kayak on SUV

Kayak Roof Racks: How To Pick The Best One For Your Car Or Truck16 min read

You have a great new kayak you can’t wait to get on the water. You desperately need a roof rack but are confused and frustrated trying to figure out the different types and which one will be perfect for your vehicle.

Don’t stress it. This article is just for you!

This guide will help you find the perfect kayak rack for your needs. I’ve put together a comprehensive list of kayak carriers that will help you save time and money. This review will introduce you to different types of vehicle roof racks along with an in-depth buying guide to help you pick the best one for your car or truck.

You will:

  • learn what type of roof your vehicle has and how much weight it can carry
  • learn which roof racks are designed to serve your vehicle type
  • evaluate different kayak mounts that fit on the roof racks such as J-cradle and stackers 
  • have access to manufacturer product links to get more information about racks you are interested in
  • save time and money buying through Amazon through direct links to the racks and mounts you choose 

Check out Ultimate Guide: How To Transport Your Kayak with More Confidence to look at other options for transporting your kayak.  

Well, let’s get started

Does Your Vehicle Need A Roof Rack?

First off, let’s get this out of the way: unless you drive a truck or pull a trailer, your car will need a roof rack to transport your kayak. This gear is one of the essential accessories you will purchase to protect the kayak, canoe, or storage carrier you carry on your roof, except for the truck bed.

Few cars come with a factory roof rack other than SUVs, Jeeps, and mini-vans. So, use an aftermarket roof rack system along with a dedicated set of kayak mounts. I highly recommend it.

And it would be best if you avoided DIY noodle roof racks when considering options. Noodle, temporary padding, and other DIY roof racks and kayak carriers can:

  • Warp or bend the bottom of your kayak or canoe
  • Dent or damage the roof of your car
  • Break or become unsecured and let the kayak blow down the highway

With this in mind, you are responsible for damages caused to other vehicles for losing your kayak(s) on the road.

So, yes, you need a heavy-duty factory-built or aftermarket roof rack system to haul your kayak. The good news is that these seem racks also carry canoes.

Roof Rack Options By Roof Design

Let’s start our discussion by reviewing roof rack systems. Car, truck, and SUV rooftops come in a few varieties:

  • Naked roof
  • Raised side rails
  • Flush side rails
  • Fixed-mount points
  • Roof tracks

Each scenario will require a slightly different solution. But, your roof rack should all be easy to install, easy to load and unload, and quick and easy to disassemble.

As a result, here are some vehicle roof rack options to serve your purpose, based on what is currently on your vehicle roof. First, therefore, identify what top type your vehicle has. Then, in case you need help, refer to a reputable installer.

Naked Roof

A naked roof means no rails, racks, or tracks that carry your kayak. For example, you will find a bare top on smaller vehicles, some SUVs, and truck cabs.

There are several options for a kayak roof rack that serves cars without rails. Generally, this roof type requires a strap-on or clip-on system from an aftermarket vendor. These products allow you to carry a kayak on vehicles not specifically designed to carry cargo on its roof.

As a result, most manufacturers offer naked roof carriers. These include:

  • Four towers with pads that rest on the roof. This accessory supports the crossbar
  • Four clips that secure the towers and crossbar to the vehicle
  • Two crossbars to carry and hold the weight of your kayak

Naked Roof Rack Options

Product Link

Amazon Link

Load Rating

Rack Attachment

Yakima Baseline

165 lbs

Clamp

Yakima Jetstream Bar

165 lbs

Crossbar

Rhino Rack Vortex

165 lbs

Clamp + Crossbar

Thule Evo Clamp

165 lbs

Clamp + Crossbar

Thule Wingbar Evo

165 lbs

Crossbar

Inno XS-250 Aero Base Stays

165 lbs

Clamp

Inno Base Bars

165 lbs

Crossbar

Rack towers and crossbars are purchased separately. Sometimes you will find them packaged together. However, some vendors list prices for one rack bar, so you will need to order two.

Furthermore, all roof racks require you to fit the size of your vehicle. Therefore, additional parts may be necessary. So, read the order details carefully.

You will also need a bow and stern tie with load straps to secure the kayak to your roof. Again, ratchet straps work the best for a quick and easy fastener.

Most roof racks require a minimum of 24″ between bars and 48″ from the front bar to the back of the roof. They also recommend attaching one crossbar above each door, so 2-door cars are not usually supported.

Raised Side Rails

side rail racks
Raised Side Rails Rack

This vehicle accessory runs along the top of the roof, from front to back. Additionally, there is a gap between the rail and the roof. These gaps allow you to run your hand between the rail and the car top. Manufacturers of these vehicles intend and design them to carry cargo on their rooftops.

