December 19, 2021 17 min read

Kayak Roof Racks

Red and green on a kayak roof rack

Kayaks are a fun bit of kit, but unless you have water right in your backyard, you’re going to need to transport your kayak elsewhere. 

Luckily, a kayak roof rack can easily be installed, can fit on most vehicle types, and depending on your budget, doesn't need to cost an arm and a leg. 

There are many kayak roof racks on the market and all are slightly different in their own way. We’ve narrowed down the 19 best kayak roof racks for all budgets that’ll get you transporting your kayak to the water in no time. 

Types of Roof Racks

Yellow kayak on a car roof rack

Before you purchase a kayak roof rack, you need to decide which type would suit you best. There are 4 types of roof racks, j-cradles, saddles, stackers, and temporary pads. 

The type you choose will depend on your specific kayak and the vehicle you’ll be using to transport it. 

J-cradles

J-cradles or J-style racks have a versatile shape and are one of the most popular kayak roof racks on the market. 

They have a side-loading mechanism so you can load and unload your kayak onto the roof from the side of the vehicle. 

J-cradles are a great option if you want to carry your kayak and extra gear on the roof of your car because they leave you with adequate space once installed. Using a J-cradle also means that you can install another J-cradle on the other side, and carry two boats at once. 

When using a J-cradle, you’ll need pre-installed crossbars on your car to mount them to. 

J-style racks add extra height to your vehicle when in use, so this is important to keep in mind if you’ll be traveling through height-restricted areas.

Saddles or Horizontal Racks

Saddle or horizontal racks are a great choice if you plan on only transporting one kayak at a time. 

The saddle involves single or double interconnected cradles that adjust to the width of the vehicle. They act as a seat for the hull of your kayak and the kayak can either be transported horizontally or the right way up. 

Saddles are a secure way to transport your kayak because they have a large surface area supporting them and won’t move when traveling at high speeds or over long distances. 

Most saddle racks need to be mounted to pre-installed roof crossbars. 

Stackers Vertical Roof Rack

Heading out on a kayak trip with your buddies? Then a stacker or vertical roof rack will be the best option. 

These racks can carry multiple kayaks at a time because they are held vertically on their sides instead of horizontally. 

Depending on the width of your car, you’ll be able to carry up to 4 kayaks at once and a stacker rack will require crossbars installed on your car roof. 

Temporary Pads

Temporary pads are easy to install and remove. The straps of the pads are placed both inside and outside of the car and hold your gear securely in place. 

Foam or inflatable padding is then attached to the racks to protect your kayak while it is on the roof. They are favorable for short journeys but are not designed for frequent or long-distance travel. 

If you plan on taking your kayak out regularly and traveling down roads at high speeds, temporary pads aren’t for you. 

Temporary pads can be mounted onto most vehicles and they don’t require pre-installed crossbars or rails.

How To Choose The Right Roof Rack For Your Kayak

Green kayak on a car roof rack

Your Vehicle & Its Base Roof Setup

Your car could have one of four base roof possibilities, and whichever your car has will influence the roof rack system you purchase. 

  • Bare or Naked Roof
  • Side Rails
  • Factory Crossbars
  • Aftermarket Crossbars 

Having a bare roof or one fitted with side rails only limits your kayak rack system to temporary pads. Temporary pads don’t need to be mounted to anything and can be strapped onto any type of vehicle.  

If you have factory or aftermarket crossbars, then a J-style rack, saddles, or stackers can mount onto the bars and carry your kayak. Factory fitted crossbars may have a weight capacity, so it is important to check before loading your kayak. 

How Often Will You Use It?

The amount you use your kayak can also influence the roof rack system you install on your car. If you paddle numerous times a week, you’ll want a system that is easy to load and unload, so you aren’t wasting time.

Saddles at the front and rollers at the back are some of the most convenient hauling systems for people who paddle regularly. J-cradles are also durable and easy to load and unload from the side of your vehicle. 

