The 10 Best Kayak Roof Racks 2023: An Unbiased Review

Do you know the kayak has been around for many years? It is commonly believed that this slim and swift sporting boat has been in use for more than 4,000 years. History suggests that this type of boat was used by Yupik, Inuit, and Aleut people for transportation and hunting.

Originally made of seal and other animals’ skin and a wooden frame, the kayak was an incredible personal watercraft. Today, this streamlined watercraft is essential for some water sports and adventure. Unless you are so lucky to live near a peaceful lake, rushing water, or other water spots, you will have to carry your kayak from home to a water body where you can use the kayak.

For this reason, you need a high-quality roof carrier where you can mount your kayak on your truck or car. These carriers range from inflatable or foam pads that cushion your boat to elaborate roller or saddle systems that can hold your kayak in place and make it easier for you to load your boat onto the roof rack.

Best Kayak Roof Racks

One of the top ways kayaks end up damaged is mishandling during transportation. Having the right roof rack can help minimize the instances of damage to this slim, swift watercraft. This is the primary reason we have created this comprehensive review and buying guide.

The information shared here will help you to compare different types and models of best kayak roof racks and choose the right one.

Best kayak roof rack: A comparison chat

Often it feels a little bit overwhelming to narrow down your kayak roof rack options and choose the perfect one. There are countless styles and models of roof racks. Sure, you can go for the cheapest option, but that doesn’t guarantee good quality and durability. Therefore, it makes sense to make the necessary consideration and choose a functional, reliable, and affordable roof rack. Here is a comparison chat to help you achieve that.

1Yakima – JayLow, J-Style Rooftop Kayak Carrier20.2 x 10.4 x 7.8 inches13.2 pounds
2Thule HullaPort Pro Rooftop Kayak Carrier20 x 10.5 x 5.5 inches13.6 pounds
3Thule 898Pro Hullavator Pro Kayak Lift System43.8 pounds
4JDM Auto Lights 2 Pair Universal Canoe Car Top Mount Carrier17.5 x 12 x 6.5 inches16.8 pounds
5Malone Downloader J-Style Universal vehicle Rack Kayak24 x 16 x 6 inches25.7 pounds
6Lifetime Warranty TMS17.5 x 12 x 6.5 inches18.6 pounds
7HandiRack – Universal Inflatable roof rack14.6 x 7.4 x 5.7 inches6.4 pounds
8Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier28 x 8 x 6 inches11.2 pounds
9ROLA J -Style Kayak Carrier Roof Rack
10Rhino Rack Nautic Series 570 Side Loading Canoe and Kayak Carrier10 x 7 x 6 inches 6.3 pounds

1. Yakima – JayLow, J-Style Rooftop Kayak Carrier 

This J-style rooftop kayak carrier from Yakima lets you transport a maximum of two kayaks on your vehicle’s roof rack. The integrated ramps help load a kayak from the car’s side, and the padded arms fold down, especially when not in use.

One of the things that set Yakima – JayLow, J-Style Rooftop Kayak Carrier apart from other similar products, is that this kayak roof rack arrives preassembled for tool-free installation. The product comes complete with high-quality straps, and both stern and bow tie-downs are helpful when it comes to securing your watercraft correctly. Therefore, you can drive safely with peace of mind and focus on a fun day on the water. Note that you can use the item with the SKS lock system (that’s sold separately) in case you choose to go that route.

It is equipped with straps and tie-downs for two boats. This is a common practice among most manufacturers. They make roof racks that can accommodate two boats in case the user chooses to carry an extra one. Even if you choose to go out kayaking with your friend, you can be sure the roof rack lets you carry what you need for a fun day in the water. The roof rack fits a broad range of crossbars.


  • Can carry a maximum of two kayaks in a vertical or stacked position
  • Fits a broad range of crossbars
  • Features heavy-duty straps as well as bow-stern tie-downs
  • It is easy to install
  • Versatile design
  • It is lightweight and folds down whenever not in use


  • It is challenging for first-timers to load a kayak
  • Though it’s SKS lockable, you must buy the locks separately
  • The item is rust-resistant
  • It is durable
  • It is resistant to mold

2. Thule Hull-a-Port Pro Kayak Carrier

This is a premium vertical-oriented kayak carrier designed for easy loading and unloading on different vehicles. It has a folding J-profile that facilitates east-to-access angled load option from the side of the car. Actually, you can load up to 4 kayaks for each vehicle, depending on space availability. Remember, extra 835PRO carriers are sold separately. The rack’s folding design improves gas mileage by reducing wind resistance.