Rack manufacturers have roof racks that take advantage of raised side rails. These kits include:

  • Four towers with a clip or wrap attachment to the side rail. These towers will support the crossbar
  • Four clips that secure the towers and crossbar to the vehicle
  • Two crossbars to carry and hold the weight of your kayak or canoe

Raised Side Rail Options

Product Link

Amazon Link

Load Rating

Rack Attachment

Yakima Timberline

165 lbs

Side Rail Clips

Yakima Railbar

165 lbs

Side Rail Clips

Yakima Jetstream Bar

165 lbs

Crossbar

Rhino Rack Vortex SX

176 lbs

Side Rail Clips

Thule AeroBlade Raised Rail

165 lbs

Side Rail Clips

Inno XS150

165 lbs

Stainless Steel Straps

Inno Aero Bar

165 lbs

Crossbar

Rack towers and crossbars are purchased independently. Sometimes manufacturers package them together. However, some vendors list prices for one rack bar, so you will need to order two.

Furthermore, all roof racks require you to fit the size of your vehicle. Therefore, additional parts may be necessary. Therefore, read the order details carefully.

Roof racks require a minimum of 24″ between bars and 48″ from the front bar to the back of the roof. But the number of doors does not matter since the side rail supports the racks.

Flush Side Rails

Flush Side Rails
Flush Side Rails

This vehicle accessory also runs along the top of the roof, from front to back. But, the rails are flush and do not have a gap between the rail and the roof. As a result, these vehicles’ designs look sleek and aerodynamic and carry cargo on the top of the raised side rails.

Rack manufacturers also have roof racks that take advantage of flush side rails. These kits include:

  •  Four rack towers with ridge clip attachments to the side rail. This system will support the crossbar
  • Four clips that secure the towers and crossbar to the vehicle
  • Two crossbars to carry and hold the weight of your kayak

Other rack tower systems come with thick pads that screw down into the top of the flush side rails and a removable crossbar that attaches to each.

Flush Side Rail Options

Product Link

Amazon Link

Load Rating

Rack Attachment

Yakima Ridgeline

165 lbs

Ridge Clips

Yakima Jetstream Bar

165 lbs

Crossbar

Yakima Flushbar

165 lbs

Flushbar Clips + Crossbar

Rhino Rack Vortex SX

176 lbs

Flushbar Clips + Crossbar

Inno XS450 Aero

165 lbs

Torque Knob

Inno Aero Bar

165 lbs

Crossbar

Rack towers and crossbars are purchased separately or as a set. Unfortunately, some vendors list prices for one rack bar, so you will need to order two.

Furthermore, all roof racks require you to fit the size of your vehicle. Therefore, additional parts may be necessary. So, read the order details carefully.

These roof racks require a minimum of 24″ between bars and 48″. This system extends from the front bar to the back of the roof. But the number of doors does not matter since this set attaches to the side rail.

Fixed Mount Point Roof

flush side rail racks
Fixed Mount Point Rack

This vehicle looks like a naked roof but has a set of attachment points or pre-drilled holes that go down into the vehicle’s frame.

This option also uses the rack tower and pad system screwed down into the attachment points on the vehicle’s roof.

This roof rack system is an exceptionally sturdy option to use with your rack system, so it’s a preferable rack attachment style. These kits include:

  •  Four rack towers with screw-down attachments to the roof attachment points. This tower set will support the crossbar
  • Four clips that secure the towers and crossbar to the vehicle
  • Two crossbars to carry and hold the weight of your kayak

Fixed Mount Point Options

Product Link

Amazon Link

Load Rating

Rack Attachment

Yakima Skyline

165 lbs

Vehicle Specific Pads

Yakima Jetstream Bar

165 lbs

Crossbar

Rhino Rack Vortex RCH

165 lbs

Vehicle Specific Mounts + Crossbar

Rhino Rack Vortex 2500 RS

165 lbs

Vehicle Specific Mounts + Crossbar

Inno XS350 Aero

165 lbs

Vehicle Specific Mounts

Rack towers and crossbars are purchased separately or as a set. Unfortunately, some vendors list prices for one rack bar, so you will need to order two.

Furthermore, all roof racks require you to fit the size of your vehicle. Therefore, additional parts may be necessary. Therefore, read the order details carefully.

The vehicle manufacturer determines the spread distance between the crossbars and specifies them at the time of build. Use the provided mount points to ensure using the manufacturer’s intent.

Roof With Tracks

roof track racks
Roof With Tracks Rack

These vehicles have a low-profile track that runs from front to back on each side.

This option allows you to also attach the rack tower and pad system and crossbar rack system to the tracks. In addition, some rack system manufacturers offer a track set for custom options for hard-to-fit vehicles.

Roof Track Options

Product Link

Amazon Link

Load Rating

Rack Attachment

Yakima Skyline

165 lbs

Track Mount

Yakima Jetstream Bar

165 lbs

Crossbar

Rhino Rack Vortex

165 lbs

Track Mount + Crossbar

Inno Insut Stay Rack

176 lbs

Track Mount

INNO Square Base Bars

165 lbs

Crossbar

Rack towers and crossbars are purchased individually or unless packaged together. Some vendors list prices for one rack bar, so you will need to order two.

