Best Kayak Roof Racks 2020

Want to explore the wilderness with your kayak but are unable to do so because transporting the kayak seems too difficult?

Not everyone has space for a 10+ feet long kayak but using a reliable kayak roof rack means easier and safer travels for your kayak and vehicle.

With our complete and detailed review of the best kayak roof racks available in the market, you’ll easily be able to compare and pick one that suits your adventure needs!

Types of Roof Kayak Carriers

An overview of the various options available in roof kayak carriers can prove helpful because once you pick a type, all you need to do is pick a model then! Here are some of the most common and widely available types of kayak racks:

  1. Temporary Pads
  2. Saddles
  3. J-Cradles
  4. Stackers
  5. Crossbars

Continue reading for a detailed overview of each of them.

Temporary Pads

Pads prove to be the most convenient option if you have a vehicle with a naked roof since these since temporary pads don’t require any base rack system installed on your car’s roof. In addition to this, pads prove to be the easiest solution in terms of installation as they offer a quick and simple process. No crossbars or factory rack on your vehicle? No problem. Temporary pads basically consist of straps that go around the inside of your car along the roof and over the top, where they are attached to foam or inflatable padding. Your kayak, luggage or furniture rests on top of the pads and can be tied down for transport. 

 For the above-mentioned reasons, temporary pads would be the most suitable option for you if you plan on taking the occasional kayaking trip. Therefore, they are an excellent choice for those who just don’t want or need a permanent rack system installed on their vehicle. However, it is important to remember that these pads are not really meant to be a heavy-duty or long-lasting solution.

Saddles

Saddles are essentially pads, ones that extend from your base rack to the bottom of the kayak – either as a single cradle or two separate pieces that adjust to the width of your boat. Advantages of saddles primarily include offering a much wider surface for the kayak to rest on which not only means more protection for your car but offers you a less noisy kayak placement solution by using the aerodynamics of the kayak to cut down wind resistance. This also means additional security allowing you to transport your kayak through storms and heavy winds. A rack of this type can use either a single pair of saddles or two pairs of saddles to hold a kayak. Like the J-type, saddles are good for larger boat sizes.

J-Cradles

J-cradles or j-style kayak racks are the world’s most popular kayak roof racks and are called so because they are designed in the J shape form. J-cradles are set at a precise 45-degree angle which means that you now also have more space available for your other luggage and adventure gadgets such as bicycles even! 

Also keep in mind that if your vehicle has a narrow roof and you plan to cart a couple of kayaks, saddles and rollers won’t work as they haul the kayaks in a vertical position. Therefore, J-Cradles provide a much better, safer, and more secure multi-purpose option. Just make sure to remember that if you do possess a particularly heavy kayak, you may have trouble finding the strength to haul them sideways. This is especially true when the weather is rough or when you have exhausted all your energy from hours of kayaking. J-cradles are therefore not ideal for paddlers who are short or too old to lift the boat to the roof of the car.

Stackers

As evidenced by the name, stackers offer the unique possibility of stacking multiple kayaks on your roof and are perfect for kayak enthusiasts. Your boats will stand on their edge with this type of rack, leaving lots of room on your roof for other stuff. Stackers arrange your kayaks in an upright position on their sides, taking up about 50% less crossbar space per boat thereby offering maximum boat capacity. They work well with any type of kayak, with the exception of kayaks with very wide tandem sit-on-tops.

Crossbars

Crossbars are the most primary yet most significant type of kayak roof carrier that has been frequently used by individuals to transport kayaks safely. These are essentially solid and sturdy bars that can be attached to the roof of your vehicle by either going onto the roof rails or by attaching to any other type of hardware that is mounted. This is extremely beneficial as it offers the possibility of attaching almost anything to them: bicycle racks, cargo bags, and boxes, as well as many types of kayak racks. It is also possible to attach your kayak directly to the crossbars however it is best to use these to supplement your kayak roof rack model you choose to settle on. 

Our Top 11 Kayak Roof Racks

Thule Hullavator Pro Carrier

Thule Hullavator Pro Rooftop

Check Thule Hullavator Pro on Amazon

Pros Cons
Car-protective buckle bumpers  Only works with Thule crossbars 
Protective padding Brackets are not clearly labeled
Corrosion Resistant   

This kayak roof rack is helpful and unique. You’ve never seen anything quite like it and it will change the way you load and mount your kayaks, SUPs, and surfboards!

