Any paddling enthusiast must own a kayak roof rack. Otherwise how else do you expect to transport your kayak conveniently? You could consider placing it in your car. But what happens when it’s 12ft long? This is when you’ll realize just how handy a kayak roof rack is.
In this article, we’re going to give you a round-up of the best kayak roof racks on the market coupled with a comprehensive buyer’s guide. So if you’re in the market for a kayak roof rack, keep reading.
- Features to Consider in Good Kayak Roof Racks
- Top 9 Best Kayak Roof Racks 2023
- Guide to Buying the Best Kayak Roof Racks
- Wrapping Up
Features to Consider in Good Kayak Roof Racks
Do You Really Need a Kayak Roof rack?
If you own a large truck, you might be wondering if you really need a kayak roof rack. Surely a kayak will fit into your truck perfectly, right? Granted, you might be able to fit it into your truck but first, think of the following repercussions.
Damage to Your Truck’s Interior
Do you really want to damage your truck’s interior? This is exactly what will happen if you continuously squeeze a kayak into your vehicle. The sharp edges are likely to scratch or tear your seat covers. You may not notice the damage immediately, but gradual wear and tear will happen over time.
Sure, your kayak may look secure on the back seat. But what happens in the event of an accident or sharp emergency break? This may cause injury to persons inside the car. It’s also important to make sure it’s completely chemical-free as this is one of the factors that may cause skin irritation. Always opt for a fabric that’s gentle on the skin.
Still, on the subject of passengers in the vehicle, sitting arrangements may be complicated if you include a kayak. Ordinarily, vehicles don’t have options for storing kayaks during transportation. As a result, this is likely to cause great discomfort among passengers since part of the sitting space is occupied by a kayak.
So, rather pick one of the following impressive units.
Top 9 Best Kayak Roof Racks 2023
Opting for this product means you’ll have a long lasting unit thanks to the base and cradle that feature corrosion resistant properties.
This Thule roof rack can accommodate a hull that’s up to 36” wide. And the carrier is designed to take approximately 40lb off the kayak weight. It can also carry kayaks that weigh at least 75lb.
The product is designed to fit a number of racks including Thule rack systems—except the Thule edge. You can also fit round bars which either have T-tracks or around the bar mounting options.
The rack allows for waist-level loading meaning you can either load or unload the kayak alone by lowering the kayak to 40”. And with this product you can load your kayak via the side of the vehicle which makes it much easier.
The manufacturer included gas struts to make loading and unloading easier, but you’ll need a bit of practice to get the process right.
The Thule utilizes a QuickDraw bow and tie-down system for secure fastening. It also comes with two center straps which feature car-protective buckle bumpers for added reinforcement.
Alternatively, you can purchase additional one-key lock cylinders that are designed to lock this carrier securely onto your vehicle.
What we don’t like
The manufacturer included different brackets to match different installation configurations. But unfortunately these brackets aren’t clearly labelled in terms of which rack they go with. This in turn makes the installation process longer.
- Sturdy design
- Very secure
- Takes time to install
- Cradles big and bulky
You’ll like that it comes with all the necessary accessories needed for carrying the kayak. You won’t have to make any additional purchases.
Like the Thule reviewed above, this product also has lots of padding to protect your kayak from damage as you transport it. The design of this rack allows you to transport the kayaks vertically. This means you can transport more than one kayak at a time.
This product is a pretty versatile unit thanks to the mounting hardware design. The universal JAWZ hardware can fit either round, square as well as factory oval cross rails.
This rack features an integrated board rack which makes it very simple to load your boat. You can enjoy quick load time and focus on the business of the day. You’ll also get a Cam style load which features buckle protectors.
The 60mm and 70mm pre-mounting bolts will allow for secure fastening of your kayak. The manufacturer included loops where you can keep the straps securely fastened.
What we don’t like
Unfortunately you won’t enjoy a quiet drive if you pick this brand because the rack produces a squeaky sound during transportation. Also, note that these racks are also on the expensive side.
