14 Best Kayak Roof Racks – 2021

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14 Best Kayak Roof Racks – 2021

If you’re relatively new to kayaking, you should know that there are many styles and designs of kayak roof racks out there and choosing the right one for your unique setup will require careful consideration.

Fortunately for you, we’ve canvassed the market to bring you a collection of admirable candidates for the best kayak roof rack.

We’ve also outlined some important criteria to help you select a roof rack that’s right for you, your vehicle, and your paddling preferences.

So, let’s get started!

Buying Guide

Before you pursue our kayak rack selections, you’ll need to know what to look for. So let’s begin by offering some important advice on how to choose the right kayak rack for your specific needs.

Rack Type

There are several different types of kayak racks on our list below. So, let’s take a second to discuss their pros and cons.

Folding J-Style Roof Racks

Folding roof racks are meant to give you the ability to keep them installed on your factory crossbars even when you aren’t transporting your kayak.

They fold down so that they don’t impact your fuel economy when you don’t need them, but they’re also easy to flip up and secure when you’re ready to load your kayak onto them.

Roof Rack Pads

Roof rack pads are a popular choice for vehicles that don’t have factory crossbars installed on their roof. These pads come with straps that secure them to your roof by strapping through your vehicle’s doors.

Some of these pads are made of foam and others are inflatable so that they can be sorted in a more compact space when you’re not using them.

These pads are more commonly installed on top of your vehicle only when you’re ready to transport kayaks and aren’t usually left on top of vehicles permanently.

J-Bar (or J-Style) Roof Racks

J-style roof racks are just like their folding J-style counterparts, but they just don’t fold down or away when you’re not using them.

They do require that your vehicle already has factory crossbars on the roof and, while they can be permanently installed, they can impact your fuel economy when you’re not transporting a kayak if left on top of your vehicle permanently.

Cradle-Style Roof Racks

Cradle-style roof racks are also designed for vehicles that already have factory crossbars installed on the roof. But these racks essentially create a sort of channel that your kayak will rest in before you strap it down.

These racks are great for keeping your kayak from moving side-to-side while you’re in transit. But, as long as you strap your kayak down to flat factory crossbars properly, you can also get away without using this style of rack.

T-Bar Roof Racks

This style of roof rack is also sometimes known as a ‘stackable kayak carrier’. Most of these roof racks are designed to be permanently installed on factory crossbars and they typically have a two-kayak capacity.

Flat Bars/Truck Racks

There are also racks that are just flat bars for the top of small vehicles or SUVs and also those designed to be installed in the bed of a truck.

Many of these truck racks allow you to adjust their height and they are great for carrying longer kayaks because they allow the bow of the kayak to extend over the cab of the truck.

Kayak Capacity

In addition to deciding on the type of rack you prefer, you’ll also need to consider how many kayaks you need to carry at once. Some of these racks are meant to hold a single kayak while others are designed for two or more.

So, to keep it as simple as possible, just make sure you choose a kayak rack that can carry as many kayaks as you need to transport at once.

Keep in mind that, even if you only have one kayak right now, you may sometimes want to transport two kayaks at a time so that you can invite a paddle partner along on your adventures.

Ease of Installation

Some of these racks are designed to be installed once and then remain on top of your vehicle permanently. As you might expect, many kayak racks of this type come with an up-front installation process that’s a bit more involved than others.

That being said, once it’s done, you won’t need to worry about constantly removing and reinstalling the rack every time you need to transport your kayak.

On the other hand, there are racks that are much easier to install, but many of those are designed to secure safely on top of your vehicle only when you’re transporting kayaks.

So, for starters, you’ll need to consider how often you plan to use your kayak racks once you’ve purchased them. If you plan to transport your kayaks multiple times per week, for example, you’ll probably want a rack style that is designed to be permanently installed.

If, for example, you only use your kayaks a few times a year on camping trips or other kinds of extended outings, it might make more sense to have a style that’s easier to install and remove only when you’re ready to transport your kayaks.

