Best Kayak Roof Racks

The 10 Best Kayak Roof Racks Reviewed For 2017

Kayak roof racks are a fundamental necessity for paddlers. Why? Because most vehicles don’t have room for a kayak which can easily be 10+ feet long.

Using the best kayak roof rack for your vehicle is going to make transporting your kayak easier and safer. Even some truck users may choose to look for additional kayak storage when needing to carry extra gear in the bed of the truck.

It’s practically a given that you’ll need a kayak roof rack to go with your shiny new boat. But what’s the difference between all the models? And which one is right for you?

For more of my top gear recommendations, have a look through these popular Outside Pursuits guide links: Recreational Kayaks, Kayak Paddles, Life Vests

Quick Answer: The 10 Best Kayak Roof Racks For 2017

  1. Thule Hullavator Pro Carrier
  2. Thule 835 Hull-a-Port Pro Kayak Carrier
  3. Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Kayak Carrier
  4. Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal Kayak Carrier
  5. Yakima JayLow Folding J-Cradle Rooftop Kayak Rack
  6. Thule 887XT SlipStream XT Kayak Roof Rack
  7. The Kayak Wing – Sea Kayak Rack
  8. Yakima Showboat Kayak Roof Rack
  9. Malone HandiRack Inflatable Universal Roof Rack
  10. SPORTRACK Adjustable Kayak Carrier

Here are my 3 favorite roof racks with full reviews and our buyers guide below.

Best Kayak Roof Racks

 Thule Hullavator Pro CarrierYakima JayLow Folding J-Cradle Rooftop Kayak RackMalone HandiRack Inflatable Universal Roof Top Rack
editors choice
Weight Capacity:75 pounds80 pounds for one kayak, 110 for two kayaks180 pounds
Kayaks and Width Capacity:2 kayaks up to 36 Inches wide2 kayaks up to 36 Inches wide1 kayak up to width of the vehicle
FeaturesGas assisted struts take 40 pounds off the weight you need to liftTool free installation with J bars that fold down when not in useCan used to used to carry most anything on the vehicle roof, simple tool free setup

Kayak Carrier Reviews

#1 Thule Hullavator Pro Carrier

This kayak roof rack is as helpful as it is unique. You’ve never seen anything quite like it and it will change the way you load your kayaks, SUPs and surfboards!

These racks extend over the side of the care where they hang in place allowing you to put the boat on and strap it in place at hip-height.

Once you’ve loaded the boat, just lift the kayak or SUP and the roof rack will retract with it. Then it locks securely in place on top of the car.

I encourage you to watch the video to see how it works and why I think its the best kayak roof rack.

Video: See how easy it is to load your kayak with the Hullavator.

There are bow and stern strap mounts that have quick adjust tensioners, making the whole process remarkably simple and easy.

An amazing product for those who are tired of lifting heavy kayaks on top of the car!

#2 Thule 835 Hull-a-Port Pro Kayak Carrier

This is a J-style kayak rack for cars which holds a single kayak vertically. It features two individual vertical “J” shaped mounts which attach separately to the front and rear cross rails.

The system includes padded bars and a ratchet strap system. Ratchet straps are easy to use and, when used right, the most secure type of kayak holder in my opinion.

This will fit Thule rack systems guaranteed but should fit just about any roof rails. One thing I love about these J racks from Thule is that they’re collapsible.

With the pull of a lever they fold down so you won’t rip them off on the garage door and a top contender for best kayak carrier.

#3 Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier

Another J style kayak roof carrier, again with a built-in fold down system. In my opinion, this is an invaluable feature that should be standard on all vertical kayak racks.

One unique feature is the angled lip built to help you load the kayak more easily. A nice feature for protecting the paint job of your car!

These will mount up with almost any round, oval, or square factory rails with 60mm and 70mm mounting bolts to fit various thicknesses.

If your rack is too thick, just go to the local hardware store and pick up a longer bolt with the same threads. Easy fix.

Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Universal Car Rack Kayak CarrierLike the Thule rack above, these do include a ratchet strap for securing your kayak, paddle board (SUP) or surfboard. The Malone Downloader is another contender for the best kayak rack!

#4 Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier

This one is a horizontal kayak carrier that cradles the kayak in two V shaped beds. It’s slim enough that you’ll be able to fit two kayaks side by side on most racks.

