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Best Kayak Carriers: Transport Your Kayaks Anywhere You Want

Explore near and far with these rugged and aerodynamic kayak roof racks.

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BYLisa Conant/ LAST UPDATED ON August 30, 2022

Kayaking has long been a favorite outdoor pastime for many Americans. It’s a fun and often relaxing way to explore the country’s many waterways, lakes, ponds, and oceans. The drawback to kayaking is usually figuring out how you’re going to get your boat to those waterways, lakes, ponds, and oceans. Transporting your kayak can be a sweat-inducing exercise in frustration if you don’t have the right equipment. It can also be a safety hazard if you’re not careful.


Not to worry. The addition of a simple and streamlined kayak roof rack can be a game changer when it comes to transporting your boat wherever you want to explore. Since the market is saturated with so many choices when it comes to kayak roof carriers, I’ve done much of the leg work and selected a list of my top favorite picks. I’ve even added an informative buying guide to answer all your burning questions and help you quickly and confidently decide which kayak carrier is right for you.

Best Overall

Yakima JayHook Kayak Rack

Summary
This is the quintessential kayak rack with the supportive JayHook design that cradles and supports your kayak with confidence.
Pros
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to install or remove
  • Includes tie down straps in your purchase
Cons
  • Rubber pads are not very securely attached 
  • Rig causes noise while driving at higher speeds
Best Value

Rhino-Rack Nautic Series Canoe & Kayak Carrier

Summary
This kayak rack comes with two front santoprene rubber pads for excellent cushioning and two felt-covered, spring-loaded rear pads for convenient loading.
Pros
  • Affordable
  • Universal fitment
  • Includes security Allen key for theft prevention
Cons
  • Difficult to install correctly
  • Cumbersome to work with when loading your kayak
Honorable Mention

Thule Stacker Kayak Carrier

Summary
The Thule Stacker Kayak Carrier gets a nod for being one of the most innovative, space-saving designs that allows you to have extra room on your roof rack for carrying multiple boats or other sporting equipment.
Pros
  • Super lightweight and rust-resistant construction
  • Space-saving design
  • Allows you to carry multiple kayaks
Cons
  • Pricey
  • Not lockable for added security
Best Kayak Carriers: Transport Your Kayaks Anywhere You Want

Our Methodology

The kayak racks that made this list are those that offer the latest in construction technology. I considered devices that were specifically made for kayak use as well as ones that could also accommodate other sporting equipment, such as canoes and paddle boards. Those that came from reputable, well-known manufacturers were my top picks. To assess how reliable, trustworthy, and convenient these devices were in real-life settings, I also looked at user reviews. For more info about strict selection criteria, check out this link to The Drive’s Gear About page, which explains our methodology further.

Why Trust Us

Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.

Learn more

List Summary

Best Kayak Roof Rack Overall: Yakima JayHook Kayak Rack

Honorable Mention: Thule Stacker Kayak Carrier

Best Kayak Roof Rack Reviews & Recommendations

Specs

  • Brand: Yakima
  • Item Weight: 13.2 pounds
  • Maximum Weight Limit: 80 pounds

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Easy to install and remove
  • Includes tie down straps

Cons

  • Rubber pads are not very securely attached
  • Rig causes noise while driving at higher speeds

The Yakima JayHook Kayak Rack is the top overall choice in terms of ruggedness, durability, user-friendliness, and price point. This is the quintessential kayak rack with the supportive JayHook design that cradles and supports your kayak with confidence. It’s universally compatible with all styles of kayaks, including composite, plastic, and whitewater. This setup is designed to securely transport a single boat weighing up to 80 pounds.

The rack’s steel frame is strong and durable, as well as being generously padded to safely and gently hold your boat. This rack also includes heavy-duty tie down straps so you can securely hold your kayak in place while underway. I love the limited lifetime warranty and the fact that it’s compatible with multiple styles of crossbars. Less appealing is the fact that the rubber pads tend to fly off the rack when you’re driving without a boat attached to them. They also cause a lot of wind noise while driving without a boat on them.

Specs

  • Brand: Rhino-Rack
  • Item Weight: 5.40 pounds
  • Maximum Weight Limit: Based on your crossbars

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Universal fit
  • Includes security Allen key for theft prevention

Cons

  • Difficult to install correctly
  • Cumbersome to work with when loading your kayak

Just because you’re a bit more budget-conscious doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a rugged and well-constructed kayak roof rack like the Rhino-Rack Nautic Series Canoe & Kayak Carrier. This kayak rack is also great for carrying your SUP (stand-up paddleboard) or surfboard, making it a versatile choice. It comes with two front santoprene rubber pads for excellent cushioning and two felt-covered, spring-loaded rear pads for convenient loading. The spring-loaded rear cradles also help with easy rear loading of your boat.

