10 Best Kayak Roof Racks: Reviews For SUVs & Cars

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One essential piece of gear that could take your transportation game to the next level is a kayak roof rack. Whether you have a truck, car, or SUV, a kayak roof rack can help you transport your fishing kayak to your favorite fishing destination. Our team tested and reviewed all of the best products to help you choose the best one.

Preview

Product

Rack Type

Capacity

Check Price

Hullavator PRO Black/Silver

Thule 898

Hullavator Pro

Lift-assisted

1

HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack Bars...

HandiRack Universal Inflatable

Temporary pads

2

YAKIMA - JayLow Rooftop Mounted Kayak Rack...

Yakima JayLow

J-cradle and stacker

1 or 2

Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Universal...

Malone Downloader

J-cradle

1

Thule Hull-a-Port Pro Rooftop Kayak Carrier

Thule Hull-A-Port Pro

J-cradle

1

Lifetime Warranty TMS® 2 Pairs J-Bar Rack HD...

TMS J Bar

J-cradle

2

Rhino Rack Kayak & Canoe Carrier, Folding...

Rhino Rack

J-cradle

1

Thule 830 The Stacker (4) Kayak Carrier

Thule Stacker

Stacker

4

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

EcoTric J-Bar

J-cradle

2

Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal Car...

Malone SeaWing

Saddle

1


5 Common Types of Kayak Roof Racks

  • Stackers
    These models allow you to stack multiple kayaks next to each other. The kayaks sit on their edges so that there is plenty of space on your car roof. They are best for smaller boats and multiple kayaks.
stackers

image source: canoe-shops.co.uk

  • Saddles
    This type of roof rack holds the bottom of your kayak flat against the roof of your vehicle. The full width of the kayak sits on the roof, so they are best for transporting larger kayaks.
saddles

image source: maloneautoracks.com

  • J-Cradles
    This model features a J-shaped holding arm that cradles the kayak and holds it on the side of the vehicle. It allows you to load your boat from the side of the car instead of hoisting it all the way up.
j-cradles

image source: nexternal.com

  • Temporary Pads
    This is an easy and simple solution to carrying your kayak. These pads are either inflatable or foam, and they loop through the windows of your car. You can place your kayak on your roof and tie it down. They are best for short trips, but they are not a permanent solution.

image source: yakima.com

  • Lift Assisted Carriers
    These models are generally the most expensive and high tech on the market. They feature a hydraulic lift assist function so that you can load your kayak at the side of your vehicle. The hydraulic system will then lift the kayak onto the roof.
lift assisted carriers

image source: prolineracks.com


Choosing a Quality Kayak Roof Rack (Buyer’s Guide)

Vehicle Type and Compatibility

How your roof is set up will determine the type of kayak carrier that you choose. The common roof setups are bare, factory crossbars, side rails, and aftermarket crossbars. If you have a naked roof, then you should look into temporary pads or installing aftermarket crossbars. Most saddle racks, J-cradles, and lift assist carriers will work with factory or aftermarket crossbars. Make sure that you check the compatibility for your vehicle and kaya roof rack before purchasing.

Frequency of Use and Travel Distance

If you use your fishing kayak often, then you should purchase a kayak roof rack that will be permanently installed. If you only take out your kayak a couple of times a year, then temporary pads may work for you. The distance that you travel will also affect your choice of kayak roof racks. If you travel many miles to take out your kayak, then a permanent and stable solution is ideal.

Roof Rack Type

As mentioned above, there are many different types of kayak roof racks. If you have a large kayak, then you should check out the lift-assisted kayak carriers. They can help you lift the weight of the boat onto the roof. Also ideal for large kayaks are the saddle roof racks. J-cradles and stackers are best for small or carrying multiple kayaks, while temporary pads are best for people with bare roofs.

Bar Height

Some kayak roof racks sit up vertically, which can be challenging for some anglers to reach. You should opt for low-profile racks if you plan to load your yak alone. Some racks fold down to make them easier to drive with when not in use. The height of your crossbars will affect the way that you load your kayak as well.

Rack Capacity

Some racks are better suited for solo kayak anglers, while others are ideal for two or three kayaks. Saddle and lift-assisted kayak roof racks are best for a single kayak. J-cradles and stackers are the best options if you want a 3 kayak roof rack. We recommend stackers as a good option for 4 kayak roof racks. 

Durability and Features

Most kayak roof racks are designed to be durable and withstand the elements when on the road. They are made of high-grade aluminum, which is lightweight. Some kayak roof racks fold down when not in use. This is good for reducing drag while driving. Some bonus features may include extra straps, ratchets, or hooks.

