Best Kayak Roof Racks for SUVs, Trucks, and Cars Reviewed

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Without a doubt, kayak roofs are quite important, especially for travelers and campers. This is because most SUVs don’t have the space to accommodate a typical non-inflatable yak. By investing in an affordable kayak roof rack for your car, transporting this all-important fishing gear will become much easier and also safer. In fact, this component isn’t just useful for small cars. Some truck drivers still find it useful for freeing up space in the bed to transport extra gear.

So, if you already have invested in a shiny new watercraft or are planning to get one, don’t hesitate to get this gear as well. In the next few lines, we’ll talk about the different alternatives available and what specific factors you need to pay close attention to. In particular, we are going to be focusing on the following crucial points:

  • A list of the top yak roof racks
  • Different types of roof racks and how they work
  • Factors to consider when buying
  • How to arrive at an informed buyer’s verdict
  • Final thoughts on how to get the best bang for the bucks

Kayak Roof Rack Comparison ​Table 

Below is a run-down of some of our top-rated roof racks. Detailed full reviews of the same can be found further below.

Ranking

Image 

Model

Dimensions

Weight

Check Price

1

Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Universal Car...

Malone Downloader

21 x 10 x 8 inches

10 pounds

2

YAKIMA - JayLow Rooftop Mounted Kayak Rack for...

Yakima - JayLow

20.2 x 10.4 x 7.8 inches 

12.7 pounds

3

Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal Car Rack...

Malone SeaWing

28 x 8 x 6 inches

10.05 pounds

4

Thule Hull-a-Port Pro Rooftop Kayak Carrier

Thule Hull-a-Port 835PRO

20 x 10.5 x 5.5 inches

12.6 pounds

5

Rhino Rack Folding J Style Kayak Carrier, Designed...

Rhino Rack S512

22 x 11 x 7 inches 

14 pounds

6

TMS J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Carrier Canoe Boat Surf...

TMS KAYAK-RK-J(1BOX)

18 x 7 x 7 inches

8 pounds

7

Hullavator PRO Black/Silver

Thule 898 Hullavator Pro P1306988

35 x 18 x 7 inches

11.37 pounds

8

HandiRack - Universal Inflatable roof rack bars...

HandiRack Universal MPG452

14.6 x 7.4 x 5.7 inches

5.75 pounds

9

Thule DockGlide Kayak Carrier

Thule DockGlide P2029796

15.8 x 8 x 8.5 inches

6.8 pounds

10

ECOTRIC J-Bar 2 Pairs Universal Kayak Canoe Top...

ECOTRIC RACK-A11-P

17.4 x 11.5 x 6.1 inches

15.75 pounds


10 Best Kayak Roof Racks ​Reviewed 

1. Malone Downloader

Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Universal Car...
321 Reviews
Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Universal Car...
  • J-style kayak carrier with built-in boarding...
  • Fold down technology increases overhead...
  • Oversized padding protects boat during...
  • JAWZ mounting hardware fits round, square and...

If you value the paint job of your car, this J-Style rack by Malone is a reasonable choice. It features an angled lip that makes it easy to load and is foldable for secure storage when not in use. Once you read our review, you will understand why it is one of the best kayak racks you will ever find.

Product Description

The Malone Downloader J-Style Universal Kayak is made in the USA and has an aluminum construction to make it corrosion-resistant. It has a universal mounting system with low clearance and will fit round, factory, and square bars. It has a boarding ramp for easy loading and unloading of the Kayak. The oversized foam padding with acrylic fabric sleeves will be vital in protecting the Kayak’s finish. A one-year warranty backs the rack.

Other Features and Benefits 

The rack comes with 60mm and 70mm mounting bolts for mounting the Kayak on different rack rails of distinct thickness. The bolts are various sizes to give you options to choose from. It also comes with a ratchet strap that will help in securing your vessel on it.

Pros
  • Durable construction
  • Foldable for easy storage
  • Comes with straps for securing your luggage
Cons
  • Not that versatile

2. Yakima Jaylow​

On Sale
YAKIMA - JayLow Rooftop Mounted Kayak Rack for...
327 Reviews
YAKIMA - JayLow Rooftop Mounted Kayak Rack for...
  • CARRY UP TO 2 KAYAKS: Fits 1 kayak in...
  • FITS MOST CROSSBARS: Compatible with Yakima...
  • INCLUDES STRAPS: Includes all the necessary...
  • VERSATILE DESIGN: Integrated cam lever allows...

