Best Kayak Roof Rack (How To Transport Your Kayak Like a Pro)

If you’re a kayaking enthusiast, you know that transporting your kayak can be a challenge. A kayak roof rack is a great way to keep your kayak safe and secure while you’re driving.

There are many different kayak roof racks on the market, so it can be hard to decide which one is right for you. This blog post will discuss the best kayak roof racks and help you choose the best one for your needs.

Many different kayak roof racks are available, and each has unique features.

Before you head out to your favorite kayak spot, check out our favorite roof racks.

Need a kayak rack for your truck? Check out our complete guide.

Yakima JayLow Kayak Carrier

YAKIMA, JayLow Rooftop Mounted Kayak Rack for Vehicles, Carries Up To 2 Kayaks
  • Carry up to 2 kayaks: Fits 1 kayak in J-cradle position (up to 80 lbs.) or 2 kayaks...
  • Fits most crossbars: Compatible with Yakima SteamLine and round, square, factory and...
  • Includes straps: Includes all the necessary hardware and straps (Heavy-Duty Straps...
  • Versatile design: Integrated cam lever allows you to adjust the upright position with...
  • Easy install: Comes fully assembled out of the box; Tool-free installation in about...

The Yakima JayLow might be the best kayak carrier out there. Jstyle roof racks are popular and easy to use.

You can strap down your kayak quickly and easily, and the padded foam arms protect your kayak from scratches and help keep the kayak from sliding around.

The Yakima JayLow kayak carrier comes with heavy-duty cam straps, making it easy to secure your kayak. In addition, the straps are adjustable to get an excellent secure fit.

Yakima JayLow kayak roof rackPin

The kayak carrier is also fully assembled, so you don’t have to worry about putting it together, great for those who are not so mechanically inclined. The kayak carrier also comes with bow and stern tie-downs, which help keep your kayak from moving around while you’re driving.

The JayLow kayak roof rack is super versatile. It’s easy to adjust the angle of the cradles. Using the cam lever on each cradle, you can set the arms to an angled position for transporting multiple kayaks with the arms in the 90-degree position.

Read my complete Yakima JayLow review

The maximum load capacity using the carrier for one kayak is 80 pounds, and 110 pounds carrying two kayaks, so it has a robust capacity.

Each cradle has a nice rubber bottom, which is super helpful when loading the kayak, so the boat doesn’t slide around. It also has a slight ramp to support the kayak while pushing it onto the cradle.

When not in use, the cradles on the Yakima JayLow kayak carrier fold down, making it easy to store. So, you might not need to take the cradles off your vehicle if you park in the garage.

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The kayak carrier also comes with SKS locks to prevent someone from stealing your roof rack.

To use the JayLow kayak roof rack, you need crossbars on your vehicle. The cradles will fit some factory bars, as well as Yakima crossbars. Please make sure the cradles fit your setup before you jump in and buy them.

The JayLow roof rack is more expensive than some other cradles, but they are worth every penny.

If you are not familiar with the SKS locks, that stands for Same Key System. The locking system works with all your Yakima gear.

When I bought the JayLow’s, I couldn’t get the keys and locks from my other Yakima products to work. So I called Yakima customer service, and they sent me new locks! So now everything works like a charm.

The Yakima JayLow kayak carrier is an excellent option for an easy-to-use, reliable kayak roof rack.

PROS

Fully assembled and ready to use
Doubles as a kayak stacker
Holds up to 80 pounds for one kayak or 110 pounds for two kayaks
Lockable
Padded arms and a rubber base help protect your kayak

CONS

More expensive than other options

TMS® 2 Pairs J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Carrier

TMS® 2 Pairs J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Carrier Canoe Boat Surf Ski Roof Top Mount Car SUV Crossbar
  • KAYAK CAR TOP CARRIER A simple, low-cost solution to carrying your kayak ITEM#:...
  • This Kayak Carrier designed mounts to virtually all crossbars and load bars on the...
  • Features: Steel design with adjustable padding for carrying strength and kayak...
  • PLEASE CHECK MEASUREMENTS BEFORE PURCHASE.

