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best-kayak-roof-racks

Best Kayak Roof Racks For 2021

Looking for the best kayak roof racks? It can be confusing, because not every rack is designed to fit your car roof or hold steadfast on the highways. 

The best kayak racks come in a variety of types and sizes. Because of this, we at Kayak Reviewer have handpicked the very best kayak roof racks for you:

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Yakima JayLow Rooftop Mounted Kayak Rack
557 Reviews
Yakima JayLow Rooftop Mounted Kayak Rack
Premium transport rack for kayaks

Best Kayak Roof Racks – Reviews

1. Yakima JayLow Rooftop Mounted Kayak Rack

Yakima JayLow Rooftop Mounted Kayak Rack

What’s Good?
  • Superior build quality
  • Heavy-duty
  • Fits all types of crossbars
  • Reliable Yakima brand
  • 80 lbs capacity
  • Can hold two kayaks
  • Comes assembled
  • Racks fold down completely
  • Unique tubing design
  • Straps and tie-downs provided
  • Easy to follow instructions
What’s Bad?
  • Rubber coating over the tie-downs isn’t durable
  • Locks not included, sold separately
Summary

Our personal choice for the best kayak roof rack is the Jaylow Rooftop Kayak Rack. This is undoubtedly one of the best roof racks you can buy. The fact that it is made by Yakima, a leading industry brand, is reassuring. Able to carry two kayaks at a time, it has a weight capacity of 80lbs. Whatever the weight, you should be able to haul your heaviest kayak on this rack.

It will fit most crossbars, but their width has to be a minimum of 24 inches. Whether you have round, square or aero crossbars, 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, 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 to be aerodynamic 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 also designed to be user friendly, and 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 easy to follow instructions.

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 whistling 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.

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2. Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Universal Car Rack

Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Universal Car Rack

What’s Good?
  • Robust
  • Durable
  • 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
What’s Bad?
  • May not fit some factory crossbars
  • Some plastic parts can be difficult to fit
Summary

The Malone Downloader is a J-style kayak carrier that comes with several interesting features, such as a boarding ramp to easily load a kayak onto the rack. It also folds down for low clearance when garage parking and to reduce wind drag.The rack comes with oversized padding designed to protect your boat while loading or transporting it. Built with Jawz mounting hardware, it fits most types of roof crossbars whether they are round or square-shaped. Arriving with 60mm and 70mm mounting bolts and cam style, sturdy load straps with buckle protectors the Malone Downloader to hold your kayak in place.

Able to load a maximum weight of 75 lbs, you can haul one of your heaviest kayaks on this rack. Unlike other kayak racks, you won’t get any whistling when travelling. Plus, high durability means you can use them for months on end and they won’t deteriorate. 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. As an added bonus, your load times will be vastly improved with this rack.

One drawback is that the rack may not fit as securely as you want it to on some types of crossbars. If that’s the case, there might be a slight wiggle but your kayak will stay secure.

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.

A downside that another user mentioned is its plastic parts. The rack has some plastic components that simply don’t match up in terms of build quality. The teeth that interlock the mount are also 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 though, 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 quick and easy, and the supplied straps come in handy.

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3. IKURAM Roof Carrier Rack

IKURAM Roof Carrier Rack

What’s Good?
  • 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
What’s Bad?
  • Instructions for installation aren’t clear
Summary

The IKURAM kayak rack is an Amazon bestseller with a lot of positive feedback from customers. This rack has an interesting design – its oversized, thick and weatherproof rubber saddles combined with upright padding, protects your kayak from physical damage in the best possible way. The IKURAM rack is as robust as they come.

Holding up to 158 lbs of weight, it is far more capable than most other racks. Additionally, it can secure kayaks that are up to 42 inches in width, whilst fitting a variety of crossbar shapes including square, round and oval. It is easy to install on your crossbar and the whole process is astonishingly quick.

Loading your kayak onto the rack is easy. Simply lower the vertical beam and slide on the kayak, make it stand and lock the vertical beam in place. It’s far easier than lifting the kayak over the vertical beam, which tends to be a problem with some kayak racks.

When transporting kayaks, you can either have one in the J-cradle position or two stored vertically. Whatever your need, this rack stays secure and doesn’t let them budge. Furthermore, it comes with all the hardware you need to secure your kayaks: bow-stern tie-downs, and two 2.8 meters heavy-duty straps. These aren’t ordinary straps. With a breakable strength of up to 750 lbs, you can load as many as 10 kayaks with this thing and it won’t break.

Whether you’re driving 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. The folding down mechanism also helps with clearance when entering or exiting garages.

Customer service is extraordinary, and many users reported getting their issues solved promptly.

A downside is that the instructions provided aren’t necessarily easy to follow or accurate. Some parts need installation but don’t come with clear instructions, however, the rack itself is quite easy to assemble and install.

Overall, this is a solid contender that can give Thule a run for their money. Plus, it’s significantly cheaper too.

Buy on Amazon

4. JDM Auto Lights 2 Pair Universal Kayak Rack

JDM Auto Lights 2 Pair Universal Kayak Rack

What’s Good?
  • 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
What’s Bad?
  • No fold-down design
  • Foam could be thicker
Summary

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 loading and unloading quite fast, while also fitting 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 can 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 a 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 can be a good thing since it secures the boat. Some users recommend removing the entire rack when you want to take the kayak down, ensuring that an empty rack doesn’t whistle while you’re driving.

One downside is that it doesn’t fold down like the other roof racks in this guide. Fold-down features not only eliminate the wind drag, but also allow low clearance for garage parking. Another drawback is that since the foam is not thick, it could use more padding.

