Our Guide To The 12 Best Kayak Roof Racks

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.

Our Picks

Here are our picks for the 12 best kayak roof racks.

Blocks:

Yakima EasyTop Instant Roof Rack

YAKIMA - EasyTop, Instant Roof Rack
  • NO PLANNING NEEDED: Straps on top of almost any vehicle and is great for carrying boats, boards, skis, ladders and other long, flat loads
  • EASY TO INSTALL: Secures easily through door frames with integrated straps; Includes 2 Heavy Duty Straps and tie-down rope; Installs in just 10 minutes
  • DURABLE DESIGN: Thick structural padding protects your roof and your gear; Double-latching buckle adds extra security for peace of mind; Carries up to 80 lbs of gear
  • COMPATIBILITY: Not compatible on vehicles equipped with sliding doors, gull wing or falcon style doors; 36” load width; 14’ long max boat length
  • WE’VE GOT YOUR BACK GUARANTEE: Covered by our Limited Lifetime Warranty

HandiRack Inflatable Roof Rack Bars

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HandiRack - Universal Inflatable Roof Rack - Soft Roof Cargo Carrier for Cars & SUVs With or Without Rails - Quick Mount Cross Bars - Perfect for Kayaks, Canoes, Surfboards & Paddle Boards - Tie Down Straps and Bow & Stern Lines Included - Black
  • YOUR ULTIMATE ROOF RACK SOLUTION: The HandiRack is a convenient and practical roof rack to transport your sports and leisure equipment. It makes a perfect kayak roof rack or surfboard rack. It’s a truly smart and cost-effective alternative to foam block or metal options. The HandiRack is the only soft roof rack that complies with the international safety standard for roof load carriers ISO/PAS 11154:2006.
  • QUICK AND EASY TO FIT: The HandiRack roof rack pads install in just 5 minutes with no tools or drilling required. The twin-bars are secured by a pass-through cabin fitting strap and quickly inflate using the double-action HandiPump. Next simply attach your surf board, ladder, snowboard or skis and you’re on your way. Please watch the video to view the installation process.
  • FITS A WIDE RANGE OF VEHICLES: The HandiRack car roof rack is compatible with most 2, 3, 4 and 5 door cars and SUVs and has been tested on many brands. Please contact HandiWorld for any assistance with your vehicle. The HandiRack is not recommend for use on soft top convertibles or those vehicles fitted with curtain airbags.
  • STRONG, TOUGH AND STABLE: The inflation process creates a secure and stable connection between the HandiRack paddleboard roof rack and the roof of the car. Furthermore, the air-filled bars cushion and protect your load. HandiRack crossbars are manufactured from tough non-abrasive 400D nylon and can handle loads of up to 175lbs.
  • VERSATILE AND PRACTICAL: The HandiRack works with bare roofs, factory side rails and panoramic roofs. It’s certified for use at highway speeds and the aerodynamic design reduces vibrations and delivers low drag and wind noise. The HandiRack is a removable roof rack system and should not be left fitted to the vehicle when not in use.

Attwood Kayak Carrier Kit

attwood 11438-7 Universal Rack-Free Car-Top Kayak Carrier Kit with Supporting Foam Blocks
  • 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

J-Style:

Yakima Jaylow Kayak Carrier

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YAKIMA - JayLow, J-Style Fold Down Rooftop Kayak Carrier, 2 Boat Capacity
  • CARRY UP TO 2 KAYAKS: Fits 1 kayak in J-cradle position (up to 80 lbs.) or 2 kayaks in a vertical, stacked position (up to 110 lbs. combined)
  • FITS MOST CROSSBARS: Compatible with Yakima SteamLine and round, square, factory and aerodynamic crossbars; Minimum crossbar spread of 24"
  • INCLUDES STRAPS: Includes all the necessary hardware and straps (Heavy-Duty Straps and Bow/Stern Tie-Downs) to secure your gear; SKS (Same Key System) locks sold separately
  • VERSATILE DESIGN: Integrated cam lever allows you to adjust the upright position with ease; Rack also folds flat when you're not using it for better clearance and reduced drag
  • EASY INSTALL: Comes fully assembled out of the box; Tool-free installation in about 10 minutes; Refer to Yakima Fit My Car Tool to ensure compatibility

Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Rack

Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier with Bow and Stern Lines
  • 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

TMS J-Style Kayak Rack

Sale
TMS 2 x Roof J Rack Kayak Boat Canoe Car SUV Top Mount Carrier w/Free Cell Phone Bag
  • 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.

Saddle:

Malone SeaWing Saddle Rack

Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier with Bow and Stern Lines
  • 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

Thule Dockgrip Kayak Saddle Rack

Thule DockGrip Kayak Carrier
  • 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

Rhino-Rack Nautic 570 Kayak Rack

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Rhino Rack Nautic Series 570 Side Loading Canoe and Kayak Carrier, Small, Black
  • 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

Stacker:

Thule 830 Stacker Rack

Thule 830 The Stacker (4) Kayak Carrier
  • 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

Malone Stax Pro2 Kayak Carrier

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Malone Stax Pro2 Universal Car Rack Folding Kayak Carrier (2 Boat Carrier)
  • 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

Rhino-Rack S520 Nautic Stack

Rhino Rack Team Golf NCAA Michigan Wolverines Gift Set Switchblade Divot Tool with 3 Double-Sided Magnetic Ball Markers,Team Color
  • Rhino-Rack Nautic Stack Kayak & Canoe Carrier, Universal Mounting to most Roof Racks with easy installation. Suitable for all vehicles.
  • Fully assembled ready for easy installation; fits to most roof rack cross bars.
  • Can carry up to 4 watercrafts pending length of cross bars.
  • Includes tie down straps and all necessary hardware.
  • Folding stack arms when not in use.