Best Kayak Roof Racks
A kayak can give you the freedom to explore the water wherever you go, but getting your yak to and from the water may not be so easy if you don’t have the right equipment. That’s where roof racks for kayaks can be an essential accessory for transporting your yak to wherever you want to go.
But with so many on the market, choosing one can be difficult. To give you a better idea of what you might be looking for, we’ve put together this guide to help explain the different types on offer.
Recommended Roof Racks: In Brief
Types Of Roof Racks
J-cradle, J-hook or J-style rack systems are, as you probably have guessed, shaped like a J. These types of carriers are designed so that you can load your kayak onto the roof of your vehicle from the side. Your kayak should then sit at around a 45 degree angle on your roof.
This type of roof rack can be ideal if you have to carry other gear on your roof because they allow you to free up one side of your roof. Because of this you could also mount a second J-cradle on the other side of your car if you plan to carry two boats.
In order to use J-cradle racks you would need to have crossbars already installed on your vehicle, as this is what they are mounted to. You may find that this type of rack will add extra height to your vehicle so you should take that into account if you have to go through certain height restricted areas.
Many of these types of racks should be able to fold down when you’re not using them to allow for better clearance and let you enter and exit your garage without taking the rack off.
Stacker racks can allow you to carry multiple kayaks on the roof of your car, in a vertical position, so that each yak is on its side and taking up as little of your roof space as possible. This means that depending on the width of your car, you could potentially carry up to four vessels using stackers.
Stackers are usually mounted to the crossbars on your roof rack so you would need to have these installed prior to installing the vertical stackers. Many of them will also fold down, which can be useful when you’re not using them and need to get in and out of your garage.
Saddle style carriers are designed to act as a seat for the hull of your yak. This means your vessel can be transported the right way up, or horizontally. Saddles usually have protective padding for your yak and can provide a secure base for your vessel while you’re traveling.
This means your boat has a larger surface area supporting it, which can make it more secure when traveling over long distances or at higher speeds. It may also improve aerodynamics compared to vertical style carriers.
Many of the saddle style carriers will require crossbars on your roof rack to install them.
Temporary pads are just that; temporary. This means they are not designed for frequent or heavy duty use and are not really intended for long distance travel or high speed roads.
However, the benefit is that they can be mounted onto just about any vehicle, as they dont require any existing rails or mounts and they don’t need any mechanical installation. They can often be inflatable or come as foam blocks.
Video: Malone Handirack Inflatable Roof Rack
This means they can be a good choice if you’re looking for a low cost option of getting your yak to and from the water on a short trip and don’t already have any existing roof rack components on your roof.
We'll talk more about this Malone rack a bit later...
How To Choose The Right Roof Rack For Your Kayak
When you’re looking for a roof rack for your yak, there are a few things that you might want to think about before you make that purchase.
The type of vehicle you have will undoubtedly impact the type of roof rack that you need to get your hands on.
Remember to think about all the mounting accessories that you might need in order to fit it to your car or pickup truck. For example, if you have factory rails you will likely need a different fitting or rack compared with someone who has no rails at all.
While most cars should be able to carry a kayak, you may find that in order to use some of the kayak specific carriers and accessories you need to first have crossbars on the roof of your vehicle.
> Best kayak rack for RVs
Crossbars (or cross rails) can be mounted either directly to your vehicle or on to the roof rails, if you have them. The type of car you have will depend on the type of crossbars available to you.
The height of your car could also affect your choice. If your car is tall, for example, a large SUV, you may want to think about how you will load it and if you’ll need rollers or gas assisted technology to help you if you’re on your own. Kayak loaders can helps with this. It's not much fun doing this on your own!
How Far Are You Traveling?
You might also want to think about the distance you’ll be traveling with your yak on your roof. If you’re planning to travel on high speed roads over a long distance, you may want to consider a more heavy duty car rack that will help keep your yak safe and secure on your roof.
Temporary pads may not be sufficient for longer journeys. But if you only plan to travel a short distance from your home to your local paddling spot, temporary roof racks may be ideal for you.
How Often Will You Need It?
If you plan to travel with your vessel frequently, you’ll probably want to go for a more durable roof rack with kayak specific pads for protection, such as J-cradles or saddles.
