The Best Kayak Roof Racks [Product Reviews & Buying Guide]
- The Best Kayak Roof Racks [Product Reviews & Buying Guide]
Most kayak owners know the challenge of transporting it from home to the lake or river they want to conquer. Since these boats are usually longer than the regular vehicle, they can’t be easily handled on the road, which is why today we decided to review some of the best kayak roof racks.
These systems are specially designed for transportation, are durable, and come in a wide array of types and designs. So, to make it easier for you, we reviewed some of the most popular models, but we also have a buying guide that mentions how to find the best product for your needs.
1. Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Universal
This is a J-style roof rack that can hold one kayak in the vertical position and comes with a built-in boarding ramp (for smooth loading) and fold-down system (for when you’re not carrying anything). It also has an angled lip that makes loading the kayak easier and protects the paint job on your vehicle.
It can hold up to 75 lbs. and measures 17”x16”x9.5” (L x W x H). It also has oversized padding to protect the boat during transportation.
Finally, the rack comes with JAWZ mounting hardware with 60mm and 70mm mounting bolts that can be installed on most types of rails (round, oval cross, or square). The package contains everything you need to install the rack on rails and, including a ratchet strap for securing your kayak.
- J-style kayak carrier with built-in boarding ramp for easy loading
- Fold down technology increases overhead clearance. Compatible with the MPG351 Telos Load Assist
- Oversized padding protects boat during transport
- JAWZ mounting hardware fits round, square and most factory oval cross rails, includes both 60mm and 70mm pre-coated mounting bolts;Cam style load straps with buckle protectors
- Dimensions:Length: 17",Width: 6",Height: 19.5",Load capacity: 75 lb
2. Thule Hull-a-Port Pro
This is another J-style rack designed to carry one kayak in the vertical position. As such, it features two J-shaped mounts that lift vertically and must be mounted to the front and rear rails. The system will work with most factory racks, round bars, and Thule systems (guaranteed).
The main advantage of using this roof rack stands in the PFD lever (pull, fold, done) that can be pushed down when you’re not carrying the kayak, thus improving the overhead clearance of the vehicle.
The rack comes with quick on-and-off hardware, so it’s easy to install and remove. It also comes with two ratcheting bow and stern tie-downs and two straps with buckle protectors designed to secure the boat during transportation.
Thule Hull-a-Port Pro roof rack can accommodate kayaks up to 34-inch wide and supports up to 75 lbs. It’s also designed with a steel frame with adjustable padding that protects your precious load and keeps it durable in time.
- J-style kayak carrier creates more room on the load bar
- PFD lever (pull, fold, done) for rapid folding and improved overhead clearance
- Accommodates kayaks up to 34 inches wide and 75 pounds
- J-profile for easy loading
- Quick on and off hardware
3. Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal
Featuring a simple saddle design, this rack is engineered to take only a small part of your car’s roof. As a result, if the space on your vehicle’s roof allows it, you can install two Malone SeaWing systems to carry two kayaks at once. Just to make an idea, you should know that one system measures 27 x 5 x 6 inches (W x H x D) and supports up to 70 pounds.
It’s also easy to mount, and you can easily transfer it to another vehicle without too much effort. Moreover, it is a low-profile system, so you don’t have to worry about racking it in your garage door or other low ceiling areas.
The JAWZ mounting hardware allows you to install this roof rack on most round, square, and oval cross rails.
- Low-profile kayak/cargo carrier with single saddle design
- Easy-to-set-up mid-point mounting takes up minimal roof space
- Flexes gently to cradle boat and improve gas mileage
- Jawz mounting hardware fits round, square, and most factory oval cross rails
- Measures 27 x 5 x 6 inches (W x H x D); supports up to 70 pounds
4. Yakima – Showboat 66
The Showboat 66 from Yakima is a versatile system that can carry any type of kayak. It comes with two 66-inch Yakima crossbars and includes all the necessary hardware for an easy mount. Since this is not easy to remove, the hardware is made from corrosion-resistant stainless steel that can resist the elements. The installation is tool-free since the system is fully assembled right out of the box.
The system also includes load-assist roller slides mounted towards the rear of the vehicle to make loading and unloading smoother. As such, one person can easily manage the task, even with large boats. Not to mention, the roller also helps protect the vehicle from accidental scratches or bumps, and the padding ensures your boat’s safety.
Lastly, the Showboat 66 rack adjusts from side to side, so that you can load multiple kayaks. The system supports a 24-inch maximum extension and has a capacity of up to 80 lbs.
- TAKE IT EASY: Featuring slide-out load-assist rollers, the ShowBoat makes it easy as pie to load and unload your boat; 24" maximum extension with up to an 80 lb. boat
- FITS MOST CROSSBARS: Compatible with Yakima round, square, factory and aerodynamic bars; Works with a variety of kayak and canoe mounts
- EVERYTHING YOU NEED: Comes with all necessary parts (including two 66" crossbars and corrosion-resistant stainless steel and brass hardware) to assemble, install and use
- PADDED PROTECTION: Padded to protect your kayak or canoe while loading, unloading, and transporting so you can adventure worry-free
- EASY INSTALL: Comes fully assembled out of the box; Tool-free installation in about 30 minutes; Refer to Yakima Fit My Car Tool to ensure compatibility
5. Thule 898Pro Hullavator Pro
The Thule 898Pro Hullavator roof rack comes with a unique system that allows users to load their kayak at waist level. For this, the rack is equipped with two gas struts that lower about 40-inches to the side of the vehicle and cut the overall weight of your boat in half. This way, you don’t have to haul the kayak to the roof and try to strap it without seeing what you’re doing!
