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What is the best kayak roof rack?

Kayaking is good exercise and a great way to connect with nature. But getting your kayak to the water and easily removed from your vehicle can be difficult. Kayaks are awkward to carry, and some are quite heavy.

Kayak roof racks are an excellent way to transport your kayaks to your favorite lake or river. They also make loading and unloading the kayaks easy on your back. The less you have to do, the sooner you can be on the water. The Yakima Jaylow Kayak Carrier is the best roof rack for its versatility to fit any size of kayak. 

What to know before you buy a kayak roof rack

Types of kayak roof racks

There are four types of kayak roof racks.

  • Foam pads are designed for short trips. The kayak sits on a foam pad that rests on your roof while strapped inside the car. This type is affordable and easy to install, but it isn’t designed for high-speed driving. 
  • Stackers are vertical posts that store kayaks next to each other. This maximizes the number of kayaks you can carry, up to four. This type is the best option for transporting multiple kayaks.
  • J-cradles are shaped like the letter J and have excellent stability. The kayaks are loaded from the side, which is easier than lifting from behind the car. J-cradles can hold multiple kayaks.
  • Saddles are V-shaped with a ratchet strap. They are aerodynamically designed and stand up to high winds. They are quieter than other types. Saddles only hold one kayak at a time. If you have multiple kayaks, you will need multiple saddles.

Will your car roof hold a kayak rack?

Cars with crossbars have multiple options. They can use stackers, J-cradles and saddles. Cars with side rails or bare roofs need foam pads. Foam pads can be difficult to fit around crossbars.

How often do you kayak?

If you kayak once or twice a year, look for affordable and simple roof racks that can be easily installed and removed. 

If you kayak on a regular basis, more expensive roof racks provide a greater return on investment. Racks that are made from sturdy materials and designed for long trips will stand up better over time. 

What to look for in a quality kayak roof rack


Steel-farmed roof racks are sturdy and last over the long haul. They also are resistant to rust. Plastic and aluminum frames are less expensive but susceptible to breaking or bending, which can cause the kayak to fall off. Consider your budget and how often you kayak when deciding which material is best for you.

Ratchet straps

Ratchet straps are an important security feature for holding the kayak in place. They can wear down over time. Diligently inspect the straps each time you transport your kayaks and replace them immediately at the first sign of fraying. 

Foam padding

Padding for roof racks is made from high density polyethylene foam. This type of foam grips the car roof without scratching it. It also provides a firm grip against the kayak to hold it in place.

Lift-assist system

More expensive roof racks employ a lift assist system.  This is ideal for shorter kayakers or anyone with a tall vehicle. The lift-assist features are rollers or bars that slide out and lower, so you don’t have to lift the kayak as high. It prevents injuries and makes the day more enjoyable.

How much you can expect to spend on a kayak roof rack

Foam pads are priced between $30-$60 and provide basic protection. For $60-$150, you can buy a stacker, saddle or J-cradle with all the basic features. Roof racks with assistive lift systems cost between $150-$300.

Kayak roof rack FAQ

What if I need to transport a lot of kayaks?

A. Saddles and foam pads may only be able to accommodate a single kayak. J-cradles hold two kayaks. Stackers are best for transporting up to four kayaks at once. 

Do you have to drill holes in your crossbar?

A. Roof racks install easily without having to drill through your car’s crossbar. If you plan to have a permanent roof rack, drilling holes provides greater stability.

What’s the best kayak roof rack to buy?

Top kayak roof rack

Best Yakima Jaylow Kayak Carrier

Yakima Jaylow Kayak Carrier

What you need to know: This versatile carrier can carry two kayaks vertically or a single kayak in the J-cradle position.

What you’ll love: This carrier supports kayaks of all shapes, sizes and weights. It fits most crossbars with a minimum spread of two feet. An integrated cam lever adjusts the upright position. It includes tie-downs and straps and doesn’t require tools.

What you should consider: This is the most expensive roof rack, but it accommodates all sizes of kayaks.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon 

Top kayak roof rack for the money

Best TMS J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Carrier

TMS J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Carrier

What you need to know: This affordable carrier has sturdy steel construction and a J-bar design for easy loading. 

What you’ll love: Accommodating kayaks up to 36 inches wide and 75 pounds, this carrier mounts to most crossbars. It maximizes space by loading kayaks on their side. It has a rust-resistant coating and comes with two straps. 

What you should consider: There were some reports that the cinch straps are not long enough for larger kayaks. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Best Artipoly Kayak Roof Rack Carrier

Artipoly Kayak Roof Rack Carrier

What you need to know: This carrier assembles quickly and can hold a kayak up to 165 pounds.

What you’ll love: Made from aviation-grade aluminum, the horizontal bar provides excellent stability. It has a rubber pedal and foam protector to prevent scratching. The universal J-bar rack rises and folds down easily.

What you should consider: There were some concerns that the rope frayed easily. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon 

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Steve Ganger writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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