Another thing you might want to consider if you will be traveling frequently is how you plan to load it and unload it. If you’ll be by yourself for the majority of the time, you may want to consider load assisted carriers.
Lifting a yak above your head may not sound too difficult at first but doing it everyday or several times a week may become an issue.
However, if you don’t plan on traveling with your yak very often, you may find a temporary roof rack is all you need. This can allow you to travel to your local lake or river without having to install a more permanent fixture to your roof.
How Many Kayaks Do You Have?
If you plan to carry more than one kayak on your roof (or other gear, like a paddle board), you may want to consider stacker style racks, as these can often hold up to four vessels. Some J-cradle style racks may have the ability to hold two yaks but for many, these are often designed for one craft.
If you only plan to take one vessel with you, you might find there are more options available to you in terms of kayak rack styles. It may also be possible to tie down your yak directly to the crossbars without needing any additional cradles.
Video: How To Tie Your Kayak Down Correctly
More On J-Cradles
Remember that in order to mount J-cradles to your car you will need to already have crossbars on the roof of your vehicle. There are various crossbars that can work with various models of J-cradles, with crossbars mounted either to your roof rails or directly to your car.
However, temporary crossbars are not designed to take attachments like J-cradles. For safety reasons, you would need to have durable crossbars in order to provide a secure mounting point for the J-cradle attachments.
Whatever you do, DON'T DO THIS!
Roof Rack Brands To Look Out For
There are various brands of roof racks out there but some of the best ones for carrying kayaks include:
While many roof racks will have universal fittings to attach to various brands of crossbars or rails, it’s always a good idea to check what kind of fittings you’ll need for your car before you make a purchase.
Top 8 Best Roof Racks For Kayaks
1: Rhino Rack Folding J Style Kayak Carrier (S512)
This Folding J Style Kayak Carrier from Rhino Rack is a J-cradle roof rack designed with a universal mount so that it can fit onto most types of roof racks. The cradles mount to your crossbars and allow you to carry your yak on its side, leaving you more room on your roof for a second vessel or other gear.
The cradles also have built-in paddle cradles, so you can securely store your paddles on the roof as well. The cradles are made of heavy duty coated steel, with rubber padding to protect your boat.
Another good feature of this kayak carrier is that it can fold down flat onto your roof when you’re not using it. You also have the option of purchasing an attachment to extend the cradles to allow you to carry two yaks with the one carrier system.
It also comes with four tie down straps to help you secure your yak.
This is the best kayak roof rack in our opinion.
2: Thule 898 Hullavator Pro Kayak Lift Assist Carrier
The Thule Hullavator Pro is designed to make it easier to load and carry your yak on top of your car. It features two cradles that attach to your crossbars, which then allow you to load and tie down your yak at waist level at the side of your vehicle.
The highlight of this rack system is the gas assisted loaders. This means the carrier takes 40 pounds of the weight of your vessel, letting you push it up on top of your roof without you needing the strength to load the whole weight of the boat.
This can make it easier for loading heavier yaks on your own or, particularly, if you have a taller car or SUV. So if you frequently travel on your own with your kayak, this could be a useful tool, as it is both the loader and the carrier.
As always, Thule bring build quality to the table.
3: Yakima Showboat 66in Kit
The Yakima Showboat is a load assisting kayak roof carrier. It’s designed to work with a variety of different crossbars, including square, round and factory bars. It features extending rails with a padded roller.
The rails extend up to 24 inches at the back of your vehicle. This means you can lift up the bow of your yak onto the roller and then lift up the stern and roll the yak onto your roof rack.
It’s designed to make it easier to transport up to an 80 pound canoe or kayak back and forth even when you’re on your own. Because this rack system doesn’t have cradles or saddles for your yak to sit on, you may want to combine this with other kayak carriers.
Yakima EvenKeel Rooftop Saddles
The Yakima EvenKeel is a four-piece saddle-style roof rack that is designed to work with most crossbars. These saddles can also be used on other kayak racks that require saddles, such as the Yakima Showboat.
