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
Best Kayak Roof Rack
- 1. Malone Downloader
- 2. IKURAM Folding Rack
- 3. Leader Accessories Folding Rack
- 4. WOOWAVE Roof Rack Pads
- 5. Best Marine Kayak Rack Pads
- 6. Thule Xsporter Pro
- 7. TMS J-Bar Rack HD
- 8. Best Marine Folding Rack
- 9. Alfa Gear Roof Rack Pads
- 10. Thule Hull-a-Port XT
- 11. Handirack Inflatable Roof Rack Pads
- 12. Malone Stax Pro2
- 13. Malone Foldaway-5
- 14. ASMSW 4-Piece Rack
- Our Pick – Malone Foldaway-5
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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.
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.
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.
Best Kayak Roof Rack
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!