The 9 Best Kayak Roof Racks of 2023

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TripSavvy / Chloe Jeong

If you’re passionate about kayaking but want to avoid the expense and storage requirements, transporting your vessel on your car rooftop is the ideal solution. And although you could technically strap your kayak straight to your roof rack, purpose-built kayak carriers are safer and easier to use (especially if you choose one with load assist, which makes solo loading and unloading a breeze). There are several different styles from which to choose.

Saddle racks transport a single kayak in a horizontal position. J-cradle racks save space by carrying kayaks at a 45-degree angle—so you can fit two side-by-side. Stackers allow you to transport up to four kayaks vertically, while inflatable bars or foam pads provide an answer for those that don’t already have roof racks installed.

Whatever your requirements, here are the best kayak roof racks currently on the market.

Best Overall

Thule Compass Kayak Rack

Thule Compass Kayak Rack


What We Like
  • Multiple carrying styles for kayaks and SUPs

  • Folds flat when not in use

  • No tools are required to install

What We Don't Like
  • An adapter may be necessary for some roof racks

  • Relatively expensive

From the most respected brand in the roof rack business comes the Thule Compass rack, intended for kayaks or SUPs, with a maximum total weight of up to 130 pounds. The Compass is one of the most versatile options available, allowing for multiple carrying styles. You can load a single kayak in a J-cradle or saddle configuration, stack two kayaks vertically on their side, or load up to two SUPs in saddle mode.

Either way, thick rubber saddles, and a padded upright afford maximum protection. Use the integrated StrapCatch to manage your load straps (two sets are included, in addition to bow and stern tie-downs). The carrier should fit most roof rack systems, although some may require an after-market adapter. When not used, it folds flat for better aerodynamics and includes Thule’s limited lifetime warranty. 

Price at time of publish: $350

Best Runner-Up

Malone FoldAway-5 Multi-Rack

Malone FoldAway-5 Multi-Rack


What We Like
  • Supports kayaks, canoes, and SUPs

  • High load capacity

  • Limited lifetime warranty

What We Don't Like
  • It may not be compatible with all roof racks

  • Some reviewers say installation can be tricky

If your budget doesn’t quite stretch to a Thule kayak rack, the FoldAway-5 from Malone is a worthy alternative for roughly half the price. It offers similar versatility, allowing you to carry a single kayak or canoe on its side, two kayaks stacked vertically, or any size SUP. The load capacity is two boats with a maximum weight limit of 75 pounds each, supported by corrosion-resistant coated steel frames and thick padding.

The frames, which include extension modules for transporting wide loads, fold flat for better clearance and aerodynamics when not in use. They will fit most factory roof bars and many after-market ones, whether round, square, or oval. With two lengths of mounting bolts included, getting a secure fit is easy. Also in the box are cam-style load straps, bow and stern tie-downs for two boats, and foam pads for your SUP.

Price at time of publish: $162

Best for Solo Use

Yakima SweetRoll Kayak Rack

Yakima SweetRoll Kayak Rack


What We Like
  • Supports solo loading with integrated rollers

  • The spring-loaded base adjusts to the hull shape

  • Easy installation

What We Don't Like
  • It supports one kayak only

  • Expensive, especially considering limited use

Loading and unloading your kayak alone can be a hassle with conventional roof racks, but the Yakima SweetRoll offers the ideal solution, with rollers integrated into the rear saddles. The complete system also includes front saddles, with a spring-loaded base that automatically adjusts to cradle your boat when loading. Smooth, molded pads protect multiple kayak types, with a maximum load capacity of one boat weighing up to 80 pounds.

Your purchase includes SKS locks, heavy-duty straps, and bow and stern safety tie-downs. The kayak carrier should be compatible with any roof bar type, including round, square, aerodynamic, and factory versions. However, it does require a minimum crossbar spread of 24 inches. Installation is simple, taking approximately 10 minutes with no tools required. A limited lifetime warranty applies.

Price at time of publish: $279

Best Load Assist

Yakima ShowBoat 66 Roller System

Yakima ShowBoat 66 Roller System


What We Like
  • It makes solo loading a breeze

  • Protects your vehicle from accidental damage

  • Compatible with most crossbar shapes

What We Don't Like
  • Saddles sold separately

  • Only suitable for a single kayak

Those who want to take solo loading and unloading to the next level should consider a kayak carrier with load assist. Yakima’s ShowBoat 66 is an excellent choice in this category, comprising a load assist roller that slides out over the back of your vehicle, giving up to 34 inches of clearance from the rear crossbar for easy access (and protecting your car from accidental damage). A well-padded roller bar should help protect your kayak, too.

Intended for single kayaks of up to 80 pounds, the ShowBoat 66 features corrosion-resistant stainless steel with long-lasting brass hardware. It has a set of 66-inch crossbars that attach perpendicular to your existing rack system and is compatible with most round, square, aerodynamic, and factory bars. Yakima sells the saddles separately, and you will need some DIY know-how to assemble the rack, with installation estimated to take around 30 minutes.

