There’s nothing better than relaxing and enjoying the open water. Having a kayak with you can make any getaway to a lakeside cabin or day at the beach twice as enjoyable, but transporting your boat can definitely be a pain.
I’ve had to pack up a kayak without a roof rack before. Besides being questionably safe, it was incredibly annoying and took some serious Tetris to get everything to fit.
I don’t want you to go through all of that, and that’s why I’ve made this list of the best kayak roof racks to help you find the product that will help you bring your boat along with you on vacation as efficiently as possible.
Carry on reading to see our full list of the best kayak roof racks, followed by a recap breaking down what makes each product on our list stand out.
Or jump straight to our number #1 pick on Amazon here.
- What Should You Look For in a Kayak Roof Rack?
- Here’s How We’ve Determined the Best Kayak Roof Racks
- #1: Ikurami J-Style Universal Roof Carrier Rack (Best Value – All-Purpose)
- #2: Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier (Best Kayak Roof Rack for Visibility)
- #3: HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack Bars (Most Accessible)
- #4: ASMSW 165 LB Kayak Roof Rack Saddles Universal Canoe Boat Carrier (Best Low Cost)
- #5: Thule Hullavator Pro Rooftop Kayak Carrier (Best Zero-Effort Kayak Roof Rack)
- #6: Lifetime Warranty TMS® 2 Pairs J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Carrier (A Bonus Budget Option)
- How Do I Set Up a Kayak Roof Rack?
- Verdict: Your Best Kayak Roof Racks
What Should You Look For in a Kayak Roof Rack?
So, what separates the good kayak roof racks from the bad kayak roof racks?
A kayak roof rack isn’t exactly a staple on most people’s shopping list, so you’ve probably never bought one before. If that’s the case, then it can be overwhelming to look at everything at once, so we’ll help you pick out the gems.
That’s why we’re going to lay out the criteria we used when evaluating all of our kayak racks.
You’ll feel like a roof rack expert in no time, and you’ll be ready to follow along with our list and make your own educated decision on which kayak roof rack is best for you.
Criteria #1: Design
I know our first criterion is pretty vague, but it’s definitely the most important.
There are just so many smaller aspects that come together in a good kayak roof rack to give you a good final product. We want to help you find the best kayak roof rack, and that entails paying attention to the little things.
We’re looking for kayak roof racks that are simple to install and easy to use and use a mechanism that’s compatible with a wide variety of cars. We also want to prioritize roof kayak racks that can hold more than one kayak at a time so that everyone can enjoy the water on your family getaway.
Criteria #2: Weight Capacity
How important this criterion is will depend on what you’re working with, but you definitely want to make sure you don’t go overboard and risk damaging either your roof rack or your car.
Obviously, if you plan on transporting two kayaks at once, you’ll definitely want to make sure you have a rack that can handle the extra baggage. And even if you only have one kayak, we’d prefer to make sure you’re not cutting things too close.
We want you to rest easy and have some peace of mind during your drive to the lake. The average kayak weighs about 35 pounds, so that will act as our point of reference when we assess the weight capacity of our kayak racks.
Criteria #3: Price
We’re not here to make you spend a ton of money for no reason. But meeting this criterion is less about being cheap and more about justifying your price.
We’d rather buy an expensive product that’s cheaper than it should be rather than waste money on a cheaper product that isn’t worth the money and that will just break on you or not perform well.
Luckily, roof racks are a little more affordable than you may have guessed, so we’ll have no problem keeping things reasonably priced, and we’ll be sure to include at least one extra-cheap budget option for anyone trying to save and a luxurious choice for the big spenders.
Here’s How We’ve Determined the Best Kayak Roof Racks
- We measured the specs of the top products on the market against our listed criteria to see how they held up and if they’re worth buying.
- We then checked customer reviews, blog posts, and “best kayak roof racks” articles to see if the products on our list performed as advertised.
