The 7 Best Kayak Roof Racks

Updated June 09, 2018 by Daniel Imperiale

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We spent 44 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top selections for this wiki. Get your boat to the river or lake easily and safely by mounting it on top of your ride using one of these kayak roof racks. Designed to safeguard both your watercraft and your car during transit, they are available in models that will work with most vehicles. We've ranked them here by durability, protectiveness, and ease of installation. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best kayak roof rack on Amazon.

7. Direct Aftermarket Universal

6. SportRack Jetty Saddle

5. Rhino-Rack Nautic 570 Series

4. Rola 59912 J Style

3. Malone Downloader Folding J-Style

2. TMS J-Bar HD

1. Yakima Jaylow

Saddles, Cradles, and Stackers, Oh My

Make no mistake, kayaking is far from easy. Still, for an avid kayaker, the breeze on your face as you surge across the open water makes all of the hard work it took to get to that point completely worth the effort. And for many, that effort includes transporting your kayak a substantial distance before slipping it into the current.

Unless you live on a sprawling river or lake — or in very close proximity to one — a kayak roof rack is an indispensable piece of equipment. A number of elements will determine the style of rack you choose, such as the type, size, and the number of kayaks you’ll be transporting. The vehicle you plan to use — including its roof crossbar setup (or lack thereof) — will significantly influence your decision, as well.

Before you analyze those factors, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the styles of racks available. You can go with horizontal saddles and rollers, stackers that are designed in a vertical fashion, or J-cradles as a nice side-loading option.

Saddles, which consist of two pads that spread from the vehicle’s base rack to the bottom of the kayak, utilize as much of the roof’s flat surface as possible to provide stability. These are aerodynamic, easy to load and unload, and available in fixed or adjustable designs.

If you’re looking for even more convenience, rollers allow you to slide the bow onto your vehicle first, then lift and roll the stern onto the saddle you have in place. While these do simplify the loading and unloading process, there is a drawback: if you run into rough weather or heavy winds, you’ll likely experience some shuffling and sliding of your watercraft while you’re on the move.

Compared to the other styles, stackers utilize about half the crossbar space, which increases your loading capacity. By stacking them, you can usually fit up to four kayaks on the roof of a relatively large vehicle. They’re typically affordable and easy to install, but you may need to purchase additional support (such as crossbar pads) to prevent slippage.

As it’s the world’s most popular style, you’ve probably seen a J-cradle during a road trip at some point in your life. J-cradles sit at a 45-degree angle on your crossbars, which helps free up extra space on narrow roofs for another kayak or extra gear. Because you load it manually on the side of your car, this model isn’t ideal for two-person kayaks or people who lack the size and strength to lift the watercraft on their own.

Zeroing In On The Ideal Rack

Just as the act of kayaking is not easy, choosing the right roof rack can be a laborious process. Assuming you have already identified the vehicle onto which you will be installing the rack, you’ll want to assess its current roof setup as a first step.

A bare or naked roof — one that does not feature a factory rack, rails, or crossbars — is probably the least desirable option. You can use a door jamb clip as the point of attachment, but this is not reliably secure. If you find yourself in this situation, your best bet is to invest in upgrading your roof with rails or crossbars.

Factory rails that run parallel with the roof of the car provide a solid base. They’ll support a substantial amount of weight and multiple kayaks, but the load capacity will ultimately depend on your car manufacturer. Factory crossbars can perform admirably as well, but they won’t support quite as much weight.

Once you’ve determined the type of roof you’re working with, ask yourself a few critical questions. How often do you plan to go kayaking? How many kayaks will you need to transport regularly? Will you be taking any long-distance trips?

If you’re a frequent kayaker — weekly or even daily — you’ll probably want to spend the least amount of time possible loading and unloading. To maximize convenience, think about narrowing it down to saddles, rollers, and stackers.

The number of kayaks you intend to travel with is an important factor, as well. For those of you planning on hitting the water with the whole family or a sizable group of friends, the stacker is the optimal model. If you only have two kayaks and a car with a narrow roof, the J-cradle will suit you best. Depending on the size of the watercraft and the car, solo kayakers may want to consider the saddle style.

Don’t forget to consider the rack’s additional features and accessories. The durability of the material that makes up the rack becomes more important if you live in an area with harsh weather. Some models collapse or fold up, which makes them easier to store when you’re not using them. If you have to transport the rack on foot once you’ve gone as far as you can on wheels, think about investing in a quality kayak cart.

Ditch The Motorboat, Embrace The Kayak

There’s no shortage of passionate boaters spanning the globe today, and for good reason: boating is a blast. But while boating scores high in entertainment points, its benefits simply don’t stack up to those of the kayak in a variety of areas.

With a motorboat, you can hit high speeds, but can you build strength, burn calories, and enhance your cardiovascular fitness at the same time? Kayaking serves as a challenging full-body workout, which helps increase endurance, improve heart health, burn fat, and strengthen muscles across the body.

Studies have also shown that kayaking releases chemicals in the brain that enhance your mood and help fight depression, which means you can add improved mental health to the long list of physical benefits associated with the activity.

I’m sure some fishermen out there are rolling their eyes right now; we can talk about health advantages until the cows come home, bit if you’re not catching fish, what’s the point, right? Before you move on to browsing aluminum fishing boats, take a look at some fishing kayaks, which are designed specifically for anglers like yourself.


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Last updated on June 09, 2018 by Daniel Imperiale

Daniel is a writer, actor, and director living in Los Angeles, CA. He spent a large portion of his 20s roaming the country in search of new experiences, taking on odd jobs in the strangest places, studying at incredible schools, and making art with empathy and curiosity.


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