Best Kayak Roof Racks

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One of the biggest benefits about fishing from a kayak is that it is so easy to get out on the water where the fish are.

All you need is a roof rack for your car or truck and you’ll have a line in the water in no time.

It may not be rocket science to buy one, but there is the right one for the right kayak so you have to pay attention before you buy.

In this article I will go over several different kinds and a buyer’s guide to help you zero in on exactly the right one for your needs.

How To Choose

There are a few things to consider before going out and buying a roof rack for your kayak. Let’s take a look at some of the considerations.

Type Of Vehicle

If you are using a small compact economy car, then that will determine what kind of roof rack is best for you just as an RV kayak roof rack is going to be much different.

For those with small cars, you may only be able to transport a single kayak depending on the type of yak you have.

You’ll need to measure the width of the car and check with the type of rack you’re thinking of getting to make sure there is enough space for two.

For a truck, you may want to use a rack that fits into the bed of the truck where you have the most space. You can generally find three kayak racks for trucks for when you need to haul a few at a time.

If you have an RV, you should look for an RV kayak roof rack.

How Many Kayaks?

Once again, not every vehicle is going to be able to transport more than one kayak. And even the ones that can handle a 3 kayak roof rack will need to have the right kind that will allow you to load a kayak on the rack yourself.

Not only will it be hard to load, but if you try to transport too many kayaks in inadequate racks, then you pose a danger on the road. 

Rack Height

The closer the base of the rack is to the roof of the car, the easier it is going to be to load. And the closer the back rack is to the back end of the car or truck then the easier it will be to load it yourself by sliding the front of the kayak right onto the rack.

Types Of Fasteners

It is worth it to make sure the rack you are buying comes with sturdy nylon material with solid clasps to make sure they can secure that kayak when you are traveling on the highway.

Look for carbon fiber or high carbon steel that won’t rust or corrode over time.  I would mostly avoid aluminum, but it does depend on the brand. The problem is that aluminum can bend if it isn’t thick enough. Plastic is a definite no go at all costs as they can easily break. Especially if they are starting to age.

Cross Bars

If your car doesn’t have cross bars, then you will need to have some installed or try to find a way to transport a kayak without them. This is probably the biggest determination on what type of rack you can even use based on the presence or lack of cross bars.

You’ll not only need to have crossbars for most roof racks, but that they are strong enough to support the weight of the kayaks that you are transporting. 

Types Of Roof Racks

Which roof rack you settle on will depend on the above mentioned factors but you also need to decide which kind of roof rack you want. There are several different types with their own pros and cons so read on to see which one may be best for you.

Foam Rollers Or Blocks

If you don’t have rails or crossbars on the roof of your car, then a foam roller or block is a great option.

They will protect the roof of your car and they come off easily when you are back home.

One of the downsides is that they tend to slip around while you are trying to load your kayak on the car so sometimes you may need somebody to hold them steady.

Another downside is that it is difficult to use them as a two kayak roof rack since they do require the hull to be parallel to the roof taking up a lot of space.

Railless Roof Racks

Maybe you’ve already gotten a two kayak roof rack and don’t have a way to put it on since you don’t have rails, or you have a leased car and can’t add on something like rails.

Without needing to make any permanent changes you can use these railless cross bar kits. 

Make sure you understand how much weight one can handle and how much your kayak weighs before settling on one. And, you’ll also need to measure your roof to make sure they are long enough.

Some are inflatable and some look just like crossbars that are factory installed only they are easily attached and detached at will.

The inflatable ones are for use as a single kayak rack since, once again, you have to have the hull parallel to the roof. If you need to use a two kayak roof rack then your best bet are the crossbars that don’t need rails as you can then attach the J shaped roof rack to even accommodate a 3 kayak roof rack.

J-style Racks

These racks are named for their shape, which is much like the letter J. These are the most widely used type of racks among kayakers. They are stable and allow you to use more than one for two kayak roof racks or 3 kayak roof racks.

This is what makes it ideal for smaller vehicles that don’t have as much room on the roof. A disadvantage with these racks is that they can be difficult to load and tie down by yourself and may need an extra set of hands.