This Thule Hull-a-Port Pro Kayak Carrier is an ideal kayak or canoe carrying solution for all paddlers whose major concerns in carriers revolve around ease of use and efficiency. The carrier is designed around 2 folding j-style hull-a-port carrier assemblies, and each of them is attached to a roof rack loading bar with four different adjustable touchpoints of padding. Thus, this carrier can accommodate kays of varying sizes and shapes. The vertical stowage position is somewhat aerodynamic and safe during transportation and doesn’t pose a danger of warping to boats when appropriately stowed.

The rack requires an entirely tool-free installation. It has J-style cradles that are easy to mount and secured using a combination of mounting knobs and bolts on all Thule base racks, factory-installed racks, round crossbars, and more.


  • The carrier folds down if not used for improved overhead and better fuel economy
  • Comes with a pocket for tucking away all loose strand ends
  • The carrier is durable
  • It is easy to use
  • Can accommodate kayaks of a maximum of 34 inches wide and 75lb test


  • Limited product warranty
  • The carrier can get damaged easily if not well managed.

3. Thule 898Pro Hullavator Pro Kayak Lift System

Thule 898Pro Hullavator is one of the best Kayak roof racks you can find in the market. It stands out because of its unique system that allows users to load kayak effortlessly. Users can load the kayak at waist level using the two gas struts built on the roof rack. It cuts the weight of your roof rack into half and lowers the load 40 –inches on either side of the vehicle. This makes it easy to tie the kayak while you can see it.

With this roof rack, you can secure everything in simple steps. You don’t need help to mount the kayak to the side or install the straps. The lift system comes with a broader cradle that enables you to fit large kayaks. The cradles weigh 75lbs and measures 36-inches wide.


  • Comes with different mounting options
  • Gas struts make it easy to unload or load the kayak
  • Has wider cradles that accommodate big width kayaks
  • Has corrosion-resistant surface


  • Expensive

4. JDM Auto Lights 2 Pair Universal Roof Rack Kayak

If you are looking for a quality kayak roof rack at a reasonable price, then this is your last option in the market. This roof rack is made with durable material to last longer. It has a perfect design for carrying a large load.

It is made of heavy-duty stainless steel material, which makes it last longer than most roof racks. With this roof rack on your vehicle, you can always forget about rust because the entire body is made of rust-resistant material.

It has a design that makes it more portable and fits on different styles and sizes of a kayak. Also, it comes with a wide J-Bar that is suitable for faster loading and off-loading of a kayak. The rack remains unique because of its universal fitting feature.


  • It is made of a rust-resistant material
  • Ideal for carrying a giant load
  • Has a wider mouth J-bar
  • Made of stainless steel to last longer
  • Very sturdy when clamped with locknuts


  • Not easy to set and install

5. Malone Downloader J-Style Universal vehicle Rack Kayak

Malone Downloader Folding is another J-style roof rack that comes with unique features. It has a built-in boarding ramp that enables the smooth loading of kayaks. Also, it has a fold-down system that makes it portable when not in use.

It can hold the kayak in a vertical position without causing any damages while you move. It has oversized padding that will keep your boat in the right area while you transport it.

This rack safeguards your car paint and makes loading the kayak easier using its angled lip. It is wide enough to hold kayak of any size and weight. The rack can hold up to 75 lbs, which makes it convenient for transporting large kayaks.

You can install this roof rack kayak on most types of rails because it comes with the JAWZ hardware that includes 60mm and 70mm mounting bolts.


  • Has an in-built boarding ramp for easy loading and off-loading
  • The oversized padding feature protects your kayak when the vehicle moves
  • Comes with a complete setup


  • Expensive

6. TMS 2 Pair J-Bar HD Kayak Rack

TMS 2 Pair J-bar HD is the best option for those looking for a reliable roof rack that can transport their kayaks. Most experts recommend this roof rack because of the unique technology the manufacturer has used on its construction. It is made of quality steel material that lasts longer than ordinary roof racks.

Your kayak stays in perfect position during transportation with this roof rack on top of your car. The roof rack comes with adjustable padding that protects the kayak from falling when the vehicle moves. It is easy to load and off-load the kayak with this roof rack’s simple design. The roof is 36 –inches wide and supports up to 75 lbs of load. This makes it suitable for carrying heavy and wide kayaks. The roof rack has a quick on/off hardware that allows for faster installation and removal after usage.