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Malone Foldaway-5 Multi-Rack Folding 1 or 2 Kayak, SUP, Canoe Carrier, Black (MPG125)
Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier with Bow and Stern Lines
IKURAM R Kayak/Surf/Ski Roof Carrier Rack of Bilateral Premier J-Style Folding 4-in-1 for Canoe, SUP, Kayaks, Surfboard and Ski Board Rooftop Mount on SUV, Car and Truck
ASMSW 165 LB Kayak Roof Rack Saddles Universal Canoe Boat Carrier 4PCS Black, Includes 2×Tie Down Straps Top Mounted on Car SUV Crossbar Fit in Width Less Than 4.3inch (11cm)
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Malone Foldaway-5 Multi-Rack Folding 1 or 2 Kayak, SUP, Canoe Carrier, Black (MPG125)
Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier with Bow and Stern Lines
IKURAM R Kayak/Surf/Ski Roof Carrier Rack of Bilateral Premier J-Style Folding 4-in-1 for Canoe, SUP, Kayaks, Surfboard and Ski Board Rooftop Mount on SUV, Car and Truck
ASMSW 165 LB Kayak Roof Rack Saddles Universal Canoe Boat Carrier 4PCS Black, Includes 2×Tie Down Straps Top Mounted on Car SUV Crossbar Fit in Width Less Than 4.3inch (11cm)
Title
Malone Foldaway-5 Multi-Rack Folding 1 or 2 Kayak, SUP, Canoe Carrier, Black (MPG125)
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Malone Foldaway-5 Multi-Rack Folding 1 or 2 Kayak, SUP, Canoe Carrier, Black (MPG125)
Details
Title
Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier with Bow and Stern Lines
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Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier with Bow and Stern Lines
Details
Title
IKURAM R Kayak/Surf/Ski Roof Carrier Rack of Bilateral Premier J-Style Folding 4-in-1 for Canoe, SUP, Kayaks, Surfboard and Ski Board Rooftop Mount on SUV, Car and Truck
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IKURAM R Kayak/Surf/Ski Roof Carrier Rack of Bilateral Premier J-Style Folding 4-in-1 for Canoe, SUP, Kayaks, Surfboard and Ski Board Rooftop Mount on SUV, Car and Truck
Details
Title
ASMSW 165 LB Kayak Roof Rack Saddles Universal Canoe Boat Carrier 4PCS Black, Includes 2×Tie Down Straps Top Mounted on Car SUV Crossbar Fit in Width Less Than 4.3inch (11cm)
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ASMSW 165 LB Kayak Roof Rack Saddles Universal Canoe Boat Carrier 4PCS Black, Includes 2×Tie Down Straps Top Mounted on Car SUV Crossbar Fit in Width Less Than 4.3inch (11cm)
Details

Best Kayak Roof Rack

1. Malone Downloader

Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Universal Car Rack Kayak Carrier with Bow and Stern Lines

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The Malone Downloader is a folding J-style kayak rack that fits on round, square, and most factory-installed oval crossbars. This is a single rack that’s designed to carry just one kayak and it offers a maximum load capacity of 75 pounds.

The front of this kayak rack (where you see the ‘Malone’ brand name) is actually a convenient loading ramp to help you ease heavier kayaks onto the rack. That ramp is also useful to help you avoid damaging your vehicle or your kayak when loading it.

Because it folds down when you’re not actively transporting your kayak, this rack can remain on your crossbars permanently.

This rack also comes with a set of cam-style straps and bow and stern tie lines to help you secure your kayak down without having to purchase any additional hardware or kayaking supplies.

2. IKURAM Folding Rack

IKURAM Kayak/Surf/Ski Roof Carrier Rack of Bilateral Premier J-Style Folding 4-in-1 for Canoe, SUP, Kayaks, Surfboard and Ski Board Rooftop Mount on SUV, Car and Truck

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The IKURAM folding rack is a dual J-style rack with a two-kayak capacity for those of you that need to transport kayaks for yourself and your favorite paddle companion.