Saddle Racks

The most stable of the kayak racks are the saddle style since the kayak lies flat on the rack. They are easy to load since you can slide the tip of the kayak on and then simply push it on without the need to lift the whole yak.

With the right kit you can usually add another kayak so they do act as two kayak roof racks too. 

Our Top Picks

Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal Car Rack 

These are the type that I use for my Hobie Outback and I love them. They offer tons of stability, they make it easy to load, even a heavy kayak like a Hobie, and they still give you enough room to use as a 2 kayak rack depending on the width of your car roof.

They are so easy to set up on any type of crossbar whether they are oval or square. Then it is also easy to position the saddles just by unscrewing them and sliding them without needing to remove them at all.

I would recommend the bow and stern tie downs be upgraded, however as I feel that they are too hard to tighten.

Overall, this is one of the cheapest options to transport your kayak but still have stability and security when you are out on the road.

Yakima Jaylow Kayak Carrier

I love Yakima roof racks in general, but especially love the design of these newer J racks. The shape is vaguely like a J but has a different kind of cradle.

What also makes them unique is that they can be adjusted. With the flick of a lever you can change the upright position. This is ideal when you are loading more than 1 kayak on the roof. They can also be laid flat when not in use.

The installation is tool free making it a really quick set up. Most crossbars will work when setting these up regardless of the shape.

If you need a 3 kayak roof rack then this is your best bet as you can easily fit 3 on most car roofs.

These work great as an RV kayak roof rack since they can handle multiple kayaks at once. 

Attwood 11438-7 Universal Rack-Free Car-Top Kayak Carrier

If you don’t have the budget for a roof rack but still want to get your kayak to the water, or you have a car with no crossbars, then the solution is these foam block roof racks.

They are so easy to use and can securely fit your kayak on the roof without scratching or denting your car in the process.

They fit most kayaks but pay attention to the shape of the hull as these work best with flatter hulls over the more V shaped ones

Storage when you are not using them is also ideal since they take up almost no space even if all you have is a closet. 

Loading the kayak on top can be tricky and may need an extra set of hands, but the installation only takes a few minutes to get them on the roof of the car.

Overall, a very good option for those with limits on how they can transport their kayak.

Car Rack & Carriers Universal Saddles Kayak Carrier

If you have more than one kayak it pays to have a roof rack that can adjust to the size and shape of the hull instead of needing to have different racks for each kayak.

You’ll love how these feet gently cradle your kayak and can be adjusted for any size and shape. It will conform to the width of the hull and offer tons of stability.

Not only do the feet pivot to make maximum contact but the coating is a non slip rubber to really grip the hull.

If you decide to keep them on the roof even when you don’t have a kayak strapped in, they won’t waste gas as they don’t lower the aerodynamics of the car. They also don’t whistle like some of the bigger roof racks out there.

Again, very simple to install and remove if you don’t want them on there full time.

There are others out there that are much more expensive, but these do the job as well as Thule or Yakima so there is no need to spend more.

As RV kayak roof racks these can fit nicely on top but you will need to have some help loading the kayak.

HandiRack – Universal Inflatable Roof Rack Bars

One of the easiest and most economical ways to load and transport your kayak is with this inflatable crossbar roof rack. There are no tools needed to install it and it can be removed in minutes when you are not using it. If you have a car with no rails then this is the ideal situation. To load the kayak all you have to do is turn it over and slide it onto the rack. Then strap it down and you’re on your way.

The padding is adjustable so it fits on just about any type of car or truck. I’m not sure this would be suitable as an RV kayak roof rack though as the straps come inside the car or truck which wouldn’t be possible in an RV or camper.Since these are inflatable they can handle much more weight than most other racks. In fact they can manage up to 180 pounds so they can work for canoes as well.If I didn’t already have the Malone SeaWings then this is exactly what I would go for to transport my kayak. It may even work as a two kayak roof rack


These five reviews should help you identify which style is best for you. Whether you need a 3 kayak roof rack or an RV kayak roof rack, there is one out there for everybody.

Just make sure you read up on the buyer guide before purchasing to make sure you’re getting the right one for your car and kayak.

If you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask! Just drop a line in the comment box below.

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