Best Kayak Roof Rack

Kayaking can be an adventourous activity for anyone, but hauling a 75 pound kayak can be daunting. They can be difficult to move and access to a truck or trailer can be limited for a weekend getaway. A good kayak rack can remove the anxiety from moving a kayak to your favorite spot. To choose your kayak roof rack you have to consider many things, involving how often do you plan to kayak, or how far do you travel, or how much do you have to spend on a carrier? Compiled is a list of the best racks that are currently on the market and information to help guide any buyer to find the carrier that will fit their lifestyle.

Thule 898 Hullavator Kayak System

Thule Hullavator

If you are a solo adventurer, this can be a great addition to any gear list. The Hullavtator is the best overall in what one person can achieve with a single kayak carrier. This system is pretty innovative in the way that the kayak is loaded onto the rack. The unit sits on top of the car during travel, however to load the kayak, it simply adjusts down to the side of the car where you can load the kayak onto the arms of the carrier. Once the kayak is secured to the rack, it can be raised once more to the top of the vehicle. It is then easily secured at the front and rear by straps attached to the car. The Hullavotor is designed with 8 touchpoints to avoid damage to the kayak in transit and resistant to corrosion.

Problems

While this unit may be one of the most innovative racks on the market, it carries with it a larger price point, almost 4 times the amount of the other carriers. This makes it a harder investment for a fledgling kayaker. Also, this rack can only be used with Thule rack systems which compounds how much it will be for this rack to be usable. Meanwhile, this rack does not fold down and will most likely need to be taken off when not in use.

Pros

  • One person loader
  • Simple to use
  • All required equipment is included

Cons

  • Expensive when compared to other racks on the market.
  • Must have a Thule rack system
  • Does not fold down

Recommended or Not?

If you are someone who likes the solitude of kayaking and are looking for something to make loading and unloading easier to do solo, then the Thule Hullavotor may be the best bang for your buck. However, if you are planning on traveling with friends or hauling multiple kayaks, there are better options for a lower price.

Thule Hull a Port Pro Rooftop Carrier

Thule Hull a Port

The Hull a Port Pro kayak carrier is a standard J-Craddle roof rack and a single pair contains everything to carry a kayak. It is designed to fold down and form a more aerodynamical shape that reduces wind resistance while traveling. One of the larger benefits of this rack is the Tool Free Install, which makes installation easy with most factory cross rails.

The steel arms of the unit are rust and corrosion resistant, allowing the rack to be stored on the car year round. The Load Assist design makes it easier to load alone or with your kayaking partner. Pouches are included along the arms that allow the straps to be tucked away. This unit will allow enough space on most cars to allow four kayaks to be hauled by the same vehicle, with additional racks.

Problems

It would seem that the Hull a Port Pro does have some drawbacks. Reportedly there seems to be a problem with the locking mechanism that holds the arms in the upright position. These screws have a tendency in wearing out on longer journeys. The tool free installation can also be a problem for those that leave their racks on their cars year round, as there is no theft protection on the racks.

Pros

  • Can be used with most factory crossbars
  • Toolfree installation
  • Load Assist
  • Cons
  • Carries only one kayak
  • Theft issue
  • Problem with locking screws.

Recommended or Not

If you are looking for a rack that is easy to install and one that is simple to use on your own or with a fellow adventurer then this may be a good option for you. It is a higher cost option, but with simple upgrades like the included straps and pockets to store said straps this is a good choice.

Malone Sea Wing Saddle

Malone Sea Wing

The Malone Sea Wing saddle roof rack is shaped to allow the kayak to rest inside while the built in straps are tightened to secure the kayak. Transporting the kayak in a horizontal position helps reduce wind resistance and create a more secure hold for longer trips. It utilizes the Jawz mounting system which allows it to work with most factory cross rails.

Problems

This saddle is designed for slightly smaller kayaks, when compared to the rest of the racks here. With its weight limit sitting at 70 pounds instead of the 75 pounds the rest of these racks can handle. For larger kayaks there may be a little bit of an issue with transit as the saddle has an issue with forming around a larger kayak. Meanwhile the included straps are of a mid range quality and should be upgraded when you get a chance.

Pros

  • Can fit on most crossrails
  • Low Profile for reduced wind resistance
  • Lower price

Cons

  • Can only carry two kayaks on a single car
  • 70 pound weight limit
  • Not the best straps

Recommended or Not

The Malone Sea Wing is a simple design and simple to use. If you are someone who is just starting off with kayaks and do not want to invest heavily on a roof rack this is a good option. With its ability to fit most cross rails and everything else that is included all you will need is the kayak.

Yakima Jaylow Rooftop Mounted Kayak Carrier

Yakima Jaylow

This is J-Cradle which can be raised into the stacker position to hold two kayaks. They will fold down onto the roof of the vehicle when not in use and enable them to stay on year round. There are padded contact points that prevent the kayak from being damaged while in transit. All straps needed for the safe transport of a kayak are included in the packaging for the cradle. This unit is also able to be used with most Crossbars and provides a tool free installation. Finally, this is a moderately priced model of roof racks and with the abiltiy to carry two kayaks at the same time, really makes the price all the better.

Problems

The stacker feature of this roof rack, drastically reduces the weight limit for your kayaks. Coming from 75 pounds at the single kayak setting, down to 110 pounds for two kayaks. The ease of the installation would also make it easier for theft if someone was inclined. There has also been reported issues of a loud whistling noise when traveling on the highway.

