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The 10 Best Kayak Roof Racks In 2023

best kayak roof rack

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Kayaking is a great water sport, whether you want to have fun with friends or bask in nature by yourself. The problem is that to enjoy kayaking, you first have to get your kayak to the water. The simple solution is kayak roof racks – but not all are created alike. Keep reading to learn about the 10 best kayak roof racks, as well as a buying guide on what you should consider before making your purchase.

The 10 Best Kayak Roof Racks In 2023 Are:

For more of our top Kayaking gear recommendations, please check out these popular Humber Sport guide links: 2 Person Kayaks, Kayak Transport Carts, Kids Kayaks, Kayak Trailers, Kayak Paddles, Sun Aruba 10 Kayak Review or the Journey 12 kayak review

Once you have decided that you want to transport your kayak to your favorite location easily, check out these roof rack reviews to find the perfect kayak carrier in your budget for your car or SUV.

Best Kayak Car Carrier Compared

PictureRoof RackInstallationTypeRatingAvailability
#1Thule 898 Hullavator Pro
Thule 898 Hullavator Pro Kayak Lift Assist Carrier
DifficultFlat with Expandable Bas4.7
#2Yakima JayLow
Yakima JayLow Folding J-Cradle Rooftop Kayak Rack
#8Malone J-Downloader
Malone J-Downloader Kayak Carrier
#6TMS 2-Pair J-Bar
TMS 2-Pair J-Bar Racks
#3SportRack SR5527
SportRack SR5527 Adjustable Foam Kayak Carrier
#4Thule SlipStream
Thule SlipStream Mount Kayak Carrier
#5Yakima Showboat
Yakima Showboat
#7Thule 835 Hull-a-Port
Thule 835 Hull-a-Port Pro Kayak Carrier
#9Thule Dockglide
Thule Deckglide Kayak Saddle
#10Malone Auto Racks
Malone Auto Racks SeaWing Saddle

Kayak Roof Racks Reviews

1. Yakima JayLow Folding J-Cradle Rooftop Kayak Rack


Yakima JayLow Folding J-Cradle Rooftop Kayak Rack

If you don’t want to worry about uninstalling your carrier every time you go into a parking garage, this may be a good choice. It folds down for clearance and has the option of holding one or two kayaks, with one weight up to 80 pounds or 2 with a total weight of 110 pounds.

While the attachment for the crossbars is highly compatible, it does not fasten as securely on some types as it does on others. If there is air flow, it will create noise or whistling as you travel down the road.

This carrier can be installed without the use of tools, but the instructions are not very helpful and it can be difficult the first time. Some other notable features included padded contact points that prevent scratching of your kayak and your car, a rubber end that lets the straps attach to the kayak so they are not flapping around, and two tie downs to secure the kayak.

Yakima JayLow Folding J-Cradle Rooftop Kayak Rack installed

  • Folds down for easy storage
  • Tool-free installation
  • Area to secure tie down straps so they do not flap freely
  • Instructions are not very helpful
  • Compatible with most, but not secure on all of them
  • Can make a noise, especially when traveling without a kayak


2. SportRack SR5527 Adjustable Foam Kayak Carrier

SportRack SR5527 Adjustable Foam Kayak Carrier

If you do not want any hardware attached to your vehicle, but you still want to transport your kayak safely, this is a great choice. It is compatible with many lengths and widths of kayaks and most factory racks, SportsRack crossbar systems, square racks, and round racks. It is a very affordable option.

This set comes with foam blocks that sit on top of the car and tie downs. The foam blocks protect the contact points and are also non-skid, so they stay securely on your vehicle. It is all the security and safety you need, at a much lower cost and without any hassle.

One downside is that there is no assist to get it on top of the vehicle, once the blocks are in place. You will also need to be sure the straps are tightened well to secure the kayak. If you are moving especially fast, the system does vibrate a little.

