The Best Kayak Racks to Transport Your Kayak with Ease

I wrote a piece a while ago on everything you need to know about kayaking, and since then, these kayaking series started growing with articles like choosing the right kayak for you or pedal kayak vs. paddle kayak and kayak accessories and many more. I think I’ve covered everything related to the sport and gear until now. And this is when I realized that I had missed an important part, and that’s the kayak rack review.

And the reason why I’m paying specific attention to a simple kayak carrier is that the storage and the transport of a kayak are either a deal-breaker or a deal maker for so many people.

I mean, the idea of having a kayak and going for a tour in the water anytime you want is fantastic, but what do you do with your kayak and the gear in the offseason?

That’s a real problem for many aspiring kayakers, so figuring it out would resolve a plethora of issues, and many people would finally dare to get a kayak on their own.

With that said, having a good kayak roof rack will enable you to find good temporary storage for your kayak plus will give you the chance to take your kayak around to different kayaking locations and off the grid beaches that you cannot otherwise reach. Also, with a solid kayak rack for a car, you are able to load and unload it quickly.

So, without further ado, here’s some general information on kayak racks and why you need them, followed by a list of products I trust.

Other interesting articles


Why every kayaker needs a kayak rack?

Before anything else, the kayak carrier is there to keep your kayak safe above all. With kayaks and their performance, it’s all about protection and safety.

I mean, a single kayak and all its equipment don’t come cheap. They are quite the investment, so taking care of it is of utmost importance.

You see, all kayaks, especially with today’s incredible technology, are built to last, but damage can still occur when you transport your kayak through rough terrains or during bad weather.

I don’t know about you, but for me, even a single scratch on my new kayak hurts me in my heart!

And this is when a good kayak rack comes into play. It will secure your kayak to the roof of your car, and with the padding, it protects it against damages done to the exterior.


Next, by having a kayak rack, you can explore distant beaches and river shores that you usually wouldn’t because you cannot get to them without transporting your kayak on the roof of your car. No matter how beautiful that lake behind your house is, it gets boring after a while, and with a kayak carrier, you can finally explore some other water surfaces further away.

Basically, with a kayak roof rack, you can be in store for a new adventure, and you can go to that weekend kayaking trip you’ve always wanted to go and enjoy without worrying about the kayak itself.

I have already talked about the best way to transport your paddle board, and here I would like to mention that having the right design for a rack proves versatile as on it you can carry your other watercraft like a canoe, surfboards, paddle boards and the like with the same hardware.

This way, you are saving plenty of time, money, and headache when you are on the go.

Types of kayak carriers

The Horizontal Kayak Racks

These kayak carriers are the most basic of them all and probably the easiest to install and further use.

Namely, the horizontal racks just sit on top of the car roof and hold the kayak in that position as well. You strap your kayak onto it with straps across the top to hold it steady.

Sometimes on top of the racks, you only see a few pads that sit above to cushion the kayak.

The Vertical Kayak Racks

The vertical kayak carrier is the complete opposite of the horizontal kayak carrier, and it is mounted by holding on the side of the kayak.

This type of carrier is preferred by people who have more kayaks and gear to store up on their roof because it saves you more space on the roof. However, it does come at the expense of a slightly more complicated loading and unloading process.

The one thing that’s similar to the horizontal kayak racks is that it uses a basic set of straps over the top to hold everything together.

J-Style Hook Carriers

J-hook kayak carriers are somewhere in between the traditional horizontal and vertical kayak carriers if we judge by convenience and security.

Also, when it comes to installing and loading and unloading the kayak, they tend to be slightly more comfortable to do so, and these kayak racks with their cradle design offer more support and padding for the kayak for better security and protection.

Lift-Assist Carriers

If you have a long, heavy kayak and you have no assistance whatsoever, then having a lift-assist carrier will help you tremendously.

These kayak carriers are all somewhat different, but they all come with some kind of feature that takes some of the weight of the kayak off your hands. This makes it easier for you to load your kayak and unload it from your car each time.

This is especially handy if you own a higher vehicle.

As there is an array of different types of assist carriers, from simple bar assists to complicated pulley and strap systems, you can consider finding the right design for yourself based on the price range, functionality, and affordability.


Kayak rack prices

$100 and under: As time goes by, more and more of these kayak roof racks are invented, so it is only normal that the prices would drop. Today you can find a lot of budget kayak carriers available on the market up to 100 bucks, and while you may hit the jackpot to find a good quality, reliable kayak rack, the chances are a bit slim.

