Transporting kayaks can be tricky. And unless you own a lorry and do not mind bringing it along for your trip to the water each summer, you need to invest in a good kayak car rack to be hauling your boat efficiently.
After all, not all of us are fortunate enough to be living by the shores of a lake or beach. Neither do most of us consider it Kayaking Best Practice to be floating around in orange inflatables that you can easily tote around in a backpack.
So then, what makes for a good rack for a kayak, and how do you go about choosing one?
Kayak racks can be split into two main categories:
These are basically made of straps that run through the inside of your vehicle, along the roof and over the top, where they attach to inflatable or foam padding.
They are best suited for people who do not have to travel halfway across the country to get to the water. People who do not plan to cart more than one kayak might also find temporary racks ideal, so will those whose purse strings are a little bit tight.
On the downside, this type of rack is the worst to use over long distances.
Also known as kayak carriers, a well accessorised kayak roof rack is the best way to transport yaks. It’s easier, it’s quicker and way much safer.
It can only be used if you have a roof rack setup installed, be it a factory rack or any of those myriad aftermarket base rack systems you install later.
Kayak roof racks come in different types, the most common ones of which include:
Saddles & Rollers
These are horizontal roof racks that allow your boat to lie on its flatter surface. They boast the most surface area that gets into contact with your yak than all the others.
Their benefits include ease of loading and unloading, offering the slightest wind resistance, and leveraging the boat’s aerodynamic to minimise fuel consumption. On the flipside, they are not ideal for vehicles with a narrow roof because they cart the canoe in a vertical position. This also makes them less than ideal for ferrying more than one kayak.
Deriving their name from their J shape form, J-Style racks are the most popular kayak roof racks in the world. This is because they tend to be very stable, secure and fast to load and unload. Loading your kayak is as easy as picking it up and side-loading it.
They sit roughly at an angle of about 45 degrees on your crossbars, leaving ample room to carry other adventure paraphernalia. Because they sit sideways, J-Cradles are not recommended for short or elderly paddlers who may have trouble hauling them sideways.
The third type of kayak roof rack is the stacker. This rack allows you to arrange your kayaks in an upright position resting on their sides, and this consumes about 50% less crossbar space per kayak, making it possible to maximise on the number of boats you can stack up, even as many as four.
They don’t cost a fortune, but they have a tendency to slip on smooth bars which necessitates having some sort of friction surface for additional support – crossbar pads, for example. They are ideal for all kayaks, save for those with extensive tandem sit-on-tops. Installation and removal is easy, and they do not need further modifications.
These are basically the types of car racks for boats you need to be aware of.
Choosing the Best Kayak Car Rack
The best kayak car rack will vary from one paddler to the next. Generally though, consider the following aspects when hunting for the most ideal product to suit your needs:
»The type and model of your kayak
»The amount of budget you want to splash on the rack
»Your vehicle type and crossbar design
»The amount of stress your carrier can handle
»The number of kayaks you envision carrying
»The specific features you desire in your ideal rack
That in mind, let us look at some of the best kayak car racks you can find on the market today.
With a little under 20 years of experience in the industry, the privately-owned Malone Auto Racks is a fast-rising name, with stores scattered everywhere from the U.S., to Canada, to Europe and the Australia.
It has its fair share of firsts under its belt, Malone, most notable being the “J” style kayak carrier. It was also the first company to come up with economical load assist modules for single-person loading.
One of its trademark offerings is the Downloader Folding J-Cradle which is considered to be among the best J-Cradles around.
It comes with JAWZ mounting hardware which is designed to match a range of cross rails, including square, round and most stock oval bars. The rack attaches to the bar through a single strap, but this is not your ordinary strap. It is made from heavy steel which should last many years. It has pre-coated mounting brackets measuring 60mm or 70mm, and incase these fail to go with your vehicle’s crossbars, Malone will send over the right fits.
This J-Cradle has a folding feature meant to provide more overhead space, with oversized padding to protect your kayak. The pads themselves are protected by nylon sleeves to keep them from ripping apart quickly.
