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If you are a water fanatic with your own kayak, transporting it from A to B presents a whole host of challenges. Most vehicles simply don’t have room for them, which tend to measure 10 feet or more across. This is where a kayak roof rack will prove to be an invaluable investment. But with so many different makes and models to choose between, you may find that making your mind up is a trickier prospect than you bargained for. Read our product guide below to make the job easier.
The Best Kayak Rack
This kayak rack comes with a built-in boarding ramp for straightforward loading, and everything that you need to transport your kayak on top of your car is included.
The design features fold-down technology to increase the overhead clearance. As for the padding, it is oversized to protect the kayak during transport. The mounting hardware is designed to fit round, square and the majority of factory oval cross rails.
Includes all necessary kayak carrying equipment
Comes with built-in boarding ramp
Oversized padding for protection during transport
Fold down technology for overhead clearance
- Weight10 pounds
Whether you have a single kayak or a pair of them, this carrier is designed to support one weighing up to 80 pounds or two weighing as much as 110 pounds. The contact points are extra padded to offer a high level of protection and grip during transportation, so you don’t have to feel nervous while driving.
When you get the kayaks on the roof (one in the J-cradle position or two stacked vertically), you can lock them into the base rack with a SKS lock core that’s sold separately. Heavy-duty straps and bow/stern tie-downs are also included.
Carries any type of kayak
Very low maintenance
Super-padded contact points
Includes straps and tie-down
- Weight12.7 pounds
Next is this USA-made and imported pro kayak lift system, which is designed for loading, unloading, and strapping at waist level. The gas struts make the process easier, and the carrier will take as much as 40 pounds of the kayak’s weight, so you can load the kayak all by yourself.
QuickDraw bow and stern tie downs are included as well as a pair of center straps and car-protective bumper buckles. The base and cradles are corrosion-resistant, which helps to ensure that this product stands the test of time.
Accommodates a variety of kayaks
Gas struts take 40 lbs of kayak weight
8 touchpoints of padded support
Corrosion resistant base and cradles
- Weight13.1 pounds
This handy piece of equipment is not only designed for kayaks but also a host of other things, including surfboards, luggage, paddleboards, and more. Unlike many other similar products, it is made from textured material, which has a cushioning and protective effect.
Designed to fit almost any type of car, each one comes complete with everything you need for the easy installation. Secure transportation is provided by the D-ring anchor points and extra-long straps which fit around the roof. And the load capacity is up to 175 pounds.
Designed to fit most vehicles and SUVs
Made from 420-denier nylon
Textured surface for protection
Ultra-long straps to evenly spread the load
- Weight6.4 pounds
Solid steel makes this a durable option, while there is also adjustable padding to protect the kayak and increase carrying strength. The J bar has a wide mouth to facilitate loading and unloading, and it is designed to mount to virtually all crossbars and load bars on the market.
It is suitable for kayaks up to 36 inches wide and 75 pounds, so take the time to weigh and measure your kayak before purchase. It also comes with quick on/off hardware, enabling fast installation and removal.
Steel design with adjustable padding
Quick on/off hardware
Secures kayak on its side
J-style carrier leaves space on the roof
- Weight7.87 pounds
This Thule kayak rack is known as ‘The Stacker’ as it holds as many as four kayaks stacked on their side. Its ergonomic design maximizes the space on your roof, making room for other accessories if you want them.
As for the installation and removal, it is made to be as straightforward as possible. There are also some secure straps included, so you can make sure that your kayak is firmly fixed to the roof, offering increased peace of mind while you are driving.
Designed to fit up to four shorter-length kayaks
Speedy on/off hardware included
Includes all straps for one kayak
Made in the USA
- Weight11.37 pounds
Subtle in its single saddle design, this kayak and cargo carrier is easy to set up. While some carriers take up a huge amount of roof space, this one is designed to only use a small amount of room. You will also find that it is easy to set up and transferrable to another vehicle in just a matter of minutes. The mounting hardware is made to fit around round, square, and the majority of oval cross rails.
