The 5 Best Kayak Roof Racks – 2020 Review Guide

If you’ve recently bought a kayak, congratulations! What you need now, is a safe and easy way to get your yak to your favorite beach, river or lake. Luckily, you’ll find roof racks for your car that are made specifically for kayaks.

To help you purchase the best kayak roof rack for your needs, we’ve put together a guide with a range of fantastic options.

Table of Contents

5 Top Kayak Roof Racks


Product Name

Vehicle Compatibility


Ease of Loading


Malone Downloader Folding J-Style

Universal Fits all kayaks

Ramp allows the kayak to be easily loaded.

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2 Pair Universal Canoe Car Top Mount Carrier Universal Fits kayaks, canoes, and boats Difficult to load–wide mouth. Check Current Price

Thule Hull-a-Port Kayak Carrier

Not Universal Fits large kayaks No extra features Check Current Price

The Kayak Wing – Sea Kayak Rack

Not Universal Kayak width must be under 30 inches No extra features Check Current Price

SportRack SR5527 Adjustable Foam Kayak Carrier

Universal Narrow kayaks No extra features Check Current Price

When purchasing a kayak roof rack, the first things to consider include the size of your kayak and the suitability of your vehicle.  Many roof racks are universal, however it always pays to read the fine print to ensure you get the right fit.

Choose the Best Kayak Roof Rack for You

1. Malone Downloader Folding J-Style

The Malone Downloader Folding J-Style kayak roof rack is universal, which means it works with most types of vehicles.


best kayak roof rack

A major perk of the Downloader Folding J-Style roof rack is a built-in boarding ramp that helps you load your kayak easily.

The J-style of this kayak roof rack means that the kayak sits on its side on top of the car. Therefore, there’s less drag when driving.

Another benefit of the Malone Kayak Roof Rack is that it’s mainly made from steel. This is a very durable material that helps protect your kayak while traveling. Being made from such a durable material also means that the roof rack should last many years in great condition.

Reviewing the Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Further

The bottom of this roof rack has rubber pads, which prevent it from scratching your car. Furthermore, when it’s not in use, simply fold it down on top of your car for storage.

Some kayakers fear that this means the roof rack will fold down in the middle of carrying the kayak. However, this doesn’t happen, as the roof rack can’t fold or loosen when the kayak is engaged.


  • Very durable
  • Has a ramp for loading the kayak
  • Made from steel
  • Rubber Pads
  • Universal Roof Rack
  • J Style Roof Rack
  • Folds Down


  • Rubber pads can break down over time

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2. 2 Pair Universal Car Top Mount Carrier

The 2 Pair Universal Car Top Mount Carrier is an excellent choice for kayaks, canoes and other small boats. It’s universal, however, always check with the manufacturer as to its suitability for your vehicle.


best kayak roof rack

This is a J Carrier, therefore your kayak or canoe is hauled on the side of the car. Additionally, it’s sold in pairs, so you’ll transport two kayaks with ease.

Unlike the Malone, this roof rack doesn’t have a boarding ramp. However, the J shape of the kayak holder is wide-mouthed. A wide-mouth J carrier allows the kayak more room as it enters the mouth of the J, which means it’s easier to load your kayak.

On delivery, these kayak roof racks come in small pieces. Simply place the pieces together to create the roof rack.

Furthermore, these roof racks are made of steel, making them very durable and long-lasting. There are rubber pieces, like the Malone, which may occasionally wear out.

Sometimes, however, various pieces of the steel roof rack can come into contact with your car roof. This may be a screw or a plate. If this occurs, you may have to do some modifying. Be cautious of this and double check where the roof rack connects with your car.

This kayak roof rack is a very safe choice, as your kayak won’t blow around or shift while driving, even at high speeds. For new or seasoned kayakers, this makes it a superb choice.


  • Wide mouth
  • Steel
  • J Carrier
  • Sold in a set of four, enough for two kayaks (or boats or canoes)
  • Can haul kayaks, canoes, or boats
  • Does not shift
  • Comes with ropes


  • May not fit on every car roof

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3. Thule Hull-a-Port Kayak Carrier

The Hull-a-Port fits many car racks, but not all. Some car racks need the Thule AeroBlade with Xadapt11 T-track hardware kit and XSporter with XAdapt 11, to attach them.

This roof rack is another J Style roof rack, which means the kayak is mounted on its side. As stated previously, this means you can carry multiple kayaks on the roof with less resistance from the wind while driving.

best kayak roof rack

Unlike both of the other roof racks, the Hull-a-Port does not have any special way to load your kayak easily. However, it does have a feature that allows for speedy installation and removal. This is a major perk if you’re often switching cars.

To secure your kayak, the Hull-a-Port is equipped with straps that are very durable and great quality. In fact, the entire roof rack is made from heavy duty metal and durable plastic to combat wear and tear over time.


  • Has durable straps
  • Easy installation and removal
  • J Style
  • Fits most car roofs


  • Shorter Straps
  • May not fit your car roof

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4. The Kayak Wing – Sea Kayak Rack

The Kayak Wing is not a J Style roof rack like the others on this list. Instead, it’s designed to hold the bottom of the kayak stable, rather than the side. This means that the hull of the kayak rests in the cradle of the Kayak Wing.

For your kayak to fit well with this holder, it must have a V-shaped or grooved hull.

best kayak roof rack

Though this is not ideal for many kayakers, it’s beneficial for those with a tall vehicle. It can be very difficult to lift a kayak of over 50 pounds that high, but the Kayak Wing allows you to slide it on top of your vehicle.

Though listed as a universal roof rack, cars that have a clearance of less than an inch and a half between the crossbar and car roof can’t carry this roof rack.