  • Very affordable
  • Compatible with or without racks on top of the vehicle
  • No permanent hardware or installation
  • Can be difficult to get the kayak on top of your vehicle, especially alone
  • Vibrates a little at high speeds
  • Not a good choice for long distances


3. Thule SlipStream Mount Kayak Carrier

Thule SlipStream Mount Kayak Carrier

If you ever have gotten the urge to head out to the river alone to enjoy kayaking, this may be a good option. It has a roll assist, which supports half the kayak’s weight while you pull back and then roll it onto the top of the vehicle, for easy loading. It works with kayaks as wide as 36”.

Once on top of the vehicle, the kayak will sit on four padded pivoting saddles. These adjust to fit the shape of the hull. There are also bow and stern straps, for added security. The hardware is coated with a double layer of corrosion-resistant material over steel, which ensures a long lifetime of use.

This design is guaranteed compatible with AeroBlade and Square Bar roof racks. Since you have to load at an angle, you may want to put carpet down on the ground while loading and unloading, to protect the paint on your kayak. Additionally, some newer vehicles, especially crossover SUVs, have a contoured rear door area. This can make it hard to use the roll assist and can cause damage if you open your trunk while it is on top of the car.

  • Makes loading the kayak on top of the car significantly easier
  • Steel hardware and corrosion-resistant coating makes for a long lifetime of use
  • Pivoting saddles adjust to the shape of the hull
  • Limited compatibility with roof racks
  • Not a good choice for cars with contoured rear trunk area
  • May need a piece of carpet to prevent scratching your hull on the ground


4. Yakima Showboat

Yakima Showboat

If you do not have crossbars, this is a great option. It comes with two Yakima crossbars, each of them 66-inches. It works with factory crossbars, square or round crossbars, and any style of Yakima crossbar. You can use it alone to hold a kayak or use it with an additional kayak carrier for added security and easier loading.

This kit is padded to prevent scratching, but you will still want to buy a saddle and straps for additional security. It can be adjusted to load multiple kayaks on top of your vehicle. It works as a load assist, but its length means that it can be a problem if you have a particularly high hatchback. You may need to remove the kit before opening the trunk if this happens.

Like the load assist above, the bar pulls back and helps you get the kayak on top of your vehicle. It is a good choice for people who want to hit the water alone.

  • Easy rear loading
  • Padded to prevent scratching
  • Highly compatible, with or without crossbars
  • Need to buy an additional saddle and straps for security
  • Does not work well for vehicles with a high hatchback
  • May need to remove the kit before opening the trunk


5.TMS 2-Pair J-Bar Kayak Carrier

TMS 2-Pair J-Bar Racks

If you want an affordable kayak carrier with high compatibility, this is a good option. It works with crossbars on the vehicle, including flat, round, square, and oval. Since it loads kayaks vertically, it can be used to carry up to 2 kayaks (with the purchase of additional J-bar racks. This kit allows you to carry two.

The hardware has a steel design with a rust-resistant coating. There is also adjustable padding, which lets you protect your kayak where it needs it most. Installation is easy and it is even easier to remove. While the tools you need are included, it is actually easier to get this on top of your vehicle using a ratchet.

Something that sets this carrier apart is the lifetime warranty. It is nice to see a kayak carrier that stands behind their craftmanship with a guarantee. Another nice feature is partial disassembly, which lets you stow away your vehicle easier and save time next time you are ready to hit the trails.

  • Lifetime warranty
  • High range of compatibility
  • Easy installation and removal, tools included
  • Included tools are not most effective
  • Can make a little noise at high speeds
  • Basic assembly, no help to get the kayak on top of the car


6. Thule 835 Hull-a-Port Pro Kayak Carrier

Thule 835 Hull-a-Port Pro Kayak Carrier

If you like to load up a few kayaks and head out to the water with your friends, this a great choice. It holds the kayaks like a J-style carrier so that you can transport multiple kayaks. It works well with most factory racks and round-style racks, but it is not compatible with everything.

Thule 835 Hull-a-Port Pro Kayak Carrier foldedOne great feature of this rack is that it folds down, so once the kayaks are off, you can easily get your vehicle in the garage. In addition to the J-style carrier, it comes with tie down straps and buckle protectors for added security. There is also an area to secure the straps, so they do not flap in the wind. Compared to other options, the tie down straps are easy to secure.

