- Read our review guidelines
Whether you’re an experienced kayaker or just getting started, having a good roof rack is essential for transporting your kayak, especially if you plan to haul three of them at once.
In this article, we’ll help you find the best 3-kayak roof rack on the market, including our top pick, the Thule Kayak Stacker.
We’ve also put together some information on how to choose, with tips on how to stack your kayaks on your roof.
Best 3-Kayak Roof Rack
1: Thule Kayak Stacker (best overall)
- Weight: 6.5 pounds
- Capacity: 150 pounds
The Thule Kayak Stacker can hold up to four kayaks stacked sideways on your roof rack. It’s not designed to carry heavy kayaks and is mostly built to carry smaller whitewater kayaks. The maximum width and weight of a single kayak should be no more than 36 inches wide and 75 pounds.
It features universal mounting hardware so you can easily move the rack between vehicles if necessary. It is also designed to fit a range of crossbars, including Thule standard and Xsporter load bars. It should also fit most factory and round crossbars.
A great feature of this rack is that it folds down when not in use. This means you don’t have to take it off your roof rack each time you want to enter your garage or another low-clearance area. Remember to take your kayaks off the rack first though.
This rack benefits from having an upper strap loop which can make it easier to tie your boats down.
It comes with one pair of ratchet tie-down straps and two buckle protectors. If you want to carry more than one kayak then you will need a set of straps for each kayak (sold separately).
- Universal mounting
- Folds down when not required
- Great for up to four whitewater kayaks
- Not recommended for larger kayaks
2: Rhino-Rack Nautic Stack Kayak Carrier
- Weight: 7.5 pounds
- Capacity: 165 pounds
This Rhino-Rack Nautic Stack rack can carry up to four kayaks stacked on their sides, depending on the width of your vehicle and crossbars. It has a generous weight capacity, being able to hold a maximum of 165 pounds distributed between four kayaks. It can also be used to carry two or more canoes, with one or two on either side of the bar (depending on the size of your canoe).
This is a durable, heavy-duty kayak carrier that’s designed to hold multiple kayaks. It can be best suited to carrying smaller whitewater kayaks. However, it should still be able to carry at least three recreational kayaks stacked sideways.
The number of kayaks you can hold on your vehicle’s roof will depend on the dimensions of your kayaks and the width of your crossbars.
It comes with two types of mounting hardware: a C-channel nut and bolt, and a universal clamp style, to suit different types of crossbar fixings. The Nautic Stack arm folds down flat for convenience when you don’t need to use it.
This is a sturdy rack that features a fiberglass reinforced nylon base for increased strength and the bar is made from heavy-duty anodized alloy, similar to the Rhino-Rack Vortex bar.
- Durable construction
- Generous weight capacity
- Great for multiple kayaks and canoes
- Folding bar
- Not compatible with Thule Aero crossbars
- Weight: 7.2 pounds
- Capacity: 165 pounds
The Yakima BigStack is a roof rack designed to carry up to four kayaks at once. It’s designed to work with most styles of vehicle crossbars, including factory-installed racks, round bars, and square bars.
The center post is padded to help protect your kayak while it’s secured to the rack. It can also be folded down when you don’t need it, so you don’t need to take the rack off your car after each paddling adventure.
This is a durable kayak rack that has a decent weight capacity, making it great for a range of kayaks, including recreational kayaks. However, as with most multi-kayak racks, the number of kayaks the rack can hold will depend on the width of your vehicle’s roof and the length of the crossbars.
A good feature of this rack is the AnchorHead tie-down system which gives you two options for tying down your kayaks. It has outer hooks that can be used for lasso loading or you can run straps through the center point on the AnchorHead.
This multi-kayak roof rack comes with one set of heavy-duty straps plus bow and stern tie-down straps. If you need to carry more than one kayak you’ll need to purchase additional straps. This rack can also be locked using the Yakima SKS lock core system (sold separately).
- Generous weight capacity
- Great for recreational kayaks
- Padded folding arm
- Dual tie-down options
- Only one set of straps included
3-Rack Kayak Roof Racks 101
Types Of Rack
For carrying three or four kayaks, you’ll usually find just one type of roof rack. This will generally consist of a single central bar or arm that is positioned in the center of crossbars. This lets you load up to two kayaks on either side of the central arm.
However, you may be able to carry three kayaks on your roof using other methods. It might be possible to use two sets of J-hooks on your roof rack to hold two kayaks, letting you load the third kayak in the center of the roof rack between the other two kayaks.