If you are looking for a less expensive kayak roof rack system, the TMS® J-Bar Rack is a great option. People love jstyle roof racks because they’re easy to use.

The kayak carrier has two pairs of J-shaped bars, which are great for carrying kayaks of all sizes. The kayak carrier is easy to install and comes with all the mounting hardware.

Of course, you need crossbars on your vehicle to use the cradles.

The TMS cradles are not fully assembled, like the Jaylows, so they are not as user-friendly to install. But these are a solid, less expensive alternative to the JayLows.

The kayak carrier arms have foam padding that protects your kayak from scratches and helps to keep the kayak in place. The cam straps are adjustable to get a tight, secure fit.

The TMS® J-Bar Rack kayak carrier has a maximum load capacity of 75 pounds, comparable to the Yakima JayLow kayak carrier. In addition, the kayak carrier has a wide base, making it easy to load a kayak from the side of the car.

The kayak carrier is not as versatile as the Yakima carrier. The J-bars are not adjustable, so you can only carry one kayak on each set of cradles.

Another downside is the cradles don’t fold down when you aren’t using them. If you have a tall vehicle, like an SUV, you might not be able to park in the garage with the cradles on.

Overall, the TMS® J-Bar Rack kayak carrier is a good option if you are looking for an affordable kayak roof rack. The cradles are popular because they are affordable and fit various rooftop racks.

PROS

Less expensive than other models
Fits various crossbars
Comes with mounting hardware
Includes cam straps

CONS

Not fully assembled
Doesn’t fold down

Thule Hullavator Pro Rooftop Kayak Carrier

Thule Hullavator Pro Rooftop Kayak Carrier
  • Lift-assist kayak rack designed to easily load and unload on your own
  • Gas-assist struts lift and lower 40 lbs of the kayak's weight
  • Load and unload your kayak at waist height thanks to double extending arms
  • 8 touch points of padded support for maximum protection
  • Corrosion-resistant kayak cradles expand to fit wide kayaks

If you are looking for a kayak roof rack to do the heavy lifting for you, the Thule Hullavator Pro kayak lift is a great option.

Honestly, this kayak rack is unique. The kayak carrier helps you load and unload your kayak by lifting 40 pounds of the kayak’s weight. The Hullavator is an excellent kayak roof rack system for short people or kayaks that are difficult to lift.

The kayak carrier has eight padded contact points with the kayak, so it is super stable and gentle on your precious boat.

What makes The Hullavator so damn special?

It is easy to hoist the kayak from the ground onto the roof rack because the arms drop down to about chest level. So, instead of lifting the kayak onto the top of the roof, the arms drop down three feet, making it much easier to load.

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Next, the gas-assist struts help you quickly raise and lower the kayak to and from the rooftop.

The Hullavator is great for anyone with back or shoulder problems. It gives you that extra boost to hoist the kayak onto the crossbars. The rack has a maximum load capacity of 75 pounds to accommodate kayaks of all sizes and most recreational kayaks.

If you own a heavy fishing kayak, you will need to look for other options, like using a kayak trailer.

I am a pretty tall and strong individual, and it’s not easy for me to toss some heavy kayaks on top of a kayak roof rack. The Hullavator is a tremendous help.

The kayak carrier comes with all the mounting hardware, but you must install the unit’s base to Thule crossbars. The cradles are adjustable and can fit various kayak widths.

The Thule Hullavator Pro kayak lift is an excellent option for anyone looking for a kayak roof rack system that is easy to use and can lift the kayak for you.

The Hullavator is more expensive than other kayak roof racks, but if you are looking for a kayak roof rack that does a lot of the heavy lifting for you, it is worth the investment.

PROS

Fully assembled and easy to install
The front-load ramp makes it easier to load kayaks by yourself
It locks so you don’t have to worry about someone stealing your JayLows
Folds flat for easy storage

CONS

More expensive than other options

Malone Downloader Kayak Roof Rack

Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier with Bow and Stern Lines
  • J-style kayak carrier with built-in boarding ramp for easy loading
  • Fold down technology increases overhead clearance. Compatible with the MPG351 Telos...
  • Oversized padding protects boat during transport
  • JAWZ mounting hardware fits round, square and most factory oval cross rails, includes...
  • Dimensions:Length: 17",Width: 6",Height: 19.5",Load capacity: 75 lb

The Malone Downloader kayak roof rack is a good option for kayakers looking for an affordable and easy-to-use kayak carrier.

