For kayaking enthusiasts it’s important to have the right means of transporting your kayaks. For truck owners this can be a difficult issue to solve since storing your kayaks in a truck bed is not a great idea and there’s not a lot of roof space on most trucks. That’s where our list of the 7 best kayak racks for trucks comes in. We’ll give you some great suggestions for truck kayak racks as well as tips and information about what you need to know before buying.
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We’ve put together a list of a variety of types of kayak rack for truck beds, roofs and hitches. Our top pick the AA Racks Aluminum Pick Up Kayak Rack has many features that are great for any outdoors enthusiast to have in a kayak rack. It features solid aluminum construction, a high weight capacity and a universal fit for most pickup trucks.
Before we get to the reviews will break down the types of truck racks as well as answer some of the common questions associated with them.
7 Best Kayak Racks for Trucks In 2023
1. AA-Racks Kayak Rack – Top Pick
For kayakers that want a serious rack for their kayaks the APX25 by AA racks is a great option. Made out of aluminum making it much lighter than other steel racks, it still features the same carrying capacity as it’s steel counterparts. It is also more corrosion resistant than steel and the entire kit is powder coated to help improved durability and resist the elements.
The APX25 includes crossbar bumpers that protect your vehicle and kayak by holding it in place. The bumpers are adjustable to fit different sizes of kayak and can be removed entirely if you’re carrying an exceptionally wide boat.
It’s also easy to install thanks to the heavy duty c clamps it uses to hook to the truck bed. These c clamps are the same types used on bed toppers so they’re certain to satay in place. Drilling into truck beds is one of the downsides to many other products on the market which this model eliminates.
Also, for those readers who may be interested, there are different models of this rack which feature rooftop bars for added support or j racks, which cradle and secure your kayak for extra tie down support.
Full aluminum body for lighter weight, adjustable padded bumpers for security and protection, no-drill installation thanks to C-Clamps
- 800 lb carrying capacity
- Lightweight aluminum frame
- Adjustable bumpers for secure hold and protection
- No drill installation
- More expensive than similar models (but the features and value make up for this by a long shot!)
2. Darby Industries Extend A Truck – Best Hitch Rack
The aptly named Extend A Truck does exactly what it says and more. Ideal for anything from a short bed to a pickup truck bed this hitch mounted rack from Darby Industries is a great solution for when you want to load your kayaks directly into the bed of your truck and have them extend out the back if they’re only a few feet long you won’t need a red flag to warn of the potential hazard.
This rack attaches directly to your truck’s hitch receiver and extends back 53″. This gives you quite a long gap that you can lay your kayaks in and then tie them to the crossbar of the rack. The rack is also extra wide to allow for a wider kayak or boat.
One of the key features of this rack is that it comes in 3 pieces a horizontal bar, a vertical bar, and a crossbar. Not only does this make it easy to assemble, you can reverse the position of the horizontal and vertical bars to store your kayaks on a roof rack. This allows you to use the bed of your truck to haul more things and keep your kayaks on top. This gives you more versatility, the rack is wide enough for a boat but won’t mess up your utility track system if your truck has one installed, like some bed racks.
Apart from the adjustable frame, this rack also disassembles into small pieces to be tucked behind the seat of your truck for storage when not in use. This is great for kayakers who don’t want a permanently attached rack. A back rack that attaches to your hitch to carry a kayak is a more convenient option for keeping your vehicle aerodynamic and fuel efficient as well.
Easy to install, stows away when not in use, extra wide crossbeam for maximum load capacity, configurable for bed or rooftop carry
- Fast installation
- Two-way carry configuration
- Extra-wide crossbeam
- Disassembles for easy storing
- Rack is not fully adjustable (but the multiple configurations help to offset this)
3. TMS Adjustable Kayak Truck Rack – Best Affordable Kayak Truck Rack
This model is the go to standard for a truck kayak rack. The vertical bars and crossbars are all 1.5″ heavy duty steel made to support up to 800 lbs. This is also one of the most versatile racks on our list, able to act as a kayak rack, ladder rack, or lumber rack. The width is fully adjustable for anywhere between 5 and 7 food wide beds with a simple bolt that adjusts the bar width. No need for special tools.
It also has two different installation options for those who are unsure about drilling holes in their truck bed. The simple and non permanent option uses clamps to hold the rack in place. This is great for the occasional kayaker or for changing vehicles, since removal is much faster. If you’re an all the time kayak, then the installation of bolts by drilling into the truck bed is the better option. Neither option is difficult to install so it’s really a decision of how much you think you’ll use the rack
Additionally, the rack features vertical posts on each side of the crossbar to prevent loads from slipping off during travel, this is useful for transporting ladders, lumber, pipe, and other materials, assuming you’re not going kayaking. The vertical posts also have extra hooks which provide attachment points for extra tie down points such as bungee cord or ropes to supplement load security. There is an alternate model of this rack which does not feature the vertical posts also.
