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Find The Best Kayak Roof Rack: Reviews and Buyer’s Guide

When it comes to transporting your kayak, you can either try and arrange it in the back of your vehicle and pray it doesn't come undone when you are driving.

Or, you can get yourself a kayak rack that is easily installed on the roof of your car or truck.

We've researched and reviewed the best kayak roof racks that add more comfort during portability and transportation here, just for you kayak enthusiasts!

The Best Kayak Roof Racks

Why is a Kayak Roof Rack Important?

Well, the odds are you do not have a fishing or a kayaking spot nearby and transporting your heavy kayak is really difficult for you.

You can add wheels to your kayak with a cart, but you need to put a lot of strength to take it along. Plus, it might also be difficult on the roundabout and you don't want to cause a mess on the road.

With roof racks, you can secure your kayak on top of your car or SUV or whatever four wheel vehicle you have.

​Roof racks for kayaks are designed to make transportation easy, secure and efficient and you surely need to get one for yourself right away.

Things to Consider When Buying The Best Kayak Roof Rack

Do not hurry and jump straight into getting a roof rack without knowing details about the kayak size, rack type, and the vehicle.

I started doing my own research, testing with different roof racks on different vehicles. Not one particular roof rack will always be fit for another vehicle.

Here are a few things you need to keep in mind when you decide to get a kayak roof rack.

Strength

Your strength and ability to lift the kayak up over your head to secure it to the roof rack.

You don't want to struggle to lift your kayak and end up dropping it on the ground, or worse your head injuring you in the process.

Also, if you don’t have anyone to assist you, contemplate on whether you can lift the kayak and attach the rack by yourself.

Car or Truck

You should consider where you’ll attach the kayak roof rack to your car or truck.

When it comes to your car, you want to be able to reach the roof without a ladder. Even if you own a sports utility vehicle, if you can't reach the top, you won't be able to get your kayak up there without assistance.

Another thing to think about is whether your vehicle’s roof is rounded or flat as this will affect the type of rack you need to purchase. 

Having a rounded roof can make it difficult for you to transport more than one kayak at a time. If you are planning to transport multiple kayaks at once, a flatter roof would be better.

Towers

Towers are where the rack attaches to the vehicle and are also something you need to think about.

If your vehicle doesn't come with rails that run parallel to the length of the vehicle, then you will have to insert clips to the door jam of your vehicle. These clips must be watched at all times as they can break due to the bumps in the road and send your kayak sailing down the road without you.

However, if you happen to have rails on your vehicle, attaching a kayak roof rack is easy and will be more durable and reliable when you are transporting your kayak to the water.​

Kayak Size​

You should think about how many kayaks you are planning to fit on top of your vehicle as there are different roof racks for double or multiple kayaks as opposed to if you are just loading one.

You should consider if later down the road you might find yourself purchasing another kayak and plan for that now before you waste your money on a single kayak roof rack.

Mounting Your kayak

Next, you want to decide how you are going to lay out your kayak on the roof of your car. There are four styles you can pick when it comes to the kayak roof rack system.

Vertically: If you are planning to transport more than one kayak at a time, vertically is the way to go. You simply stack the kayaks on their sides. With a vertical kayak roof rack, you can get up to four kayaks at one time.

Horizontally: Horizontal kayak roof racks allow you to lay your kayak down onto its "belly" allowing it to touch more of your vehicle. Horizontal positioning will reduce the wind resistance so you won't feel like you are driving a sailboat.

Hitch Mount: A hitch mount is perfect for short vehicles that don't have much of a roof as it basically ties the kayak to the front and rear of your vehicle, keeping your kayak secured and tight to the roof of your car.

Bars​

The bars, also known as rain gutters, are crucial for any setup, but you need to be aware of their length and width when it comes to the vehicle you are using for your kayak.

You should always try to go one size longer than what you will need so that you know for certain the kayak will be stable when you are driving. You should also pay attention to the distance between the bars or the width.

You don't want the airflow to get under the kayak and shift it while you are driving or you could lose control behind the wheel.

Different Types of Kayak Roof Racks

Pads

One of the quickest ways to create a kayak roof rack is by using temporary padding on your vehicle’s roof. You don’t need any hardware or additional equipment for these, and they’re usually made of foam or inflatable.

A huge benefit of padding is that you don’t need a factory rack or crossbar to attach these to your vehicle. Simply loop the straps through your side windows and they’re attached. Your kayak sits on top of the pads for a secure journey.

With that being said, we recommend that you only use padding for short journeys and not at high speeds. They’re an excellent choice if you’re looking for a temporary solution rather than a permanent rack on your vehicle.

In fact, they’re not made to be long-lasting, so bear this in mind.

Saddles

Another type of kayak roof rack is a saddle. These are padded and begin from the bottom of your kayak before reaching your base rack.

