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How To Transport A Kayak Without A Roof Rack

In this article, we are going to discuss how to transport a kayak without a roof rack.  There are many different ways to transport your kayak, and using a roof rack is just one option. If you don’t already own a roof rack, let’s take a look at other options to get your boat to the water.

One important thing to consider when you buy a kayak is how to transport it. If you are lucky enough to live close to the water, then maybe hauling the kayak is not a big deal.  I have to drive quite a way to get to the lakes and rivers in my area, so I need a way to get my boats there.

Some methods of hauling a kayak are better suited for short trips, and some will work well for long-distance travel.

My wife and I used to own a pickup, and it was super easy to throw our kayaks in back and away we went.  Loading and unloading was a piece of cake.  Then we had to get rid of our truck, and we bought a small SUV without a roof rack.

Transporting our kayaks suddenly became an obstacle.  We thought of many different options about how to transport a kayak without a roof rack.

That said, let’s get to it.

How to transport a kayak without a roof rack

Use a foam block or foam pad kit

There are many options available when it comes to using foam blocks (or pads) for the top of your car. These are an inexpensive way to transport your kayak. Foam blocks and foam pads are very similar, so I am covering them together.

Foam blocks are literally just blocks that sit on the top of your car.  Foam pads have a sturdy outer material, sometimes made of PVC cloth.  Effectively, they work the same way.

You can use a foam rooftop carrier in any season, and they are typically corrosion and water-resistant.  Most of these kits are universal, so they will fit a wide variety of vehicles.

Foam pad roof rack kit

The pads can carry a kayak, canoe, or standup paddleboard, so they are versatile. The blocks should be wide enough to provide adequate support.

Since the pads are adjustable, they fit a variety of vehicles and a variety of different kayaks. The bottoms of the pads have an anti-slip material.  This helps to keep the pads and the kayak in place as you travel.

These foam roof racks are easy to install. You align the pads on the roof of the car.  The straps run along the door seam and through the cab.  Inside the vehicle, you thread one end of the strap through the cam buckle and tighten it up. When you shut the car door, this helps to tighten the straps even more.

The kits will come with everything you need to strap your boat onto the roof of your car.  Basically, you will get foam pads (or blocks), and straps.  Some kits include straps to tie down the kayak to the front and back of your vehicle. If you can’t tie your kayak down to the front and back of your car, you really shouldn’t use foam blocks.

One thing to note, foam blocks may not be the best for highway or freeway driving.  If you have a long distance to travel or need to go higher speeds, you should look at other options.

Pros:

  • Easy to install
  • Universal design fits a lot of different kayaks and vehicles
  • No drilling required
  • Anti-slip pads will keep your kayak from slipping

Cons:

  • Not great for high speeds like freeway driving

Use a trailer

There are a few different options when it comes to using a trailer to transport your kayak.  If you already own a utility trailer, you can use that to haul your kayak.  Most trailers will have anchor points to use as tie-down points to secure your kayak to the trailer.

Another option is to buy a trailer that is designed to carry your boat.  Mind you, these trailers are a more expensive option, but they work really well.  You may also be able to transport multiple kayaks with some trailers.

Some of these trailers are designed for higher speeds, like driving on the highway. The speed rating is something you will definitely want to check before you buy a trailer.

Most of these sport trailers are lightweight and versatile.  You will be able to carry different types of boats and adjust the trailer as needed. Depending on the model, you can add a rack to the trailer.

One downside to a trailer is that you need space to park it at home and at your launch spot. Sport trailers are lightweight, and you might have room in your garage or even your backyard to store it.

A trailer is a great option for hauling kayaks.  If you already own a utility trailer, that’s awesome. If not, you will need to invest some money.

Pros:

  • You can carry multiple boats
  • Some trailers are very versatile
  • Sport trailers are lightweight
  • You can tie down your kayaks securely

Cons:

  • You will have to store the trailer
  • You need a place to park the trailer while you are on the water

Buy an inflatable kayak

If you are trying to figure out how to transport a kayak without a roof rack, you may want to consider an inflatable kayak. Inflatable kayaks are very popular, and there are a lot of options available.