If you usually paddle by yourself, you may want to invest in a load-assisted carrier to help you get the kayak on and off the roof.

For those who only plan on taking their kayak out occasionally, a temporary roof rack might be sufficient for your lifestyle. 

How Far Are You Traveling? 

For long-distance travel where you’ll most likely be driving at high speeds, you’ll need a fitted and secure roof rack. 

Temporary pads should only be used to take your kayak to local waterways. In other words, on journeys where driving at high speeds isn't necessary. 

How Many Kayaks Do You Need to Transport? 

The number of kayaks you want to transport at any one time will also play a huge factor in your kayak rack decision.

If you plan to carry over one kayak, then a stacker-style rack would be your best option. Some J-style racks can hold two kayaks, but it’s best to check the product description to be sure. 

If you’re only taking one kayak out, most solutions will work for you depending on your car type. 

The Top 10 Kayak Roof Racks: Guide for All Budgets

  1. Rhino Rack Nautic 570
  2. Yakima JayLow Roof Kayak Carrier
  3. Malone SeaWing
  4. Rhino Rack Folding J Style Kayak Carrier
  5. Malone HandiRack Inflatable Bars
  6. Thule 830 The Stacker Kayak Carrier
  7. Thule Hull-a-Port Pro 
  8. TMS J-Bar Kayak Rack
  9. Malone Stax Pro 2
  10. DockGrip Kayak Carrier

Best Kayak Roof Racks By Price

If you want to stick to a specific budget, we’ve clearly categorized the best kayak roof rack systems by price to help make your search and decision-making 10 x easier! 

TMS J-bar rack kayak carrier

Best Budget Kayak Racks

Good things don’t always need to cost a lot of money. These budget roof racks will keep your kayak secure and your wallet happy.

Thule hull-a-port rooftop kayak carrier

Best Premium Kayak Racks

If you’re an avid kayaker and you paddle multiple times a week, you may want to invest in a premium roof rack to make your loading process the easiest it can be.

Best Budget Kayak Roof Racks

If you only take your kayak out a few times a year, you may not want to spend a large sum of money on a roof rack. We’ve gathered together the best budget kayak roof rack systems for those who are shopping on a budget. 

TMS J-Bar Kayak Rack

The TMS J-Bar Kayak Rack is a great example of how a low price point doesn’t mean low quality. 

The rack comes with different length bolts and fits on most types of crossbars. The J-Bar can carry a range of different water toys, like kayaks, canoes, surfboards, and even bikes, so you really get a great deal with this rack! 

The J-style cradles are made from steel and are covered with adjustable padding to keep your board secure and damage-free during transit. 

J-cradles allow you to have more roof space and, depending on the width of your car roof, you can purchase two sets of the TMS J-bars and carry two kayaks at once. 

The maximum weight limit that the J-bars can hold is 75 pounds and the maximum width of the kayak is up to 36 inches.

TMS J-bar rack kayak carrier

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Two different length bolts so it can be attached to most crossbars.
  • Can carry a range of water toys. 
  • Made from durable steel.
  • Protective padding on the bars keeps your kayak safe.
  • Only uses up half of your roof space.
  • Can hold up to 75 pounds and 36 inches in width.

Malone HandiRack Inflatable Bars

The Malone HandiRack Inflatable Roof Rack Bars are a temporary rack system that can be inflated and deflated when not in use. 

They fit onto most vehicle types and don’t need pre-installed crossbars to mount to. Installation of the HandiRack Inflatable Bars takes 5 minutes and no tools are required, you simply pass the straps through the car doors, inflate with the pump and close the doors on them. 

Each of the inflatable crossbars has integrated metal D-rings to secure your kayak, canoe, surfboard, or SUP of up to 175 pounds down with the included attachment straps.  

The Malone HandiRack Inflatable is made from durable non-abrasive 400D nylon and the metal parts are coated with an anti-corrosion coating. 