They have a large surface area so that your equipment can comfortably sit on top, plus this is also a great option if you have multiple kayaks and want to travel with them at the same time.

This mounting hardware utilizes aerodynamics to reduce any wind resistance on your kayak, which helps with reducing fuel costs.

Saddles also promise a high level of security so that you can comfortably travel in heavy winds and through the rain without any concern.

J-cradles

These are one of the most popular kayak roof rack types and have heaps of benefits to them. Formed in the shape of a J, these cradles sit around 45 degrees on your crossbar to leave excess room for any additional equipment you wish to carry.

However, if you have a small roof or wish to travel with more than one kayak, j-cradles aren’t the right choice for you as they’ll shoot your kayaks forward and risk them coming off your roof.

You should also consider that j-cradles are only suitable for light to medium-weight kayaks, and heavy ones will have the strength to move forward as you drive.

However, when traveling with only one kayak and properly positioning the j-cradle onto your vehicle’s roof, these are secure and keep your kayak stable the whole time it’s on your roof.

They’re easy to install and attach your kayak too. You also have the option of side-loading your equipment to prevent placing it on the roof from the back of your vehicle, which can sometimes be awkward.

Stackers

Finally, stackers hold your kayak in an upright position, providing more room to transport several on your travels.

On average, you can stack up to four kayaks on your room at one time, which is great for families.

They’re also inexpensive to purchase and easy to fit onto your vehicle. Plus, they’re versatile enough that you can use them for different types and shapes of kayaks.  

Finding The Best Kayak Roof Rack

There are varieties of kayak roof racks designed by different brands according to different requirements, specifications, and price.

Well, I've already used and tested a lot of kayak roof racks that can fit in small cars and SUVs, and not all of them are built equally.

Selecting the best kayak roof rack can be a burden if you do not have much idea about what exactly is required.

Worry no more! I have a detailed review of the best kayak roof racks that you can install on your kayak so you can stop worrying about transportation.

1. Attwood Car-Top Kayak Carrier Kit

best kayak roof rack

The Attwood allows you to place the kayak horizontally either on its 'belly' or 'back.'

It is exactly a kayak roof rack but a kit that will help you mount your yak on top of your truck or car.

The kit comes with two foam blocks to protect the roof of your vehicle and two poly web straps with adjustable vinyl-coated clips.

The Attwood works exceptionally well for vehicles that are low.

Simply lift the kayak up onto the four foam blocks and secure the kayak with the straps around the bow and stern attaching them to the bumpers of your car.

Use the other straps to tighten the kayak through the clips that attach to the inside of the car doors, and you're off.

Features I like​

  • Belly or back mounting.
  • Foam blocks to protect the kayak.
  • Easy to lift and mount.
  • Cheap and extremely durable.

2. Kayak Wing Sea Kayak Rack

best kayak roof rack

The Kayak Wing rack is designed for kayaks that are less than 30" in width and have a v-shaped hull.

That is how it fits snug between the padding of this car rack and makes your kayak safe.

Although you can only hold one kayak down with this car rack, it is sturdy and lightweight.

The maximum crossbar width is 3.25" and requires a minimum clearance of 1 1/2 inches between the roof of your car and the crossbar.

Simply drape the straps over the hood of your car, set the kayak gently into the v-shape padding and secure the straps around your kayak.

Because this rack is universal, you can attach it to various car roof rack systems and sizes as well.

However, if you have a flat top car roof without a prior racking bar system in place, you might need to double check if it'll mount properly.

Features I like​

  • Suitable for 30" kayaks or under.
  • Good clearance.
  • Easy to mount and universal.
  • Durable and chosen by experienced anglers.

3. Malone Saddle Up Pro Universal Car Rack

best kayak roof rack

If you are looking for a roof rack that can adjust to different sized kayaks, then you will appreciate the Malone Saddle Up Pro.

The Malone cradles your kayak from four positions to keep the kayak in place while you are driving.

The mounting gear fits round, square and factory oval cross rails making this truly a universal kayak roof rack.

The Malone Saddle works best with larger sit-on-top and fishing kayaks that are much wider than sit-in kayaks, but both will fit with no issues; you will just need to adjust the placement of the saddles.

When you place your kayak 'belly-up' onto the saddles, they immediately adjust and cradle to your kayak no matter if you have a v-hull or not.

Then, all you have to do is wrap both the 12-foot cam buckle straps over the kayak and anchor the bow and hull to the bumper of your vehicle with safety tie-downs and you are set.

Features I like​

  • Suitable for different sized kayaks.
  • Strong and secure mounting.
  • Best for both sit-on and sit-in kayaks.
  • Safe to tie down.