- Easy to load
- Sturdy and solid
If you pick this unit, you’re guaranteed a long lasting rack because it’s made from stainless steel. Also, the frame is over-molded which adds to the rack’s durability.
The rack features a folding design which allows for easy storage of the unit. It’s also padded on all the contact points to cushion and grip your boat during transportation.
This Yakima rack is also known for its versatility. It’s designed to accommodate a variety of rails. But ideally it’s intended to be used to mount on vehicles that have raised side rails.
You can use it to transport one kayak in the J-cradle position. If you have two kayaks, then you can store them in a vertical position.
You won’t find installing this unit very difficult. And it also helps that the manufacturer included a risk-free torque set to aid in the installation process.
With regards to securely fastening your kayak, you’ll appreciate that the manufacturer included heavy duty tie straps and bow.
You’ll also be happy to know that this rack is SKS lockable. This system is designed to lock the kayak to the base rack with lock cores for additional reinforcement. But note that this locking system is sold separately.
What we don’t like
Unfortunately this rack also produces a noisy sound during transportation of your kayak.
- Easy to mount and remove
- Durability of base questionable
What sets this rack apart from the rest is the unique materials used in its construction. The rack is made up of 420 denier nylon. This textured material also acts as padding and is very durable. As a result the material will cushion and protect your boat during transportation.
The rack weighs 64lb making it a heavy unit. And it has the highest load capacity of all the products on our list; it can accommodate items up to 175lb.
Earlier on we mentioned how versatile this unit it. You can fit it onto almost any car including Honda, Audi and BMW.
The manufacturers included a kit with this product that has everything you need for hassle free installation. You’ll get two Handiracks, two tie-down straps and an action Handipump.
The manufacturer also included a manual with instructions to aid in your installation. And you’ll also find a portable drawstring travel bag to allow for easy storage in your trunk.
You’re guaranteed secure transportation of your kayak if you pick this unit thanks to the D-rings anchor points provided. Plus for additional reinforcement, the rack comes with extra long straps that’ll fit over the roof of your car.
What we don’t like
Though it’s designed to cushion your kayak, the same can’t be promised with your boat. A few users have noted that it’ll unfortunately scratch your car roof during transportation.
- Multi-purpose unit
- Protective material
- Travel bag
- Scratches car roof
- Produces whistling sound
You’ll be impressed by the materials used in the construction of these racks because they guarantee durability. The rack is made up of steel tubing which is 1.5” thick.
The glossy exterior on the frame not only makes the unit visually attractive, but it’s also designed to minimize rusting. The same finish also allows the racks to withstand extreme weather conditions that are known to quickly wear them out.
The unit features a rubber base and foam padding that are both water & sun resistant. Plus they also feature anti-slip properties.
This brand of kayak racks is designed to transport kayaks that are up to 36” wide and that weigh around 150lb.
The unit has an on and off feature that allows for easy installation and removal.
The manufacturer included four straps to securely hold and tie down your kayak during transportation.
What we don’t like
Though they are quick to install, you’ll find the racks difficult to unscrew.
- Quick installation
- User friendly
- Difficult to remove
- Instructions not clear
These J-bars are made up of heavy duty round aluminum tubing. This means not only are the racks designed to last, but they’re lightweight too. You’ll find soft cushions attached to each bar and this design protects the kayak from rubbing & scratching.
The folding design is yet another impressive feature. Thanks to this design, you can easily store them in your garage or in low clearance openings without the hassle of removing them from your car constantly.
You can mount your boat to the rack by using this device. And you’ll appreciate that this is a universal product. The rack allows you to mount it to existing crossbars. Alternatively you can install these racks on Vault Cargo crossbars.
What you’ll like about this set is that installation is pretty quick and easy. You start by attaching the carrier to the vault cargo roof racks. After which you can place your kayak for transportation.
The rack comes with a set of 15 Rachet straps for added reinforcement. By picking his brand you’re guaranteed a safe and secure way of transporting your boat.
What we don’t like
The gears are made of plastic and this makes their durability questionable. And it doesn’t help that they need adjusting after every use.