Additionally, this roof rack is made of very durable plastic. Though this sounds inferior to steel, this roof rack comes with a 5-year warranty. If the plastic should break, the company automatically replaces it.


  • 5-year warranty
  • Kayak lies flat
  • Easy to load on top of the car
  • Keeps kayak very stable
  • Holds hull of the kayak


  • Made from plastic
  • Does not fit all cars
  • Kayaks with a width of more than 30 inches will not fit
  • Hull must be v-shaped or grooved

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5. SportRack SR5527 Adjustable Foam Kayak Carrier

The SportRack is an incredibly different type of kayak carrier. It’s made of two foam blocks that attach to the racks on the roof of the car. These foam blocks then support an upside-down kayak.

The foam blocks have metal bars running through them, connecting each pair. There is a pair at the bow of the kayak and a pair at the stern. This provides maximum stability for your kayak on top of your vehicle.

best kayak roof rack

There are also soft skids that sit beneath the foam blocks. These skids protect the vehicle roof from getting scratched.

Straps are also included in this purchase. They are surprisingly durable for straps included in a roof rack purchase. However, for some kayaks, they might not be long enough.

Often kayaks with a beam of more than 30 inches, which includes many recreational kayaks, don’t fit well with this roof rack. Be aware of this and either purchase different roof rack straps or a different roof rack if your kayak exceeds this beam width.

This SportRack is a universal roof rack and does not seem to have issues strapping down on any vehicle type. It can fit most bars, especially those made by other roof rack companies.

That being said, some vehicles with rounded roofs may not be able to utilize this roof rack well. The foam block supports require a fairly flat surface to grip well. If your roof is very rounded – think of a Volkswagen Beetle – you may not be able to haul your kayak on these foam blocks.


  • Universal
  • Reasonable Price
  • Sturdy
  • Designed for narrow kayaks
  • Has skids


  • Foam may not be long-lasting
  • Can slip on round roofs
  • Not designed for wide kayaks

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How to Buy a Kayak Roof Rack

Your Vehicle

Kayak Roof Rack

When purchasing a kayak roof rack, you must first consider the vehicle you’re using to haul it. Many kayak roof racks, even if they claim to be universal, might not be the right fit.

Therefore, make sure you read all of the fine print before you buy one, or speak personally with the manufacturer.

Shape and Material of the Roof Rack

There are many different types of kayak roof racks. J Style, cradles, saddles, and stackers are just a few of the most popular styles. Understanding the different styles helps you make the best possible choice.

J Style roof racks allow the kayak to tilt on its side on top of the car and allow for efficient loading. Two kayaks can easily fit on top of a vehicle with this style.

Cradles are often shaped like J Style roof racks, but they have a dip at the bottom of the J. This provides a better place for the kayak to sit than the typical J curve. Therefore, it’s often easier to lift the kayak over this J curve than the standard J curve.

Saddles look like the letter ‘v’ on top of the vehicle and set against the kayak’s hull. If you are a solo kayaker, this is an ideal option. Sometimes saddles do cause issues by only supporting kayaks of certain widths. Be cautious and do your research with this type of kayak roof rack before you buy.

Stackers allow a car to carry multiple kayaks. They look like a rod that sets in between the kayaks. This supports them and keeps them stable, while also protecting the kayaks from slamming into each other.

Material is another big concern for many kayakers.

Heavy-duty metals can damage the kayak or car roof. However, metal is much more durable than other materials. If purchasing a metal roof rack, it’s important to make sure any rubber or foam supports under the metal do not connect with your car roof. Regularly check on this.

Foam can break apart after much use, but it can also save your car, your kayak, and you from a lot of worries. It’s is especially great for kayakers who don’t go out every weekend, but only a few times a year, as it ensures adequate support without having to use a heavy-duty piece for just a few trips.

Finally, plastics are better on car roofs and kayaks, however not quite as durable. Plastics can wear down much more quickly than other materials. Plastics are also more well-known for breaking down in high winds.

Size of your Kayak

Kayak size is very important to consider when purchasing a kayak roof rack. First, it is important to consider how heavy your kayak is. Most kayaks average 50 pounds or more in weight. If you have a sea or ocean kayak, you are often looking at more than 60 pounds in weight.

If you do not feel comfortable lifting 50 pounds clear above your head, it may be wise to purchase a roof rack with a special mounting feature. Kayak roof racks like the Malone provide this feature, making it very easy for anyone to load their kayak.

Additionally, you must consider the width of your kayak. Many kayak roof racks cannot support kayaks with a beam, or a width, of more than 30 inches. If your kayak has a wide beam, do your research and ensure that your kayak can be carried on your specific roof rack.

Kayaks which often have a wide beam are lake kayaks, as this provides ample support for the kayaker in the water. If you frequent lakes, double-check the width of your kayak beam before purchasing a roof rack.

Many kayakers prefer the J Style roof rack for kayaks with wide beams.

Personal Ability and Height

Perhaps most importantly, purchase kayak roof racks that make it easy for you to load and unload your kayak. This depends on your own capabilities for lifting it and secure it into place.

Our Final Review for the Best Kayak Roof Rack

When trying to decide on the best kayak roof rack, take into account your vehicle, your capabilities, your kayak’s size, and the style of roof rack you prefer.

Many kayakers spend quite a bit of time researching roof racks, so don’t be discouraged if you find yourself doing the same.

These roof racks are essential, as they protect your kayak on long drives, and should also protect the roof of your car from being scratched or dented. Therefore, it’s worth spending some time making the right decision for you.

For further information, check out our Step by Step Guide for Kayak Roof Racks.
KayakBest is among the largest and most dedicated kayak review sites. We aim to help enthusiasts discover the best tips and products for an enjoyable paddling experience.

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