Best Kayak Roof Racks – Safe & Easy Setup

updated 2021

Transporting a kayak is not always easy. After all, even recreational kayaks are too long to fit in the trunk of your car.

Inflatable and folding kayaks are one way to get around this problem. Still, most paddling purists prefer more traditional rigid kayaks.

While you could load your kayak on to a trailer, this is not always the best option. Kayak trailers can be expensive, and you’ll also need to fit your car with a towing hook.

Another way to transport your kayak is with a roof rack. Kayak roof racks are usually cheaper than trailers, easier to fit, and you don’t need to modify your car. They can also be removed when not in use.

Malone Roof Rack

Malone Downloader


  • J-style kayak carrier
  • Proper padding to protect the kayak

Thule Xsporter Pro

Thule Xsporter Pro


  • One of the best roof racks for kayaks that money can get
  • Easy & quick installation

Rhino-Rack 570

rhino rack


  • Affordable but very durable roof rack
  • 180 degree rotation to allow easy kayak loading

The Best Kayak Roof Rack: Thule Xsporter Pro

Check Price on REI

If you’ve got a truck, you may not be able to use a standard kayak roof rack. However, the good news is that this model is perfect for truck owners and provides a very secure way to transport your kayak.

Key features:

  • Designed specifically for trucks
  • Long enough to transport tandem and touring kayaks
  • Adjustable height
  • Rust-resistant aluminum construction
  • Lockable for extra security
  • Load capacity 450 lb.

Costing almost as much as a budget-price trailer, this kayak roof rack is not exactly a cheap transport option. Still, it is one of the best ways to carry your kayak in a flatbed truck. Thule products are made in Sweden and are excellent quality and incredibly long-lasting, so this product is very much an investment.


  • Easy to fit
  • High weight capacity
  • Aerodynamic for less wind resistance and noise
  • Compatible with Thule roof boxes and other accessories


  • Expensive

If you’ve got a truck and don’t want to load your kayak onto a trailer, this product is your next-best option. It’s not the cheapest kayak roof rack, but it’s a very high-quality product that should last many years.

HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack Bars

Check Price on AMAZON 

Most kayak racks need to be fixed to existing roof bars, but not all cars come with them fitted as standard. Roof bars can be expensive, and then you need to buy a kayak roof rack as well, further increasing the cost. These light, removable, inflatable roof bars work without any additional extras. They are a very cost-effective alternative to other kayak roof racks.

Key features:

  • Universal fit – suitable for all cars and trucks
  • Inflatable for protection and compact storage
  • Tie-down straps included
  • Lightweight and easy to fit and remove
  • Can accommodate multiple kayaks positioned side by side

Fitted and removed in seconds, these inflatable roof bars are a very budget-friendly kayak roof rack. With the supplied tie-down straps, you can secure up to two kayaks to almost any car, although you may want to use additional tie-downs for longer journeys.


  • Can be used on multiple cars
  • Inflatable bars protect both the roof of your vehicle and the kayak
  • No tools required for assembly
  • Very cost-effective
  • Compact design for easy storage when not in use


  • Not suitable for long or high-speed journeys

Lightweight, cheap, and easy to fit, these inflatable roof bars are ideal for transporting one or two kayaks over short distances and at sensible speeds. They’re not really suitable for long-haul trips, but for occasional use, they are perfect.

TMS J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Carrier

Check Price on AMAZON

If your car or SUV already has crossbars, this product is all you need to carry your kayak safely and securely. Using J-bars, your kayak is carried on its side, which makes it easy to load and unload your boat, even if you are on your own.

Key features:

  • Steel construction
  • 75 lb. weight capacity
  • Padded J-bars to hold and protect your kayak
  • Supplied with two tie-down straps

Whether you’ve got round or square roof bars, this model should fit perfectly. Attached in minutes, the J-bars support your kayak perfectly for secure and safe transport. Use the included tie-down straps to keep it in place, even on long journeys.


  • Cost-effective
  • Easy to fit
  • Easy loading/unloading of kayak
  • Neat, aerodynamic design


  • Roof bars not supplied
  • May be difficult for shorter users

Providing you’ve already got a vehicle with roof bars, and only want to transport one boat, these J-bars are the ideal solution. Easy to fit and very cost-effective, they make taking your kayak down to the water a pleasure and not a chore.

Rhino-Rack Nautic Kayak/Canoe Carrier 

Check Price on AMAZON

While J-bar kayak roof racks are very popular, they are not always the easiest to use.

Not only do you have to lift your kayak onto the roof of your vehicle, but you also need to flip it onto its side. Not easy if you aren’t that tall or have a high-roofed car.