- We’ve made a concerted effort to include a wide variety of products from a wide range of prices so that everyone can find exactly what they need in their budget.
And without further ado, here is our list – tailored to your specific needs – of the best kayak roof racks.
#1: Ikurami J-Style Universal Roof Carrier Rack (Best Value – All-Purpose)
Our list starts with the Ikurami J-Style Universal Roof Carrier Rack, and I’ll let you know right away that they take the term “universal” very seriously. With our number one roof rack, Ikurami specifically mentions support for canoes, standup paddleboards, kayaks, surfboards, and skis. So no matter what your sport of choice is and whether it’s winter or summer, the Ikurami J-Style Universal Roof Carrier Rack will make sure you’re ready to go.
The J-style rack is one of the safest and most intuitive designs out there.
Thanks to the rubber padding on the base and on the sides, you can rest easy that your kayak (or paddleboard, or surfboard, or pair of skis) is as safe and comfy as possible. This J-Cradle accommodates kayaks up to 42 inches wide and a weight of up to a massive 158 pounds. And because of its flexible design that lets you place this rack anywhere on your car’s rails, the Ikurami J-Style Universal Roof Carrier Rack can hold two kayaks at once, so you’ll definitely want that extra wiggle room. Even if you have two exceptionally heavy kayaks, our number one roof rack should have no problem shouldering the burden.
The Ikurami J-Style Universal Roof Carrier Rack features a quick fold-down design that makes it easy for you to lower the rack when it’s not in use. This is helpful for aesthetic and increased overhead clearance if you’re in a larger vehicle that might pass some questionable bridges or tunnels. And because of this design, the J-cradle can be locked at different angles, meaning this kayak carrier system can support many differently shaped kayaks.
Ikurami boasts that their kayak rack is both waterproof and anti-corrosion, so it’ll last for years to come, and you’ll always be ready to head to the lake or river.
Finally, the Ikurami J-Style Universal Roof Carrier Rack features special paddle carriers that let you easily keep your paddles in place while you transport your kayak or kayaks.
In addition to being featured on multiple lists, the Ikurami J-Style Universal Roof Carrier Rack received more than its fair share of love from the paying customers. With many hundreds of reviews on Amazon, there was plenty of praise to go around. Customers complimented this J-Cradle kayak rack for being well-priced, easy to use, and safe, so you feel cared for in almost every regard.
We definitely noticed the low price ourselves, and the fact that all of the straps you’ll need are included only adds to the value of this product. That value in terms of return on your dollar is why the Ikurami J-Style Universal Roof Carrier Rack earned our number one spot as the best kayak roof rack on the market.
#2: Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier (Best Kayak Roof Rack for Visibility)
Nothing is for everyone. While the Ikurami J-Style Universal Roof Carrier Rack should definitely be the first option any unsure customer looks at, it’s always good to explore the field a little bit. If the Ikurami J-Style Universal Roof Carrier Rack didn’t have you entirely convinced, I’d definitely recommend the Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier.
While it’s a little more expensive than our number one kayak rack, it’s still plenty affordable, and it features a different design that might be more to your liking. Here are some of the standout features that might convince you to go with the Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier over the Ikurami J-Style Universal Roof Carrier Rack.
Reason #1 to Choose This Product: Intuitive Straps
I know it stresses me out to look at a new product that I’ve never used before and not know what I’m doing.
Luckily, you’ll never have that problem with the Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier. This simple and intuitive kayak roof rack uses a simple set of strong but flexible straps on top of a cradle design to keep your kayaks in place. These straps may not look like much, but they can support a weight of up to 70 pounds, so two average-sized kayaks shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
If even one of your kayaks is on the smaller side of things, you’ll be good to go with wiggle room. And since the strap uses a simple buckle to lock into place, you’ll have no problem figuring out exactly how it works right away.
The Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier is the best friend of anyone who appreciates simplicity.