This carrier is easy to install and remove, because it has hand tighteners. However, this can also leave you at risk for theft. Something else to note is that the hardware can loosen over time, so you should always check it before leaving.

  • Lets you easily transport multiple kayaks
  • Folds down for easy storage
  • Straps are easy to secure and do not flap around
  • Hardware can come loose with time
  • Easy to steal
  • Will need to check hardware frequently on long trips


7. Malone J-Downloader Kayak Carrier

Malone J-Downloader Kayak Carrier

This carrier for your kayak has a J-style and quickly folds for storage when it is not in use. It does make a slight noise when you drive with it folded down, but otherwise functions well. To fasten the carrier to the car, JAWZ mounting hardware is used. This is compatible with oval, round, and square cross rails.

In addition to the secure mounting hardware, this model comes with oversized padding and straps for security and preservation of the paint on your kayak (and your car). There is a rubber coating over the metal hardware, but this can come off with use.

The carrier is very visible, with a bright red and black design. However, there is no UV-protection, so the colors will likely fade with time. Another downside is the amount of finger strength that is required to put the locking mechanisms in place. While the hardware is compatible with a large range of roof racks, it can wiggle slightly if they are not perfectly square.

  • Folds down when not in use
  • High range of compatibility with cross rails on your vehicle
  • Oversized padding and straps for protection
  • Hardware wiggles slightly if you do not have square roof racks
  • Color will fade over time
  • Need strong fingers to secure the locking mechanisms


8. Thule Dockglide Kayak Saddle

Thule Deckglide Kayak Saddle

This carrier is lightweight, but still feels solid and secure. It is compatible with a wide range of racks, including Thule rack systems, round bars, and some tracks. This is because it uses a T-track and flip-fit brackets to attach to your vehicle.

The kayak sits atop large, cushioned pads with felt lining on saddles. These saddles make loading and unloading easier. The saddles move independently, for fitting different hull types with added security. The system is easy to install and putting the kayak is made easy because it glides over the back of the vehicle.

Overall, this offers a stable and secure ride for your kayak. It does vibrate slightly at high speeds if you are not using a Thule rack system, but it is not especially noticeable.

  • Cushioned saddles protect your kayak from scratches
  • System is easy to install
  • Makes loading easier
  • Vibrates slightly at high speeds
  • A little on the expensive side


9. Malone Auto Racks SeaWing Saddle

Malone Auto Racks SeaWing Saddle

This carrier is an affordable option with a wide range of versatility. It is ideal when you want to carry just one kayak, because it features a single saddle design that is mounted at mid-point on top of your vehicle. The capability comes from a Jawz mounting system, which fits most oval, square, and round crossbars.

The unique feature of this kayak carrier is the flexible saddle that cradles the hull. It works best for V-shaped hulls, but can work for some others as well. Because the kayak is so close to the vehicle, you get better gas mileage with this carrier than you would with some others.

Some other features of this kayak include load straps and buckle protectors. The materials used are durable, military-grade nylon and corrosion-resistant materials. The safety tie downs work well and hold the kayak securely to the top of your vehicle. If you are not using the rack, it is unobtrusive and it is likely you will not have to remove them if you do not have an especially tall vehicle.

  • Securely holds kayak
  • Good gas mileage
  • Plenty of safety features
  • Does not work for all hull types
  • Can only be used for transporting one kayak


10. Thule 898 Hullavator Pro Kayak Lift Assist Carrier

Thule 898 Hullavator Pro Kayak Lift Assist Carrier

This is the most expensive option on the list, but it makes putting your kayak on top of your vehicle almost effortless. It is especially ideal for people who like to kayak alone, because you do not need help to load the kayak.

Unlike the other models, this uses gas struts to let you load the kayak at waist-height. Then, it easily swings up and secures on top of the car. It works with round bars, T-track crossbars, and Thule rack systems. Some of its safety features include protective bumpers and buckles, center straps, and bow and stern ties.