It’s designed to hold boats weighing up to 80 pounds and can be ideal for kayaks and canoes, as well as other types of small, lightweight vessels. The EvenKeel comes with all the necessary hardware to install it on your roof rack, including tie down load straps.
Get these saddles at Amazon.
4: Malone HandiRack Inflatable Universal Roof Top Rack
We touched on this earlier, and here it is in our list.
The Malone HandiRack is an inflatable roof rack that is designed to work with vehicles that don’t have any rails or crossbars. Because it’s inflatable it can be removed easily when not in use and installed without any permanent mounting hardware.
The inflatable nature of the rack can also provide padding for your vessel while it’s on the roof. It comes with a pump and tie down straps and it can hold loads up to 180 pounds, meaning you can also use it to transport various other items.
It can be ideal for all types of cars, as long as it doesn’t have sliding doors, as the rack is attached through the doors. It also may not work with cars that have side curtain airbags.
5: Yakima Jaylow Kayak Cradle Carrier
The Jaylow Kayak Carrier by Yakima is a J style carrier that can also be used as a vertical stacker carrier, allowing you to then carry for two kayaks. It’s built to be used in conjunction with a range of different crossbars.
It features padding for improved grip and to give your yak extra protection during transport. It comes with tie down straps for securing one vessel and the rack is also lockable, although you would need to purchase the SKS locks separately.
As well as being able to carry up to two kayaks, the rack can also fold down flat onto your roof, which can make it easier for getting in and out of your garage without having to uninstall the cradles.
6: Rhino Rack 2500 Series Euro 2 Bar and Leg Roof Rack Set
The Rhino Rack Euro 2 Bar roof rack comes in various sizes, each specifically designed for each brand and model of car. So you would need to ensure that you have the correct mounting hardware by checking with Rhino Rack and their handy Fit My Car tool.
Because the bars have car model specific hardware they can work with a wide range of vehicles. They have been designed to work with cars that don’t have any type of existing rails or racks, as they will be mounted to the door jambs.
Depending on the size of your car, you could carry up to two kayaks, as long as you have the correct straps to tie them down securely to the bars.
7: Malone Auto Racks Malone Stax Pro2 Kayak Carrier
The Malone Stax Pro 2 is a stacker style kayak carrier that comes with universal mounting hardware designed to fit most crossbars. It comes with tie down straps for carrying two kayaks but depending on the width of your car and crossbars you may be able to carry up to four vessels.
The Stax Pro comes with 4 blocks of foam pads so that there is padding between the side of your yak and the roof of your car, to avoid damage. It can also fold down when not in use, making it more aerodynamic and convenient for parking in your garage.
8: TMS J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Carrier Cradle
This J-Bar Rack from TMS are designed to be installed on a range of crossbars. They come with two different lengths of bolts to suit different crossbars, as the cradles are mounted underneath your existing crossbars.
The cradles are made with steel and are padded to help protect your vessel during loading and transportation. It features two J-style cradles that can allow you to transport one kayak up to 36 inches wide and up to 75 pounds.
The J-style design means it can give you more space on your roof for other items or if you choose to purchase a second kayak carrier, you could carry another yak, depending on the width of your roof and crossbars.
If you plan to travel anywhere with your kayak, having a dedicated rooftop rack for your kayak can make things a lot easier and more secure. They can help to protect both your vessel and your vehicle from scratches or damage, as well as provide a more durable support system for transportation.
Remember, the type of roof rack system you’ll need will depend on the type of car you have. It will also depend on how far and how often you plan to travel with your yak and how many yaks you plan to transport. But no matter what vehicle you have, there should be an option for you.
If you’ve enjoyed this guide and think others could benefit, feel free to share it. If you have any questions or want to share your kayak roof rack experiences, please leave us a comment; we would love to hear from you.
One Last Question: What Roof Rack Do You Recommend For A Subaru Outback?
A Subaru Outback is designed for outdoor enthusiasts with some having factory cross bars and some having aftermarket cross bars.
However, there are a few kayak roof carriers that you can use, such as the TMS J-Bar Rack HD Carrier with its universal fittings, the Thule 898 Hullavator Pro with Thule roof racks and the Yakima Jaylow Kayak Carrier.
We talk more about these (above).