Best Kayak Roof Racks

The Best Kayak Roof Racks (2019 Reviews)

Unless you’ve got an inflatable kayak -- odds are that a roof rack is a good idea.

They free up space, cut down on transport time, and generally make your life easier.

Before we get to it, we’ve got 2 to show you real quick if you’re looking to get one on the double.

editor's choice

Yakima JayLow

Yakima - JayLow, J-Style Fold Down Rooftop Kayak Carrier, 2 Boat Capacity
  • Dual Function
  • Low Profile
  • Compact

best value


 TMS J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Carrier Canoe Boat Surf Ski Roof Top Mounted on Car SUV Crossbar
  • Incredibly Inexpensive
  • Simple installation
  • Adjustable

How to Find the Best Roof Rack For You

Luckily, there are a lot of different options when it comes to transporting kayaks and other gear on top of your car and they all have different advantages and disadvantages.

The first thing to consider is what type of car you have and whether your car has a rail system already on it.

There are aftermarket rail systems but you don’t need them in order to get a kayak on the roof.

Foam Rollers

No, I’m not talking about the foam tube that you see people laying on top of at the gym.

These foam rollers go on top of your car and are probably the least intrusive method of getting your kayak secured to your vehicle. In fact, the newer ones don’t even really look like rollers at all -- more like pads.

If your car didn’t come with a base rack system already installed then temporary pads are an attractive option:

They’re easy to set up, simple, and are not expensive.


Saddles are generally two soft v-shaped cradles that attach to your base rack and hold your kayak in the same position that it would sit in the water.

They’re great for two reasons:

  • They offer an extra level of security
  • They’re more aerodynamic

The extra level of security means that you can confidently drive in heavy rain and wind knowing that your kayak will stay put and the natural aerodynamic orientation of the kayak cuts down on fuel cost.


These are probably the most popular form of kayak roof racks and they offer a couple of distinct benefits.

  • Semi-vertical orientation allows for multiple kayaks
  • Fastest load and unload time

J-cradles carry the kayak at about a 45 degree angle so it’s much easier to fit 2 of them on top of your car. They also leave space for a roof rack or other gear.


Stackers carry the kayak in a fully vertical position on top of your car and thus are the best option for multiple kayaks.

In fact, one stacker usually carries 2 kayaks so it’s somewhat of a buy one get one free deal. This is the only type of roof rack that could possibly allow for 4 kayaks on top of a vehicle and you would only have to purchase 2 stackers.

Best Kayak Roof Racks

There’s a lot of options here but don’t get too bogged down in the details -- roof racks are relatively inexpensive, especially compared to your kayak.

All of the models that we recommend are sturdy safe so just pick one, get out there, and paddle!

Rakapak Inflatable Ski, Snowboard and Luggage Universal Car Roof Rack, 180 pound (LB) Capacity, Includes Hand Pump, Fits Most Cars and SUV

Model & Accessory Specs:

  • Type: Temporary Pad
  • Weight limit: 180 lbs
  • Price: $

The Rakapak is very simple and easy to use blow up roof rack that fits on pretty much any car. All you have to do is blow up the pads (the pump is included and it takes less than a minute), open your car doors, and wrap the straps around it. From there you can put whatever you want on top of your car without fear of scratching it.

When you’re done just take them off and it’s like they were never there.

Why Choose This Model?

For temporary roof storage that is so simple that a child would figure it out within minutes the Rakapak Inflatable Roof Rack is a great option.

Thule 898 Hullavator Pro Kayak Lift System

Model & Accessory Specs:

  • Type: Elevator Cradle System
  • Weight limit: 180 lbs
  • Price: $$$$

Make no mistake, this roof rack is not cheap. In fact, it’s the most expensive carry system on this list and some people will wonder why you should spend this much on a roof rack.

Here’s why:

The Hullavator allows you to load the kayak at hip height then assists you in getting it on top of the vehicle. Once it’s up there it’s as sturdy as they come.

Why Choose This Model?

Getting a kayak on top of a car is cumbersome at best and quite frankly for some people with some cars it is impossible.

For the elderly, and the disabled, this roof rack is a godsend and if you want your kids to load the kayak they’ll be hard pressed unless they’re tall for their age.

The Thule Hullavator is a one of a kind roof rack that is guaranteed to amaze.