When you’re not using it to transport kayaks, the vertical arms fold down in either direction so that it has less impact on your vehicle’s fuel economy.

This rack is built with aviation-grade aluminum alloy and offers best-in-its-class top arm padding protection so that your kayak doesn’t get dented or damaged in transit.

This padding will also keep your kayak from getting scratched and forcing you to learn how to paint a kayak!

The IKURAM rack offers a maximum load capacity of 150 pounds and it can accommodate kayaks up to 42 inches in width.

This rack is also ideal for smaller SUVs and sedans because the racks have straps that allow you to secure your kayak paddles to them as well, which saves you space for other kayaking gear in your trunk.

3. Leader Accessories Folding Rack

Leader Accessories Folding Kayak Rack 4 PCS/Set J Bar Car Roof Rack for Canoe Surf Board SUP On Roof Top Mount on SUV, Car and Truck Crossbar with 4 pcs Tie Down Straps

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The Leader Accessories folding rack is actually a two-pack of folding J-style racks that will require your vehicle to have existing crossbars for a secure installation.

These racks, however, can fit on square bars and factory-installed oval and aerodynamic bars (this only excludes round bars).

Each rack is rated to hold a maximum load of 100 pounds and they are built with powder-coated steel to minimize rust and corrosion over their lifetime.

They also feature a quick-release button that allows you to fold them down or set them up for kayak transporting with a simple lever.

This easy folding ability will allow you to keep these racks permanently installed on your vehicle’s roof whether you’re transporting kayaks or not. These racks also come with a total of four cam-style tie-down straps to help you secure your kayaks with ease.

4. WOOWAVE Roof Rack Pads

WOOWAVE Kayak Roof Rack Pads Universal Car Roof Rack Soft Premium Surf Crossbars Cross Bars for Surfboard SUP Paddleboard with 2 Waterproof Tie Down Straps and Portable Storage Bag, 33in Long (Pair)

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The WOOWAVE kayak roof rack pads are designed for vehicles that don’t have aftermarket or factory-installed crossbars.

Instead, these pads come with straps that run around the entire roof of your vehicle to provide a safe and secure loading spot for your kayak.

These pads are designed for a single kayak, but some users have reported strapping two kayaks on top of their vehicle with these pads.

While these pads do have a nice maximum thickness of 2.8 inches, we’d only recommend transporting two kayaks on them if you’re traveling a very short distance at slower speeds.

That being said, these pads are super convenient for smaller vehicles and they are one of the best ways to transport a kayak on a car without rails.

They are designed to accommodate kayaks with widths up to 33 inches and they come with their own storage bag so that you can keep them safe and secure when you’re not using them.

5. Best Marine Kayak Rack Pads

Best Marine Kayak Roof Rack Pads. 48” Premium Car Carrier Racks for Vehicles Without Crossbars. Rooftop Mount Accessories for Kayaks, Canoe and SUP Paddle Boards

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If you liked the idea of kayak roof rack pads from our previous selection, but you have a wider kayak, you might consider the Best Marine kayak roof rack pads. These pads have a maximum width of 48 inches to accommodate kayaks of larger sizes.

These roof rack pads are also constructed with 600-denier polyester fabric, which makes them a bit more rugged than the model we mentioned in the previous section.

They also feature shock-resistant EPE foam that helps to minimize vibrations and the potential for damage to your kayak or vehicle while in transit.

The Best Marine roof rack pads are designed for vehicles without crossbars or factory-installed rails on the roof.

They are also super easy to install and remove if you only need a roof rack for transporting kayaks once or twice a month!

6. Thule Xsporter Pro

Thule Xsporter PRO, Black, One Size

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The Thule Xsporter Pro is the only roof rack on our list that’s designed to be installed in the open bed of a truck. In addition to being able to handle up to two kayaks, this rack will also give you the versatility to transport lumber and other flat hardware or recreational equipment.