Ease of Assembly

The kayak roof racks in our review were designed to be easy to install on most car roofs. The stackers, J-cradles, and saddle models may require the use of a screwdriver or wrench. Read the instructions thoroughly before assembling. They are also easy to load and unload when done correctly.

Price and Warranty

Some of the kayak roof racks below are more expensive than others, but we chose the products with the best value. Determine your budget and stick to it when making your decision. Every product below comes with a warranty, so make sure that you register it after purchase via the manufacturer’s website.


10 Best Kayak Roof Racks Reviewed

1. Thule 898 Hullavator Pro

Our Top Pick!

Rack Type

Lift-assisted

Material

Aluminum and steel

Capacity

1

Vehicle Compatibility

Cars and SUVs

Weight

39.7 lbs

If you are looking for the best kayak roof rack, then this model is the top choice for you. We chose the Thule 898 Pro Hullavator as our top pick in this roundup. It is the only lift-assist model that we have reviewed. Thule made some improvements to this one.

If you frequently take your kayak out fishing on your own, then you know how difficult it can be to hoist it onto the roof of your car. With this model, you won’t have to worry about it. Thule’s Hullavator 898 features gas-assist struts that lift 40 lbs of the weight for you.

This model can be pulled down from its upright position to the side of your vehicle. Once you place your kayak in the cradle, you can lift the struts back into place on top of your car or SUV. It comes with Thule QuickDraw tie-downs as well.

We were impressed with this model’s ability to lift up to 40 lbs of the kayak. This made it easy to load and unload the kayak at waist height. According to many positive reviews, it has completely changed solo angler’s trips.

As one customer noted, “This one fits just right and makes loading the kayak up on the SUV roof a breeze.”

Pros
  • Lifts 40 lbs of the kayak’s weight
  • Includes QuickDraw tie-downs
  • Fits wide kayaks
Cons
  • Won’t work with trucks 

2. HandiRack Universal Inflatable

Best Kayak Roof Rack for Cars Without Rails

Rack Type

Temporary pads

Material

Three-ply nylon

Capacity

2

Vehicle Compatibility

Cars and SUVs

Weight

5.75 lbs

This is the only product in our roundup that is universal and temporary. It will fit almost any car or SUV. If you are looking for the best kayak roof rack for cars without rails, then this is the best option for you. It can be easily inflated and placed on vehicles as a temporary solution.

This HandiRack model comes with two inflatable pads that can be placed on the roof of your car or SUV. The straps run underneath the roof and stay in place by the car doors and a cam buckle. It comes with a HandiPump that allows you to inflate the tubes anywhere and anytime. It also comes with HandiStrap tie-downs and ropes.

It is completely portable because it can be deflated when not in use. It folds down to a small travel size with an included bag that can be stored in your vehicle. It holds up to two yaks that should be laid flat on their base when in transport. We thought that this product was ideal for a temporary and quick solution. The inflatable tubes protect your car and yak from damage. They were easy for anyone to install.

As Kency stated, “My kayak is so secure on top of my Honda CRV using the Malone Inflatable roof racks. So easy to put on and takedown.”

Pros
  • Completely portable
  • Includes HandiPump
  • Easy to install
Cons
  • Not ideal for long term solution

3. Yakima JayLow

Best Two Kayak Roof Rack

Rack Type

J-cradle and stacker

Material

Carbon steel

Capacity

1 or 2

Vehicle Compatibility

Cars and SUVs

Weight

12.7 lbs

If there’s more than one kayak angler in your family, then this yak carrier is ideal. The Yakima JayLow Rooftop is the best two kayak roof rack on the market. Its stacker design will hold two yaks on their sides for easy transport.

This Yakima JayLow model comes with two configuration options; J-cradle for one kayak and stacker for two kayaks. The J-cradle design is ideal for carrying one kayak on its side, while the stacker configuration carries two in the vertical position.

It folds down when not in use, so you don’t have to take it off after every trip. It includes bow and stern tie-downs as well as straps. The nonslip helps keep kayaks in place while driving.

Our team thought that this yak roof rack was impressive. We liked the configuration options for both one and two kayaks. The tool-free installation was a breeze since the product came fully assembled. It is made of carbon steel, so if you're an ocean angler, you should give it a rinse when you get home.

As Caleb from Yakima said, “My kayak is securely attached in minutes and because of the jaylow's design I can even haul my girlfriend’s kayak at the same time.”

