A watersport beloved by many outdoor enthusiasts, kayaking is a great way to enjoy some scenery, get some exercise or find an adrenaline rush, but kayaks are large and heavy which makes for difficult transportation.
Roof racks prevent your car from getting covered in river water, dirt and gunk, saving your upholstery and freeing up space for your friends and family to come along too, though they might seem intimidating if you don’t know what to look for.
To make things easier, we’ve done all of the research for you, selecting five of our favorite roof racks to suit a multitude of customers and their different needs or budgets; all you need to do is read through our product outlines, positives, and potential pitfalls.
If you’d like to be well informed yourself prior to committing to a purchase, we salute your sensible nature! As a reward, please check out our detailed but concise Buyer’s Guide to find out everything you need to know about racks before buying.
After all that, should you have any lingering questions, have a gander at the FAQ section, where we’ve researched common queries from other roof rack customers and provided easy to understand answers for your convenience. Don’t forget your helmet!
Top 5 Best Kayak Roof Rack
OUR TOP PICK
For customers in a hurry, we recommend the J-Bar HD from TMS, who are offering a simple, affordable set of four J-Bars (two pairs) for easily loading and carrying up to four kayaks on suitable vehicles.
Designed universally to mount with virtually any crossbar, your boats will be snugly secured on their sides, to reduce the amount of space taken up on your roof - though only two pairs are supplied, a maximum of four could fit on a full-sized truck.
Constructed from steel and corrosion-proof coating, with added adjustable padding to protect, each pair of j-bars is wide enough to accommodate two kayaks up to 36 inches in width, weighing approximately 75 pounds.
Patented on/off hardware makes for a swift installation of your new racks and fast removal when you’re ready to take them down again; everything you need for installation is included, plus two straps for securing.
With every purchase you’ll receive a limited lifetime warranty as TMS prioritise customer satisfaction, though they advise double checking your measurements (of both car and kayak) before committing to buy.
- Surprisingly low price point for kayakers on a budget
- Installation equipment and straps included
- Can hold up to four kayaks
- Lifetime warranty included
- Heavier than aluminum bars, may increase wind resistance
We couldn’t put together a list of kayak racks without including one from Thule, who are the leaders in producing premium sports equipment accessories for vehicles; their Hull-a-Port carrier is especially popular amongst customers.
Dual-positioning design allows you to carry one or two kayaks, transforming from a J-cradle to a two-boat stacking rack that holds both boats securely, held in place thanks to One Key System Lock Cylinders, though these are sold separately.
You’ll receive loading straps with bow and stern lines for one boat with every purchase, so if you’re looking to carry two boats on your next trip, make sure you have a spare pair, or pick one up in advance!
Increased security is provided by an integrated StrapCatch system, which will keep those straps out of your way as you load in the kayaks, so you can get on the road sooner without compromising your safety.
As these racks are fully assembled out of the box, installation is simple thanks to a universal mounting design that should fit any cross bars, and they’ll fold down for easy storage when not in use.
- Versatile rack that holds one or two kayaks
- No assembly required, quick installation
- StrapCatch technology for time-saving load technique
- Save space with fold-down, flat storage
- Locking system sold separately
Although on the pricier side, going with an IKURAM J-Cradle rack is sure to guarantee maximum protection for both kayaks and stand up paddle board, so it’s worth the extra cash if you’ve got it.
Built with high quality, aviation grade aluminum alloys, this rack is rust-resistant, lightweight and durable; these superior, industry-standard materials assure you of the years of successful usage to come.
Safely carry one or two kayaks thanks to thick, all-weather rubber saddles and upright TopGuard padding, stopping the kayaks from rubbing whilst you’re on the move and preventing superficial damage.
A quick-raise and folding design with a convenient front release handle allows for easy installation and removal, and the J-bars can be adjusted to lock at different angles to accommodate kayaks of various shapes.
Native Paddle Holders are built in as standard, allowing you to perfectly position your paddles on the roof alongside the kayaks, saving additional trunk space and keeping dirty equipment away from your upholstery.
