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Securing Your Boat on Your Car: 6 Best Kayak Roof Racks

Unless you’re one of the lucky people who live right next to some white water, chances are you will have to transport your kayaks to find the best runs. A typical family vehicle isn’t made for carrying kayaks on its roof, although you may be able to rig a contraption with bungees, towels and ropes. 

Kayak roof racks are much safer and more reliable than a pulled-together solution that may not keep your kayaks secured to your car’s roof; you don’t want your kayak falling off your vehicle when you take a sharp turn or flying off on the highway. 

These safety devices come in several designs, each honed for your vehicle’s specifications. Here are some of the most common kayak roof rack designs you’ll see when you’re purchasing one of these infinitely valuable devices.

kayak on car roof

Types of Roof Racks

There are a couple of different designs you’ll come across when shopping for a new kayak roof rack: crossbar, saddles, J-style, stackers, rollers and pads. 

Crossbar

This is the essential starting point for any kayak holding contraption you are putting on the roof of your car. Two crossbars go across the top of your vehicle as support for the kayaks. Crossbars are usually made of rubber and metal to keep your car roof or kayak from being scratched.

Saddles

A saddle rack attaches to the crossbars and has two grips that cradle your kayak from below. 

J-Style

This holding device is convenient because you can load your kayaks from either side of your car into the J-shaped components. 

Stackers

Best for small kayaks, with a stacker device you can transport multiple kayaks simultaneously if you have a few paddlers in your household. 

Rollers

These security devices clip onto the crossbar and sport rollers on the top side. You can load kayaks from either side of your vehicle with rollers. 

Pads

You don’t need a crossbar for pads, and these types of security devices for kayaks are easy to install. Pads protect your roof, and the material they’re made from creates pressure to keep your kayaks in place. 

kayak fishing

Once you know which type of roof rack is best for your vehicle and lifestyle, you can pick up the right one for your paddling obsession. If you are wondering how to transport a kayak, here are the six best kayak roof racks on the market so you can get on the water more quickly and more often. 

1. Rhino-Rack Nautic Roof Rack

This kayak rack is a saddle-style design with four cradles made of durable Santoprene, a thermoplastic elastomer (TPE). There’s a lot of surface contact area with a Rhino-Rack Nautic that ensures a very secure kayak no matter the road conditions. 

Pads swivel 180˚ for easy loading, so you can pull it toward the edge of your car’s roof, put your kayak on the rack and roll it into a transposition position. This allows one person to load a kayak without using a ladder. 

2. Yakima JayLow Folding J-Cradle Rooftop Kayak Rack

Specific kayak models are longer and more unwieldy than others, making them difficult to secure with just straps or racks. Two benefits of this J-style rack are that it comes out of the box fully assembled, and the arm has two locked positions to expand its utility. 

You don’t need any tools for assembly or to secure it to your vehicle, but note you need at least 24 inches between the crossbars for a Yakima JayLow. You can lock the arm of the JayLow into a 45˚ angle for a J-style design or a 90˚ angle for a stackable configuration.

3. T-Motorsports J-Bar Kayak Rack

If you have a variety of watercraft, like kayaks, paddleboards and surfboards, and want a roof rack that can carry quite a few different types of light craft, the TMS J-Bar rack is an ideal option. This rack can hold kayaks and other craft up to 75 lbs. and 36 inches wide. 

You can mount a TMS J-Bar rack on any type of crossbar currently on the market. With adjustable pads and constructed of rugged steel, the J-Bar protects both your boats and your car’s exterior from damage.  

4. Thule Hull-a-Port Pro Kayak Carrier

This popular J-style design is made to take a beating. Constructed of solid, durable materials, it has a wide mouth for easy loading. When you’re not using it, you can fold the Hull-a-Port Pro down in compliance with any height restrictions. 

The tie-down set-up is also a thoughtful and practical design, as the package comes with two straps, two ratcheting tie-downs and buckle protectors. With thick padding, you can be sure your boats and your vehicle will not be damaged in transit. 

5. Thule 830 The Stacker Kayak Carrier

This stacker carrier is made to transport multiple kayaks at once in a stacked configuration. If you’re heading out for kayak bass fishing with buddies and need a reliable system to get your kayaks there, you may want the stacker design. 

You can carry two kayaks with one carrier, and you can buy two packages if you want to have four kayaks on your car. Perpendicular posts are bolted into crossbars, and you lean your kayak against this post and strap it down, adding posts as you need them.

The stacking portions of this carrying system fold down to reduce drag when not in use, and it can accommodate kayaks 10 feet long and 34 inches wide. This is an attractive option with a practical price point that works well for multiple boats. 

6. Malone HandiRack Inflatable Roof Rack

If you only want to dip your toe into the different devices used to secure kayaks to your car, this inflatable HandiRack is a perfect way to start. Two inflatable pads made of nylon lie across your roof with five D-ring anchor points to keep it secured to your vehicle. 

The manufacturers claim these pads, which you fill with the double-action pump the Malone system comes with, have a 180-lb. weight limit, but this may be too much for highway travel, so start slow if you have a lot of weight up top.

kayak fishing

Safely Transport Your Kayaks and Enjoy the Rapids More Often

Kayaking is an adventurous undertaking, and part of the fun is exploring different waterways in your craft. To get to those untouched and gorgeous corners of the backcountry, you need a reliable and trustworthy way to tote your kayaks on your car. 

Start with crossbars, and decide which roof rack design is best for your lifestyle. If you are a novice in this sport, you can try inflatable racks first, as they are the simplest to install and use. If you’re a little more serious, you can opt for a J-style or saddle roof rack. 

Your skills are only as good as your gear, and transporting kayaks can be dangerous if done incorrectly. Get a high-quality roof rack to mitigate any danger. 

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