The 5 Best Kayak Roof Racks – 2019 Review Guide

Kayaks range in cost from $100 into the $3000 range. That being said, it is important to make sure your kayak is safe when you travel with it.

When purchasing the best possible roof rack for your kayak, you must consider the vehicle you have, the shape of the roof rack, the size of your kayak, and your personal abilities and height.

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 one of these kayak roof racks, you must be sure it is compatible with your car and your kayak. Many kayakers end up having to send their roof rack back because they did not read the fine print.

Even though a roof rack states it is universal, there are often exceptions. These exceptions typically apply to car racks and to kayak compatibility.

5 Best Kayak Roof Racks in 2019

1. Malone Downloader Folding J-Style

The Malone Downloader Folding J-Style kayak roof rack is a phenomenal roof rack. It is universal, which means it works with all styles of vehicle.

When choosing a roof rack, it is crucial that you choose one which fits with all vehicle types, or at the very least works with your vehicle. This kayak roof rack is known to do precisely that.

One major perk of the Downloader Folding J-Style roof rack is the fact that it has a built-in boarding ramp which allows the kayak to be loaded more easily. This means that if you are exceptionally short or if your vehicle is exceptionally short, you have the ability to load your kayak easily.

The J-style of this kayak roof rack means that it allows the kayak to sit on its side on top of the car. This means that there is less drag as it is being carried. This also means you could fit two kayaks on top of your car–take note though, you must purchase a second roof rack.

Often, when loading a kayak, it is easy to snag it on different parts of the roof rack. The Malone Downloader, however, creates a small ramp. By using the straps and these small which guides the kayak up and into the cradle more efficiently.

Another benefit to this Malone Kayak Roof Rack is mainly made from steel. This is a very durable material which helps protect your kayak as you travel with it. Being made from such a durable material also means that the roof rack itself will not break down as easily over time.

Reviewing the Malone Downloader Folding J-Style Further

The bottom of this roof rack has rubber pads, which prevent it from scratching your car. These rubber pads have been known to disintegrate over time, and this can cause noise while driving.

If these rubber pads wear down, make sure you contact customer service. Malone Customer Service is known for replacing rubber pads for customers, which is a huge perk. All they typically require is a picture and a copy of your receipt emailed to them.

Another perk of this roof rack is that when you are not equipping it, it can fold down onto the top of your car. THis gets it out of your way and allows you to drive around with the roof rack on top of your car without looking strange.

Some kayakers fear that this means the roof rack will fold down in the middle of carrying the kayak. However, this does not happen, as the roof rack cannot fold or come loose 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

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2. 2 Pair Universal Car Top Mount Carrier

Again, we have a Universal Carrier. In this case, however, it means that not only can this roof rack hold kayaks, but it can also hold canoes or boats. This is extremely advantageous if you are interested in being able to charge many types of watercraft.

Though universal, this roof rack does not fit on some car racks which are large in diameter. It may also not fit on racks which are oval shaped as opposed to circular.

Also, we have a J Carrier. As stated previously, this means that the kayak or boat or canoe can be hauled on the side of the vehicle. This particular model is sold in pairs, which means the purchaser can carry two kayaks on top of his or her car.

Unlike the Malone, this roof rack does not 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 is easier to load your kayak on top of the car.

When these kayak roof racks are delivered, they come in small pieces. These pieces must be put together to create the roof rack. For some this is a tedious task. On occasion, pieces go missing. This can be frustrating if you order these right before a last minute trip.

These roof racks are also made of steel, which means that they are very durable and long lasting. There are rubber pieces, like the Malone, which 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 rack is great as the kayak does not blow around or shift while driving–even while driving down highways. For new kayakers or seasoned kayakers, this kayak roof rack is 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


  • Pieces can be missing
  • May not fit on every car roof
  • Delivered in small pieces

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3. Thule Hull-a-Port Kayak Carrier

The Hull-a-Port fits many car racks, but not all. Many car racks will need to be equipped with Thule AeroBlade with Xadapt11 T-track hardware kit and XSporter with XAdapt 11. Both of these can be purchased easily.

This roof rack is another J Style roof rack, which means that the kayak is mounted on its side. As state previously, this allows multiple kayaks to be carried on the roof of the vehicle, and causes less resistance from the wind as you drive.

Unlike both of the other roof racks, the Hull-a-Port does not have any special way to load your kayak easily. That being said, it does have a feature which allows for speedy installation and removal. This can be a major perk if you are often switching cars, etc.