You may be having two Kayaks, and you are wondering how you will move them to the lake at once. The Yakima Jaylow Kayak Carrier is here for you. It can comfortably sustain two 110lb vessels and has extra-padded contact points for maximum grip that will secure your kayaks tightly.

Product Description

The Kayak Jaylow Carrier is made in the USA and is a very low maintenance rack weighing at 12.7lbs. It can carry any kayak; one if placed in a J-Cradle position or two kayaks in a vertical, stacker position. It has extra-padded points and comes with heavy-duty straps and tie-downs.

Other Features and Benefits 

The padded contact points are durable and will secure your vessel(s) as you drive. The straps and tie-downs will further enhance the security of the Kayak on your vehicle. Still, on security, you will have the option of locking the Kayak to the base rack by using the SKS lock core. The base is molded with grooves and protects the boat as well as allows sand to wash away.

Pros
  • Versatile
  • Features secure tie-downs
  • Convenient capacity
Cons
  • Pricey

3. Malone Sea Wing

Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal Car Rack...
124 Reviews
Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal Car Rack...
  • Low-profile kayak/cargo carrier with single...
  • Easy-to-set-up mid-point mounting takes up...
  • Flexes gently to cradle boat and improve gas...
  • Jawz mounting hardware fits round, square,...

If you are looking for a car rack that is designed to save on space, the Saddle Style Car Rack by Malone is the solution to your problem. It has a single saddle design, is easy to set up and will consume very little space at the top of your vehicle.

Product Description

This car rack has a low profile design, and it weighs 10lbs but has a capacity of up to 70lbs. It measures 27 by 5 by 6-Inches and will take up minimal space on the rooftop of your car. It is versatile and will nicely fit around oval, round, and square cross rails.

Other Features and Benefits 

First, the simplicity of setting up this carrier is further enhanced by the fact that the package comes with all the necessary hardware necessary for the mounting process. It has a durable construction consisting of corrosion-resistant polycarbon for the frame and ribbed synthetic fiber for the padding.

Then, it is horizontal and slim enough to accommodate two kayaks side by side. It is also easily transferable to a different vehicle without requiring the use of any tools. It also comes with bow and stern straps that will help in improving the stability of the rack.

Pros
  • Durable
  • Easy to set up
  • Versatile
Cons
  • Not suitable for wide kayaks

4. ​Thule Hull-a-Port 835PRO

On Sale
Thule Hull-a-Port Pro Rooftop Kayak Carrier
97 Reviews
Thule Hull-a-Port Pro Rooftop Kayak Carrier
  • Proven J-style kayak carrier creates more...
  • PFD lever (pull, fold, done) for rapid...
  • New J-profile for easy boat loading and...
  • Includes two ratcheting bow and stern tie...

This is another J-Style rack, and it is designed to hold a single rack vertically. It can also hold two kayaks when attached in a stacker position. The wide mouth J-style feature is a priceless one as it allows for a more effortless loading and unloading process.

Product Description

The Thule Hull-a-Port Pro is a universal carrier that will fit a majority of the sea and whitewater kayaks. It comes with a pair of ratcheting tie-downs and two straps with buckle-protectors for securing your Kayak. When not in use, it is foldable for better overhead clearance and better mileage. The padded harness will minimize scratches and abrasion as you transport your vessel on the carrier.

Other Features and Benefits 

The carrier is made of steel which is injected with molded nylon to make it durable. It also has a rust-resistant coating to enhance this durability aspect. The PFD (Pull Fold Done) lever will ensure that the folding process is easy and you will not need to use a lot of force which may end up causing damages to the carrier or vehicle.

Pros
  • Collapsible
  • Durable
  • Comes with all necessary accessories
Cons
  • Difficult to assemble

5. Rhino Rack S512

On Sale
Rhino Rack Folding J Style Kayak Carrier, Designed...
36 Reviews
Rhino Rack Folding J Style Kayak Carrier, Designed...
  • Universal mounting system to suit all cross...
  • 4 straps included in the kit
  • Product comes completely assembled.
  • Steel tube with state of the art coating...

If you want a roof rack that will leave you with extra room for carrying an additional vessel or gears and accessories? The Folding J-Style Carrier by Rhino Rack is just for you. It is designed with a universal mount and therefore can fit many types of roof racks.