Installation is complicated for this kayak rack carrier and the directions can be hard to understand. However, the top part is easy to take on and off for storage, so you only have to go through the complicated set up once. Finally, you will probably want to purchase one-key lock cylinders to protect your investment from theft, but these cost extra.

  • Can load at waist-height
  • Plenty of safety features for your car and kayak
  • Effortless option
  • Complicated installation
  • Have to purchase lock for added security
  • Most expensive option


Buying Guide for Kayak Roof Racks

People who kayak often fall in love with the sport, whether for the physical benefits or the beautiful views they can enjoy in nature. For this reason, they don’t always want to wait around for someone with a roof rack to help transport their kayak. When you want to get your vessel to your favorite kayaking spot, you can rely on a roof rack to help get it there safely and securely. A quality rack will help you transport your kayak for years to come, so you want to make your purchase wisely. Here are some of the things to consider.


Before you buy the best kayak roof rack for your car, consider whether you have roof racks already installed on your vehicle. If you do not, you will need to choose a carrier for kayaks that you don’t need a roof rack. Or, you will need to purchase a roof rack. If there is already a roof rack installed on your car, be sure that the bar type matches up with the compatibility for the rack before you buy it.

Damage Protection

When you are carrying your kayak, you should not have to worry about scratching your kayak (or your car). If there are metal pieces, look for carriers that have protective coverings over buckles and hardware. You also want to be the straps soft enough to not damage your kayak when tightened. Finally, be sure the hardware for the carrier will not damage your car.

Security and Stability

The worst possible thing that can happen to your kayak is driving down the road and having it fall off your car, possibly damaging your vehicle, the kayak, and any unfortunate person that happens to be traveling behind you. When you choose a kayak carrier, be sure that it will hold the kayak securely to the car. It should have several points of contact, like tie downs and the holder itself. These should all be stable, meaning they should not wiggle or loosen as you are traveling.

Easy of Install

There are a few things to consider when it comes to installation. Usually, you can expect the first install to be the most difficult. Some carriers have the option of expert installation for an additional charge. After, you will want to consider if you have to remove the carrier completely to store your vehicle in a garage, if it folds down and out of the way, and how easy/difficult it is to remove if you need to.


easy kayaking loading rackIf you like to go out on the water alone, you do not want to spend your time waiting around for someone to help load your kayak on top of your car. Typically, rear loading racks are considered easier to load than side-loading racks. Others have mechanical parts that allow the kayak to be loaded at waist-level and then easily load it onto the top of the vehicle. These are generally more expensive, but they make loading significantly easier and are a great option for people who want to kayak by themselves.

Transporting Multiple Kayaks

With a good rack for the roof of your car or SUV, you will be able to take 2 or more kayaks easily. Or combine this with a trailer or hitch mount and you have enough space to transport up to 5 kayaks with one vechicle. Enough for a car load of people anyway!

If you need more space, then there are trailers out there that can carry 8 or more on a single trailer.


You should consider factors like compatibility with the cross rails on your vehicle, how easy the kayak carrier is to use, and how easy it will be to load and unload your kayak before making a purchasing decision. For our purposes, the best kayak roof rack is:

Thule 898 Hullavator Pro Kayak Lift Assist Carrier

This is ideal because it makes loading the kayak easier, at a lower cost. Its soft, but sturdy pads adjust to your hull type for added security. While it is a little more expensive than simpler models, it is a fair price for a high-quality kayak roof rack.

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  1. Wish I found this review before I bought my Thule Compass. Although I like the flexibility to carry 2 kayaks or 2 SUP’s but I find it hard to load. I’m 5’7″ and my husband is 5’10”, but because it’s centered on top of my Hyundai Tuscan, we both have to do some serious stretching to load and secure. I actually brought a small step stool with me last time we paddled, but had to park on a bit of a hill and didn’t feel safe on the stool. I was considering returning for 2 J style carriers, what do you think? Thanks in advance for your response.

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