Includes everything needed to carry a kayak on your rooftop
Unique space-saving, mid-mount design
Universal JAWZ™ mounting hardware
- Weight10.05 pounds
Designed for simple loading, carrying, and storage, this aluminum truck rack looks sleek and stylish on top of your vehicle. Featuring Airstrip and wind diffuser technology, it is designed to redirect airflow, offering a better aerodynamic effect and a quieter road performance that is less likely to get on your nerves while you are driving. There is only a limited amount of assembly required, and once it is installed on your vehicle it will hold up to 450 pounds.
Secure lock to keep the rack in place
Custom adjust bar height
Integrated Airstrip technology
Holds up to 450 lbs
- Weight65 pounds
As long as your vehicle already has an existing roof rack, you can top mount your kayak to it with this device. When you are not using it, you can fold the J-bars down to ensure that it can fit in tighter spaces. As for the construction, the roof rack is made from heavy-duty aluminum. But each bar also has a soft cushion attached to it, stopping the kayak from rubbing and getting damaged. Installation is nice and easy.
Folding kayak roof rack
Durable aluminum frame
Soft, foam-lined bars for protection
- BrandVault Cargo Management
- Weight8.85 pounds
Last but not least we have this kayak rack for your SUV, van, or car, which allows you to mount your kayak in a J-style to create more space on top of your vehicle. The J-bar is in a wide-mouthed style, allowing you to load and unload your kayak with ease. The framing is made of heavy-duty steel, and you can adjust the padding as you would like. All mounting hardware and fastening straps are included to ensure that you have everything you need.
Wide mouth J-bar
Quick on/off hardware
- Weight16.25 pounds
Best Kayak Rack for Cars Buying Guide
What to Look for When Choosing the Best Kayak Roof Rack
Choosing a kayak carrier for your car can be boiled down to a few main points to consider. Here is a breakdown of each of them to help you in the task of making your mind up.
- Your Vehicle
Not all kayak roof racks are universal, so you need to make sure that you choose the right one for your vehicle. If it doesn’t fit properly, this is a potentially dangerous hazard, and your kayak will also not get the protection it requires. Whether you have a compact vehicle or a big 4x4, there is bound to be a roof rack for your truck or car. Check your vehicle handbook for the dimensions of your car roof. Alternatively, you can do the measuring yourself. Also, see if the manufacturer provides a guide on the compatibility of your car and the roof rack.
There are some kayak holders which are designed specifically to transport kayaks and others which are made for other sporting goods and luggage. If you go for a multi-purpose rack, make sure that it will definitely fit a kayak. There is no point trying to force something when it is not designed for this purpose as it can end up damaging your vehicle and the kayak. And you should also ensure that it will accommodate the dimensions of your kayak.
Also, consider the additional features. Will the rack be permanently attached to your roof? In this case, folding bars will keep it tight to your vehicle without sticking up too much. This is especially important if you are trying to park in a low garage or pass under hanging objects. If it isn’t going to permanently stay up, you need it to be easy to take off and put back on again.
- Number of Kayaks
This should be a point which doesn’t need to be mentioned, but the number of kayaks you want to transport around will obviously have an impact on what sort of roof rack you go for. As for the options listed above, you can get a rack which will support two, and as many as four kayaks if you have them. Remember that trying to load too many kayaks onto a roof rack which is not designed for it is dangerous to you and other road users.
- Bar Height
A higher bar can make the task of loading and unloading your kayak trickier if you are not especially tall. However, if you choose one which fits tightly to the roofline, this helps to make your task just a little bit easier.
The type of materials used will signal how long the kayak or canoe rack is likely to last for, as well as how well it will do the job of protecting your boat. Look for sturdy materials like steel or aluminum. These should have some sort of padding included to ensure that your kayak is not going to get damaged in transport. Alternatively, there are fabric racks, which promise stability and a high level of protection too. Check the brand reputation and product reviews to get more information on whether or not it is likely to stand the test of time.
- Additional Equipment
Check for anything else that may be required to fit the kayak rack. For example, if you don’t already have an aftermarket cross bar system, you will need one which is compatible with the roof rack. And while some feature all the components you need, others require you to buy other parts separately. This certainly needs to play a role in your decision-making process as you need to have everything to make the product work.