Specification:

  • Colour: Black/Silver
  • Carries: Up to 2 Kayaks
  • Carrying Style: Horizontal 
  • Capacity: 75 pounds
  • Assist Feature:

Load and Lift:

  • Roof Rack Compatibility: AeroBlade, SquareBar

Key Features:

  • Perfect strap and anchor lines for easy attachment of kayak to the car at waist-level
  • Lift-assist feature coupled with 40 lbs. assist gas struts to completely secure kayak on the car roof 

Pros:

  • Weight can be sustained
  • Includes car-protective buckle bumpers and protective padding to avoid unnecessary scratches
  • Corrosion Resistant 

Cons:

  • Only works with Thule crossbars/Quick Loop Strap and requires a separate lock system
  • Brackets aren’t clearly labeled in terms of which rack they go with

Thule Hull-A-Port XT Kayak Rack

Thule Hull-a-Port XT

Check Thule Hull-a-Port XT on Amazon

Pros Cons
Solid build  Foam cushioning can wear over time 
Easy Installation  Does not have locks
Universal fit  

The best part about these J racks by Thule is that they aren’t collapsible thus becoming the best contender for a kayak roof rack carrier. It’s a fine choice especially if you want to ensure the best and most secure way to mount your kayaks.

Specification:

  • Colour: Black
  • Carries: Up to 2 Kayaks
  • Carrying Style: Vertical
  • Capacity: 130 lbs.
  • Assist Feature: No assist
  • Roof Rack Compatibility: AeroBlade, SquareBar, Factory Racks

Key Features: 

  • Sufficient load straps and tie-downs that come with the product which attach to already existing crowbars

Pros:

  • Solid build quality for the price
  • Easy Installation 
  • Tool-free and universal fit

Cons:

  • Foam cushioning may be prone to wear over time and weathering
  • The product does not include locks

Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier

Malone SeaWing Saddle Style

Check Malone SeaWing Saddle on Amazon

Pros Cons
Cost-effective Depends on the bow and stern straps  
Easy-to-set-up  
Minimizes wind resistance  

Cost-effective and adaptable. An excellent option for a kayak or paddleboard roof rack! This is a great choice when you’re traveling long distances or over rough terrain. This is the best choice for those looking to mount their kayaks by themselves; mounting it bow-first from the back of your vehicle and then sliding the stern up afterward and thus avoiding bearing its full weight!

Specification:

  • Colour: Black
  • Carries: Up to 2 kayaks
  • Carrying Style: Horizontal
  • Capacity: 70 lbs.

Key Features:

  • Saddles are made from non-corrosive molded nylon
  • Flexes gently to cradle the boat and improve gas mileage

Pros:

  • Cost-effective and adaptable
  • Easy-to-set-up mid-point mounting takes up minimal roof space
  • Minimizes wind resistance allowing for excellent stability

Cons:

  • Depends on the bow and stern straps, therefore, the car requires mounting points

Yakima JayLow Folding J-Cradle Rooftop Kayak Rack

YAKIMA - JayLow Rooftop Mounted Kayak Rack

Check Yakima JayLow Folding on Amazon

Pros Cons
No Tools Needed The locking system is sold separately 
Universally Compatible   
Folds down easily  

Incorporating most of the features of the other J-style roof racks and at a reasonable price. J-cradles also allows you to transport your kayak on its side, giving you more space to load additional gear or a second kayak.

Specification:

  • Colour: Black
  • Carries: Up to 2 Kayaks
  • Carrying Style: Vertical
  • Capacity: 110 pounds

Key Features:

  • Fits Most Crossbars: Compatible with Yakima Streamline and round, square, factory and aerodynamic crossbars; Minimum crossbar spread of 24″
  • Comes with heavy-duty securing straps and bow/stern tie-downs and extra padded contact points
  • This rack does double duty by offering the utility of a traditional style J rack and multi-boat storage capability of a stacker

Pros:

  • No Tools Needed: Comes out of the box fully assembled
  • Great support
  • Folds down and locks in the down position for additional security – allowing you to leave the rack on your roof.