The rack’s other notable feature includes a loading ramp that should go some way in loading your boat. It has a hole for passing the strap through before fastening the buckle which helps to keep things not just secure, but also tidy.
- Loading your kayak is a breeze
- Rack is a fit for many crossbars on the market
- Steel strap is extremely durable
- Folding feature boosts overhead clearance which is great for long-distance drives
- Pads will last a long while
- Outstanding customer service
- May not be compatible with every single crossbar
It would be remiss to write a best kayak car racks review and fail to include this J-Bar Rack Carrier by TMS. It remains one of the hottest products on the market today, and skimming through its features and customer reviews will show you why that is the case.
It is reasonably priced, yet it packs impressive features and performance.
It is no secret that kayak carriers are not designed to provide a blanket solution on every car roof setup. But the J-Bar Rack from T-Motorsports is an exception. Its compatibility with just about every crossbar and load bar available is amazing. Of course, you are bound to find one or two exceptions, but the upside with this selection is that you can never go wrong.
In the event it fails to fit your roof, the Pomona-based company has an open-door policy with respect to some of their products and you are always allowed a replacement any time. The J-Bar is so tough that they offer a lifetime warranty for it.
The rack gets its name from its wide-mouth shape which allows you to load your kayak with ease. Its design liberates the load bar from absorbing the full weight of the kayak by keeping your boat safe on its side. Indeed, you don’t have to worry about your boat’s safety thanks to the J-Bar rack’s steel design which comes with adjustable padding.
It can hold a kayak up to 75 pounds in weight and 36 inches wide, and its design leaves more space on your car roof that would be sufficient for another kayak – or some extra luggage. If you need to transport two boats, opt for the 2 Pairs J-Bar Kayak Rack, which is basically the J-Bar Rack HD in two pairs.
For new kayak owners who are not sure what would work best for them, this is a great solution for starters.
- Compatible with just about every crossbar on your vehicle
- Facilitates easy loading and unloading of the kayak(s)
- Consumes less space on the roof, thus leaving room for another kayak if you have one
- It is rust-resistant, hence durable
- Its steel design makes it very sturdy
- Lifetime warranty, but it is advisable to ascertain this prior to purchase
- Does not work on a bare roof and will need some form of crossbar
- Lacks decent installation instructions
- Straps could have been better and tougher
Apontus Universal Kayak Roof Rack J Bar
Apontus may not be on the lips of many a kayak owner, but those who have been in this sport for a while will know a thing or two about the California-based company. The privately-owned establishment has only been in business since 2009 when they started out as an e-commerce venture specialising in toys. However, they didn’t take long to bed in once they decided to dip their foot into car rack waters.
It is strong offerings such as the Universal Kayak Roof Rack that have put them on the map of best kayak car racks currently on the market. The rack is not downright special in many unique ways. No, it just gets the basic things right, and that is something we would take any day.
It is made from a durable material that is steel. It features adjustable padding in all the right places ensuring your kayak will be protected and stay scratch-free. It is easy to put together and dismount from the car. It comes with four tie-down straps in addition to mounting hardware. The rack boasts great performance even in windy conditions, not to mention on hilly terrain, and generally, you will appreciate its quality and economy.
The icing on the cake is that the Apontus rack is universal. It goes well with different vehicle crossbars – oval, square, flat et al – and its great strength means it can cart kayaks of up to 75 pounds and up to 36 inches in width, while still reserving enough room for additional adventure gear.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? It is. It comes in two pairs, setting you back less than 50 dollars without installation.
However, Apontus warns customers that crossbars thicker than one inch will not mount properly because that is their threshold (1 inch thick and 2.5 inches wide).
- Robust steel frame with multiple padding provides great protection for kayaks
- Sturdy rack that can be relied upon to deliver in harsh conditions
- Universal nature makes it highly compatible
- Comes in two pairs
- Good value for money
- Additional cost for installation (approximately $10)
- Does not support bars thicker than 1 inch
Attwood is an old hand in the manufacture of quality marine products and accessories, and one area they have particularly excelled in is kayak car racks. You would expect a company with over 100 years specialising in boat accessories to have many popular products.