With the 898Pro Hullavator, you mount the kayak to the side, install your straps and secure everything, and then push it to the roof, without too much effort. It’s perfect for people who do this alone, as they don’t need to ask for anyone’s assistance with loading and unloading.
Furthermore, the system features wide cradles so that you can fit wider kayaks in it (up to 36-inches and 75 lbs.). All the elements are corrosion resistant, and use durable materials, to make sure the entire rack will withstand the test of time.
- 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
Buying Guide for The Best Kayak Roof Racks
Not all kayak roof racks are the same (as it is obvious from our reviews above), so before you go shopping, make sure you know the main features that matter for your situation.
Compatibility with Your Vehicle
The first aspect that matters here is the size of your roof (width and length) and if you have rails or not. The size of the roof must fit the size of the rack you select to make sure the installation will be smooth and that your boat will be secured once up on the roof.
If your vehicle came with already-installed rails, this is one less factor you need to worry about, but if not, you will find a wide range of aftermarket products that don’t require professional assistance. While the racks we reviewed will fit most rails, it’s best to make sure the two are compatible by measuring the thickness of the rails and overall mounting systems they accept.
If you know you want a rack that can also be used to transport other goods, you may want to consider a multiuse design. However, for the safety of your vehicle and other drivers, we recommend a hitch cargo carrier for other types of loads and a kayak roof rack for boats.
Also, consider if you want a roof rack that will stay mounted on a permanent or semi-permanent basis. If so, you may want a system that folds down (like s J-style design) to avoid problems in low-ceiling areas.
On the other hand, if you want a system that will be easy to remove, you’ll need a product with an easy on-and-off design.
You need to respect the maximum weight and number of kayaks your rack can carry! For instance, you can’t mount two boats on a rack designed to hold just one, and you should never try to transport a kayak that’s heavier than the maximum capacity of the rack.
As you can see from our reviews, there are roof racks that will support multiple kayaks, so make sure to choose accordingly.
Since this is a system that will be exposed to the elements and high speeds, you should select durable materials in both the frame and the hardware (hinges, straps, buckles, and so on). The best materials for the frame are aluminum and stainless steel, while the hardware should be brass and durable textiles.
Overall, it’s important to pay attention to the build, the materials, and the overall quality of the entire system.
Some roof racks come with additional features, such as a lowering arm that lets you load the kayak at waist level, a special strapping system, or a padded roller that makes loading easier. These are indeed useful, but they can also stack up the price, so make sure you need them before getting too excited.
Overall, it helps to find a basic system that works for your needs, and if the budget allows it, look for improvements. Keep in mind that, if the price is too low, the producer probably used low-quality materials, which cuts down the durability of the entire system.
How to Mount a Kayak Roof Rack
Each roof rack comes with specific instructions on how to mount it, so make sure to read the manual and ask for details from the producer. Basically, a roof rack can be ready to install out of the box, or it may need some assembly first (as mentioned in the instructions).
Once you have it ready to be mounted on the roof, you will need to bolt it to the crossbar. For this, place the rack on top of the rails, and make sure all the holes are aligned. Once this operation is complete, insert the bolts in the right position and secure them as instructed.
Test everything by pulling on the rack to make sure it won’t slide off or come loose while you’re driving.
Types of Kayak Racks
As you can see from the products we reviewed, there are several different types of kayak holders on the market. The main difference is in the way they cradle the boat and how they fit on your vehicle’s roof.
Overall, there are four main types of systems: temporary pads, saddles, J-styles, and stackers.
These are perfect for regular vehicles that don’t have rails already installed. So, if you don’t feel like adding rails to your roof, but still want to transport your kayak safely, a pad rack is the best solution.
Basically, these are straps that go around the roof of the car (under and above) attached to inflatable foam padding. They are easy to install and remove, don’t cost too much, but are not very durable. These are best fitted for short journeys, and if you don’t take your kayak out too often.
The name comes from the way these racks are shaped – like a saddle that cradles the bottom of your boat and provides safety and stability. The most popular saddle designs are made from two pieces that adjust to the size of your kayak, but because of the way it is positioned, the loaded rack will occupy more space on the roof. This sadly means that there usually isn’t more room for another boat.
This type of kayak holder is perfect for bumpy roads as the boat will stay securely in place.
The name is derived from the shape of the rack (as the letter J) and allows you to load the kayaks in a vertical position. Since this allows for better space management, it’s easier to load more than one boat.
It’s also the ideal system if you want to mount a permanent rack, as the arms can be folded down to improve roof clearance.
The system is designed for side loading, which usually means you’ll have to lift the kayak over your head. As such, it may be quite challenging for just one person, especially after a few hours of rowing.
This roof rack is ideal for people who usually transport more than one boat (maximum four on a regular vehicle) as it lets you stack them on the side, in an upright position. However, make sure to follow the capacity and size instructions mentioned by the producer.
In conclusion, the best kayak roof rack is the one that makes loading and unloading easier for you, and it doesn’t require too many changes to your car’s current state. You should also pay attention to the number of boats you want to carry at a time, and make sure to invest in durability and ease of use.