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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.
Yakima JayHook Kayak Rack
- Easy to install or remove
- Includes tie down straps in your purchase
- Rubber pads are not very securely attached
- Rig causes noise while driving at higher speeds
Rhino-Rack Nautic Series Canoe & Kayak Carrier
- Universal fitment
- Includes security Allen key for theft prevention
- Difficult to install correctly
- Cumbersome to work with when loading your kayak
Thule Stacker Kayak Carrier
- Super lightweight and rust-resistant construction
- Space-saving design
- Allows you to carry multiple kayaks
- Not lockable for added security
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.
Best Kayak Roof Rack Overall: Yakima JayHook Kayak Rack
Best Value: Rhino-Rack Nautic Series Canoe & Kayak Carrier
Honorable Mention: Thule Stacker Kayak Carrier
Best Premium: Thule DockGlide Kayak Rack
Best Foldable: Yakima JayLow Rooftop Mounted Kayak Rack
Most Versatile: Rightline Gear Foam Block Kayak Carrier
Best Kayak Roof Rack Reviews & Recommendations
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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