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Best Kayak Roof Racks (for easy on-car transportation)

Mark Armstrong
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Discover the ultimate solution for transporting your kayak hassle-free with the best kayak roof racks. 

From aerodynamic steel racks to inflatable roof racks with easy installation, we’re going to explore the top options to get your kayak safely from A to B. 

Want to skip to the winner? My pick for the best kayak roof rack is the Yakima JayLow. This is one of the most durable and versatile kayak roof racks out there, in my opinion, offering easy loading and a decent capacity.  

Recommended Roof Racks: In Brief

Top 12 Best Kayak Roof Racks Reviewed

1: Yakima JayLow Kayak Carrier (best overall)

  • Length: 20 inches
  • Width: 6.7 inches
  • Depth: 6 inches
  • Weight: 11 pounds 
  • Weight capacity: 110 pounds (80 pounds for one kayak in J position)

The Yakima JayLow kayak carrier is the best kayak rack on the market, in my opinion. This is a pretty versatile rack with multiple settings. It can carry a single kayak using the J-cradle position or two kayaks in a vertical stacker position. 

The rack also folds down flat against your roof so you can leave it installed on your car’s roof when not in use without affecting your vehicle’s clearance. A downside of this, however, is the whistling noise it can make while you’re driving at high speeds.

One of the best features of this rack, in my opinion, is the built-in loading ramp. This padded ramp makes it easier to load your kayak from the side without damaging the hull. 

This also comes with heavy-duty straps and bow and stern tie-downs. And it’s designed to fit all types of crossbars.


  • Folds flat when not in use
  • Carries up to two kayaks
  • Integrated loading ramp


  • Can be noisy when driving

2: Yakima BigStack Boat Rack (best for 2 kayaks)

  • Length: 22 inches
  • Width: 5 inches
  • Depth: 6 inches
  • Weight: 7.2 pounds
  • Weight capacity: 80 pound per kayak

The Yakima BigStack is a durable stacker rack that can hold multiple kayaks. I think this is the best kayak roof rack for carrying two kayaks. And it folds down when you don’t need it.

It features strong steel construction with a steel tube frame that’s wrapped with HullGuard padding to keep your kayak protected from scratches and dents. 

However, because this is a stacker rack, the side of your kayak’s hull will rest on the crossbars of your vehicle, so you might want to add your own padding to the crossbars because there is no crossbar padding included.

The number of kayaks you can carry with this rack will depend on the size of your kayaks and the width of your roof.

It comes with tie-down straps and is compatible with SKS locks (sold separately).


  • Folds when not in use
  • Padded frame
  • Carries multiple kayaks


  • No padding for crossbars

3: Rhino Rack Nautic 580 Side Loading Rack (best for tandem kayaks)

Rhino Rack Nautic 580 Side Loading RackPin
  • Length: 10 inches
  • Width: 7 inches
  • Depth: 6 inches
  • Weight: 5.7 pounds
  • Weight capacity: depends on vehicle roof capacity 

The Rhino Rack Nautic 580 is a side-loading kayak rack system that I think is the best kayak roof rack for hauling tandem kayaks. The design of the rack means you can adjust the width of the cradles on your crossbars to accommodate wider tandem hulls.

This feature can also make it a good choice for other wide kayaks, such as fishing kayaks.

I think the best feature of this kayak rack is that it makes side loading much easier. The cradles on the loading side can be rotated for the hull to rest on while you load. And as you slide the kayak over toward the center, the cradles rotate as the kayak moves over till it’s resting on both sets of cradles.

The waterproof, UV-resistant rack consists of four santoprene rubber pads to provide cushioning and they feature a hidden lock so you can lock the rack to your crossbars.

A downside is that this kayak roof rack doesn’t fit square bars.


  • Rotating cradles
  • Cushioned rubber
  • Adjustable width


  • Not compatible with square bars

4: Rhino Rack Complete Roof Rack Kit (best for kayaks and bikes)

Rhino Rack Complete Roof Rack KitPin
  • Length: 54/59/65 inches
  • Width: 7 inches
  • Depth: 4 inches
  • Weight: 10.6 pounds
  • Weight capacity: 220 pounds

This Rhino Rack Complete Roof Rack Kit features a durable and strong set of crossbars with a high load capacity. It comes with the legs and everything you need to install the roof rack on your vehicle. But it’s not a dedicated kayak rack or bike rack.

Because this is a set of crossbars, it gives you the freedom to carry almost any type of cargo. With these crossbars, you can add additional racks (sold separately) to accommodate both a kayak and a bike to carry them on your roof at the same time.

The bars come in a choice of lengths to suit different widths of vehicles. You can also choose whether you want the rack to cars with tracks or without tracks, with installation kits to suit Thule and Yakima tracks.

You can choose either HD bars or aero Vortex bars depending on your needs. 

A downside is that there are no straps included and there is no padding on the rack, unlike with other kayak roof racks. But this can give you the freedom to install additional accessories to suit your cargo.