The Malone Downloader folding jstyle roof rack is one of the most popular kayak carriers because it is easy to use and very affordable. The kayak carrier has two J-style cradles that hold the kayak in place on your vehicle.

The kayak carrier is easy to install and comes with all the mounting hardware to install the cradles on your crossbars. The Malone Downloader folding rack will fit square, round, and most oval-shaped factory roof rails.

Although the setup is pretty straightforward, it’s not as easy as the JayLow, which is ready to clamp onto your crossbars. The Malone cradles require more setup, which isn’t a deal-breaker.

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The roof rack system has a front-loading ramp that makes it easy to load and unload your kayak by yourself. The arms are padded, which helps keep your kayak from sliding and getting dinged up with scratches.

The bottom of the cradle has a hard rubber, which helps keep your kayak from sliding around, so you can tighten it down nice and snug.

The kayak carrier also comes with sturdy cam straps that secure the kayak to the roof rack. The Malone Downloader jstyle roof rack has a weight limit of 75 pounds to accommodate kayaks of all sizes.

As with the JayLow roof rack, the Malone cradles fold down for easy storage, so you don’t have to take the cradles off your vehicle when you park in the garage.

The Malone Downloader isn’t a stacker like the JayLows. Instead, you need to buy two sets of Malone cradles to carry two kayaks. Unfortunately, two sets of Malone cradles are more expensive than one set of JayLows.

The Malone Downloader kayak roof rack is a good option for kayakers looking for an affordable and easy-to-use kayak carrier. It’s cheaper than the JayLow, but it also lacks some functionality.

Don’t get me wrong; the Malone cradles are solid. If you have one kayak to carry, it’s a great option. However, if you have more than one kayak to transport, you might be better off with the JayLows.

PROS

Front-loading ramp for easy loading by yourself
Folds down flat
Padded arms
Adjustable angle

CONS

It doesn’t have a lock like the JayLows
Not designed to be used as a stacker

Leader Accessories Folding Kayak Rack

Leader Accessories Folding Kayak Rack 4 PCS/Set J Bar Car Roof Rack for Canoe Surf Board SUP On Roof Top Mount on SUV, Car and Truck Crossbar with 4 pcs Tie Down Straps
  • [ HEAVY DUTY CONSTRUCTION ] – The racks are made of 22mm diameter and 1.5mm thick...
  • [ FOLDING AND ERGONOMIC DESIGN] – Ergonomic quick release design, more easily to...
  • [ REDUCE SCRATCH DESIGN] – Foam Padding and Rubber Pedal design to reduce scratch...
  • [ UNIVERSAL MOUNTING DESIGN ] – Compatible with most crossbars,such as square,...
  • [ MULTI PURPOSE USE ] – Easy to Install, use this car roof rack to carry Kayak,...

The Leader Accessories kayak roof rack is an excellent option if you want twice the hauling capacity. The kayak carrier has two sets of J-style cradles so you can carry two kayaks on the roof of your car.

The kayak carrier is relatively easy to install on crossbars and comes with the necessary hardware. The Leader Accessories kayak roof rack is universal and will fit a variety of crossbars, but it will not fit round bars. Oval-shaped crossbars work best for this carrier.

If you need a kayak roof rack that will fit round bars, I recommend the Yakima Jaylow since they have an adapter to fit round crossbars.

Installing the kayak carrier takes more work than the Yakima cradles, which screw on very quickly. Likewise, installing the Leader Accessories kayak roof rack takes more time and effort.

The Leader kayak carrier does not have a front-loading ramp like the Malone Downloader and the Yakima JayLow, which makes loading and unloading the kayak yourself a little more complicated, especially if you have a tall vehicle. But, the arms are padded, which helps keep your kayak from sliding and getting dinged up with scratches.

The bottom of the cradle is rubber, which helps keep your kayak from sliding around, so you can tighten it down nice and snug.