Cons:

  •  The locking system is sold separately 

Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier

Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Check Malone Downloader Folding on Amazon

Pros Cons
Easy installation    Incompatible clamp system 
Great for transportation  Produces squeaky sounds
Corrosion-resistant   

One unique feature is the angled lip built to help you load the kayak more easily. A nice feature for protecting the paint job of your car! Also, it includes extra-thick padding on the cradle arms to protect your boat making it one of the best ways to secure a kayak on a roof rack.

Specification:

  • Colour: Black
  • Carries: Up to 1 Kayak
  • Carrying Style: Vertical
  • Capacity: 75 lbs.

Key Features:

  • J-style kayak carrier with built-in boarding ramp for easy loading 
  • Corrosion-resistant aluminum construction
  • Oversized padding that protects the kayak during transportation
  • The fold-down feature that provides low-clearance access when not in use
  • Built-in “loading ramp” to make pushing heavier boats up and into the rack easier.

Pros:

  • Easy installation with universal fit mounting hardware
  • Great for transportation 

Cons:

  • Few users complain about the clamp system not being a perfect fit for roof racks
  • Unfortunately, you won’t enjoy a quiet drive because the rack produces a squeaky sound during transportation. 

HandiRack Inflatable Universal Roof Top Rack

HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack Bars

Check HandiRack Inflatable Universal on Amazon

Pros Cons
Beginner-friendly Air chambers can’t sustain excessive heat or pressure 
  No tools needed Fit cars that DO NOT already possess roof racks
Can be used to carry all sorts of items   

The fact that they’re inflatable is what makes them such a convenient choice for keeping in the trunk and deploying on the occasion where the need arises. A great, easy, and simple kayak car roof rack!

Specification:

  • Colour: Black/Blue
  • Carries: Up to 1 Kayak
  • Carrying Style: Vertical
  • Capacity: 180 lbs.
  • The system consists of two inflatable pads made of 

Key Features:

  • 420-denier nylon with air chambers inside
  • A double-action pump is included to fill the pads with air

Pros:

  • The straightforward, quick and easy roof rack system that will fit almost any type of vehicle
  • No crossbars or other tools needed
  • Can be used to carry all sorts of items: Canoe Rack, Kayak, Surfboard Rack, Winter Sports Rack, and even Luggage

Cons:

  • Air chambers can’t sustain excessive heat or pressure over long durations
  • No special features or extra materials
  • Will only fit cars that DO NOT already possess roof racks

The Kayak Wing – Sea Kayak Rack with Covered Straps

Kayak Wing - Sea Kayak Rack with Yellow Straps

Check Sea Kayak Rack on Amazon

Pros Cons
Sturdy design Requires a cockpit cover for the kayaks  
Reliable  
Lightweight  

Sea Kayakers should rejoice because this is the best kayak car roof rack suited to their needs. However, if you’re not sure that you have a sea kayak or that your kayak will fit in, just be sure to measure the widest part of the hull and enjoy a simple and easy solution to your kayak roof rack needs!

Specs:

  • Colour: Black
  • Carries: Up to 1 Kayak (Max 30 inch wide)
  • Carrying Style: Vertical
  • 5 Year Warranty

Key Features:

  • The Wing is best suited for kayaks with a V-shaped hull or defined keel.
  • The Wing fits a variety of roof rack systems including factory-installed racks, Thule, Yakima, etc.

Pros:

  • Sturdy, reliable and lightweight
  • Comes assembled, easy to use with no additional tools required

Cons:

  • Requires a cockpit cover for the kayaks

Thule Dockglide Kayak Saddle

Thule DockGlide Kayak Carrier

Check Thule Dockglide Kayak on Amazon

Pros Cons
The ideal solution for water sports enthusiasts Expensive option
Protective fit  
Easily load and unload   
Comfortable  
Fits a variety of Thule rack systems  

Easily one of the best kayak roof racks available especially for water-sport enthusiasts!