Reason #2 to Choose This Product: Less Mess
Ironically, because of its strap-and-cradle design, the Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier requires far fewer straps than other kayak roof racks. Of course, you can always use more straps if you like to be a bit more careful, but you won’t have to drive around in a car that looks like a giant colorful spider web.
There are two obvious reasons why a customer might decide this is a feature worth paying for. The first is that it looks slick, and the second is that fewer straps mean fewer straps getting in your line of sight as you drive. The Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier manages to mix fashion and function by giving you a kayak rack that will help your car stay pretty and your view remain clear.
This simple roof rack weighs just 10 pounds, and it received plenty of praise from the customers for being a good value that’s easy to use. While it’s technically only designed for one kayak at a time, users have reported using it for two kayaks, though you’d have to get a bit creative.
If you’re really in love with this product but want to stay on the safe side of things, you can buy two of them, as Malone specifically advertises that two SeaWings will be able to fit on most roofs.
As we said before, the Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier is a bit more expensive than our number one pick.
However, it’s still cheap enough, and it’s close enough in price that you should definitely spend the extra bucks if you feel it’s calling your name. If the fancy and unfamiliar J-cradles aren’t what you’re looking for or if you want to make sure you can always see the road clearly, then keep it simple with the straps of the Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier.
#3: HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack Bars (Most Accessible)
Pretty much every kayak rack manufacturer out there boasts that their products are accessible and that they fit on the rails of almost every car on the market.
That leaves one problem – what if your car doesn’t have rails? It might seem like you’re out of luck, and you’ll have to find a different way to get your kayak to the water. But don’t worry, the HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack Bars are here to save the day.
This universal kayak rack uses foam pads to keep everything in place, and it’s the best way to protect your kayaks without rails on your car. While you might be a little skeptical of the strength of two inflatable bars, the HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack Bar boast a load capacity of 175 pounds, so you’ll never have to worry about finding out what happens if you go overboard with it.
The HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack Bars use a simple design that makes them incredibly easy to set up and place on your car, and then you’re pretty much ready to go. The bars themselves obviously won’t be sufficient enough to hold your kayak in place, but some additional straps will do the trick, and everything else you need is included. So, with some quick one-stop-shopping, your rail-less car will become entirely ready to carry your kayaks.
As an amazing side benefit, the HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack Bar system is one of the cheapest kayak racks out there. So if your car doesn’t have rails on the roof, but you still want to be able to load your kayak onto a convenient and stable roof rack system, the HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack Bar system is the best kayak rack for you. You shouldn’t be robbed of the joys of the water just because of the car you own.
#4: ASMSW 165 LB Kayak Roof Rack Saddles Universal Canoe Boat Carrier (Best Low Cost)
I’m proud of myself.
There are some pretty expensive roof racks out there, but we’ve managed to keep this list nice and cheap so far.
Continuing that trend, here’s the best kayak rack system for you if even the HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack Bars were too expensive for you. I really don’t think you can find a cheaper roof rack system than the ASMSW 165 LB Kayak Roof Rack Saddles Universal Canoe Boat Carrier, and if you do, please let me know.
This affordable and functional budget kayak roof rack uses a simple saddle mechanism that will barely add any height to your car, so you don’t need to think about those bridges and tunnels when you don’t have a kayak loaded.
Despite its design that’s lightweight, easy to set up, and doesn’t get in the way, the ASMSW 165 LB Kayak Roof Rack Saddles Universal Canoe Boat Carrier boasts an impressive weight capacity of 135 pounds. Considering it’s only meant to hold one kayak at a time, this weight limit is probably more than you’ll ever come even close to needing.
The ASMSW 165 LB Kayak Roof Rack Saddles Universal Canoe Boat Carrier fits on cross-bars with a width less than 3.5 inches, so make sure to check your width beforehand or you risk wasting your hard-earned cash.
Our cheapest product comes with two straps to keep everything in place, so there are no hidden fees on the incredible price, and you really are saving all the money you think you are.
