How To Choose The Best Kayak Roof Racks?

A good car roof rack will not only serve as a good kayak carrier but also be great for storage.  But picking the right roof rack to haul your kayak can be confusing.  There are many kayak carrier options out there. Some will fit on your car or truck for naked roofs and others need rails. Some require predrilled holes and others need roof tracks. So, how do you choose the best kayak roof rack for your car?

So, let’s cover these topics so you can better decide what you need:

Check out How To Transport Your Kayak By Vehicle Type to find out more about hauling kayaks!  

Well, let’s get started!

Related Topics

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 is one of the most important accessories you will purchase for the safety of your kayak, canoe, or storage carrier you carry on your roof.

Few cars come with a factory roof rack other than SUVs, Jeeps, and mini-vans. So, it is HIGHLY recommended that you use an aftermarket roof rack system along with a dedicated set of kayak mounts.

And you should avoid DIY noodle roof racks when considering options. Noodle and other DIY roof racks and kayak carriers have been known to:

  • 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 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 roof tops 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.

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

Naked Roof

A naked roof means there are no rails, racks, or tracks that can be used to carry your kayak. For example, you will find a naked roof 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:

  • 4 towers with pads that rest on the roof. This will support the crossbar
  • 4 clips that secure the towers and crossbar to the vehicle
  • 2 crossbars to carry and hold the weight of your kayak

Naked Roof Rack Options

Product InformationAmazon AvailabilityLoad RatingRack Attachment
Yakima Baseline
Baseline
165 lbsClamp
Yakima Jetstream Bar
Jetstream Bar
 Crossbar
Rhino Rack Vortex
Vortex 2500 RS
165 lbsClamp + Crossbar
Thule Evo Clamp
Evo Clamp
165 lbsClamp + Crossbar
Thule Wingbar Evo
Wingbar Evo
 Crossbar
Inno XS-250 Aero Base Stays
XS-250 Aero
165 lbsClamp
Inno Base Bars
Aero Base Bar
 Crossbar

Rack towers and crossbars are purchased separately unless packaged together. Some vendors list prices one rack bar, so you will need to order two. Furthermore, all roof racks require you to fit size to your vehicle. Additional parts may be necessary. Therefore, read the order details carefully.

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 one crossbar be attached above each door, so 2-door cars are not usually supported.

Raised Side Rails

Raised side rail roof 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. This allows you to run your hand between the rail and the roof. These vehicles are intended and designed to carry cargo on their roof.

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

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

Raised Side Rail Options

Product InformationAmazon AvailabilityLoad RatingRack Attachment
Yakima Timberline
Timberline
165 lbsSide Rail Clips
Yakima Railbar
Railbar
165 lbsSide Rail Clips
Yakima Jetstream Bar
Jetstream Bar
 Crossbar
Rhino Rack Vortex SX
Vortex SX
176 lbsSide Rail Clips
Thule AeroBlade Raised Rail
AeroBlade Raised Rail
165 lbsSide Rail Clips
Inno XS150
XS150
165 lbsStainless Steel Straps
Inno Aero Bar
Aero Bar
 Crossbar

Rack towers and crossbars are purchased separately unless packaged together. Some vendors list prices one rack bar, so you will need to order two. Furthermore, all roof racks require you to fit size to your vehicle. Additional parts may be necessary. Therefore, read the order details carefully.

These roof racks also 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 they attached and are supported by a side rail.

Flush Side Rails

Flush side rail roof racks

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. These vehicles are intended and designed to look more sleek and aerodynamic and still carry cargo on their roof like the raised side rails.

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

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

There is also an option that has a system of rack towers 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 InformationAmazon AvailabilityLoad RatingRack Attachment
Yakima Ridgeline
Ridgeline
165 lbsRidge Clips
Yakima Jetstream Bar
Jetstream Bar
 Crossbar
Yakima Flushbar
Flushbar
165 lbsFlushbar Clips + Crossbar
Rhino Rack Vortex SX
Vortex SX
176 lbsFlushbar Clips + Crossbar
Inno XS450 Aero
XS450 Aero
165 lbsTorque Knob
Inno Aero Bar
Aero Bar
 Crossbar

Rack towers and crossbars are purchased separately unless packaged together. Some vendors list prices one rack bar, so you will need to order two. Furthermore, all roof racks require you to fit size to your vehicle. Additional parts may be necessary. Therefore, read the order details carefully.

These roof racks also 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 they attached and are supported by a side rail.

Fixed Mount Point Roof

Fixed mount point roof racks
Fixed Mount Point Racks

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

This option also uses the rack tower and pad system that is screwed down into the attachment points on the roof of the vehicle.