  • Versatile crossbars
  • Variety of lengths
  • High load capacity


  • No padding

5: Thule Hullavator Pro (best for SUVs And Minivans)

  • Length: 36 inches
  • Width: 16 inches
  • Depth: 6 inches
  • Weight: 39.7 pounds
  • Weight capacity: 75 pounds

The Thule Hullavator Pro is a load-assist kayak roof rack. If you have a tall vehicle, such as a minivan or SUV, I think this is probably the best kayak roof rack out there, especially as far as load assist systems go.

This can let you load your kayak at waist height and the gas struts lift 40-pounds of your kayak’s weight so you can lift it onto the roof easily. I’d recommend this for any paddler who struggles to lift a kayak on their own. It’s also great when it’s time to unload.

A downside is that you still have to take some of the weight of the kayak. So if your kayak is close to the maximum limit of 75-pounds, be prepared to lift 35-pounds of kayak onto your roof by yourself.

It features two padded cradles that let you haul your kayak in an upright position. This means it can work with a variety of kayaks, including sea kayaks, fishing kayaks, and recreational kayaks. 


  • Load-assist kayak rack
  • Padded cradles
  • Great for solo paddlers


  • Doesn’t lift entire weight of kayak

6: TMS J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Carrier (best budget)

TMS J-Bar Rack HD Kayak CarrierPin
  • Length: 18 inches
  • Width: 7 inches
  • Depth: 7 inches
  • Weight: 8 pounds
  • Weight capacity: 75 pounds

The TMS J-Bar kayak roof rack is an excellent budget option for carrying a solo kayak.

This affordable rack features two J-style cradles that can allow you to transport one kayak up to 36 inches wide and up to 75 pounds. And the cradles are made with steel and are padded to help protect your vessel during loading and transportation. 

This kayak roof rack is designed to suit a variety of crossbars and even comes with two lengths of bolts for easy installation on different sizes of roof bars. 

This also comes with tie-down straps included. However, this can be a tricky rack to assemble and the instructions are pretty limited. It also doesn’t fold down.


  • Budget kayak rack
  • Fits most crossbars
  • Padded J-cradles


  • Not the easiest to put together

7: Rhino Rack Folding J Style Kayak Roof Rack

Rhino Rack Folding J-Style Kayak CarrierPin
  • Length: 22 inches
  • Width: 11 inches
  • Depth: 7 inches
  • Weight: 14 pounds
  • Weight capacity: 132 pounds

This Rhino Rack Folding J-Style Carrier can be a great option for transporting one kayak. It’s durable, strong, and it’s easy to assemble.

A great feature that I’ve found on this folding kayak roof rack is the paddle holder on the back of the J-cradles. This lets you transport a one-piece kayak paddle on the same rack, freeing up more space inside your vehicle.

With its high load capacity, I find this is a good option for transporting a heavy fishing kayak. But it can be equally good for long sea kayaks or touring kayaks as well. This roof rack can also haul a canoe.

This is made from powder-coated steel and features rubber pads on the frame to keep your kayak’s hull protected. It also has universal mounting hardware to fit various bars (except square) and comes with load straps and bow and stern tie downs.


  • Very strong
  • High load capacity
  • Paddle holder


  • Doesn’t fit square bars

8: Thule Compass Kayak Roof Rack

  • Length: 32 inches
  • Width: 7 inches
  • Depth: 19 inches
  • Weight: 20 pounds
  • Weight capacity: 130 pounds

The Thule Compass is a versatile kayak roof rack that can carry two kayaks in the vertical mode or one in saddle mode. This can also be ideal for hauling up to two SUPs in the saddle mode, so you can make the most of all your water equipment with the same rack. 

The padded cradles provide adequate support for all types of kayaks up to 36-inches wide. With a total load capacity of 130-pounds, this is ideal for hauling a big fishing kayak.

A handy feature of this kayak roof rack, in my opinion, is that it folds flat when it’s not needed. So you can still drive in and out of your garage without needing to remove it (obviously not when you’re hauling kayaks), unlike some of the other roof racks.

However, this is not one of the cheapest kayak roof racks. It’s pretty pricey compared to some of the other roof racks out there.


  • Ideal for heavy kayaks
  • Can haul SUPs
  • Dual-position cradles


  • Expensive

9: HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack System

Malone HandiRack Inflatable Universal Roof Top RackPin
  • Length: 14.6 inches
  • Width: 7.4 inches
  • Depth: 5.7 inches
  • Weight: 6.4 pounds
  • Weight capacity: 175 pounds

This HandiRack Universal inflatable roof rack has an incredible load capacity, making it a great choice for larger or heavier kayaks. It’s also compatible with canoes, SUPs, and other outdoor equipment, making it a versatile inflatable roof rack.

This is designed to be easy to install and, more importantly, easy to remove. There are no tools required and it can fit almost any vehicle’s roof, securing through the doors. So there’s no damage to your vehicle, and the inflatable crossbars provide cushioned support for your kayak.

This inflatable rack sits flush against your roof which can help to minimize the amount of noise from the rack.

Because this is an inflatable kayak rack, this is not the best choice in very hot climates, as the air inside can expand in the heat, especially if you’re driving or parked in the hot sun. This can lead to the rack bursting.


