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How To Transport A Kayak Without A Roof Rack

This article will discuss how to transport a kayak without a roof rack. There are many different ways to transport your kayak, and using a roof rack system is just one option. If you don’t have roof rack cross bars, let’s 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. Hauling a kayak is not a big deal if you are lucky enough to live close to the water. However, 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 the 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 kayak roof rack.

Transporting our kayaks suddenly became an obstacle. We thought of many different options for transporting a kayak without a car roof rack.

Use a Foam Block or Foam Pad Kit

There are many options for using foam blocks (or pads) for the top of your car. In addition, foam blocks and pads are inexpensive ways to transport your kayak.

Foam blocks sit on the rooftop and make a pretty efficient kayak carrier. 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. In addition, most of these kits are universal to fit a wide variety of vehicles.

Foam pad roof rack kit Pin

The blocks can carry a kayak, canoe, standup paddleboard, or snowboard, making them versatile. The blocks should be wide enough to provide adequate support.

Since the pads are adjustable, they fit various vehicles and various kayaks. In addition, the bottoms of the pads have an anti-slip material, which helps keep the pads and the kayak in place as you travel.

The kits will come with everything you need to strap your boat onto the vehicle’s roof. You will get foam pads (or blocks) and tie-down straps. 

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

One potential issue is the tie-downs may loosen over time. You will need to check them periodically if you are driving long distances.

Some kits include straps to tie down the bow and stern. If you can’t tie your kayak down to the front and back of your car, you really shouldn’t use blocks.

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

Pros:

  • Easy to install
  • Universal kayak carrier 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 for using a trailer to transport your kayak. If you already own a utility trailer, you can use that to haul your kayak.

Most trailers have tie-down points on top and a tie-down spot underneath to secure your kayak to the trailer,

Another option is to buy a kayak trailer designed to carry your boat. These trailers are a more expensive option, but they work 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 freeway. So check the speed rating before you buy a trailer and start towing.

Most of these sport trailers are lightweight and versatile. You will be able to carry different boats, stand-up paddleboards (SUP), or a canoe and kayak. No matter your watersport, you can adjust the trailer as needed. Depending on the model, you can add a rack to the trailer.

Some kayak trailers are made of steel construction, while others are aluminum. Trailers make loading and unloading your gear easy since they sit closer to the ground than a car-top carrier.

One downside to a trailer is that you need space to park it at home and your launch spot. On the other hand, sport trailers are lightweight, and you might have room in your garage or even your backyard to store it. In addition, some trailers fold up for easy storage.

If you plan on kayak fishing (fishing kayaks are heavy) or own a sea kayak, a kayak trailer is your best option with a high carrying capacity. A trailer can also double as a bike carrier or luggage carrier if you are camping or traveling.

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

Kayak trailers are also great because you have extra space in your vehicle for all of your kayak accessories.

Pros:

  • You can carry two kayaks or more
  • 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 many options available.

Inflatable kayaks come in different sizes, and models are 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 kayak roof rack system 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. In addition, 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 kayak roof rack or don’t want the added expense of buying a roof rack system for your vehicle.

Pros:

  • Lightweight and easy to transport without a car 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 system, like homemade methods. 

Pool Noodles

Some people use pool noodles as a DIY roof rack. You can use two pool noodles instead of foam blocks. Use a cam buckle or ratchet straps to secure the noodles to the car’s roof with the car doors open.

I don’t recommend pool noodles if you are going very far, but it might get you a little way down the road. On the other hand, pool noodles can do the trick if you are up for a DIY kayak rack.

Using pool noodles, you will lose some aerodynamics and gas mileage and have to live with wind noise.

Truck Bed Extender

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 fits in your hitch receiver (hitch mount) and supports one end of your kayak.

The kayak is 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.

Inflatable Roof Rack

If you haven’t seen an inflatable roof rack, it’s a great soft roof rack for your kayaks. These universal soft roof racks work with various kayaks, and they are easy to install on your vehicle’s roof and take off when you are not using them.

An aftermarket removable roof rack is convenient for transporting kayaks and other watercraft.

Folding Kayak

Another option is the advent of the folding kayak. Companies like Oru Kayak have sleek modern designs that are well made, lightweight, foldable, packable, and fit in the backseat or trunk of your car.

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. From the options I listed, you can see a wide variety of price points. For example, you can spend a lot of money on a kayak trailer or pay around $50 or less on foam blocks.

Ideally, look around for kayak roof rack alternatives before buying a kayak. You may decide it’s worth the money to buy a roof rack for your vehicle.

Number of Kayaks

If you plan on hauling two kayaks, you need to ensure 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 one kayak. You can even stack several kayaks on some trailers.

If you are still planning to buy your kayak (or more than one kayak) and don’t have a roof rack to transport them, consider inflatable kayaks. 

Inflatables are compact and 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

Some of these options are easier to transport a kayak without roof rack cross bars than others. For example, if you use a foam block or foam pad kit, you will need to lift the kayak onto the roof of your vehicle. Ensure 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. So she can’t lift the kayaks onto the roof of our car. Keep in mind that heavy lifting is still involved, even with a roof rack.

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

Roof racks can be cost-prohibitive for people who are just getting kayaking. However, 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 hThat’stionsit’stransport a kayak without a roof rack.

Conclusion

How to transport a kayak without a roof rack_ Pin

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

Blocks or foam pads are inexpensive and fit most vehicles. Depending on your budget and needs, 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.

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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.