HandiRack original universal inflatable roof rack

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Can be deflated and taken off easily when not in use.
  • Fits most types of vehicles.
  • Doesn’t need a pre-installed crossbar system.
  • Metal D-rings help secure the kayak down.
  • Made from non-abrasive 400D nylon.
  • Can carry an array of watersport equipment. 

ECOTRIC J-Bar Kayak Rack

Included in the ECOTRIC J-Bar Kayak Rack are two sets of J-bars, meaning you can carry two kayaks for an incredibly low price. 

They are made from rugged steel and adjustable padding, so you can place your gear in your desired position. 

Crossbars that are thicker than 1” or wider than 2.5” won’t work with the ECOTRIC J-bar system, but they will work with most factory standard flat or square crossbars. 

Four straps and mounting hardware are included in the package, so no extra equipment is needed. 

The J-bars will comfortably fit kayaks up to 36” wide and up to 165 pounds in weight. 

Ecotric J-bar 2 pairs universal kayak

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Features two sets of J-bars so you can carry two boats.
  • Made from rugged steel with adjustable padding.
  • Will fit most factory standard flat or square crossbars.
  • Includes four 8’ straps and mountain hardware.
  • Fits boats up to 165 pounds in weight and 36” wide. 

Malone Stax Pro 2

The Malone Stax Pro 2 is a stacker-style carrier and will fit onto most square, round, and oval factory crossbars.

Two boats can easily be transported on the Stax Pro, however, depending on the width of your car and crossbars, you can carry up to four kayaks at once. 

The rack comes with tie-down straps and stacker blocks to cushion the kayaks during transport. The Malone Stax Pro 2 has a tool-free assembly, making it easy to install and go. 

The octagonal aluminum posts mount directly to the roof load bars and the universal-fit JAWZ mounting hardware means you can load the bars without the use of any tools. 

Malone stax pro 2 universal folding kayak carrier

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Can fit up to four kayaks depending on your car type.
  • Stacker blocks cushion the kayaks when in transport.
  • Includes tie-down straps, stacker blocks, and the rack system itself.
  • Made from aluminum and injection-molded nylon platforms.
  • Tool-free assembly.
  • Fits most round, square, and oval factory crossbars. 

Malone SeaWing

The Malone SeaWing is a saddle-style kayak carrier that only takes up half the roof of your car. The benefit of this is that you can add another SeaWing on the other side of your car and carry two kayaks at once. 

The hardware used for mounting it to your vehicle is compatible with square, round, and oval cross rails. Mounting the rack is simple and doesn’t require any tools. 

The frame of the SeaWing is made from corrosion-free polycarbonate and is then padded with rubber to protect the kayak while driving. 

Bow and stern straps are included in the package to help tie your kayak down and prevent it from moving when you’re transporting it on your car. 

Malone seawing saddle style car rack kayak carrier

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Only uses up half of the car roof so you can easily add a second and carry two kayaks.
  • Fits most square, round, and oval roof racks.
  • Toolless mounting.
  • Made from polycarbonate and padded with rubber.
  • Includes everything you would need to get going. 

WOOWAVE Kayak Roof Rack Pads

The WOOWAVE Kayak Roof Rack Pads are made of EPE foam interior and a UV-resistant nylon cover exterior. 

These pads are a temporary rack system, so you don’t need pre-installed crossbars to attach them to. 

Included with the pads are two waterproof polyester straps with metal buckles that can tighten around the roof and securely keep your kayak in place. When the pads aren’t in use, they can be stored in the included carry bag. 

Woowave kayak roof rack pads

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Temporary pads that fit all vehicles.
  • Easy to install and can be placed in a provided carry bag.
  • 33 inches in length. 

DrSports USA Universal Kayak Rack

The DrSportsUSA Universal Kayak Rack has 4 universal adapters with 50 and 60 mm bolts so you can attach them to round, oval, and square crossbars. 

They are made of corrosion and UV-resistant polycarbonate that can withstand the outdoor elements and the extra padding creates a layer of protection for your kayak. 

Two tie-down bow and stern straps, buckle load straps and loop handles are included with the rack so you can safely and securely tie down your boat. 