- Quick and easy installation
- Simple to use
- Ample support
- Durability questionable
- Not for aero cross bars
Like most J-style racks, this unit also features a wide-mouthed style. The advantage of this style is that it allows you to easily load and unload your boat.
You’ll appreciate how this rack is built to last. This is because the frame is made up of heavy duty steel which is very durable. And the frame is also rust and corrosion resistant which adds to its durability. The rack features padding that you can adjust depending on the load that you want to carry.
The rack weighs around 16lb which makes it a relatively lightweight unit for your kayak transporting solutions.
This model is yet another universal product. You can mount this rack on almost any vehicle including vans, trucks and SUVs. It’s designed to hold kayaks that are 36” wide and can fit most factory and aftermarket crossbars whether they’re round or square.
The unit comes with the necessary mounting hardware you need to make installation of the unit easy.
With this brand, you’ll also get fastening straps that are 8” long. These straps will keep your kayak safely attached to the rack during transportation.
What we don’t like
Though the frame is durable, we can’t say the same about the foam. Users found that it tends to rip after a few uses.
- Durable fame
- Rust resistant
- Durability of foam questionable
- Assembly instruction not clear
You’re likely to be impressed by the design of this unit as well as the materials used in its construction. The unit is made of steel, so by picking this product you’ll have a long-lasting unit on your hands.
The J-style rack is optimally sized. This means it won’t be taking up much space on your vehicle’s roof. You’ll also appreciate the wide mouth design—common in most J-style racks. Because of this design you’ll find loading and unloading your kayak hassle free.
Like most racks on our list of recommendations, this unit can also accommodate kayaks that are up to 36” wide. The only difference is that it can transport kayaks that weigh around 75lb. This means that this is the brand to pick if you plan on transporting a relatively lightweight kayak.
The hardware included by the manufacturer allows for easy mounting and removal of the unit. And the installation process is further made easy by the on and off feature present on this model.
The rack comes with brackets that are designed to securely fasten your kayak.
What we don’t like
We aren’t impressed with the bolt alignment. You’ll find the holes too small due to this misalignment. This makes matching the hardware to the rack slightly difficult.
- Allows for easy loading and unloading
- Misalignment of bolts
- Not for long trips
Like the Yakima rack reviewed above, this rack is also made of steel. It also has adjustable padding which is designed to not only carry your kayak, but also protect it.
The unit features a wide mouthed J-bar that allows for hassle free loading and unloading. And the carrier is designed to leave plenty of roof space.
The TMS J-Bar rack can carry kayaks that are at least 36” wide and that weigh up to 75lb. And the beauty of this product is that it’s designed to mount to all crossbars and load bars found on the market.
Installing the unit will be fast and easy thanks to the quick on & off hardware which allows for easy mounting and removal. You’ll be happy to know that the product contains the necessary hardware needed for installation of the unit.
With this rack, you can secure the kayak from the side of the rail. This means the boat won’t be taking up much space on the lead bar.
What we don’t like
When opting for the cheapest product, the trade off is that you won’t be getting a long lasting product. Some users have noted that the straps tend to break after a few uses. Others found the installation instructions not to be very clear.
- Easy loading and unloading
- Cushions& protects the kayak
- Durability questionable
- Cheaply made
- Instruction not very clear
Guide to Buying the Best Kayak Roof Racks
Additional Benefits Associated With Using Kayak Roof Racks
You can expect the following benefits if you use a kayak roof rack to transport your kayak.
This is undoubtedly one of the first notable benefits of using a kayak roof rack to transport your kayak. Since these structures are specifically designed to carry kayaks, you’re guaranteed an easy and convenient way of transporting your kayak.
Versatility and Convenience
Apart from the convenience kayak roof racks offer, they’re also known for their versatility. In certain cases, you may need to transport more than just your kayak on the roof rack. This can include a spare tire or extra bags. Investing in a kayak roof rack means you can add a few other additional items easily.
In addition, you can also use your kayak roof rack to transport other items like camping gear if you’re not going paddling. This also makes it a multi-functioning unit.