4. Ladder Rack Cargo Bar Roof Racks 

best kayak roof rack

If you are looking for something a little less fancy than cradles, you can always opt for the Ladder Rack Cargo Bar Roof Racks, which fits perfectly across most cars and SUVs up to 48 inches in width. 

To use the Ladder Rack Cargo Bar, extend the telescopic bars to suit and clamp them in place at the windows of your vehicle.

You don't need to worry about drilling holes in the roof of your car or SUV.

Plus, the Cargo Crossbar comes standard with padding so you won't damage your car paint, either.

Clamp the bars in place, throw a protective towel or blanket over the bars and set your kayak on top.

Then, use straps to keep the kayak in place.

Of course, the Ladder Rack Cargo Bar is just made up of bars, so the straps and whatever padding you want to use to protect your kayak is up to you.

These may not be the ideal solution, but if you are tight on cash or need something fast, these are easy to install and get you on the road and to the water fast. 

Features I like​

  • Good for big cars and SUVs.
  • Standard padding and safe.
  • Easy to clamp and tie the straps.
  • A bang for the buck 

5. Malone J-Pro Universal Kayak Roof Rack

best kayak roof rack

If you spend a lot of time kayaking in the ocean, you know how corrosive salt water can be.

When you are picking out a kayak roof rack, you should consider the Malone J-Pro Universal as it made of corrosion-resistant steel that will last longer than other racks on this review.

The J-Pro has everything you could want from a car rack to keep your kayak protected.

It comes standard with a bow and stern safety tie-downs, and two 12-foot cam buckle straps to secure the kayak in place.

It also comes with a padding galore so you won't have to worry about scratches or damage to your kayak.

This kayak roof rack is universal and fits all size canoes and is easy to install without any tools. You will, however, need rails on your vehicle already as that is where the J-Pro attaches.

Features I like​

  • Corrosion-resistant and durable.
  • Easy to secure kayaks.
  • Good padding to prevent scratches.
  • Universal and easy fit.

6. Folding J-style Kayak Rack

best kayak roof rack

If you have a heavier kayak that ranges up to 100 pounds or maybe a wider kayak that is around three feet in width, then you will want to grab the Folding J-Style Kayak Roof Rack.

This rack comes with everything you need to install it to your vehicle.

It doesn't matter if you have a round or flat car roof, as this setup comes with two sets of bottom mounting plates.

The best thing about the Folding J-Style rack is that when you aren't using the racks, they fold down and are only 6.5 inches tall.

The memory-foam padding around the steel bars protects your kayak at just the right spot to keep the kayak secure and in place.

The rack will fit most square, oval or flat cross bars and runs flush with the width of the car, making it safe and easy to mount.

Features I like​

  • Good for heavier kayaks.
  • Comes with every accessory you need.
  • Good for both rounded and flat roofs.
  • Easy to fold and store.

7. Malone Stax Pro2 Roof Rack

best kayak roof rack

Do you have more than one kayak to transport?

Then you may want to check out the Malone Stax Pro2.

This rack system is suited for all standard crossbars whether they are oval, round, or square.

Plus, when you don’t need the rack, you can fold it down for clearance.

What really sets this racking system apart is the stacker blocks that stabilize and cushion the kayaks when in transit, so they don't rub together or scratch.

The roof rack system is made of aluminum posts and nylon infused platforms.

Even if you don't need to transport two kayaks, you can remove the second post and just use the one like a typical j-style roof rack.

Features I like​

  • Good to transport multiple kayaks.
  • Easy to fold down.
  • Stable and good padding.
  • Aluminum construction for durability.

8. XMT-MOTO J-Bar Universal Kayak Roof Racks

best kayak roof rack

The XMT-MOTO J-Bar Kayak Roof Rack is designed to transport your kayaks on their side which some people may not like, especially if they need clearance from low branches or other obstacles.

However, you will get everything you need to assemble the rack to your car, and it comes with a universal mounting plate for curved or flat roof bars up to 3.5 inches in diameter.

The wide-mouth j-bar fits both small and large kayaks while ensuring an easy and fast installation and removal. Furthermore, this setup consumes less roof space than saddle-type racks.

These racks also include a padded cradle and four heavy-duty tie-down straps to get you out on the water faster.

However, the racks won't fit on bars that run the length of the vehicle so you should double-check before looking at these.

Features I like​

  • Vertical mounting for safety.
  • Stable mounting plates and curves.
  • Large cradle size.
  • Inexpensive and durable.

9. Universal Top Mount Kayak Rack

best kayak roof rack

The Universal Canoe and Kayak roof rack is made from premium steel that is lightweight yet durable with a rust-resistant coating.

The rack will fit standard crossbars that are round, oval, square, or flat.

This kayak roof rack can accommodate two kayaks up to 165 pounds combined weight and 36" wide. The rack itself is only 17.25 inches in length and 14.625 high.