The arms are adjustable, and fold down flat when you are not using the kayak carrier, so you have extra clearance and don’t have to remove the roof rack when you park in the garage.

The kayak carrier also has four sturdy cam straps that secure the kayak to the roof rack.

Although the kayak carrier doesn’t have a locking mechanism, somebody would have to try pretty hard to unscrew and walk away with your rack.

The Leader Accessories kayak roof rack is a good option for kayakers looking for an affordable, easy-to-use kayak carrier. It’s a low-cost alternative to the Malone Downloader and Yakima JayLow, but it lacks some functionality.

PROS

It comes with two sets of cradles for carrying two kayaks
Less expensive than Yakima JayLow
Universal fit works on many factory crossbars
Fairly easy to install

CONS

It doesn’t have a lock
It’s not designed as a stacker
No front-loading ramps

Yakima – SweetRoll Rooftop Mounted Boat Loader

YAKIMA - SweetRoll Rooftop Mounted Boat Loader and Rack for Vehicles, Carries 1 Boat
  • Carry 1 boat: Complete system that includes rear saddles with integrated rollers to...
  • Fits most crossbars: Compatible with YAKIMA round, square, factory and aerodynamic...
  • Take it easy: Loading a boat never looked so easy; Spring-loaded base automatically...
  • Padded protection: Smooth molded pad hugs and protects your board from scratches and...
  • Easy install: Comes fully assembled out of the box; Tool-free installation in about...

Not all kayak roof racks are created equal, and the Yakima SweetRoll is proof of that. The Yakima SweetRoll is a kayak loader that mounts to your roof rack crossbars. The kayak loader has two rollers on the back, so you can quickly load the kayak by yourself.

The beauty of the Yakima SweetRoll is the rollers make it easier to slide your kayak in place. In addition, the pads protect the integrity of the kayak’s hull, with the kayak sitting the hull side down on the cradles.

There are a couple of things to think about with this roof rack. First, the carrier helps to load your kayak from the back of your vehicle.

Keep in mind if you have a tall SUV with a fin on the back, you have to be careful because your kayak might get high-centered as you try to roll it onto the rack, especially if you load the kayak solo.

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The rack works well on passenger cars that sit lower to the ground, but that doesn’t mean you can’t load the kayak on an SUV. Many people do.

The carrier can handle kayaks up to 80 pounds, suitable for most recreational vessels. It also fits square, round, and aero/elliptical style crossbars. Use the Yakima fit guide to ensure it will fit your vehicle.

If you have a lightweight kayak, it will be much easier to load on the SweetRoll. However, long or heavy kayaks can be harder to load by yourself, depending on your setup.

The Yakima SweetRoll is a great rack, and the rollers make it easier to load your kayak on the roof of your car by yourself. Keep in mind the length of your kayak and how the rack sits on your crossbars.

Although the kayak carrier is more expensive than other models, it offers a lot of functionality and can be easy to use.

PROS

Kayak loader with rollers for easy loading
Protects the integrity of the hull
Can load your kayak solo
80-pound capacity
Integrated SKS locking system to keep your carrier safe

CONS

More expensive than other models
Tall SUVs might be challenging to load

YAKIMA – BigStack

YAKIMA - BigStack Rooftop Mounted Boat Rack for Vehicles, Carries Up To 4 Boats
  • CARRY 4 BOATS: BigStack is a great choice for whitewater adventures when you need to...
  • FITS MOST CROSSBARS: Universal built-in hardware fits round, square, factory and...
  • INCLUDES STRAPS: Includes heavy-duty straps with coated metal buckles that protect...
  • PADDED PROTECTION: Premium HullGuard padding protects your boat from scratches and...
  • TOUGH AS NAILS: SteelCore construction uses a steel tube frame that offers superior...

If you plan to haul a lot of kayaks, the BigStack might be just what you need. The BigStack kayak roof rack can hold up to four kayaks, twice the capacity of most other kayak roof racks.

As the name suggests, the Yakima BigStack is a kayak stacker, unlike the cradle-style kayak carriers we have reviewed. You can load multiple kayaks side by side with a kayak stacker.