Inflatable kayaks come in different sizes, and there are models available for different skill levels. There are inflatable kayaks for rough water like whitewater or the ocean. There are also entry-level inflatable kayaks, which are great for recreational users.

The great thing about inflatable kayaks is they are super easy to transport and store. You don’t need a roof rack to carry an inflatable kayak; you can put it in your car’s trunk.

Inflatable kayaks are available in a wide range of price points as well.  If you are a beginner, there are some very inexpensive inflatables, and they come with everything you need to get started. You can buy an inflatable kayak for one or two people (tandem).

With all that said, inflatable kayaks are a great option if you don’t have a roof rack, or don’t want the added expense of buying a roof rack for your vehicle.

Pros:

  • Lightweight and easy to transport without a roof rack
  • You can put an inflatable kayak in your trunk
  • Many different options for inflatable kayaks are available

Cons:

  • Some inflatable kayaks are not as durable as hardshell kayaks

Other options

There are other ways to transport a kayak without a roof rack, like homemade ways.  You can substitute pool noodles instead of foam blocks, and use cam buckle straps to secure them. I wouldn’t recommend something like this if you are going very far, but it might get you a little way down the road.

Another option might work if you have a larger SUV or vehicle with a third-row seat.  You can lay down the seats and use a truck bed hitch extender. The hitch extender would support one end of your kayak.

This means the kayak would be supported by the back end of your vehicle and the bed extender. Depending on how long your kayak is, this might work for a short trip.

Of course, you would have to leave the tailgate of your SUV open as you travel down the road. Use caution and good judgment with this option.  It might be okay for a short trip down the street, but nothing more.

Things to consider when transporting your kayak

Price

If you are looking for ways to transport a kayak without a roof rack, you need to have a budget.  You can see from the options I listed there are a wide variety of price points. You can spend a lot of money on a kayak trailer or pay around $50 or less on foam blocks.

Ideally, look around for alternatives to a roof rack before you buy a kayak.  You may end up deciding it’s worth the money to add a roof rack to your vehicle.

Number of kayaks

If you plan on hauling multiple kayaks, you need to make sure you can do so. A foam block will not work well with more than one kayak.

For multiple kayaks, a trailer is an excellent option. Some trailers are designed to carry more than on kayak. You can even stack several kayaks on some trailers.

If you are still in the planning stages of buying your kayak (or maybe more than one kayak) and don’t have a roof rack to transport them, consider inflatable kayaks.  Inflatables are compact, lightweight, and you can put them in the trunk of your car.  You can even put multiple inflatable kayaks in the back of your vehicle.

Ease of use

When you transport a kayak without a roof rack, some of these options are easier than others. If you use a foam block or foam pad kit, you will need to lift the kayak onto the roof of your vehicle. Make sure you can do the heavy lifting required to get the kayaks on the roof.

My wife has a bad shoulder, and lifting things overhead is not good for her shoulder. She can’t lift the kayaks up and onto the roof of our car. Keep in mind that even with a roof rack, there is still heavy lifting involved.

A trailer is ground level and is much easier to load.  Plus, with a trailer, you can back your car down a launch ramp and quickly put your kayak in the water. Trailers are pretty easy to use and have some perks over a foam pad or block setup.

How much does a roof rack cost?

Roof racks can get expensive, depending on the type of vehicle you have and the amount of stuff you want to carry.  You can spend upwards of $1,000 on all the parts that go with buying a roof rack for your kayak (or kayaks).

This can be cost-prohibitive for people who are just getting started with kayaking. When you are beginning a new hobby, you may not want to invest a ton of money into it right away. That’s why it’s nice to have options to transport a kayak without a roof rack.

Conclusion

How to transport a kayak without a roof rack_

If you are looking to transport a kayak without a roof rack, there are several options available. Trailers are great because you can secure the boat (or boats), and loading them is pretty easy. 

Blocks or foam pads are inexpensive and fit most vehicles. Depending on your budget and what your needs are, you can find something that will work well.

I recommend looking into different transport options before buying a kayak to see what will work best for you.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Steve Morrow Founder of Paddle About
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steve is an avid kayaker and founder of Paddle About. When he is not on the water, Steve enjoys outdoor activities, including fishing, camping, and hiking with his family. Read more.