Best Roof Racks: Carry Bikes, Skis, and More With These Top Picks

Keep your equipment sturdy and secure with these top products.

byLisa Conant| UPDATED Sep 12, 2022 1:12 PM

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Best Roof Racks: Carry Bikes, Skis, and More With These Top Picks
Let our top picks for the best roof rack guide you towards new adventures. Deposit Photos

Summary List 

Best for Bicycles: Thule UpRide Roof Bike Rack

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.

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Our Methodology

I took many factors into consideration when compiling this list of the best roof racks. First, I made sure to choose products by well-known brands in the industry, such as Thule and Yakima, which are leaders when it comes to transporting adventure equipment. I included racks that support different types of gear, from bicycles to kayaks. Roof racks require several elements, including crossbars and specific add-ons for specific gear, so there are a range of options available in this list. These products aren't cheap, but I was able to find some that are more affordable than others to appeal to a wide range of budgets. While I was unable to personally test these items, I've had experience using some of these brands in the past. To close the gap, I researched user feedback to see how these particular roof racks perform in real-world conditions. For more information on our methodology at The Drive, go here.

Best Roof Rack Reviews & Recommendations

Specs

  • Brand: Yakima
  • Installation: Removable
  • Weight: 5 pounds
  • Capacity: 80 pounds

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to install
  • Removable
  • Well-known brand

Cons

  • Straps are not the best quality
  • Interior of your vehicle may get wet if it rains during installation

Two of the reasons why Yakima EasyTop earns the top spot on this list is because it is inexpensive and it takes just a few minutes to install. If you're looking for a removable, universal roof rack, this is a great option from a well-known company in the car accessory industry. It can accommodate up to 80 pounds of equipment and fits on most vehicles. You can use it for kayaks, paddleboards, skis, snowboards, etc. The EasyTop is also soft and padded to prevent scratches from occurring. The package includes two straps and two tie-down ropes. No tools are required for installation: simply thread the straps through the vehicle's doors and secure them with a double-latch buckle. The rack comes with a two-year warranty and weighs just five pounds, making it easy to use when traveling. One downside is that the interior of your vehicle may during installation if it's raining because the strap goes inside the car cabin. The straps could also be higher quality.

Specs

  • Brand: PRO-SERIES
  • Installation: Semi permanent
  • Weight: NA
  • Capacity: 165 pounds

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Locking end caps to prevent theft
  • No drilling required
  • Won’t scratch your roof

Cons

  • Can produce a wind noise
  • Brackets are plastic and not the best quality

If you need a set of crossbars for your Ford Escape or other small SUV and are looking for a reasonably priced option, consider this set from PRO-SERIES. These two aluminum crossbars are 47-inches long and are designed to accommodate cargo shells, bicycle racks, kayak racks, etc. They can be installed onto an existing roof cargo mount and do not require any drilling. The bars have a 165-pound weight capacity and can be installed with a screwdriver. The crossbars are compatible with side rail cargo mounts that are 40-40.5-inches wide with a 2-inch rail width and feature rubber guards, so they won't scratch the roof. They also have anti-theft end caps with a lock to prevent theft. One downside is that the crossbars can be a little noisy when you're driving at higher speeds. The brackets are also plastic and may break if you're not careful with them. Also, you need to purchase additional equipment if you choose to mount a kayak, bicycle, snowboard, etc. on your roof.

Specs

  • Brand: Yakima
  • Installation: Semi permanent
  • Weight: 55 pounds
  • Capacity: 165-330 pounds

Pros

  • Strong, durable, and reliable
  • No crossbars required
  • Available in multiple sizes

Cons

  • Pricey
  • Other hardware required for installation
  • Written instructions could be better

A roof rack that's been tested in the Australian outback has to be good, right? The Yakima LockNLoad Platform Roof Rack may be a little expensive, but its versatility more than makes up for the price. Made of powder-coated aluminum, it features integrated T-slots that can be used in conjunction with a range of LockNLoad accessories. The horizontal slats can accommodate bicycle, kayak, surf, ski, and snowboard mounts. In addition, It can support a SkyRise rooftop tent. It does require the use of LockNLoad crossbar clamps, which must be purchased separately. Alternatively, you can attach it to Yakima SkyLine or TimberLine towers using an SL adapter, which also must be purchased separately, driving up the cost. The advantage with this roof rack is that it does not require any crossbars on your vehicle. It's also available in multiple sizes for different vehicles. It can accommodate from 165-330 pounds, depending on the car or truck. The manufacturer also provides a limited lifetime warranty should you experience any issues.