  • Easily installed and removed
  • Generous load capacity
  • Less noise and vibrations


  • Might burst in the heat

10: Riverside Car Top Universal Kayak Carrier

  • Length: 18 inches
  • Width: 11 inches
  • Depth: 4 inches
  • Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Weight capacity: depends on car roof capacity

The Riverside Car Top Universal Kayak Carrier is a kayak roof rack that is designed to work both with factory or aftermarket crossbars and without. This makes it a little different from other kayak roof racks.

The rack consists of two foam blocks. These foam pads can be positioned over the crossbars of your roof rack or you can secure the blocks directly to your kayak using the included load straps.

If you don’t have crossbars on your roof, the blocks should be secured to your kayak before you load it onto the roof.

This comes with everything you need to load your kayak on your vehicle, including the all-important bow and stern tie-downs. 

This kayak roof rack may not be the best choice for heavy or wide kayaks because of the shape and consistency of the foam. The blocks are only 18-inches and foam tends to compress under heavy loads.

Video: Riverside Kayak Carrier Installation


  • Temporary installation
  • Can be used with or without crossbars
  • Load straps included


  • Not the best for large kayaks

11: Yakima EasyTop Removable Universal Roof Rack

Yakima EasyTop Removable Universal Roof RackPin
  • Length: 44 inches
  • Width: 12 inches
  • Depth: 6 inches
  • Weight: 4.5 pounds
  • Weight capacity: 80 pounds

The Yakima EasyTop is a removable roof rack with a universal fitting system that’s designed to work with almost any car (except soft tops). It’s similar to an inflatable roof rack but it’s made from foam.

It’s not permanently installed on your roof, which means it’s ideal for rental cars and if you don’t want to install a traditional roof rack on your pride-and-joy car.

This attaches to your roof through the doors of your vehicle, with buckle closures to secure the straps inside your car. This won’t work if you already have roof rack crossbars.

One of the best things about this kayak rack, in my opinion, is that it can carry more than just a kayak. This can be used to carry paddle boards, skis, or surfboards. 

It’s a durable foam kayak roof rack that provides support and padding to protect both your kayak and your car. However, you can only carry one kayak at a time, either upside down or right side up.


  • Easily removable kayak rack
  • SUP and kayak compatible
  • Padded


  • Not for vehicles with existing crossbars

12: Malone Auto Racks Stax Pro 2 Universal Folding Kayak Carrier

Malone Auto Racks Malone Stax Pro2 Kayak CarrierPin
  • Length: 20 inches
  • Width: 5 inches
  • Depth: 5 inches
  • Weight: 8.5 pounds
  • Weight capacity: 50 pounds per boat (up to four kayaks)

The Malone Auto Racks Stax Pro 2 is a heavy-duty kayak carrier that has the benefit of having universal fit Jawz mounting hardware to fit almost all types of crossbars, including square, round and most factory oval cross rails. 

This is a folding stacker kayak rack that can carry up to four kayaks on their sides. I find this can be a good option for hauling four whitewater kayaks. Depending on the width of your roof and the size of your kayaks, you may not be able to carry as many as four kayaks at once. 

A great feature of this rack is that it comes with four foam blocks that wrap around your crossbars to provide a padded resting surface for your kayaks. However, the stacker arm is not padded. 

The arm can also be difficult to reach on the roof of taller vehicles, especially if you’re on the shorter side, which can make it tricky to adjust.


  • Folds for storage
  • Pads for crossbars included
  • Universal Jawz mounting hardware


  • Not the best for SUVs or minivans.

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.

> Best 3-kayak roof racks

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.

Different Ways Kayaks Are Transported - Pie ChartPin
Courtesy: americancanoe.org


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

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.

Your Vehicle

Car SUV with top rated roof rackPin

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 to transport a kayak WITHOUT a roof rack

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.

Best 3-kayak roof racks

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.

Video: 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:

  • Thule
  • Yakima
  • Rhino Rack
  • Malone
  • TMS

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.

> Rhino Rack vs Thule vs Yakima rack comparisons

On Top: Concluding Your Quest for the Perfect Kayak Rack

There are several great kayak racks out there. But in my opinion, the best kayak roof rack system is the Yakima JayLow. It’s easy to use, with an easy loading process thanks to the ramps. And it can haul more than one kayak. 

A worthy runner-up, and one of the best kayak roof racks if you want to transport multiple kayaks, is the Yakima BigStack. This is ideal for transporting multiple kayaks across the country in a stacked position. 

Remember, not all roof racks will work with all types of vehicles or every kayak. Check your vehicle’s specifications and whether you’d find a side loading or rear loading process more suitable. 

Best Kayak Roof Racks - Pinterest ImagePin

2 thoughts on “Best Kayak Roof Racks (for easy on-car transportation)”

  1. I liked how you mentioned that a dedicated roof rack can help secure your kayak. My brother is wanting to get into kayaking and he was wondering how he can travel with one. I’ll be sure to tell him to get a dedicated roof rack on his car for his kayak.

  2. Roof racks are very important for hauling gear or luggage and Kayak roof racks are much safer and more reliable. That’s why I also want to buy a roof rack for my car but I am a little bit confused. After reading your post, now I can decide which roof rack to buy. Thank you!


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