This roof rack is made from a heavy duty metal and durable plastic. This means they may not be quite as durable as the last two roof racks.

The plastic pieces on these kayaks are known to break–this can happen in high winds or by placing too much weight on it. They occasionally are shipped when broken as well. It is strongly advised to contact customer service should this happen, as they will try to replace it for you the best they can.

This kayak roof rack does have straps with it for tying down your kayak. These straps are excellent quality and extremely durable. However, these straps can be too short for some kayaks. It is easy to purchase other straps for this model of roof rack.


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


  • Short Straps
  • Not as durable
  • May not fit your car roof
  • Plastic can break

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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 is designed to hold the bottom of the kayak stable–not 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 Vshaped hull or a grooved hull. Without these features, your kayak simply will not be able to stay in the holder well.

Though this is not ideal for many kayakers, it may be beneficial for those with a tall vehicle who are under 5 feet 9 inches. 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.

This means that a vehicle cannot haul more than one kayak with this roof rack. This also means that the roof rack cannot haul a kayak more than 30 inches in width. This may be difficult for kayaks meant for lakes, as many lake kayaks have beams wider than 30 inches.

Though listed as a universal roof rack, cars which have a clearance of less than an inch and a half between the crossbar and car roof will not be able to use this roof rack.

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


  • 5 year warranty
  • Kayak lies flat
  • Easier to put on top of the car
  • Keeps kayak very stable
  • Holds hull of 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 is made of two foam blocks which 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.

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

Straps are also included in this purchase. These straps are surprisingly durable for straps included in a roof rack purchase. However, for some kayaks, these straps are simply not long enough.

Often kayaks with a beam of more than 30 inches, which is most lake kayaks, do not 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 simply 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 considering purchasing a kayak roof rack, you must first consider the vehicle you hope to use to transport the kayak. Many kayak roof racks, even if they claim to be universal, simply are not universal.

They often do not fit on a certain shape of roof bars. They also may be brand specific, meaning that they only work with bars of the same brand.

It could also be that the roof rack only works with a certain clearance between the bar and the car roof. Make sure you read all of the fine print when considering your purchase of a roof rack.

Additionally, the curve of your car roof may come into play here. If your car has a very steep curve, it may be difficult to use any roof rack on top.

Be aware of this and assess whether purchasing a kayak is best for you. Most kayakers do not live near their preferred body of water, so car travel is often essential.

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 style. Understanding the different styles can help one make the best possible choice.

J Style roof racks allow the kayak to tilt on its side on top of the car. Though this is often difficult to load the kayak on top of, it is also the most efficient. Two kayaks can easily fit on top of a vehicle.

Cradles are often shaped like J Style roof racks, but they have a dip in the bottom of the J. This provides a better place for the kayak to sit than the typical J curve. This is often preferred, as it is 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 being able to support kayaks of certain widths. Be cautious and do your research with this type of kayak roof rack.

Stackers are a roof rack which allows multiple kayaks to be stored on top of the car. Stackers look like a rod, which sets in between the kayaks. This supports them and keeps them stable, while also protecting the kayaks from being slammed 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 is 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 and your kayak, and you, a lot of worry. Foam is especially great for kayakers who do not go out every single weekend, but only a few times a year. Foam ensures you have 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 material. Plastics are also more well-known for breaking down in high winds. It is a very stressful situation to have your kayak car mount break in the middle of a trip down the highway.

Size of your Kayak

Kayak size is very important to consider when purchasing a kayak roof rack. First, it is important to remember 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, you want to double check the width of your kayak beam before purchasing a roof rack.

Often J Style roof racks do not have the issue of not being able to carry a wide beam. Many kayakers prefer the J Style roof rack for just this reason.

Personal Ability and Height

Another concern is the kayaker’s personal ability. If you are very short or do not have much muscle mass in your arms, make sure you purchase a mount which is easy to load your kayak onto. If you do not, you will find yourself struggling again and again to get your kayak on top of your car.

Additionally, remember to consider the height of your car. If you have a minivan or an SUV, it will be much more difficult to get your kayak on top of your car–no matter your height. However, if you have a small to medium sized sedan, it should not be too tricky to load the kayak onto your car.

Our Final Review for the Best Kayak Roof Rack

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

Many kayakers spend quite a bit of time researching roof racks, so do not 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.

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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