However, if you do want to stay within this range, then look for racks made of solid-steel construction and plenty of padding, and I would suggest investing in your own straps and tie-downs and even additional padding so that you can be sure of the safety of your kayak.

$100-$200: This mid-range is a good starting place where you can find some outstanding quality kayak carriers.

In the middle of this range, you can find some basic, light-duty carriers for your kayak without needing to spend too much but still getting good quality racks.

$200 and above: If your bank allows spending $200 or more, then you will find some fully-functional, high-quality, versatile carrier designs that will provide utmost protection and safety for your kayak and gear.

Just think of it as a long-term investment that really pays off, especially if that means that you won’t damage your expensive kayak by transporting it on it.


Kayak Rack Features

Cradle Or Saddle

When buying a kayak rack, it’s essential to pay attention to the point of contact between the carrier and the kayak. This feature is important when having overall protection in mind.

Namely, kayaks with their specific designs can be a bit awkward for loading and unloading, so it is important to pay attention to the style of the cradles or saddles on the rack you are buying. And you also need to pay attention to the distance between the two using the cross rails of the car rack.

The reason why this is important is that it influences how the kayak is supported in different driving conditions.

That said, what I prefer are aluminum and steel designs of carriers with a lot of padding on them.

The Padding

As you know by now, the padding is vital so that you can keep the surface of your kayak intact during transport.

Usually, all kayak racks have padding around the bottom of the kayak. This is in charge of the separation of your kayak and the cradle or saddle.

The thicker the padding is, the more protection it offers – something like foam blocks added on top. However, keep in mind that a lot of bulk in the padding will make it difficult to fold the rack when you aren’t using it.

But if your cradle does not come with the folding feature, then you do not have to worry about it.

Also, additional padding around buckle protectors or the factory crossbars/mounting bolts are preferred and quite helpful.

The Load Straps

The straps are also crucial to a smooth transport that does not result in damages to your kayak.

Namely, during the drive, it’s expected that your kayak, if not strapped well, moves around. So, you have to give it the proper securing support.

For this, you practically only need basic straps and tie-downs so that you can fasten down different points on the kayak to the rack of choice.

Depending on the price, your kayak carrier may come with built-in straps, or you may have to supply them yourself afterward.

Additional tips

Number of Kayaks: The number of kayaks your rack allows doesn’t only depend on the type of rack but also on the design and size of your kayak. Another determining factor would be the position in which your kayak(s) is mounted.

However, as a rule of thumb, if you have more than one kayak you want to transport, then a vertical or a J-hook carrier will supply slightly more space so that you can transport more than one kayak on the roof of your vehicle.

Roof Rails: Unless you are using the bare top of your car, any kayak carrier you consider needs to be compatible with the roof racks and crossbars on top of your vehicle. The size of the crossbars combined with the mounting accessories that come (or are available) with the kayak carrier will influence the compatibility of the carrier with the racks. Aftermarket crossbars give you the most options to choose over typical factory racks.

  • Whenever you can, get someone to help you load your kayak onto your car. Doing this by yourself may hurt your back depending on the size of the kayak, so call a friend to give you a hand with the lifting and tying of everything down.
  • Ratchet straps are way better, in my opinion, because you don’t have to tie knots. However, when using them, make sure that each strap has enough padding to avoid scratching the kayak.
  • Whenever you can, use kayak rollers to help you load your kayak on the roof. This way, you avoid scratching both the vehicle and the kayak.

The best kayak rack to buy

Now that you know a bit more about the kayak racks and how to properly use them and what to expect, here’s a list of my favorite kayak roof racks.

I hope by the end of this article, I have managed to answer all your questions regarding kayak racks and which kayak roof rack is the right one for you. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below, and I’d be happy to help!

In the meantime, I’d love to connect with you on my Facebook, and Instagram account for more cool tips and recommendations on paddle boards and kayaks.

I might earn a small commission when you make a purchase through my link, so that I can keep my site running and pay the hosting bill. Read my affiliate policy to learn more.
Best Paddle Board Banner

Download our 60-page SUP Guide

* indicates required
The Best Paddle Board of the Year

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Review written by: Tom

Hi! My name is Tom. During the year I try to be on a paddle board as much as possible. By reading this blog you'll stay updated on everything I test on the water :)

Related Reviews