  • Wide enough to accommodate large kayaks
  • Has a simple setup for fast installation
  • It is sized well to give enough space for the load
  • Suitable for heavy kayaks
  • Comes with a lifetime warranty


  • May take some time to install

7. HandiRack – Universal Inflatable roof rack

HandiRack is one of the most sought roof racks in the market, given the unique technology the manufactured has used on its construction. It doubles as a cargo carrier and roof rack for kayaks. This is the cheapest roof rack you can find. It comes with an inflatable nylon pad with quality air chambers. It comes with a double-action pump for easy filling of the air pads.

The air pads can carry up to 180 pounds of load. This means that you can load any kayak without worrying about its weight. It offers your car the comfort it needs while you transport the kayak. The roof rack has a quality cushion and some stuff you need to tie the kayak.


  • Cause no permanent change on your car
  • Suitable for carrying different loads
  • Does not require gutters or side rails


  • Sometimes the air chambers can fail or burst
  • May not work if you overload it
  • Not suitable for car with smooth roofs

8. Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier

Malone SeaWing is another kayak roof rack that you can rely on for transporting heavy load. The roof rack is designed to take the smallest part of your automobile roof. It features a simple saddle engineered to make it easy to transport your kayak. Since the roof rack is a bit small, you can quickly fix two of them on the car roof and transport two kayaks safely on a single trip.

It supports up to 70 pounds and wide enough (27 X 5 6 inches) to carry large kayaks. You don’t need some special skills to mount or transfer this roof rack to another vehicle. It is easy to install and made with a minimalist concept. It has a low-profile system so that you don’t have to worry about using it to move your load across low ceiling areas.


  • It takes minimal roof space on the car
  • It is easy to install and mount
  • Made of durable material
  • Flexible enough to improve gas mileage
  • Has a low-profile system


  • The straps and stern lines are of low quality
  • The plastic coatings on the bits peel off fast

9. ROLA J -Style Kayak Carrier Roof Rack

ROLA J –Style roof rack is the best you can get if you intend to transport any kayak. The roof rack is made with the right technology to fit any kayak size and style. Whether you are carrying a sit-on-top kayak or a large kayak, this roof rack has a robust capacity that is just perfect for any task. The roof rackcan deliver beyond your expectations. It has stainless steel that makes it durable and sturdy.

The roof rack can accommodate different weights because it has a premium strength powder for double strength. You can tie down the kayak to make the transportation safe with the premium heavy-duty straps that come with the roof rack. The roof rack also comes with a foam pad cradle that keeps your kayak safe and tight during the transportation.


  • Built with premium heavy-duty pads
  • Made of stainless steel material to last longer
  • Suitable for transporting different styles of kayak
  • Has a foam cradle that keeps the load intact


  • The nuts can get looser at the end of the journey
  • It is expensive

10. Rhino-Rack Nautic 570 Series Kayak/Canoe Carrier

Rhino-Rack Nautic 570 gives the perfect example of a saddle-type kayak roof rack. The roof rack comes with three flexible joints and thick Santoprene rubber cradles that keep your kayak in the right position when transporting. It has two pairs of hands that hold on to the load so that it does not fall off. With this roof rack on your car, you don’t have to worry about your kayak falling.

This roof rack stands out for having a unique and universal mounting hardware. You can load on this roof rack from the different sides of your car. It means that you can see what you do, thereby saving a lot of time when setting the load ready for transporting. You don’t need a ladder or someone to help with loading the kayak on this roof rack because the pads can swivel for up to 180 degrees.


  • You can load it from the car sides
  • Engineered to fit a variety of hull shapes
  • Provide 180-degree rotation for easy loading
  • Comes with a 5-year warranty


  • Only compatible with a few bars

A comprehensive buying guide

There are just a few reasons to invest in a functional kayak roof carrier, and the most obvious one is that you don’t want your kayak to slide of your truck or car in road traffic and pummel the car behind you. And the most effect way to protect it is by making sure that you buy the right kayak roof rack. Here is a comprehensive buying guide.

Types of roof kayak carriers

It’s important to have an idea of the available rack options. Here are is a glimpse of the top and widely available types of roof racks.


These racks are the beginning of a larger number of kayak roof racks. They’re solid, sturdy bars that easily attach to the roof of your car, either onto the vehicle’s roof rails or other types of mounting hardware. Indeed, you can attach nearly anything onto these racks: cargo bags, bicycle racks, boxes, and different types of kayak racks.


