Looking for the best kayak rack for your car? Check out our reviews & buying guide

By Kevin Arnold | Review

Feb 08
best kayak rack for car in 2018

Firstly, for all us mad kayak enthusiasts it is a must to have our vessel wherever we go. However, the transportation of your kayak is a real problem. The majority of kayak owners solved this problem with kayak racks.

Unfortunately, most people do not live close to the lake, river or sea, so they should find other transportation solutions. Roof racks cannot only transport the kayak and Kayak Paddles with safety, but also protect the car roof from damage. Obviously, there are many rack types on the market.

Kayaks come in various sizes, so you must choose the appropriate rack that fits your needs. The plethora of kayak rack option will not make it easy for you to select the right one. We promise that our article will present a detailed guide with abundant tips and information. Here is the full review of the best kayak rack for your car:

Product Type Rating Price

TMS J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Carrier – Best Budget Choice


THULE 830 The Stacker K ayak Rack


Malone J Pro 2 J Style Universal


Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal Car Rack


Malone Downloader Folding J Style Universal Car Rack – Best Kayak Rack for Car


Types of Roof Racks

Generally speaking, we put racks into two categories, temporary and permanent racks. Temporary racks can be removed and they are usually used by paddlers who do not use their kayak constantly. On the other hand, permanent racks are better for long distance tours.

The selection depends on some factors which we will analyze in the following sections. The type is the first thing you should take into consideration. Safety and convenience are the two major factors.

Keep in mind that you wind resistance could be very dangerous especially if you have to drive long distances. Thus, you should choose aerodynamic designs.

Temporary Kayak Racks

Undoubtedly, these racks are removable. Many people select them because they are affordable and suitable for all car roofs without a factory rack setup. Briefly, the system has a strap and a padded cushion where you place your kayak.

Install, load and go! It is the quickest way to transport your vessel. Despite the fact that temporary racks are preferred by many owners, there are some significant drawbacks.

They are only good for short distance tours, because they are not aerodynamic. This factor affects the stability of your car. Moreover, sunlight can damage the straps.

Generally speaking, they distribute the weight of the vessel and do not ruin the roof. On the other side, if you are an obsessed kayaker like we, please continue reading.

Permanent Kayak Racks

It goes without saying that this type has various subcategories and we are sure that you will find the perfect one. Keep in mind that your car should already have factory racks, also known as towers or rails, on the roof.

Does your car has a “naked” roof? Do not worry about it! Towers are not expensive and you can easily install them without any special car stuff knowledge. These side racks work as a base for the additional racks which will carry your kayak.

We should be honest that permanent roof racks are more reliable than temporary. Furthermore, if you install them right, you do not have to worry about stability and safety. We can ensure you that we transported our vessels thousands of miles without any problem at all.

Unfortunately, the only drawback here is that the installation is a time consuming procedure. So, you should definitely equip yourself with patience! If you do not install the racks properly, it could affect the stability of the boat.

  • Saddles

Well, we think that it sounds logical to place the kayak on the roof horizontal. Moreover, there are straps that secure the kayak. Be sure that this construction will not hurt the polyethylene/fiberglass hull or car roof.

Saddles racks have anti-skid pads for every kayak. It goes without saying that they are aerodynamic. This fact will boost not only the stability of the car, but also will improve fuel efficiency and economy.

If you have a big SUV car, you can carry more than one kayak. They have wide roofs which allow supporting three or four kayaks.

  • Rollers

If you are facing problems while loading the kayak on the roof, you should try roller racks. You can place them on the rear of the car and they will help you lift up the vessel. However, we do not recommend them for harsh weather conditions.

  • J-Style Kayak Racks

First of all, they are also known as J-Cradles and we recommend them for small cars. Additionally, if you have more than one kayak, you should definitely give them a try.

In addition, in this way you can protect your hull from scratches. These racks are a very good solution, but remember that you have to load the kayak from the side of the car which could not be comfortable.

  • Stacker Kayak Racks

Stackers look like J-Style Racks but there are some significant differences. Tremendous capacity is the main characteristic of this type of rack. It would be a good idea to select this type only if you plan to transport many boats.

Stability is a significant problem here but if you secure the kayaks with one more strap, you will not face any problem. Keep in mind the kayaks will be place at about 90° degrees angle on the roof. You should definitely avoid abrupt movements.

Top Kayak Rack Brands

If you take a quick look at the market, you will realize that there are hundreds of them. However, we managed to pick out the best of them in order to give you a round aspect.