DrSportsUSA Universal Kayak Rack and Canoe Carrier Rooftop Mount on SUV

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Fits on round, oval, and square crossbars.
  • Made of UV and corrosion-resistant polycarbonate.
  • Padding on brackets provides a layer of protection for your kayak. 
  • Includes everything you need to install. 

Best Mid-Range Kayak Roof Racks

Rhino Rack Nautic 570

The Rhino Rack Nautic 570 gives you the option to load and unload your kayak from the side or the rear of your vehicle. The pads can swivel 180 degrees, which is beneficial if you’re towing gear behind your car. 

The four waterproof and UV-protected rubber pads have flexible joints to grip your kayak securely and create a stable rooftop storage space. 

The mounting hardware fits most factory-fitted roof racks and can hold a variety of kayak hull shapes. All straps and tools you’ll need to install the system are included in the package. 

Rhino rack nautic series kayak carrier

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Pads swivel 180 so you can load from the side or the rear.
  • Waterproof and UV-protected pads.
  • Fits most factory-fitted roof racks.
  • Can hold a wide variety of hull shapes.
  • Includes all the necessary components to transport your kayak.

Yakima JayLow Roof Kayak Carrier

The Yakima JayLow Kayak Carrier can be used as a J-style carrier or a vertical stacker carrier, allowing you to transport two kayaks at once. 

If you’re carrying a singular kayak in the J-cradle position, the kayak can weigh up to 80 pounds. If you stack two kayaks, the combined weight can be no more than 110 pounds. 

The minimum crossbar spread needed for the JayLow is 24” and the mounts are compatible with most factory roof racks. 

The cradles are padded to improve the grip on the kayak and the integrated cam lever makes it easy for you to adjust it to an upright position. 

Everything you would need to strap your kayak down is included in the Yakima JayLow package and the rack can fold flat when not in use. 

Yakima Jaylow J-style fold down kayak carrier

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Can be both a J-style carrier or a vertical stacker so you can transport more than one kayak.
  • Can hold a combined weight of 110 pounds.
  • Fits most factory-installed crossbars.
  • Padded cradles to support and protect your kayak.
  • Includes all necessary straps and components. 

Rhino Rack Folding J Style Kayak Carrier

The mounting system of the Rhino Rack J-style Kayak Carrier fits most roof racks and is easy to install. 

The heavy-duty coated steel cradle mounts to the crossbar and carries your kayak on its side, only taking up half of the roof. If you want to carry two kayaks, you can purchase a second Rhino Rack J-style carrier and place it on the other side of the roof. 

A cool feature of this kayak carrier is that it has built-in paddle cradles, so you can transport your paddles safely and securely on the top of your car. 

An attachment for the cradles is also available so you can extend the cradle and carry two kayaks with just one carrier system.

Rhino rack kayak and canoe carrier heavy duty

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Fits most factory roof racks.
  • Made of heavy-duty coated steel.
  • Has padding to keep your kayak protected.
  • Built-in paddle cradles.
  • An attachment can be purchased so you can carry two boats on one carrier.

Thule 830 Stacker Kayak Carrier

If you plan on carrying multiple kayaks at once, you may want to consider the Thule 830 Stacker Kayak Carrier. The stacker allows you to carry four recreational kayaks but also includes everything you would need to just carry one kayak. 

Included in the package are the two aluminum stacker racks you need to carry the kayaks and the straps and tie-downs to handle two boats. Additional straps can be purchased if you’re wanting to transport 3-4 kayaks. 

The Thule rack stacker can be mounted to most cross rails and can be folded down when not in use. 

Thule 830 stacker kayak carrier

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Can carry up to four kayaks.
  • Includes two stacker rods and straps to transport two kayaks.
  • Can be mounted onto most roof racks. 
  • Made from aluminum.
  • Toolless installation.

Malone Downloader

Malone’s J-style rack is made from corrosion-resistant aluminum and covered with adjustable oversized padding. 