The large j-style provides you with easy loading and unloading.

Plus, if you don't want the racks during the winter months, they are easy to remove as they are to install.

It will easily accommodate and keep your kayak secure and snug with the four straps that are included and the rubber padding that won't damage your kayak.

Features I like​

  • Lightweight, durable and rust-resistant.
  • Can accomodate two roof racks.
  • Easy to install and remove.
  • Light, easy to carry and castable. 
  • Operates really well in saltwater.

How to Install a Kayak Roof Rack

Once you’ve decided on the best roof rack for you, it’s time to get installing so that you can travel to the nearest open water and put your kayak to the test. Here are some easy-to-follow tips for the safest, most effective method.

Position and Secure the Roof Straps

Begin this process by laying the straps over each bar on the side of your vehicles. Make sure that the buckles at the end of the straps aren’t too close to your car door or they could scratch and cause damage.

Generally, there will be two ends to your straps, and one end will have a metal buckle. To avoid any damage to your car’s paintwork, rest the metal end along the car’s body.

To securely attach the roof straps, thread each strap underneath and around the bar. You should then check that the crossbars aren’t loose.

If they are, tighten them before securing your kayak on the roof.

Place Your Kayak on The Roof Rack

Now it’s time to place your kayak onto the roof rack. Place it upside down to prevent any wind resistance and improve its overall security.

This also prevents the boat from becoming misshaped as you travel with it. Consider the type and shape of your kayak to determine the angle you position it on.

For example, recreational kayaks will generally work either way, but whitewater boats should be placed with the back toward the front of the vehicle.

Always think about centering your canoe on the roof rack so that the weight is evenly distributed and is, therefore, less likely to fall off while driving.

Then, attach the straps around the boat and pull them on each side so that they’re tight against the boat. If you have a large canoe, you might require some assistance attaching this to your car, but this will prevent any serious accidents.

Check around the vehicle to see if there are any obvious misplacements. Spend some time making adjustments so that your boat is evenly distributed on the roof.

Finally, toss the metal part of your strap over the boat in the middle to prevent this from damaging your car. If you’ve tightened the straps correctly, this shouldn’t be so long that it dangles beside your car anyway.

​Safety Tips

It is vital that you load and secure your kayak safely not just for yourself but for those who will be driving near you.

You don't want to cause an accident or lose your kayak because you didn't secure it properly to your kayak roof rack. Here are just a few basic tips to make sure you get to the water safely.

  • If your kayak roof rack comes with straps, double-check they have locked into place and the kayak isn't wobbly before you leave.
  • Always tie-off the extra length directly above the buckle so that in the chances of the buckle coming undone, the kayak is still in place. If you tie it too far down, the kayak may shift, and you could lose it or cause driving issues due to wind catching the kayak.
  • Always use at least two lines or straps for the body of your kayak to keep it from catching in the wind while you are driving.
  • Secure the lines to your bumper both in front and behind. Any other place will cause issues and may damage not only your car but cause friction to your kayak and may result in scratches or damage.
  • Always keep an eye on your straps and lines while driving. Check your rearview mirror occasional to make sure the line is still tight and not flapping around.
  • Always be mindful of those around you. Your kayak is sticking out from the back of your vehicle, and you make a sudden stop, it could cause the bow of your kayak to end up in someone's windshield, so pay attention to your spacing.

Choosing The Best Rack

When you spend time, and hard earn money on buying a kayak, you want to make sure that it doesn't get damaged before you get to use it.

A kayak roof rack is so important at protecting your prized possession and getting you to your destination safely.

Make sure to protect it picking up one of these best kayak roof racks above so it will last for years to come.

Have any of the products above caught your eye? Share your thoughts in the comments to keep this conversation going.

Janice Friedman
 

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 3 comments
Joey - September 20, 2017

I have 2 ride 115 and a . 2012 F-150 Supercrew.
What set up to carry these two on top.
Will need roof rack and kayak racks.
Any suggestions?
Thanks

Reply
    James Moore - October 24, 2017

    Roof racks are always the best choice, both for your kayak and for your vehicle that you want to clamp those on.

    Reply
Ross - November 4, 2018

Hi James

I just bought the Ascend 10T fishing kayak from Bass Pro in Tsawwassen BC Canada. In the new year I am going to buy the H10 sit in fishing kayak. Do you recomend the Malone J rail for loading the two on top of my Nissan Rogue.

https://www.amazon.ca/Malone-J-Pro-J-Style-Universal-Carrier/dp/B004KI3FP0/ref=as_li_ss_tl?tag=fishingkayaksguide0d_ca2-20&ie=UTF8&linkId=15d87e21e84d683c6568d1ee116eeb28

I have been doing allot of looking and getting a bit confused. This might look like the best product for my needs. What’s your take on this.

Thanks
Ross

Reply

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