Best Kayak Carriers: Transport Your Kayaks Anywhere You Want
Take your kayak anywhere you want to have new adventures
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Kayaks are quite versatile when in a lake, river, or ocean. They cut through the water with ease and can survive challenging conditions like whitewater rapids with the right design and person at the paddles. Out of the water, however, it is a different story. If you want to take your kayak to different watery locations, you need the right carrier. A good kayak carrier protects your watercraft and makes it easy to load and unload it quickly. Here's our guide to finding the best kayak roof racks for your needs.
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Why Buy a Kayak Carrier
- Keep the kayak safe. More than anything else, a good kayak roof rack is all about protection and safety. While many kayaks are durable in their own right, damage can still happen when driving on rough roads or in bad weather conditions. A good carrier secures the kayak to the roof of your car while supporting it with padding to avoid damaging the exterior.
- Explore different locations. The point of taking a kayak with you is to explore different areas. The same old lake or river can get boring after a while. If you fancy a weekend kayaking trip, for example, you are in store for a new adventure provided you have the right means of transportation. Kayak carriers give you this means so you can enjoy the adventure instead of worrying about the kayak itself.
- Carry other watercraft. With the right design, many kayak carriers are more versatile in their compatibility with other watercraft. This means you can carry similar craft like canoes and surfboards with the same hardware, saving you time, money, and headache when trying to carry other toys around.
Types of Kayak Carriers
The most basic design of kayak carrier is the horizontal variety. This design simply sits and holds the kayak on top of the roof, holding it down with straps across the top. Sometimes, a horizontal carrier is nothing more than a few pads that sit above the roof rack to cushion the kayak.
Literally opposite of horizontal kayak carriers is the vertical design. This simply mounts the kayak on its side, saving more space on the roof at the expense of a slightly more complicated loading and unloading process. Like the horizontal design, however, these carriers use a basic set of straps over the top to hold everything together.
J-Style Hook Carriers
When it comes to a good balance of convenience and security, J-hook kayak carriers sit right in between traditional horizontal and vertical designs. Quite often, they hold the kayak at an angle that is more natural when loading and unloading the kayak. More than that, however, the cradle design offers more support and padding for the kayak for better security and protection.
Some watercraft are heavy and difficult to load onto the car roof. This is where a lift-assist carrier comes in handy. This type of carrier includes some kind of feature that takes some of the weight of the kayak off your hands, making it easier to get it on and off of the roof by yourself. There are many different types of assists, from simple bar assists to complicated pulley and strap systems, you can consider to find the right design for yourself.
Top Brands of Kayak Carriers
Based in the Pacific Northwest, Yakima is the brand that is synonymous with roof and hitch accessories to carry any number of cargo and weekend toys. In fact, it offers complete systems of roof racks and hitch carriers that are compatible with a long list of individual mounting accessories that can carry bikes, kayaks, paddle boards, skis, and much more. For carrying watercraft, the company makes an entire line of kayak carriers and cradles, some of which are compatible with other boat types as well. Check out the JayHook for a good idea of the company's build quality.
Noted roof and hitch accessories manufacturer Thule has been making a number of cargo accessories since 1942. The company is particularly well-known for creating heavy-duty, durable carriers that can survive rough operating conditions. In addition to roof racks and hitch carriers, the company's lineup includes a number of accessory amounts, with a focus on bikes and watercraft. The Hull-a-Port Pro is a prime example of Thule’s design approach to kayak racks.
Kayak Carrier Pricing
- $100 and under: There are a lot of budget kayak carriers available on the market. Unfortunately, good quality and construction is never a guarantee. In fact, you are likely to see a wide range of quality and capability. If you want to shop in this range, look for carriers with solid-steel construction and plenty of padding and invest in your own straps and tie-downs.
- $100-$200: This is the range that is more well-known, well-respected kayak carrier manufacturers begin to price their offerings. Near the middle part of this range, you will find several basic, light-duty carriers that are perfect for anyone new to kayak carriers not wanting to spend too much on a set.
- $200 and above: The high-end range of kayak carriers is full of high-quality, versatile cradle designs. There tends to be a healthy mix of kayak-only and multi-boat cradles as well. If you really want the best in terms of protection and security for your kayak, this is definitely the range to focus on when you begin your search for the perfect carrier.
Cradle or Saddle
The design of the point of contact between the carrier and the kayak is important in terms of overall protection. Since kayaks can be awkward in length and design, the style of the cradles or saddles, along with the distance between the two using the cross rails of the car rack, influence how the kayak is supported in different driving conditions. Aluminum and steel designs with plenty of padding are preferable.
The padding on a kayak carrier is important for keeping the surface of the kayak protected in transport. Typically, a carrier will have padding around the bottom of the kayak, separating it from the cradle or saddle. Thicker padding, like foam blocks, offers more protection, but the added bulk can make it difficult to fold (if available) and store the cradle when not in use. Additional padding, like around buckle protectors or the factory crossbars/mounting bolts, can also help
Kayaks can start to move around on the carrier without the proper securing support. Basic straps and tie-downs are typically all that's needed to fasten down different points on the kayak to the vehicle or rack. Some kayak carriers come with included or built-in straps, while others have the carrier by itself so you can choose your own securing support to use in conjunction with the kayak’s aft and stern tie-downs.
- Number of Kayaks: Kayaks take up roof space. Their size and mounted position both determine how many you can actually carry. If you have more than one kayak you want to transport, it's important to think ahead about the right carrier style. Vertical and J-hook carriers, for example, tend to offer the most space-saving setup.
- Roof Rails: Unless you are using the bare top of your car, any kayak carrier you consider needs to be compatible with the roof racks and crossbars on top of your vehicle. The size of the crossbars combined with the mounting accessories that come (or are available) with the kayak carrier will influence the compatibility of the carrier with the racks. Aftermarket crossbars give you the most options to choose over typical factory racks.
Best Kayak Carriers Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- Loading a kayak onto the roof of a car is easier to do with multiple people. Have a friend help lift the kayak and tie everything down.
- Ratchet straps make securing a kayak easy since you don't have to tie knots. Make sure, however, the strap has enough padding to avoid scratching the kayak.
- Use kayak rollers as a cost-effective lift assist. These help you roll the kayak from the front or back of the vehicle.
Q. What is the best type of kayak carrier?
A. J-hooks offers a good compromise between space and security, but any type can do a good job depending on your needs.
Q. Do I need a load-assist rack?
A. Not necessarily. Lift assists make it easier to load a kayak onto the carrier, but it's possible to get the job done without one. A multi-person lift makes it easy to get the job done.
Q. Are there any alternatives to a roof rack kayak carrier?
A. Roof-mounted pads are a typical alternative to kayak carriers. These sit on the top of the roof to separate the kayak from the vehicle.
Our pick for the best kayak carrier available is the Yakima Jaylow. Coming from a respected brand, this J-hook carrier offers a good blend of convenience and protection.
Offering a full set of paired cradles and a good value price, our top budget pick is the TMS J-Bar Rack.