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Last Updated on March 26, 2020 by Team TRA

Kayaking as a sport has been on the rise for a number of years, with more than 15.9 million Americans now taking to the water with a double-bladed paddle each year. Transporting your kayaks is often a problem you need to solve before you even start kayaking. Buying the best kayak roof rack is where you need to start.

Why Roof Racks?

Like any sport, kayaking requires some gear if you want to enjoy it to the fullest. The right boat, paddle, and life jacket are obviously important. But if you want to get to and from the water with your new gear, you’ll also need a roof rack. After all, that 15 foot, 18 foot, or even longer boat isn’t likely to fit in the trunk.

Keep reading to learn what you need to know about choosing the best kayak roof rack, as well as a few of the top picks available today.

Top 10 Best Kayak Roof Racks

Before checking out what to look for when buying a kayak roof rack, you can peruse through our list we’ve compiled for your convenience. Here are 10 of the best kayak rood racks on the market today.

1. HandiRack

Best Kayak Rack for Small Vehicles

Best Kayak Rack for Small Vehicles

Whether you’re new to the sport, need your roof for other purposes, or are worried you’ll have trouble getting on your roof to add or remove a rack, this is a good option for you.

The Malone HandiRack is actually an inflatable roof rack. It features two inflatable pads made from 420-denier nylon.

These pads don’t require any kind of tools or equipment to install. All you do is run them from side to side inside of your vehicle’s front and back doors. Then, inflate them with the double action pump and you’re ready to go. This rack can hold kayaks of any size or shape, luggage racks, and more.

2. TMS J-Bar Rack

Best Kayak Car Rack for the Money

Best Kayak Car Rack for the Money

If you’re looking for an affordable kayak rack, this classic option is not the only budget-friendly, but also easy to use.

It features J-shaped bars that hold your kayak upright. This means that you can hold two kayaks on your roof, just as long as you have two sets of these bars. While this rack is easy to install, it’s also tough, which means it will hold up to years of use.

3. Thule 898 Hullavator

Best Folding Kayak Rack

Best Folding Kayak Rack

When you own expensive kayaks that you’re proud of and want to protect, it might be time to invest in a professional rack as well.

The Thule 898 Hullavator offers superior quality and durability. It also features a design that is simple to use. One of the biggest benefits of this rack is that it makes it possible to load even larger boats with ease, by lowering the rack to waist level and helping you lift your boat from there.

This means fewer scuffs and bumps while loading, which will save you from having to buff out your car more

4. Thule Hull-a-Port Pro

Best Kayak Roof Rack for SUVs

Best Kayak Roof Rack for SUVs

Thule offers a wide range of professional, high-tech racks. But they’ve also mastered the classics.

This J-shape rack is much higher quality than cheaper models, which means it will last you through years of heavy use. If you want the quality of Thule but aren’t ready to invest in one of their newer models, this is a great option.

5. Malone Telos Load Assist

Best Kayak Rack Accessory

Best Kayak Rack Accessory

Thule isn’t the only brand that offers a load assist feature with its rack.

Malone’s Telos Load Assist module attaches to several of their standard kayak rooftop racks. While not a rack on its own, it can turn any of Malone’s superior racks into an easier-to-use model for smaller paddlers, those with back problems, or even kayakers with a disability that makes it difficult to load their own boat.

The average kayak can weigh anywhere from 20 to 80 pounds. Even stronger paddlers may struggle to lift larger boats without help. This rack can fix that.

6. The Kayak Wing

Best Sea Kayak Rack

Best Sea Kayak Rack

The unique shape of this model not only helps it stand out among J-shape racks and crossbars. The Kayak Wing features wing-shaped pieces that you slide your kayak into. The straps are already attached directly to the rack, making it quick and easy to secure your boat. This rack also features a low profile, making it ideal for those who don’t want an oversized rack crowding the top of their car.

This rack is also easier to load boats onto, as you won’t have to tilt your kayak on its side to load it. This is great if you have a larger kayak or a taller car.

7. Malone SeaWing Saddle Style

Low Profile Roof Rack

Low Profile Roof Rack

The Kayak Wing isn’t the only model of that shape on the market.

