Kayak Trailers vs Kayak Roof Racks – Pros & Cons

Guide updated in January 2021

Getting your kayak from your home to the water is not always easy.

If you’ve got an inflatable or folding kayak, you can just stow it in your trunk and drive to your destination. But what if you’ve got a rigid kayak? 

You could buy a camper van or similar but, assuming you aren’t a hippie surfer, you are left with two other choices – kayak trailers and kayak roof racks.

Kayak trailers vs Roof Racks: Let’s weigh up the pros and cons so you can decide.

Kayak trailers: Better Capacity and Flexibility

Kayak trailers are generally made from steel or aluminum, and you tow them behind your car. Most trailers allow you to carry more than one kayak, but some are designed just to take a single boat.

The PROS of using a kayak trailer include:

  • Easy to load and unload – most kayak trailers are only a few feet high, so you don’t have to lift your boat very high. That’s good news if you aren’t especially strong or tall.
  • Better aerodynamics – as they are behind your car, your trailer won’t increase wind resistance very much, and so they shouldn’t affect your vehicle’s performance or economy either.
  • Easy to attach and detach – unhook your trailer in seconds and leave it home when you don’t need it.
  • Carry more than kayaks – most trailers allow you to carry things like bikes, small boats, camping gear, and other outdoor essentials. More weight and multiple boats can be carried.

Malone MicroSport

malone best trailer


  • Easily transports 4 kayaks
  • 12in wheels

Yakima Trailer

yakima expensive


  • Amazing construction quality
  • 16in wheels

Ironton Trailer

irontop trailer cheap


  • Affodable, quality kayak trailer
  • Uses 12in tires

The CONS of using a kayak trailer include:

  • You’ll need a tow-hook – tow hooks aren’t fitted as standard, so, as well as buying a trailer, you’ll also need to pay for a tow hook and get it installed.
  • Driving with a trailer is a skill – towing a kayak trailer more than doubles the length of your vehicle. Trailers can roll if you corner to fast, may affect braking distances, and reversing can be a challenge too. Some people do not enjoy or cannot master driving with a trailer.
  • Storage – once it’s unhitched, do you have somewhere to store your trailer? They are quite long and wide, so you’ll need a good-sized garage, yard, or driveway.
  • Cost – trailers tend to be expensive, although there are budget-priced models available.
  • Servicing – to stay safe, you need to maintain your trailer to ensure it is road-worthy. This will incur an ongoing cost.

Trailers are bulky and pricey, but their flexibility is unmatched.

Whether you need to transport heavy sea kayaks or four kayaks for your whole family, kayak trailers are great. They usually got plenty of extra space for other boats and things as well.

Kayak roof racks: Compact and Cheaper

Kayak roof racks are available in a variety of sizes, styles, and prices. They provide an accessible and convenient way to transport your kayaks to the water.

The PROS of using a kayak roof rack include:

  • Easy to fit, remove, and store – while you can leave a kayak roof rack in place when you aren’t using your vehicle to transport your boat, they are also easy to remove and refit if you want to. Most only need an Allen key. Once removed, kayak roof racks don’t take up much storage space either.
  • Price – kayak roof racks are invariably cheaper than most trailers. If you have already got roof bars, all you need is J-bars and tie-down straps, and you are good to go.
  • No need to modify your vehicle – other than roof bars, which many cars have as standard, you won’t need to alter your vehicle in any way to use a kayak rack.
  • You don’t need any special driving skills – other than driving a little slower, you won’t need to modify the way you drive with a kayak on your roof, and it won’t affect your ability to maneuver or reverse.
  • No servicing required – other than making sure your kayak roof rack is securely fastened to your vehicle, it shouldn’t need any additional care or attention.

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 CONS of using a kayak roof rack include:

  • You will only be able to transport 1-2 kayaks – some trailers can hold six or more kayaks. Kayak roof racks are not big or strong enough to carry more than one or two.
  • Increased wind resistance – driving your vehicle with a big sea kayak on top will significantly decrease your aerodynamics. This will reduce your top speed and may also affect your gas mileage.
  • Less overhead clearance – it’s easy to forget you have a kayak on your roof until you have to go under a low bridge, overhanging tree branch, or any other place where height is restricted. Hitting anything overhead will damage your kayak, roof rack, and maybe your car too.
  • Harder to load and unload – unless you are very tall and strong, loading and unloading a kayak can be a test of strength and reach. If you are a solo paddler, you may find this task very challenging, and dropping your kayak could damage both it and your vehicle.

Say you only need to carry two kayaks, roof racks can be a great option. Easy to setup, a rack system makes loading and unloading easy and straightforward. This makes a roof rack a great kayak carrier.

So, which is best Kayak Roof Racks or Kayak Trailers?

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to say which of these two options is best as they both offer pros and cons.

For example, where trailers are definitely easier to load and unload, they are also more expensive and can make driving more challenging. In contrast, roof racks are much cheaper and easier to store, but getting your kayak on and off can be tricky, especially if you are on your own.

Ultimately, to decide between a kayak trailer and a roof rack, you need to consider what you want, what you can afford, and what you can live with. Which is best? The answer depends on you.

2 thoughts on “Kayak Trailers vs Kayak Roof Racks – Pros & Cons”

  1. Very good intro article to know more about trailers and roof racks. I would add as a distinction, that seems fairly obvious, that a trailer is bulkier and it might make sense when you need to transport several of them. I’m not sure that I would get a trailer if I only have 1 or two kayaks.


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