars should extend 4 to 8 inches beyond the rail anchors. This is to make sure that the rack doesn’t
ding your car doors while loading or unloading. Ideally, you should have 58 inch crossbars if you are using it on an SUV.
Using the “Fit my Vehicle” feature on Thule’s website can help make the installation process easy.
- High build quality
- Gas-assist struts do half of the loading/unloading
- Padded touch points
- Allows you to load/unload by yourself
- Good for weak shoulders/back
- Loading and unloading at waist height
- Good for the highways
- Easy installation
- Thule brand trust
- ‘Fit my Vehicle’ feature
- Unique technology
- Doesn’t come with a lock despite the high price
Types of Kayak Roof Racks
Kayak roof racks come in different types. Before you buy one for your car, make sure you know the function of each type of roof rack.
Here are the different types of kayak roof racks in the market.
Pads are a one-step roof rack. Just attack them on your car roof and get going. No complex assembly needed, which usually takes a lot of time and also the right hardware. The pads are made of inflatable material or foam, so they protect your kayak from physical damage too.
If you want a quick solution to load your kayak, pads can help you get started right away. The pads can either be inflatable or foam blocks. They attach to your kayak using the downward force of nylon straps, which generally come in the package. The downside is that pads aren’t as durable as a proper rack system, like a J-cradle.
If you want to buy a pad roof rack, check out the Malone HandiRack Inflatable Roof Rack.
J-cradle is the most popular type of kayak carrier. With a J-cradle, you load the boat from the side. This makes it easy to load or unload as compared to other rack types. J-cradle also saves the space on your car roof and provides the best stability. It is a huge space saver since you can keep gear under the raised end of the boat.
The short end of the J-cradle allows you to load the kayak from the side. The longer end holds the boat upright at about a 45 degree angle. The J-cradle position also allows you to carry two kayaks at the same time, which isn’t possible with all rack types.
Another advantage of J-cradle racks is that most of them, depending on the brand, fold down when not in use. This allows for low clearance for garage parking and eliminates wind drag.
The Saddle rack type has two grips that are attached to the crossbars on your roof and hold your kayak from below. The advantage of using saddle racks is that they secure the kayak really well and provide much better stability than J-cradles. Another benefit is that the two grips or cradles that attach to the crossbars are universal.
They can accommodate any type of kayak with any size. Since they maintain a steady distance between the kayak and the crossbars, they also minimize scratching and denting.
Since the saddle racks hold the kayaks in the natural position that they are in when put on water, they reduce the overall height of the cargo. This results in low clearance for garage parking. Moreover, loading the kayak on its base reduces the wind drag and in turn, reduces the gas consumption.
In the roller rack type, what you have is four attachment hardware with two rollers in each attachment. They make loading very easy as you can slide the kayak onto the rollers. This is especially useful when you are not physically strong. Roller racks are also well-suited for those who struggle with shoulders or back pain.
Loading is easy – suppose you put the rollers at the rear end of your car roof. To load your kayak, you just have to put the bow (the front part) of your boat onto the rollers. No more work needed – the rest of it is just sliding it on the rollers.
Another benefit of using roller rack types is that you don’t have to spend time on assembly or installation. They don’t need any installation using complex hardware. All you have to do is put in some screws and the rack is ready to go.
A roller-type rack system didn’t make it in our top picks. But if you are curious, check out the Codinter Kayak Rollers.
Although they are not that common, crossbar-type racks like the Yakima Showboat 66 prove to be excellent kayak racks. They come as a combination of two crossbars as long as 55 inches or so and attach onto the roof of your car. They are better than other rack types because it is relatively easy to load and unload your boat with the crossbar racks.
Another advantage of crossbar racks is that you can load any type of cargo because of their basic crossbar design. This is a huge benefit over other rack types. So whether you are loading your kayak or moving to a new home, crossbar racks can help you with all sorts of load.
