7 Best Kayak Roof Racks of 2021 (Everything You MUST Know)

Whether you’re an avid outdoorsman or a novice kayaker you’ve probasbly thought about the best way to transport your kayak. If you’ve looked at a kayak carrier of some kind then you’ve probably noticed that a kayak car rack or roof racks are a definite must for getting your gear down to your favorite spot. Ktayaks are heavy and difficult to carry so having a roof rack system will allow you to take your kayak straight from storage and onto the roof of your vehicle.

For this list we’ve looked at the best kayak roof racks for a variety of situations and vehicle types to help ensure that your kayak is safely and securely transported to its destination. Kayak carriers come in a number of styles and usage types. We’ll cover some of things you’ll want to know when choosing the right rooftop kayak carriers for your vehicle and some of the tools and tips you’ll need for your next trip to the river.

Comparison Table

IMAGE PRODUCT DETAILS
  • Features: Gas assisted lift system to help with weight. 8 padded touched points to protect your Kayak. Bow and Stern Tie Straps
  • Benefits: Holds up to 75 lbs per system, two per vehicle. Aluminum and Double Coated Steel Construction.
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  • Features: Solid steel J-Bar carrier with adjustable padding. Optimized sizing leaves roof space.
  • Benefits: Easy installation and removal. Fits atop most roofs and adjustable padding helps protect kayaks from damage.
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  • Features: Comes fully assembled. Universal mount fits all crossbar types. Corrosion resistant coating.
  • Benefits: Folds down when not in use to save space. Kayak holders come with added paddle holders.
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  • Features: Side storage rack for extra long kayaks. Securely locks in place. Padding at contact points for added protection
  • Benefits: No tools, ten minute installation. Space saving holds up to 80 pounds.
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  • Features: Inflatable crossbar system that is good for all but softtop convertibles. 175 pound capacity.Safe up to highway speeds.
  • Benefits: Easy install soft racks require no tools. Unversally compatible with most hard top roofs.
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  • Features: Truck bed mounted rack system for carrying multiple kayaks or lots of outdoor equipment. Safety locks ensure stability
  • Benefits: Adjustable load straps for handling different load shapes/sizes. Holds up to 600 lbs.
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  • Features: Two system assembly for transporting two kayaks at once. Movable foam cushions provide protection and support
  • Benefits: Rust resistant durable aluminum construction. Easily assembles and disassembles for transfer to different vehicles.
Check Latest Price

The Thule Hullavator Pro is our best kayak roof rack thanks to the solid steel and aluminum construction combined with the gas powered lift system that lowers to waist height and then helps raise your kayak onto the roof of your car and securely looks into place. Each rack is small enough to allow for extra roof space or for installing an additional rack. It even has an expandable base for holding kayaks of different sizes.


7 Best Kayak Roof Rack Reviews

1. Thule Hullavator Pro – Top Overall Pick

This particular j cradle system by Thule is one of their best sellers. This is likely due to the gas assisted lift system that takes 40 pounds of the weight off your shoulders and helps raise the kayak onto the roof of your car and lock it in place. The locking system ensure no movement from your boat once locked in and the solid steel and aluminum construction means this rack is built to last. A bit on the pricier side of the menu, the durability and mechanical assist make this the best kayak roof rack for the money.

Anyone fond of kayaking will appreciate the 8 padded contact points and the corrosion resistant expanding kayak cradles that fit even the widest kayaks. The system holds one kayak securely enough for long trips and the waist height arm system makes it the best kayak rack for a solo kayaker who needs to mount and dismount their boat.

Features:

Gas powered struts lower to waist level and support 40lbs. 8 touch points and 75 lb weight limit.

Pros:

  • Lift Assist for one person operation
  • Multiple padded touch points for security and protection
  • Solid steel construction and corrosion resistant

Cons:

  • A bit pricier than other systems (But It’s worth it this one will be with you for the long haul)

2. TMS J-Bar Kayak Carrier – Best Light Duty Rack

The TMS J-Bar is another popular J-style carrier. This one features an easy to install and remove mounting system and adjustable pads to support kayaks up to 36 inches. Not suitable for the largest and widest kayaks this kayak rack is durable and convenient for a small or medium sized boat. The racks themselves are optimized to save space and can be mounted to most crossbar types. The product comes with all the installation hardware and instructions and each component is labelled for quick and easy car top installation. This is an affordable option for someone new to kayaking that wants to be able to throw a mount on their car roof but doesn’t want a super time consuming process or a major financial investment

Features:

J style kayak rack optimized for minimal roof space. Adjustable pads ensure proper fit and protection. Easy install and removal kit

Pros:

  • Affordable option
  • Quick and easy installation and removal
  • Small size means two kits can fit on most roofs for double carrying capacity

Cons:

  • Doesn’t fit larger kayaks (Perfect for your everyday kayaks though!)

