Transporting a kayak can be difficult if you don’t have rails on the roof of your vehicle. You’ll have to be even more careful about how you strap your kayaks up there so that it doesn’t cause any roof damage.
But you should still be able to get your kayak to your next launching location if you don’t have rails on your car. Fortunately, there are many kayaks racks out there designed specifically for this purpose.
To make your life easier, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 best kayak racks for cars without rails. And we’ve also put together a useful Buying Guide to help you narrow down your choices and decide on the best rack option for your car and your kayak(s).
- Buying Guide
Best Kayak Racks For Car Without Rails
- 1. SportRack Complete Roof Rack System
- 2. Apex Universal Strap-Attached Crossbars
- 3. Pilot Automotive Inflatable Handi-Rack
- 4. Stanley Univeral Car Roof Rack Pad + Luggage Carrier System
- 5. DORSAL Wrap-Rax Roof Rack
- 6. Attwood Universal Rack-Free Car-Top Kayak Carrier Kit
- 7. Spring Creek Manufacturing Suction Cup Rack
- 8. Alfa Gear Lightweight Anti-Vibration Roof Rack Pads
- 9. Frostfire Inflatable Roof Rack
- 10. INNO IN-SUT Stay Rack
- Our Pick – Stanley Universal Luggage Carrier System
Finding a kayak rack that fits your vehicle and your adventure style is imperative. Unless you want to get nifty with a DIY solution (as seen above), you’ll need to consider some of these factors when selecting a new kayak rack for your car.
Ease of Use
Some racks are going to require a lot more installation than others. The easiest kayak racks can be installed using a couple of cam straps and they’ll only require a matter of minutes to set in place.
Rack systems that rely on foam pads tend to be the easiest to use. They can install quickly and remove effortlessly without worrying about drilling, securing permanent hardware, or a time-consuming inflation process.
Inflatable racks are still easy to use and they require less installation time than most racks with solid crossbars. However, you’ll still have to inflate and deflate the pads every time you want to install or remove the rack.
Racks with solid crossbars may require significantly more installation time up-front. However, that is typically a one-time process and then you’ll have a more permanent kayak rack solution on your car until you deem it necessary to remove.
We only recommend going to a more permanent crossbar-style rack if you’re sure you want to keep it there for the foreseeable future. If you’re going to regularly be installing and removing your rack system, it’s best to opt for foam or inflatable pads.
Also Read: Best Kayak Carts, Wheels, & Trolleys
Durability is also an important consideration when selecting a kayak rack. While an inflatable rack might, at first, sound like a great solution because of how easy it is to install, these racks might not last as long as those with solid crossbars.
Fortunately, inflatable technology has greatly improved in the last decade. So not all inflatable kayak racks are hyper-subject to tears or punctures but, in general, they’re not going to be as durable as a rack with foam pads or solid crossbars.
Fortunately, most of the best kayak racks for cars without rails aren’t overly expensive. But a good way to set your budget is to start by getting a better sense of the high and low ends of the market.
Research the most and least expensive kayaks racks on the market so that you have an idea of the ranges of prices you could pay. From there, you can decide whether you want to target racks at the higher or lower end of that range.
Among the different types of kayaks racks, those with a solid crossbar design tend to be more expensive. Rack systems that rely on foam or inflatable pads to support the weight of your kayak tend to be more affordable.
Ultimately, your budget is going to be up to you. But if you’re really not sold on any of the racks we’ve reviewed below, you’ll need to learn how to transport a kayak without a roof rack.
Best Kayak Racks For Car Without Rails
It also comes with everything you’ll need to install it easily onto your car’s roof. This includes the load bars, hooks, locks, all hardware necessary for a complete and secure installation.
This rack doesn’t require any additional tools for installation and is compatible with a large number of vehicles. But you should still be sure to check the SportRack Fit Guide for this product before purchasing.
Another great aspect of the SportRack is that it’s compatible with additional roof rack accessories. So you’ll be able to further customize your ideal rooftop luggage system as you see fit.
Otherwise, opening your doors will be impossible without completely removing the straps and compromising the integrity of the crossbars. These bars can hold up to 150 pounds and they’re made of durable steel.
The steel bars are also finished with a powder-coating that provides added corrosion resistance over their lifetime. You’ll be able to enjoy two inches of clearance beneath the crossbars, which can be helpful when strapping down your kayak itself.
The Apex Universal Crossbars measure 47.75 inches long and 4.875 inches wide. The entire package includes the strap and gator clips that you’ll need to safely and securely install the bars on your roof.
But when it’s time to head out to a new waterway, the pads quickly inflate and secure to your roof using two cam buckle tie-down straps.
These straps should carefully through the doors of your vehicle when they are open so that you can still load people in and out once your kayak is loaded on the roof.
All of the included components fit inside a super-compact carry bag and it comes with the Handi-pump that makes inflation seamless. This small carry bag makes it easy to quickly lend this kayak rack system to any of your friends that also don’t have rails on their car.