Specs

  • Brand: Thule
  • Installation: Semi permanent
  • Weight: 5.5 pounds
  • Capacity: NA

Pros

  • One of the strongest crossbars available
  • Fairly easy to install
  • Permits fast installation/removal of compatible racks
  • Low profile design minimizes drag

Cons

  • Pricey
  • Only one included
  • May interfere with operation of sunroofs

While the Thule AeroBlade Edge is a little pricey (only one rack is included in the package), it's one of the best crossbars you can buy when putting together a roof rack bundle. Overall, these bars are very sturdy and fairly easy to install. They are arched to fit closely to the roof and include wind diffuser technology to minimize noise and drag. These crossbars also have an upper T-track that allows you to quickly install and remove accessories, such as kayak and bike racks. Touted as one of the strongest aftermarket load bars available, the AeroBlade Edge has a low profile design and is very strong and supportive. It includes an AcuTight tensioning tool that lets you know when the rack is safely and correctly attached to your car or truck. However, if you have a sunroof, you may not be able to use it when the crossbars are installed. For added security, you can use Thule One Key locks, but you must purchase them separately. The Thule Adapt is also needed for some carriers, and that also drives up the cost, making this selection an expensive, albeit worthwhile, option.

Specs

  • Brand: Thule
  • Installation: Semi permanent
  • Weight: 18.5 pounds
  • Capacity: 44 pounds

Pros

  • Holds bikes with non-traditional frames, carbon frames, rear suspension
  • Won’t scratch your bicycle
  • Easy to mount
  • Can be locked

Cons

  • Pricey
  • Requires Thule or other aftermarket crossbars for installation
  • Locks are sold separately

If you have a bicycle with a non-traditional frame, carbon frame, rear suspension, or bottle cage, it can be tough finding a rack to accommodate it. The UpRide by Thule is the solution. This roof bike rack doesn't make any contact with a bicycle's frame because the hook securely grabs the front wheel, preventing scratches or other marks from occurring. It is compatible with 20-29-inch wheels that are up to 3-inches wide. If you purchase the fat bike tire adapter, you can use it with tires that are up to 5-inches wide. The UpRide is fast and easy to mount, and a ratcheting wheel strap secures the bike's back wheel to the tray. You can also lock your bike to the rack and the rack to your vehicle, but you must purchase the lock separately. Note: you must have a Thule AeroBlade, AeorBlade Edge, SquareBar or other aftermarket rack to use in conjunction with the UpRide.

Specs

  • Brand: Yakima
  • Installation: Semi permanent
  • Weight: 13. 2 pounds
  • Capacity: 80-110 pounds

Pros

  • Easy to install
  • Folds down for clearance and to reduce drag
  • Kayaks won’t wobble

Cons

  • Crossbars not included
  • Locks cost extra
  • Can be tough to load kayaks if you’re on the shorter side

Kayaking is often more fun with two people, and if you need to transport a pair of kayaks, consider the YAKIMA JayLow Rooftop Mounted Kayak Rack for Vehicles. In the J-cradle position it can accommodate up to 80 pounds, and in the vertical/stacked position it can accommodate 110 pounds. The JayLow works with most crossbars, including round, square, and factory options with a minimum spread of 24 inches. It is sturdy, easy to install, and it folds down when not in use to reduce drag and for better clearance. It takes approximately 10 minutes to install, and no tools are required. All straps, including the bow/stern tie downs, are included in the package. You can also purchase SKS (Same Key System) lock cores to prevent theft. No matter which configuration you choose to use, when properly installed your kayaks will not wobble during transport. However, depending on your vehicle height, if you're on the shorter side it can be a little challenging to get a kayak on the roof without assistance.

Specs

  • Brand: Thule
  • Installation: Semi permanent
  • Weight: 6.9 pounds
  • Capacity: N/A

Pros

  • Compatible with most factory and aftermarket crossbars
  • Durable materials
  • Easy to install
  • Simple to load and unload gear
  • Locks included

Cons

  • Crossbars not included
  • Bolts may be a little short

The Thule 91725B Universal Ski & Snowboard Rack is good for families because it can hold up to six pairs of skis, four snowboards, or a mix of both. It's compatible with most factory and aftermarket crossbars, such as Thule, Yakima, Inno, Rhino-Rack, and Malone. The rack is made of durable aluminum with soft, rubber-padded arms that are designed not to scratch your equipment. The rack is simple to install and features a big push-button release, making it easy to access your gear when you're ready to hit the slopes. Unlike some other rack systems, it includes two lock cylinders and keys to protect your skis and snowboards. The device comes with a limited lifetime warranty should you experience any issues. Overall, it holds up well over highway speeds, and loading and unloading is fairly simple. Unfortunately, like many products on this list, the crossbars aren't included. In addition, the bolts used to attach the rack to the cross bar may be a bit on the short side.