This is another robust and durable rack for your kayak. Saddles consist of set pads that easily attach to current crossbars or roof rack and hold the bottom of a kayak. The kayak rests with its width sitting flat on the roof of your car. This type of rack uses either a pair or two pairs of saddles to effectively hold the boat in place.


One of the quick ways to create a reliable roof storage solution for your car is by adding temporary padding. The pads are either foam or inflatable and make a single-step kayak roof rack – you don’t need other hardware or parts. If your vehicle lacks a factory rack or crossbars, don’t worry. Just get padding installed as they are excellent for shorter hauls. They’re also excellent for a kayaking trip.


The benefit of using rollers is that they facilitate more effortless loading of your boat. Once you place the rollers at the rear of your car’s roof, it will be easy to load the front of your boat onto the rollers and roller the other part onto the rack.

J-cradles or J-style

This is a popular option for kayak racks. It consists of a base and a holding arm that’s J-shaped. They let users load a kayak from the side of the vehicle. The kayak will sit on its side angle, and this creates more room on the car’s roof ta carry a bicycle, luggage, and more.


Just as the name suggests, these racks make it possible to stack a few kayaks on the roof. The boats stand on their edge, and that leaves a room on the roof for other items. The stacker is a durable post-like assembly that easily attaches to the current crossbars. Just lean your kayak against the stacker and then tie it down.

Choosing a kayak roof rack

Picking the right kayak carrier for your vehicle boils down to knowing what makes an excellent roof rack. Here are the important factors you must consider. The last thing you want is to purchase a kayak carrier that can’t fit on your vehicle or can’t carry the kayaks that you own.

The vehicle type

Not every kayak roof rack is universal. Thus, you must pick the rack ideal for your vehicle. The moment you realize a given rack doesn’t fit your vehicle properly, know that acquiring it is potentially hazardous, and the boat won’t be protected enough. Whether you own a big 4×4 or a compact vehicle, be sure to pick the rack that fits your vehicle. If not sure of the right type of roof rack, consult with a professional.


Some kayak racks are specifically designed to accommodate kayaks, and others are versatile enough to carry other sporting items and luggage. Once you opt for a multipurpose rack, ensure that it will hold your rack effectively. After all, there’s no point in acquiring something that can’t address your needs – effectively holding your kayak.

The number of kayaks you intend to carry

The number of kayaks you intend to carry around will determine the type of kayak rack you choose. From the list of racks, we reviewed, be sure to pick a rack that can support at least two kayaks. There are racks that support even four kayaks. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t load too many kayaks on a rack that isn’t designed to carry many kayaks.

The bar height

Generally, a higher bar makes the entire process of loading and unloading a kayak tricky, especially for short people. But if you choose a rack that fits tightly onto your vehicle’s roofline, it will make your task somewhat easier.


The kind of material used will influence the durability of the canoe or kayak rack and its ability to do the job of protecting your watercraft as required. Therefore, it is recommended to look for items made of sturdy materials such as aluminum and steel. These racks must have some form of padding included to provide a higher level of protection.

Alternatively, you can use fabric racks that promise higher stability and better protection too. Be sure to check the brand reputation and genuine product reviews created by verified customers to get more details on whether or not the kayak rack will stand the test of time.


The overall cost of acquiring the product is another factor you must consider before making your mind up in terms of the specific rack you intend to purchase. You’re likely to spent a lot of money on a single purchase, and so, you need to pick a functional, high-quality rack that will offer enough support for your kayak to keep floating on top of your car.

Note that price isn’t the only indicator of quality. Cheap racks tend to use cheap materials that are likely to stand the test of time. Consider starting your search for a kayak rack with a higher number in mind as this isn’t one of those items you can get a cheaper price. Be sure to compare prices offered by different manufacturers and all sellers. This way, you can be sure to get a reliable product at an affordable price.

Additional equipment

Find out if your preferred kayak will need extra equipment. For instance, if you don’t have an aftermarket crossbar system, you may require one that’s compatible with your roof rack.

Wrap up

Whichever the kayak roof rack you choose, remember to research before making a purchase. The rack must be compatible with your car and the available crossbar or roof rack system. According to experts, the best kayak roof racks combine functionality, ease of use, and the ability to offer the buyer many years of excellent performance. Now you know what makes a good kayak rack, be sure to pick the right one.

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