Pros
  • Carries one or two kayaks
  • Tool-free installation
  • Fits most factory crossbars
Cons
  • High wind noise at high speeds

4. Malone Downloader

Best Kayak Roof Rack For Honda CRV

Rack Type

J-cradle

Material

Aluminum

Capacity

1

Vehicle Compatibility

Cars and SUVs

Weight

12.2 lbs

Many of us adventure junkies drive small SUVs as our daily drivers. If you’re looking for a roof rack that will fit your Honda CRV, then we’ve got you covered. Malone Downloader Folding J-style is the best kayak roof rack for Honda CRV available.

This model comes in a J-cradle design that allows you to transport one yak. It features high-quality foam pads to protect your kayak in transit. The frame folds down to reduce drag and for low clearance access. It comes with a boarding ramp for easier unloading and loading. The aluminum frame is corrosion-resistant, so the elements won’t cause any damage. The cam buckle safety straps will keep your kayak secure.

We liked that this model was made of aluminum. It makes it lightweight and resistant to saltwater corrosion. The installation was not quite as simple as other competitors, but it fits nearly all factory and aftermarket crossbars. The fold-down feature is excellent for trips when you don't have your kayak. It fit perfectly on factory Honda CRV crossbars.

As Steve noted, “sturdy frames, reliable attachment system to the car/van, good padding to avoid damage to the boats, good sturdy straps for securing the racks and boats.”

Pros
  • Corrosion-resistant aluminum
  • Loading ramps
  • JAWZ mounting hardware
Cons
  • More difficult to install than competitors

5. Thule Hull-A-Port Pro

Best Kayak Roof Rack for SUV

Rack Type

J-cradle

Material

Carbon steel

Capacity

1

Vehicle Compatibility

Cars and SUVs

Weight

8.7 lbs

Many kayak anglers drive around SUVs to keep up with their active lifestyles. If you have an SUV and need to tote your kayak, then this product is best for you. The Thule Hull-a-Port Pro is the best kayak roof rack for SUV.

Another great product from Thule, this J-style model comes with everything you need to transport one kayak. It has a carbon steel frame, which makes it heavy-duty for long trips. The hardware is coated with corrosion-resistant material to ensure longevity.

It features a lever to fold down the kayak rack when not in use. It comes with thick, weather-resistant pads to protect your yak. It has Thule’s Buckle Bumper technology that prevents scratches when loading and unloading.

Our team liked the padding on the bars of this model. It was thick and similar to neoprene, which made it completely weather-resistant. We liked that the buckles had small bumpers on them so that we didn’t end up scratching the SUV. The fold-down feature was useful as well.

According to Walt from Thule, “we use these carriers to haul our homemade kayaks to Florida each winter. They have performed with no problems in all types of weather including high winds.”

Pros
  • Thick, durable padding on the bars
  • Thule’s Buckle Bumpers
  • Fits almost all SUV crossbars
Cons
  • No loading ramps included

6. TMS J Bar

Best Fishing Kayak Roof Rack

Rack Type

J-cradle

Material

Steel

Capacity

2

Vehicle Compatibility

Cars, trucks, and SUVs

Weight

16 lbs

If you often take your kayak out on fishing trips, then you should look into this model to carry your kayak to the lake. The TMS J-Bar is the best fishing kayak roof rack on the market. It comes with two pairs of J-cradles so that you can transport two kayaks.

This TMS model is designed for use with most factory and aftermarket crossbars. You get two pairs to transport two kayaks at the same time. They sit vertically on their sides in the J-cradles, which saves space.

They are made of durable steel that can withstand the elements, but it makes it heavier than other models. It comes with a wide mouth J-bar, which makes loading and unloading easier. It comes with four straps to tie down your kayaks.

We liked that this model was simple and easy to install. You get two sets of J-bar carriers, which is a nice bonus. You can carry two kayaks without worrying about buying another set of racks. We thought that the straps worked well, but the J-cradles could have used a little bit more padding or rubber. The universal design made it easy to connect to most standard crossbars.

Pros
  • Comes with 2 sets of J-cradles
  • Made of steel
  • Wide mouth J-cradles for easier loading
Cons
  • Not very much padding

7. Rhino Rack

Best Kayak Roof Rack System for Trucks and SUVs

Rack Type

J-cradle

Material

Glass-reinforced nylon

Capacity

1

Vehicle Compatibility

Cars, trucks, and SUVs

Weight

14 lbs

Here we have another model that is designed as a J-cradle that holds one kayak securely on your roof. We named the Rhino Rack folding J-style as the best kayak roof rack system for trucks and SUVs. Rhino Rack has designed this roof rack to be durable and easy to install. While this specific model is ideal for carrying one kayak, you can purchase an extension piece that allows you to carry up to four kayaks at once. 