The Handi-Rack system is rated to hold up to 45 pounds. So you’ll probably only want to carry a single kayak on this rack unless you have two of the lightest and best inflatable kayaks on the market.
The two cargo pads secure to the roof of your vehicle using cam straps that run inside your vehicle and tighten down. Like other models with a similar design, you should always be careful to install these pads and straps with the doors of your vehicle open.
The cargo pads themselves are made of polyethylene foam with a weatherproof covering to prevent wear. These pads are lightweight, shock-absorbing, and they also dampen vibrations when you’re on the road so that your kayak stays in place.
This Stanley Luggage Carrier System features 19’ by 1” straps with buckles that are made with corrosion-resistant metal. The system is super easy to set up and will prevent your kayak from scratching or damaging your roof.
The pads are 19 inches long, which means you’ll probably need to load your kayak onto them with the cockpit facing up. The pad construction features top-grade EVA foam encased in a weatherproof nylon sleeve.
The straps are 12 feet long and are rated to maintain their tightness even at highway speeds. The buckles are of good quality and the entire system secures around the whole roof of your car for a secure fit.
The Dorsal Rack system installs and removes in just a couple of minutes when you decide on a quick run to your nearest paddle location.
And their compact design makes them easy to store in your car without taking up too much space when you’re not using them.
The blocks are secured in place using cam straps and they have a small slit near the bottom where the straps are inserted. The straps then wrap under and around the entire roof of your vehicle to keep everything in place.
The blocks themselves measure approximately 34” long by 3” wide by 4” high. The entire kit comes with everything you’ll need for quick and simple installation and this rack system easily stores in the trunk of your car when it’s not in use.
This Attwood Kayak Rack system is best suited to a single kayak because of its V-shaped design. But it also comes with 15-feet of polypropylene rope to help you tie-down the bow and stern of your kayak to your vehicle’s front and rear bumpers, respectively.
The rack bars measure 65 inches long, which can be enough to load two kayaks side-by-side. Your actual ability to do this, of course, will depend on the exact specifications of your kayaks, but it’s good to have the option.
The entire rack system has a maximum weight rating of 300 pounds. The bars themselves can actually be secured to your vehicle through two methods. You can strap them through the roof or suction cup them to it.
This is a nice solution for a more permanent rack installation that’s still super easy to remove when necessary. It should be noted, however, that you’ll need to purchase two racks in order to complete your kayak carrying system and they are sold separately.
The multi-layered foam used in the pads helps to reduce vibrations while you’re on the road. This means your kayak will move around less and it’ll also make a less annoying noise while you’re driving.
To install these pads, the heavy-duty straps wrap around the entire roof of your vehicle and hand tighten. The straps themselves are 1.5 inches wide and boasts a breaking test strength of 400 pounds.
When unfolded, the pads extend to 36 inches long, 4.5 inches wide, and 3.1 inches tall.
This entire kayak rack system includes two additional tie-down straps, two hood loop straps, and two 16 foot lengths of polypropylene rope to tie the bow and stern of your kayaks down as well.
The Frostfire Inflatable Roof Rack is another useful system for cars without rails because it sets up in minutes and doesn’t have to stay on top of your car when you don’t need it.
Each inflatable pad has a single cam strap attached to it that it used to secure the pads to your vehicle. The straps run through the doors and around your entire roof to hold the pads in place.
The pads measure 9.25 inches wide, 27.5 inches long, and 2.75 inches tall (when inflated). The full length of the pads is actually 38.5 inches, but that entire length isn’t inflatable for your kayak to rest on.
The Frostfire Inflatable Roof Rack offers a maximum weight capacity of just over 132 pounds despite the pads and straps themselves weighing less than 1.5 pounds. When packaged into its convenient carry bag, you’ll be able to store this rack system in your car without taking up much space at all.
The maximum weight capacity of this rack system is 132 pounds when fully installed. It boasts torque knobs for easier installation and the height of the stays is 3.875 inches.
In order to complete the installation of these racks, you’ll need the additional purchases of the aero bars and fit hooks. It’s also a good idea to consult INNO’s Fit Guide to make sure this rack will be compatible with your vehicle.
While it might require a bit more installation time than other kayak racks, this will create a more permanent and stable kayak transportation solution if your car isn’t currently outfitted with rails.
Our Pick – Stanley Universal Luggage Carrier System
All of the elements of this luggage carrier system don’t take up much space so you can leave it in your car until you need it. And, unlike inflatable pads, these pads don’t require any extra prep.
You’ll simply be able to set them in place and secure the straps around your roof in order to make this system ready to use. From there, it’s as simple as loading your kayak up and strapping it down.
We also picked this system because it’s extremely durable. The buckles on the straps are manufactured with corrosion-resistant metal and the webbing on the tie-downs can handle up to 1,000 pounds of force during acceleration and braking.
Overall, we believe this is the best value for your money if you need to transport a kayak on a car without rails. It’s durable, easy-to-use, and it’s made by a brand that’s known for the reliability of their products.