The BigStack is great for SUVs because you can strap down up for four kayaks and have plenty of room for people and gear in your vehicle.

Yakima BigStack kayak stackerPin

The kayak stacker has universal mounts, is easy to install, and fits on round, square or aerodynamic crossbars. In addition, the stacker folds down when you are not using it, which is better for aerodynamics and storage. Also, since it folds down, you don’t have to take the stacker off your roof when you pull into the garage.

Make sure you fold the stacker down before you pull into the garage :).

The BigStack is lockable with the SKS locks, but you must buy the lock cores separately. If you buy the locks, you can leave the stacker on your roof without worrying about someone stealing it.

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Included are cam straps and bow and stern tie-down lines. It’s important to strap your kayak down in front, back, and side to side when traveling down the road (especially at highway speeds).

BigStack has a layer of stiff padding to protect your kayak during transport and an AnchorHead tie-down for your straps.

I have used the BigStack kayak carrier for a couple of years, to safely transport multiple kayaks. The only downside is the kayaks can slide around a bit on the crossbars when you are loading them because there is no cradle to hold them in place.

To give you an idea of capacity, if you are hauling four 10 foot recreational kayaks, the BigStack is an excellent option. And it’s not all that expensive, considering you can haul for kayaks.

PROS

Can hold up to 4 kayaks
Easy installation
Universal mounts
It folds down when not in use
Lockable with SKS locks (purchased separately)
Cam straps and bow and stern tie down included

CONS

Kayaks can slide around on crossbars when loading
More expensive, but you can haul more kayaks

Thule Hull-a-Port Rooftop Kayak Carrier

Thule Hull-a-Port Rooftop Kayak Carrier
  • High-performance, easy to use rooftop rack for one kayak
  • Wide mouth J-profile offers simple loading and unloading
  • Angled shape provides stable, space-saving design
  • Thick all-weather pads for maximum kayak protection
  • Durable straps keep kayak firmly secured in transit

Kayaking is a popular sport, and today more people are taking to the water than ever before. However, kayaks can be heavy and awkward to load onto your vehicle, but there’s an easier way!

The Thule Hull-a-Port Kayak Carrier lets you easily strap a kayak on your car. One of the best features of this kayak roof rack is the wide mouth cradle which makes loading and unloading easy.

The rack is somewhat easy to install and has padded arms, and the front of the J-style cradle is also padded. The padding helps keep the kayak in place when you are loading, and it helps protect your kayak from scratches as you travel down the road.

The cradle fits a variety of kayaks, and the included straps keep your kayak secure while driving. In addition, the raised J-style carrier makes it easy to load your kayak onto the roof of your car.

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The downside of the Thule Hull-a-Port Kayak Carrier is that there is no front-loading ramp, which helps to stabilize the kayak when you load it by yourself. Instead, you have to lift the kayak onto the roof of your car, which can be difficult if it’s heavy.

The Thule kayak carrier is a popular choice to safely transport kayaks. This carrier fits round bars and most factory racks, making it a versatile option for various vehicles.

Another missing feature is the arms don’t fold down flat, so be careful pulling into your garage.

The Hull-a-Port is priced similar to the Yakima JayLow but doesn’t have the functionality, like folding arms and a locking system. The Thule cradles can’t double as a kayak stacker either.

If you are looking for an easy way to transport your kayaks, the Thule Hull-a-Port Kayak Carrier is a decent option. One of the best features of this carrier is that it fits round bars and most factory racks, making it versatile for many different vehicles.

PROS

Wide mouth fits various kayaks
Fits most crossbars
Arms and base are padded
Includes durable cam straps

CONS

It doesn’t fold down
Not as easy to install as other racks

Attwood Universal Foam Block Kayak Roof Rack

Sale
attwood 11438-7 Universal Rack-Free Car-Top Kayak Carrier Kit with Supporting Foam Blocks
  • Includes supporting foam blocks
  • Two straps with adjusting buckles and clips
  • Includes 15-Feet of polypropylene rope
  • Straps are sturdy poly web with vinyl-coated clips

If you don’t have crossbars on your car and are looking for an inexpensive way to transport your kayak, foam blocks are a solid option.