- Easily mounted to fit 42 inch wide kayaks up to 158lb
- Suited to round, square and oval cross bars
- Plenty of padding for added peace of mind
- Built from aerodynamic aluminum alloys
- More expensive than other offerings
Whether you want one pair to carry two kayaks, or two pairs for holding down four, Leader Accessories have you covered with this set of black powder-coated steel J-racks for long-lasting, corrosion proof travel that won’t let you down.
Weather-resistant and rigorously tested for kayaks up to 100lb, an ergonomic, quick release design makes folding and raising the rack a breeze, and you won’t even have to remove them when you’re done, as they can lie flat on your roof.
Rubber pedals and adjustable foam padding reduces friction and minimizes the chance for any scratches and scrapes, with on/off hardware allowing you to load up your boats in a jiffy.
It’s recommended that you measure up your vehicle and boats pre-purchase, but these racks should fit most square, oval or flat crossbars for a complication-free setup that won’t fill your afternoon.
Fit for use with canoes, surfboards, skis and snowboards, even stand up paddleboards, if you’re an active water sports enthusiast you’ll benefit from the versatility of this rack.
- Fit two pairs of these j-racks on your roof for up to four kayaks
- Rubber and foam padding for added protection
- Durable, rust-resistant construction
- Optimally sized for smaller vehicles
- Unsuitable for use with round crossbars
Don’t be misled by the low price point of this rack from Mrhardware - although it’s the most affordable product on our list, you’ll find it still does a stand-up job of carrying your kayaks.
Comprised ofsteel and adjustable EVA cushioned padding, the design maximizes safety whilst minimizing wind resistance, to ensure there’s a minimal increase to your car’s fuel consumption, whilst maintaining robustness.
All surfaces have been covered with a rust-resistant coating to increase the lifespan of the two pairs you’ll receive; each can carry up to 150 pounds of weight (or two small kayaks) as well as being resistant to harsh weather conditions.
As they’ve been designed to offer a versatile fit, you’ll find they’re suitable for use on most standard crossbars, with a swift installation thanks to the use of on/off hardware, which also means disassembly is equally as quick.
Also included are four bold blue straps at ten feet long, for securing the kayaks once in the rack - some customers report that these are great and do a satisfactory job of keeping things held down, whilst others advise picking up a better set instead.
We always suggest erring on the side of caution, so perhaps switch out the included straps for any you’ve already got, or test them out on a shorter journey before committing to taking them on an off-road adventure.
- Carry up to four kayaks - two pairs of j-cradles are included
- Upgraded, thicker EVA padding for maximum protection
- Coated in corrosion-resisting powder
- 100lb weight limit for larger kayaks
- May need to invest in some more secure bow and stern lines
Best Kayak Roof Rack Buying Guide
Picking out the right rack for you is not just about whether it’ll fit on your roof, unfortunately: there are actually several factors to consider, the first of which being which style of rack you’re going to opt for.
J-style or cradle racks are most commonly produced by manufacturers; simple in design and folding out of sight when not in use, your boat is stored at a 45-degree angle to maximize space on your crossbars.
Horizontal racks boast the biggest boat capacity, and are easily adjusted to suit larger equipment, which also improves the accessibility of loading and unloading - they’re laid flat lengthways, so depending on your roof’s width, you might be limited.
Vertical racks stack your kayaks on their side, increasing the number of boats you have room for, but they’re arguably the least secure and will probably require additional straps to hold down safely.
Worried about damaging the exterior of your precious car, or just scared it won’t be big enough to withstand the weight of your kayaks? You’ll find that, so long as it’s not a mini or a SmartCar, it’s fine to carry kayaks between 8 and 9.5 feet.
Any larger than that and you’ll be better off using a kayak trailer, as it would prove tricky to securely tie them down at the stern and bow, running the risk of them sliding and scuffing your roof, or worse, falling off and potentially causing a road accident.