The ASMSW 165 LB Kayak Roof Rack Saddles Universal Canoe Boat Carrier is made of multi-pivot rubber saddle kayak carriers that are flexible and sure to fit whatever kayak you have, so you’ll always be good to go.
This product is something of a hidden gem, with very little feedback by way of customer reviews, so I’ll understand if even more frugal customers are a little hesitant. That being said, the ASMSW 165 LB Kayak Roof Rack Saddles Universal Canoe Boat Carrier is just about the cheapest option out there, so if you’re looking to save some money on your kayak rack, this is the best choice for you.
#5: Thule Hullavator Pro Rooftop Kayak Carrier (Best Zero-Effort Kayak Roof Rack)
Loading and unloading your kayak can get annoying. If you’re willing to pay top-dollar for a rack that will make that annoying loading part as easy as possible so you can save your energy for the water, the Thule Hullavator Pro Rooftop Kayak Carrier is calling your name.
I’m going to warn you right away; this premium rack system is expensive. But if you have the money for it and prefer to live in the lap of luxury, it’s definitely the best option.
Why is that?
Well, it’s just about the only rack system out there that lets you place your kayaks on the side of your car and raise them to the roof from there. Loading and unloading your kayaks has never been easier.
But don’t worry, you’re not just paying for one fancy trick.
On top of this amazing feature, the Thule Hullavator Pro Rooftop Kayak Carrier also boasts 8 touch points of padded support for maximum protection and a solid weight capacity of 75 pounds. It’s also made of double-coated aluminum steel, so you can be sure that your money is going to good use, as this rack is guaranteed to last for years to come.
The Thule Hullavator Pro Rooftop Kayak Carrier is designed to fit up to two kayaks, which definitely makes its weight capacity something of a dark spot on its resume, but you should be fine. At 40 pounds, the rack itself is the heaviest on our list, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem since it’ll be on your car 99% of the time, and your vehicle should have no problem bearing the weight.
This fancy and futuristic kayak carrier is a crowd favorite. It’s earned top spots on multiple lists, and the customers raved about how convenient the Thule Hullavator Pro Rooftop Kayak Carrier is. I’m actually a bit lower on this product than most reviewers, just because I think the price is a little too much for many customers. But you get what you pay for, and you don’t have to worry about this product not performing as advertised.
Anyone who won’t settle for anything but the best will have to splurge for the Thule Hullavator Pro Rooftop Kayak Carrier. Just make sure not to go over the weight limit.
#6: Lifetime Warranty TMS® 2 Pairs J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Carrier (A Bonus Budget Option)
Sandwiching the uber-expensive Thule Hullavator Pro Rooftop Kayak Carrier, we’re here to offer you the affordable Lifetime Warranty TMS® 2 Pairs J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Carrier just in case the ASMSW 165 LB Kayak Roof Rack Saddles Universal Canoe Boat Carrier wasn’t quite what you were looking for. We understand that folks on a budget still deserve choices.
Our second cheap product is a set of J-cradles that accommodates kayaks up to 36 inches wide with a weight capacity of 75 lbs. Plus, it comes with all of the necessary straps, so you’ll feel the full effect of all that saving. Since this product comes in two sets, you can definitely use one for each kayak and make sure everyone’s accounted for, but you may run the risk of pushing things in terms of weight.
There’s really not a lot to say about it. It’s an affordable kayak rack that’s accessible, simple, and easy to use.
The only real drawback of this budget product is that, unlike the other J-cradles on our list, the Lifetime Warranty TMS® 2 Pairs J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Carrier doesn’t retract at all, so you’re stuck with the extra height it gives your vehicle. Of course, this really shouldn’t be anything more than an issue of aesthetics unless you’re already driving a very tall car.
If you want the J-cradle design but feel that our other products are a bit outside your price range, then the cheap and functional Lifetime Warranty TMS® 2 Pairs J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Carrier is perfect for you.
How Do I Set Up a Kayak Roof Rack?
