Best Roof Racks for Kayaks & Canoes

Many enthusiasts think that kayak roof racks are not essential. However, the truth is that fitting your kayak on a roof rack is the safest, more reliable choice. Of course, supply stores may also provide other products to transport your kayak like a trailer for instance that may be of great use on short rides, but on longer journeys we recommend a roof rack for transporting your kayak.

 With this in mind, you might be left wondering – What’s the best kayak roof rack?  Well, any Thule, Yakima, or TMS roof rack could qualify as the best kayak roof rack. With the Thule “Hull-A-Port” as the best price-value relation. However, there are many factors to determine which roof rack truly fits your needs. Among these, car size and kayak longitude are the most important.

So fear not! Because here, we answer these and other inquiries on how to transport your kayak and how to choose the best kayak roof rack for you!

Getting Started 

 Just as with any considerable investment, your kayak must be preserved and taken good care of, both when in use and when in storage.

 But this takes on particular relevance at the moment of transporting it to your destination. So, the best way to get your boat out while reducing the risks to its hull integrity is with a rooftop rack.

Some of the equipment required to secure your kayak on top of your vehicle include:


  • Crossbars: generally consisting of 4 vertical pieces that support 2 horizontal bars, this is the base system on which your boat will rest. Most crossbars are designed to attach to the factory-installed side rails. Also, some stores offer custom design and installation services for your specific car model.
  • Cam Buckle Straps: about 12 ft. (or longer), these are used to keep your kayak tightly and securely held on top of your vehicle. While some people would rather use ratcheting straps, our advice is to avoid them as these can get excessively tight and over-compress the hull. Thus resulting in denting and deformation.
  • Saddles and J-Cradles: these are padded platforms and bars, respectively, that attach to the roof rack and hug the surface of the kayak. They also favour the cam straps to hold your boat tight enough without exerting too much pressure, thus preventing damage to the hull.
  • Bow and Stern Ropes: if you transport small, single vessels, cam buckle straps are enough, but when carrying a tandem, or longer touring kayaks, these extra lines become mandatory.


Just make sure to fasten them to the front and back bumpers of your car tight enough so that the boat does not slip, in case you need to unexpectedly apply the break.

Top of the Line

 Among the top brands of rooftop racks, we already mentioned that the best are Thule, Yakima, and TMS. Now, we are going to quick-review some of their most popular models.

Thule Hull-A-Port:

 This J-cradle type rack is not only sturdy but also the definition of one-stop shopping, as it comes with a set of high-quality tie-downs and straps.

 The Hull-A-Port also folds down when not in use and comes with foam cushioning, making it a reliable option, all for a budget-conscious price.


Yakima JayLow Folding J-Cradle:

 Other than its build quality and the fact that it folds down when not in use, the main feature of the JayLow is that it works as a regular J-style roof rack or as a stacker.

 This is possible thanks to its telescopic arm, which can bend at 45 or 90-degree angles, the latter allowing the user to tie-down one kayak on either side.

 And that’s not it! The JayLow comes fully assembled, is designed to be used on almost any type of crossbar, and the installation process requires no special tools. So it’s practically ready-to-mount, even if you’re not an expert!


TMS J-Bar Kayak Rack

 A little more complicated to assemble but still easy enough to put together, the TMS J-Bar comes with all the hardware needed for its installation included.

 Strong-built, affordable, and extremely versatile, this could easily be the perfect rack for sea or touring kayak owners. It also sports adjustable padding to accommodate a wide range of vessels.


Thule Hullavator Pro

 Special mention to this bad boy here, with its gas-assisted struts, the Hullavator Pro is not just a roof rack, but a complete kayak loading system.

 Lowering the kayak at 1 m. to the side of your vehicle, the Hullavator allows its user to load, strap, and unload the boat all by yourself.

 Its extending arms, and 8 touch-points of padded support, allow it to perfectly hug any type of kayak to provide the maximum level of protection.


Making a Decision

We already have some basic knowledge about the equipment and a few references. Now, let’s review some of the factors involved in picking the best-suited roof rack. It’s time to put to rest some concerns you might have as well!

Size Matters: when assessing which rooftop rack works best for you, one of the first points to evaluate is what type and size of vehicle you drive.

  • On smaller cars, a simple set-up that lets you accommodate one or even two boats will do. But, if you have ample roof space, perhaps you should consider a stacker instead.
  • If you drive a van or SUV and carry a long kayak, you might need to attach a set of roller pads to the back bar of your rack. This will make it easier for the loading process when there is only one person. Just lift the bow up into the rollers, then push the kayak until it rests on top.
  • Keep in mind your car’s height as well as yours, because a rack that stands more than 1 ft. above your car’s roof may be impractical if you are not a tall person.


Watch the Roof! There is also some level of concern among owners of sunroof-equipped vehicles, and the short answer is yes, you can use a roof rack!

 However, this is not to be done without some previous considerations, most of all, regarding how much extra weight a fully loaded rack will add to your roof.

 So, on this matter, we can agree that if you are planning to load around 60-90 pounds and choose the proper roof rack, your sunroof will be just fine.


Whistling Winds: the annoying whistling sound produced when the wind hits the roof rack at high speeds can become a type of torture during a long trip.

Avoid this, either by installing a Wind Fairing in the front bar to deflect high-speed winds away from the rack or just by using aerodynamic crossbars.


Before Going Out:

 Some other things to keep in mind when loading your kayak on your best kayak roof rack and –more importantly-, when on the road are:


  •   Take your time: rushing the loading and strapping process is the best way for your kayaking trip to start off on the wrong foot. Load your kayak and secure the cam straps the night before, and leave the bow and stern lines tied. But not so tight, so you don’t put unnecessary downward stress on your boat (you will have plenty of time to fasten them in the morning check-up).
  •   Stop and Check-Up: Stop regularly during your journey to check your straps, buckles, as well as the bow and stern lines thoroughly to make sure nothing has shifted. It is better safe than sorry.
  •     Cover it up: the use of a cockpit cover is – very – important when transporting a kayak to avoid the risk of your boat becoming a projectile. This can happen due to the aerodynamic forces acting on it when going at high speeds.
  •     Slow Down: or simply put, when you drive fast, things can also go wrong really fast. So, when loaded, the best way to travel is by keeping a steady pace. Keep in mind through your rear-view mirrors that your precious cargo is always facing straight ahead and that there is no unwanted bouncing.
  •     One final safety measure would be –in the case of sea/ touring kayaks- hanging a caution red flag from the stern of your vessel to warn other drivers.


 So, now you know the essentials for choosing the best roof rack for your kayak. Go grab your boat, strap it in, and hit the road. You will not regret it once you’re paddling on!

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