This will depend on the width of your car, the rack, and your kayaks though.

While I’m not the biggest fan of bow and stern straps, they do improve the stability of any kayak rack. These are simple cord straps that won’t take up a lot of your vision which is much better than webbing straps.

One consideration is figuring out beforehand where you’ll tie the bow and stern straps to if your car doesn’t have mounting points.

Cost effective and adaptable. An excellent option for a kayak or paddle board roof rack!

#5 Yakima JayLow Folding J-Cradle Rooftop Kayak Rack

Incorporating most of the features of the other J-style roof racks and at a reasonable price. That makes the Yakima JayLow a serious contender for a top ranking on our list of kayak racks for cars.

I’m a fan of the minor upgrades such as the slide rails for easier loading and protecting the car paint. There are also easy release handles on each one which allow the top rack to fold down.

Plus, the overall look of the racks is refined and well done. The straps are complimented with bow and stern tie downs.

These should fit just about any size or shape roof rack without much trouble at all!

#6 Thule 887XT SlipStream XT Kayak Roof Rack

While this roof rack is a little more elaborate than the more simplified models we’ve reviewed it does come with a few advantages.

There are four individual pivoting hull pads which all adjust to help conform to any size or shape hull. Nice!

It’s made to fit one kayak which loads from back to front on any vehicle. Just get the front of your kayak up on it and slide the rest on. There’s a sliding roller on the back of the mount which helps you slide the kayak up on to the rack.

Then strap the whole thing down with the two included quick straps. The entire rack can support up to 75 pounds.

#7 The Kayak Wing – Sea Kayak Rack with Covered Straps

One note right off the bat: this kayak carrier will only support kayaks up to 30” wide. Sea kayak users rejoice! This one is for you.

If you’re not sure that you have a sea kayak or that your kayak will fit, just be sure to measure the widest part of the hull.

I like the quick strap because it’s surrounded by a neoprene protector to guard against having the metal strap scratch the car or the boat.

While I wish they would have used a ratchet strap, the quick strap should be sufficient when combined with a bow and stern straps.

#8 Yakima Showboat Kayak Roof Rack

Similar to the SlipStream we reviewed above the Yakima Showboat is a back-to-front loading carrier. There will only be room for one boat on top unfortunately but there’s one major advantage.

The Showboat carrier can carry a kayak or a canoe! It includes two 66” Yakima cross bars to accommodate anything you could want.

The rear assisted roller helps get heavier boats in and out without grinding them against the paint. This kit may require additional crossbars for some users.

Video: See how easy the Yakima Showboat make loading your kayak.

One major drawback is that some people complain of fit problems on vehicles with rear hatchback style openings. Call Yakima before ordering to ensure fitment if you have any question.

#9 Malone HandiRack Inflatable Universal Roof Top Rack

This is a slight variation on the standard foam roller roof rack. These will only fit vehicles that DO NOT already have roof racks, they’re designed to be an easy fix for your standard passenger car.

I love that they’re inflatable which makes them a convenient choice for keeping in the trunk and deploying on the occasion where the need arises.

The racks strap through the interior of the car and then you just close the doors around them. Bow and stern straps are required to make sure the kayak is secure on these racks.

The Malone Handirack is a great option for the occasional kayaker or wants the ability to carry other things like a surfboard or paddle board (SUP).

#10 SPORTRACK SR5527 24 in. Adjustable Kayak Carrier

SPORTRACK SR5527 24 in. Adjustable Kayak Carrier

This kayak roof rack is reminiscent of the type I used on my old Dodge Intrepid. While they’re simplistic, they do work extremely well and they’re cheap!

The foam blocks can be adjusted to accommodate any width of kayak or stand up paddleboard. This is actually a really handy feature of the foam block rack which is as versatile or more so than other options.

In this case you don’t have to pay top dollar to get a great kayak rack for your car!

These lightweight foam blocks are dense and will support any size, weight, or shape kayak you can put on them without a problem.

SPORTRACK Adjustable Kayak Carrier

Definitely one of the best solutions if your car doesn’t have a built in rack. The Sportrack is another great choice for someone who is an occasional kayaker but also wants to carry a surfboard or paddleboard.

How to Choose the Best Kayak Roof Rack

Best Kayak Roof Rack

Racks or Foam Rollers?