There are plenty of kayak roof rack brand out there, so you should take your time to select the right one for your needs. But remember you still need to base your decision on your boat, your vehicle, and your budget. Check for their years of experience and the overall reputation they have built up. Detailed information and good customer service are always worthwhile traits in a brand. Look out for companies which specialize in making kayak-related products. Even better, choose one which just focuses on making racks. You don’t want a brand which spreads itself too thin, unless it is one with a very high reputation.
The cost of a product is an issue which most people consider before making their mind up. You are likely to have spent a lot of money on your kayak, so you need a rack which offers a high enough level of quality to support it and keep it in place on top of your vehicle. While price isn’t the only indication of quality, cheaper racks usually use cheaper materials which are not going to stand the test of time. Start with a high number in mind as this is not usually the kind of product that you are going to be able to get on the cheap.
Types of Kayak Racks
Before settling on the right kayak holder for you, it is worth knowing a bit more about the different types out there. Each has its own individual set of pros and cons. Kayak racks can be split into four main categories: temporary pads, saddles, j-cradles, and stackers. We will discuss each of them in more detail here and now.
- Temporary Pads
While some SUVs come with factory racks already installed, many other vehicles don’t, and if you have a regular car, it is unlikely that you will have any kind of rack already included. Temporary pads are designed to be installed on roofs with no racks, and they are quite straightforward to install and remove. Essentially, they consist of straps which fit around the inside and over the top of your car roof. They will be attached to inflatable padding or foam. Generally, these are better for shorter journeys or for those who don’t transport their kayaks around very often. If you are looking for a cheap and cheerful kayak rack f, this is a great option.
Your next choice of rack is one which fits in a saddle style. These pads run from the base rack to the bottom of your boat. Either it is a single cradle or two pieces which adjust to the width of your vessel. The main advantage if from the point of view of safety and stability: it provides a large surface area atop your car. So, if you are traveling through particularly blustery conditions, you know that the boat will stay in place. The aerodynamics of the kayak in this position will reduce wind resistance, noise, and fuel costs. But you will only be able to transport a single boat in this position.
The biggest-selling type of kayak roof rack is the J-Cradle, which derives its name from the shape it makes. It is a side-loading rack which allows for increased space on your roof for other things. But if you have a narrow roof and want to transport multiple vessels, this mounting system will not allow this. On the plus side, they offer a high level of stability and security, as well as ease of loading and unloading. It is made for side-loading, which may be tricky on your own unless it comes with an additional support system. You need to feel comfortable lifting your boat up in this position, so get some practice in beforehand. Remember, when you are doing kayaking, your arms are likely to be exhausted from all the effort!
This type of roof rack is made for those who want to transport multiple kayaks around with them. A stacker rack will fit kayaks in an upright position on their sides. Since you are taking up less space, you should be able to fit as many as four kayaks on top of your vehicle. This is an affordable option, but it is still a secure one. Plus, it is easy to install too, and it works well with the majority of kayaks, but always do your measuring before attempting to load numerous boats onto a single vehicle.
Safety Tips for Transporting Multiple Kayaks
Many racks are specially designed to accommodate two kayaks or more. Obviously, check your individual product for more information on how many boats it can take. Always follow the capacity guidelines provided. Also, you need to ensure that you have enough fasteners, ties, and/or ropes. Some only come with enough for a single vessel. Other racks allow you to fit as many as four kayaks on top of your jeep kayak rack. These need to be stacked next to each other on their side, and you should start with the two outer ones before squeezing the other couple in the middle.
Take special care to ensure that all of them are secured using all ropes and fasteners available. When you are driving, you need to take special care. You should drive slower than you would if you were only traveling with one. Try to avoid driving on highways if possible. If not, stay in the slow lane and avoid any overtaking manoeuvres.
How To Install a Kayak Car Rack
The specifics of installing the kayak car rack depends on the specific make and model that you choose. Here, we will give you a general overview of one of the main methods which you can follow.
First, let’s talk about bolting the rack to the crossbar. Start by assembling the kayak rack if needed. Place it up on one of the roof rack crossbars. Put a carriage bolt through the hole in the rack and metal strap. Loop the strap underneath the crossbar and thread a carriage bolt. Do the same with the other kayak rack, before lining them both up and tightening them. Make sure to test fit your kayak to make sure everything attaches properly.
Best Kayak Racks for Cars FAQ:
Q: How do I load a kayak onto a roof rack?