They do, and one of the bestsellers in their line of kayak racks is the Car-Top Kayak Carrier Kit.
The rack is as convenient as they come and can be used to ferry everything from yaks to small boats and canoes, allowing you to place your equipment on its two safest sides: the back, or the belly.
It features twin foam blocks to shield your car’s roof and a pair of poly web straps. If you have a low vehicle, this is just the kayak rack you need because it works exceptionally well for vehicles of that height.
All you need to do is just haul the boat onto the padded blocks and use the straps to lock it around the bow and stern, fastening them to your car’s bumper. For a few more dollars, you can get a 20” polypropylene rope as well as S-hooks to ensure your boat is more secure.
- Easy to lift and mount
- Back or belly mounting
- Foam blocks placed on yak’s gunwale provide good protection
- Great fit for small cars
- Might have trouble working well in the rain
- Foam pads could be a little wider
- Only best for small boats – heavy kayaks might damage car roof over time
9sparts is a brand best known for producing a range of affordable solutions for everyday living, and their 2-pair J-shape rack sticks to that theme.
It is a rack that allows you to whisk your boat on different vehicle types – small cars, jeeps, SUVs, trucks…you know the like…It is shipped in two pairs each of which is accompanied by its own straps that ensure our equipment is safely strapped, along with “quick on and off” hardware that allows for easy installation and removal.
It has a steel tube measuring 1.55mm in width (which should be strong), with a glossy black finish to prevent rusting, and of course, adjustable padding to protect the yak from the rigours of the road.
Being universal, this kayak rack suits most square, oval and flat crossbars, whether they are stock or the aftermarket type. If your bars are over an inch thick, they won’t rhyme with the J-Cradle from 9sparts, but considering most OEM crossbars don’t differ greatly, most should work. It does pay to confirm this beforehand, though.
There is an additional 30 days upon expiration of warranty, and they promise to make the return process hassle-free.
The rack can handle up to 75 pounds and yaks with a maximum width of 36 inches.
- Easy installation
- Loading rack and removing is a cinch
- You can load two kayaks and they won’t touch each other
- It is universal and supports many bars on the market
- It is fairly secure, as long as you do your part in tightening the lug nuts well
- Installation may be straightforward, but the manual instructions are still poor
- The downside to a simple removal process is that thieves can easily take out the J-Cradle if you leave your vehicle unintended
This is a rack designed to hold one kayak, and although lightweight, it is quite sturdy. Overall quality of the sleek-looking Wing rack is great, and it is easy to see why the Great Lakes Kayak LLC offers a five-year warranty in the event of breakage.
It is most appropriate for boats with a defined keel or V-shaped hull, and a width not more than 30 inches. With a maximum 3.25 inches in width, the crossbar calls for a minimal clearance of 1.5” between the vehicle’s roof and itself. The rack has the added bonus of being universal which makes it suitable for a range of car roof systems and sizes.
They come pre-assembled which makes mounting a pretty straightforward affair, and the straps can be relied upon to tie down the rack securely. If your car has a flat roof without a racking system installed already, make sure to check if the Kayak Wing will install properly before making a purchase.
A common downside reported with this rack is lack of enough clearance which makes it difficult to tighten the bolts because they end up close to the vehicle’s roof.
By and large, this is a great rack to warrant an entry into our list of best kayak car racks 2017.
- Great design that manages to stay lightweight
- Easy to mount
- Suits 30-inch kayaks or under
- Durable and given a clean bill of health by experienced anglers
- Little clearance between rack and roof
- May have trouble supporting larger boats
When you have invested time and your hard-earned money into a good kayak, the last thing you want is for it to suffer damage before you two have had the chance to properly get acquainted. This is why you can never underestimate the importance of investing in a good kayak car rack.
Don’t let cost dictate your buy. It is better investing in a pricey kayak car rack that will not only protect your kayak, but do so for years to come without forcing you to dip into your pocket any time soon.