The universal mounting hardware fits round most factory standard oval, round, and square crossbars and includes both 60 mm and 70 mm mounting bolts. 

The Downloader has a built-in loading ramp to help load heavier boats onto the roof and when not in use, the rack can be folded down to improve overhead clearance. 

The total weight capacity of the Downloader is 75 pounds, and the package includes all straps and necessary hardware.

Malone downloader folding j-style universal car rack

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Made from corrosion-resistant aluminum.
  • Adjustable oversized padding.
  • Fits most factory standard oval, round, and square crossbars. 
  • Built-in loading ramp.  
  • Weight capacity of 75 pounds. 
  • Includes bow and stern straps along with all necessary hardware. 

Yakima EvenKeel Rooftop Saddles

Another saddle-style kayak rack is the Yakima EvenKeel that fits onto most crossbars with a minimum spread of 24”.

The four saddles can hold boats weighing up to 80 pounds and their tool-free installation means you can get them up and running in as little as 10 minutes. 

The all-important hardware and heavy-duty straps are included in the package so you can be out on the water in no time. 

YAKIMA Evenkeel rooftop mounted kayak rack

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Fits most factory crossbars.
  • Comes with four saddles, hardware, and straps.
  • Can hold kayaks up to 80 pounds.
  • Toolless installation.

IKURAM R Kayak/Surf/Ski Roof Carrier Rack

The IKURAM R Kayak Roof Carrier has thick rubber saddles that protect your kayak from rubbing and getting damaged. 

Two boats up to 42” wide and 158 pounds can be easily transported on the rack and everything you would need to carry two boats is included in the package. 

The IKURAM R Roof Rack fits round, square, and oval factory crossbars and its heavy-duty straps will keep your kayaks securely in place. 

If you aren’t using the rack, the J-bars can be folded down by the front release handle and you can also adjust the angle of the bars to accommodate different kayak shapes. 

Slide rails make loading and unloading a breeze while also protecting your car from scratches.

Ikuram kayak carrier

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Thick rubber padding to protect your kayak from damage. 
  • Can hold up to two boats. 
  • Everything you need is included in the package.
  • Fits most round, square, and oval crossbars. 
  • Can be folded down and adjusted to fit most boat shapes. 

Best Premium Kayak Roof Racks

Thule Hull-a-Port Pro

The Thule Hull-a-Port Pro is a compact J-style rack that only uses up half of your roof and leaves space for another boat or other gear.

It is easy to install, can fold down when you aren’t using it, and its j-style mouth makes it easy to load and unload your boat. 

Loading straps, tie-down straps, and buckle protectors are included with the kayak roof rack system, so your kayak will be securely stored on your roof while you drive. 

The padding on the Thule Hull-a-Port Pro is thick and will hold your singular boat vertically in place without causing damage to the hull. 

Thule hull-a-port rooftop kayak carrier

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Fits most crossbars. 
  • Can fold down when not in use. 
  • Includes loading straps, tie-down straps, and buckle protectors.
  • Holds a single boat up to 75 pounds.

Thule DockGrip Kayak Carrier

The Thule DockGrip Kayak Carrier can hold a variety of hull shapes as well as SUPs thanks to its independent pivoting saddles that can be adjusted to any desired angle.

Cushion pads on the rack create a comfy platform for your boat to sit on and the included center load straps will help you secure it in place. 

The DockGrip kayak carrier fits a variety of Thule rack systems, round bars, and factory-installed racks because of its t-track and flip-fit brackets. 

Thule dockgrip kayak carrier

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Holds boats up to 85 pounds.
  • Can be adjusted to fit a variety of hull shapes.
  • Can hold SUPs.
  • Includes all straps needed. 
  • Fits most crossbar systems.

Thule 898 Hullavator Pro Kayak Lift Assist Carrier

If you’re a solo kayaker and you have trouble loading and unloading your boat onto your roof, then the Hullavator Pro could be a great option for you. 