That said, these carriers aren’t the easiest to work with on the market and can take some getting used to. Once you’ve practiced a bit, though, you should be good to go. The cradles themselves feature a large contact surface for added stability during transportation. They also come equipped with a security Allen key for added theft prevention. While I like the fact that these roof racks have a universal fit and work great with almost any roof rack you have already installed, their installation can be a bit of a pain. These carriers need to be set up very precisely and can’t easily accommodate kayaks of different sizes.

Specs

  • Brand: Thule
  • Item Weight: 6.8 pounds
  • Maximum Weight Limit: 75 pounds

Pros

  • Super lightweight and rust-resistant construction
  • Space-saving design
  • Allows you to carry multiple kayaks

Cons

  • Pricey
  • Not lockable for added security

The Thule Stacker Kayak Carrier gets a nod for being one of the most innovative, space-saving designs that allows you to have extra room on your roof rack for carrying multiple boats or other sporting equipment. In fact, with this design, many cars can handle up to four kayaks on one rack, depending on your max weight limit. This kayak carrier also comes with the necessary straps and tie downs to really secure your boat while underway.

It’s compatible with a wide range of crossbars setups, not just the Thule brand of crossbars. They also have a foldable design to help minimize drag and wind noise when not in use. The drawback? These are really only designed for kayak use and aren’t the most multifunctional units available. They do install pretty easily and simply, however, and don’t require a bunch of outside tools to do it. Because of the vertical setup, it’s also more difficult to anchor these to your kayak securely than it would be with the JayHook setup or something similar. I do appreciate the limited lifetime warranty.

Specs

  • Brand: Thule
  • Item Weight: 6.8 pounds
  • Maximum Weight Limit: 75 pounds

Pros

  • Super lightweight yet heavy-duty construction quality
  • Extremely stable and secure holding
  • Backed by a lifetime warranty

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Features a lower maximum weight capacity than some other choices

Easily load and unload even some of the heaviest kayaks with the Thule DockGlide Kayak Rack. This roof rack allows some of the longer, heavier kayaks to be loaded quickly and efficiently by a single person. The pivoting, felt-lined glide saddles are the key. Because the kayak sits flush on the rack, you’re able to very securely and tightly anchor it down, giving you added peace of mind at higher traveling speeds.

This roof rack will also fit easily and intuitively with most factory or aftermarket crossbars. It comes equipped with all mounting hardware and a T-track. You also get Thule’s famous lifetime warranty to back you up in the event of any unplanned circumstances. There are kayak racks out there that can hold heavier models, but this one is equipped to handle kayaks that weigh up to 75 pounds. Get ready, though, this unit is pretty pricey. It’s the most expensive recommendation on my list. The two ratcheting tie-downs and cam buckle straps that come with this roof rack really make it easy to secure your boat in a matter of minutes.

Specs

  • Brand: Yakima
  • Item Weight: 13.2 pounds
  • Maximum Weight Limit: 80 pounds

Pros

  • Convenient, foldable design
  • Lets you carry multiple kayaks at once
  • Rugged and durable crossbar attachments

Cons

  • Can be a pain to load heavier kayaks onto the rack
  • Can be difficult to anchor the rack to your crossbars securely

The Yakima JayLow Rooftop Mounted Kayak Rack arrives fully assembled and goes on quickly with an easy tool-free installation process. The J-shaped rack is one of the most secure kayak rack designs and has been trusted for decades. Like many others, this kayak roof rack is compatible with a wide variety of crossbar designs and layouts. It also allows you the capability of carrying two kayaks on your roof simultaneously.

I love the foldable, incognito design that helps to eliminate wind drag and noise caused when driving down the highway at higher speeds. Your purchase includes heavy-duty tie downs for added security. It’s also compatible with locking Same Key System (SKS) locks, but those are sold separately. The anchors that hold this rack onto your car’s crossbars are quite heavy-duty and rugged and are likely to stay put in even some of the strongest weather. That said, it can be tough to install the rack on your crossbars initially so that there is no play or wiggling at higher driving speeds.

Specs

  • Brand: Rightline
  • Item Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Maximum Weight Limit: 100 pounds

Pros

  • Super affordable
  • Can work without crossbars on your roof
  • Space-saving and portable design

Cons

  • Not the most stable or secure
  • Can be a pain to get the kayak and blocks setup properly on your roof

It’s tough to beat the incredible affordability and simplicity of the Rightline Gear Foam Block Kayak Carrier. If you’re on a super tight budget or don’t have any crossbars installed on your vehicle’s roof, this is the rack for you. These foam blocks are crazy lightweight, yet can handle some seriously heavy kayaks without failure. They’re designed to work with all vehicles, with or without a roof rack.

Your purchase includes two rugged foam blocks, four car clips, two dual-lock straps, two end straps, a handy setup guide, and a durable mesh bag to carry it all in. Rubber guards on the cam buckles protect your car’s paint job. The space-saving design is great if you have limited storage room and aren’t looking to leave your roof rack on all year long. The drawback is that these blocks aren’t the most secure on the market. They can also be a real pain to get situated and installed properly to prevent your kayak from shifting around on the roof while underway.