Specs

  • Brand: Leader Accessories
  • Installation: Semi permanent
  • Weight: 23.6 pounds
  • Capacity: 150 pounds

Pros

  • Folds flat when not in use
  • Quick-release design for convenience
  • Rust-resistant, durable construction
  • Accommodates a wide range of equipment

Cons

  • Not compatible with round crossbars
  • Hardware may be too short for some applications
  • Brackets can pinch your fingers if you’re not careful

Anyone who's transported a canoe or kayak knows how challenging it can be due to the boat's size and shape. This folding roof rack from Leader Accessories is a good option. One of its best features is that it's adjustable and folds down flat when it's not in use. It has a quick-release design that provides clearance for garages, allowing you to park inside without having to remove the rack. Tie down straps are also included. It is made of thick, durable, rust-resistant, powder-coated steel, and it can accommodate up to 150 pounds. It features rubber pedals and foam padding to minimize scratches on canoes and kayaks. While it's not compatible with round crossbars, you can use it with square, factory, and aerodynamic options. It can also accommodate surf boards, skis, and snowboards. One issue is that it's possible to pinch your fingers when you're folding down the brackets. Also, the hardware provided with the rack may be too short for some applications, requiring a trip to the hardware store.

Our Verdict

My pick for the top roof rack is the Yakima Universal Roof Rack. It's more affordable than many alternatives, and it's removable, so you can easily take it with you on the go. No crossbars are required for this option, so it’s ready to use out of the box. Plus, it can accommodate a range of equipment from kayaks to snowboards. For an even more budget-friendly option, consider the PRO-SERIES 47 in. Universal Aluminum Roof Bars for Small SUVs.

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 for finding the best deals and making sure your new-to-you stuff wasn’t destroyed by the previous owner. 

  • Check for rust, and make sure all the moving parts operate smoothly.
  • Confirm that all parts are included, such as hardware and tie-down straps.

Things to Consider Before Buying Roof Rack

Type of Roof

Some vehicles have factory-installed side rails that are designed to support certain types of roof rack systems, such as those offered by Thule and Yakima. These rails can either be flushed or raised and come in a variety of different sizes. Other vehicles have fixed mounting points and/or tracks that can accommodate a range of different roof racks. There are also bare or "naked" roofs that can accommodate clip-fit types of racks. You may also have a vehicle with two metal tracks or gutters. Make sure your roof configuration fits properly with the type of rack you're considering. 

Type of Rack

Different types of roof racks are designed to carry different types of gear. You can haul everything from cargo boxes to tents, skis, bicycles, and canoes. The best roof racks can accommodate a variety of items. Depending on your needs, you may need a rack for your children's bikes, you and your spouse's kayaks, or for a surfboard. You can also purchase racks with cargo boxes or baskets to carry extra-large items that may not fit inside your vehicle.

Weight Limit

This is a two-part consideration. First, you need to check the amount of weight that your vehicle's roof can hold. This information should be available in the owner's manual. Next, determine how much weight you plan on putting on the roof, and make sure the rack is heavy duty enough to hold the items effectively and safely. 

Easy of Use

Some roof racks are easier to install and remove than others. Some are designed to be semi permanent, while other options are removable. Also, some racks are more simple to operate, particularly when it comes to loading heavier gear such as a kayak. Read user reviews to see how user-friendly these racks are to both set up and to operate.

Aerodynamics

When you put equipment on your roof, it's going to cause a little more drag on your vehicle, which can affect its fuel economy. In addition, some racks are noisier and produce more wind noise than others. Look for racks that are more aerodynamic so that you can travel more comfortably without too much wind buffeting, which will save you money and possibly a headache. 

FAQs 

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.

Q: What is the difference between roof rails and roof racks?

A: Roof rails are installed along the length of your vehicle, while roof racks are mounted across the roof. Rails are used to mount crossbars, cargo boxes, ski racks, etc. 

Q: Do roof racks damage your car?

A: As long as you purchase the correct roof rack for your particular vehicle and set up and install it properly, it will not damage your roof.

Q: How much do roof racks cost?

A:  Roof racks vary in price, depending on the type you choose. Some are reasonably priced and can cost less than $75, such as our best value pick. However, these less-expensive offerings typically require other equipment in order to haul certain items. This will drive up the cost. Some roof racks are several hundred dollars, but they are usually very heavy duty and able to accommodate different types of equipment.

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