This model comes with self-adjusting pads that help keep your kayak protected at highway speeds. It features glass-reinforced nylon construction that is corrosion-resistant and won’t fade in the blazing sun. It comes with self-adjusting pedals and a T-bar to help with loading and unloading.

Our team thought agreed that this model is perfect for trucks and SUVs. We liked the UV resistant material since most of the time your vehicle sits in the hot summer sun while kayaking. The included cradle for paddles was a nice bonus feature.

According to Bradley, “They are durable, come with excellent, quality straps to secure the kayaks and paddles and they work great.” Many positive customer reviews indicate that this model is easy to install, as well.

Pros
  • T-bar for easy loading
  • UV resistant material
  • Self-adjusting pads
Cons
  • Does not include a lock

8. Thule Stacker

Best Kayak Roof Rack for RAV4

Rack Type

Stacker

Material

Aluminum and steel

Capacity

4

Vehicle Compatibility

Cars and SUVs

Weight

7.1 lbs

Here is another product that we thought was ideal for a specific vehicle. We named the Thule Stacker as the best kayak roof rack for RAV4. Since many outdoor enthusiasts drive these vehicles out to their favorite fishing spot.

The Thule Stacker is one of the only models of its kind that we have reviewed. You can carry up to four kayaks at once with just this one product. It fits securely on cars and SUVs. We tested it on our RAV4, and it fit perfectly.

This model would be best for someone that needs to transport multiple kayaks at once with limited space. It is made of aluminum and steel, which is durable and lightweight. It comes with straps that can hold one kayak, so if you need to transport more, then you should buy additional straps.

We liked that this model allowed you to carry up to four kayaks. With J-cradle kayak roof racks, you can usually only carry one, but this stacker allowed four. One important note is that Thule recommends using it only with their brand of crossbars.

As one customer, Davi said, “I've had the Stacker for almost 4 years and have never had any problems with it. It’s durable and sturdy. It handles long-distance well.”

Pros
  • Carry up to four kayaks
  • Easy on/off system
  • Made of high-grade aluminum
Cons
  • Includes only one strap

9. EcoTric J-Bar

Best Budget Roof Mounted Kayak Carrier

Rack Type

J-cradle

Material

Steel

Capacity

2

Vehicle Compatibility

Cars and SUVs

Weight

15.9 lbs

Every angler likes a great bargain, especially when it comes to accessories for carrying your yaks. The EcoTric J-Bar is the best budget roof mounted kayak carrier on the market. This model is perfect for budget shoppers that still want a good value.

The EcoTric model comes with two pairs of J-cradles so that you can safely transport two kayaks on your roof. They are made of tough and durable steel so that they survive the elements while you drive.

They include four straps so that you can strap your kayaks in for a long trip. It is important to note that they don't fold down. If you have a low clearance garage, you may have to remove them each time. They come with adjustable padding to ensure that your kayak and vehicle don't get scratched.

We were impressed with the value of these budget J-bars. They were easy to install on our flat crossbars, but EcoTric cautions against using them with round or oval crossbars. It is nice that they come in pairs so that you can carry two kayaks. We also liked that there were four straps included. This product is a good budget package with everything included.

Pros
  • Includes two pairs of J-cradles
  • Budget-friendly option
  • Adjustable padding
Cons
  • Doesn’t fit oval or round crossbars

10. Malone SeaWing

Best Low-Profile Kayak Rack

Rack Type

Saddle

Material

Nylon

Capacity

1

Vehicle Compatibility

Cars and SUVs

Weight

11.6 lbs

This is the only saddle style kayak roof rack that we have reviewed. If you have a large kayak or low clearance garage, then this model would be best for you. We named the Malone SeaWing Saddle Style as the best low-profile kayak rack.

The Malone SeaWing saddle style is ideal for keeping a low-profile without having to remove or fold down the racks. It comes in a saddle design that will transport your kayak flat on the bottom. Since your kayak will lay flat, it is best for transporting only one kayak.

The saddle mounts are coated with non-slip rubber to keep your kayak in place. Malone also includes bow and stern tie-downs. This model comes with the patented Jawz mounting hardware that locks onto your crossbars and doesn’t budge.