Specification:

  • Colour: Black
  • Carries: Up to 1 Kayak
  • Carrying Style: Horizontal
  • Capacity: 75 lbs.
  • Assist Feature: Load
  • Roof Rack Compatibility: AeroBlade, SquareBar, Factory Racks

Key Features:

  • Saddles have flexible, cushioned pads that prevent your kayak from sustaining any damage during transport.
  • Pivoting felt-lined rear saddles that help glide and center a kayak onto the vehicle
  • The system features independent pivoting saddles — each with an angle-setting lever 

Pros:

  • The ideal solution for water sports enthusiasts who want to use their roof rack to carry different crafts
  • Can adjust to suit a wide range of hull shapes and sizes
  • Fits a variety of Thule rack systems, round bars and most factory racks due to T-Track and FlipFit brackets

Cons:

  • A bit pricier and more detailed option than the rest

TMS J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Carrier

TMS J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Check TMS J-Bar Rack HD on Amazon

Pros Cons
Affordable option Assembly and installation can be difficult  
Quick on/off hardware  
Kayak protection during transit  

A solid contender for the perfect kayak carrying solution by virtue of it becoming a very popular choice as a result of its strength and durability. If you have a larger boat, such as a sea or touring kayak, this TMS rack might be for you!

Specification:

  • Colour: Black
  • Carries: Up to 2 Kayaks
  • Carrying Style: Vertical
  • Capacity: 75 lbs.

Key Features:

  • Wide mouth J bar offers easier loading and unloading with large, flexible, cushioned pads
  • Steel design with adjustable pads on the carrying arms

Pros:

  • Affordable option to other more expensive setups to transport boarding equipment
  • Quick on/off hardware ensures fast installation and removal as the saddles pivot for extra flexibility
  • The tough steel parts should make it a part of your kayaking experience for years to come

Cons:

  • Assembly and installation can prove to be difficult due to lesser instructions given but diagrams do prove helpful

SportRack SR5527 24 in. Adjustable Kayak Carrier

SportRack SR5527 Adjustable Foam Check SportRack SR5527 24 on Amazon

Pros Cons
No tools needed Not for long-distance expeditions 
Non-skid underside  
Includes bow and stern tie-downs  

Using this means not having to spend too much money but still get the best kayak roof rack for your car! These lightweight foam blocks are dense and will support any size, weight, or shape kayak you can put on them without a problem making them one of the best ways to secure a kayak in your car!

Specification:

  • Colour: Black
  • Carries: Up to 1 Kayak
  • Carrying Style: Horizontal
  • Capacity: Full range of kayak widths (16″ to 24″ spacing)

Key Features:

  • 2 non-skid underside protects the vehicle finish
  • Fully adjustable foam blocks can be positioned to accommodate a full range of kayak widths (16″ to 24″ spacing)

Pros:

  • Require no tools or drilling to assemble
  • The bars are connected to the roof of your car using the included straps, which slide through the gap between the doors and the roof to buckle together inside
  • Includes bow and stern tie-downs to ensure kayak is secured to the vehicle
  • A non-skid underside protects your vehicle’s paint and finish

Cons:

  • Best suited for infrequent use on short trips to and from the river rather than for off-road or long-distance expeditions

Thule The Stacker Kayak Rack 

Thule 830 The Stacker (4) Check Thule The Stacker on Amazon

Pros Cons
Non-scratch outer coating Bulky
Quick on/off hardware Requires Thule rack systems crossbars 
Great for carrying multiple kayaks   

The Stacker is a standby for hauling whitewater kayaks on your roof rack. The Stacker holds up to four boats and folds down for a cleaner look and reduced wind profile when not in use! Stackers arrange your kayaks in an upright position on their sides, taking up about 50% less crossbar space per boat thereby offering maximum boat capacity.

Specification:

  • Colour: Black
  • Carries: Up to 4 Kayaks
  • Carrying Style: Vertical
  • Capacity: Per Kayak 75 lbs.
  • Assist Feature: No assist
  • Roof-Rack Compatibility: AeroBlade, SquareBar, Factory Racks

Key Features:

  • Accommodates kayaks up to 36 in/90 cm wide and to a weight capacity of 75 lbs/35 kg
  • Optimally sized carrier leaves roof space for other Thule accessories
  • Includes side attachment straps to transport two kayaks (the second kayak may require additional rope, hooks and ratcheting hooks for securing at vehicle bumpers)

Pros:

  • Fold-down steel design with a non-scratch outer coating
  • Quick on/off hardware ensures fast installation and removal
  • The best option if you need to carry multiple kayaks

Cons:

  • Requires Thule rack systems crossbars, round bars, or factory racks
  • Loading the kayaks can be tricky and requires at least two people

How to Choose the Best Kayak Roof Rack?