If your budget has some room, Malone’s SeaWing Saddle Style features a flexible design that cradles your kayak. The low profile design helps keep your boat closer to the roof of your car, which can actually help improve your gas mileage while you’re transporting kayaks.

8. Seah Hardware Universal Roof Bars

Best Affordable Kayak Rack

Best Affordable Kayak Rack

Many rooftop kayak carriers require your vehicle to already have cross-bars installed. But not all cars come equipped with these or are able to have them installed. In that case, you’re left strapping your kayak directly to the roof of your car, which is more difficult and far less stable.

The Seah Hardware Universal Roof Bar allows you to add cross-bars to any vehicle, no matter the size or shape. You can then add a kayak roof rack to the bars, or attack 

9. Stanley Universal Rack Pad

Easy to Use

Easy to Use

Similar in style to the first rack on this list, the Stanley Universal Rack Pad is an easy to use universal roof rack that can hold boats, luggage racks and more. It’s ideal for cars without cross-bars or those who want a low profile, flexible rack.

The Stanley Universal Rack Pad doesn’t require any inflating, which makes it easier to install when you’re in a hurry.

10. Onefeng Sports Saddle

Best Kayak Rack for Large Boats

Best Kayak Rack for Large Boats

Another great low profile kayak rack that’s ideal for wide boats is the Onefeng Sports Saddle. These are installed at a much wider stance, which means it can hold boats that are too large for other racks.

Like the wing-style racks, this carrier also doesn’t require you to tilt your kayak while loading it, which makes it much easier to use, particularly on tall vehicles or with heavy kayaks.

Things to Consider Before You Buy the Best Kayak Roof Rack

Choosing the best kayak car rack is far from a one-size-fits-all solution. Here are a few things to consider before you make your kayak roof rack purchase:

  • the type of car you drive
  • the number of kayaks you need to transport
  • the size of your kayaks
  • your own physical capabilities

Fail to take these things into consideration, and you’ll end up with a rack that doesn’t suit your needs or that you struggle to use. There are several important details you’ll want to think about in-depth before you start shopping for a rack.

How Often You’ll Use Your Rack

How often you plan to use your kayak rack might seem like an odd question. But it can have an effect on what kind of rack will work best for you. That’s because some kayak racks are designed to be installed on your vehicle and left there. You won’t take it off, even when you aren’t transporting kayaks. 

This style is ideal for those who kayak often and want a rack that they can set up and use without having to worry about constantly taking it on and off. These racks are often more secure and easier to use as well.

But if you don’t kayak multiple times a month, or if you use a luggage rack or rooftop bike rack, you might want the option of quickly removing your kayak rack. In this case, you’ll want a model designed to be removed when not in use. If you choose to cover your car when you’re not using it, you’ll also want to make sure you choose a removable option.

How Many Kayaks You Have

Some kayak racks are designed to hold a single boat, while others are equipped to handle, 2 boats, 3 boats, or even more. Before you buy a rack, you’ll need to make sure it can hold any and all boats you plan to transport. This includes not just your own, but any of your friends’ boats that you might also be moving.

Car Size and Kayak Size

Finally, once you’re actually shopping for a kayak rack, keep in mind that not all models will fit all vehicle types. Likewise, not all kayak racks are designed to fit every size or shape of the kayak. A rack designed to fit sea kayaks might not be able to properly hold a smaller whitewater boat, and vice versa.

Getting Where You Need to Go

best kayak roof rack

Having the best kayak roof rack on the market won’t do you any good if you don’t use it properly.

Any time you’re buying a piece of equipment that modifies the outside of your vehicle, proper installation, and use are a must. Putting it on wrong or using it for purposes outside of its recommended use can lead to the rack failing while you’re driving down the road.

  • Your kayaks could fall off, crashing into the road and ruining your gear, or worse, hitting another vehicle.
  • Your entire car rack could even fall off, causing a potentially life-threatening situation.

Always be sure to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to install and use your new rack. If you aren’t experienced in installing sports racks to your vehicle, you might also consider getting a second opinion or having it professionally installed to make sure that it’s on there correctly.

Installing and using your kayak rack correctly will help protect both your boat and your vehicle. Just as using a jack stand incorrectly can cause your vehicle to fall and possibly damage it, putting your rack on wrong can leave you with a broken kayak scattered across the highway.

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