3. Rhino J-Cradle Kayak Carrier – Top Universal Mount

The Rhino Rack is another in the long line of j cradles. The difference for this one is that it is truly a universal system. Designed to mount to almost any crossbar in existence this kayak rack can go anywhere on almost any vehicle. This is the best kayak rack for versatility thanks to the number of vehicles it will fit. The convenient folding system saves space when not in use but locks into an upright position for secure storage. Also, if you want to learn more on how you can save space on your garage, you can check our recent post about the best kayak storage rack.

The kit comes completely pre-assembled and has easy mounting instructions so the installation process is a breeze. The j cradles come with convenient paddle holders so that you can keep your boat and the paddles together. There’s even an extension available that allows you to fit two kayaks in the same system. If you need a universal kayak rack then this one should definitely be on your menu.

Features:

Foldable J style kayak carrier, comes pre-assembled with optional extensions. Universal mounting system fits almost any vehicle.

Pros:

  • Compact space saving foldable design
  • Comes with pre-assembled carrier, tie downs, and bow and stern straps
  • Universally mountable
  • Holds one kayak with option extension for two

Cons:

  • Can’t hold all kayak sizes (Still a great option for most of them)

4. Yakima Jayhook – Top Heavy Duty Rack

The Jayhook is similar to yakima jaylow racks, another product in the line except this a sleek heavy duty j-cradle system for one kayak. The 80 pound weight limit will hold even the heaviest boats with ease and the secure locking mechanism and extra padding makes this a solid choice. Store your kayak and then have space for any of your other gear on the rest of your roof with this space saving model. comes with mounting hardware and straps and features tool-free 10 minute setup.

The system mounts to most crossbars with minimal footprint and without the need for roof rails or other attachments. The simplicity of the design is excellent when kayaking is only part of your next excursion, now you can store your kayak and your camping and other gear together no need for your boat to take up all the roof space. Like its cousin the yakima jaylow, the jayhook comes with optional extra warranty protection and a convenient tool to check and make sure your vehicle fits the rack.

Features:

Fits any type of kayak up to 80 pounds, installs in 10 minutes with no tools necessary. Padded protection and tie downs/straps included

Pros:

  • Sturdy and heavy duty supports 80lbs
  • Easy to install
  • Space saving design

Cons:

  • Not adjustable (but it fits any kayak nicely and securely!)

5. Malone Roof Top Rack – Top Inflatable Rack

An inflatable roof rack is one of the best products for those who don’t want to install traditional racks. While more expensive options such as the malone downloader exist, the handirack is a quick afforable option for transporting not just your boat, but all your outdoor gear. Unlike a tradition rack, the handirack can mount to your crossbars or straight to your car’s roof. Simply inflate the pads and strap them to your crossbars or roof and you’ve got an easy and affective means for transporting your kayaks. you can install roof rails or side rails for added security or simply tie down your kayak yourself and you’re ready to go. No bulky equipment or messy installation necessary.

Some kayaking enthusiasts may prefer the assisted lift feature of the malone downloader, but for the everyday kayak lover, the handirack is more than capable of suiting your needs. The padded inflatable bars make this rack a great solution for quick trips or for fitting your vehicle in a hurry or when you don’t already have crossbars and mounting equipment.

Features:

Comes with two bars that strap to the cabin of your vehicle for easy setup, pump included for quick inflation, fits most roofs without need for side rails or other parts

Pros:

  • Easy and quick inflation
  • No extra parts or bulky equipment necessary
  • Fits a variety of roof types and sizes

Cons:

  • Kayak must be manually tied down (But the system is padded and secure so a couple straps and you’re good to go)

6. Thule Xsporter Pro Truck – Top Professional Rack

Unlike other options on our list, this rack system is specifically for truck beds. Designed to fit most compact and full size truck beds, the Thule Xsporter is for hauling around a lot of equipment all at once. It features two solid aluminum bars that mount directly to the truck bed. The bars fit below the cabin and are designed to be aerodynamic. They have adjustable load stops to ensure that any size and shape load is secure. Store up to four kayaks safely in the back of your truck at once. This option is perfect for carrying your boats, paddles, and camping gear all in one place.

