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Best Kayak Roof Racks

Updated November 2018
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 12 Models Considered
  • 6 Hours Researched
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 119 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Why trust BestReviews?
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

    Shopping guide for best kayak roof racks

    Last Updated November 2018

    Kayaking is a great way to spend a little time in nature and get some exercise to boot. Unfortunately for most of us, kayaking paradise is rarely just outside the back door. That means you have to pack up and drive somewhere. It’s a risky proposition if you don’t have a kayak roof rack to transport your kayak safely.

    These racks are specially designed to hold kayaks firmly in place. Some can even help make the loading and unloading process a little easier. But it’s important to make sure you know what you’re looking for before you purchase a kayak roof rack. There are several different styles, and some may not fit your roof. And then there are additional concerns like durability, the number of kayaks it can hold, and how easy it is to reach from the ground.

    BestReviews has put together this shopping guide to answer all of these questions and more, so you can choose the kayak roof rack that best fits your needs.

    You can place kayaks facing either forward or backward in a kayak roof rack, but depending on the shape of the kayak, one way might be more aerodynamic than the other.

    Types of kayak roof racks

    There are four main types of kayak roof rack: foam pads, saddles, J-cradles, and stackers.

    Foam pads

    Foam pads are a good temporary solution for short drives. The pads sit on your roof, and there are straps on either end that connect together inside your car. These are easy to install and remove and tend to be pretty affordable. However, foam pads aren’t as sturdy as the other types of roof racks. Foam pads could slip off at high speeds, so this type of rack isn’t best for long trips.

    Saddles

    Saddles are V-shaped rests with ratchet straps to support your kayak and hold it in place. There can be a single saddle under the middle of the kayak or two adjustable saddles that you place at each end of the kayak. These racks are more aerodynamic than other models, which means less noise when you drive and greater security in strong wind. A single saddle can only hold one kayak, so you’ll have to buy two if you wish to transport two kayaks on your car.

    J-Cradles

    J-cradles are shaped like the letter J. These are the most popular kayak roof racks because the footprint is much smaller. Because the kayak rests on its side instead of upright, it’s easier to fit more than one kayak on your car, even if your car has a narrow roof. J-cradles are also very secure. These racks enable you to load your kayak from the side rather than having to lift it over the back of the vehicle.

    Stackers

    Stackers are vertical posts that hold a kayak in place on its side. These are simple to install and use and are usually pretty affordable. This is your best option if you plan on hauling multiple kayaks at a time. Because the kayaks aren’t at an angle as on J-cradles, it’s possible to fit as many as four kayaks on a vehicle roof.

    FOR YOUR SAFETY

    For additional stability, strap the kayak to the front and back bumper of your vehicle.

    Kayak roof rack factors to consider

    Here are a few questions to help you home in on the right kayak roof rack for your needs.

    What type of car roof do you have? If your car has a bare roof, your only kayak rack option is foam pads. All of the other racks must be attached to crossbars. If your vehicle has side rails but no crossbars, you’re also limited to foam pads unless you add aftermarket crossbars. If your car has crossbars, you have more choices. You could have trouble fitting foam pads around crossbars, but the other types of kayak roof rack should work just fine.

    How many kayaks do you need to transport? If you’re using foam pads or saddles, you may only be able to fit one kayak – or two if it’s a wide roof. J-cradles will hold two – one on each side of the vehicle. Stackers are your best option if you need to transport more than two kayaks.

    How far will you be driving? Don’t choose foam pads if you’re going to be driving long distances or if it’s especially windy. Provided you’ve installed the rack correctly, any of the other three types should be fine on a long car trip.

    How often do you intend to kayak? There’s no sense buying a really expensive roof rack if you’re only going to use it once every year or two. Think about how often you’re going to realistically use it, so you don’t purchase something that’s a lot more than you need.

    If you intend to kayak often, it’s especially important to choose a sturdy roof rack. Most are easy to put on and remove, but if you’re going to be using it a lot, you might want to leave it on your car even when you’re not hauling a kayak.

    What is the kayak roof rack made of? It’s a good idea to avoid flimsier materials like plastic or aluminum. If the rack bends or breaks, your kayak could fall off. Go with a product that’s made of a sturdy material like steel that will hold up well over time. The rack could be spending a lot of time outside, so it’s important to make sure that it isn’t going to rust or corrode. This is especially important if you do a lot of sea kayaking because saltwater can be hard on these metals.

    How heavy is your kayak? Kayaks can be heavy and difficult to lift, especially if you’re short or your vehicle is very tall. It might be especially difficult to lift the kayak into J-cradles or stackers. And remember that it will likely be more difficult to lift the kayak after you’ve spent hours paddling on the water. Some kayak roof racks come with special lift-assist features like rollers or bars that slide out and bend down so you don’t have to lift the kayak as high to strap it in. This feature costs extra, but it might be worth it if you worry that it will be a struggle to get the kayak onto the roof rack.

    EXPERT TIP

    Always tie up any excess straps so they aren’t hanging down and flapping in the wind, which can cause them to wear out more quickly.


    Staff  | BestReviews
    EXPERT TIP

    If you’re traveling a long way, it’s a good idea to periodically stop and check that your ratchet straps haven’t loosened.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Kayak roof rack prices

    Kayak roof racks range in price from under $40 to over $100.

    Foam pads: You can find a decent foam pad roof rack for around $50 or less.

    Saddles, J-cradles, or stackers: You can expect to spend $80 to $150 apiece for these. Keep in mind that if you’re going to be transporting more than one kayak, you’ll need to purchase more than one roof rack. You can expect to pay well over $100 for a kayak roof rack with a lift-assist system, but not everyone needs one of these.

    Tips

    • Follow the installation instructions carefully. Always test the sturdiness of the rack before you load up your kayak and start driving.

    • Replace ratchet straps if needed. Ratchet straps can wear out over time, so keep an eye on them and replace if you see signs of fraying.

    • Position your kayak carefully. Always be careful when lifting your kayak onto the kayak rack to prevent denting or scraping the paint off your car’s roof.
    Cover your kayak with a cockpit cover to prevent bugs and other debris from getting into your kayak while driving.

    FAQ

    Q. Do I have to drill any holes in my vehicle’s crossbars in order to install a roof rack?

    A. In most cases, you shouldn’t have to. It might be worth doing if you plan to install a permanent roof rack, but most people should be able to install a roof rack easily without drilling any holes.

    Q. Will my old kayak roof rack fit my new car?

    A. Possibly. It all depends on the roof of your car. If it’s similar to your old car, the roof rack should transfer easily. Otherwise, you might have to think about making some adaptations, like getting aftermarket crossbars for your new car, or buying a different kayak roof rack.

    Q. Is it safe to take the kayak roof rack through the car wash?

    A. This generally isn’t advised. If your roof rack is tall, it could get caught on the car wash machinery. Also, if you leave it on, the car wash won’t be able to adequately clean underneath the roof rack.

    The team that worked on this review
    • Bronwyn
      Bronwyn
      Editor
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Eliza
      Eliza
      Production Manager
    • Kailey
      Kailey
      Writer
    • Linsay
      Linsay
      Editor
    • Melinda
      Melinda
      Web Producer
    • Stacey
      Stacey
      Writer

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