The short and maybe frustrating answer is “it depends.” As you’ve surely noticed, there are a lot of different rack systems out there, from J-cradles to more typical cradles to the inflated bars of the HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack Bars. For most kayak racks, it’ll just take a few quick screws into the rails on the roof of your car, and you’ll be ready to go. After that, the only thing left is to strap in your kayak and make sure everything is safe and secure.
Of course, the exception is the aforementioned HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack Bars, which doesn’t use roof rails at all. This unique system uses a strap that works its way into your car and stays firmly in place there. The benefit of this is that your closed doors will add to the security, and you can be sure everything will stay in place.
If you’re having trouble setting up your kayak carrier, I highly recommend making your way over to YouTube. They’ll have a guide for pretty much every rack system out there.
Verdict: Your Best Kayak Roof Racks
We’re reaching the end of our list, and you’re hopefully starting to get a good idea of which of our products is best for you. But if you haven’t made up your mind yet, don’t worry. We’re not looking to rush you. And we know how important it is to make sure you’re getting the kayak roof rack that’s perfect for you. That’s why we’re going to recap all of our kayak roof racks and focus on their standout features. This way, you’ll be able to see the highlights and really know what each product has to offer for you.
If you want the best value for your money, pick the Ikurami J-Style Universal Roof Carrier Rack.
This set of J-cradles is the best deal out there for anyone looking to get the most for their money. With padding on the base and the side, your kayak will be safer than ever. The Ikurami J-Style Universal Roof Carrier Rack boasts an impressive 158-pound weight capacity and holds two kayaks at once, so you can make good use of a lot of that weight, though I doubt you’ll need all of it.
To top it all off, the J-cradles feature a simple folding design that lets you save some space while the rack isn’t in use, so there’s no downside to equipping your car with the Ikurami J-Style Universal Roof Carrier Rack. And of course, it’s one of the most affordable options out there, making it the best deal and an easy choice for our number one pick.
If you don’t have rails on the roof of your car, pick the HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack Bars.
Just because your car doesn’t have rails on the roof doesn’t mean you don’t deserve some relaxing kayaking on a nice summer day. The HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack Bars are the perfect option for anyone without the right car to still easily transport their kayaks. These inflatable bars act as makeshift rails on the roof of your car, and then all that’s left is for you to strap your kayak or kayaks on top of them.
Despite the perhaps unsettling imagery in using a balloon to hold your kayak in place securely, the HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack Bars are plenty strong, and they post a high weight capacity that’s sure to meet your needs. So if your car doesn’t have rails and you still need to get your kayak from point A to point B, then the HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack Bars are the best choice for you.
If you want to keep the spending cheap, pick the ASMSW 165 LB Kayak Roof Rack Saddles Universal Canoe Boat Carrier.
There’s always a good deal to be found if you know where to look. And in the case of car racks, the best cheap option is the ASMSW 165 LB Kayak Roof Rack Saddles Universal Canoe Boat Carrier. Our go-to budget option uses a simple saddle mechanism that will barely add any height to your car. Despite its low price and lightweight design, it boasts a surprisingly high weight limit, and it’ll more than get the job done. This product shows that you don’t always need all the fancy bells and whistles. It gets the job done, and it does it for cheap.
That brings us to the end of our list, and we hope you’re starting to get a good idea of which rack is best for you. If the highlighted products above didn’t quite grab your interest, you might be a bigger fan of the simple and intuitive Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier with its strong straps or the luxurious or convenient Thule Hullavator Pro Rooftop Kayak Carrier. Of course, there’s also the affordable Lifetime Warranty TMS® 2 Pairs J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Carrier if you’re looking for another budget option.
Remember to think about which trait is the most important to you in a kayak rack. This will really help you speed up the researching process while you make your purchase, as you’ll be able to skim through and skip everything that doesn’t fit your needs.
That’s all for now. We hope our list helped, and we hope you enjoy the refreshing air while you’re out kayaking.