As the name suggests, stackers allow you to stack multiple kayaks on your roof. This is perfect for those who like to go kayaking with their whole crew of friends. There is nothing more than kayak with your buddies without having to bring multiple cars for loading your kayaks. A perfect example of the stacker rack is the Thule Stacker 830 which can carry upto 4 kayaks at once.
You can even fold the racks down when not in use which leads to low clearance for garage parking and less wind drag.
Carrying four kayaks at once isn’t possible with other rack types. Note that although the name is ‘stackers’, the kayaks aren’t stacked one on top of the other. They are loaded one next to the other just like in J-cradle racks.
If you want your roof rack to be high-tech, buying an integrated lift system is the answer. Integrated lift systems are great because they have gas-assist struts that load the kayak up on their own, once you mount the kayak into the cradles.
Gas-assist systems are for those who want to load their kayaks on their own. They also help people who have weak shoulders or arms, or those who struggle with back pain. But anyone can use them, they let you be more independent and get going without anyone’s help.
If you want to buy an Integrated Lift System to load your kayak, check the Thule Hullavator Pro. Check the full review above.
What to Look For: Kayak Roof Rack Buying Guide
The first thing to check is whether the rack is made from a robust building material like steel or it is of inferior quality with many plastic parts. Some roof racks are also inflatable and made from foam blocks.
Type of Vehicle
Whether a roof rack is right for you depends on the type of car you have. So choose a suitable rack depending on whether you have a pick-up truck, a car, a van or an SUV. You can check the company’s website to verify that the rack is compatible with your car model. The same information can also be available on the product page of e-commerce sites like Amazon. Does your car already have roof rails or crossbars? Or does it have a bare roof?
Also, check the size of the vehicle. Is it an SUV or a small car? Depending on the size, you can buy an appropriate roof rack. Still, there are some roof racks that can fit cars of all sizes.
Type of Crossbars
Ultimately, you will install the roof rack on the crossbars attached to the roof of your car. So it is important to find out whether the roof rack can fit on the crossbar type. Crossbars can be square, oval, round, flat or aerodynamic type. Check carefully and then crosscheck on the product page of the roof rack if both are compatible.
You also need to check which kind of kayak you plan to load onto the carrier. Does it have a wide hull? Is it 12 feet long? How much does it weigh? Some kayak roof carriers can only accommodate kayaks up to 34 inches in width. Most have weight limitations as well. Check the specifications carefully.
Number of Kayaks
Some roof racks can carry only one kayak while others can carry four. Check beforehand the number of kayaks you will be carrying. If you are carrying more than two, you will need a stacker type roof rack. If you are going to carry either one or two, most kayak roof racks will be able to accommodate that load.
Terrain and Distance
Where will you be driving your car with the kayak loaded on top? If you are going to drive in a hilly area, don’t take an inflatable rack since it can lose pressure mid-way and you may have to fill it with air every time you go.
Are you going to drive to a spot nearby or drive across the highway to a bigger spot. Long-distance journeys with highway speeds need a more robust carrier than short-distance. You need to factor in things like stability, how tightly the rack secures the kayak, whether the bolts and the screws stay in tight or you need an additional lock, whether the roof rack can be stolen easily and so on.
Do you want to carry multiple types of boats? Perhaps you want to haul both your SUP paddleboard and your sit on top kayak. Well, the good news is that there are some roof racks like the Thule Hulla Port Pro that can be used to carry both.
Top Kayak Roof Rack Brands
A kayak roof carrier from a top brand will likely be of better quality than that from an obscure vendor. When it comes to roof racks, Thule and Yakima are the leading brands that make the best-quality roof racks.
There is a wide variety of roof racks for kayaks.
Some are suited for a local getaway, others are better able to stay in place while you cruise at highway speeds.
Our top pick is the Yakima JayLow Rooftop Mounted Kayak. It is a heavy-duty kayak carrier that comes fully assembled and fits all types of crossbars.
Do check it out!