This rack offers a whopping maximum load capacity of 450 pounds and it is designed to be installed in most standard-sized truck beds without the need for any drilling or additional hardware.

It also boasts locking cylinders so that you can ensure its security and focus on how to lock your kayak to it instead.

The crossbars on this Thule rack measure 71 inches across, which will allow you to accommodate one large kayak or two smaller ones side-by-side.

And the vertical arms are adjustable so that you can raise or lower the height of the crossbars depending on your preference (although we wouldn’t recommend doing it while your kayak(s) are already loaded on).

7. TMS J-Bar Rack HD

 TMS J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Carrier Canoe Boat Surf Ski Roof Top Mounted on Car SUV Crossbar

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The TMS J-Bar Rack HD is a J-style rack without folding capacity. So, while it can certainly be permanently installed on your vehicle’s crossbars, it could have an adverse impact on your fuel economy when you’re not actively transporting a kayak.

This is a single J-style rack for one kayak and it boasts a maximum load capacity of up to 75 pounds. It’s also rated to safely transport kayaks up to 36 inches in width and it features a wide base for easier loading and unloading.

The TMS J-Bar rack is designed to fit round and square crossbars, but it may not work well with oval or aerodynamic bars (factory-installed or aftermarket).

This rack also features adjustable padding that allows you to make sure the sensitive areas of your kayak are protected while you’re in transit.

8. Best Marine Folding Rack

Best Marine Folding Kayak Roof Rack. Premium Car Carrier Racks for Kayaks, Surfboards and SUP Paddle Boards. J Bar Rooftop Mount Accessories for SUV, Car and Truck

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In addition to their kayak roof rack pads, Best Marine also manufactures an excellent set of folding J-style kayak racks.

These racks offer a maximum load capacity of 100 pounds and they are made from rust-resistant steel that’s both durable and designed to withstand the elements.

These racks can be installed on round or square crossbars with an ideal width of two inches.

And while it’s not ideal, they will be able to secure on factory-installed oval or aerodynamic crossbars with a maximum width of four inches.

This kayak roof rack also comes with two 12-foot cam-style tie-down straps and an additional two 15-foot safety ropes that will help you secure the bow and stern of your kayak down the front and rear bumpers of your vehicle, respectively.

9. Alfa Gear Roof Rack Pads

Alfa Gear Universal Extra Long Lightweight Anti-Vibration Roof Rack pad for SUP/Snow Board/Ski Board with Hood Loop and Truck Straps Products Size 37.8"X4.5"X3.1" 2 pcs/Set Black

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The Alfa Gear roof rack pads are another excellent choice for those of you with a vehicle that doesn’t already have crossbars or rails installed on the roof.

The straps that secure these pads down to your roof boast a maximum breaking strength of 1200 pounds, so you can rest assured they can handle your kayak and faster driving speeds.

In addition to the pads and the straps to secure the pads to your vehicle’s roof, this roof rack system also comes with two hood loop tie-down straps and two trunk tie down straps that provide secure anchor points for attaching bow and stern lines to the bumpers of your vehicle.

They also come with two pieces of heavy-duty polypropylene tie-down rope for this exact purpose. And because each of these pieces of rope are 16.4 feet long, this rack system can accommodate longer kayaks, even if you have a shorter vehicle.

10. Thule Hull-a-Port XT

Thule Hull-a-Port XT Rooftop Kayak Carrier Black, One Size

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The Thule Hull-a-Port XT is one of the more versatile rack systems on our list because it’s able to convert from a J-style rack to a stacking kayak carrier. That allows you to safely transport 1-2 kayaks with just one set of these racks.

This rack also helps to solve one of the dilemmas of strapping kayaks down to J-style racks by including a StrapCatch on the top arm of the rack.

This catch makes it easier to set your straps in place before you load your kayak without worrying about them slipping or sliding out of place during the loading process.

The Hull-a-Port XT also boasts a maximum load capacity of 75 pounds for one kayak and up to 130 pounds for two kayaks.