  • TMS

This company is not widely known, but their products are excellent. Durability at a low price is their moto. We included one product of this company, due to the combination of low price and nice construction

  • Thule

It is a Swedish company founded almost 70 years ago. They are crafting transportation products for all outdoor activities. Their products became a best seller especially the kayak racks.

They have a unique construction able to support heavy loads.

  • Malone

Founded ten years ago, Malone became one of the leading kayak rack companies. It was the first company introducing the j style rack. This revolutionary invention brought them to the top.

The Best Kayak Racks

TMS J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Carrier – Best Budget Choice

TMS J-bar kayak rack

Are you interested in a low budget kayak roof mount? These J style racks are definitely designed for you. Install, load and go! That’s all! We would like to underline the fact that there is a soft padding in order to protect both your car and kayak.

Outstanding Feature

J style carrier: The kayak will be placed at about 45° angle on the roof. This fact gives you the opportunity to put even two kayaks on the roof.

More Features

  • Weight and Length support: TMS ensures you that the durable racks can support almost 75 lbs. and 36 in. (width) kayaks. You must place the kayak on its side.
  • Tough Construction: The steel frame will definitely not let you down, as it is made of really tough materials.

Things We Liked

  • Fast installation
  • Abundant space
  • Vacuum sealed hardware
  • Affordable

Things We Didn’t Like

  • You will have to buy the crossbars
  • 75lbs. are too low

Final Verdict

Finally, there is nothing better than transporting the kayak on the car roof instead of putting wheels. If you secure it tightly with multiple straps, be sure that you will reach your destination without problems.

THULE 830 The Stacker Kayak Rack

Thule Kayak rack

Thule is a leading company in constructing bike, kayak and car racks since 2010. Stacker type racks allow carrying many kayaks on your car roof. Moreover, it is highly recommended for short wide white water vessels.

Outstanding Feature

Durable Material: These racks are designed for all white water kayaks. The material has multiple protective layers which will protect the kayak from scratches.

More Features

  • Folding Design: Obviously, you can fold down the racks whenever you do not need them.
  • Hardware: The on /off hardware gives you the opportunity to install and remove easily
  • Max Weight and width: 75lbs and 36 in.

Things We Liked

  • Rigid material
  • Foldable
  • Maximizes Storage

Things We Didn’t Like

  • Crossbars not included
  • Slightly expensive

Final Verdict

The Thule carrier definitely deserves a place as one of the best kayak rack. Easy and secure transportation without any worries. If you are not kayaking alone, this is the best solution.

Malone J Pro 2 J Style Universal

Malone J-pro 2 kayak rack

These Malone racks are universal and you can mount them on every rail type. After testing them, we managed to judge them critically. Aerodynamic cut and cutting edge technology hardware makes them one of the first choices.

Outstanding Feature

Extra Safety: The racks come with two extra bow and stern straps and two 12ft. straps. Safety is the first thing you should take into consideration and Malone lays emphasis on this fact.

More Feature​

  • Material: E-coated steel will make them last a lifetime. The elements of nature are not your enemies because the construction is corrosion resistant.
  • Lifetime warranty

Things We Liked

  • Incredible durability
  • fits all rails
  • Safe

Things We Didn’t Like

  • You will need crossbars
  • Low weight limit

Final Verdict

Summarizing, if you want to get the best kayak rack, you should choose the product that will fit your needs. The universal rack solution is a very good idea for many reasons and it is suitable for all cars.

Malone SeaWing Saddle Style Universal Car Rack

Malone Saddle Kayak rack

These low profile saddle style racks are made for every kayak owner who wants to save some space. You can place two kayaks on the same crossbars (not included) and take them to the water.

Outstanding Feature

Aerodynamic Racks: Common racks have a high wind resistance. With this racks you will not face such problems. You will have the smoothest driving experience ever.

More Features

  • Easy mounting: You can install it quickly and easily. Loading the kayak on the racks without putting much effort is s great advantage of the product.
  • Stability: The anti-skid padding adds extra safety levels

Things We Liked

  • Aerodynamic
  • Easy mounting
  • Affordable

Things We Didn’t Like

  • Could have more straps
  • Low weight limit

Final Verdict

Malone is a well-known company and they always pay close attention at their products. This is another affordable option which will be ideal for many car rails. Stability is the key to success and these racks promise to keep the kayak as stable as possible.