Furthermore, all roof racks require you to fit the size of your vehicle. Therefore, additional parts may be necessary. So, read the order details carefully.

Types Of Crossbars

Have you ever heard a whistling sound when you leave one of your car windows cracked? Unfortunately, that is what you will hear if you don’t choose an aerodynamic crossbar or it is not attached correctly.

Most vendors will offer aluminum and steel crossbar teardrop versions. The main difference is how it attaches, accessory options, and the cost. You can also select a classic round bar.

Crossbar Length

We recommend that the crossbar length be just slightly longer than the attached rack towers. You can extend longer but not longer than the vehicle width and side mirrors. Longer than that is illegal in some states.

Other Roof Rack Options

Most manufacturers offer a windshield deflector in the front to reduce wind noise from the round crossbar. You can also add locks to the towers to keep someone from stealing your investment.

Kayak Mounting Cradle Options

There are three standard types of kayak roof rack mounts for all vehicles.

Saddle Kayak Mounts

nautic kayak universal rear carrier
Nautic Kayak Universal Rear Load Carrier

Nautic Kayak Carrier Rear Load by Rhino-Rack

Nautic Kayak Carrier Rear Load
Nautic Kayak Carrier Rear Load

This kayak car rack sets positions your boat flat with the deck and gunnels pointing up. There is good padding to protect the kayak, and it is cradled above your racks to prevent scratches on your vehicle.

Kayaks are loaded from the back of the vehicle and slide forward with this mount type. Some of these come with a roller system or a load extender. You mount this at the rear of the car to make loading easier.

Saddle Kayak Cradle Options

Product Link

Amazon Link

Weight Capacity

Rack Weight

Yakima DeckHand

80 lbs

3.5 lbs

Thule DockGrip

85 lbs

8.7 lbs

Rhino-Rack Nautic

80 lbs

9 lbs

Malone Saddle Up Pro

90 lbs

9 lbs

The downside is that this mounting system will take up a lot of room on the crossbar and possibly limit you to one kayak.

J-Cradle Kayak Mounts

rhino rack fixed J style kayak carrier
Rhino Rack Fixed J Style Kayak Carrier

The J-cradle is one of the universal cradles on the accessory market; some folding models can tuck out of the way when not in use; other models can fold up to tie a second kayak or canoe on the other side.

The J-cradle mount keeps your kayak at a 45-degree angle, which allows you more room to mount other kayaks to the crossbar.

Since this kayak car rack sits in a cradle with a slight tilt, the boat will rest there while you strap it down. This technique keeps strapping simple. There is the padding that helps to protect your boat from bending and warping during transport.

You will load kayaks from the side of the vehicle using this mount.

Find out more about this great kayak carrier at Rhino-Rack.

J-Cradle Kayak Cradle Options

Product Link

Amazon Link

Weight Capacity

Rack Weight

Yakima JayHook

80 lbs

10.5 lbs

Thule Hull A Port Pro

75 lbs

8.7 lbs

Rhino-Rack J-Rack

80 lbs

9 lbs

Malone J-Pro 2

75 lbs

11.5 lbs

Stacker Kayak Mounts

2 kayaks on a stacker carrier
2 Kayaks On A Stacker Carrier

This option is the most economical kayak carrier available. In addition, it is the only mount that carries up to 4 kayaks.

This kayak car rack comes with a vertical bar in which you mount each kayak. Then, you strap the kayaks to this bar.The kayaks are on their side against the bar, making it hard to handle and tie them down.

In addition, because you are not protecting your boats from the bar, there is a chance they can be damaged or warped if not appropriately secured.

This mount type also requires you to load the kayak from the side of the vehicle.

Find out more about Nautic Stack carrier at Rhino-Rack.

Stacker Kayak Cradle Options

Product Link

Amazon Link

Weight Capacity

Rack Weight

Yakima BigStack

150 lbs

7.2 lbs

Thule Stacker

150 lbs

7.1 lbs

RhinoRack Nautic Stack

150 lbs

8 lbs

Malone

50 lbs / boat

8.5 lbs

Summary

In this article, you were able to check out different roof racks and kayak mounts available to carry your kayak on the roof of your vehicle. You know exactly the products that you can buy that will get your kayak to the water and save money too!

You now:

  • know what type of roof your vehicle has and how much weight it can carry
  • know which roof racks are designed to serve your vehicle type
  • have considered different kayak mounts that fit on the roof racks such as J-cradle and stackers 
  • know all the available product information for the racks and mounts you are interested in
  • can purchase the products you are interested directly through Amazon to get the best deal available. 

Happy trails and tight lines!

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