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

Model & Accessory Specs:

  • Type: J-Cradle
  • Weight limit: 75 lbs
  • Price: $$$

The J-DownLoader includes everything you need to carry one kayak vertically on your roof top. When you’re not using it, it folds down so your car can still fit in the garage. It also has built in loading ramps that help load and unload the kayak while the padding helps protect the boat once strapped down.

Why Choose This Model?

This is one of the best selling J-Cradle roof racks on the market and for good reason:

It’s simple, sturdy, and stylish.

 Travel in style with the Malone J-Downloader.

Yakima - JayLow, J-Style Fold Down Rooftop Kayak Carrier, 2 Boat Capacity

Model & Accessory Specs:

  • Type: J-Cradle/Stacker Hybrid
  • Weight limit: 80 lbs
  • Price: $$$

This is a very cool roof rack because it offers the option to use it as a J-cradle or a stacker. J-cradles have faster load times and stackers fit 2 kayaks on one rack system so you have the flexibility to use both when the situation suits it.

Why Choose This Model?

Plain and simple, Yakima is a household name that makes great roof racks.

The JayLow is a one-of-a-kind rack that is capable of turning your car into a 4 boat kayak mobile!

SportRack SR5527 Adjustable Foam Kayak Carrier, 24-Inch, Black

Model & Accessory Specs:

  • Type: Temporary Pad
  • Weight limit: none
  • Price: $

The SportRack is one of the least expensive on the list but it still gets the job done.

It works just like any other temporary pad but you don’t have to blow it up and it works for all kinds of adventure gear.

Why Choose This Model?

Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.

It doesn’t get simpler and easier than the SportRack Foam Carrier.

 TMS J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Carrier Canoe Boat Surf Ski Roof Top Mounted on Car SUV Crossbar

Model & Accessory Specs:

  • Type: J-Cradle
  • Weight limit: 75 lbs
  • Price: $

The SportRack is pretty low cost but the TMS is the winner of the low cost contest. You can’t get even get avocado toast in Manhattan for this much.

I should add that this really is a cheap item. Tons of people have bought it and loved it but it does get a lot more complaints about not being durable than other roof racks do.

Why Choose This Model?

If you put tons of highway miles on your roof rack every month then you might want to go with a more trusted brand in roof racks. But if you only use it a few times a year then there is absolutely nothing wrong with the TMS J-Bar.

AA-Racks Model X35 Truck Rack with (8) Non-Drilling C-Clamps and Kayak J-Racks w/ Extended Bolts and Heavy Duty 1 Ton Ratcheting Strap

Model & Accessory Specs:

  • Type: Truck Rack
  • Weight limit: 200 lbs
  • Price: $$

This is an all-in-one Kayak adventure bundle for those of you that have a truck.

This bundle set includes everything needed to install the truck rack WITHOUT having to drill any holes.

Plus, set up and take down is quick and simple.

Why Choose This Model?

Yes, you can put your kayaks in the bed of your truck without a rack but then you don’t have room for anything else. On a side note, the AA-Racks Truck Rack makes your truck look badass. But in all seriousness, what’s great about it is that it allows you to take your kayaks without using any bed space so that you can take all your other gear as well.

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

Model & Accessory Specs:

  • Type: Saddle
  • Weight limit: 70 lbs
  • Price: $$

Saddles are nice because they’re pretty low profile and easy to take on and off of your base rack and the Malone Seawing is one of the most popular kayak saddles on the market. Plus, the easy to set up midpoint mounting means that you can fit 2 of them on most any car.

Why Choose This Model?

Need extra roof space for cargo or a second kayak yet concerned about gas mileage? Turn to the low-profile SeaWing kayak carrier -- it’s truly in a class by itself.

Benefits of Owning a Roof Rack

Unless you have a truck or a really long hatchback you don’t have much of a choice.

Sooner or later you’re going to have to transport your kayak at which point a roof rack is a necessity.

You really just need to think about three things when you’re buying a roof rack:

Will you be able to load the kayak without any help?

Will the kayak stay on top the car while you’re driving?

Is the quality and aesthetic up to your standard?

That’s pretty much it.

Close the book on it so you can get back to kayaking.

The Best Kayak Roof Racks (2019 Reviews)

It’s lovely saturday morning -- the sun is just coming up, the birds are chirping, and you finally got to sleep in for once (if you consider 8am sleeping in).

You wake up feeling giddy because you know you’re going kayaking today. So you get dressed, have some breakfast, and start loading up.

You’re excited to use your new roof rack and you’re pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to get your kayaks on to your car.

Now it’s time to load up with family and friends and head to the water.

It’s going to be a good day!

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