Lastly, this is one of the most affordable options on our list and with the quality and versatility you can’t go wrong with this option.
Heavy duty construction, affordable price, extra tie down points, adjustable width, two installation options
- Solid construction with high capacity
- Affordable price
- Adjustable width
- two mounting options
- Extra tie down points
- Heavy (but with that comes durability and security)
4. Thule 997 Goal Post Rack – Best Truck Bed Extender
This option by Thule is our pick for best bed extender due to the massively wide load capacity. You can carry multiple kayaks, a boat, paddleboards, or just about any other watercraft you can think of with this truck bed extender. This is a great option for the multisport enthusiast.
This goal post stands at an impressive 58″ across and features two upright vertical bars (goal post) in the middle to section off the crossbar and provide tie down points for kayaks or other gear. It includes an anti-sway feature for stable transport. It fits a standard 2″ hitch receiver.
Thule has included a feature that allows the rack to accommodate kayaks in the bed of the truck or on a cab rack by extending the vertical shaft. It also adjusts to fit a variety of truck bed heights thanks to fully adjustable mast. Thule made the rack in mind with compatibility to fit nearly any truck size or height.
This rack is also compatible with some Thule accessories including kayak saddles allowing some customizable transport option.
heavy duty steel construction, two vertical load stops, adjustable mast height, fits 2″ hitch receivers, extra wide
- Fully adjustable mast
- Vertical stop bars with extra tie down support
- solid steel construction
- Anti sway feature
- Width is not adjustable (But it has plenty of room)
5. Leader Accessories Kayak Rack – Best Kayak Roof Rack
The typical kayak rack for trucks involves large heavy steel bars that either mount to the bed or hitch of your truck. Leader Accessories Kayak Rack offer a different option for those interested in kayak racks for truck because this model simply mounts to any standard square crossbars to create a stable and secure method to transport up to two kayaks.
This product comes fully ready to be installed, with bolts that hand tighten the J racks to your crossbars so there’s no need for power tools or a trip to local hardware store. You’ll have all the items and information you need to install it in with the shipping of the rack.
The rack is also rust and corrosion resistant to protect from damage due to poor weather conditions. The foam padding on the cradles helps to protect your kayaks from damage and the secure hold ensures your kayaks won’t go sliding off or damage your vehicle.
The cradles are easy to remove and store as well and each weighs only 15 pounds.
Easy install or removal, lightweight, holds 2 kayaks, works on most trucks with crossbars
- Easy to install or remove
- Each rack holds one kayak comfortably
- Padded to protect your kayak
- Won’t hold a boat or wider items (but you bought it for your kayak right?
6. Apex ATR Kayak Rack – Best Lightweight Rack
Taking the spot for our lightest full rack option on the list is the Apex ATR kayak , featuring all aluminum construction and weighing only 32 pounds while supporting a load on the order of 800 lbs, this rack is great for those that want an easy on, easy off full size rack for their kayak.
What’s more, this kayak holder really shines in the installation and adjustability area. It mounts simply using 8 J shaped clamps, the clamps fit incredibly tightly so all bed rails may not work, though the positioning of the bars is adjustable so it shouldn’t interfere with your utility track system too much. The width expands to fit beds up to 66 inches so that fitting nearly any truck is possible
This is a great option with a moderate cost for the kayak enthusiast who doesn’t want to pay more for a permanently mounted rack when this lightweight aluminum rack will do the job and then some. It has the same quality and load rating of much heavier steel counterparts by the way so you’re not sacrificing durability for the sake of easy installation.
lightweight aluminum kayak rack, adjustable to 66″ widths, easy J clamp installation
- Extremely light for a full size rack
- Easy installation
- Multiple tie down points
- Won’t fit all bed rails (But it fits securely so there is some wiggle room)
7. AA-Racks Universal Rack – Best Ladder Rack
This option is for those kayak enthusiasts who want more out of a rack than a standard bed rack. This one is design to go on top of your existing bed cover, tonneau cover, or camper shell. The two bars are made of powder coated steel and are wide enough for a boat or a kayak or two. More importantly each bar weighs only twenty pounds so mounting them is a cinch once you’re on top of your vehicle.
The bars are adjustable from 35 to 57 inches to accommodate a large width kayak or other craft. There are also bumpers on each end to keep your kayak from sliding off should your tie downs fail. This adds more security during travel.
Like most roof toppers, you have to drill holes to mount the bars, but the manufacturer has included gaskets to seal the holes and prevent moisture from getting into the holes where the mounts go. This is a great easy to use rooftop kayak rack for the kayak enthusiast who doesn’t want to lose their truck bed and has a budget to think of as well.
Easy mount topper kayak rack, lightweight at only 20 pounds, expands to 57 inch width
- Easy installation
- Holds one kayak on each side with stoppers to prevent sliding
- Lacks any notable special features (But it does the job well and it’s inexpensive)
Types of Truck Racks
There are three main types of rack for your pickup truck that can be used to load kayaks and other gear onto your truck for transport.