Malone Downloader Folding J Style Universal Car Rack

Malone Folding J-style kayak rack

Lastly, we would like to present the Malone downloader rack. This is definitely the best rack ever made as it not only durable, but also practical. It gives you the opportunity to load easy the kayak without stress.

If you take a closer look at the picture, you will see the abnormal thick padding. It will protect your kayak. These racks combine many advantages and that’s why we decided to include them.

Outstanding Feature

Thick Padding: There is nothing worse than scratching your new kayak. Malone knows that and equipped the rack with an oversized padding.

More Features

  • Easy Loading
  • Foldable: When you do not use them, you do not have to remove your racks. Just fold them down and hit th road
  • Fits all rails

Things We Liked

  • Suitable for all kayaks
  • Foldable racks
  • The padding protects the boat
  • Easy loading

Things We Didn’t Like

  • You will need after market crossbars

Final Verdict

Finally, Malone knows how to construct transportation equipment. This is one of their best products. Despite the fact that it is slightly expensive, we are sure that you will not regret it.

Buying Guide

How to choose according to your needs

Above we analyzed the types of racks one by one. Hopefully, you know whether you want to install temporary or permanent racks. Now it’s time to talk about some other details you should take into consideration.

  • “Naked” Car Roof

If the roof of your car does not have factory rails, it would be a good idea to choose temporary racks. However, you should keep in mind that this type cannot support heavy loads. Many products on the market promise that they can support even a 500lbs. kayak.

You should be really careful because they cannot only damage the car and kayak, but also cause accidents during the transportation.

  • Car with Cross Bars

The installation is almost ready, as you do not have to buy extra equipment. However, before loading your kayak you should call your car manufacturer in order to get some further information about the weight limit.

Unfortunately, they are not included in the roof rack packages and you have to buy them. Do not worry they are really cheap.

  • Number of Kayaks

It goes without saying that the number of kayaks plays a significant role here. If you have a car with a narrow roof, it would be better to choose stackers. You can load two or three kayaks and secure them with extra straps.

However, if you want to transport only one or two kayaks, we recommend J-style racks. Saddles are good for one kayak. All rack types have antiskid cushions so the vessel will not tip over.

  • Length

The length of your racks is a major factor you should take into consideration. Firstly, long racks means that you will have more space. Secondly, the vessel will be stable. Strong wind can definitely affect your car and there is a danger to lose control while driving.

How to install Kayak Rack on the top of your car ​

Frequent Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1: How can transport safely two kayaks?

A: Obviously, this is a good question, because two kayaks probably weigh more than 700lbs. Undoubtedly, the best kayak rack type for you is saddles. Aerodynamic, safe and stable.

However, if there is lack of space you can pair saddles with j style racks. The most important thing is to secure the kayaks. If you drive carefully, you do not have to worry about anything.

Q2: The Best Kayak Rack for my sit on top hard shell kayak?

A: You might feel confused with this abundant variety of solutions. Sit on top kayaks are wide, so we do not recommend stackers. J style racks or saddles with rollers could be helpful.

Q3: Can I use kayak racks for my inflatable kayak?

A: Of course you can use them for inflatable kayaks. If you want to inflate your kayak at home and bring it to the water as soon as possible, you can just load it on the roof.

Furthermore, it would be a good solution if you have limited space in your car. Temporary soft racks will definitely fulfill your needs.

Q4: Is the installation mounting procedure easy?

A: The installation should not discourage you at all. Many people claim that kayak racks are useless and you cannot install them by yourself. We would like to disagree with this perception as we mounted hundreds of them.

Our knowledge derives from many years of kayaking experience and we can ensure you that you will nail it within 25 minutes.

Read the instructions of the product before installing it. It will play a significant role.


Summarizing, the best way to transport your kayak are roof racks. The best kayak roof rack should have some features which will make the difference. Safety and convenience are two things that should be taken into consideration.

After searching the net and testing some products ourselves, we decided the clear winner of this interesting round is the last Malone Downloader Car rack. First of all, it is a J style rack which is considered to be the most convenient of all types. Moreover, you can save much space.

We would like to mention the real reason why we chose this product. To our way of thinking, these racks combine all the needs of a modern kayaker. Easy loading, protection, safety and aerodynamic cut are the most important factors.

The other products do not combine these features but they still remain some of the best selections.

Once you select the best kayak rack, you can be sure that your kayak will be safe. It is not all about the equipment. Connecting with nature and relaxing are more important.

Thank you for reading and please share the article with your friend or leave a comment!