Easily holds up to 600 lbs and is surprisingly easy to install, with no cutting or drilling necessary. This is the perfect option for kayaking enthusiasts who don’t have a tradition roof to support racks of other types. Hauling more gear at once is easy with this rack.

Features:

2 aluminum bars mounted below the cabin to each end of truck bed, aluminum load stops to secure loads of different sizes, 600 pound capacity

Pros:

  • Solid Construction
  • Easily mounted with no drilling or cutting
  • 600lb load capacity

Cons:

  • Can be a bit pricey (But with this rack you can haul almost everything at once!)

7. Malone Kayak Carrier – Top Stacking Carrier

The Malone Stax Pro 2 is a stacking carrier designed to hold two kayaks on top of each other. This is a great space saving option for smaller roofs or when you have other gear you need to transport along side your kayak. Proprietary stabilizing cushions both secure and protect your boats during transport. The aluminum locking bars also fold down for convenience when not in use. The solid aluminum bars are accompanied by injection molded stabilizing platforms.

The system also comes with a universal fit JAWZ mounting hardware, which features tool free assembly and a lifetime warranty. Not only are your kayaks protected but so is your investment.

Features:

Two Kayake Stacking Posts, Molded Nylon stabilizers, Lifetime warranty

Pros:

  • Stacking system saves space
  • Solid construction
  • Proprietary technology protects your kayak

Cons:

  • Doesn’t fit all crossbars (It’s easy to check if you have the right types though)

FAQs

Now we will discuss some common questions you may have before you choose your kayak rack. We’ll cover the different types of kayak carrier or rack for your car, truck, or suv as well as picking one that’s a fit for any size kayaks.

Do I Need a Roof Rack for a Kayak?

The short answer is no, you don’t NEED a roof rack for a kayak. However, lifting and moving a kayak is difficult enough, let alone trying to strap one down for a road trip to the nearest water source. A kayak roof rack not only gives you a convenient place to store your kayak on your car or truck, a roof rack typically has room for one or two kayaks depending on the model and roof space, and has foam pads built into the system to prevent you from scraping and scratching your kayak and your vehicle. Know more about kayak rack for trucks on our recent post.

A rooftop rack is pretty much essential for long distance travel with your kayak. One kayak is heavy enough to require secure transport, if you are transporting two or more then you will need a car rack that not only fits your kayak but also securely fastens them down. Most kayak racks come with bow and stern tie downs for added security. We have also listed the best kayak trailer to give you more information you must know before going to your kayaking trip.

How Do I Choose a Kayak Roof Rack?

There are a number of considerations when choosing a kayak roof rack. When picking the best kayak roof rack for your vehicle the first thing you’ll want to consider is whether or not the system is made to fit the roof of your vehicle. The best kayak roof racks are universal and work with nearly all vehicle roof types.

You also need to consider the size of your roof and how much space you have from side to side and front to back. Once you know the dimensions of your roof, you’ll need to measure the dimensions of your kayaks. Not having a proper fitting roof rack for your kayak can be just as much of a problem as one that doesn’t properly fit the roof of your car. If your vehicle doesn’t already have crossbars for mounting a roof rack, you may have to purchase aftermarket crossbars to add to your vehicle

After you’ve taken all those things into consideration you’ll want to look at whether your kayak roof carrier is easy to use and install. Make sure that the rack you buy is able to be mounted easily enough that should you need to change out equipment you can do so without much hassle. A complicated rack system can be difficult to transition to a new vehicle should the need arise.

Now we’ll cover the different types of kayak roof racks.

Kayak Roof Rack Systems

In this section we’ll give a description of each of the different types of roof racks and how they are used.

Crossbars

Crossbars are the starting point for most roof rack systems. Generally the mounting hardware installs to your existing crossbars and forms the base of your roof rack.

Stackers

Stackers are useful for stacking multiple kayaks onto your roof. Suitable for smaller kayaks these kayak racks are good for storage but best used with light weight kayaks as the lifting and stacking can be quite a problem after you’ve been out all day on the water.

Rollers

Rollers mount to your roof rack and allow you to slide your kayaks onto the roof from front to back. Ideal for loading them onto a vehicle with a longer roof, all you have to do is lift it up onto the rollers and let them do the rest of the work.

Saddles

Saddles attach to your crossbars and form a cradle that supports your kayak from below. These kayak racks are great for keeping your boat stable and locked in place. The only downside is that the kayak must be lifted and placed into the saddle just right to make sure it is seated properly. This type of rack can be difficult to use with heavier kayaks.