Storage and transportation of your kayak is made easy if you use a kayak roof rack. Roof racks provide an open storage platform. And this design means you don’t have to worry about the size and design of your kayak.
Do you have an extra long or wide kayak? You’ll experience minimal challenges in storing your kayak on the roof rack. You only need to ensure that you tie it down securely.
Are you planning on transporting more than one kayak? Depending on the type you pick, certain kayaks allow for transportation of multiple kayaks
Kayak Roof Racks are Affordable
Granted, you can always opt to transport your kayak using a trailer. But did you know that kayak trailers are more expensive compared to using kayak roof racks? Kayak trailers have special registration requirements—something you don’t have to worry about when using a kayak roof rack.
This ultimately makes using roof racks a cheaper alternative. Also, using a kayak trailer means your truck needs a towing package. All these factors significantly contribute to the final cost of transportation when using a kayak trailer.
Easy to Store
When not in use, you’ll appreciate how easy it is to store a kayak roof rack. Not only are these structures easy to dismount, but they’re also easy to fold down for easy storage. This way you can store it almost anywhere.
Types of Roof Racks
Note that there are different types to pick from depending on your preference. We’ll outline the most basic types including where they best excel:
- Built in roof racks/bars: As the name suggests, these racks are integrated units already attached on the vehicle. If you’re a frequent paddler, you’ll find this type convenient. You can decide to simply add foam on the rack to cushion your boat during transportation.
- Foam adapter: These are generally ideal for short drives. And most users appreciate how easy they are to install and remove. If your vehicle doesn’t have a built in roof rack, then you can opt for foam adapters. And these are by far the most preferred type by users all around. We believe one of the main reasons for their popularity is because they’re a relatively inexpensive option. The only limitation with foam adapters is you can’t fit more than one kayak at a time. So if you’re planning on transporting multiple kayaks, then this option isn’t for you. The only major drawback with this type is they aren’t as sturdy; your kayak may slip off especially if you travel at high speeds.
- Permanent roof racks: This is the type to opt for if your vehicle already has built in rails. Most people prefer this type because it’s considered to be the most secure. But nonetheless you still need to ensure that your kayak is tied down securely.
- Saddles: Saddles feature a V-shape which is designed to securely hold—and support—your kayak. You can either pick a single saddle if you want to transport one kayak or more if you are transporting more than one. What users appreciate about this type is their aerodynamic functionality. This means if you pick this option, you can expect a quiet drive. Saddles are designed to significantly reduce the amount of noise produced as you transport your kayak when compared to other types of racks. Also, they offer greater security compared to other models—especially in extremely windy conditions.
- J-Cradles: As the name suggests, these racks are J-shaped. J-Cradles are among the most popular racks because of their smaller footprint. With these racks, you can rest the kayak on its side as opposed to upright. As a result you can easily fit more than one kayak on these racks—even if your vehicle has a narrow roof. This type is also considered to be very secure and makes it easy for you to load your kayak. With most racks, you have to load your kayak by lifting it over the back of the vehicle which can be very daunting. The process is made simpler if you pick J-Cradles because they allow you to load your kayak from the side.
- Stackers: Like J-Cradles, stackers are designed to hold kayaks in place on their side. Installing stackers is a breeze. You’ll appreciate how easy they are to use and not forgetting how inexpensive they are. Since you store the kayaks on their sides you can stack multiple kayaks which you’ll find convenient if you’re planning on transporting more than one.
What to Consider Before Picking a Kayak Root Rack
You now have a list of possible products to pick from, their various types and benefits. So how will you know which one is best suited for your needs? Considering the following factors will help make your selection process much easier and quicker.
Type of Car Roof
It’s important to first consider the type of car roof you have because this will determine installation. We list a few examples of car roof and possible rack solutions:
- Bare roof: If your car has a bare roof, then your only solution is to pick foam pads.
- Side rails: If your car has side rails but no cross bar, you’re also limited to picking foam pads. You do have the option of adding aftermarket crossbars if you want to pick another more secure form of rack.