Some vehicles have built in roof racks and bars. In this case some users choose to simply add some foam pads and strap the boat on top.

For those without the luxury of built in roof bars, the solutions are much more complicated.

We’re going to make sure that you’re ready to tackle both situations!

Foam Roof Rack or Carriers?

For years I drove an old Dodge Intrepid and used a hard foam room rack system. Because the car didn’t have its own roof rack, the foam adapters helped protect the car and secure my kayak at a very inexpensive price.

By far the price makes these a top choice for users. Often at $30 or less, you can get the foam pads and straps to secure your kayaks. There’s pretty much nothing that can go wrong as long as you secure the straps properly. The simplicity is a big advantage.

So why doesn’t everyone just buy a foam type roof rack? Because it’s nearly impossible to fit more than one kayak on the roof at a time. With dedicated roof racks, you can carry up to two. One for you and one for your favorite adventure partner!

Roof Racks

Dedicated roof racks are an awesome upgrade for any car that has built in rails. It is possible to add aftermarket rails, but we’ll talk about that later.

Remember why we love rail racks? Because they’re more secure and can carry more kayaks than foam roof racks.

Even though they’re a bit more secure, it’s still super important to make sure that you strap the kayak down properly. Some roof racks have built in locking systems.

One thing I do hate about roof racks is that they can be a pain on taller cars and trucks. If you have a tall SUV, make sure to consider your garage clearance before purchasing. If your roof rack won’t clear the garage, you’ll have to take it off each time you park. Big pain in the butt.

Can I Add Rails to My Car?

If you’re a particularly gutsy mechanic it is possible to add aftermarket rails to your car. There are rail systems that can actually be drilled and mounted to the roof of your car. Maybe you should hire a real mechanic for this?

If you’re not so stoked about drilling holes in your brand-new BMW, that’s okay. There are aftermarket roof rails that mount to your car without modification.

Try poking around Yakima’s offerings, or give them a call. They’re one of the most advanced makers of roof racks and rail systems.

Another advantage of non-permanent roof rails is that you can get rid of them altogether and improve gas mileage when they’re not needed.

Door Mount Systems

These roof rail and rack mounting systems are designed to clip on to the rain guard or the window lip of your car. They are modular and removable but come with the drawback that some will impede you from opening doors once the rack is mounted in place.

These can be viable options for cars without a built-in roof rail but I can tell you it’s definitely annoying to have straps holding your doors and windows closed.

Using Roof Racks and Rails

For foam pad roof racks the process isn’t complicated:

  1. Put your foam pads on the room (flat side down)
  2. Place the kayak on top of the foam pads
  3. Attach your straps to the kayak
  4. Find a location to secure your straps to the vehicle where they won’t scratch
  5. Use extra foam or rubber to protect and pad the car from scratches

If you’re using a permanent roof rail system:

  1. Find out which rack will mount to your rails
  2. Ensure the rack won’t collide with your garage doors when backing out…
  3. Strap the kayak down or use the built-in locking systems
  4. Back it up with an extra strap if you don’t trust it!

Transporting Multiple Kayaks

With a good roof rail system, you’ll easily be able to take two kayaks on the rack. Combine this with a trailer, side mount, or hitch mount and you’ve got enough room for up to 5 kayaks attached to one vehicle!

If you really need space, there are many boat trailers with space enough for 8+ kayaks on a single trailer. These are best for institutional programs with many participants.

Conclusion

No matter what type of kayak you’re carrying there’s something on our list for you. If your car doesn’t have built in racks, there’s always a way around it and it needn’t cost you tons of money!

For most users with built in roof rail systems on your car, a J-style carrier will be the best option. All of the J carriers on our list can accommodate up to two kayaks per vehicle and can be folded down to avoid breaking them on the garage door!

I hope this guide was helpful for finding the best kayak roof racks to fit your needs. If you want to comment or recommend a pair of roof rack I didn’t include, please use my contact form to get in touch.

Have fun and be safe out there!

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About Casey Fielder

I am an avid outdoorsman with experience in naturalist education, outside adventure education, ski instruction, and writing. In addition to my outdoor hobbies, I’m a huge fan of punk rock. I have launched several start-ups. (or business ventures) When exploring the backcountry, I usually carry less than 10 pounds of gear. Years of experience have taught me to pack light. I enjoy sharing my experiences of backcountry education teaching and guiding through writing.