J-Style

A J style kayak carrier or j cradles are a rack system that mounts j shaped brackets onto your car and allows you to easily mount your kayaks into them from the side of your car. This style is quite popular and is often listed among the best kayak roof rack systems due to the number of types from regular j shaped brackets to gas powered lifting mechanisms. They are often small enough to mount two roof racks on one roof allowing for storing two kayaks at once.

Pads

Pads are valued for their simplicity. Simply mount the inflatable or foam pads to your crossbars and lay your kayaks on them. You’ll have to tie your kayak down but pads can fit almost any car and are a quick and easy kayak rack solution. They can also be used without crossbars by looping a strap around your car roof. This style kayak carrier is ideal for short trips to the beach or for when you live close to a river and want to go kayaking.

Can You Put a Kayak Rack On a Car With a Sunroof

The answer to this is yes, with caution. Regardless of your roof you should always consult your owners manual for weight capacity. Roof racks work with a sunroof but the opening itself is typically more fragile than a solid hard surface. To prevent damage to kayaks it is wise to add extra pads under your kayak. A heavier boat may crack the glass on a sunroof so support the weight evenly and ensure the glass is not bearing the brunt of the weight. Also, you might want to read our recent post about the best roof rack awning if you want to have a rest or just hang out under during the day.

How Do You Put a Kayak On a Roof Rack By Yourself?

Ok, lets face it, a kayak is basically a miniature boat. Loading them onto your car can be quite a chore especially if you’re just getting into the sport of kayaking or are just a recreational kayaker. The best answer to this question is to use the technology available to you. The best products to use when loading a kayak by yourself are either rollers or j style kayak racks. Rollers allow you to roll the kayak all the way onto your vehicle once you get the end of the kayak on them and j cradles allow you to lift them up from the side of the vehicle and set them in place, not a lot of maneuvering of the boat is necessary. Some j cradle kayak systems even have a lift mechanism that takes a lot of the weight out of the kayak and helps place it onto the roof of the car. Also, we know that kayaks are heavy and hard to carry so you might want to know about the best hitch kayak rack to provide extra space for your kayaks. You can also read our recent post on kayak cart reviews to know our best options in transporting your kayaks to the water.


Final Thoughts

There are a lot of options for roof racks to choose from. Once you know what you’re looking for, what type of car and kayak you need to accommodate, our list will held you choose the right rack or racks for you. Whether you’re a beginner buying your first kayak or an avid kayaking fan you want a rack that works for you. Our top pick the Thule Hullavator Pro is not only one of the top rated racks out there, it fits a variety of needs and has excellent construction making it an obvious choice if you’re looking for the best kayak rack.

IMAGE PRODUCT DETAILS
  • Features: Gas assisted lift system to help with weight. 8 padded touched points to protect your Kayak. Bow and Stern Tie Straps
  • Benefits: Holds up to 75 lbs per system, two per vehicle. Aluminum and Double Coated Steel Construction.
Check Latest Price
  • Features: Solid steel J-Bar carrier with adjustable padding. Optimized sizing leaves roof space.
  • Benefits: Easy installation and removal. Fits atop most roofs and adjustable padding helps protect kayaks from damage.
Check Latest Price
  • Features: Comes fully assembled. Universal mount fits all crossbar types. Corrosion resistant coating.
  • Benefits: Folds down when not in use to save space. Kayak holders come with added paddle holders.
Check Latest Price
  • Features: Side storage rack for extra long kayaks. Securely locks in place. Padding at contact points for added protection
  • Benefits: No tools, ten minute installation. Space saving holds up to 80 pounds.
Check Latest Price
  • Features: Inflatable crossbar system that is good for all but softtop convertibles. 175 pound capacity.Safe up to highway speeds.
  • Benefits: Easy install soft racks require no tools. Unversally compatible with most hard top roofs.
Check Latest Price
  • Features: Truck bed mounted rack system for carrying multiple kayaks or lots of outdoor equipment. Safety locks ensure stability
  • Benefits: Adjustable load straps for handling different load shapes/sizes. Holds up to 600 lbs.
Check Latest Price
  • Features: Two system assembly for transporting two kayaks at once. Movable foam cushions provide protection and support
  • Benefits: Rust resistant durable aluminum construction. Easily assembles and disassembles for transfer to different vehicles.
Check Latest Price
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Austin Mills

Austin Mills in an outdoor enthusiast. He's been featured on some of the top outdoor & fitness blogs sharing his expertise in order to help others. In his free time, he likes spending time with his dogs enjoying the outdoors.