Price at time of publish: $249

Best Splurge

Thule Hullavator Pro Kayak Rack

Thule Hullavator Pro Kayak Rack


What We Like
  • Enables waist-height loading and unloading

  • Uses gas-assisted struts to take kayak weight

  • Kayak cradles expand to fit wider hulls

What We Don't Like
  • The most expensive option on this list

  • Not compatible with all roof rack types

Thule’s Hullavator Pro kayak rack may cost five times as much as this list’s runner-up, but if you have the dollars to spare, it certainly makes loading and transporting your kayak an absolute dream. The lift assist rack features double-extending arms that reach down over the side of your vehicle so that you can load and unload your kayak at waist height, while gas-assisted struts take on 40 pounds of the kayak’s weight.

The kayak cradles expand to fit a variety of hull widths, and your kayak is guaranteed the best support possible with no fewer than eight padded touch points. The entire system is constructed of aluminum and double-coated steel for ultimate corrosion resistance and longevity and comes with Thule’s QuickDraw bow and stern tie-downs. Suitable for one kayak of up to 75 pounds, the carrier is compatible with all Thule roof racks except the Wingbar Edge.

Price at time of publish: $900

Best Budget

AVENN Rooftop J-Bar Kayak Rack

AVENN Rooftop J-Bar Kayak Rack


What We Like
  • Backed by positive user reviews

  • The high maximum load weight

  • Also suitable for canoes and SUPs

What We Don't Like
  • Materials may not be as sturdy or long-lasting

  • No warranty information is available

At the other end of the spectrum is AVENN’s kayak rack, which retails for a third of the cost of this list’s runner-up and 15 times less than the Hullavator Pro. Nevertheless, it receives many positive user reviews and is a cost-effective way to transport your kayak in the J-cradle position—designed to make the most of space on narrow rooftops. The rack features weather-resistant, epoxy powder-coated steel tubing, with padding at key points to protect your kayak.

The AVENN carrier fits most factory or aftermarket roof racks, whether round, square, oval, or flat and comes with everything you need to install it. Your purchase also includes two 16-foot ratchet straps and two 10-foot bow and stern tie-downs. Use yours with any kayak style up to 36 inches in width and 150 pounds in weight. The rack also works for transporting canoes and SUPs.

Price at time of publish: $60

Best Stacker

Thule Stacker Kayak Rack

Thule Stacker Kayak Rack


What We Like
  • Designed to carry up to four kayaks

  • Folds flat when not in use

  • Includes a non-scratch outer coating

What We Don't Like
  • It only includes straps for one kayak

  • An adapter may be required for some roof racks

If you're looking to transport more than two kayaks, Thule's Stacker is your best bet. If you purchase two of these tried-and-tested workhorses, you can carry up to four kayaks stacked on their side—the only limitations are the width of your rooftop and the size of your kayaks. The stacker is compatible with kayaks of up to 34 inches in width and 75 pounds in weight. It has the straps needed for one kayak, but you'll have to purchase additional straps separately.

The stacker features a steel construction with a durable, non-scratch outer coating. When not in use, it folds flat for easy storage. Buyers should be aware of this carrier's limited compatibility, however; you'll need a Thule roof rack, and if you have the ProBar Evo, the Xsporter Pro, or the TracRac - Van, you'll need an adapter as well. The stacker doesn't work with the TracRac - Truck. Like all Thule racks, it features a limited lifetime warranty.

Price at time of publish: $260

Best for Heavy Loads

Yakima BigCatch Kayak Saddles

Yakima BigCatch Kayak Saddles


What We Like
  • Massive load capacity

  • Saddles adjust to fit hull shape

  • Compatible with most crossbar types

What We Don't Like
  • The adapter kit is required for some crossbars

  • No load assist

If you’ve got a heavy fishing kayak or a sit-on-top, chances are it exceeds the maximum weight limit of some of the lighter carriers on this list. Never fear, though; there’s a product for you—Yakima’s BigCatch kayak rack, built to handle loads of up to 150 pounds. The BigCatch features wide, rubber-padded saddles that adjust to fit your kayak’s hull precisely for the most secure carry possible. Meanwhile, felt pads make loading and unloading easier.

The BigCatch is compatible with most crossbars, although you’ll need to purchase separate adapter kits for round and T-slot bars. It requires a minimum crossbar spread of 27 inches. You can install the saddles quickly and easily without breaking out your toolbox, and they come with heavy-duty straps and bow/stern tie-downs. Like all Yakima roof racks and mounts, the BigCatch features a limited lifetime warranty.

