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.
Yakima EasyTop Instant Roof Rack
- Add a durable, removable roof rack to your vehicle in minutes; The universal EasyTop roof rack straps onto the top of almost any vehicle and carries up to 80 pounds of adventure gear
- Equipped to hold skis, snowboards, paddleboards, surfboards, kayaks, and more; the EasyTop has durable padding to safeguard your equipment and avoid roof scratches
- Includes 2 heavy-duty straps and 2 tie-down ropes for tool-free installation; Harness the straps through the vehicle doors and secure the racks with the double-latch buckle
- A convenient travel accessory, this soft and sturdy roof rack is perfect for rental cars, making those further-away adventures more accessible
- This removable car rack weighs less than 5 pounds, so toting your outdoor gear is effortless; Limited 2-year warranty
HandiRack Inflatable Roof Rack Bars
- YOUR HAUL MADE EASIER: A smart roof rack to transport your gear and luggage. Ideal kayak rack for cars and SUVs. Transport canoes, paddle boards, surfboards, snowboards safely and securely on this car roof rack.
- QUICK AND EASY TO INSTALL: This neat kayak roof rack takes just minutes to fit with no tools required. The video demonstrates how the soft roof rack is installed and secured. Includes 5 metal 'D' ring anchor points.
- FITS CARS AND SUVS: Practical universal roof rack cross bars that fit popular models from Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Jeep, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota, VW. Please contact our team for any advice. Unsuitable for vehicles with soft tops or side curtain air bags.
- THOUGHTFUL DESIGN: A handy inflatable roof rack for cars without rails, with rails and panoramic roofs. Aero design reduces vibrations and wind noise. Portable and easily removable. Do not leave on vehicle when not in use.
- READY TO USE OUT OF THE BOX: Everything that you need is included; 2 x HandiRack twin tubes, 1 x HandiPump, 2 x 10ft tie-downs, 2 x 11ft Bow and Stern Lines, drawstring storage bag and User Manual. Backed by a 1 year guarantee against manufacturing defect.
Attwood Kayak Carrier Kit
- 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
Yakima Jaylow Kayak Carrier
- 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
- 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
- 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.
Malone SeaWing Saddle Rack
- 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
- 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
- EXPERIENCE - Experience the latest kayak or SUP paddle board carrying technology with the Nautic 570 Side Loading Kayak Carrier. Designed & engineered in Australia, it features next gen design. Carry 1 kaya or 1 SUP on your roof rack cross bars.
- CUSHION - The Nautic 570 Side Loading carrier comes complete with four santoprene rubber pads designed to cushion your kayak or SUP paddle board. The saddles offer a unique 180-degree rotation, making it easy for side mounting.
- UNIVERSAL FITMENT - Includes universal mounting hardware designed to be compatible with all current roof rack systems by securely clamping around the roof rack cross bars. Fits elliptical, round, and square roof rack cross bars.
- INCLUDES PADDED STRAPS - he Nautic 570 comes with all the necessary accessories to get you started including: cradles, two 18-foot tie down strap with buckle protectors, an installation key & instructions for easy setup.
- 3 YEAR WARRANTY - Enjoy peace of mind with a three-year warranty against manufacturing defects, workmanship, or failure. Our products are so well built, you'll probably never need to use the warranty, so think of it as a mark of quality & peace of mind.
Thule 830 Stacker Rack
- Carries up to 4 kayaks and requires 1 to 2 people to load and unload them
- Optimally sized carrier leaves roof space for other Thule accessories
- Fold-down steel design with non-scratch outer coating
- Optimally sized carrier leaves roof space for other Thule accessories
- Requires Thule rack systems crossbars, round bars, or factory racks - see Buyer's Guide
Malone Stax Pro2 Kayak 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
- SPACE CONCIOUS - The Rhino-Rack Nautic Stack is the most space conscious kayak loading option on the market. With up to 4 kayaks that can be stacked on your vehicle's roof, one can securely stack these in multiple ways.
- CARRY UP TO 4 KAYAKS - Time to convince your friends to take up kayaking. The vertical design means you can carry up to 4 kayaks fit on a single vehicle's roof. The arms fold when not in use, allowing for optimal room for other multiple car accessories.
- BUILT TOUGH - The bar is made from high strength anodized aluminum alloy; the same alloy used in Vortex bars. The base is made from glass reinforced nylon for exceptional strength, low weight, and maximum durability.
- FITS ROOF RACK BARS - Compatible with these roof rack crossbars: Vortex, Whispbar, Thule Aero, Thule Wingbar (Aeroblade), Yakima Heavy Duty, Yakima Whispbar, and Rola Sport.
- EASY TO USE - Load your first kayak with the hull against the stackers, then the rest of the kayaks should be loaded in alternate manner - bow forward to stern forward - for the most secure fit.