Transporting kayaks is the least glamorous part of the sport, but for safety reasons, it’s important to do it right. (Plus, kayaks are more likely to be damaged in transit than on the water.) Fortunately, there are a lot of safe and stable ways to carry kayaks, including on the roof of your car. And while kayak trailers are a great alternative, roof racks are ideal if you’re looking for a load-and-go option for just a kayak or two. Plus, if you head to the water often, it make sense to have a more permanent form of transport.
For many kayak owners, one of the biggest reasons for not getting on the water more is the time and effort it takes to load and haul their boats to the nearest beach. But with all the rack options available, it really is possible to find a system that’ll work for you.
Before you purchase a roof rack, it’s important to take stock of the type you’ll need. This largely depends on the vehicle you plan to use. Your vehicle will have one of these four set-ups:
- Naked roof: A roof with a smooth surface and no side rails.
- Side rails: A roof with factory-installed side rails.
- Crossbars: A roof with factory-installed crossbars.
- After-market crossbars: A roof with crossbars that were added later.
In order to use a kayak rack, your roof will need crossbars. If your vehicle has a naked roof or side rails, your only option is kayak blocks. These are removable foam pads that are placed between the kayak and the vehicle’s roof. (We’ve included some options below.) The kayak is attached to the vehicle by securing both ends to the front and rear bumpers, then wrapping straps over the kayak. Here’s a quick tutorial from REI. This option is best used only for short distances since it’s not as secure as a rack. If your vehicle has side rails, you also have the option of installing permanent crossbars which will then enable you to use a roof rack.
Types of Kayak Racks
There are three main styles of kayak racks.
J-Style: This type of rack has J-shaped brackets that hold a kayak on its side at an angle. The advantage of this that you can fit more than one kayak on a roof rack. (Or a kayak and a bike or other gear.) Loading is also easier because you’re able to load the kayak from the side of your vehicle.
Saddle: If you’re planning a long haul with your kayak, saddle-style racks are the best option. This rack style has brackets that cradle the kayak as it sits flat on the roof. This configuration is the most aerodynamic which can cut down on noise and fuel costs.
Stacker: This rack style allows you to secure your kayak upright on its side. Since this greatly reduces the amount of required space, you’re sometimes able to fit up to four kayaks with this type of rack.
Here are our picks for the 12 best kayak roof racks.
- Straps on top of almost any vehicle to create an instant roof rack
- Carries up to 80 lbs of gear
- Great for boats, boards, skis, ladders and other long, flat loads
- Thick structural padding protects your roof and your gear
- Secures easily through door frames with integrated straps
- Inflatable rooftop car rack and expandable Cargo Carrier; carry luggage, ladders, camping gear, furniture & sports equipment: sailboards, canoes, kayaks, boats, surfboards, paddleboards, ski and snowboards; Cushion & Protect your gear from damage
- Multipurpose universal roof bars / roof rack; Fits: City car, Hatchback, Saloon, Estate, MPV, SUV, Crossover, 4x4, Coupe, 2,3,4 & 5-door vehicles; No side rails or gutters required; Not suitable for automobiles with a soft-top or curtain airbags
- Includes: 2 x HandiRack twin tubes, 2 x 3m tie-down HandiStraps, a high-volume double-action HandiPump (to inflate each bladder of the roof rack within seconds), instructions, and a portable drawstring travel bag (for easy storage in your trunk))
- Tested on many vehicle brands: ACURA AUDI BMW BUICK CADILLAC CHEVROLET CHRYSLER CORVETTE DODGE FIAT FORD GMC HONDA HYUNDAI INFINITI ISUZU JAGUAR JEEP KIA LAND ROVER LINCOLN MAZDA MERCEDES MINI MITSUBISHI MUSTANG NISSAN SMART SUBARU TESLA TOYOTA VW
- Textile Roof Bars made from a tough nylon with 5 D-ring anchor points for extra secure transportation; Spread the cargo load evenly across the rooftop; Lightweight & heavy-duty; Load capacity: 80kg (180lbs); Certified for use up to Highway Speeds
- Includes supporting foam blocks
- Two straps with adjusting buckles and clips
- Includes 15-Feet of polypropylene rope
- Straps are sturdy poly web with vinyl-coated clips
- Over-molded stainless steel strap to accommodate a variety of raised rail Profiles
- Risk-free torque set installation; Tool included
- Excellent roof clearance to allow full range of Yakima gear mounts
- RoundBar SL Adapter required to use Yakima's classic RoundBar with StreamLine System Towers (sold separately)
- Intended for mounting to vehicles with raised siderails
- J-style kayak carrier with built-in boarding ramp for easy loading
- Fold down technology increases overhead clearance. Compatible with the MPG351 Telos Load Assist
- Oversized padding protects boat during transport
- JAWZ mounting hardware fits round, square and most factory oval cross rails, includes both 60mm and 70mm pre-coated mounting bolts;Cam style load straps with buckle protectors
- Dimensions:Length: 17",Width: 6",Height: 19.5",Load capacity: 75 lb
- KAYAK CAR TOP CARRIER A simple, low-cost solution to carrying your kayak ITEM#: KAYAK-RK-J(2SET) CONDITION: BRAND NEW QUANTITY: 2 PAIRS+2 Free Cell Phone Cases.