Price at time of publish: $259

Best Temporary Pads

HandiRack Universal Inflatable Soft Roof Rack Bars

HandiRack Universal Inflatable Soft Roof Rack Bars


What We Like
  • No crossbars needed

  • Easy to install and remove

  • Capable of supporting heavy loads

What We Don't Like
  • Warranty valid for one year only

  • Not suitable for cars with side curtain airbags

Most kayak carriers will only work if you already have roof racks installed on your vehicle. However, these inflatable roof rack bars from HandiRack provide a solution for those that don't have existing crossbars. Made of heavy-duty, non-abrasive 400-denier nylon, they are easily fitted without the need for tools—simply pass the securing strap through the car's interior, fasten, and inflate the bars using the included pump.

The inflation process ensures the bars are securely in place while the air cushions your kayak and protects it from damage. Use the five integrated, anti-corrosion coated D-rings to anchor loads up to 175 pounds. The aerodynamically designed bars should minimize vibration and wind noise, and when you aren't using them, they can be easily removed and kept in a convenient storage bag. Tie-down straps and bow/stern lines are also included.

Price at time of publish: $80

What to Look for in a Kayak Roof Rack

Weight limit

All kayak carriers and roof racks come with specific instructions from the manufacturer, including a maximum weight limit. If the carrier can accommodate more than one kayak, this is sometimes given as a per-kayak limit or a total limit—be sure you know which it is and that your intended load doesn’t exceed the maximum. Some kayaks (particularly fishing kayaks and sit-on-tops) may exceed the weight limit of most regular carriers. In this case, you’ll need to look for one especially designed for heavy loads, like the BigCatch from Yakima. 


Kayak carriers come in four types. The first is a saddle rack, which cradles your kayak in a horizontal position. It’s a secure, easy-to-load way of transporting a single kayak. Next is the J-cradle, which uses J-shaped bars to carry your kayak at a 45-degree angle. This is an excellent option for those that want to fit two kayaks side-by-side on a narrow rooftop. Stackers allow you to carry multiple kayaks (sometimes as many as four) in a vertical position, while temporary foam or inflatable pads are the only options for those without existing crossbars.


Prices for kayak roof racks vary widely, from under $100 for the most budget-friendly to around $900 for the most expensive. What you get for your money also varies; the priciest models typically include hydraulic load assist for easy loading and unloading at waist level (great for solo kayakers), are made from premium materials that won’t corrode after repeated exposure to salt water, and come with a lifetime guarantee. How much you should spend depends on what you can afford, your requirements, and how much you’ll use your carrier.


Depending on the style of kayak carrier you choose, the size (in terms of height, width, and total roof space taken up) can vary considerably. You should always check that the dimensions are compatible with the size of your rooftop, especially if you plan on fitting a second carrier or other roof accessories alongside it. Generally, height isn’t an issue as long as you choose carriers that can fold down when not in use (first prize) or be easily removed for transport and storage.

Car compatibility

When determining the compatibility of different kayak carriers, the first question is, “does it require crossbars?” Most do, so if your car hasn’t got them, you’ll need to install them or opt for temporary pads designed especially for naked rooftops. If you have crossbars, you need to check that your potential purchase is compatible with a) the width of your crossbar spread and b) the crossbar shape. Most kayak carriers are designed to be universal, and even if your crossbars are not compatible, adapter kits are often available.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • What does my car need to attach a kayak roof rack?

    Most kayak roof racks are designed to attach to existing crossbars on your car’s rooftop. Compatibility varies, so you’ll need to check that your crossbar shape and spread are a good fit for whichever model you purchase. Sometimes, you’ll need an adapter kit to install them correctly. If you don’t have crossbars on your car, temporary foam pads or inflatable roof bars provide a solution—although they’re not compatible with soft-tops or, generally, cars with side curtain airbags.

  • How do I securely attach my kayak to the top of my car?

    The process of securing your kayak to your rooftop will depend on the style of kayak carrier you choose. You should always read the included instructions and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines closely to keep you and your kayak safe. Whichever model you go for, each kayak will need securing with two load straps and both bow and stern tie-downs.

  • How long should my kayak rack last and what can I do to increase the lifespan?

    The longevity of your kayak rack will depend on the quality of its construction—sometimes, it’s worth paying more for higher-end materials and finishes. The warranty length is a good indicator of expected lifespan, with many cheaper models covered for a year or two, while racks from top brands like Thule and Yakima benefit from a lifetime warranty. You can ensure yours lasts as long as possible by rinsing it with fresh water after every use, removing dirt and debris with warm, soapy water, and occasionally lubricating any moving parts.

Why Trust TripSavvy

Jessica Macdonald is a watersports enthusiast who has enjoyed kayaking adventures in South Africa, Scotland, and Canada. For this article, she reviewed more than 20 kayak roof racks, reading independent industry and customer reviews and comparing products for price, quality of materials, ease of use and installation, and maximum load capacity. She then chose winners for each category above to represent the broadest range of options to suit all possible reader requirements.

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