For most average-sized cars an appropriate new rack should be able to hold between 120 and 130lb, which equates to three small or two medium kayaks, though of course, all vehicles are different, so you should measure accurately before buying.
How Many Kayaks?
There are racks available for up to six kayaks at a time, though you’ll find they’re only suitable for use on larger vehicles like trucks and SUVS, with enough room and a large enough roof weight capacity to support them.
Typically, you’ll find most racks are made for two, three or four boats; though it’s possible to get storage for a singular kayak, you’d be wiser investing in extra space in case you decide to give a friend a ride or invest in some new equipment.
You won’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a high quality roof rack, but they aren’t exactly an investment you want to cheap out on: aiming for highly reviewed, well-made products manufactured with quality materials is your best bet.
Particularly if you’re heading off-road on your adventure, picking up a shoddy product will not only lead to the need for a replacement, but could cause damage to your expensive equipment, your car, or slip off and cause an accident.
Properly built, all-aluminum racks are lighter and less likely to succumb to corrosion or rust, where steel is stronger and therefore heavier, but could offer more protection, if you’re willing to take the hit on increased fuel consumption.
Maybe you’ve seen some folks drive by with their kayaks strapped to the roof of their car using bungee cords? Don’t do that. You’ll find most racks come with bow and stern lines as standard these days, and there’s a reason for that.
As they’ve been made specifically to accommodate and safely store a kayak, they’re a much better bet than any alternative, binding your boat to the roof at either end to stop any bumping and bouncing on the road.
Sensible kayaking fans will make sure to periodically check their lines are secure at several points during longer journeys for peace of mind, but if the rack you buy doesn’t come with specialized bow and stern lines, do not use those straps.
Everything might appear to be nice and secure on the surface, or even driving at high speeds, but what if you need to make an emergency stop, or, god forbid, end up in a crash? Things will be much worse than they could have been.
To guarantee your kayaks are stowed tightly without the chance of scratching or peeling should there be bashing around, look for racks that feature protective padding to help cradle your boats more carefully.
This is usually made from rubber or foam, and both are great at preventing any friction whilst absorbing the pressure of any jolts that might occur in transit, for a double-whammy of protection.
Ease Of Installation
The Venn diagram of those who kayak and also study engineering might not be very large, so perhaps you don’t have much experience in using power tools, especially when it comes to doing so near your car.
Prioritize a rack that you’ll be able to install yourself, without specialist equipment or needing to seek assistance from a professional, who might charge you for their time if they end up helping with set up.
It’s likely that you’ll find all of the pieces you need to successfully erect your rack included with your purchase; if not, this will be clearly stated by the manufacturer in most cases, but check those reviews just in case.
Are you going to be kayaking every weekend, or just taking an occasional trip out?
If it’s the latter, make sure you don’t pick a rack that’s difficult to disassemble and remove, otherwise you’ll spend half your day taking it apart.
Frequently Asked Questions
How far apart should roof racks be for kayaks?
If you’re fitting a rack on your car’s crossbars, these should be positioned between 24 and 36 inches apart, as advised by Thule, who are reputable and popular manufacturers of high quality sports equipment.
Can you stack two kayaks on a non-stacking roof rack?
Whilst it’s not recommended to follow this method as there’s the potential for friction in transit, which could affect the exteriors of your boats and cause superficial damage, or worse if the road is bumpy, you technically can achieve it.
You might be tempted to stack the kayaks, put them on the roof rack and then strap them down, but it’ll be much easier overall if you prepare the straps first, then slide each kayak in one by one, being careful not to drop them!
Of course, it might just be simpler overall to invest in a stacking roof rack, which will allow you to transport multiple kayaks simultaneously without the need for any precarious stacking that puts your equipment at risk.
Should a kayak be transported upside down?
This is the standard method of transportation if you’re using a roof rack that stores the kayaks flat as opposed to on their sides, which means you’ll need to remove your seat from the cockpit.
Getting a cover for your cockpit is advised, as this will prevent any mishaps whilst you’re on the road, and you won’t have any nasty surprises when you unpack and prepare to set sail.