Our Verdict on Kayak Roof Racks

The Yakima JayHook Kayak Rack is the top overall choice in terms of ruggedness, durability, user-friendliness, and price point. This is the quintessential kayak rack with the supportive JayHook design that cradles and supports your kayak with confidence. For a great budget-conscious option that will still provide stable and secure transportation of your precious cargo, consider the Rhino-Rack Nautic Series Canoe & Kayak Carrier

Consider Secondhand

When we start shopping for tools and products, we never overlook the secondhand market. In fact, it’s usually the first place I look. Whether you’re scrolling through Amazon’s Renewed section, eBay for car parts or tools, or flipping through the pages of Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist, you have hundreds of thousands of used tools, parts, and gear ready to be shipped to your doorstep. Refurbished to like-new status, they’ll be willing to give you many more years of faithful service all while saving you money. 

If those options don’t have what you need, your local salvage yard is great for car parts, while swap meets are a great resource you should tap. Just Google either and head on down.  

Secondhand Tips

To make your secondhand search easier, here are two tips to finding the best deals and making sure your new-to-you stuff wasn’t destroyed by the previous owner. 

  • When going with an online seller, make sure they have a high user rating and a great reputation among other consumers. 
  • When buying secondhand, do your homework. Shop around and compare pricing between sellers to make sure you’re not getting taken to the cleaners.

What to Consider When Buying a Kayak Roof Rack

Buying a durable and reliable kayak roof rack involves a few more choices than just picking out whatever falls within your desired price range. While options aren’t as numerous as car tires, there’s still plenty to consider in order to make sure you’re getting the ideal kayak rack to suit your particular needs and fit well with your particular vehicle setup as well.

Types of Kayak Roof Racks

J-Hook Carriers

As the name implies, these carriers are set up in the shape of the letter J on your roof. They provide excellent support and convenient loading of your boat. They also allow you to accommodate up to two kayaks on your roof at the same time. The drawback is that it can be tough to lift your kayak onto this rack by yourself. They also create a lot of noise and wind drag when driving. 

Vertical Carriers

Vertical carriers offer the ultimate in space-saving convenience, allowing you to fit up to 4 kayaks on your rooftop simultaneously. They have a simple, easy-to-install mount setup and are also easy to remove from your roof when you don’t want them. The drawback is that it can be tough to anchor your boat really securely and keep it from shifting while underway.

Horizontal Carriers

These are some of the most basic and straightforward designs when it comes to kayak roof racks. They’re super stable, since they let your kayak sit in a secure, cradled position. These are also usually very quick and easy to install. The drawback is that they’re also some of the priciest options on the market. 

Kayak Roof Rack Key Features

Fit

When purchasing the best kayak roof carrier to suit your needs, it’s imperative that you make sure the carrier is compatible with your roof rack crossbars. While many kayak roof racks offer a universal fitment and can be mounted to almost any style of crossbars, that’s certainly not the case with every roof rack across the board, so double- or even triple-check that yours will work before you buy.

Padding 

Proper and durable padding on any surface that comes into contact with your boat is also very important. Not only will it protect your kayak’s finish, but substantial padding will help prevent your boat from shifting or sliding during transportation. Also look for padding and protection surrounding tie down and anchor buckles. 

Accessory Straps

Be sure to look for a high-quality kayak roof rack that includes some heavy-duty loading straps in your purchase. You’ll definitely need these to help anchor the kayak to your car and prevent it from accidentally shifting or sliding during driving. 

Kayak Roof Rack Pricing 

While you can purchase a kayak roof rack for less than $100, these budget-conscious options lack a lot of the security features of more high-end models. They’re usually a very basic setup that uses foam blocks or flimsier construction techniques. For a solid, reliable, and durable kayak roof rack that is made by a well-known and respected manufacturer, expect to pay between $150 and $300.

FAQs 

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.

Q: What is a load-assist carrier?

A: Load-assist, or lift-assist carriers, as they’re commonly called, are a special type of roof rack that includes special features that allow you to easily and quickly load your kayak onto your roof without another person assisting you. They utilize bars, pulleys, or straps to help take the overall weight of the kayak off your shoulders and hands, making it easier for you to load and unload your boat.

Q: What are the alternatives to a roof rack kayak carrier?

A: Rugged and heavy-duty foam bricks or blocks as well as softer, padded cylinders that rest directly on your vehicle’s roof are affordable and portable alternatives to a roof rack carrier. The drawback is that they’re often less stable and secure than full-size roof racks.

Q: Should a kayak be upside down on a roof rack?

A: Rotomolded kayaks (the hard plastic kind) can be transported upside down, depending on your roof rack setup and design. Composite kayaks are much more delicate and should always be transported face up using proper cradles to support and cushion the hull.

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