Product Description

The Rhino Rack J-Style Kayak Carrier measures 22 by 10.5 by 7-Inches and weighs 14lbs. It has a load capacity of 99lbs and is compatible with crossbars of all shapes. It arrives pre-assembled from the factory and comes with four straps for securing your vessel.

Other Features and Benefits 

It features paddle cradles that will help in storing your paddles securely on your roof together with the Kayak. These cradles are crafted from heavy-duty steel that is coated and rust-resistant. These cradles have a rubber padding to ensure that they do not scratch and damage your boat.

You can always fold down the carrier on the roof when it is not in use. Lastly, you can acquire an attachment that you can use for extending the cradles to enable you to carry two kayaks within the original system.

Pros
  • Does not scratch the car
  • Easy to install
  • Durable
Cons
  • Not tight enough

6. ​TMS KAYAK-RK-J(1BOX)

On Sale
TMS J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Carrier Canoe Boat Surf...
1,716 Reviews
TMS J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Carrier Canoe Boat Surf...
  • Steel design with adjustable padding for...
  • Wide mouth J bar offers easier loading and...
  • Quick on/off hardware ensures fast...
  • Optimally sized J style carrier leaves roof...

This J-Bar Kayak carrier from TMS will offer you outstanding strength and durability due to its sturdy steel construction. It has a wide mouth to give you an easy time loading and unloading your Kayak. It is also designed to be universal and will mount a majority of the crossbars and load bars in existence.

Product Description

The TMS J-Bar Carrier has adjustable padding and features the quick on/off hardware for a fast and easy installation process. It has a load capacity of 75lbs and can accommodate kayaks with a width of up to 36-Inches. The carrier weighs 8lbs and measures 18 by 7 by 7-Inches.

Other Features and Benefits 

The padding on the cradles will ensure that your vessel receives the ultimate protection during transportation. The J-style design gives it a compact size that leaves extra space on your roof that you can use for holding other items, including a second Kayak carrier, provided the size of the roof allows.

Pros
  • Sturdy construction
  • Easy to set up
  • Affordable
Cons
  • Comes with weak straps

7. ​Thule 898 Hullavator Pro

Hullavator PRO Black/Silver
52 Reviews
Hullavator PRO Black/Silver
  • Wider cradles can accommodate bigger width...
  • Waist-level loading, unloading and strapping...
  • Gas struts making it easy to load and unload...
  • Includes QuickDraw bow and stern tie downs...

If you are looking for a carrier that will give you the easiest time as you load and unload your vessel on top of your car, then the Thule 898 Hullavator is what you are looking for. The set comprises of two cradles for attaching to your crossbars, which gives you the capability of securing your vessel at waist level.

Product Description

The Thule 898 Hullavator Pro is made in the USA, and it weighs 13.1lbs plus it measures 36 by 16 by 6-Inches. It has a load capacity of 75lbs and will host kayaks of a width of up to 36-Inches. It features gas struts that will aid in the loading and unloading process while the QuickDraw bow and stern tie downs will help in securing your vessel.

Other Features and Benefits 

The outstanding feature with this carrier is the gas loaders whereby you only need to push it to the rooftop without requiring too much strength. This feature will be beneficial if you have an extremely tall vehicle, a heavy kayak, or you are a solo kayaker. The corrosion-resistant base and cradles help in ensuring that this device is very durable and will serve you for a long time to come.

Pros
  • Easy to load and unload the vessel
  • Durable
  • List Element
Cons
  • Poor warranty service

8. ​HandiRack Universal MPG452

On Sale
HandiRack - Universal Inflatable roof rack bars...
283 Reviews
HandiRack - Universal Inflatable roof rack bars...
  • Inflatable rooftop car rack and expandable...
  • Multipurpose universal roof bars / roof rack;...
  • Includes: 2 x HandiRack twin tubes, 2 x 3m...
  • Tested on many vehicle brands: ACURA AUDI BMW...

If you require a highly versatile roof rack, this Inflatable Roof Rack by Universal is what you are looking for. It is a universal carrier that can not only hold kayaks but is designed for other vessels as well, including luggage, surfboards, and paddleboards.

Product Description

The design of the HandiRack Inflatable Roof Rack allows it to comfortably fit on the roof of a majority of the vehicles and SUVs in the market. It is constructed out of 420D nylon, which is textured and provides a protective and cushioning effect. It weighs 6.4lbs and has a load capacity of up to 175lbs, and the package includes all the hardware necessary for a successful installation.