- Crossbars: It’s safe to say you’re spoilt for choice if your car has crossbars. This is because crossbars make it easy to attach most types of racks.
Number of Kayaks to Be Transported
Before you purchase a roof rack, it’s important to consider the number of kayaks you plan on transporting to avoid disappointments. A mentioned earlier, some types of racks like saddles can only accommodate one kayak. So pick wisely.
Distance of Drive
Needless to say, long drives will need very secure racks to avoid your kayaks from falling. Foam pads are not recommended for long drives as stated above. But regardless of the duration of your trip—or type of rack you pick—always ensure that your kayak is securely fastened.
Frequency of Kayaking
Yes, the number of times you go kayaking will also determine the model you purchase. If you only have time for one annual kayaking trip, there’s really no point in purchasing the most expensive rack on the market. But of course it’s a matter of preference and availability of finances.
On the other hand, if you’re a frequent kayaker, you won’t be doing yourself any favors by purchasing the cheapest kayak on the market. Regular use means you’ll need a sturdy kayak that’s built to last. The last thing you need is a rack that will break prematurely resulting in repeat purchases.
Also make sure that the kayak you pick is easy to install and remove since you’ll be doing that frequently. Alternatively, you can always leave the rack on your car since you’ll be using it often.
Weight of Kayak
How heavy is your kayak? If your kayak is a little on the heavier side, it’s advisable to purchase roof racks that have lifting features to make the job easier.
These can include bars that are designed to slide out or bend downwards. This way you don’t have to worry about the hassle involved with lifting a kayak high up in a bid to strap it in. But note that kayaks with such special features are likely to cost you more.
Features to Look Out For On Your Kayak Roof Rack
Aside from the above mentioned considerations, there are a number of features you need to look out for in a kayak. These features will determine a number of factors including performance and durability.
The material used in the construction of your kayak roof rack will significantly determine durability of the unit. Avoid flimsy materials like plastic. Not only do they tend to break easily, but if this happens during your drive, chances are your kayak will fly off.
Rather opt for racks made from sturdy materials like steel if you expect a long lasting unit.
Design of Roof Rack
These roof racks are available in different designs. If you decide to opt for a multi-purpose rack, make sure that it can also fit a kayak otherwise it defeats the whole purpose.
How high is the bar on the rack? A higher bar will make the task of loading and unloading the kayak cumbersome—especially if you’re short.
The price is likely to reflect the quality of the product. In most cases cheaper kayak roof racks are made from cheaper materials. And this negatively impacts on durability. Avoid the cheaper brands where possible if you expect a quality product.
While on the subject of brands, it’s important to consider who manufactured your kayak. Here’s why; reputable brands have experience in manufacturing kayaks so you’re guaranteed high quality products. Also, you get to read reviews associated with their products from first hand users.
How to Transport More Than One Kayak
Follow these easy steps and you may very well be able to transport up to five kayaks! We’ll explain the process involved when transporting your kayak using either foam pad or permanent roof rail systems.
How to Transport Using Foam Pad Racks
When transporting your kayaks using foam pad racks you can follow these steps:
- Place the foam pads on the roof of your vehicle with the flat side facing down
- Then place the kayak on the surface of the foam pad
- Securely attach your tie down straps from the kayak to the vehicle
TIP: It’s advisable to use extra foam padding to protect and cushion your car from scratches.
How to Transport Kayaks Using Permanent Roof Rails
If you’re using permanent roof rails to transport your kayak, then you can follow these steps:
- The first step is to determine the exact type of rack that’s designed to mount onto your rails
- Tie down the kayak either using straps or the built in locking systems provided
- Add extra straps for additional reinforcement.
TIP: Make sure that the rack you pick doesn’t collide with your garage door as you drive your vehicle out.
So which kayak roof rack will you be buying? No doubt, the one you pick will be based on your budget. But more than the cost of the kayak make sure it meets your needs where performance, durability and ease of use are concerned. You don’t want any regrets regarding your investment, right?