This saddle-style roof rack may be an easier option for shorter users.

Key features:

  • Compatible with most brands of roof bars
  • Supplied with four tie-down straps
  • Large 3” x 8” contact area on each pad
  • 180-degree rotating pads for rear or side loading
  • Easy fit and remove design
  • 5-year warranty
  • Waterproof and corrosion-resistant

Once you have adjusted the width of the four foam pads, all you need to do is lift your kayak onto the roof of your vehicle and lay it in the saddles. Your boat will sit snug and secure and won’t budge an inch once you have tied it down with the supplied straps.

Easy to use, this universal roof rack won’t damage your precious kayak.

Roof rack setup – perfect for kayak transportation.


  • Easy to fit and use
  • Secured using Allen bolts – key supplied
  • Suitable for most kayaks
  • Unobtrusive design
  • Built to last


  • Quite expensive
  • Roof bars not included

If you already have roof bars, this product provides an easy way to transport your kayak. Keeping your kayak flat also means you can put things like your paddle and life preserver inside your boat to save space during transport.

Easy to use, with this roof rack you’ll have no problem loading up your kayak – even if you are on your own.

Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Universal Car Rack

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Most J-bar kayak roof racks are quite obtrusive. That’s not a problem when you’ve got your kayak on your roof, but it can be when you haven’t. The uprights will increase wind resistance and road noise, and they also look unsightly.

This roof rack model folds down flat when not in use, creating a lower profile for less wind resistance.

Key features:

  • Oversized padded J-style supports to keep your kayak safe and secure
  • Fits most roof bars
  • Built-in boarding ramps for easier loading
  • Supplied with two tie-down straps

This roof rack holds your kayak very securely on the top of your car, making it ideal for longer or more frequent trips to the water.

Even better, you can just fold it down when you don’t want to use it to save you from having to remove it between trips. Well made, this is a high-quality product.

Here’s all that’s included in the Malone roof rack kit.


  • Easy to fit and remove using a single Allen key
  • Very snug and secure
  • Won’t damage your kayak
  • Supplied with all necessary straps, bolts, and tools
  • Hardwearing design


  • Quite expensive
  • Roof bars not included

This kayak roof rack by Malone is made for serious paddlers.

It has some handy features not found on other products, including mini boarding ramps, to make getting your kayak on your roof as easy as possible. This is a heavy-duty product that should provide years of reliable service.

Which Kayak Roof Rack is Best?

Buying the best kayak roof rack can be a tricky process. After all, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of different models available. Consider the following before making your purchase.

Roof Rack Price

Kayak roof racks are much cheaper than kayak trailers, but they still cost money. Set your budget early and then stick to it. You don’t need the most expensive kayak roof rack to safely transport your boat. In fact, lower price models can be every bit as effective as a more expensive roof rack.

Vehicle make and model

Whether you’ve got a compact car, an SUV, or even a truck, there will be plenty kayak carriers that are right for you.

But, you must make sure that the roof rack you are going to buy will actually fit your car and attach securely. Similarly, if your vehicle has roof bars already, make sure the rack you are thinking of buying will fit it properly.

Check The MALONE Roof Rack on AMAZON

The number of kayaks

Some roof racks are designed to carry just one kayak, while others can carry two or even more. Seek out racks that meet your transport needs so you can take as many kayaks as your trip requires.

Rack height

Remember that you have to be able to reach your roof rack to load and tie down your kayaks. Some racks are higher than others, so make sure you’ll be able to reach your rack comfortably or that you have a way to lift yourself up so you can, such as a portable step.

Types of kayak roof rack

There are several different styles of kayak car roof rack, and each one has advantages and disadvantages. The main types of roof racks are:

  • J-cradles – to transport kayaks on their sides
  • Saddles – to transport kayaks right side up
  • Foam blocks – lightweight and cheap and ideal for short journeys

With all this information at your fingertips, you should have no problem choosing the best kayak car roof rack. Still not sure where to start? No problem! Here are five of our favorite kayak roof racks, all tried and tested for you.

Can I put a kayak on my roof rack?

Yes! I have been doing it for years and I never regret this.

I used to be a kayak trailer maximalist but I once tried my friend’s roof racks. More comfort and ease of use. Also no worries related to driving around with a trailer attached to the car.


Providing you are strong enough and tall enough to lift your kayak onto the roof of your vehicle, kayak roof racks are easy to use. While they will affect your vehicle’s handling, and you may need to drive a little slower than usual, they are less obtrusive than trailers. You can also leave them in place, so you are always ready for a trip to the water. Available in a range of styles and prices, you should have no problem finding a kayak roof rack that’s right for you.

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