A: If you have never loaded a kayak onto a roof rack before, there is no doubt that it can feel like a difficult task. Before you get started, check whether the manufacturer has offered some sort of lift system to help you out in your task. Often, this is a sliding bar which is designed to take the kayak weight off your body. After you have finished using it and have secured the kayak to the roof, you can slide the arm back in place.
However, if you don’t have a lift assist system, you will have to take on the task of lifting the kayak yourself. Make sure that you have cleared out anything inside beforehand, plus any water which is weighing it down. Check the instructions of the individual roof rack before attempting the loading. For example, if it designed for side loading, this is the method which you should follow. The bow should be at the front of your car, while the stern should be bringing up the rear.
Here are some instructions for a standard way of loading the kayak. Start by resting one end on your car, before lifting up the other end. Place a sheet or towel on the roof if you are worried about scratches. Once it is on the rack, make sure to tie it securely. If there are bow and stern lines running down, you should avoid too much tension on them as this can impact the shape of your boat. Obviously, if you have a second person, this makes the task a lot easier. If you are loading a single kayak flat on your car, you should get it centered between the roof rack bars. Otherwise, it is more likely to tip over the front or back of the vehicle.
Many manufacturers also have instructional videos, so it is worth watching these before going out on any expeditions.
Q: How do I tie down a kayak on a roof rack?
A: Most kayak roof racks come with some sort of specialized tying down system. Many brands will make clear where the anchor points of their carrier are, so make a note of these. Often, it is just a case of looping some ropes around the body of the boat, making sure that you loop it under the roof rack too. Pull the slack at the end up bundle it up. If there is a cam buckle, you will need to pull the strap through until it is not slack anymore. It should be tight enough, so the boat won’t shift around while you are driving, but not so tight that it is going to risk any damage to your boat.
Regardless of the type of roof rack you have chosen, you will need to strap the boat up to the front and back of it. You should be able to tie the bow to the tow hooks which are found under the bumper of the vast majority of vehicles. Avoid hooking it to the plastic part of bumper directly as this can end up damaging your car. If the bow line has a cam buckle, pull the line through. If it has a ratchet, crank it up and down to tighten it. You should repeat this process on the stern line. You might need to install a hitch to provide something to hook up the stern line. Ultimately, you are trying to achieve a degree of balance to ensure that your boat stays firmly in place while you are driving.
Tie up any loose ends in multiple knots to ensure that nothing ends up getting unravelled, as they could get caught under one of your tires, causing your boat and the roof rack to go flying.
Q: Can I mount a kayak to a small car?
A: It depends on the size of the car that you are trying to mount the boat to, as well as the size of the kayak. The smaller the vehicle, the tougher it is likely to be to find a rack which will fit onto it. However, most of the time, you should be able to find one. If you have an especially small vehicle, you may find that you have to pay extra for a custom rack. Many are designed with multiple vehicles in mind, so check the specifications to see if yours can be accommodated. In terms of the weight, this shouldn’t be a problem for smaller cars – especially the lightweight modern boats.
Q: Can I add rails to my car?
A: Unless you go for the temporary pads, you are going to need to add some rails onto your car. Pretty much anything that you put on top of your car will need a base roof rack. Obviously, you will need to choose one which fits the specific make and model of your car. The basic concept is straightforward, and it is made up of a few main parts. First, you have the mount, which attaches to your vehicle in different ways depending on the type chosen. Next, you have the cross bars. Then, you have the tower, which connects the mount to the crossbar. Finally, you have the mount accessories, which are designed for all the different items which you could transport around.
Our Top Pick
We have chosen this kayak carrier as our top choice, which is in a classic J-style. It also comes with a boarding ramp built-in to make loading easier. Plus, you can fold it down if necessary, to increase the overhead clearance. There is plenty of padding to ensure that the boat is fully protected during transport. Whether you have a round, square and or oval cross rail, this rack is designed to fit the majority of them.
Many previous customers have rated it very highly, and we also think that it is the one to beat too.
- How to Decide on a Roof Rack - YourMechanic Advice
- 4 Essential Things to Know About the Roof Rack on Your Car - YourMechanic
- How to Transport a Kayak - HowStuffWorks