Why Do You Need a Kayak Roof Rack?
Kayaks usually require a garage to be rightly homed. Out of the garage on top of a car, it also needs the right loading system to hold onto. It is called a roof rack. Simply put, it is a rack which allows you to carry a kayak on top of your car. This is different from a travel trailer that require ample space behind the car, which can make parking difficult. These trailers can also be way more expensive.
On the other hand, fishing kayak roof racks require additional vertical space, so going through areas with low ceilings may be a problem. Still, roof racks for kayaks are always better if you know how to use them properly.
Different Types of Car Top Kayak Racks
There are different types of kayak racks available, and each is suited based on different criteria. This would include what type of vehicle you have, what types of bars or racks are installed, what space is available to you, and how easy you would like to secure and remove your kayak. Remember that not every vehicle has a pre-installed rack. So, most of these racks are desined for cars without a rail or rack.
In our list, we've kept kayak holders for a wide range of cars, sedans, vans, minivans, RVs (bumper mount), pop up campers, UTVs, pickup trucks, cargo trucks and SUVs that include Jeep Wrangler Unlimited (hard top), Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Renegade, Jeep Gladiator, Jeep Patriot, Jeep Liberty, Toyota Camry, Toyota RAV4, Tundra, Toyota Corolla, Toyota 4Runner, Mazda 3, Ford Mustang, Ford Fiesta, Ford Ranger, Ford Fusion, Ford Edge, Ford Focus, Ford F150, Volkswagen (VW) Jetta, Toyota Prius, Toyota FJ Cruiser, Toyota Tacoma, Toyota Highlander, Kia Sportage SUV, KIA Sorento, Honda CR-V, Honda Civic, Honda Accord, Honda Element, Honda Ridgeline, Honda Pilot, Hummer H3, Chevy Avalanche, Chevy Tahoe, Chevy Cruze, VOLVO, Hyundai Elantra, Nissan Juke, Nissan Xterra, Nissan Rogue, Nissan Altima, Nissan Frontier, Dodge RAM, BMW, Subaru, Chevrolet Silverado, MINI Cooper, Kia Optima, Kia Soul, GMC Canyon, GMC Terrain, and GMC Acadia.
You can either put your kayaks sideways or straight or upside down using these racks depending on the type of racks you are using. Make sure you match your vehicle type with the rack. You might need special arrangements for towing a side loading rack on a 5th wheel carrier.
Here are the most common types of car rooftop carrier for a kayak that is available, as well as brief descriptions on each.
1. Temporary Pads
Temporary pads are basically foam pads or pool noodles that you can place on top of your car to support your kayak during transport and to prevent your car from being scratched. This type of homemade DIY solution is perfect for rackless vehicles for which the owner does not want to install an external rail, but they are not so great when it comes to security. Purchase these if you don’t intend on bringing your kayak along on a regular basis.
Saddles are preferred for vehicles that already have crossbars installed, and for those who will be carrying large kayaks. Saddles are basically pads that are V-shaped rather than flat, with its purpose being able to support the entire width of the kayak. This provides more support and security, especially for larger kayaks.
J-cradles (also known as Jay hooks, J hooks or J racks) are designed with space considerations in mind, as kayaks can be loaded on a 45-degree angle instead of upright. This will allow you to put more stuff on top of your car. You can also turn this J bar into a double kayak roof rack if you want to carry more than one. They come with straps and make sure you do the strapping well. This type of kayak luggage rack is great for lighter kayaks a well as lower vehicles as carrying a kayak on its side may require more physical strength.
Stacker provides ample space for stacking multiple light kayaks on your vehicle. This makes this the perfect choice for two kayaks, or maybe even more. Crossbar space consumed is limited, but wide kayaks cannot be secured in this way. Vertical space is also required as kayaks will be stored sideways on top of the vehicle.
Crossbars are metal bars placed parallel to the rails of the vehicle. This is where the attachments such as saddles and stackers are placed. Most roof mount brackets will require installation, although you can have aftermarket crossbars installed if you do not have one. These are usually lockable options and often come with a basket for extended loading capacity. Take note, though, that cross bars' weight limits depend on the weight and number of kayaks that you intend to load.
Rollers are systems that will help ease the loading of kayaks. As the name implies, all you have to do is place the end of your kayak on top of your roller and you can just roll it up to the rack. Rollers work in tandem kayaks with racks and cannot handle kayaks stored in a non-vertical position.
Apart from the above systems, you'll also find ladder and hitch racks for which you wouldn't need a lift assist, but in this guide, we're discussing about only roof-top solutions. There are suction cup systems as well that don't need any piercing or modification to the vehicle body.