Some users have had problems with assembly. For example, some found the rubber was not pliable, arrived in a cramped state, the rubber holes didn’t match the pipe holes, and so on. However, for most users, the rack worked smoothly.

One suggestion is to use real wrenches, not those that come with the rack. This will make assembly much easier. Another suggestion is to replace the centre bolts with shorter-sized bolts. The stock bolts are slightly too big for most oval bars and could make things more difficult.

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 could need to glue some rubber under the carrier.

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5. Thule Hull-a-Port XT

Thule Hull-a-Port XT

What’s Good?
  • 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
What’s Bad?
  • Can be hard to reach straps for tall cars
Summary

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; along 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 will need to buy additional straps. For clarification, when loading two kayaks, one sits in the holder, while the other sits on the crossbars.

The Thule Hull-a-Port shows you that you get what you pay for, and it really is worth the price. Driving fast on the highway is now a possibility, without worrying about your kayaks getting loose.

Loading the kayak on this rack can be a bit tricky. If you want to load two kayaks, make sure to read the instructions, otherwise, you may run into some difficulty. 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.

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6. Thule HullaPort Pro

Thule HullaPort Pro

What’s Good?
  • Thule brand reliability
  • Superior quality
  • Nice padding
  • Easy to install
  • Fold-down design, especially good for SUVs
  • Easy to follow instructions
  • Quick on-off hardware
  • Fits most factory racks
  • Sufficient padding
  • Also compatible with SUPs
What’s Bad?
  • Can fail at high speeds
Summary

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 when 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 down is easy, just pull a handle. The rack comes with two ratcheting bow and stern tie-downs and two straps with buckle protectors. Everything you need 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 up to 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. Thule has paid a huge attention to detail, giving you the option to tuck straps together so they don’t blow around when you are driving. There is even a special pocket designed for this.

When you get the rack delivered, there are a lot of things in the box. Initially, it may seem complex, but construction is actually relatively easy. Additionally, installation only takes about ten minutes which is a massive help.

The J-cradle design allows for easy loading. Loading a kayak onto the Thule HullaPort Pro is easy and quick. Far better than buying a kayak rack which requires you to buy new bolts or spend 40 mins on installation.

The rack comes with easy to follow instructions, which makes it easy to get started. Arguably, the best thing about the HullaPort is it’s lightweight yet sturdy build. 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 perfectly holds paddleboards 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.

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7. HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack Bars

HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack Bars

What’s Good?
  • 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
What’s Bad?
  • Needs to be removed after use
  • Loss of pressure when travelling through the mountains
  • Instructions aren’t easy to follow
Summary

The HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack is a quality kayak carrier for those who want something reliable with a great weight capacity. Able to support a load of 175 lbs, the HandiRack is both heavy-duty and extremely lightweight.

Not just compatible with kayaks but also SUPs, canoes and surfboards, its unique design keeps your gear secure even at highway speeds.

The HandiRack has one major difference 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.

To inflate the HandiRack, the company provides a HandiPump. Since you can inflate each rack bladder in just 30 seconds, the whole process of inflation and installation on the crossbar takes about 5-10 minutes.

The HandiRack comes in a universal single-size fit and attaches to all types of car racks. It doesn’t require any side rails or gutters to install, which is especially useful if you have a small car without any crossbars on the roof.

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 your boat. It also comes with bow and stern lines that further tighten the hold.

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 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 that easy to follow – but you can always find YouTube videos to make things easier.

Buy on Amazon

8. Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal Car Rack

Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal Car Rack

What’s Good?
  • 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
What’s Bad?
  • Doesn’t work as well with wider kayaks
Summary

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 a 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 midpoint 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. The Jawz mounting hardware that comes with the carrier fits most crossbar shapes: round, square and factory oval.

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 fixed in place and the SeaWing carrier doesn’t shift either. Since there is no added wind drag, it’ll let you drive in peace.

The saddles are rather stiff, meaning you have to tightly cinch the straps to bend them and get a good grip over the kayak. When loading the kayak, the rack tends to slide sideways, therefore you must pay attention and tighten the straps 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, you’ll want a kayak rack that makes it easy to load and unload the kayak from your car. This makes the Seawing carrier an excellent choice for you. They also have responsive customer service, so if you have any issues, they will attempt to solve your problem promptly.

If the brackets that come with the rack are too 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 needing anyone’s help.

Another downside is that the rubber on the top of the cradles may wear out within a year or so. This is not good since the unprotected cradles can then leave marks on your boat.

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9. YAKIMA – Showboat 66 Rooftop Mounted Canoe and Kayak Load Carrier

YAKIMA - Showboat 66 Rooftop Mounted Canoe and Kayak Load Carrier

What’s Good?
  • 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
What’s Bad?
  • Not compatible with curved roofs
Summary

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 typical 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 time-wasting by watching 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 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 up to 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.

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 your whole car, allowing you to support the bow or stern by placing it onto the roller and raise the boat on the rack without needing help.

This easy to mount system works great even as you start to get older. 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 a curved roof, this rack won’t be compatible.

Buy on Amazon

What should you look for when buying Kayak Racks?

Kayak Type

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 to a place nearby or driving 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.

Multiple Types?

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.

Final Thoughts

Before you commit to buying anything, make sure you do your own individual research into the products to see if they’d be a good fit for you. With many different styles of kayaks and racks, the worst thing would be to buy one that isn’t compatible with the gear you already have.

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