The Attwood foam blocks are easy to use and install and are an excellent option for folks who don’t want to invest a lot of money into a kayak roof rack.

Foam blocks are great for hauling your kayak on small passenger cars but can fit on other cars too.

This universal foam roof rack comes with two foam blocks and cam straps that feed through the inside of your car, and it comes with front and rear tie-down straps for safe hauling.

Attwood foam block kayak roof rackPin

One nice thing about foam blocks is that you can use this roof rack on different vehicles, so you are not locked into a rack that only fits one of your cars.

Tip: Be sure to check how much weight the roof of your car can support since the roof will take the weight of the kayak instead of crossbars.

The foam blocks are flat on the bottom and contoured on top to fit your kayak’s hull. So the rack can hold various recreational kayaks.

The upside to this kayak roof rack is that it’s easy to install and doesn’t require any tools. In addition, it’s lightweight and can easily be stored in your garage or trunk when not in use.

Foam blocks are a good choice for people who want to safely transport their kayaks. I don’t recommend driving highway speeds for long distances using foam blocks, but they are great for short trips and are great for smaller cars.

PROS

Easy to install
They are pretty affordable
Contoured design fits various kayaks

CONS

Not as sturdy as cradles and crossbars

HandiRack – Inflatable Kayak Roof Rack

Sale
HandiRack Universal Inflatable Soft Roof Rack Bars (Pair); Tie-Downs and Bow and Stern Lines Included; Carries Kayaks, Canoes, Surfboards and SUPs; Fits Cars and SUVs
  • Your haul made easier: A neat bare roof rack system to transport gear including...
  • Comes will all you need: All the accessories are in the box. 2 x HandiRack twin-bars,...
  • Quick and easy to install: Takes minutes to fit with no tools required. Roof rack...
  • For cars and SUVs: Fits 2, 3, 4 & 5-door models from Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Ford,...
  • A focus on safety: Inflation process creates a stable connection with the roof. Our...

An inflatable kayak roof rack might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about a kayak roof rack, but it’s worth considering.

The HandiRack is an inflatable universal roof rack used for various items, including kayaks, canoes, and SUPs. One of the best features of this kayak roof rack is that it fits many different cars.

This inflatable roof rack is easy to install. Roll the rack out across the roof and run a strap through the inside of your car. Then you tighten the strap through a cam buckle on the other side. The roof rack is nice and secure when you shut your car doors.

Use the included hand pump to inflate the rack, and you are good to go. It’s also easy to take off your roof when you are not using the rack or if you want to stow it away while you are paddling.

This versatile roof rack has metal D ring anchor points to strap down your kayak, canoe, or SUP. The HandiRack is made of 400D nylon material and has a weight capacity of up to 175 pounds.

Make sure you are not exceeding the weight limit of the roof of your vehicle.

One of the best parts of this kayak roof rack is you don’t need crossbars, so it’s excellent for a naked roof.

The HandiRack is a good option for people who want an easy-to-install and remove roof rack. It’s also a good choice for people who have Kayaks that are difficult to load onto traditional roof racks.

The inflatable universal roof rack is inexpensive and fits various cars and rooflines, making it versatile.

PROS

Easy to install
It can be used for a variety of items
Fits various cars
Reasonably priced
You can use it without crossbars

CONS

Not as secure as other roof rack options

Yakima Aero Crossbar Pads

Yakima - CrossBar Pads, Secure and Protect Boats and Boards from Damage, Round 30 inch
  • Foam padding protects boards and boats from damage
  • Anti-slip material helps keep your gear in place
  • Sectioned Velcro attachments fit easily around roof rack towers and accessories
  • 30" width fits most SUPs and fishing kayaks
  • Fits Yakima CoreBar and JetStream crossbars, factory crossbars and most other...

Last but not least, the Yakima Aero Crossbar Pads are a great option if you have crossbars and want a low-cost way to carry your kayak. These crossbar pads are easy to install and take off, and they are very versatile.

The roof rack pads fit most factory and aftermarket crossbars, and they have a nice, tight fit. The crossbar pads are made of foam and have an anti-slip fabric outer, protecting your kayak from scratches and abrasions.