Pros

  • One rack can carry two kayaks
  • Tool free install
  • Folds down when not in use
  • Can hold two kayaks on with a single set

Cons

  • Weight limit only allows for two smaller kayaks to be hauled
  • Whistling sound
  • Ease of Theft

Recommended or Not

The Yakima Jaylow carrier can be a great asset for a family of kayakers or if you are the driver for your local kayaker group. With the ability to haul two kayaks with a single rack, this becomes a great investment considering it is in the midrange cost for kayak carriers. Meanwhile the issues associated with this rack can resolved with a purchase of a locking kit for the racks and with some home remedies for the whistling.

Thule DockGlide Kayak Saddle

Thule Dockglide

The Thule Deckglide system is designed with pivoting felt lined saddles. The front saddles are designed to be moved to form a hold on any number of kayaks. Meanwhile, the felt lined rear saddles are designed to help the kayak slide into the front saddles. The hull of the kayak rests in the saddles and is secured down with straps. This system can be installed with most Thule, round and factory racks due to its T-Track and Flipfit brackets. Unlike other kayak saddles, this design has two different shapes for the two different jobs for this design.

Problems

While the pivoting saddles of this rack is helpful during loading, there is a slight issue with the saddles after they are tightened down. The pivoting saddles will move slightly if you give a heave on the kayak after it has been secured. With the space requirement of loading a kayak flat on the roof of a car, it will only allow for two sets to be installed on the roof of most cars.

Pros

  • Pivoting pads allow an easier load with one person
  • Kayak has a lower profile while in transit
  • Easy to load with one person
  • Compatible with most cross rails

Cons

  • Can only carry one kayak
  • Most vehicles can only install two sets of this rack

Recommended or Not

The Thule Deckglide, is a good choice if you are someone who likes to go out on their own, this rack is designed to make the loading and unloading by a single person much easier. With its reduced profile on the roof of the car, this roof rack makes it cheaper and easier to drive farther for the perfect spot.

Malone Downloader

Malone Downloader

The Malone Downloader is a J-Cradle style car rack and comes with everything that you need to carry a kayak. Like other J-Cradle roof racks, this will fold down to minimize its profile while driving without a kayak. They use the Malone Jawz style of easily securing the hardware on most factory cross rails. The design for this rack with a built in loading ramp to ease the loading of the kayak. The arms are made of aluminum and are rust and corrosion resistant with oversized padding on the arms and back of the roof rack. This padding can be replaced which gives you the ability to extend the life of this rack with an easy repair.

Problems

The Jawz system on this roof rack does not give quite as universal a fit as some would like. It is designed with the square factory cross rails in mind and there are some difficulties with the oval or rounded cross rails. They will still install, however there is some movement on the bottom of the rack that makes it seem unstable.

Pros

  • Jawz mounting hardware
  • Load Assist
  • Fits most cross rails

Cons

  • Carries one kayak
  • Not the best fit on rounded cross rails.

Recommended or Not

The Malone Downloader can be a good starter rack, with its lower price point and the ability to install with most roof crossrails. The Jawz mounting hardware makes it a rack that can easily be installed on multiple vehicles during its life time, which makes the lower than average price worth it. Meanwhile, it is designed to be easier to load with one person then other J-Cradles.

FAQ for Kayak roof racks

What cross rails will a roof rack fit?

To find this, all three brands have a compatibility checker on their respective sites. Most of these roof racks claim a close to universal fit.

Can I leave them on year round?

For the most part all of these carriers can be left on, however if they do not fold down then they will produce a lot more wind resistance. You may have an issue with theft considering many of these options have quick install options.

Do these racks come in pairs?

All of these racks come as a unit to hold a single kayak, with the Jaylow as an exception which can hold two.

Buyers Guide

Kayaking is one of the most common ways to adventure into the outdoors. Within moments of being in the cockpit of a kayak, you can find yourself away from most distractions into the natural world. A kayak roof rack can be the most universal option to get to where you want to disappear.

Brands

There are three brands that must be considered, Thule, Yakima, and Malone.

Thule

The Thule outdoor brand started in 1942 and their products focus on making outdoor fun easier for solo adventures and families alike. Most of their products take the shape of car racks, transporters and containers. They have a solid reputation in the kayak carrier field.

Yakima

This company is based out of the Pacific Northwest and started as a machine shop which evolved into an outdoor equipment company. Their products range from car carriers and racks to hold kayaks, bikes, and luggage to help make travel easier. Their reputation has been seen throughout the outdoor industry, and they hold a good reputation in the kayak brand in specific.

Malone Auto Racks

Malone is centered in Portland, ME and they focus on three points for their products, affordable to buy, easy to install and simple to use. Malone has a lower price point when compared to other brands. They have a history of innovating the outdoor industry and making the journey more enjoyable.

Types of Roof Racks

All of these manufacturers work on producing different kinds of car rack carriers and these center around, Saddles, J-Craddles and Stackers. These three designs have their strengths and weaknesses given the situation.

Saddle racks are identified with being formed so that the kayak is settled onto the saddle and secured with straps. These models also allow for less wind resistance in transit. However, they will usually only allow for two kayaks to be hauled at a time.

J-Cradles are designed larger then saddles and form a rigid structure around the kayak, forming a J shape on the roof of the car. The kayak rests on its side with the cockpit facing out from the rack and is secured with straps. They seem to be the most common of the roof racks.

Finally, there are the Stackers. As the name implies, these carriers allow for multiple kayaks to be carried at one time. Unfortunately, these require more of a rigid structure that can hinder the gas mileage of a vehicle. These are not the best options if you are moving a single canoe, but instead are used whenever multiple racks would be necessary.

Conclusion

There are many different options out there for a kayak carrier and depending on what you need one option may be better then the others. J-Cradles, Stacker and Saddles all have their benefits and their limitations. Depending on your situation one of these may jump out as the best option.