We liked the low-profile design of this model. It helped with wind noise and reduced drag when on the highway for long-distance trips. We also thought that the rubber feet on the saddle were great for transporting in wet climates.

As Doug wrote in his review, “I love this rack! Easy to load and unload your kayak from and easy to strap it down. It's very solid and my kayak doesn't move when traveling at 65 mph.”

Pros
  • Low-profile design
  • Rubberized saddles
  • Jawz mounting hardware
Cons
  • Only allows you to carry one kayak

Understanding Different Base Roof Setups

  • Naked Roof
    This type of roof is the bare bones of a vehicle. That means it comes with nothing on the top at all. The best option for these roof types is temporary pads since they don’t require you to have any rails.
  • Side Rails
    This type of car roof has two rails running down the length of the sides. They are suitable for installing quick aftermarket crossbars. You can use temporary pads and some other lift-assisted model, but we recommend installing aftermarket crossbars.
  • Factory Crossbars
    These roof types are installed by the dealer when you buy the car. They are usually square, round, flat, or oval. They will work with J-cradles, stackers, and lift-assisted kayak roof racks.
  • After Market Crossbar
    These are installed after you buy the vehicle. They are usually brand-specific and work well with kayak roof racks from that same brand.
kayak roof guide

image source: cdnbrm.com


A Guide to Mounting Kayaks on a Car Roof Rack

  • Before Driving
    Before you take off on your next big kayak fishing adventure, you need to ensure you have the kayak strapped down correctly. The first step is to load your yak into the kayak roof rack. This can be a difficult task with just one person. Follow these tips to lift your kayak by yourself safely. First, you should place a towel onto the edge of your vehicle so that you can rest the kayak on it. Next, place the bow on the towel, then lift and push the stern, so it slides into place.

    The next thing that you should do before driving is tie down the kayak. For saddle racks, you should use a bow and stern tie to keep the kayak in place. For J-cradles, stackers, and lift-assisted models, you should use side straps. If you plan to go on long trips, then you should use stern, bow, and side straps. To tie these knots, you should use a trucker’s hitch to make sure it’s secure. To load multiple kayaks, you will need a stacker or two pairs of J-bars. 
  • When Driving
    Now that you have the kayak secure, driving with it should be simple. We recommend checking all of the straps before you depart to make sure that they are tight and secure. If you are traveling long-distance, then you should pull over every 10 to 20 miles to check the straps. Make sure that you check your mirrors often to ensure that nothing has come loose.

People Also Ask (FAQs)

What is the correct way to tighten the straps when securing a kayak?

The easiest way to lock down your yak is to use cam straps. They are quick and efficient when strapping in kayaks. We recommend using a trucker’s hitch knot if you don’t have cam straps.

Is there anything special that needs to be done for cleaning, maintaining, and storing these kayak carriers?

We recommend rinsing off your kayak roof rack after transport, especially if you have used your kayak in saltwater. It is known to be corrosive to certain metals such as steel. If you are not planning to use your kayak roof rack for some time, then you may want to remove it or fold it down. This will prevent UV damage and haphazard low-clearance issues.

Can I still transport a kayak without a roof rack?

You can transport a kayak without a specialized kayak roof rack, but we do not recommend it. It can be damaging to your vehicle and your fishing kayak.

Can I put a kayak on a roof rack by myself?

Yes. If you are short or have a really tall vehicle roof, then it can be more difficult but still possible. The easiest way to do this is to buy a lift-assisted kayak roof rack like our top pick, the Thule 898 Pro Hullavator Pro. It helps you lift about 40 lbs of the yak's weight. If you buy a J-cradle, it is still possible to lift it on your own, but you should use a towel to slide the kayak into the cradles. 

Can I mount a kayak to a small car?

Yes. Most of the kayak roof racks above are suitable for smaller vehicles. They can be mounted to any standard aftermarket crossbars. Make sure that you check with your manufacturer before installing crossbars to ensure that they fit.

Can I add rails to my car?

You can have rails installed on any vehicle. We recommend checking with major distributors to see which rails will fit your car. Another option is to check out the temporary pads if you are unsure about investing in aftermarket rails.


Conclusion

In this article, we have reviewed the best kayak roof racks on the market. There is something for everyone in our comprehensive buyer’s guide. I’m sure you are wondering what the absolute best product is, and our team has the answer.

Our top pick has to go to the Thule 898 Hullavator Pro. It offers lift-assisted ease at an affordable price. This model comes with Thule’s easy operating lift-assist struts so that you can lift your kayak by yourself in any condition.