The foam pads will fit most factory and aftermarket crossbars, like Yakima round and Aero bars. The temporary pads have sections of hook and loop closures that fit around various crossbar attachment points.

Yakima Aero Crossbar padsPin

The crossbar pads are 20 or 30 inches wide and come in a pair so that you can carry one kayak. I often use these pads to transport my Tarpon 120 kayak. The pads can also work with canoes, SUPs, etc.

You don’t need any tools to install the pads, which is excellent for folks who are not so mechanically inclined. But, the roof rack pads don’t come with any straps, so I recommend some NRS cam straps to tie down your kayak. And don’t forget the bow and stern tie downs.

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The Yakima Aero Crossbar Pads are a good option for people who want an easy-to-install roof rack that is versatile and fits most crossbars. These crossbar pads are also good for people who want to protect their kayaks from scratches and abrasions.

If you are looking for a way to transport more than one kayak, the Yakima JayLow cradles are a good option since it doubles as a stacker.

PROS

Easy to install foam pads
It fits most factory and aftermarket crossbars
Protects your kayak from scratches and abrasions
Reasonably priced
You can use it without crossbars

CONS

Only comes in a pair (not for people who want to carry multiple kayaks)
Tie-down straps are not included

Types of Kayak Roof Racks

There are so many different kayak roof racks on the market that it can be hard to decide which one is right for you. Do you want a stacker or cradle? Do you need crossbar pads? How about a roof rack that fits a variety of cars?

Here are some of the different roof racks you can use to haul your kayak.

Note: If you don’t have a roof rack system, foam blocks or an inflatable roof rack are inexpensive and easy to use.

Stacker

 YAKIMA - BigStack Rooftop Mounted Boat Rack for Vehicles, Carries Up To 4 BoatsPin

If you are transporting multiple kayaks, a stacker is a good option. A stacker is a roof rack that allows you to “stack” two or more kayaks side by side. A stacker is a great option for people who have multiple kayaks or want to save space.

The Yakima BigStack is a good option for a stacker. This roof rack can hold up to four kayaks.

Cradle or Jstyle Roof Racks

 Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier with Bow and Stern LinesPin

A kayak cradle is a roof rack that holds your kayak on its side in an upright position, a good option for people who want to transport their kayaks safely and securely. Kayak cradles also protect your kayak from scratches and abrasions.

The Yakima JayLow Kayak Rack is a good option for a cradle. This roof rack can hold one or two kayaks since it can double as a stacker.

Inflatable Roof Rack

 HandiRack Universal Inflatable Soft Roof Rack Bars (Pair); Tie-Downs and Bow and Stern Lines Included; Carries Kayaks, Canoes, Surfboards and SUPs; Fits Cars and SUVsPin

An inflatable kayak rack is a good option for people who want an easy to install roof rack that is versatile and fits most cars. An inflatable rack has a strap that passes through the inside of your car, using the door jambs for extra support.

These racks are easy to install and remove and don’t require your car to have crossbars.

Crossbar Pads

 Yakima - CrossBar Pads, Secure and Protect Boats and Boards from Damage, Round 30 inchPin

Crossbar pads are a simple and effective way to transport your kayak. These pads are placed on top of your car’s existing crossbars and provide extra padding to support your kayak and protect it from scratches.

The Yakima Aero Crossbar Pads are a good option for crossbar pads. These temporary pads fit most factory and aftermarket crossbars, and they have a hook and loop system that makes them easy to install and remove.

Load Assist Roof Racks

 Yakima - BoatLoader EVO Canoe, Kayak and Board Roof Loading SystemPin

If you are looking for a kayak roof rack to help you load your kayaks quickly and efficiently, you should consider a load-assist roof rack.

Two of the best options on the market are the Yakima Boatloader EVO and the Showboat 66. These racks help support and guide the kayaks onto the roof of your vehicle, which makes loading your kayaks a breeze, even if you are by yourself.

One thing I don’t like about the Boatloader EVO is that my kayak slips around on the bar when I am trying to load it. It’s nice to have the support to help load, but keep this in mind.

