10 Best Kayak Roof Racks in 2023 – Reviews & Top Picks
A good roof rack is every kayaker’s best friend. Whether you go a couple of times a year or every weekend, having the best carrier for your needs is important.
But there are so many different options and reviews to read. Who has time for that? So, we’ve created a list of 10 of the top kayak roof rack options. In addition to the reviews, we’ve included a small buying guide so you don’t forget anything when deciding on a carrier.
A Quick Comparison of Our Winners (2023)
|Best Overall||Kayak and Canoe Carrier||
|Best Value||J-Bar Kayak Rack||
|Premium Choice||Hullavator Pro||
|Folding Kayak Rack||
The 10 Best Kayak Roof Racks
1. Kayak and Canoe Carrier – Best Overall
|Weight:||14 pounds (lbs)|
J-style kayak racks are among the most popular, so it’s no wonder this one by Rhino Rack is our top choice of kayak roof rack. This foldable rack is designed to fit on most bars. The only roofs that it won’t work on are those equipped with square bars.
There are several extensions available for purchase with this carrier so that you can fit up to four kayaks at a time on some vehicles. It has a reasonable weight rating to accommodate other watercraft such as canoes or paddleboards, and when it’s not in, use you can fold the rack flat for increased overhead clearance.
- Easy installation
- Accommodates up to four watercraft with extensions
- Folds down when not in use
- Durable construction
- Compatible with multiple other accessories
- Won’t work with square bars
2. J-Bar Kayak Rack – Best Value
If you’re looking for a functional kayak carrier on a budget, this J-style rack by Avenn is the best kayak roof rack for the money. It offers a super inexpensive option that doesn’t sacrifice durability. However, the racks don’t fold, which is inconvenient.
The rack has an excellent weight rating, so it can hold any of your outdoor gear like paddleboards or canoes. One downside is the installation. It’s supposed to be an easy, universal installation. But there have been some complaints that getting the rack installed on your roof bars can be a pain. They can be installed on any shape of roof bars, though.
- Compatible with more than just kayaks
- Universal installation
- Epoxy coating for increased weather-resistance
- Requires crossbars
3. Hullavator Pro – Premium Choice
If you are already running a Thule roof bar, this kayak rack is a great addition. Thule’s roof accessories are all designed to work together easily. Unfortunately, the Hullavator Pro requires Thule roof bars, and it’s already expensive.
If you have to get the whole system, this will be the most expensive kayak rack on this list. However, Thule is renowned worldwide for its high-quality roof rack systems. If you only need to transport one kayak and want an incredibly easy loading and unloading system, the Hullavator Pro is well worth the money.
- Lift-assist for easy loading and unloading
- Adjustable for multiple kayak sizes
- Waist level loading and unloading
- Lots of padding to protect the kayak
- Many different Thule attachments are available
- Thule roof bars required
4. Kayak Saddles
These saddle kayak carriers make a great addition if you’re already using a Yakima roof rack or bars. However, they are designed to fit on any roof rack. They also feature a toolless installation, which is a bonus because they’re easy to adjust for different kayaks.
If your bars are wide enough, it’s easy to put two sets of these saddles up for carrying multiple kayaks. Plus, their massive 150 lbs weight rating means you can haul any canoe or kayak without any trouble. While they are a good buy, these kayak saddles are pretty expensive, considering you’ll still need a roof rack if you don’t already have one.
- Heavy-duty weight rating
- Universal mounting on all bars
- Easy DIY installation
- Oversized cradle compatible with different hull shapes
- Needs roof rails
- Expensive for what you get
5. Folding Kayak Rack
|Material:||Carbon steel, rubber|
This folding rack by Wiruga features extra-thick EVA foam to protect your kayak from being damaged by the rack. And the tubing of the rack is oversized to offer outstanding durability. With universal mounting on everything but round bars, it’s hard to imagine there is a downside to this rack.
If your vehicle is already equipped with roof rails, this kayak carrier is a good option. But if you need to install those, it can get expensive in a hurry depending on the system you go with. Also, if your kayak or canoe is wider than 36 inches, this rack doesn’t have the adjustment capabilities to accommodate your boat.
- Able to accommodate two kayaks
- Heavy-duty construction
- The kayak must be 36 inches or less
- Requires roof rails
6. Cargo Roof Rack Kayak Carrier
|Material:||Alloy steel, carbon steel|
This heavy-duty, steel roof rack is a great multifunction kayak carrier. Not only does it offer a perfect design for any kayak or canoe, but it also doubles as a roof rack—complete with a cargo net.
Being that it can hold up to 200 lbs, a heavy weight is expected. The weight shouldn’t be a problem, though, because it’s compatible with most crossbars. Plus, you don’t need to worry if you’re traveling through places where theft is a concern. This rack includes two separate rack locks to ensure your belongings stay exactly where you left them.
- Heavy-duty construction
- 200 lb weight rating
- Doubles as a cargo roof rack
- Fits most crossbars
- Quite heavy
- Requires crossbars
7. J-Style Universal Kayak Carrier
With the JAWZ mounting hardware, Malone claims that this J-style kayak carrier is universal. There have been some complaints about the universal fit, however, most people are reporting a relatively easy installation.