Kayak Roof Racks: A Comprehensive Buying Guide
When looking for these products, know that it is not a one-size-fits-all affair. Here is a list of things you have to consider before doing your shopping around.
1. Structure of Your Vehicle's Roof
Depending on the roof of your vehicle, you can attach different types of kayak roof racks. For bare roofs, pads are recommended, while those with rails may require to have crossbars installed if not are still available. With crossbars, you can install a removable rack or just keep them always attached if you would be using them often. Besides, specific vehicle brands might require specific fittings, for example, you might require Honda fit racks for your Honda sedans or SUVs unless you have a universal topper.
2. Type of Your Kayak
The type of your watercraft is an important factor because it's size and weight will determine the rack's capability. Having a large kayak will require a rack that can accommodate not only the width but also the weight. This is especially important for smaller vehicles that may not be able to provide adequate support.
3. Your Kayaking Frequency
If you are a frequent kayaker, having your kayak racks fixed will be a nice idea. However, for those who do not frequently bring their kayaks, having racks that can be attached and detached easily will be necessary. Note that some types of racks will also need other parts of your vehicle such as windows and doors, so complicated setups done frequently can feel like a chore.
4. Features of the Racks
Some kayak racks have special features that will provide for different types of conveniences such as ease of loading and unloading, adjustments for differently sized kayaks, increased security, or added protection to your car. Look through special features and see which one appeals to you the most. Few models could be designed for triple units but if you are careful you can add an extra. Similarly, even though these are designed for kayaks, they might be useful for bikes and other lightweight luggage.
5. Trusted Manufacturers
There are different manufacturers of kayak roof racks, from cheaper to high-end ones. Price does not necessarily mean quality, though, but it is, however, important to get racks from manufacturers that have a good reputation in the market. Our shortlisted products are from reputed brands, so you won't have to worry about their quality.
Compatibility pertains to both the kayaks that you are loading as well as the accessories already present in your vehicle. While you can install new rails or crossbars, you should know that they should be compatible with the racks that you have your eye on. Otherwise, you might waste your money buying something that will not fit with what you currently have. For trucks, there are specific models that are compatible for truck beds and fifth wheel camper shells.
7. Damage Protection
Kayak roof racks should provide protection to your vehicle, even under the harshest of conditions. As such, they should be able to provide adequate space between the kayaks and the cars, even if said kayaks are heavy or move around.
8. Security & Stability
Security and stability is important, especially in a moving vehicle. A secure and stable kayak rack will mean that kayaks will not dislodge, preventing accidents or injury. Racks should be stable and secure even with strong winds or when traveling at high speeds. When buying, make sure you avoid the PVC plastic materials, or else you might end up damaging both your car and the kayak.
9. Ease of Installation
A kayak rook rack, no matter how user-friendly, will need to be installed. Sometimes, they would have to be removed as well, especially if they would not be used for a long time. Having a hassle-free process to remove and install will be convenient, especially if there are no tools required and with minimal manpower required.
10. Ease of Loading & Unloading
Loading and unloading kayaks should be easy and would require as little effort as possible. This is especially important after kayaking as you may have already spent the majority of your strength. A good kayak roof rack should be convenient to use and you should be able to load and unload your kayak quickly and safely. It's always useful to read the instruction manual coming with each product regarding how to haul your stuffs on these racks.
Roof Racks & Rails usage tips
While these systems can do their jobs as advertised, you should follow certain rules to get the most out of them and to ensure that your precious kayaks are safely secured throughout your trip. Follow the instructions below to assure yourself of a convenient loading and unloading process.
- Before loading, check that all screws and straps are tightly secured.
- Ensure that foam pads are placed where the kayak will make contact with any surface of the carrier or vehicle.
- Use additional foam pads if necessary.
- Attach straps tightly and securely. If needed, add pads on points of contact as well.
- Add straps aside from the ones included in the package if necessary.
- Drive carefully and take into consideration the added size and weight of your vehicle.
It is also important to consider purchasing the right racks for your vehicle, your crossbars, as well as the kayaks that you will be loading. That is what this review is for. If still in doubt, you can ask manufacturers or online community boards for the product that will fit your requirements for a safe and worry-free journey.
Here, we have provided you with a comprehensive list of the best kayak roof racks available to you today. Hopefully, our reviews would have provided you with all of the information that you need about kayak roof racks and which ones you should be shopping for.
Our personal favorites in this list are the Thule 898 Hullavator and the Yakima Jaylow, the former for its ease of loading and unloading, and the latter for its flexibility to switch between J-style and stacker modes.
Of course, you might have your own preferred racks included within the list, and maybe even who have not made the cut. The bottom line is, you should definitely go with the products that you want, although knowledge on what works and what does not will help you make an informed buying decision.