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

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

Fixed Mount Point Options

Product InformationAmazon AvailabilityLoad RatingRack Attachment
Yakima Skyline
Skyline
165 lbsVehicle Specific Pads
Yakima Jetstream Bar
Jetstream Bar
 Crossbar
Rhino Rack Vortex RCH
Vortex RCH
165 lbsVehicle Specific Mounts + Crossbar
Rhino Rack Vortex 2500 RS
Vortex 2500 RS
 Vehicle Specific Mounts + Crossbar
Inno XS350 Aero
XS350 Aero
165 lbsVehicle Specific Mounts

Rack towers and crossbars are purchased separately unless packaged together. Some vendors list prices one rack bar, so you will need to order two. Furthermore, all roof racks require you to fit size to your vehicle. Additional parts may be necessary. Therefore, read the order details carefully.

The spread distance between the crossbars has been determined and specified by the vehicle manufacturer at the time of build. Use the provided mount points to ensure using the manufacturer’s intent.

Roof With Tracks

Roof tracks roof racks
Roof Track Racks

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. Some rack system manufacturers offer a track set for custom options for hard to fit vehicles.

Roof Track Options

Product InformationAmazon AvailabilityLoad RatingRack Attachment
Yakima Skyline
Skyline
165 lbsTrack Mount
Yakima Jetstream Bar
Jetstream Bar
 Crossbar
Rhino Rack Vortex
Vortex
165 lbsTrack Mount + Crossbar
Inno Insut Stay Rack
Insut SUT
165 lbsTrack Mount
INNO Square Base Bars
Square Base Bar
 Crossbar

Rack towers and crossbars are purchased separately unless packaged together. Some vendors list prices one rack bar, so you will need to order two. Furthermore, all roof racks require you to fit size to your vehicle. Additional parts may be necessary. Therefore, read the order details carefully.

Types Of Crossbars

Have you ever heard a whistling sound when one of your car windows is not rolled up all the way? 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.

There is also a classic round bar you can choose.

Crossbar Length

It is recommended 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

SUV with saddle kayak roof racks

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 mounted at the rear of the vehicle to make loading easier.

Saddle Kayak Cradle Options

Product InformationAmazon AvailabilityWeight Capacity Rack Weight
Yakima DeckHand
DeckHand
80 lbs3.5 lbs
Thule DockGrip
DockGrip
85 lbs8.7 lbs
Rhino-Rack Nautic
Nautic 580
80 lbs 
Malone Saddle Up Pro
Saddle Up Pro
90 lbs9 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

The J-cradle is one of the most versatile cradles on the accessory market.  There are folding models that can tuck out of the way when not in use.  There are other models that can fold up to be used 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 keeps strapping simple.

There is padding which helps to protect your boat from bending and warping during transport.

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

J-Cradle Kayak Cradle Options

Product InformationAmazon AvailabilityWeight CapacityRack Weight
Yakima JayHook
JayHook
80 lbs10.5 lbs
Thule Hull-a-Port
Hull-a-Port
75 lbs8.7 lbs
Rhino-Rack
J-Style Carrier
80 lbs 
Malone
J-Pro2
75 lbs11.5 lbs

Stacker Kayak Mounts

This is the most economical kayak carrier available. It is the only mount that carries up to 4 kayaks.

This kayak car rack comes with a vertical bar that you lean each kayak against. Then, you strap the kayaks to this bar.

The kayaks are on its side against the bar which makes it hard to handle and tie them down. Because your boats are not protected from the bar, there is a chance they can be damaged or warped if not secured properly.

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

Stacker Kayak Cradle Options

Product InformationAmazon AvailabilityWeight CapacityRack Weight
Yakima BigStack
BigStack
150 lbs7.2 lbs
Thule Stacker
The Stacker
150 lbs7.1 lbs
Rhino-Rack
Nautic Stack
150 lbs 
Malone
Stax Pro2
50 lbs / boat8.5 lbs

Summary

Hauling a kayak or canoe on your car roof requires a roof rack. This can be from the original manufacturer or an aftermarket model.  DIY carriers should be avoided.  They can be harmful to your kayak, canoe, or storage cargo box due to pressure points with the between the boat and your vehicle.

There are kayak carriers for cars without rails (a naked roof), raised side rails, flush side rails, fixed mount points, and roof track style.

Kayak carriers are attached to the roof rack crossbars.  Then kayaks are attached to cradles such as saddle, j-cradle, and stacker kayak mounts. 

Tracy Villarreal

I'm the owner of Active At The Beach. I grew up in a beach town in which I was fortunate enough to spend tons of time around the sea and the beach.

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