Other Features and Benefits 

The textured surface will ensure that your vehicle does not get scratches during transportation. The D-ring anchor points together with the long straps will give you peace of mind as your vessel will be tightly secured and at no risk of falling off as your vehicle moves.

Pros
  • Easy to install
  • Does not scratch your vehicle
  • Tightly secures your vessel
Cons
  • Breaks apart easily

9. Thule DockGlide P2029796

On Sale
Thule DockGlide Kayak Carrier
24 Reviews
Thule DockGlide Kayak Carrier
  • Easily load and unload the kayak with the...
  • Two independent pivoting saddles with...
  • Quickly secure the kayak using the center...
  • Protects the hull with large, flexible,...

Here is another master-class by Thule that is designed to hold a kayak with a width of up to 36-Inches and it has a load capacity of 75lbs. Though it may have a complicated design contrary to other carriers, its main advantage is that it is adaptable and will work with all Thule rack systems, factory racks, and round-bars.

Product Description

This Kayak Carrier by Thule is flexible and features felt-lined saddles to make it easy to load and unload the vessel. It weighs 6.8lbs and features two pivoting paddles with an angle-setting lever that makes it compatible with a wide variety of hull shapes. It comes with protective pads as well as center-load straps, with buckle bumpers for protecting the car, and QuickDraw bow and stern tie-downs.

Other Features and Benefits 

The carrier is constructed out of high-impact nylon, and stainless steel to give it sufficient strength and durability for holding the carrier securely for transportation. You will have an easy time loading the Kayak as you will have to put one of the Kayak on it and slide it on.

Pros
  • Easy to load and unload
  • Fits perfectly on most cars
  • Comes with tie-down straps for maximum security
Cons
  • Expensive

10. ​ECOTRIC RACK-A11-P

ECOTRIC J-Bar 2 Pairs Universal Kayak Canoe Top...
  • Cross Bars are thicker than 1" or wider than...
  • Straps: 8' length Accommodates kayaks up to...
  • includes: 2 PAIRS (4 racks for 2 kayaks) + 4x...
  • Mounting Hardward Steel design with...

This J-Bar by Ecotric will enable you to create more space on the top of your vehicle by letting you mount your vessel in a J-Style. It has a wide mouth for ease of loading and unloading and has adjustable padding.

Product Description

The Ecotric J-Bar has a heavy duty stainless steel frame, and it features a quick on/off hardware for a fast installation and removal process. The package includes two pairs; four racks designed to hold two kayaks. It weighs 7.2kg and has a load capacity of 165lbs, and can hold a kayak that is 36-Inches wide. The rack is a universal fit and is compatible with most factory, oval, square, and round cross bars.

Other Features and Benefits 

The package includes all necessary installation hardware and also features fastening straps that will be useful in securing your vessel on the rack. The material used in the construction, including steel and rubber, are sturdy and durable for strength and durability purposes.

Pros
  • Easy to install and use
  • Durable and sturdy construction
  • Decent pricing
Cons
  • Straps are too short

Different Types of Roof Racks for Kayaks

Before we even talk about the different factors to consider when shopping for a kayak, we need to first understand the different kinds of options that exist. Remember, each one of them has their fair share of merits and demerits. There are 4 major rack categories comprising the stackers, j-cradles, saddles, and temporary pads.

Stackers

These are typically a pair of vertical posts which are mounted on the crossbars of your vehicle. One advantage of investing in this kind of racks is that they make it easy to transport multiple boats at once. If you get a set of them, you’ll notice that they come with cam straps along with the necessary mounting hardware.

One aspect of stackers that we really like is that it can be folded down when not in use. That alone can improve gas mileage. Also, there’s always the option of getting foam blocks added to help cushion the load during transport.

Saddles

These are holders that are known for cradling the kayaks horizontally. They are the most preferred option when the lowest rooftop clearance is preferred. Also, they work quite well with high-speed cars where stability is of the essence.

When you get a saddle with rollers, the deal gets even sweeter because it’s quite easy to load the yak and offload it as well. Saddles, unfortunately, are typically built to carry one kayak at a time.

J-Cradles

J-Cradles are the most popular roof racks for yaks out there. They are typically known for their unique J shape form. Yet another unique aspect of them is that they are meant for side-loading. The racks typically sit at 45-degrees against your crossbar giving you extra room to cart extra adventure gadgets. What’s more? The cradles work quite well for vehicles with narrow roofs.