Your Vehicle:

1) Vehicle Model

The vehicle you own plays the most important role in influencing your decision of what kayak roof rack will fulfill your kayak needs! Don’t worry, the options listed above are listed for a variety of different cars, whether you’re searching for the best kayak roof rack for your SUV or your compact car, there are multiple options available for you. Just be sure to read the measurements and capacities of the roof racks mentioned and you should be good to go!

For smaller cars, we would recommend using easy and lightweight roof racks built to support and transport up to one Kayak. This way you not only ensure a safe journey for your car but also your Kayak thus protecting both. But if your car’s quite sizable, you can opt to buy a rack that can carry three or four kayaks. 

2) Vehicle’s Base Roof Setup

Each vehicle’s roof possesses four possibilities:

  1. Aftermarket crossbars
  2. Factory crossbars
  3. Side rails
  4. Bare/Naked Roof

It is thus important to keep in mind which roof set up your car possesses because this will prove the most important to determine the best and most convenient way to secure your kayak on the roof rack. 

If you have a bare/naked roof, then we would recommend going for an inflatable solution to ensure an easy and continuously accessible attachment that protects your car and kayak.

For sophisticated kayak carriers designed specifically for carrying multiple kayaks then crossbars are a necessary prerequisite to such heavy transportation however this would of course then require a heavier and more costly purchase. 

So how do you determine the extent of your investment in kayak roof racks? You must take into consideration FOUR very important factors!

Number of Kayaks You Plan on Transporting

If you plan on carrying up to 2 kayaks at most then most options will work best for you as double kayak roof racks. However, if you plan on transporting more than 2 kayaks then we would definitely suggest looking into stacking solutions to best meet your kayak needs.

The number of kayaks you can carry is limited only by the width of your vehicle’s roof and the size of your crossbars. So, if you own 2 kayaks and own a car with a narrow roof, we would definitely suggest purchasing a pair of j-cradle sets.

Weight of Kayaks

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. A pair of saddles on the front of your rack and a pair of rollers on the back will be one of the most convenient kayaks hauling systems to use. However, make sure to note that roof racks with extra or special features might cost you a little more but will definitely make lifting your kayak significantly easier on your back!

Frequency of Kayaking

The number of times you intend on kayaking is a definitive determinant of what model would then prove to be the best solution for you. If you only plan on venturing on kayaking adventures once or twice a year then there is no need for heavy investment and we would suggest going for a cheaper, and much easier solution. 

However, if you’re an active kayaker then it is best to invest in a kayak roof rack that is both durable and efficient. Also purchasing a set of locks wouldn’t hurt either especially if you are buying a slightly pricier solution for your kayak roof rack needs. Definitely do 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.

How Much Distance Do You Plan to Cover?

If you plan to travel long distances especially those that include rocky terrain or winding roads, then it would be best to look into purchasing a more solid and secure solution. If that’s your situation, avoid foam or other temporary pads. In extreme conditions, such as stormy weather or when driving on bumpy roads, you’ll need to wrench down the temporary pads very, very hard which can damage your kayak. Solid roof rack systems such as saddles and j-cradles are the best fit in this case.

Conclusion

Ultimately whichever kayak roof rack you decide to invest in, make sure that it is compatible with your vehicle and your roof rack/crossbar system therefore do your measurements and most importantly your research before settling on a purchase. It is important to take factors such as price into consideration also which will be actively influenced by the extent to which you plan on using your kayak. Make sure that the type of kayak roof rack system you settle on is compatible with your kayaking needs which is suitable to how frequently you plan on using your kayak, the distances you plan on covering with your kayak intact on your roof and the weight of your kayaks. Oftentimes a crucial mistake is not checking how much your kayak weighs- it is important that you do so before purchasing your roof rack to make sure that it can sustain the weight of your kayak. 

We wish you the best, happy kayak roof rack purchasing! We hope you find what you are looking for. 

Michael Holding
 

Michael is an outdoor adventurer and a kayaking enthusiast who loves to share his experiences with others. He is the Chief Editor at XgearHub.

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