The Hullavator makes it easier to load your kayak with its lift assist feature. The two cradles can lower down up to 3 feet, meaning you can load your kayak at waist level at the side of your car. 

The gas-assist struts lift and lower 40 pounds of the kayak’s weight so you can easily push the rest up onto the roof. 

Although the Hullavator is one of the pricier kayak roof racks on our list, the load assistance is a unique feature that’ll give you the independence and freedom to take your kayak out on trips alone. 

The cradles have eight touchpoints to support your boat while it’s on the roof and the corrosion-resistant aluminum cradles expand to fit wide hull shapes.

Thule 898 hullavator pro rooftop kayak carrier

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Load assistant allows you to load your kayak at waist height.
  • Gas-assist struts take 40 pounds of the kayak’s weight.
  • Eight touchpoint padding to protect your kayak.
  • Made of corrosion-resistant aluminum.
  • Can expand to fit wide hull shapes. 

Yakima Showboat 66

Yakima’s Showboat has slide-out load-assist rollers that fit onto a variety of different crossbars. 

The package includes corrosion-resistant stainless steel crossbars and hardware that can be installed in 30 minutes without the use of tools. 

The rails are extendable up to 24 inches at the back of your vehicle, so it is easy to load the bow of your kayak onto the roller and push it up onto the roof. 

80-pound boats of all sizes can fit onto the rack, and you can buy extra cradles or saddles for extra support. 

YAKIMA ShowBoat 66 Rooftop Mounted Canoe and Kayak

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Load assist bars extend up to 24 inches off the back of the vehicle to help make loading easier.
  • Can hold boats up to 80 pounds.
  • Toolless installation.
  • Made of corrosion-resistant stainless steel. 

Yakima SweetRoll Kayak Carrier

Another Yakima kayak carrier is the SweetRoll. The SweetRoll system is a back-to-front loading system, meaning the rear saddles have integrated rollers so you can easily push your boat onto the roof. 

The tilting saddles will accommodate most hull shapes and the mounting hardware is compatible with most factory crossbars. 

Padded protection on the saddles prevents dents, scratches, and dings from occurring during transit and the SweetRoll system can be installed onto your roof in 10 minutes, without the use of tools. 

Yakima sweetroll rooftop mounted boat loader

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Rear saddles with integrated rollers make loading and unloading easy.
  • Tilting saddles accommodate most hull shapes.
  • Fits most factory-installed crossbars.
  • Padded saddles protect against damage. 
  • Toolless installation.

FAQ’S

🏆 What kayak rack should I buy?

The type of kayak rack you buy depends on a few different factors.

  • What type of vehicle you have
  • How many kayaks you want to transport
  • How far you’ll be traveling
  • How often you’ll use it

If you have numerous kayaks that you want to take out with you, you’ll need crossbars installed on your car and a stacker-style roof rack. 

If you’re traveling short distances and at regular speeds, a temporary roof rack may be sufficient for you.

If you’re a keen paddler and you take your kayak out at various times in the week, you will want to invest in an easy loading rack like a saddle or a J-cradle. 


👍 What is the easiest kayak rack to use?

It’s a personal preference of which kayak racks are the easiest to use and it depends on the amount you use them and your strength. 

With that being said, J-cradle racks, with load assistance, help you get your kayak from waist level to the top of your vehicle easily. 


🏝️ What is the best kayak rack for SUVs?

Most kayak racks can fit on SUVs, so choosing which kayak rack is best will depend on what you’ll be using the rack for and how often you’ll be using it. 


❓ What are the best kayak carriers for cars?

The best kayak carrier for a car will depend on your individual circumstance. However, if your car has crossbars installed on the roof, all styles of racks will fit your car and allow you to place your kayak on top.

If your car doesn’t have crossbars and you’ll be traveling for short distances, you’ll be able to use temporary pads to transport your kayak to the water.

Megan Bryant
Megan Bryant

Based in Bali, her favorite SUP spot is the GILI Islands themselves. Travel is another passion of hers - she dreams to see the entire world one day.


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