Truck Topper/Roof Mounted Rack Systems
These are type of kayak rack that is made to go on top of a truck topper. A truck topper is a great access for covering the bed of a truck and protecting the contents from the weather. However, a truck topper prevents installing a traditional bed rack onto your truck. That’s where a truck topper rack system comes in. These systems are specifically designed so that you can still transport kayaks on the roof of your truck topper, giving you back your carrying capacity.
Bed racks are the most practical option for regular kayakers. They allow for permanent storage of your kayaks in the bed of your truck. Most models are made of heavy duty steel or aluminum and are weather resistant. These types of racks bolt directly to the truck bed and are generally left up permanently.
Bed Extender/Hitch Racks
These are a great option for transporting kayaks in the back of your truck bed and letting them rest on the “goal posts” . Having one of these racks allows you to simply sling your kayaks in the back of your truck and go. Always attach a hazard flag to loads that extend past the rack for safety. Shorter boats may simply rest on the hitch rack without extending out past it and won’t require a hazard flag for transport.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Type of Kayak Rack is Best for my Truck ?
This is probably the first consideration you’ll want to make when buying a kayak rack for your truck. There are a number of factors that go into this decision.
The first thing to consider is your own physical ability. roof and lumber racks require you to lift up your kayaks to place them on the rack. If you have trouble lifting your kayaks, then a truck bed extender may be a better option as all you’ll have to do is slide your kayaks into the bed of your truck and secure them to the bed extender.
If your truck bed is shorter and a bed extender may not be enough to carry a kayak, you may want to in vest in a bed topper and a roof rack. A bed topper allows you to store gear in the bed of your truck and have it covered by the topper, you can then install a roof rack on top of that for carrying kayaks, this will give you a longer space for storage. Also, owning a kayak might require you to use a kayak hoist system in your garage. Our recent post about kayak storage rack and kayak roof rack reviews might help you!
Lastly, if you have a traditional truck bed and want a more permanent hauling solution for kayaks and other items, then a standard bed/lumber rack is a good option, it allows you to have full use of your truck bed without the rack interfering in normal function, then when ready you have a conveniently located place to store your kayaks. You can learn more about hitch kayak rack on our recent post.
Things to Consider When Buying a Kayak Rack for Truck or Pickup Truck Use
Whether you have a standard pickup truck or a larger truck with a shorter bed or even one of the popular truck/suv hybrid vehicles, there are a few considerations to make before attaching a product to carry kayaks onto it.
Since, in most cases you’ll be lifting the kayaks onto your vehicle, you want to make sure that not only can you lift the weight onto the rack, but that the rack can support that weight properly or has enough tie down spots to secure the load. Kayaks are large, heavy objects, essentially small boats and having the proper load capacity is important.
A good rule to go by when choosing a truck or pickup truck rack is have at least 100 pounds more capacity than you’ll need for all the things you’ll carry on your rack.
Unless you’re one of those folks who is a diy expert or have a lot of experience installing factory racks or kayak racks for people, you’ll likely want a rack for your truck that’s easy to install. Most truck kayak racks simply bolt onto the bed of your truck, attach to crossbars on the roof, or attach to your hitch via a hitch receiver.
However, some racks will require you to drill holes into the bed of your truck or into the bed liner to faster the rack to your truck. In theses cases it is important to seek the proper assistance when installing the rack. Most brands have a website with videos on installation or a customer service help center that will answer questions and provide solutions for installing your kayak rack.
The first time you try to transport watercraft attached to the roof of your truck you’ll notice a significant drag on your vehicle and a drop in your fuel economy. While this may not be an issue for the occasional kayaker, if you plan on using your truck to transport kayaks regularly, then you’ll want to try and find a model of rack that improves airflow through an aerodynamic design.
Truck bed and goal post racks that sit below the cab of your vehicle offer better aerodynamics than roof racks.
At the end of the day it’s all about safety when loading and unloading your kayaks and during transport, especially when moving at highway speeds. Looking for a rack that has extra features like support posts, tie-down loops or ratchet straps is the best way to make doubly sure that your kayaks are secure for yourself and other drivers when traveling down the road. We have also put together the best kayak trailers that might help you load and unload your kayaks. And for transporting your kayaks to the water, you can check our post where we listed 9 best kayak carts and everything you need to know about them. Also, if your planning to bring your bikes on your next travel, you can hop in to our recent blog here.
7 Best Kayak Racks for Trucks (Ultimate Guide) – Wrapping Up
For kayak lovers who want a solution to fit their truck, finding a viable option can sometimes feel tricky. Hopefully our ultimate guide will help you answer some questions and provide some suggestions when you go to find a kayak carrier for your truck. Our top pick the Aluminum Pick- Up Kayak Rack by AARacks is a great choice for everything you want in a carrier that is sure to meet all your needs.
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