Saddles

 YAKIMA - SweetRoll Rooftop Mounted Boat Loader and Rack for Vehicles, Carries 1 BoatPin

Kayak saddles are a great way to protect your kayak hull during transport. The saddles fit around your kayak and hold it in place while driving, preventing your kayak from bouncing around and getting damaged.

Some saddles like the Yakima SweetRoll have rollers built-in to make loading that much easier.

Kayak Roof Rack Safety

When you toss a kayak onto the top of your roof rack and hit the road, there are a few things you should keep in mind to ensure safe transport.

The kayak and the roof rack need to be properly secured to the vehicle’s roof, using straps, or other methods, to make sure the kayak cannot move.

Below are some safety tips for using a kayak roof rack.

  • Check the weight limit. Make sure that the kayak rack and your car roof are rated to support the kayak’s weight. The last thing you want is for your roof rack to collapse under the kayak’s weight.
  • Use bow and stern tie-downs. There is some debate about whether or not people should use bow and stern tie-downs. However, I recommend you always secure the bow and stern, especially if traveling on a highway.
  • Don’t overload your rack. For example, don’t put more kayaks on your roof rack than it is rated to carry, which could damage your rack or cause an accident.
  • Inspect your gear. Before hitting the road, take a few minutes to inspect your roof rack and kayak. Ensure all the straps are tight and there is no damage to either the rack or the kayak.
  • Choose the right roof rack for your car. Not all roof racks are created equal. Make sure you choose a rack that is compatible with your car and can support your kayaks’ weight.
  • Learn how to load and tie down your kayak. I can’t stress this enough. it’s critical that you can load and securely tie down your kayak before hitting the road. Do a couple of practice runs before heading down the road for the first time. The last thing you want is for your kayak to fly off the roof of your car, damaging your kayak and potentially causing an injury or accident. There are plenty of good videos on the internet that can teach you how to do it properly.

Check out my guide to loading a kayak on a J cradle.

Driving With a Roof Rack

My best advice for driving with a kayak on the rooftop is to take it easy and going slow. However, you also need to make sure that your kayak is not obscuring your view, which could be a safety hazard when changing lanes if you need to brake suddenly or make any other evasive maneuvers.

My Experience With Kayak Roof Racks

I have owned many different kayak roof racks over the years. I have used foam blocks, pool noodles on crossbars, cradles, you name it.

One thing I can tell you is that what works for me might not work for you. I used to just toss my kayaks in the back of my truck and head down the road.

Today (with a different vehicle) I use J cradles or foam pads on the crossbars. My vehicle is just tall enough with the roof rack that it’s not so easy to toss a 65-pound kayak onto cradles. So, I had to get creative in order to load the kayak by myself.

When you buy a roof rack for your car, consider how high you will need to lift the kayak overhead.

FAQ’s

What is the easiest kayak rack to use?

It depends on the vehicle, the person, and the kayak. I love using the Yakima JayLows because they are sturdy, easy to use, and they fold down when I am not using them.

Can you put two kayaks on top of a car?

Absolutely! The Yakima BigStack can accommodate up to four kayaks. The JayLows double as a stacker, and you can strap down two kayaks.

What is the best kayak rack for cars without rails?

If your car doesn’t have roof rails, you have many options. For example, you can use foam blocks or an inflatable kayak roof rack. You can also buy a crossbar system from Yakima that attaches to the door frame of your car.

What is the best kayak rack for one person?

A load-assisted kayak rack like the Yakima SweetRoll is an excellent option for loading a kayak by yourself. The rollers on the back of the rack help you slide the kayak in place.

Conclusion

Kayaks are a great way to enjoy the outdoors, and with the right kayak roof rack, you can transport kayaks easily and safely. We have provided a list of some of the best kayak roof racks on the market and safety tips for transporting your kayaks.

Make sure you research and choose the right roof rack for your car and kayaks. And most importantly, practice loading and unloading your kayaks before hitting the road. Kayaking is a lot of fun, but it’s not worth risking your safety or the safety of others to save a few minutes.

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About the author
Steve
Steve is the owner of Paddle About, a blog that's all about helping people get out and enjoy nature. He loves to kayak, camp, hike and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not out exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.