The fact that they can only hold one kayak leaves something to be desired. But if you’ve only got a single-person kayak, they will perform well enough.
Being foldable is a great feature and while they don’t have the same assist as Thule’s Hullavator Pro, this kayak rack does have a boarding ramp that makes loading and unloading much easier than a standard J-style kayak carrier.
- Compatible with most crossbars
- Limited by low weight capacity
- Can only mount one kayak
- Requires a lot of adjustment for some kayaks
8. Handroll Kayak Rack
The convenience of Yakima’s handroll kayak carrier is a great idea. Unfortunately, it seems to have some issues regarding larger kayaks. There are several complaints about length and weight because the rollers don’t function as they should.
That being said, if you have a smaller, one-person kayak, this carrier system will fit on almost any crossbars and is super easy to install. And if the kayak isn’t too heavy, the rollers have a built-in assist to guide the boat into place as you slide it up.
- Universal and easy installation
- Rollers assist in guiding the kayak into place
- Requires a minimum crossbar spread of two feet
- Can only mount one kayak
- Doesn’t work well with large kayaks
- Rollers don’t work well under load
9. Roof Rack Kayak Pads
Instead of relying on a fixed roof rack system that combines crossbars and a kayak rack, these roof rack pads by HeyTrip are made from EVA foam and have a pretty significant weight rating. As long as you can get the pads tight enough, these are an excellent option for the occasional kayaker.
If you use them in rainy weather for a prolonged period of driving, water will seep in on the strap because the straps go inside the vehicle.
- Non-permanent roof rack system
- Excellent weight capacity
- Overloading can result in severe car damage
- Allows rain to get inside your vehicle
- Not that easy to take on and off
- Lots of complaints that they slide around
10. Soft Roof Rack Pads
Another roof rack pad on our list is the setup from Novinter. So far, they actually have consistently good reviews. However, they have only been on the market for a few months. But they show a lot of promise if they don’t succumb to the same issues that other pad-style roof racks have.
These pads are definitely one of the cheapest roof rack options on this list. If you don’t mind being one of the earlier consumers to try them, they’re a good option.
- Storage bags inside the pads
- Easy installation
- Allows water inside the vehicle
- Relatively new product—untested by a lot of consumers
- Potential for similar issues as other pad racks like sliding
Buyer’s Guide: How to Select the Best Kayak Roof Racks
Most of the racks on this list are relatively universal. However, some considerations play a part in which kayak rack will work best for you. We’ll go over a few significant things to keep in mind when shopping for a new rack in this short buying guide.
Considerations When Buying a Kayak Carrier
Many automotive makers have racks that you can purchase with your vehicle that are made specifically for the car. But more often than not, a kayak rack is something you add on after the fact. With the number of aftermarket options out there, you’ll have no shortage of choices.
There can be a pretty significant weight difference between a single-person kayak and a two-person or big fishing one. The kayak you have or plan to have will rule out certain racks.
For example, if you’ve got a two-person kayak for you and your partner, you probably won’t be buying a rack that can only hold 75 lbs unless the kayak is a super lightweight model.
Number of Kayaks
Many kayak carriers are suitable for transporting two or more kayaks. If you ever plan on transporting more than one kayak, make sure you’re buying a rack that either hauls more than one kayak or can upgrade to haul them.
Type of Vehicle
Typically, the crossbar and rack determine which kayak carrier fits. However, some are simply better-suited to use on a certain type of vehicle or another.
Frequency of Use
How often you plan on using the rack plays a role in the ideal one. For example, if you’re out kayaking every weekend, you’ll want a rack that’s super easy to load and unload. But if it’s an occasional thing, ease of loading might not be as important as whether the rack comes off easily or folds down.
A multi-use system like the roof rack and cargo net from Hyperax is an excellent option for the occasional kayaker.
The Rhino Rack kayak carrier offers a great combination of affordability and versatility. With extensions available to fit up to four kayaks, this is a great option for the avid kayaker that goes in groups.
The non-foldable J-style kayak rack from Avenn is still a durable option. But being a little less versatile and lacking the folding capability, you can save quite a bit of money.
We hope that these reviews have given you all the information you need to make an informed decision on the best kayak roof rack.
See also: 10 Best Roof Cargo Boxes – Reviews & Top Picks
Featured Image Credit: Glauber Sampaio, Unsplash
- 1 A Quick Comparison of Our Winners (2023)
- 2 The 10 Best Kayak Roof Racks
- 2.1 1. Kayak and Canoe Carrier – Best Overall
- 2.2 2. J-Bar Kayak Rack – Best Value
- 2.3 3. Hullavator Pro – Premium Choice
- 2.4 4. Kayak Saddles
- 2.5 5. Folding Kayak Rack
- 2.6 6. Cargo Roof Rack Kayak Carrier
- 2.7 7. J-Style Universal Kayak Carrier
- 2.8 8. Handroll Kayak Rack
- 2.9 9. Roof Rack Kayak Pads
- 2.10 10. Soft Roof Rack Pads
- 3 Buyer’s Guide: How to Select the Best Kayak Roof Racks
- 4 Conclusion