It’s designed to be installed on all types of load bars up to 80 millimeters in width and easily folds flat when you’re not using it so that it doesn’t have a harmful effect on your vehicle’s fuel economy.

11. Handirack Inflatable Roof Rack Pads

HandiRack Universal Inflatable Soft Roof Rack Bars (Pair); Tie-Downs and Bow and Stern Lines Included; Carries Kayaks, Canoes, Surfboards and SUPs

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The Handirack roof rack pads are the only set of inflatable pads on our list and they’re perfect for smaller sedans, station wagons, and SUVs.

The major benefit of having inflatable pads is that they’ll take up a minimal amount of space in your trunk when you’re not using them.

Keep in mind that these inflatable roof rack pads are designed for vehicles without crossbars or rails on the roof.

It is best if they are installed only when you’re going to be transporting kayaks, as opposed to a rack that permanently remains on the roof of your vehicle.

That said, these pads come with their own HandiPump for easy inflation and don’t require any additional tools for a complete installation. They also come with a travel bag for easy storage and two bow and stern tie-down lines for extra security.

12. Malone Stax Pro2

Malone Stax Pro2 Universal Car Rack Folding Kayak Carrier (2 Boat Carrier)

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The Malone Stax Pro2 is a T-style kayak rack that can accommodate up to two kayaks. This rack can be securely installed on round, square, and most factory-installed, oval-shaped crossbars.

The vertical arms on this rack fold down when you’re not using them to help maximize your fuel economy and reduce the risk of damaging them (or your vehicle) if passing under any low overpasses or overhanging branches.

This rack is rated for a maximum load capacity of up to 160 pounds and it’s designed to accommodate kayaks up to 32 inches wide.

It also comes with proprietary stacker blocks that provide a safe and cushioned resting place for your kayaks once they’re loaded on.

13. Malone Foldaway-5

The Malone Foldaway-5 is mounted at the center of your existing crossbars and it comes with two sets of mounting bolts that allow it to be safely installed on a wider selection of factory-installed and aftermarket crossbars.

This is a folding J-style roof rack that can accommodate up to two kayaks and has the ability to carry SUPs and canoes as well.

The arms on the rack also easily fold down with a quick-release lever to reduce drag while you’re not actively transporting anything on your roof.

14. ASMSW 4-Piece Rack

The ASMSW 4-Piece rack is a cradle-style rack that makes it easier to load your kayak from the rear of your vehicle. This technique is a useful one for smaller paddlers or those of you with heavier ocean fishing kayaks that aren’t the easiest to lift over your head.

This rack is built for a single kayak and it’s designed to fit crossbars with a maximum width of 3.5 inches. Its ability to handle a maximum load capacity of 165 pounds is one reason why it’s great for heavier kayaks and it can also accommodate canoes as well.

Additionally, the arms on this rack are entirely adjustable so that it can accommodate boats of varying widths.

It also features a low-profile design that will have a minimal impact on your vehicle’s fuel economy, but it can be installed or removed in seconds if you don’t want to keep it permanently affixed to your crossbars.

Our Pick – Malone Foldaway-5

The Malone Foldaway-5 kayak rack is our top pick because it’s one of the most versatile racks on our list.

It can accommodate one or two kayaks and can also adapt to allow you to carry a canoe or multiple rigid or inflatable paddle boards.

For us, that versatility is key if you’re into watersports. That’s because, from our experience, once you get bit by the paddling bug, you’ll probably end up experimenting with many different types of watercraft before all is said and done, and this rack will adapt right along with you!

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Author: Peter SalisburyPete is the Owner of KayakHelp.com. Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, he grew up kayaking, fishing, sailing, and partaking in outdoor adventures around the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him skiing in the mountains, reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.

Welcome! I’m so glad you are here :-) I’m Pete. I am the owner of KayakHelp.com. I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, I grew up kayaking, fishing, sailing, and partaking in outdoor adventures around the Great Lakes. When I am not out on the water, you can find me skiing in the mountains, reading my favorite books, and spending time with my family.

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