We would also like to note the fact that J-Cradles are quite stable and secure. People like them because they are typically easy to load and unload. Unlike other racks, you don’t need to load these ones from the back of the car. Instead, you simply need to pick the entire watercraft and load it from one side.

On the flipside, though, if your kayak is too heavy, you may struggle to haul it sideways. This can be a tough call especially when the weather is rough or when you’re exhausted after a long day fishing in the waters.

Temporary Pads

Unless you own an SUV, most cars don’t have a rack. In that case, your best bet is to invest in a temporary pad. The good thing with these pads is that you don’t have to provide any base rack system for them. The pads can be directly mounted on the roof. Besides that, they are typically easy to install and remove because all you need to do is insert a few straps over the top and provide a bit of foam padding.

However, temp racks are not meant for long inter-state rides. They work best when used for short distances. Also, for your own safety, avoid carrying more than one kayak on top. Another word of advice is that these pads are typically difficult to install for cars with a sunroof. Generally, two types of temporary pads exist notably inflatable and foam pads.

Inflatable Temporary Pads

These are cheap pads that are also easy to pack up and transport when you don’t need to use them. One aspect of them that makes them widely sought-after is that they are highly shock-absorbent.

Foam Pads

As their name suggests, these racks are made from foam. Foam pads are well-known for their shock absorbent nature. As such, they also protect your car from sustained damage.

Life Assisted Carrier

Apart from the three types of racks discussed above, there also exists the possibility of installing a lift assisted carrier. They are known to be quite easy to load. Indeed, as long as you’re using them, you don’t have to lift the entire weight of your yak on your own.

So, even if you’re out there on your own, this would just be the right package for you. That said, lift-assisted carriers are quite expensive although they pay back for their value with the convenience they bring.


Factors to Consider When Choosing a Kayak Roof Rack

Now that we have a rough idea of the different kinds of racks that exist, it’s time to ponder upon the specific factors to consider when shopping for one. Indeed, different cars and budget limits can influence the option you ultimately settle for.

The Type of Your Car’s Roof Setup

There are 4 different types of base roof setups. There’s the naked roof which works best with the temporary racks and then there’s the side rails setup. Besides that, there are factory crossbar and aftermarket crossbar roofs. Crossbars are quite sophisticated and do a decent job of accommodating stackers, j-cradles as well as saddles.

Carrying Capacity

This factor is influenced by the number of kayaks you intend to carry with you. Most people generally prefer to carry one kayak at a time and in that case, the j-cradles or temporary pads suffice. However, if you’re considering carrying more than one watercraft at a time, stackers would be your best bets. These are specifically designed to allow maximum load capacity without compromising on stability.

That said, there’s always the possibility of investing in several J-Cradle sets. That way, you can carry several kayaks at once as well.

How Far Do You Intend To Drive?

Long, interstate drives require extra security measures as far as carrying kayaks is concerned. Indeed, cross-country travel demands for tougher racks. In that case, you want to avoid using the temporary pads.

The saddles and j-cradles are the best fit for long-distance trips. Though expensive, they provide quite a few awesome features for your convenience.

Do You Intend To Carry Your Yak Frequently?

If you are one of those people who prefer to paddle every so often, your best bet is to invest in a roof rack that’s easy to unlock and unload. Saddles are usually the most convenient ones when such situations arise. So, if convenience is your craving, you know where to turn.

Different Brands

While there are many companies that provide kayak roof racks, it’s only a few that seem to remain consistently ahead of the competition. These include:

  • Thule – A Swedish brand that has been in operation since 1942.
  • Yakima – Based in Portland Oregon, Yakima is renowned for its innovative designs.
  • Malone – With branches in Europe, USA, Australia, and Canada, Malone Auto Racks has grown exponentially over the last 10 years.
  • TMS – TMS may not be the pioneering brand when it comes to Kayak production but it certainly is a leading candidate for folks looking for quality kayak rack accessories.

Which One Is The Best?

In our view, the Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Universal Car Rack is the overall winner in this review. That’s probably because we generally like J-Style Racks due to their overhead clearance and stability.

The first runners up spot on this list would go to the Yakima Jaylow Kayak Carrier. It’s easy to mount plus also has an excellent roof clearance. That said, we find it less fancy than the Malone one and that’s purely because we have a thing for fancy stuff when it comes to cars.


Conclusion

No matter your style of fishing, the distance of travel or unique preferences, you’re sure to find something that makes a lot of sense on this list. So, go ahead and claim the rack that ticks all the right boxes for you and may you enjoy a comfortable ride!