- This Kayak Carrier designed mounts to virtually all crossbars and load bars on the market. The carrier secures the kayak on its side, consuming minimal space on the load bar. As shown in the pictures we put the Kayak Rack on the Ladder Rack Bar.(sold separatly). A maximum of 4 sets of kayak racks can be mounted on a full size truck. Save your space.
- Features: Steel design with adjustable padding for carrying strength and kayak protection Wide mouth J bar offers easier loading and unloading Quick on/off hardware ensures fast installation and removal Optimally sized J style carrier leaves roof space All surface rust-resistant coating and hardware for longer product life Includes all mounting hardware and 2 straps Accommodates kayaks up to 36" wide and 75lbs Will fit most factory or aftermarket round,square,oval and flat crossbars
- LIFETIME WARRANTY- Your satisfaction is the most important to us and we offer limited lifetime warranty for our kayak rack carrier. If you have any concerns with this product, please contact us.~PLEASE CHECK MEASUREMENTS BEFORE PURCHASE.~The crossbars shown in the pictures are not included. Authentic TMS products contain vacuum sealed installation hardware. Authentic TMS products are shipped in labeled boxes with item description (as shown in picture).
- 2 free cell phone cases fit smartphones up to 5 3/4 inch diagonal size, credit card, wallet, or money. 5 1/4 inch x 2 7/8 inch clear window on both front and back sides. Come with a neck strap.
- Low-profile kayak/cargo carrier with single saddle design
- Easy-to-set-up mid-point mounting takes up minimal roof space
- Flexes gently to cradle boat and improve gas mileage
- Jawz mounting hardware fits round, square, and most factory oval cross rails
- Measures 27 x 5 x 6 inches (W x H x D); supports up to 70 pounds
- Can carry a variety of hull shapes as well as SUP's with two independent pivoting saddles with angle-setting lever
- Protects the hull with large, flexible, cushioned pads
- Easily secure the kayak or SUP using the center load straps with car-protective buckle bumpers and quick draw bow and Stern tie-downs
- Fits a variety of Thule rack systems, round bars and most factory racks due to t-track and flip fit brackets
- Accommodates kayaks and SUP's up to 36 inches wide and 85 lbs
- Universal fitment - fits most popular brands of roof rack crossbars
- Front/rear pads engineered to fit a variety of hull shapes
- 180 degree rotation to allow loading from the side
- Large 2.95" x 7.87" contact surface area per cradle
- 5 Year Warranty
- Fold-down steel design with non-scratch outer coating
- Quick on/off hardware ensures fast installation and removal amd
- Carries up to 4 recreational kayaks but includes all straps to transport 1 kayak
- Accommodates kayaks up to 36 in/90 cm wide and to weight capacity of 75 lbs/35 kg
- Requires Thule rack systems crossbars, round bars, or factory racks - see Buyer's Guide
- Two-boat capacity, stacking kayak carrier system for use on round, square, and most factory oval cross bars
- Octagonal aluminum posts and injection molded nylon platforms for maximum stability
- Proprietary stacker blocks stabilize boats during tie down and cushion boats during transport
- System folds down when not in use for low clearance and fuel economy
- Universal Fit JAWZ Mounting Hardware; tool-free assembly; lifetime warranty
- The most space conscious kayak loading option on the market
- Can hold up to 4 kayaks
- Multiple ways to secure the Nautica Kayak Stack
- Clamp system for rapid application and removal
- Folding Stack arm when not in use allows for more maneuverability