Video: Mounting 3 Kayaks
Whether the J-hook method would work for you would depend on the width of your roof and the size of the kayaks you want to transport. You would also need to consider using additional padding on your crossbars to support the third kayak. You will also require additional straps to secure the center kayak directly to the crossbars.
It may also be possible, depending on your vehicle and the types of kayaks, to transport three or four kayaks on top of your roof rack without a secondary kayak rack.
This can let you stack two kayaks on top of each other on one side of your vehicle (secured to the crossbars) and use the other side to stack another two kayaks. Alternatively, you could carry one kayak in a J-cradle on one side, with two stacked on the opposite side.
However, this may not always be the safest option, so it is generally not recommended.
Video: How to Load Multiple Kayaks on your Roof Rack
Capacity will likely be an important consideration when choosing the best kayak roof rack to carry three or more kayaks. You should take into account the weight of each kayak that you plan to load onto the rack. The total combined weight of your kayaks should not exceed the maximum load capacity of the kayak rack (or your roof rack).
While some kayak roof racks are rated to carry as many as four kayaks, they may not be able to carry four of every type of kayak. Recreational kayaks, fishing kayaks, and some touring kayaks may be too large to have four of them stacked on your roof.
The width of your vehicle will usually determine the length of crossbars you can have. The length of your crossbars and the overall width of your vehicle’s roof will determine whether or not you have enough space to stack four kayaks safely.
Some multi-kayak roof racks may only be suitable for carrying up to four smaller kayaks, such as whitewater kayaks. Some small, lightweight recreational kayaks may also fit in a stack of four.
Having a roof rack that folds down when not in use can be a lot more convenient.
This can be particularly helpful if you frequently travel with your kayaks on your roof, as it means you won’t need to detach and reattach the rack each time you want to take your kayaks on a road trip. You can simply fold the bar down when it’s not needed.
A folding rack can let you drive into your garage or low-clearance parking lots when you’re not transporting your kayaks.
How To Stack Your Kayaks
Step 1: Prepare Your Straps
It can be a good idea to prepare your straps before you start to load your kayaks onto the roof rack. Loop the straps around the top part of the stacker rack. If you have three kayaks, you’re probably going to need four cam or ratchet straps to tie them down.
You’ll also need additional bow and stern tie-down straps to secure each kayak to the front and back of your vehicle for safety.
Once you’ve looped the straps around the rack’s center arm, drape the ends over the front windshield for the front straps and the back windshield for the back straps. This is so you can easily reach them after loading your kayaks.
Step 2: Load Your Kayaks By Size
It can be best to load your kayaks according to their size. This means you might find it easier to have your smaller kayaks inside your larger ones.
For example, if you have one of your larger kayaks on the inside of the rack, with the cockpit facing outward, load your smaller kayak so that it’s on the outside of the rack, with the cockpit facing outwards.
However, this is not a hard and fast rule, as you may prefer to load your kayaks in another way that’s more convenient for you. You may also want to load your kayaks with the cockpits facing inward to reduce drag while you’re driving along.
Step 3: Secure Your Kayaks To The Rack
You might find it’s easier to secure each kayak as you load it, rather than try to secure them all once all three are in position. Securing the kayaks one at a time can also let you make sure each kayak is sufficiently secured to the roof rack, the crossbars, and your vehicle, if necessary.
Remember to thread the tie-down straps under your crossbars on the inside of the mounting base which connects your crossbars to your roof.
Video: Thule 830 The Stacker Kayak Rack Review
Step 4: Tie Up Your Loose Ends
Once your kayaks are safe and secure on your roof rack, you’ll probably find that you’ve got some loose ends from your straps. It’s best not to leave these straps hanging. Loop them around the crossbars a few times and tie them so that they don’t come loose during travel.
If you’re traveling a long distance, it can be helpful to stop after a few miles of driving, just to make sure the straps are still tight and secure.
After checking out various options for hauling multiple kayaks at once, we think the best three-kayak roof rack is the Thule Stacker Kayak Rack because it has a universal mounting system and can carry up to four whitewater kayaks. It also folds down when not needed, making it a great choice for frequent use, to save you having to detach the arm after each trip.
A fantastic runner-up is the Rhino-Rack Nautic Stack Rack, with its excellent durability and strength. This can be a great rack for hauling three recreational kayaks and can even be used to haul at least two canoes, so it can be versatile.
These multi-kayak roof racks may not work with all types of kayaks. Similarly, they may not be compatible with all types of crossbars. It’s best to check the dimensions of your kayak before you settle on a rack. Remember to also check the width and capacity of your vehicle and crossbars.